17 April 2022

Coyotes and Good Shepherds

The origin story of the early Swedish settlement in Chandlers Valley relates strife, privation and confusion.  Beyond unintended child adoptions, it also tells the story of their reliance on the kindness of strangers in America.  This blog pays tribute to those that came to the aid of our Swedish ancestors.


Many Swedish immigrant stories begin with pain. 

In 1826, Olof Gustaf Hedstrom had all of his money stolen in a boarding house in Lower Manhattan and could not return to Sweden. 

On arrival, the new immigrants were witness to organized crime dedicated to stealing, swindling and profiting from their vulnerable situation – often with fellow Swedes among the gang.1  It took decades for a bill to advance in Albany because Tammany Hall made too much money from helpless newcomers.  Finally in August 1855 Castle Garden was opened in hopes of protecting immigrants.2

But even before arriving in America, these emigrants experienced unscrupulous treatment in Sweden or at transit points in Germany and England, or onboard ship. 

In 1853, Bengt Gustaf Bergenlund arrived in New York penniless and without clothes after being extremely sick during the voyage – all his belongings were pilfered aboard the Enterprise while he was delirious. 

Charles and Fredrika Gorman lost their infant daughter to starvation aboard the Franklin King3 – a death they believed was the result of a Swedish emigrant agent who cheated them in their provisions. 

In 1852, Captain Blithens of Massachusetts sailed his schooner from Gothenburg loaded with twice the number of passengers that he was permitted by United States law.  The voyage took twice as long as normal and arrived after ninety-two days in Fall River, Massachusetts.  Eight children died onboard. Several onboard settled in the Jamestown area.

As we watch news stories from the United States border with Mexico we should empathize – the death and misery of today's immigrants is no anomaly.  Immigration too often continues to begin with sorrow, tragedy, and the worst instincts of our fellow man.  In the Swedish American experience there have been too many wolves, however, there have also been good Samaritans and good shepherds.

Good Shepherds

Many good Samaritans have been described in earlier blogs, including Joseph C. Morrell, Maria Bovet, William and Eliza Falconer, among others. 

Samuel Berg (1822-1886)

Samuel Berg was a master woodworker from Östergötland who arrived aboard the Swedish ship L'Industrie in New York City in 1852.  Along with fifty-three onboard (30%), he settled in the Jamestown area.

Samuel Berg, by his vocation, known as "Berg the Turner," came here from Orebro, Sweden in 1852.  He seems to have made it his duty to meet immigrants at the railroad station and direct them to their relatives or friends.  He had his shop near the railroad, and every day, at the time of the immigrant train, he would shed his apron, grab his hat and make a bee line for the depot, thereby becoming known to more newcomers than anyone else in town.  Berg very early interested himself in politics and became a leader among his countrymen.  The home of this family was on Prendergast Avenue, below Sixth Street.
Source: C. A. Hartnagel. The Historic annals of southwestern New York. New York: Lewis, 1940, p 478.

Greeting new Swedes at the train station in Jamestown may seem unimportant.  However, if you have ever been a confused and exhausted traveler arriving at an unfamiliar destination without knowledge of the local language, then you can appreciate the generosity and dedication of Berg.  Samuel Berg also shows up as the witness on many petitions and affidavits of Swedes becoming naturalized citizens in Chautauqua County.  At his funeral in 1886, "[t]he remains were interred in Lake View cemetery, and the large procession of friends which followed to the grave was a fitting tribute of respect to the memory of an old citizen."4 

Olof Gustaf Hedstrom (1803-1877)

Without peer, the most important good shepherd of early Swedish immigrants was O.G. Hedstrom. There should be a statue on Manhattan's Hudson river walkway dedicated to the work of Hedstrom.  Hedstrom welcomed and protected immigrants arriving in New York harbor from 1845 to 1875, one source noted that in one year 30,000 immigrants were served by this mission.  The events that led to Hedstrom's three decade-long mission in the harbor of New York were detailed in The Hedstroms and the Bethel Ship Saga (1992) by Rev. Henry C. Whyman (1903-2001).5 

Hedstrom's aid to incoming passengers is only part of his biography.  The Bethel ship ministry substantially influenced the pattern of Swedish immigrant settlements in the United States (i.e, the location of Bishop Hill, the settlement in the Jamestown area).  In the earliest decade of work, Hedstrom served as the center for communications among Swedes dispersed from Massachusetts to Minnesota - if you wanted to learn about a fellow Swede, you would write to Hedstrom.  Hedstrom's bethelskeppet was a work center finding jobs for new immigrants.6 He was a religious leader shepherding the Swedish ministerium that would start Methodist congregations throughout the United States, back in Sweden, and including our own in Jamestown and Sugar Grove.  Each of the first six ministers serving the Swedish Methodist community in the Jamestown area had first served aboard the Bethel ship mission.7  Even to the rival Lutherans, Hedstrom could not be dismissed.  Norelius wrote extensively about Hedstrom in his first chapter of the history of De svenska luterska församlingarnas och Svenskarnas.  Rev. Erland Carlsson listed him as the critical asset in New York City in his 1854 emigrant guide.

