04 March 2017

Identifying John Lawson

John Lawson, Anoka County. This photograph shows Lawson
wearing a G.A.R. medal – he became a member in 1889 at
age 64. Image courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society
[collection reference: por 28014 p1, locator number SV].
Matching the biographical details with historical accounts of numerous Lawsons has been challenging.  While there were more Swedes in our area named Andrew Johnson, John Johnson or John Peterson,1  there has been more confusion about those named John Lawson.   This research seeks to clear up the documentation of the various John Lawsons in the area prior to the Civil War. 

1. John Lawson, Methodist exhorter    (1825-1908)

On this visit [June 1851] of Pastor Hedstrom's, he conducted the first prayer service in Swedish held in Jamestown at the home of Samuel Johanson Sjostrand on Barrows Street.  There were only twelve persons present, but it was a rewarding service, for Samuel Johanson Sjostrand was converted.  He joined the M. E. Church at once, was licensed as an exhorter and securing the use of the basement of that church for meetings, he became the class leader for his Swedish brethren.  ...On a return trip to Chicago in November, 1852, Pastor Hedstrom again visited Jamestown and in the basement of the "American" M. E. Church, he organized the Swedish M. E. Church with a membership of twelve, which in two years increased to thirty-seven...Two other names are associated with this early church group – John Larson and Andrew P. Peterson.
Source:  Helena M. Stonehouse. One Hundred and Forty Years of Methodism in the Jamestown, N.Y. Area. 1954,  p. 107-108.

Sjöstrand was assisted in these meetings by John Larson and Andrew P. Peterson.
Source:  A.J. Lannes.  Civic and industrial progress of the Swedish people in Jamestown, 1848-1914. 1914,  p. 15.

So, who was this John Lawson who was a leader in this congregation?  Andrew J. Lannes included the photograph2  above of “John Larson” in his his 1914 history of Swedish Jamestown, but with little additional information.

The greater part of those who are reckoned as Jamestown’s first settlers came in 1850, 1851 and 1852. Some of them were...John Larson, a local Methodist exhorter and father of Mrs. A. John Peterson, afterwards settling in Minnesota...
Source:  A.J. Lannes.  Civic and industrial progress of the Swedish people in Jamestown, 1848-1914. 1914,  p. 11.

The 1900 United States census entry for the  family of A. John Peterson3 indicates that his wife, Mary S. Peterson, was born April 1848 in Sweden and arrived in America in 1866, 44 years earlier [sic ]. Significantly, the household also included Christine Lawsen, Mary S. Peterson’s elderly mother. Christine Lawson was listed as a widow born in October 1825 in Sweden who had emigrated to America in 1875.  This is almost certainly Stina Cajsa Christophersdotter, born 4 November 1825 in Lönneberga Parish, who was the younger sister of Samuel (Sjöstrand) Johnson [1849.026], the leader of the early Swedish Methodist congregation in Jamestown. She married Johan Larsson on 13 June 1847 in the same parish and was the mother of Maria Sofia born 5 April 1848. Johan Larsson [1852.244] was born on 9 Feb 1825 in Karlstorp Parish, Jönköpings län. This family received an exit permit to emigrate from Lönneberga Parish in 1850, but for unknown reasons did not leave.  Instead, Johan Larsson emigrated alone in 1852, Maria Sofia emigrated in 1866 and Stina Cajsa Christophersdotter left for America in 1875.

After a year and a half in Jamestown, John Lawson [1852.244] married4 on 9 Feb 1854 Christina Lovisa Jonsdotter [1853.047] who had arrived the summer before from Järeda Parish.  Together they had three children in Jamestown before moving to Minnesota in 1861.  He served in Minnesota and the Dakotas during the Civil War5 and settled in Anoka County.  He died 26 Sep 1908 at his homestead.  His second wife Louise died 1 August 1914 also in Anoka County.  His first wife Christina died 7 January 1908 in Jamestown.

