02 February 2021

Unga Astrid

 Actress Alba August as Astrid. Photo: Erik Molberg Hansen
The rural life of Vimmerby is the setting for a recommendable movie about the life of Astrid Lindgren.  Those of us searching the internet for matches to place names of our great-greats, especially Lönneberga, will always need to dive below the traffic related to Lindgren's wonderful stories, if not also the names of Ikea products.  The movie Becoming Astrid (currently available in the US in Swedish with English subtitles on Amazon Prime) is a look at the emerging Sweden at the beginning of the twentieth century.
Becoming Astrid, a Danish, Swedish and
German production, directed by
Pernille Fischer Christensen, 2018

Lindgren's family were part of the social fabric that had not yet left rural Sweden. Astrid grew up one or two  generations after the Swedes from Vimmerby began leaving for Jamestown in large numbers.1  Although her father was not a land owner (Samuel August Ericsson was an arrendator, a tenant farmer) none of her family were part of that emigration to America.  They were the Swedes left behind who benefited from our Swedes leaving home.

Class and Poverty

The earliest Swedes (arriving before 1865) were infrequently land owners, but many had assets they could put towards the cost of getting to Göteborg, then to America, and then to their destination for their chance at more liberty and greater opportunity in America.
The other large class of the poor who emigrated were the pool of working dräng and piga who floated from farm to farm without hope of land or the resources to get married.

Other European nations promoted emigration of their unwanted (i.e., Switzerland, United Kingdom) but it was not an effort undertaken in Sweden.  Historically, there was political backlash to and acceptance of emigration that resulted in a generally neutral central government role.

Ingatorp and two instances of parish assistance for emigration

Stig Karlsson and Karl-Henrik Rydén2  have discovered and researched two situations where a parish helped poor families emigrate.  I have not encountered anything similar to this in my research or readings.  However,  Rydén notes that there may have been similar grants made by other local parishes.3 

Catharina Samuelsdotter died 20 February 1849 from fever leaving behind her husband, John Brant, and five children with ages 14, 11, 4 and 9 months.  The family had lived in Bäckhult u. Häljarp in Ingatorp, but  moved in March 1850 to live in the parish shelter (Ingatorp socken Försvarslösa). 

In the 21 May 1851 protokoll (minutes) of Ingatorp parish, after a review of the account balances and listing of those receiving assistance, §6 detailed provisions to be made to assist the family of Johan Brant.  The Brant family was awarded 50 Riksdaler banco to be paid in Göteborg through an intermediary. 

Brant requested permission from his priest to leave the parish and emigrate on the same day as he was awarded the grant, 21 May 1851.  John Brant [1851.134] arrived with his children in New York City aboard the Swedish brig THEMIS on 9 September 1851.4

In the 14 March 1852 protokoll (minutes) of Ingatorp parish, another issue related to emigration was addressed.  Peter Isaacson requested early payment of income that he was scheduled to receive later in the year.  Isaacson wanted an advancement of ¼ unit.5 of rye because he would not be able to receive his remittance at the normal later date because of his imminent emigration to America. Isaacson and his family arrived in New York City aboard L'INDUSTRIE on 27 July 1852.  He used the name Peter Brown [1852.064] in America and was part of the group from Sugar Grove who migrated in 1857 to Watertown, Carver County, Minnesota.6 
Both of these requests at the local level were a  minor part of the cost for a family to emigrate.  Travel expenses within Sweden were significant, especially since you could wait up to a month in Göteborg for a ship.  The fare and food for the voyage itself was likewise significant.  The cost of the voyage alone likely approached 250 Riksdalar banco for the Brant family and that didn't include expenditures for food or bedding.  On top of that, the travel inside the United States was often divided into minor parts that could likewise become significant.  For example, it was inexpensive to go from New York City to Albany, but expensive for your luggage.  The same on the Erie Canal.  Finally it was expensive to hire a horse and cart from Buffalo or Dunkirk or Westfield down to Jamestown and on to Sugar Grove.  All of these travel costs signify that in the case of John Brant, the money granted by the parish of Ingatorp did not pay for their emigration, but it was a helping hand.  The source of Brant's other funding has not been identified.  

