11 February 2016

Religion in the Early Swedish Community

The role of religion in the lives of early Swedish settlers in our area is not well understood.  A great deal of heavy handed editing during the intervening decades has made this part of the story difficult to assess.  Anecdotal evidence suggests that there was a range of religious practice from strong continuance of the Lutheran tradition or fervent Methodism to non-participation and/or non-belief.

The religiousness of the community, that is to say, how demonstrably some practiced their faith, was commented on by John A. Peterson in his 1907 remembrances of the early history of Swedes in Ellicott.1
As they had left their accustomed place of worship they felt "like sheep without a shepherd." But they had divine service every Sunday and read the day's Gospel and read sermons from Ekmanson.2 and Ahlberg Bastila.  Fredrick [1846.003] and Charles Johnson [1846.006] came out from Sugar Grove very frequently, as they owned a horse. They were both splendid singers. In this way religious services were continued. A new preacher was appointed for every Sunday until 1851, when Rev. Olof Hedstrom came from New York and held service in father's house. He promulgated a doctrine to the effect that they must be born again. As a boy it put me in a quandary, or, in other words, deep meditation. 

Early Rites and the First Religious Records  

The first religious rites in the area were likely administered by non-Swedes and non-Lutherans.  The earliest event in our area that I have come across is a family history noting the marriage on Christmas day in 1849 at the Weld farm in Sugar Grove Township, Warren County between Swan Peterson [1849.048] and Brita Elisabeth Abramsdotter [1849.015].3  The ministerial record of this marriage has not been located, nor the minister identified.

Olaf Gustaf Hedstrom - Biographies, Correspondence, Photos, and Journal, Swedish Methodist Collection - Drew University, Madison, New Jersey.  Image courtesy of Frances Bristol, all image rights reserved by Drew University, 2014.

 The first rites celebrated in Jamestown by a Swedish minister were likely to have been the three marriages performed by Olof G. Hedstrom in the summer of 1851 when he visited en route to Chicago.

June 28th 1851 
Lars Larson from Hessleby in Sweden 
Lina NilsDotter from Westra Enby  in Sweden 4  

June 28th 1851 
Pontius Oberg from Opperby in Sweden 
Maria HansDotter fr. Jusdala in Sweden 5

June 28th 1851 
Otto Pettersson from Wimmerby in Sweden
Lislena from Lonberga in Sweden 6

Olof G. Hedstrom's ministerial journal is likely to be the earliest religious record of the Swedish community in our area.  Hedstrom issued marriage certificates at the Bethel Ship mission7 but it seems unlikely that he issued these for the weddings in Jamestown.

Marriage certificate signed by Hedstrom issued by the North
River (Bethel Ship) Mission in 1850. Image from Swedish
American Genealogist.

Early Religious Leaders and Irregular Ministers

Two Swedish preachers were active before 1854:  John P. Dahlen8 and B.G.P. Bergenlund.9  Neither of these men were recognized by later church histories as the first ministers in the area.   Almost nothing is known of Dahlen and his work.  A good deal has been written in Lutheran histories about B.G.P. Bergenlund and his authorized and then disapproved ministry.

John P. Dahlen

The only mention of his pastoral work that I have found is in a Methodist history.
Guds ords predikan saknades då på modersmålet. En viss Dahlin höll sammankomster i ett på 4:de gatan beläget skolhus, men O. G. Hedström var den förste svenske prestman, som höll svensk gudstjenst derstädes.10God's words preached in their mother tongue were missing.  A certain Dahlin held gatherings in the Fourth Street schoolhouse, but O. G. Hedstrom was the first Swedish clergyman, who held Swedish worship there.

This most likely refers to John P. Dahlen [1850.061] who emigrated with his family and others from Djursdal parish in Kalmar län and arrived  in New York City in 1850.  Dahlen's sister-in-law,  Mrs. Pontius (Mary) Oberg nee Maja Stina Hansdotter [1849.049] had emigrated the year before from the same parish.  She was listed as the bride Mary Hansdotter by Olaf G. Hedstrom in his journal entries from June 1851 (see above).  Maja Stina's older sister, Anna Greta, was the wife of Dahlen.

