NAHA Header

NAHA Logo

Emigration from Sunnfjord to America Prior to 1885*
    by Leiv H. Dvergsdal (Volume 29 Page 127)

*This article is based on a thesis, entitled "Ei undersøking av Utvandringa til Amerika frå Sunnfjord fram til 1885," presented to the History Department of the University of Trondheim, 1976. See map on page 112.

THE AIM of this article is to consider certain aspects of the emigration from Sunnfjord up to 1885, especially why the movement began so late and why it exhibited such great regional differences within the district.

Sunnfjord is an interesting case study in the history of emigration. It is located within the same county (fylke) as Sogn and has natural connecting links with that district, but in regard to emigration the two areas differed greatly during the nineteenth century. This was apparent to the editor of Norges officielle statistikk, the official Norwegian statistics, even during the 1860s: "It is remarkable how great a difference we often find in the matter under discussion [emigration] between two neighboring districts. Thus the district of Sogn has the greatest emigration intensity while very few people emigrate from the adjoining district of Sunnfjord og Nordfjord which is located in the same county." {1} During the years 1856-1865 Sogn lost 17.2 per thousand of its median population annually through emigration. During the same period, however, Sunnfjord og Nordfjord had only scattered cases of emigration, except for the township of Jølster in 1864. {2} From Sogn emigration had begun by 1840 while the people of Sunnfjord did not get generally involved until the year 1866.

Sunnfjord forms a part of Sunnfjord og Nordfjord district which together with the district of Sogn constituted Nordre Bergenhus amt, now the county of Sogn og Fjordane. During the period in question certain minor administrative alterations were made; the terminology used here will be that current at the end of the period. Hence, the "Sunnfjord" of this article is identical with the area defined as Sunnfjord in the tax rolls of 1890. {3} At that time Sunnfjord included seven parishes: Kinn, Bremanger, Førde, Jølster, Gaular (Indre Holmedal), Fjaler (Ytre Holmedal), and Askvoll. Except for Førde each parish also formed one municipality. The parish of Førde was divided into two municipalities: Førde and Vevring. In 1860 the town Flora was incorporated within the parish of Kinn; but for a long time the town scarcely existed, as its very basis, the spring herring fisheries, soon vanished. Geographically, Sunnfjord lies to the west of the Jostedal glacier between Sogn and Nordfjord in the county of Sogn og Fjordane. Sunnfjord has a long strip of coast which extends from Nordfjord in the north to Bufjord (not far from Sognefjord) in the south. Landward the district tapers off and ends in a point resting on the Jostedal glacier. Along the coast are located a number of islands while many fjords cut inland. The two longest of these, Dalsfjord and Førdefjord, continue into the mountains as rather deep valleys each with its own water course, Gaular and Jølster respectively.


As far as is known, the very first emigrant from Sunnfjord was the well-known writer of America letters, Gjert Gregoriussen Hovland. He was born in Askvoll in 1794, the son of Gregorius Gregoriussen Folkestad and his wife Janice Hansdatter. Gjert took the name Hovland from another farm in the Folkestad neighborhood. Around 1807 the family moved to Bergen where young Gjert obtained work as a cooper. Presumably this activity brought him to the fishing centers of Haugesund and Stavanger, the first Norwegian communities to be affected by the America fever. {4} At least we know that by 1831 he had joined the Kendall settlement in New York State where the "Sloopers" from Stavanger had settled six years earlier. {5} Gjert is best known for the many letters he sent home, which aroused the interest of people in both the western and the eastern parts of Norway. {6} But what is surprising is that his letters caused so little stir in his own home district of Sunnfjord. One explanation may be that he left Askvoll at the age of thirteen and probably never visited the area again. But relatives of his were still living there; and in at least two letters he tried, through intermediaries, to get in touch with certain of these relatives. In a letter dated April 28, 1835, he wrote as follows to a friend: "The one thing above all I ask you - as my friend - is that you please call on my cousins in Sunnfjord. Let them know that if some of them want to come but can not pay their way, you or some other honest man who wants to come will help them; I shall be very happy to repay you for all your trouble and expense." {7} In 1839 he lost his only son, and thereafter he was concerned about who would inherit his possessions. On July 9, 1842, he wrote as follows to Peder Sætten, a former schoolteacher in Kopervik: "Would you please, in my birthplace, the clerical district of Askvoll in Sunnf3ord, try to find two of my closest relatives, cousins of mine who were unmarried when I left Norway? They are Hans Hansen Nordre Gaarden, in common speech called Hauen although his name is Nordre Folkestad, in Welnæs parish; and the girl Marie Johannesdatter Sannes in Skifjorden, Os parish in the same clerical district. {8} These two have many brothers and sisters, but I am particularly interested in learning about their personal circumstances. Do they want to come here and are their means sufficient to pay for the journey? Let them know that I am well and that I have no heirs here. . . . you must not try to put any pressure on Hans and Marie, however, but find out what they really think and let me know . . . please tell them also that when they come I will give up half of my land to one or both of them." {9}

Despite these strong inducements it was not until 1852 that another emigrant from Gjert's home community found his way across the Atlantic, Mathis Hanssen Nordre Folkestad, age 31. {10} Some years previously, in 1845, a family of six had emigrated from Hyllestad, which then was a part of Askvoll parish; and in 1850 six more persons left from the same community. But up until the 1860s only scattered emigrants - often years apart - left Askvoll and the rest of Sunnfjord for America. Very little is known about how these early emigrants fared; no contacts between them and the people back home are recorded. Presumably they kept in touch somehow, but the lack of any evidence to this effect coupled with the fact that Gjert's letters fell on deaf ears in Sunnfjord may indicate that the push of local conditions in the district was not as forceful as in many other parts of the country.

The annual emigrations of some size from Sunnfjord began in 1864 with large groups from Jølster that year and from Førde and Askvoll in 1866. In all these groups there were people who had near relatives in America, and from two of the communities there seem to have been returned Norwegian Americans along as guides.