In the case of Peter Isaacson the advance was a very minor assistance by the local parish.

The ability to pay the various costs of emigration by our earliest Swedish settlers identifies them as having more means than the poorest of rural society in the middle of the nineteenth century.7  Emigration from the fattighuset (poor house) is rarely encountered, although it is not uncommon to read family stories of children who had begged in the streets in their native home.  Few of those who emigrated were financially secure and the marginal status of their rural society led to the massive exodus during the hard times and famine that occurred in the next decades in Sweden.  

Our Swedish ancestors, their poverty, the economic development of Sweden and our American view of modern Sweden are interwoven in a double helix through time.  Sweden is what it is today partly because of who we are. Without the emigration of so many Swedes there is general consensus that the resulting social and economic development would have been different.  Without challenges, the landed and emerging industrial interests would not have improved wages, recognized unions or supported education.  It took the constant emigration of surplus labor from after our Civil War into the 1880s before there were positive gains in rural Sweden.  In addition, the comparison between life in Amerika and life in Sverige drove Sweden's future aspirations as it approached its twentieth century.

Those who left Vimmerby for Jamestown and elsewhere were an important, although indirect, component of the childhood of Astrid Ericsson Lindgren.

Understanding the social dynamics that pushed those who did emigrate has been an important study in Swedish academia.  We Americans benefited directly from that research when the work of Gunnar Myrdal influenced the United States Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education.


  1. See Johan Hjertberg and Olle Hjertberg. Utvandrare från Vimmerby 1850-1914. Stockholm: J & O Hjertberg, 1988.

  2.  Research by Stig Karlsson in combination with the work by Karl-Henrik Rydén has been a great addition to this project.  Rydén's website www.edshult.eu contains transcriptions and research for those who have family from the parishes of Edshult, Bellö, Ingatorp, Hult, Hässleby, Höreda and Kråkshult that are part of  Södra Vedbo härad.  In particular, note that he has assembled a list of emigrants.

    Stig Karlsson discovered the assistances in Ingatorp parish. They are:
    Ingatorps kyrkoarkiv, Sockenstämmans protokoll och handlingar, SE/VALA/00163/K I/1 (1815-1856), 724-725 [image 366/449]
    6) Ur "Fattigwården" Till Emanuel Andersson i Liden -- 1 L [Lispund] mjöl. Till gossen Peter Johan Petersson, som vistas hos Dyk, 1/2 L [Lispund. och 16Rks Bco i månaden hädanefter och tills vidare i ett för allt. Och till Enkomannen Johan Brandts från Skurulid under Ödhult 2ne yngsta barn, hvilka redan fått sig beviljadt och åtnjutit ur fattigwården det ena 15 L [Lispund] mjöl i månaden och det andra 1/2 L [Lispund] mjöl samt 32 Rks Bco i månaden, -- beviljades nu af soknemännen i ett för allt och för en enda gång Femtio/50/ Riksdaler Banco att utgå af Fattigwärdsmedlen, der de föråt erhållet sitt understöden Härwid fästades följande vilkor och för behålnemligen att ifrågavarande Enkoman Brandt med alla sina barn, fem till antalet, verkligen komme att nu i dessa dagar, såsom kungjort blifvit från predikstolen, afresa till Norra Americas Förenta Stater och således för intetdera af barnen ij heller för egen det komme att hädanefter ligga Ingatorps Fattigwård till ringaste vidare lunga eller kostnad i -- att besagde femtio Rks Bco ej få af Brandt emottagas eller användas förrän afresan verkligen sker med fartyg från Götheborg till America, samt att medlen skola af Hemmansegaren Harold Gustaf Jonsson i Häljarp insättas hos Handlanderne Hernlund i Ekesjö med anhållan att af dem till tillfördet lig person i Götheborg öfversändas och der på sätt nämndt är hållas Brandt tillhanda, öfver hvilket uppdrogs riktig fullgörande Harald Gustaf Jonsson i Häljarp, personligen närvarande vid Stämman, lofvade att förste behörigt qvitto inför fattigwårds styrelsen; samt flutligen att, ehuru för samlingen för denna gång ansåg sig hafva skäl att bevilja meranämnd fattigunderstöd förskottsvis, den likväl på intet sätt ville härigenom uppmuntra dylika utflyttningar af heller ingifva förhoppningar om att lemna förskotter hädanefter.