Dahlen seems an ordinary Swedish immigrant.  His employment was as a common laborer, brush maker, farmer, brick yard worker.  He died in Jamestown sometime between 1875 and 1879. His widow Anne died in February 1880.  Aside from the Methodist history, there is no suggestion from the records that he was religiously active.

B.G.P. Bergenlund (Berglund)

B.G.P. Bergenlund preached in Jamestown in 1853.  The histories of the local Lutheran church often mention Bergenlund but do not explain what it was about his ministry that required his removal.  After Bergenlund's permission to preach was rescinded,  he left Jamestown, spent several years in Illinois and then Minnesota.  He returned to Sweden about 1861 and surprisingly, he became a Lutheran minister near Göteborg.

After a series of hot encounters with Methodists and Baptists, from which the Lutheran pastor [Rev. Esbjörn] and his flock [in Andover, Illinois] seem to have emerged with a deepened sense of the worth of the evangelical Lutheran confession, the congregation grew both in numbers and in inward stability. The order of service and ecclesiastical practices of the old country were more fully adhered to, while greater importance was attached to soundness in spiritual life.  Peace having eventually been restored in the church, renewed disturbances occurred when one B.G.P. Bergenlund, in the summer of 1855, after having been appointed assistant pastor and school teacher, began to cast aspersions on Rev. Esbjörn and his work, at the same time giving offense and scandalizing the church by conduct unbecoming a pastor and a Christian.  Bergenlund, apparently a native of Ignaberga in the province of Skåne, and a man of education, had come to this country in January 1853, stopping in Jamestown, N.Y.  There and in Sugar Grove, Pa. he began preaching to his fellow countrymen and in the fall of the same year came to Illinois at the suggestion of Rev. Hasselquist.11  Having passed examination, he was licensed by the Synod of Northern Illinois as a regular preacher whereupon, he returned to Jamestown and Sugar Grove.  By his unseemly behavior be spoiled his reputation in less than a year and was forced to leave.  In May, 1855 he appeared in Moline, where he took ministerial charge of the Swedish Lutheran congregation without notifying Esbjörn.  When the congregation showed a disinclination to receive him, he left for Andover where he insinuated himself into the confidence and friendship of the people by going from house to house. ... Bergenlund continued operations in Andover, but before the end of the year the parishioners had their eyes to the eccentricities of their pastor and resolved to call Rev. M.F. Hokanson, of New Sweden, Iowa.  ... In the summer of 1857 he was compelled to leave Andover and the next fall the Synod of Northern Illinois refused to renew his preacher's license After drifting about from place to place mostly in Minnesota he came back in 1860, after the Scandinavian Lutherans had separated from the Synod of Northern Illinois and formed the Augustana Synod.  He was then re-admitted into the Synod of Northern Illinois and ordained minister.  He now began to make vehement attacks on the Augustana Synod, but more particularly on Esbjörn.  After a few years he returned to Sweden where he succeeded in gaining admittance to the state church and obtain a charge in the bishopric of Göteborg where still perserving [sic] in his erratic ways he gave old Bishop Björk a great deal of annoyance. 12


T. N. Hasselquist, the staunch pioneer leader of the Lutherans, came in the summer of 1853 [to Jamestown], and gathered the immigrants for worship.  Then, too, there was B.G.P. Bergenlund ­­­— and what a character.  He caused no end of trouble, and in 1854 Hasselquist was forced to make another journey East in an effort to straighten things out.  The church statistics show that during one year alone Bergenlund had “excommunicated” upwards of 30 members in his Sugar Grove flock.13

The Formation of Congregations

O.G. Hedstrom returned to Jamestown in November 1852 and helped organize the Swedish Methodist congregation.  Soon afterward, the local organizational framework of the Methodist church added the Swedish Mission to the Erie Conference.

The Methodist congregation in Jamestown was organized around the leadership of Samuel Johnson [1849.026],  Andrew P. Peterson [1849.046] and John Larson.14     Their first meetings were held at the home of Samuel Johnson on Barrows Street at the foot of what would become Swede Hill.

The Lutheran congregation, as yet not organized, heard its first official  Lutheran sermon 1 June 1853 in the Presbyterian Church in Jamestown.  That Swedish sermon was given by Dr. Hasselquist when he visited Jamestown to interview Bergenlund.

The First Swedish Church

The earliest congregations were likely informal with services in houses and at other churches.