The great exodus from Jølster in 1864 is an exceptional case. While the Civil War in the United States was still raging, a group of eighty-two persons broke loose from their old connections and set off for the land in the West, among them ten farm-owners with their families. Very few people from this community had emigrated previously, and there are indications that an influential personality played a decisive role in this particular instance. According to tradition, Bendex Mosessen Hegrenes was the leader of the group. A. E. Fond says: "We will have to ascribe it to Bendex Hegrenes that so many people sold their farms in Jølster and set off for "the promised land." {11} This assumption seems to be correct. A younger brother of Bendex, Anders Mosessen Sårheim, who had moved to Luster in 1854, went to America in 1861 with his wife and three children, {12} while Bendex and his son Moses were granted emigrant passes in 1862. In the church records, however, the name of Bendex is also entered on the emigrant list of 1864 together with the names of the rest of his family except Moses. This would make it appear that Bendex had returned home in order to lead his neighbors across the ocean.

Apparently Ole Mathias Andersen Stubhaug was the leader of the large group that left Førde in 1866. He received an emigration certificate from the pastor in 1864, and tradition among his descendants in the United States has it that he went across that year, secured a farm near Manistique, Michigan, and then returned to Norway in 1865. These reports are probably reliable because his name heads the list of all the people from Førde and Naustdal who went on the ship Adler to Quebec in 1866. {13}

From community after community the streams began flowing that year. An urge long suppressed by the American Civil War was now suddenly finding release after having grown more intense during the intervening years. With 1866 Sunnfjord entered the overseas emigration movement in a serious way. The influence of visiting Norwegian Americans, mature men with prestige in the communities, appears to have been largely responsible for the mass emigration from Jølster and Førde in 1864 and 1866, respectively. In addition, the year 1866 introduced a period when America had stronger pull than at any time before. The Homestead Law had recently been enacted, and circumstances in Norway which had previously worked against emigration were no longer able to hold the people back.


Before attempting to establish the number of emigrants from Sunnfjord during the years 1864 to 1885 it is necessary to make some comments about the nature of the sources used. For the earliest period one is largely dependent upon the emigrant lists found in the church records. Prospective emigrants were supposed to be registered there when they appeared before the pastor to secure their emigration certificates. But not all of them obtained such certificates nor did the pastors always enter the names. In other words, these sources are undependable. Ample evidence of this is found, for example, in the Førde church protocol for 1866. Only eight people are listed as having emigrated, while the ships' records list eighty and the official statistics no fewer than ninety-one. A decree of 1867 and a law of 1869, however, required that emigrants enter into valid contracts with the agents of the shipping companies and that these contracts be presented to and duly listed by the police in the port city. {14} Only from that time on can it be said that there are somewhat reliable emigration records - provided, of course, that the protocols have been preserved. For the harbor of Bergen such protocols are lacking prior to 1874. In order to secure reliable emigration figures for the district of Sunnfjord it is plain that other sources must be used.

Inquiries to American and Canadian archives led to the Public Archives of Canada, Ottawa, Canada, which proved to have microfilms of ships' manifests for the port of Quebec beginning with the year 1865. And as most of the Norwegian emigrant vessels - which still were sailing ships - went to Quebec until 1871, {15} these manifests filled in the gaps in the church records. The Quebec lists enumerated 132 more people from Sunnfjord than did the church books for the years 1866-1870, while they listed fewer after 1870.

That the ships' manifests are fairly reliable for the years 1866-1870 is evidenced by a comparison with the maximum figures given in the official Norwegian statistics, which are derived primarily from the ports of departure. {16} For the whole period the manifests covered 85.8 percent of the official lists, with no less than 96 percent for the year 1870. By adding the extra names found in the church books but not in the ships' lists, most of them in the years 1871-1873, and by subtracting the unidentified persons it was found that the Quebec manifests covered 88.8 percent of the official figures for the years 1866-1870 and 88 percent of the figures for 1871-1873. {17}


Not all the prospective emigrants who are known by name are included in the final tables. First it had to be established that they really did emigrate. People who were granted certificates by the pastor but are not found listed in the emigration protocols from 1874 are not included even though it is possible that some of them found their way to America outside the regular channels. {18} Furthermore, it was necessary to make certain through such documents as birth, confirmation, or marriage certificates that the emigrants in question actually were from Sunnfjord. Thus a total of 119 names were dropped as not properly identified. People who were born in Sunnfjord but left for America from some other part of the country were also excluded. Possibly they had planned to emigrate even before they left Sunnfjord but had to secure the necessary money somewhere else. This can not be verified, however, and therefore all of them were omitted: 221 for the period 1874-1885.

This process left 1,785 identified emigrants as the foundation for the present research. Table 1 gives a summary of emigration from Sunnfjord, by communities, up to 1885. A mere glance at the table will show that the intensity of emigration varied greatly from area to area. Emigration was heaviest and most uniform from Førde; but during certain periods the movement from Jølster and Askvoll was also relatively strong. The Dalsfjord communities, Fjaler and Gaular, and the coastal districts of Kinn and Bremanger, on the other hand, had very light emigration with the exception of a few years. These dissimilarities suggested the idea of grouping together the communities which exhibited about the same degree of emigration intensity. By studying them it might be found that each group had certain common features which would help to explain the varied emigration tendencies within Sunnfjord.

