24 March 2024

Bergenlund, the Lutheran church, and sectarian infighting

The chance to own land seems to have been the largest factor behind the decision of our first settlers to come to our region.  An earlier blog (Feb 2016) began the discussion of religion in the early Swedish settlements in Warren and Chautauqua counties. I have come to believe that our earliest Swedish settlers also sought religious freedom as an important motive.  Most emigration histories focus on the period after the Civil war and do not emphasize religious expression as an important factor in emigration.  

Sweden was experiencing a religious revival in the 1840s, especially in the areas of origin of our earliest settlers. All sorts of religious revivals took place in most regions of Sweden, including the Roparrörelsen. The non-conformist Janssonists from Västmanland and Hälsingland were the most significant emigrant group during this period.  They exited primarily from Gävle in 1845-1848 and established the Bishop Hill community in Henry County, Illinois. 

Map of the home assemblies of the Åkians and Ropers
 Laila Bergkvist. "Roparna, Varför kunde de
 inte tiga?" thesis reference HRV:C09:5
 Högskolan i Gävle, January 2009, 59. 
Map based on work by David Carlsson and Lars-Erik 
Larsson (1978) Roparna and Erland Torstensson (1990) 
Åkianerna och åkianismen. .
A map of parishes that experienced religious revivals in the mid 1800s was compiled by Laila Bergkvist (2009). It is similar to a map showing the origin parishes of our early Swedish settlers. 

In the 1840s, many parishes in the Växjö and Linköping diocese (stift) were underserved by the Church.  The theft of religious silver objects in Hässleby and surrounding churches and the frequent turnover and absence of a priest in Lönneberga parish are both indicative of the deficiency of the Church. In the same way, a review of the handwriting of the ministers in the parishes of origin of our early Swedes shows a poorer quality of penmanship when compared to other parishes and other regions. This neglect and the religious awakenings of the 1840s led to the independent läsare who sought to receive their Good News directly from the source.

These staffing problems of the Church in Sweden were nothing compared to the scarcity of ministers in the first decades of the Swedish-language Lutheran Church in America (later the Augustana Synod). The new Swedish communities in America were widely dispersed and commonly had no priests or shared a priest with several other congregations.1   The shortage of priests who were motivated to emigrate to serve the Lutheran church in America was the basis for the events surrounding the first Lutheran minister in the Jamestown area, B.G.P. Bergenlund.  His tenure as a provisional Lutheran minister is inextricable from the history of the formation of the Augustana Synod.2  

B.G.P. Bergenlund

Bengt Gustaf Bergenlund ca 1865,
    photograph by Ögrens Atelier.
    Collection of Västergötlands Museum.

Bengt Gustaf Persson Bergenlund has been difficult to research and my understanding of his role in the community remains incomplete.  He wrote a biography detailing his experience that was published in Göteborg in 1871.  The only known copy is in the National Library (Kunglibibliotek) but it only includes the first 16 pages – the remainder of the book is missing.3  Swedish writers in 1950s described this book in some detail, but their reference edition has not been located.4   So, we have an incomplete account of Bergenlund's story and little information about his time in Jamestown and Sugar Grove.  But we do have an overview.

B.G.P. Bergenlund [i2255] aka B.G.P. Berglund was born in 1841 in Norra Åkarp parish, Kristianstads län.  He lived with his mother  in the household of her brother, who was a priest, his father absent. Bergenlund completed part of his studies required for the seminary, but was forced to discontinue his education and gained work as a tutor. He failed the school teaching exam in 1849.  In 1852, he moved in with his brother in Copenhagen and began studying English and then emigrated from there in November.