Germund Johnson [1846.007] provided the land for a community church in Chandlers Valley (approximately at the location of the Sugar Grove Mission Covenant Church today).  This church was built sometime between 1852 and 1854.  Olaf G. Hedstrom provided $35 for improvements when he visited Jamestown in 1851.15

This congregation split several times during the ensuing years; Hessel Valley Lutheran Church traces its origin to this church.16  

Germund and Catherine Johnson sold the land where the church stood (1.57 acres) 1 September 1857 for one dollar to John Lawson and Samuel Samuelson, Trustees of the Sugar Grove Lutheran congregation.17

Jamestown's First Swedish Minister:  Olof Hamren

The first Swede to take a permanent posting in our area was a young minister appointed to the Swedish Mission affiliated with the Jamestown Methodist church.  His name was Olof Hamren18  and he began his ministry July 22, 1853.19

Hamren had worked for O.G. Hedstrom at the Bethel ship mission in New York harbor.  His origin remains undocumented, however differing sources indicate that he was born in northern Sweden about 1825.

Hamren was assigned to the new Swedish Mission for the Erie Conference, so that he was in charge of all of the Swedish settlers in the region not just the single congregation in Jamestown.  The few references to his ministry indicate that he was young and well liked by the community.

At the end of his first year Hamren attended the Methodist annual conference in Cleveland.  Just after returning home to Jamestown, he died from cholera.

Rev. and Dear Brother, -- I sit down to record the painful fact that our beloved brother Olif Hamren [sic], is no more. He finished his useful life and career this morning, July 22d, at half-past six o'clock, at his own residence, in the midst of the little weeping group of his flock, who were wont to look up to him as their faithful shepherd and pastor, and under whose devoted labors they had many of them been converted.

We prayed together and wept together, and as we arose from our knees there was a transient struggle, a gasping for breath, and the spirit took its departure.

The last words of our departed brother were words of triumph. He was fully aware that his end was nigh and he met it as one fully ready for the summons.

We had just returned from conference. We went in company and returned together, and arrived at Jamestown on Thursday, July 20th, at five o'clock P.M. His health was good up to the time of the attack, which occurred last evening at about six o'clock. Thus, in about twelve hours time, we go down from health to the grave. His disease was the cholera.

The little shepherdless flock came around me with weeping eyes and throbbing hearts to ask, “What shall be done? Who shall preach to us now the gospel of Christ in the language which we can understand?” I told them that the Lord would provide; he would send them another. They desired me to write to you as they look up to pastor Hedstrom as a patriarch and father. O, if you could only visit them, and preach to them a few times just at this emergency, how much good it would do them!

Yesterday brother Hamren and I were talking of starting a subscription, for the purpose of raising means for the building of a church for the Swedish brethren on the lot recently given them by Hon. Judge Foote of New-Haven Conn. But a mysterious Providence has called him from labor to reward.

They have a large congregation, and from forty to fifty members in society.

J.E. Chapin..20  

It is remarkable how little is known about Hamren.21  Not even the correct spelling of his first and last name are certain  (he is listed as Olaf, Olof, Olrif, et al. and Hamren, Hamrin, Hansen, et al.).  This is likely due to his death after only one year of service, but it may also reflect his being a minister of a non-Lutheran sect or his origin from a far northern region of Sweden.


  1. John A. Peterson, Swedes in Ellicott, Jamestown Evening Journal, August 21, 1907, p 4.  See the July 2015 blog for the full article.

    Ekmanson. Utkast til Skrifte-tal, 1797. A collection of sermons
  2. Carl Gustaf Ekmanson (b 1724 Veta Parish, Östergötland, d 1812 Stora Aby Parish).  Lutheran minister and politician known for his many published sermons.

    Peterson's reference to the "Ahlberg Bastila" is likely confused.  "Bastilla" probably refers to a  Postilla, the accepted Lutheran interpretations of bible passages, especially by Martin Luther and Johann Arndt.  "Ahlberg" refers to Per August Ahlberg (b. 1823 Morlunda, Kalmar) whose preaching and missionary school  were significant in Sweden and America in later decades.