2. John P. Lawson, Methodist  (1834-1918)

The only (quasi-) primary documentation of the Swedish Mission congregation of the Methodist Episcopal Church that I have encountered to date is found in Book No. 2 (1868-1874) of the Swedish Mission congregation of the Methodist Episcopal church.6  This book documents the tenures of  Rev. James Iverson and Rev. H. Olson and includes a listing of members.  Those who had been received into the church by Rev. O. G. Hedstrom were the founding members. There is only one John Lawson, recorded as Jon Larson, in that 1868 list - an active member who lived in Fruwsberg [sp]. The next person on that list was Clara J. Larson who was received into the church by Rev. Carlson on 3 Sep 1867. Both were part of Class 5 led by Alfred Dahlman and Anders Hulquist and were registered as No. 71 and 72,  John and Clara Johanna Larson.  Their marriage was recorded in the same book on 10 Aug 1867 where they were listed as Jon Larson and Clara Johana Stanhom.

This is clearly John P. Lawson [1852.186] who was born 26 Aug 1834 in Mörlunda Parish, Kalmar län to Anna Cajsa Jonsdotter [1851.160]  and Lars Peter Israelsson.  He was 18 years-old when he arrived in 1852 to join his widowed mother, and siblings in Jamestown (they had arrived in 1851).  John Lawson married a woman named Charlotte and had three children before enlisting in the Chautauqua Regiment (New York 112th Infantry Regiment) in 1861. His first wife's origin has not been discovered, nor her date of death. After the Civil War (10 August 1867), John P. Lawson married Clara Johanna Stenholm [i2322] who had just arrived in Jamestown from Västra Ed Parish, Kalmar län.  John P. Lawson died 21 August 1918 at the Old Soldiers Home in Bath, his second wife Clara died in Jamestown 20 Sep 1920.

Most historical accounts list only one John Lawson as a charter member of the Swedish Methodist congregation.7  However, that appears to be refuted by at least one account:

The following were charter members: Mr. and Mrs. Samuel J. Sjostrand. Mr, and Mrs. Andrew Peterson. John Larson, Nels Johan Swenson, Mr. and Mrs. Israel lsraelson, John Larson, John Ellickson, Mrs. Carolina Swenson and Anna Sjostrand. As far as is known these people are all dead.
Source:  “Swedish M. E. Church. Prepares to Observe Its 80th Anniversary” Jamestown Evening Journal, Nov 15, 1932, p 10.

This listing indicates that there were two John Lawsons among the charter members.  The order within this list is based on position and family:  the first John Lawson is listed with the other leaders of the congregation and the second John Lawson is listed after his mother and step-father.  I believe that the listing of two John Lawsons was not an error and that both John Lawson [1852.244] and John P. Lawson [1852.186] were original members of the congregation, and that only the latter remained in the area in 1868. 

3. John Lanson, Lottsville (1816-1899)

This Swede was frequently listed incorrectly as John Lawson but his name was Johan Lantz and he used the name John Lanson in America. John Lanson [1851.130] was born 6 May 1816 at Berghagen, Västra Ryd Parish, Östergötlands län, the son of tailor Anders Lants and Katherine Månsdotter.  He married Anna Greta Olofsdotter (b. 31 Mar 1818 Ingatorp Parish, Jönköpings län) in 1842 and they emigrated from Ingatorp with their two daughters in 1851.  John Lanson died 1 October 1899 at his farm just northwest of Lottsville, Freehold Township, Warren County and his wife died at the same farm on 19 Mar 1905. 

4. John Lawson, Chandlers Valley (1810-1880)

John Lawson [1851.055]  was born 13 Aug 1810 in Lönneberga Parish, son of Lars Jonsson and Sara Nilsdotter.  He married Sara Cajsa Pettersdotter (2 Dec 1803 Lönneberga) in their home parish 22 April 1831. They emigrated from their farm Gulleberg in Lönneberga Parish in 1851 with two daughters and a son and arrived aboard the Cazone in Boston 11 July 1851 along with several other families who settled in our area. Their farm was in Sugar Grove township.  John Lawson died in January 1880 and Sara C. Lawson died 28 February 1894.