Peter F. Williston (1812-1890)

In that same 1854 emigrant guide, Carlsson also identified Willeston for assistance to newly arrived Swedes in Boston. Willeston [sic] was Peter F. Williston, a tailor who worked in the center of Boston.8  He was born Petter Fredrik Williström on 1 February 1812 in Sölvesburg, Blekinge län, the son of Jonas Willström and Margreta Maria Lång.  His father, a merchant, died in 1817 and Peter Williston left the fattighuset of Sölvesburg at age 20 for America. Williston and three cousins (including John Holmbert who was returning to Boston) arrived on 20 September 1832 aboard the bark Ellen.9  

Williston married in Boston in 1837, but his wife died soon after the birth of their first child.  Williston remarried in 1840 and the family lived across the river in Charlestown. Williston worked as a tailor in Boston on Clinton Street, and then later on Tremont Row.  His shop at No. 4 Clinton street was across from Faneuil Hall Market and only a few blocks from the wharves along the harbor.

Swedish ships laden with iron had been common in the port of Boston for decades.  Swedish immigrants began arriving aboard these ships in larger numbers beginning in the 1850s. On 2 July 1850, the Swedish brig Minona arrived at the port of Boston with the first settlers (21 of the 76 passengers onboard) destined for the Jamestown area.  Like New York City, there was no receiving facility for immigrants in Boston Harbor, so when the Swedes left the ship they entered freely into the United States at the end of the gang plank.

In New York City, these Swedish ships typically docked near the Boorman & Johnston iron yard across West Street from pier 10 on the Hudson River (rather than on the East River where the South Street Seaport Museum is located today).  It is not clear if a corresponding pier location existed in Boston. The principal pier for Boston was the Long Wharf at the foot of State Street.  A warehouse for iron operated by Crane and Taggard was located on Long Wharf, however, there were other iron distributors located on Broad Street and near India Wharf. An 1857 illustration shows Irish immigrants arriving at Constitution Wharf in north Boston. 

Trued Granville Pearson arrived in Boston in 1851 aboard the Ambrosius and wrote about the experience:

It was just six weeks since we had left Goteborg. All who intended to go west had arranged with the captain to buy tickets to Chicago through him. We were allowed to live on the brig until we were ready to travel. This took several days [likely awaiting fellow passengers held in quarantine on Deer Island] . I took advantage of this delay and took in Boston quite thoroughly. Standing on deck I could see the largest part of the city situated on land sloping down to the harbor. That slope stretched quite a distance to the right where at the highest point was a large beautiful building located in an extensive park. Where I stood I could see several large streets leading down to the harbor. I fixed all that firmly in my mind. 
The following morning, all alone, I stepped on land, walked up one of the big streets and eventually reached the big park with the building on it. That was the Boston Common and the State Capitol. That park appeared to me particularly attractive. On returning on another street, I, after a long tramp, finally reached the harbor that afternoon.
Source: Granville T. Pearson. One Swede pioneer in America : Troed Granville Pearson's autobiography, p 26. Translation by Ruth Miller (granddaughter of Pearson) of the book edited by Bjerking (1937) and published in Sweden. Digital access: archive.org/details/oneswedepioneeri00pear/page/n6/mode/1up.

W. H. Bartlett. Faneuil Hall From the Water. Lithograph, 1839. Image courtesy of Historic New England, Prints and Engravings Collection Number PR166, reference GC002.01.MA.1950.017

The view from Long Wharf puts the State House directly in front, so this suggests that the Ambrosius was docked at India Wharf or another pier.  However, the article about the arrival of these immigrants (see below) notes that they paraded down Washington Street, suggesting that they arrived at Long Wharf.

Williston's assistance to immigrants

Williston's tailoring shop was on Clinton Street. It is not known when or why Willistion began helping fellow Swedes in the port.  HIs involvement may have been circumstantial: he was one of the few Swedes in the city, he worked close to the harbor, and he was able to translate. His situation was analogous to Joseph C. Morrell in Buffalo.