  3. The marriage of Swan Peterson and Brita Elisabeth Abramsdotter is noted in the family history posted by David Mosier Miller on Rootsweb

  4. Lars Lawson [1849.020] from Hässleby married to widow Lena Jonsdotter Nilsson [1849.002] from Västra Eneby.

  5. Pontius Oberg [1848.003] from Oppeby married to Maja Stina Hansdotter [1849.049] from Djursdala.

  6. Otto Peterson [1850.003] from Vimmerby married to  Lisa Lena Andersdotter [1848.009] from Lönneberga

  7. Erik Wikén.  A Marriage Certificate from the Bethel Ship in New YorkSwedish American Genealogist, Vol 9, No. 4 (1989), p 11-12.

    1882 Jamestown Ad
  8. John P. Dahlen [1850.061] was born 3 Dec 1817 at Olstorpet and baptized Jaen Petter Nilsson in Västrum Parish, Kalmar län.  He married  Anna Greta Hansdotter 23 Jun 1840 in Djursdala Parish.  The couple and three children received permission to emigrate (Besked N:o 8) from Mohåll, Djursdala in 1849.  The family did not emigrate, however, until the next year when they traveled aboard the Virginia and arrived in New York City on 3 September 1850.  It is likely they planned to travel with Anna Greta's family but remained in Djursdala because of the health of Dalen's mother, Ana Johansdotter – she died 15 January 1850.  Her husband, Nils Nilsson Tyfting [i2584] accompanied his son's family aboard the Virginia, but no further records for him have been found in our area (he was 58 years old in 1850).

    Jaen Petter Nilsson adopted the surname Dahlén (from the valley) and his father, Nils Nilsson, adopted the surname Tyfting from the name of a local estate.

    I have not yet researched whether Jaen Petter Nilsson Dahlén was part of the läsare movement.

    John P. Dahlen was difficult to track because the spelling of his surname was different for each census and he and his family lived in several locations in our area.  In 1850 he arrived too late for the U.S. census, but if the Methodist history is correct he first lived in the Jamestown area.  He and his family were likely in Warren County in 1855 missing the New York State census – some of his children noted Pennsylvania as their state of birth.  In 1860 he was listed as John Delani living in Fredonia and in 1865 as Peter Lean living in nearby Poland Township.  In 1870 he was listed in Jamestown as John P. Delene and in 1875 he was listed also in Jamestown as John P. Dahlen by the Swedish census taker.  

    His children used various spellings including Delane, DeLain,  Delain.  His oldest son, who died in the Salisbury P.O.W. camp during the Civil War, was listed by the Department of War as John A. Delaine.   Three of his sons became wallpaper hangers and painters working in Jamestown and Niagara Falls.  See for example, Jamestown Daily Journal, May 4, 1882, p 2.

  9. B.G.P. Bergenlund [i2255] aka B.G.P. Berglund, born 19 February 1841 in Norra Åkarp Parish, Kristianstads län .  Additional biographical information primarily from Eric Norelius, De svenska luterska församlingarnas och Svenskarnas historia i Amerika, Volume 1, 1890, p 163.  Norelius noted that Bergenlund was born in Ingnaberga parish, that Bergenlund had met T.N. Hasselquist in Sweden and that Bergenlund had arrived in January 1853.

    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.

  10. N.M. Liljegren, N.O. Westergreen & C.G. Wallenius. Svenska metodismen i Amerika, Chicago, 1895, p.297.  Rough translation by John Everett Jones.
    T.N. Hasselquist, 1860

  11. 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.

  12. Ernst W Olson & Martin J. Endberg, editors. History of the Swedes in Illinois, Chicago, 1908, p 434-435.

  13. Dr. Evald B. Lawson. Centennial of Coming of Swedes to These Parts to be Observed at Chandler’s Valley Exercises, Part II.  Jamestown Evening Journal, Sept 11, 1941, p 19. 

  14.  John Lawson [1852.244] was a founding member of the Swedish Methodist church in Jamestown.  See research to identify him in a subsequent blog (4 March 2017).

  15. The initial funding was to fence in the church property  "Samtidigt med verksamheten i Jamestown börjades af Hedström verksamhet i Chandlers Valley, der tomt för kyrka och kyrkogård skänktes af Germund Johnson samt $35.00 af Hedström till ett stakets uppförande omkring tomten."  
    At the same time as his work in Jamestown, Hedstrom was active in Chandlers Valley, where the plot of land for a church and cemetery were donated by Germund Johnson and $35.00 was provided by Hedstrom to build a fence around the land.  