5. John Lawson, Chandlers Valley (1799- aft. 1880) 

John Lawson [1851.071] was born 12 September 1799 in Pelarne Parish, Kalmar län to Lars Jansson and Carin Samuelsdotter.  He emigrated in 1851 along with the family of his brother Lars Magnus Lawson [1851.066] from Lönneberga Parish also aboard the bark Cazone.  He lived with his brother's family in Chandlers Valley and died after the 1880 United States census.

6. John Lawson, Brocton (1829-abt 1890)

John Lawson [1852.209] was born at Starekulla in Od Parish, Älvsborgs län.  He was the son of Lars
Håkansson Wästerlind aka Lausaner Westerling [1852.207] and Anna Elizabeth Johansdotter.  He emigrated with his parents and siblings from Fristad and Od Parishes in 1852 and settled in the Town of Portland in northern Chautauqua County. He married Johanna, a Swedish immigrant whose origin has not been identified. She died sometime between 1875 and 1880, John Lawson likely died near Brocton about 1890.

7. John A. Lawson, Levant (1818-1899)

John A. Lawson [1854.040] was born 4 October 1818 in Kölingared Parish, Älvsborgs län, son of soldier Lars Klen and Maria Svensdotter.  He used the name Johannes Larsson Klen when he emigrated from that parish along with his wife, Eva Nilsdotter, and two young sons in 1854. They settled in the Swedish community near Levant in the Town of Poland in southern Chautauqua County, east of Jamestown.  His step-mother, Helena Svensdotter, emigrated to America in 1869.  She died 30 Sep 1886 and John A. Lawson died 23 May 1899, shortly after his wife's death 6 May 1899 – all are buried in Levant Cemetery.

8. John P. Lawson, Chandlers Valley (1840-1929)

John P. Lawson [1849.023] was the second child of Lars Larsson and Anna Olafsdotter, born 16 June 1840 at Ölvedal (Ulvedal) in Hässleby Parish, Jönköpings län. He emigrated with his parents in 1849 who settled in Sugar Grove township. He enlisted in 1861 joining the the New York 72nd Infantry Regiment and mustering out in 1865 with the Pennsylvania 211th Infantry Regiment.  He married Stina Reyk aka Christina Wright after the Civil War and farmed in Brokenstraw Township in Warren County. Christina died 18 December 1891 and he died 2 February 1929 in Falconer, New York.  Both are buried in the Swedish Methodist "Lawson" Cemetery on the Youngsville Road south of Chandlers Valley.

Other John Lawsons

In addition to these John Lawsons there was a Dane listed as John Lawson who lived in Jamestown in 1865. Other Swedes included John Lawson [1850.032] b. 1843 Pelarne Parish and John Lawson [1852.226] b. 1844 Hillared Parish, Älvsborgs län plus several more John Lawsons born after 1845. Another Swede, John Lawson [i3094] b. 1812 who arrived 1852-1856 was living in Sugar Grove in 1860 and has not yet been identified and documented.


G.A.R. medal (shown with facsimile
of its original flag ribbon) Wikipedia.
  1. There were about fourteen men named Andrew Johnson or John Johnson or John Peterson, plus a dozen or so each named John Anderson and John Lawson, and about ten different Charles Petersons in the area pre-1865.

    The Swedish patronym Larsson and Larsdotter typically transformed into the surname Lawson in the Jamestown area. The surname Larson was common in the Midwest and after the Civil War in our area.
  2. Photographic portrait included in Lannes, 1914, p 16.  It is the same image as a photograph in the collection of the Minnesota Historical Society which corroborates the identification of John Lawson. Lawson wore a medal in his portrait - it is the most typical veteran's medal of the G.A.R. The Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.) opened in Anoka County in 1889, so the photograph is likely after that date.