Table 1. Indentified emigrants from Sunnfjord

  Askvol Fjaler Gaular Jølster Førde Kinn Bremange Sunnfjord
Before 1860 2 1 2 1 6 5 0 17
1861 1862 1863 1864 1865 5 0 0 4 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 7 82 7 0 0 0 3 10 0 0 0 1 3 0 0 0 0 0 5 2 7 90 21
1861-1865 10 0 0 98 13 4 0 125
1866 1867 1868 1869 1870 23 35 17 3 5 2 2 2 2 0 3 13 26 10 16 16 0 0 12 3 74 30 28 75 105 6 10 1 6 3 0 0 0 1 2 124 90 74 109 134
1866-1870 83 8 68 31 312 26 3 531
1871 1872 1873 1874 1875 12 32 1 20 0 12 8 0 0 0 0 5 0 1 1 23 0 0 5 2 42 41 6 15 18 13 11 0 0 7 12 1 0 3 0 114 98 7 44 28
1871-1875 65 20 7 30 122 31 16 291
1876 1877 1878 1879 1880 0 0 0 4 1 4 4 15 0 9 2 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 5 11 1 2 19 11 22 7 3 35 6 14 0 0 0 0 3 4 9 69 26 61
1876-1880 5 32 3 16 55 65 3 179
1881 1882 1883 1884 1885 4 23 18 11 17 4 28 13 24 12 8 5 7 9 5 29 21 39 4 3 81 87 37 10 20 2 7 6 25 7 0 39 26 11 0 128 210 146 94 64
1881-1885 73 81 34 96 235 47 76 642
                 
Total 238 142 114 272 743 178 98 1785

Sources: Church records for Sunnfjord. Emigrant protocols. Ships' lists.

In conformity with certain earlier studies Sunnfjord was first divided into "outer" and "inner" communities and then each of these into a northern and a southern area, {19} thus making a total of four units as follows: Northern inner area, which includes Jølster, Førde (minus the parish of Vevring), and Eikefjord in Kinn parish; Northern outer area, which includes Vevring, Kinn (minus Eikefjord), and Bremanger; Southern inner area, which includes Fjaler and Gaular; Southern outer area, which is identical with Askvoll.

A study of the emigration intensity per 1000 of the median population of the four areas (Table 2) shows that, on the average, emigration was considerably greater from the northern inner and the southern outer areas than from the other two. Hence the emigration intensity in any given community is not determined by its location relative to the coastline. Even though emigration from certain parts of Sunnfjord was heavy at times, it surpassed the national average only in 1864, the year of the exceptionally large exodus from Jølster. And compared with the community of Vik in Sogn, emigration from Sunnfjord was light indeed. It is interesting, nevertheless, to note that during the period as a whole the variations in the emigration movement in the communities of Sunnfjord followed the same trends though not with the same intensity as in Vik and the country generally. When the Sunnfjord communities fully entered the emigration movement the trends there, as in other parts of Norway, were determined by general conditions in the United States while the intensity of the movement depended on local conditions.

Table 2.
Number of emigrants per 1000 of median population annually for Sunnfjord and certain other areas for
purposes of comparison

  Southern outer Southern inner Northern inner Northern outer Sunnfjord as a whole Vik in Sogn Norway as a whole
1864 1865 1.5 0.4 - - 9.5 2.0 0.1 0.3 3.5 0.8 22.1 12.1 2.58 2.37
1861- 1865 0.7 -- 2.5 0.1 1.0 16.3 2.87
1866 1867 1868 1869 1870 8.3 12.6 6.1 1.1 1.8 0.7 2.1 3.9 1.6 2.2 8.7 3.6 2.6 8.6 9.9 2.4 1.1 0.8 2.3 3.4 4.7 3.4 2.8 4.1 5.1 49.7 25.8 7.8 12.4 31.1 9.05 7.48 7.66 10.45 8.55
1866- 1870 5.4 2.1 6.7 2.0 4.0 25.6 8.64
1871 1872 1873 1874 1875 4.3 11.5 0.4 7.2 - 1.6 1.8 - 0.1 7.0 4.5 0.7 2.3 2.8 3.8 1.7 - 0.4 0.3 4.3 3.7 0.3 1.7 1.1 24.1 13.1 3.1 16.1 20.0 7.04 7.90 5.86 2.58 2.24
1871- 1875 4.2 0.7 3.4 1.2 2.2 15.3 5.12

1876 1877 1878 1879 1880
- - - 1.5 0.4 0.8 0.5 2.0 - 1.4 0.1 0.2 3.8 2.0 4.4 0.9 0.4 2.7 0.5 1.3 0.5 0.3 2.6 0.9 2.3 26.4 2.5 5.2 6.7 2.4 2.38 1.73 2.59 4.00 10.53
1876- 1880 0.3 0.9 2.1 1.2 1.3 8.6 4.25
1881 1882 1883 1884 1885 1.5 8.4 6.6 4.1 6.3 1.6 4.4 2.7 4.4 2.3 10.8 12.0 8.1 2.5 2.6 1.9 6.0 4.5 3.6 0.8 4.8 7.8 5.4 3.5 2.4 13.2 11.3 11.8 13.1 6.1 13.51 15.00 11.55 7.66 7.19
1881- 1885 4.8 3.1 7.2 3.3 4.8 11.1 10.98
1864- 1885 3.8 1.6 4.9 1.7 3.0 14.8  

Sources: Julie E. Backer, Ekteskap,fødsler og vandringer i Norge 1856-1960 (Oslo, 1965), 158. Rasmus Sunde, "Ei under-søking av utvandringa til Amerika frå Vjk i Sogn 1839-1915" (cand. philol. thesis, University of Trondheim, 1974), 93. Figures for Sunnfjord are based on author's calculations.

There were, of course, numerous reasons why people decided to leave for America, or to refrain from doing so. It is quite impossible to analyze all the reasons for a whole district, but at least some general factors can be mentioned. {20} Since Sunnfjord up to 1885 was characterized by relatively late and slight emigration, some factors will be analyzed here which presumably contributed to this situation.