    N.M. Liljegren, N.O. Westergreen & C.G. Wallenius. Svenska metodismen i Amerika, Chicago, 1895, p.299.  Rough translation by John Everett Jones.

    The details about the church building are not well documented even though it was one of the first Swedish churches built in America (aside from the Delaware Valley).  This church predates the organization of a Lutheran congregation by Jonas Swensson in 1856 and likely served more as a church for the community, rather than as a singular denomination.  Germund Johnson was an opinionated Methodist according to Eric Norelius, the Lutheran minister in Vasa, Minnesota.

  16. The Lutheran congregation formed by Jonas Swensson took over control of the community church in 1856.

  17. Warren County Land Records, Record Book R, p. 128.

  18. Olof Hamren [i0566].  I have not encountered information in Nils William Olsson's published research about Hamren. A painter named Olof Nilsson Hamren from Attmar Parish, Västernorrland who arrived aboard the Oden in 1850 (Eric Norelius was also a passenger on that journey) was listed by Olsson  (1967, p 256-257, 1995, p 443), however, this is not likely the same man who was in Jamestown.

    The Methodist tribute to Hamren indicates that he had been a sailor.  This would account for his entry into the U.S., his association with the Bethel Ship mission and his absence from the works of Olsson.
    The sailor has also received the word of God, and we have preached to as many, on an average ,as any other bethel Church in the United States. Those who hear the word in the mission are constantly passing to and fro between this country and Europe, and some of them labor not only on the voyage, but when they arrive at distant ports, for the salvation of souls, and especially in their native country. Two successful missionaries have been raised from this class: one, Olif Hamren, fell at his post in the Jamestown mission, dying in triumph; the other labors with success in his native country. 
    Source: Methodist Episcopal Church, Missionary Society. 1855 Missionary Report, Annual report of the Missionary Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church., Volumes 36-37, New York, p. 107-108.8.

    Additional research has located more details about Hamren, but his life remains sketchy.

    The ministerial book of Olof Hamren has not been discovered - it does not appear in the archives of Upstate New York, western Pennsylvania, or the Swedish Methodist collection of Drew University. The earliest records in the archives of Christ First United Methodist Church in Jamestown begin in 1868 with the ministerial books of B.A. Carlson.

  19. M. Lorimer Moe, Saga From the Hills, A History of the Swedes of Jamestown, 1983, p 19. Moe listed specific birth information (5 February 1815 in Skellefteå) for Hamren that doesn't match parish registers nor the description of Hamren as a young man.  Moe did not indicate the source for his information, however, it was likely based on the autobiography of Victor Witting, Minnen Från Mitt Lif: Som Sjöman, Immigrant Och Predikant, Samt En Historisk Afhandling Af Metodismens Uppkomst, Utveckling, Utbredning Bland Svenskarne I Amerika Och I Sverige Från Dess Början, 1845, Till Dess Organiserande I Konferenser, 1876 i Sverige Och 1877 i Amerika. Worcester, MA: Burbank & co:s tryckeri, 1904.

  20. Methodist Episcopal Church, Missionary Society. 1855 Missionary Report, Annual report of the Missionary Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church., Volumes 36-37, New York, p. 112.

  21. The unknown life of Olof Hamren also includes the claimed paternity of a son – seven months after his death.  Margareta Charlotta Hellström [1851.113]  gave birth to William Henry Hamerine on 20 February 1855, she was 22 years old at the time of his birth.  It is not clear if she had married Olof Hamren although she is listed as Charlotte Hamren in the 1865 New York State Census (Household No. 393, Jamestown 2nd Ward, Ellicott, Chautauqua County).  She was later known as Mr. Swan (Margaret C.) Nelson.

    William Henry Hammerine died at the home of Swan Nelson, 275 Willard street at 2 o'clock this morning aged 50 years, 9 months and 23 days. He leaves no immediate family. He was the son of the first pastor of the Swedish M.E. church in this city, was born in Jamestown and has always lived here. Announcement has not been made as to the time of the funeral.
    Jamestown Evening Journal, December 15, 1905, p 11.

    Hamerine was buried in Lake View Cemetery in Jamestown.