    Roughly translated:
    To Emanuel Andersson in Liden (Ingatorp)  - 8.5 kg flour
    To Peter Johan Peterson who is staying with Dyk, 4.2 kg flour and 16 Riksdaler banco a month from now and for the time being.
    And to widower Johan Brandts from Skurulid u. Ödhult, second youngest child[?], who has already been granted and enjoyed from the Fattigwärds fund 127.5 kg a month and another 4.25 kg flour and 32 Riksdaler banco per month, - was now hereby granted by the parishioners once, and only one time, Fifty (50) Riksdaler banco to be paid from the Fattigwärd funds, where they previously received their support with the following conditions:  that the widower Brandt in question with all his children, five in number, does come now in these days, as announced from the pulpit, to depart for the United States of North America and thus for none of his children and himself that they will from this time forward disavow any further assistance from Ingatorp's Fattigwård - that said fifty Riksdaler banco will not be given to Brandt until departure actually takes place by ship from Göthenburg to America, and that the funds shall be deposited by the Farm Owner Harold Gustaf Jonsson in Häljarp with merchant Hernlund in Eksjö with the request that these funds should be forwarded to his contact in Göthenburg and there in the manner mentioned such funds are to be made available to Brandt. 
    This action has been properly administered by Harald Gustaf Jonsson of Häljarp, personally attending the meeting, and promising to present before the board of the Fattigwård an acceptable receipt.  
    And that, although the collection for this instance is considered itself justified in granting the above-mentioned poor support in advance, it nevertheless in no way is meant to encourage such relocations nor give hope of other such emigration assistance in the future.

    Ingatorps kyrkoarkiv, Sockenstämmans protokoll och handlingar, SE/VALA/00163/K I/1 (1815-1856), 748-749 [image 377/449]
    §3. Torparen Peter Isakssons i Olsberg ankällan, att få eftergift på det lån af 1/4 lunna råg som han ur Magazinet er käl lit befölls med det uttryckliga vilkon: att han detta år till Nord-America afflyttar. I morfatt fall tillerkännes honom a nämnde län ingen eftergift.

  3. Rydén has also identified another instance detailed in a history of his family by Inge Dyker, Till och från Näs.  Dyker wrote that another local historian, Tore Sandh had told her that it sometimes happened that the fattigvårdsstyrelse (social welfare board) decided to give funding to emigrants. It was seen as a one time payment that would prevent them from paying a yearly contribution. See Inger Dejke, Till Och Från Näs. Eksjö: Näs Norrgård förlag, Halmstad : Bulls Graphics AB, 2019. 

    Rydén has further noted that there should have been a case in Höreda (a nearby parish) where incomes from the taxing of dogs was used to contribute for the ticket (Dejke, 2019, p 81). 
  4. John Brant [1851.139] biography

  5. The text reads lunna, so it could be tunna ( barrel).

  6. Peter Brown [1852.064] biography

  7. It should be remembered that the origin of our Swedish American community in the Jamestown area (northwestern and north central Pennsylvania, western and central New York) lies in the marginal status of our earliest settlers.  The founders of the settlement in Sugar Grove (Chandlers Valley), Germund and Catherine Johnson, were part of a group of about 50 people who got on the VIRGINIA in 1846 without enough money to make it through their first months in America.  The ship owner, Olof Wijk, gave them a discounted fare likely because Wijk shared their religious and anti-alcohol sentiments.  Technically, when our Swedes arrived in NYC Captain Jansson should have received a major fine and the passengers should have been sent back to Sweden.  The new immigrants were lucky to have the assistance of the Bethel Ship mission in New York City run by Rev. Olof Hedstrom -- it seems likely that his council led to their western trek without funds.  The group made it to Buffalo penniless and found kind Swedes who made it possible for them to eat, get shelter, and then find work in the area.  The Johnsons were one of several families who had to seek public assistance for their children (Buffalo Orphan Asylum).  Our community's origins depended on the generosity of strangers towards immigrants.

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