It is obvious that Sunnfjord, with its long coastal strip and its many fjords and islands, was more fortunately located than Sogn, for example, to supplement other economic activities with fishing. Extensive seasonal fisheries have long characterized neighboring areas of the North Sea. The most noted of these is the so-called large herring fishery in the spring, which prospered during a long period in the nineteenth century, as it had during certain decades in the eighteenth century and has again in more recent times. {21} The cod fishery was also important from time to time; a thriving cod fishery in the waters near Bremanger, for example, burst forth suddenly in 1872 and ended equally abruptly in 1875. During its brief, mysterious existence it came as manna from on high to the fishermen of the area because the spring herring fisheries were then in rapid decline. {22}

After a long absence the spring herring returned to the coasts of Sunnfjord in 1811 and continued to come annually until the early 1870s. {23} The spring fishery took place from January through March mainly in coastal waters near Bremanger and especially Kinn, and was therefore known as the Kinn fishery. It prospered most during the 1850s and 1860s. From 1851 on, fairly reliable records were kept as to the size of the annual catch. {24} According to these statistics the amounts increased steadily through the 1850s, reaching a maximum in 1859 of 430,000 barrels (tønner) of four bushels each. From then on the catches were good through 1867, averaging more than 300,000 barrels. But the year 1868 was almost a total failure, and except for a slight recovery in 1869 the spring fishery declined more and more until it ended completely in 1874. {25}

The Kinn fishery attracted thousands of fishermen from all of Norway but the greatest number naturally came from Sunnfjord, with detachments from every community. Even the inland community of Jølster sent a large group, though most of them were hired labor. In 1868, of the 19,000 fishermen who took part in the spring fishery in the northern district, 5,874 came from Sunnfjord, 2,681 from Nordfjord, 1,235 from Sogn, and 9,210 from other parts of Norway. {26}

It is clear that the herring fisheries were very important for the people of Sunnfjord during the 1850s and early 1860s. In addition to the income derived directly from the catches, people could earn money by salting the herring, renting out huts and storage rooms, transporting and selling fish, or making barrels, which became a highly specialized home industry in the Dalsfjord communities, especially Gaular. {27} If one is to consider economic conditions in connection with the emigration movement it must be concluded that the herring fisheries and the fishing industry in general were factors which played a part in Sunnfjord. But in what way and to what degree? If, for instance, poor or good fishing periods are correlated with peaks or valleys, respectively, in the emigration movement one finds that they do not always coincide. When the exodus began from Jølster in 1864 and from Førde-Askvoll in 1866 the herring fisheries were exceptionally good and had been stable over a number of years. This may suggest that outside influences were the primary cause of these particular migrations. The emigrant groups in these pioneer years are known to have been in close contact with neighbors who had already gone to America. But the question still remains why outside influences of this nature proved effective in Sunnfjord during the late 60s and not a generation earlier when the letters of Gjert Gregoriussen Hovland caused so much stir in other parts of the country. At least the answer can not be found in poor herring catches.

The catastrophically poor catch of 1868 did not result in heavy migration from Sunnfjord. There was some talk about poor fisheries being the cause of considerable emigration from Førde in 1869, {28} but the return visit that same year of a Norwegian American, Lars Markvardsen Kleiven, seems also to account in part for the emigration peak at that particular time. Much the largest exodus from Førde before 1885 took place in 1870 when 105 persons left for America, and there is no record of a Norwegian-American visitor that year. The exodus of 1870, then, is possibly the clearest evidence on record of correspondence between heavy emigration and negative results in the herring fisheries. As for the rest of Sunnfjord, it is possible that considerable migration from Askvoll in the early 70s and from Kinn in the late 70s were caused by poor fishing during the decade.

Emigration from most of the Sunnfjord communities reached its peak in the early 80s, as it did in Norway as a whole and Europe generally. This mighty wave of emigration was caused by the attraction of prosperous times in the United States. Concretely this pull manifested itself for the people of Sunnfjord in the form of an ever-increasing number of prepaid tickets sent home by relatives and friends in America. Consequently it is difficult to pinpoint any specific domestic factors which caused so many to emigrate during the 80s.

Up to this point it has been assumed that negative developments in the fisheries were a potential cause of emigration, but it can also be argued that good fishing years promoted emigration by producing the necessary cash for tickets to America. One should not overlook the fact that this circumstance played a part in promoting the very earliest emigration from Sunnfjord. And in considering the Førde and Askvoll migrations of around 1870 one can probably use a combination of the two arguments. Both of these communities had done well during the good fishing years prior to 1868. Because of their distance from the sea, however, they were not so deeply involved in the Kinn fisheries but that they could pull out before their resources were entirely exhausted when the herring began to disappear. According to a contemporary newspaper article many fishermen from Førde remained at home even as early as 1870. {29} The people of Kinn and Bremanger, on the other hand, stayed by the fishing industry as long as there seemed to be any hope and as a result were financially ruined. In 1875, after the cod fisheries also had failed, the misery was so great in Kinn that official collections were arranged to help the public; {30} and, according to the district physician, it was not only people of humble rank who starved. {31} Under these circumstances it was futile to think about a ticket to America!

The fishing industry undoubtedly played a role in connection with the migration from Sunnfjord to America, but its importance may have been overemphasized. This view is based partly on what has been stated above and partly on the fact that many people left Sunnfjord throughout the decades of the nineteenth century when the fisheries were at their best. They left, despite the flourishing fishing industry, either because of overpopulation or because prospects seemed better somewhere else. But in contrast to many communities in Sogn - Vik, for instance - only a minority of the migrants from Sunnfjord went to America even during the so-called "mass emigration."


Great population growth coupled with the utmost stretching of the traditional economies are held to be primary causes of the vast overseas emigration which swept Norway and other European countries during the nineteenth century. {32} The economic system of Sunnfjord was substantially strengthened by the resumption of the spring herring fisheries in the early 1800s. Even though it is not known exactly how much profit these fisheries brought to the district, one can state definitely that no corresponding addition was made to the economy of Sogn during the same period. Consequently one would expect the population increase during the century to affect the two districts differently. It may therefore be of interest to compare demographic developments in these areas.

It is, of course, also important to note the differences in the population developments within Sunnfjord when contemplating a study of the later emigration movement. Table 3 shows that on the basis of population growth between 1801 and 1835 the prospects of heavy emigration from Sunnfjord during the following two decades were just as pronounced as for Sogn in general and even the community of Vik with its great exodus. In all three areas the population increase was exactly the same - slightly above 38 percent, surpassing that of Norway as a whole, 34.3 percent.