Bergenlund arrived in New York City on 10 Jan 1853 aboard the ship Enterprise from Liverpool.5  He was miserably sick most of the voyage and had his clothes and money stolen.  He arrived penniless in New York City harbor and made his way to the Bethel ship and the assistance of Hedstrom.  After recovering his strength, Hedstrom secured him a position as a farm laborer on Long Island but he stayed only a week or so, and by March he had found his way to Jamestown.  Hedstrom was likely anxious about Bergenlund intentions and in short order sent Olof Hamren to Jamestown to serve the Jamestown community that was organized by Hedstrom himself only a few months earlier (November 1852).  Hamren was the first (New York State licensed) Swedish language minister.

Bergenlund began giving sermons and soon set up a separate non-Methodist congregation that was formalized by Tuve N. Hasselquist in June 1853 when he visited Jamestown to interview Bergenlund.6  Eric Norelius noted that Bergenlund had met Tuve N. Hasselquist back in Sweden, both were from the same area of Kristianstad län. 

On 17 July 1853 Bergenlund put forward a charter for the congregation (see earlier blog). Hasselquist returned the next year to deal with a formal complaint against Bergenlund signed by nineteen Jamestown area Swedes.   By May 1855 Bergenlund had been ousted from Jamestown and was placed as an assistant to Rev. Lars Esbjörn in Moline, Illinois.

Lutheran histories consistently skip this beginning of the church in Jamestown and instead herald the arrival of Jonas Swensson in 1856 as the start of the Lutheran church.  Swensson's tenure was also troubled and he led a full division of the community along sectarian lines between the Swedish Lutherans and the Swedish Methodists.  Swensson unscrupulously led a take-over of the community church in Sugar Grove on land offered by Germund and Catherine Johnson  [1846.007 and 8].  The Johnsons and other Methodists were ousted from their community church which they helped build. That split was so harsh that many families, including the Johnson family, left the Sugar Grove community and moved to Minnesota.  

The sectarian fighting continued.  Even within families there were sectarians division like that between Frederick Johnson [1846.003] and his brother.  The split led Charles M. Johnson [1846.006] to move his family to the new Lutheran development of Rev. Hasselquist in Paxton, Illinois in 1863.

Frederick Johnson later left the Hessel Valley Lutheran church (named for his parish of origin) in 1882 when the congregation moved to their new brick building located in the village.  He became part of the new church that later became a Swedish Mission church and is still located on the the corner opposite the community's original cemetery (still today the Hessel Valley Lutheran Church cemetery) and the location of the original church.

Bergenlund, Swensson and Frederick Johnson were each divisive forces in our community rather than unifiers.  Their interests led to sectarian infighting which continued in the Swedish Community for a century.

B.G.P. Bergenlund after Jamestown

Bergenlund was in Moline but was a thorn in Esbjörn's side.  He left Illinois and arrived in Minnesota in the autumn of 1858.  He preached in several churches.  He bought property in Marine, Minnesota (reclaimed in a tax sale in 1865).  In 1860 he was ordained a minister in the Lutheran Church at the 
10th  Northern Illinois Synod held in  Knoxville, Illinois.  This was the first meeting after the split of the Scandinavian Synod ( that would later develop into the Augustana Synod) and Bergenlund's appointment as a minister was no longer blocked by the Swedish Lutheran hierarchy. 

In 1861 Bergenlund applied for an American passport.7  He likely returned to Sweden in November 1861. He petitioned to be accepted by the Swedish Church and he passed his examination and was named a priest in 1868 in Goteborg.  From 1868-1870 he served in Hjärtum parish, then from 1870-1872 in Fässberg parish.  In 1871 he married Inga Sabina Svensson (27 years younger).  He then served in Öxabäck parish, from 1874-1880 in Sjötofta in Älvsborgs län, from 1876-1881 in Varbergs stadsförsamling, Hallands län, from 1881-1883 in Frykerud, Värmlands län, from 1883-1884 in  Ölsremma parish, Älvsborg län, and from 1884 until his death in 1889 in Solberga parish, the birth parish of his wife.  Bengt Gustaf Persson Bergenlund died on Christmas day in 1889 at age 68.  He and his wife had eight children.8  