  3. A. John Peterson [1852.080] was the son of another leader of the Methodist church, Andrew P. Lawson [1852.077].  A. John Peterson was a Civil War veteran and one of the first Swedes elected to office in Jamestown  (village trustee) and was involved in several businesses, but especially retail clothing. The details of his marriages are confused in one biography.  His first wife, Clara, was the daughter of another John Lawson, Johan Lantz, later known as John Lanson [1851.130].

    A. JOHN PETERSON was born in Sweden, June 18th, 1844; came to Jamestown in 1853[sic], and is a member of the firms of T. & A. J. Peterson, contractors and builders, and Petersons & Thomas, grocers. He married Sophia Lawson [sic], of Jamestown, December 31st, 1869 [sic]. During the late war he served in Company A, 112th N. Y. volunteers, and he has been one of the village trustees.
    Source: Beers (ed) Illustrated Historical Atlas of the County of Chautauqua New-York from Actual Survey and Records, New York. 1881, Personals.

    "On Aug. 16 1866 A. J. Peterson united in marriage with Clara Lanson, of Lottsville, Pa., and after her death espoused Sophia Jones, of Jamestown.  Their union has been blest with four children, three sons and one daughter:  James C., a clerk in his father's store; Conrad (dead); Mabel Jenevieve, and John T."
    Source: Butler F. Dilley.  Biographies of Chautauqua County. 1891, p 149-150.
  4. I have not determined if John Lawson was divorced from Stina Cajsa, however, abandonment was a basis for divorce proceedings in Sweden in this period. A letter stating residence in another country was the typical proof used in the proceedings administered by the church. "One spouse would leave the country (as Copenhagen was the nearest foreign town, many went there) and the remaining spouse would file for divorce on grounds of desertion. The fact of desertion would be confirmed by the party who left the country." Wikipedia. His first wife was listed as Enka Stina Cajsa Christophersdotter (widow) in later household examinations in Sweden.

    This likely situation signifies that John Lawson worked with his ex-brother-in-law, Samuel (Sjöstrand)  Johnson, for nearly a decade in establishing the Swedish Methodist church in Jamestown.
  5. JOHN LARSON.  MN 7th Inf Co G. Residence: Minnesota. Born 9 Feb 1825 in Gotenberg, Sweden. Came to New York in 1853. On 9 Feb 1854 he married Louise Johnson. Four children. They moved to Minnesota in 1861. Civil War: Age 38. Farmer. Brown eyes, brown hair, light complexion, 5’8”. Enlisted for three years on 15 Aug 1862. Private. On 27 Jan 1864 he was sent to a hospital in St. Peter, Minnesota. On 19 Feb 1864 he was assigned to the Invalid Corps. Worked in the quartermaster department. On 21 Apr 1865 at Fort Wadsworth, Dakota Territory, he was ordered discharged due to having become physically unfit for further service due to chronic rheumatism. Was mustered out at Fort Snelling, Minnesota, on 16 Aug 1865. Post war: Lived in Anoka, Anoka County, Minnesota. Died of heart failure on 26 Sep 1908 and is buried in the New Cemetery at Anoka. The name on his death certificate is “John Lawson”. Sources: (Anoka County Historical Society, Civil War Collection #20).
    See Lawson, John in the Civil War Database of Vesterheim, The National Norwegian-American History and Cultural Center.

  6. This book is protected in the archive of Christ First Methodist Church in Jamestown. It is noted in pencil to be Book 2; Book 1 is not in the archive and its location is unknown.  The location of other documentation may be held by individuals in our area – the changing of generations make this situation perilous for the history contained in these original documents.

    The ministerial books for Hamren, Bredberg and Newman, the first three pastors of the Swedish Mission, are not located at the Swedish Collection of the General Commission on Archives and History for the United Methodist Church (GCAH) at Drew University, nor in archives consulted in Chicago, nor in local archives 

  7. A list of the original members of the Swedish Methodist congregation has been added to this website:  community lists > 1852 Swedish M.E. congregation list