Table 3. Percentage increase in population between censuses in the nineteenth century for Sunnfjord
and certain other areas for purposes of comparison

Areas 1801- 1815 1815- 1825 1825- 1835 1801- 1835 1835- 1845 1846- 1855 1856- 1865 1835- 1865 1866- 1875 1866- 1891
Førde except Vevring 3.6 27.2 16.8 54.0 10.8 5.0 6.0 23.3 -3.6 -0.6
Jølster 10.0 10.4 9.3 32.7 5.7 2.2 -0.6 7.3 0.4 9.5
Southern outer 11.0 14.7 9.7 39.5 9.2 13.4 18.8 47.8 0.7 -4.4
Southern inner 9.1 13.3 10.1 34.8 9.9 2.2 8.1 21.6 1.8 3.8
Northern inner 6.3 20.4 12.9 44.4 10.8 5.2 4.3 21.5 1.8 3.8
Northern outer 6.6 15.8 9.7 35.5 15.5 15.2 24.9 66.2 1.8 3.7
Sunnfjord as a whole 7.7 16.2 11.0 38.9 11.5 7.4 12.0 34.3 0.5 2.4
Vik in Sogn 5.0 19.9 9.8 38.3 2.9 0.5 -0.9 2.5 0.8 13.2
Sogn as a whole 6.8 15.2 12.9 38.8 10.3 2.2 0.6 13.3 -5.0 -1.0
Rural areas in Norway 0.3 17.7 13.7 34.3 9.9 10.5 11.6 35.4 2.8 8.1

Sources: NOS, Folkemengdens bevegelse 1855-1865, 189, and 1871-1875, 8. NOS, Census, 1891, 32, 60. Census lists for Eikefjord, 1801-1875. Sunde, "Utvandringa frå Vik i Sogn," 167.

And if specific communities within Sunnfjord are considered it becomes even clearer that population increase alone was not the cause of the outflow to America. The northern inner communities had an increase of 44 percent between 1801 and 1835. And of these, again, Førde (minus Vevring) had an increase of no less than 54 percent while Vik in Sogn, as the table shows, had only 38.3 percent. The especially large population growth in Førde should probably be seen in connection with the fact that Jølster had a comparatively low increase - and it is known that there was a considerable migration from this community to Førde. {33} Otherwise it is difficult to find any systematic differences in the population developments between outer and inner communities in Sunnfjord before 1835.

During the years 1835-1865 the growth of population in Sunnfjord averaged about the same as in the Norwegian rural districts as a whole (34.3 percent) which meant that the annual increase was about the same as during the 1801-1835 period. Sogn, however - where the effects of emigration were now apparent - had an increase of only 13.3 percent, while in the community of Vik the population figure was virtually unchanged. Within Sunnfjord a clear difference had developed between the outer and the inner communities. The outer areas experienced a population growth of about 60 percent as against only 20 percent for the inner areas - about half the national average and only 7 percent above the growth in Sogn, even though emigration from Sunnfjord to America had as yet scarcely begun. It is worthy of note that the population increase was especially weak in Førde, Jølster, and Fjaler during the period 1845-1865. Jølster had an increase of only 7.3 percent between 1835-1865, but in this connection the great migration from the community in 1864 must be remembered.

From 1865 to 1891 the population of Sunnfjord was, by and large, static or in decline with the exception of Jølster which actually had a larger increase than during the previous thirty years.

By way of summary it can be said that a population pressure apparently developed in the inner Sunnfjord communities prior to 1830, as was the case in Sogn. This pressure found release increasingly during the following years, but not through emigration to America (see table 4). In the outer Sunnfjord communities economic conditions were such that a growing population could be accommodated during the next generation. This increase came partly from the inner communities, but also from other sections of the country.

Table 4. Annual population increase, surplus of births over deaths, and difference between in- and
out-migration in Sunnfjord per 1000 of median population

a) Differences are calculated from the first Sunday in Advent, 1815, to the first Sunday in Advent, 1825.
b) Population in 1885 is estimated.
c) Northern inner is with Vevring and without Eikefjord Northern outer is without Vevring and with Eikefjord.

Sources: Lists of births and deaths in episcopal archives in Bergen, 1815-1857. Church records for Sunnfjord, 1858-1885, NOS, Folkemengdens bevegelse 1865-1885.

As previously explained, the population increase in the outer communities was based on the flourishing fisheries. When these failed in the late sixties a population pressure necessarily developed there also which resulted in a heavy outflow of people and consequent static population figures. The migrants from the outer communities were joined by a steadily growing number of migrants from the inner communities, and by now America had become one of their objectives. In considering the two areas which, relatively speaking, had the heaviest emigration we find that the northern inner communities had but a small population increase during the decade prior to 1865 while the southern outer communities had a great increase. Similarly, in the two areas with light emigration we find that the northern outer communities had a great population increase while the southern inner communities had a small increase. Hence developments in Sunnfjord offer another proof of the fact that neither great nor small population growth can by itself properly account for the degree of emigration to America.

Population change is dependent upon two factors: the relationship between births and deaths and between in-migration and out-migration. The great population growth in Sunnfjord during the decade after 1815 was caused in large part by a very large surplus of births over deaths. This, in turn, was caused by the record high birthrate there - as elsewhere - just after the Napoleonic wars. Among the Sunnfjord communities it was again the northern inner ones which emerged from the period with much the greatest natural increase. During the next decade the increase for Sunnfjord as a whole declined somewhat, reaching its lowest point during the years 1846-1855. Then a reversal set in and the surplus of births continued at a fairly high level to the end of the period considered. The decline in this surplus during the years 1835-1855 was due in part to a considerably lowered birthrate. Natural increase in population during the period after 1855 was due - except for the years 1855-1860 - not to an especially high birthrate but to a marked decline in the mortality rate. The number of births in Sunnfjord as a whole declined gradually and steadily after 1860.