  1. The Swedish Methodists also lacked sufficient ministers, but the difference was an order of magnitude. The Bethel ship of Olof Gustaf Hedstrom in New York City in effect became the training ground for their new pastors.  
  2. Bergenlund was disparaged and dismissed in the histories by Rev. Eric Norelius (1890, 1916).  He was dismissed in Julius Lincoln's history of First Lutheran Church of Jamestown (1898). Emeroy Johnson (1948) seconded Norelius's description of Bergenlund as a troublemaker in the early churches in Minnesota.  Bergenlund is not mentioned in The Augustana Story by Maria Erling and Mark Granquist (2008).
  3. Anon (B.G.P. Bergenlund). Den faderlöse främlingen. Göteborg, tryckt hos A. Lindgren, 1871.  This is described as a very small print that was likely distributed mainly to his family and friends.
  4. More recent biographies of Bergenlund include: 
    A. Fredenholm, "Den faderlöse främlingen om ett märkligt emigrantöde." Allsvensk samling, July 1954.
    Emil Adalberth , "Bengt Gustaf Bergenlund. Dräng, lärare, emigrant och prästman." 1960 reprint of a series of articles from the newspaper Norra Skåne 1958-1959. Adalberth described in some detail the contents of Bergenlund's autobiography.  Both may have used a copy of the book owned by Gurli Bergenlund, a granddaughter.
    Mats Petterson, "Bondsöner från Bjärnum som präster bland nybyggare i USA," Västra Göinge Hembygdsförenings skriftserie. A very good review.
  5. Passenger No. 41 "Gustav Bergland" 31 M Priest Denmark.  Note the presumptuous professional title given by Bergenlund for this document.
  6. T.N. Hasselquist, 1860
    T. N. Hasselquist. "Letter to the Executive Committee of the American Home Missionary Society" dated 25 July 1853 from Galesburg, Illinois.  This letter was written in English. "Since my last report I have been at Chicago about four weeks, upon request of the deacons of the Swedish Lutheran Church there, and, during that time, I also visited the Swedish congregation in St. Charles and the Swedish people, living in and around Jamestown, N.Y. and Sugar Grove, Pa.  Though your commission contains that my labor should be designated to Galesburg and vicinity, I hope you will find the necessity for me to go to my scattered countrymen especially while they have earnestly desired it and they not have some minister of that confession they wish to belong to, in all places above named.  In  Sugar Grove I formed a congregation of 67 communicants, there was a young man, who had spoken the word of salvation to the people and several days during the week he taught their children.  The congregation had a great confidence in him and wished to have him for their minister.  They had agreed with him for a certain salary and hope that they would be able to fulfil their promise without foreign aid.  During my stay there they resolved to build a church and they seemed very willing to contribute their possi[?] for the said purpose, although the[y] could not think to finish it without help from other hands.  Their proposed minister, Mr. Bergenlund will probably come to our Synod this fall and seek license from and connection with the Lutheran Synod of Northern Illinois, w[h]ich all Lutheran Swedish ministers in this country have joined.  Here in Galesburg and the other places where I have congregations, my labor is going forth in the same way as before, that hope I in my last report, expressed that the seed sown will render this heart or that a good..  
    Rev. Dr. Tuve Nilsson Hasselquist (1816-1891) was a founding member of the Augustana Synod, the second president of  Augustana College and founder and editor of Hemlandet, the first Swedish-language newspaper in America.  See Wikipedia article.  The photo at right appeared in Eric Norelius's biography, T. N. Hasselquist : lefnadsteckning, Rock Island, 1900, p 86.
  7. Bergenlund applied for a passport in 12 October 1861 in New York City to travel to Sweden and this may be when he re-emigrated to Sweden.  See NARA M1372, Roll 101, vol 218 (Oct-Nov 1861), image 504/1421.
  8. A detailed genealogy managed by Simon Magnus Härdh is posted on the Geni.com website. A basic genealogy is available on the LDS FamilySearch website.