29 August 2016

Population Statistics for the Swedish Community Prior to the Civil War


Jamestown to-day boasts of a population of several thousand Swedes. We have no better citizens than our Scandinavian population. A prominent one of them said to us a few days ago, “Please not speak of us as Swedes. There are a few Swedes among us, late comers, who have not yet obtained their naturalization papers, but as soon as they do they will claim, as I do now, that they are Yankees and have ceased to be Swedes. We love our country, the United States, and you well know that many of us have fought for it, and what is better, will fight for it whenever the country calls."  It is nearly, if not quite fifty years ago that the first Swede man and family settled at the foot of English hill.  That man was Samuel Johnson. — He was a tanner by trade and worked for R. W. Arnold.  We named a child of Samuel Johnson after our own baby daughter, Katie, who has gone.  Katie Johnson, we are informed, became the wife of Capt. Conrad Hult.  Soon after Johnson settled in Jamestown other families came, and in a few years our Swede population could be counted by the hundred.  Since that time they have become numerous, and are counted by the thousand.  As citizens they are not excelled by any others. 

Gilbert W. Hazeltine, The Early History of the Town of Ellicott, Chautauqua County, N.Y., Jamestown Publishing Co., 1887, p 424.

This research project seeks to document Swedes who arrived in the area before the Civil War in order to then analyze this population regarding life expectancy, number of births, infant mortality, economic success, etc. So, how many Swedes were here before the Civil War? Histories usually reported that there were about 250 Swedes in the early 1850s, however, these numbers often seem to be referring only to the Swedes in the village of Jamestown. 

In a previous blog about Swedish participation in the Civil War, I found that the total number of Swedes had been substantially underestimated.  

I have completed an intermediate review of the database entries.  My current count is approaching 800 Swedes in Warren and Chautauqua County.  About half of the population arrived in 1851 and 1852.  The percentage loss due to later migration is less than I thought, but still an issue.

The intermediate stats still show nearly all of the immigrants to our area prior to 1860 were from two clusters of parishes.  The great majority of Swedish settlers were from parishes near Kisa (including parts of Östergötland, Kalmar and Jönköpings läns).  A minority of Swedes came from Redvägs, Kullings, and Gäsene härads in eastern Älvsborgs län.

I am currently researching the role of religion in the lives of these Swedes.  I have found some details not previously published, but a substantial amount of additional research will be necessary to complete this topic.  What makes this research more difficult is my lack of interest in this issue, however, religious divisiveness does seem to have been an important factor in our history.   In particular, the story of the controversial Lutheran priest B.G.P. Bergenlund is more complicated than I would like to tackle, but his interactions with the Sugar Grove community set up the conditions that Jonas Swensson then dealt with
during his tenure from 1856-1858.  

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