Within Sunnfjord there are clear differences in the excess of births over deaths between outer and inner communities beginning with the decade 1825-1835. From then until about 1850 there were generally much smaller natural increases in the outer than in the inner communities, but the situation was reversed during the period 1856-1875. The slower population growth in the inner communities between 1835 and 1865 is not caused specifically by a low natural increase but by a heavy out-migration, as has already been seen. Many people had to move into the outer communities in order to make the population increase as great as it was, since the natural increase was smaller there. During the decades immediately after 1865 the number of people who left Sunnfjord equaled practically the entire surplus of births over deaths. This was inevitable if it is assumed that by the late sixties the economy of Sunnfjord, as it then functioned, was incapable of absorbing any substantial population increase.

Studies of population growth in the community of Vik in Sogn show that the natural increase there paralleled that of Sunnfjord until about 1835; throughout most of the period 1835-1885, however, the birthrate was much higher in Vik than in Sunnfjord. This is remarkable when one bears in mind how many people of reproductive age emigrated from Vik. But this very high birthrate largely accounts for the continued intensity of emigration from an area where a number equaling the entire surplus of births over deaths began leaving for America as early as 1840. {34}

As regards Sunnfjord, great or small natural increase had little influence on the rate of emigration to America for the simple reason that this movement formed only a fraction of the population outflow from the district. In the final section of this article the pattern of migration from Sunnfjord will be examined.


In studying the district of Sunnfjord as a unit one finds that out-migration slightly exceeded in-migration during most of the decades prior to 1865; from then on, the net out-migration rose steadily. But as has already been shown, during certain periods the pattern of out-migration varied considerably from community to community. This is especially true of the thirty-year period beginning about 1840 when there was a clear tendency for the coastal communities - particularly the northern ones - to receive more in-migrants than there were out-migrants, while the reverse was true of the inner communities. This was, of course, due in part to the flourishing herring fisheries. According to the church records - which despite their incompleteness may serve as an indicator - 30.6 percent of the migrants who settled in Askvoll during the years 1835-1865 came from the inner communities of Sunnfjord, while 18.4 percent came from regions outside the county of Sogn og Fjordane. During the same period 663 migrants came to Kinn and Bremanger. Of these, 42.7 percent were from inner Sunnfjord while 24.9 percent were from areas outside the county. By no means all of the people who left the inner communities settled in the outer areas. 941 persons left the southern inner areas during the period studied, of whom 17.3 percent settled in the coastal communities while the rest of them found their way to other neighboring regions in or outside Sunnfjord. Of the 653 persons who left the northern inner areas only 17.9 percent went to the coastal districts.

From about 1870 the migration pattern changed in such a way that all the Sunnfjord communities - the outer as well as the inner - show a net loss. It is plain that this was caused by the failure of the fishing in the late 1860s and by the emigration to America. But if the total outflow of people is compared with the number who emigrated to America it becomes clear that the latter movement played a very minor part. This is quite unlike the situation in the community of Vik in Sogn where, throughout the period from about 1840 to 1885, emigration to America was the all-important factor in the population movement. The migrants from Vik and other parts of Sogn chose America after about 1840, while many who left Sunnfjord went to other parts of Norway even after the "America fever" had made itself strongly felt there. It may therefore be interesting to take a closer look at the Norwegian areas sought by the migrants from Sunnfjord.


The migrations within the district of Sunnfjord have already been discussed. In table 5 will be found a survey of all the population movements registered in the church records. The deficiencies of these sources have been pointed out: figures may vary from church record to church record and the results may therefore not be entirely reliable. This must be kept in mind when using the figures in the table.

Table 5. Destination of migrants from various areas of Sunnfjord

a) Including Hyllestad up to 1860. b) Including Vevring but not Eikefjord. c) Including Eikefjord but not Vevring. Source: Church records for Sunnfjord, 1825-1885.

One soon notices that Bergen was the main destination of those who left Sunnfjord. This movement started early in the century and the tempo increased until 610 migrants are recorded between 1866 and 1875. Relatively speaking, however, the movement reached its peak during the decade 1846-1855 when 50 percent of the Sunnfjord migrants went to Bergen. The communities of Fjaler, Gaular, and Askvoll were the heaviest contributors to the Bergen migration. No fewer than 361 persons are listed as leaving Fjaler and Gaular for Bergen during the years 1866-1875 even though the mass migration from Sunnfjord to America was now in its initial stage. Movements to other parts of the county were of little importance at that time except where access to neighboring communities was especially easy. In addition to the overseas emigration, migration to parts of the country besides Bergen was gradually coming to play a more important role. This was especially true of the northern coastal communities after 1866 when the fishing population went in search of new fishing grounds outside the district of Sogn og Fjordane.

Since Bergen was such a mecca for the people of Sunnfjord both before and after the beginning of emigration to America the question arises whether this fact may not help explain both the late start of emigration from the district and the lesser intensity of the movement. It would also be reasonable to assume that the Bergen migration had something to do with regional variations within Sunnfjord.

In order to clarify this issue it would be necessary to analyze figures covering the migrants into Bergen in order to see if relatively more of them came from Sunnfjord than from Sogn. Statistics of this nature are no more reliable for Bergen than for other parts of the country at that time. The only sources available are the church records and they are less complete the farther one recedes into the century. Nevertheless, a sampling taken from the Cathedral and Nykirken parishes of Bergen for 1836-1845, about the time emigration from Sogn had its start, shows that slightly less than 40 percent of the in-migrants came from the county of Sogn og Fjordane during the decade, including 15 percent from Sogn and 15 percent from Sunnfjord. This means that in relation to population about one and a half times as many migrants came from Sunnfjord as from Sogn. About two-thirds of all the people from Sunnfjord came from Fjaler, Gaular, and Askvoll. This agrees with the parish records of Sunnfjord which indicate that a great many people from these communities left for Bergen.

