01 June 2014

Jamestown as a Destination (Part 1)

The history of the Swedes in Jamestown revolves around the dynamics that transformed Jamestown after the Civil War into a bustling industrial city, situated alongside the new petroleum economy of northwestern Pennsylvania and well connected by rail to the country.

That was not the Jamestown that was the destination for the early Swedish immigrants.

In 1850 Jamestown was a village and not on the map. The first wave of Swedes who settled in Jamestown and the area before the Civil War only established a small community with minor economic or social impact. In that year's census, there were only 3559 Swedes enumerated in all of the United States (Report of the Superintendent of the Census, 1852, p.19) making them an insignificant immigrant group.

 Detail from A. Ranney. National political map of the United StatesRufus Blanchard, publishers, New York Chicago, 1856. Library of Congress Digital ID g3701f ct003588 http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.gmd/g3701f.ct003588

The factors that established the area as a magnet for later Swedish immigrants are subtexts in the story of the
Johnson girls who were adopted by families in Warren County in 1846. This story of the settlement of Swedish immigrants in Chandlers Valley has been repeated for more than a century now and became the origin saga for Swedes in the area.  It tells the experiences of a group of immigrants stranded by misfortune in Buffalo, New York, who, through trying circumstances, encountered the wooded lands of Warren and Chautauqua Counties that reminded them of home and ended up settling in Chandlers Valley, Sugar Grove Township, Warren County, Pennsylvania. They cleared these forests, built successful farms and prospered. From this group came the first Swedes to live in Jamestown. It is a nice story that has introduced virtually every history of Swedish immigration to the area since 1890.

Those Swedish settlers of Chandlers Valley who arrived in Warren County in October 1848 were not the first Swedes in the area.

Nearly half of those Swedes who had decided on Chandlers Valley in 1848 , (including those two daughters), changed their minds and left the area for Minnesota from 1855-1860.

Below the surface of this saga are three factors that established Jamestown as a destination for Swedes. 

John B. Jervis. Skeleton map, showing the position and connections of the Michigan Southern Rail Road (from Toledo to Chicago) with the several great rail road routes to the Atlantic seaboard and New York City via the south shore of Lake Erie. New York, 1850.  Library of Congress Digital ID g3711p rr004620 http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.gmd/g3711p.rr004620

The most important factor behind Swedish immigration to Jamestown was the village's location near an intermodal point along the route taken by Swedes from New York City to the new settlement areas in America's Midwest. Prior to the introduction of rail transportation (i.e., 1851 to Dunkirk, 4 lines to Buffalo in 1852), the principal route for immigrants heading West was by way of the Erie Canal. An underlying element of the Chandler Valley saga is the travails of their journey and the loss of the group's money. Early immigrants were easy prey for the thieves and swindlers during their slow journey by canal boat across New York. The census of 1850 shows a smattering of other Swedes scattered along this route from New York City, up the Hudson to Albany, and west to Buffalo. The establishment of an Emigrant Depot at Castle Garden in New York City in 1855 was the result of public outcry over the scandalous number of immigrants who were victimized once they arrived ashore.

Advertisement for Emigrant Trains to Dunkirk, New 
York Daily Tribune, September 15, 1851, p 3
Railroad was the more common route to the area for the early Swedish immigrants after 1851. Chautauqua County was indirectly connected to New York City with the completion of Erie Railroad between Piermont and Dunkirk in the summer of 1851. Advertisement of lower cost, off-hour trains to agents booking passage for immigrants began as early as September 1851.

Jamestown became a destination whether by circumstances or choice for immigrants because it was along the route heading West, and in particular, near the point where immigrants left the canal boats (later, the rail cars) and boarded steamships. Those who couldn't go on to the next leg of their journey were stranded in our region.

But why choose Chautauqua or Warren County? Why not Buffalo or Rochester or Cleveland. Historically, the first Swedes in the region were sailors who worked the Great Lakes. In 1850 a handful of Swedes lived in the ports of Buffalo and Erie. The Swedes who settled in Chandlers Valley encountered Swedes already living in Buffalo who helped them with communication and with employment arrangements. This was not a substantial community – not like the Germans or Irish in Buffalo, but there were a handful of Swedes who remain forgotten in the histories.

The second factor behind Swedish immigration to Jamestown was the cheap land in Chautauqua and Warren County. That explains why the Swedes settled in Warren and Chautauqua Counties rather than in Erie County or other locations. Swedes weren't the only immigrants drawn to the area for the cheap land. Dutch settlers in the Town of Clymer in Chautauqua County arrived a decade earlier. The first Swedish settlers in Chautauqua County were likely Isaak and Christina Been who settled in the Town of Mina, not far from that Dutch community. They probably arrived in the area in the summer of 1844 or in 1845 and their only child was born in Chautauqua County in 1848.  The complicated history of the Holland Land Company is absolutely a part of the story of Swedish immigration to our area.

One of the most curious anecdotal stories of the Chandlers Valley Swedes is that of Frederick J. Johnson – in a biography written three decades later he noted that within two years of his arrival he and his brothers had purchased 500 acres of land. It seems implausible that a family that was stranded and destitute in 1846 would be able to own so much land so quickly. I am still researching the facts of this story. I hope to learn more about the sales incentives of the agents of the successors to the Holland Land Company, how they worked in the area and the land deals that occurred with the new immigrants.  

The manifest of the Ambrosia that arrived 5 August 1852 in New York is the earliest listing of Jamestown, Sugar Grove or Warren County as a destination of Swedish emigrants.

The third factor behind Swedish immigration to Jamestown is related to the first, it could serve as a way station.  Jamestown was located near the place where a decision would have to be made by immigrants - keep going or stay put.  Selecting Jamestown as a destination left open the possibility of later choosing to continue further west.

Further Reading:

Edward H. Mott. Between the Ocean and the Lakes: The Story of Erie. New York: Ticker, 1908. Print.  Digital edition.

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