Yngve Nedrebø has made a study of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries which supports these findings even though it covers a different period. {35} In a military roll from 1804 he found information concerning the birthplace of 5,400 men of all ages residing in Bergen. Out of 2,500 non-natives 663 were from Nordhordland, where Bergen is located, 262 from Sogn, and 352 from Sunnfjord: relative to population twice as many from Sunnfjord as from Sogn. Nedrebø also recorded the birthplace of nearly 3,000 people who died in Bergen during the years 1811-1830. Of these, 365 were from Nordhordland, 113 from Sogn, and 172 from Sunnfjord. Thus the three studies corroborate one another.

Nedrebø has also studied the migration pattern for a group of 1,910 people born in Jølster between 1711 and 1810, all of whom were at least fifteen years old at the time of death. He found reliable migration records for 558 of these people. Of them, 288 persons went to the Bergen area, while 162 settled in Førde and the rest in other parts of Sunnfjord or in Nordfjord. The migration to Bergen from Jølster reached a peak during the 1770s, fell to a low point immediately after 1800, and did not increase materially during the years prior to 1830. According to Nedrebø, migrants from Jølster settled primarily in either Førde or Kinn during the generation following 1800.

From his researches concerning the influx into Bergen, Nedrebø reasons that he has found a connection between heavy migration to that city before 1800 and light emigration to America during the nineteenth century - and vice versa. In communities where the exodus to Bergen was heavy it served as a safety valve for the population pressure and also retarded the growth of the cotter system. Sogn and Sunnhordland are typical of districts with light migration to Bergen during the eighteenth century and heavy emigration to America during the nineteenth while Sunnfjord is typical of the opposite pattern.

Nedrebø's reasoning seems to be correct, but two additional points can be made based on the data for Sunnfjord during the nineteenth century. First, the migration to Bergen picked up again after an apparent decline between 1801 and 1815 when the influx into the city from all sources was very low. {36} The population pressure found ways of escape from Sunnfjord along old, well-beaten paths. And if one is to judge by the statistics, migration to Bergen was not less during the 1800s than it had been during the 1700s. It seems that the pattern of migration which had developed through such a long period of time served as a good bulwark against the America agitation, that Bergen answered certain needs even after overseas emigration became a reality.

In his book Om sædelighedstilstanden i Norge (Moral Conditions in Norway) Eilert Sundt offers some interesting information about a special connection between Sunnfjord and Bergen during the early part of the 1800s. It was customary for married Sunnfjord women - especially from the Dalsfjord area - to turn their firstborn child over to local relatives and then leave for Bergen where they suckled the children of upper-class people. And farmers' wives as well as the wives of cotters and laborers earned income in this manner. Sundt says further that it was not unusual for these women to continue in service many years - often as nursemaids - after the suckling was ended. The Sunnfjord women had earned a good reputation in Bergen because of their "steadiness and reliability." It was "exclusively" women from Sunnfjord who were chosen for this type of service. {37}

This tradition reported by Sundt points clearly to a very close contact between Sunnfjord and Bergen. The talk is here of old and firm bonds between families: children are not entrusted to just anybody! It must also be assumed that this child-care system had influence along other lines: a person from Sunnfjord secured work because he was known to the employer through relatives who had arrived earlier - and thus it had been through generations. The migration to Bergen was probably self-generating, as emigration to America became later: relatives and friends attracted others.

It has been shown that the migration to Bergen differed from area to area within Sunnfjord. This was also true of emigration to America. A detailed analysis of connections between the two phenomena can not be made because the church records are incomplete; but a few reflections are possible.

Decidedly the heaviest recorded migration to Bergen came from Fjaler and Gaular (southern inner communities) while the overseas emigration from these same communities was light. The church records for the area seem to be reliable. Hence it should be possible to determine definitely the destination point of the people who left. Fjaler and Gaular were also strongly represented among migrants to Bergen in the sampling taken from the church records there. It was especially the women from the Dalsfjord communities who took service in Bergen. Much evidence, therefore, points to close contact between Bergen and these communities. Also, when an exodus from all parts of Sunnfjord set in after 1865 as a result of the poor fisheries, then, for two decades at least, people from Dalsfjord flocked to Bergen in greater numbers than ever before. Overseas emigration was but a mere trickle compared to the migration to Bergen. Thus Fjaler and Gaular offer good evidence that a great outflow to Bergen resulted in light emigration to America.

Of all the Sunnfjord communities Førde registered the lightest migration to Bergen (not noted in the table) and also the heaviest and most constant emigration to America up to 1885. Developments in Førde could therefore be used as evidence in favor of the theory that light migration to Bergen resulted in heavy overseas emigration. But as the Førde church records are rather incomplete no definite conclusions will be drawn.

The northern outer communities sent few migrants to Bergen during the nineteenth century and emigration was also light. This development in Kinn/Bremanger can, of course, be explained by the fact that numerous people migrated into these communities because of the good economic conditions produced by their fisheries up to the late 1860s. When the fisheries failed, a good many people from the communities moved to Bergen. But on the average more people than from other parts of Sunnfjord went to other parts of Norway, and then mostly to coastal areas. This was a natural consequence of the fact that the actual fishing population was larger in Kinn/Bremanger than in other communities in Sunnfjord, and these people went neither to Bergen nor to America but to places where they could continue to fish. Besides, the actual fishermen were so impoverished that they could not afford tickets to America.

Both Askvoll (southern outer area) and Jølster (northern inner area) experienced heavy migration to Bergen during the period studied; and during the later decades these communities also developed considerable overseas emigration. But the Bergen migration nearly held its own against the America emigration from both areas.

In this connection it is important to underline the fact that even the heavy emigration from Førde, Jølster, and Askvoll was relatively light when compared with that from what might be called the real "emigration communities" of Norway. The America fever was inevitably felt in Sunnfjord also because of close contacts with emigrated relatives, prepaid tickets, and the whole massive influence which America exerted after 1865. But prior to 1885, at least, emigration did not reach major proportions. An important reason seems to be that Bergen - for historical reasons - continued to hold a firm grip on the people of Sunnfjord.

NOTES

<1> NOS (Central Bureau of Statistics), Folkemengdens bevegelse 1856-1865, Oversikt, lxxii.

<2> NOS, Folkemengdens bevegelse 1856-1865, Oversikt, lxxii and 179.

<3> Matrikkel 1890, Nordre Bergenhus amt.

<4> Olav Redal, in 1916 yearbook for Sunnfjordlaget in America, quoted in Jol i Sunnfjord, 1931.

<5> Theodore C. Blegen, Land of Their Choice: The Immigrants Write Home (Minneapolis, 1955), 18.

<6> Ingrid Semmingsen, Veien mot vest. Utvandringen fra Norge til Amerika 1825-1865 (Oslo, 1941), 36.

<7> Blegen, Land of Their Choice, 26.

<8> If "the same clerical district" refers to Askvoll, which is likely, then "Os" should be written "Øns." Skifjorden is located in Øn.

<9> Blegen, Land of Their Choice, 57-59.

<10> Unless otherwise specified, the information concerning these earliest emigrants is gathered from the migration records in the church books of Sunnfjord.

<11> The quotation comes from an article by Albert Soleide in Firda, July 3, 1951, which cites a list of emigrants from Jølster that A. E. Fond had compiled for Sunnfjordsoga. Organ for Sunnfjordlaget i Amerika, 1916.

<12> Letter from archivist Egil Øverbø to the author, September 15, 1979.

<13> Microfilm of ships' manifests from the Public Archives, Ottawa, Canada.

<14> Ingrid Semmingsen, Veien mot vest 1865-1915 (Oslo, 1950), 119-120.

<15> The transition from sail to steam in transatlantic passenger traffic took place between 1867 and 1874. In 1867 a little more than 10 percent of the emigrants from Norway traveled by steam, in 1871, 67 percent, and in 1875, everyone. See Semmingsen, Veien mot vest 1865-1915, 14. But it is likely that the ratio between steam and sail varied among the different parts of Norway. The number of sailing ships leaving Bergen for Quebec remained high until after 1870: 16 in 1866, 8 in 1867, and 7 in 1869. Ships' lists in Public Archives, Ottawa, Canada.

<16> NOS, Folkemengdens bevegelse 1866-1870, 3, n. During the years 1867-1870, NOS used two different sets of figures, based on (1) information received from the local sheriff or parish minister, and (2) information from the port of departure. Except for 1867 the figures for the port of departure are larger.

<17> The figures from NOS are used as reference because from 1874, when Bergen began keeping emigrant protocols, there is a good correlation between the figures in the protocols and those in NOS (94 percent of the names in NOS are found in the protocols for Bergen for the years 1874-1885).

<18> Merchant ships could carry as many as twenty passengers without going through the regular emigration authorities. Utvandringsstatistikk (Kristiania, 1921), 2.

<19> Axel Sømme, Jord bru kets geografi i Norge (Bergen, 1949-1954). Sømme follows divisions made by the Norwegian Department of Agriculture.

<20> These problems are further discussed in the author's thesis, "Utvandringa til Amerika frå Sunnfjord fram til 1885."

<21> Hans Arentz, among others, discusses the herring fisheries of the eighteenth century in his "Beskrivelse over Sunnfjord," in Topografisk journal for Norge, 33: 159-161. This article was written about 1785.

<22> See, for example, Nordre Bergenhus Amtstidende, no. 4, 1875.

<23> Jens Edvard Kraft, Topografisk statistisk beskrivelse over Kongeriget Norge, part 4 (Christiania, 1840-1842), 851-852.

<24> Fiskarsoga for Sogn og Fjordane, ed. Bernhard Færøyvik, I (Bergen, 1939), 77.

<25> The source for these figures is NOS, Beretninger om Norges fiskerier 1868-1874 and Fiskarsoga for Sogn og Fjordane, 1.

<26> Beretninger om Norges fiskerier 1868.

<27> Gaularsoga, ed. Olaf Hjelmeland, I (Førde, 1955), 131-135.

<28> Correspondence from Førde in Bergens posten, no. 49, 1869.

<29> Letter from Førde, February 1, 1870: "Nevertheless, on the whole far fewer have left this year, especially from the inner communities, where the poor fisheries of recent years have made people discouraged". Bergens posten, no. 33, 1870.

<30> See, for example, Nordre Bergenhus Amtstidende, no. 39, 1875.

<31> Medical report from district physician Høst in NOS, Sundhetstilstanden og medicinalforholdene 1875, 167-168.

<32> Semmingsen, Veien mot vest 1825-1865, 220, 234-237; and Veien mot vest 1865-1915, 62, 182.

<33> The fact that Førde, according to the table, received almost all of the large population increase in the years 1815-1835 can perhaps be given less importance, since the 1815 census is considered to be the most unnreliable Norwegian census of the nineteenth century. The figure for 1815 might even be too low. See Michael Drake, Population and Society in Norway 1735-1865 (Cambridge, England, 1969), 4-6.

<34> Emigration even exceeded the surplus of births over deaths in the years 1841-1845, 1851-1855, 1861-1865, and 1866-1875. Rasmus Sunde, "Ei undersøking av utvandringa til Amerika frå Vik i Sogn 1839-1915" (Trondheim, 1974), 93.

<35> Letter to the author from Yngve Nedrebø, September 16, 1979.

<36> John Herstad, "Folkemengdens bevegelser i Bergensstift 1735-1820," in Bergen historiske forenings skrifter no. 69/70 (Bergen, 1970), 124.

<37> Eilert Sundt, Om sædelighedstilstanden i Norge (Oslo, 1968), 243-249. The book was originally published in 1857.

 

<<   Previous Page   |   Next Page   >>


 
To the Home Page