"Swedish Immigrants passing through Boston on their way to the Western States." Gleason's Pictorial Drawing Room Companion,
9 September 1851, p 160. Digital version: archive.org/details/gleasonspictoria01glea/page/160/mode/1up 
This image was included by Nils William Olsson. "The Arrival in Boston, June 27, 1851, of the Swedish Brig Ambrosius,"
Swedish Pioneer Historical Quarterly, v 12 (1961), 47-57.

Gleason's Drawing Room Pictorial published an engraving with a small story about a procession of Swedish immigrants through Boston in 1851.

A NOVEL SIGHT - The Emigrant Parade. Our streets yesterday afternoon presented a novel sight by the parade through them of a band of emigrants from Sweden, on their passage to the West. The procession led off by about a dozen job wagons filled with baggage, women and children, followed by about fifty men, two by two, some of whom had guns on their shoulders, of various lengths and patterns. Most of them wore straw hats, and were plainly but respectably dressed. In the forward wagon was displayed from a pole, a large American flag, thus indicating at the hour of their arrival on our shores, a most earnest and becoming loyalty. The sight was equally pleasant to our citizens and creditable to the emigrants. 
The band, numbering 118, are from the vicinity of Gottenberg, Sweden, and are all farmers. They propose to locate in some good section of the Western country and there pursue their occupation. They all bring money with them, and are intelligent, prudent and sober people – such as will add strength and character to whatever neighborhood they may go. They left last evening on the Western Railroad, and will proceed at once to Buffalo. Eighteen of their number they leave behind in the Hospital sick of diseases contracted during their sea voyage. 
The party came out under the auspices of Mr. P. F. Williston, a Swedish merchant on Clinton street, who has been happily instrumental in bringing to our land, many of his countrymen; a people who are always welcome upon our shores. They came over in the Ambrosius. 
They were forwarded by North & Co., 21 India street, with whom our readers are probably well acquainted through the columns of the Bee. Their facilities for transporting emigrating emigrants are unsurpassed, and their terms such as all emigrants should know – if they wish to consult their good..
Source: Boston Daily Bee, 2 July 1851, p 2.

Williston was involved with the arrangements for transport and likely organized this parade, supplied banners and flags, and recommended that the Swedes bring out their guns as a show of force.  The theatrics was probably a reaction to the street violence and anti-immigrant sentiments in Boston at the time. The map below shows a possible route for the immigrant procession: the article in Gleason's notes that they travelled along Washington Street and the depot for the Boston and Worcester Railway (that connected to the line running to Albany and then on to Buffalo) was located at Lincoln and Beach Streets further south (1 km /.75 miles as the crow flies and about 2.2 km or 1.4 miles in the path shown). 

Parade route added by author.  Boston with Charlestown and Roxbury. Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge. Engraved by B.R. Davies. London, Chapman & Hall, 1844.  Image courtesy of David Rumsey collection, reference no. 0890.166

In 1852 Williston was credited with helping another group of passengers. These news articles refer to passengers (184 Swedish immigrants, no Germans, most passengers destined for Illinois, and four settled in Sugar Grove) from the American bark Gov. Hinkley.

"EMIGRANTS FOR WISCONSIN. A large body of German and Swedish immigrants, 180 in number, passed through our streets today, on their way to Wisconsin.  The train consisted of nine large baggage wagons, containing their worldly goods, such as chests, beds, "frows," &c. The male portion of the party followed these bearing a banner, on which was inscribed, "Hail Columbia! the land of the free." "We will be no burden to Massachusetts." They were fully equipped with muskets, &c. By their cheers and smiling looks, it seemed that they were quite happy in their adopted country. They intend to make Wisconsin their future home.  Boston Evening Transcript, 10 August 1852, p 2.

"WISCONSIN BOUND. A body of Swedish immigrants, on their way to Wisconsin, passed through our streets today. First came nine large baggage wagons, filled with their goods, with the females on top, and then the men, equipped with muskets, and bearing a banner, "Hail Columbia! the land of the free – We will be no burden to Massachusetts." They were under the charge of Mr. E.P. Williston – Boston Traveller, 11th.  Sauk County Standard (Baraboo, Wisconsin), 25 August 1852, p 3.

The earliest reference (so far) to Williston in Swedish sources is a letter from Eric Jonsson to his brother in Åsbo parish  published in Linköping in 1853. He detailed his travel from the parish to Moline and his arrival aboard the Governor Hinkley. The most dramatic events related in this letter were the description of the cholera outbreak in Andover.  But the letter also indicated that a Swede named Williston helped them in Boston get travel tickets from Boston (to Buffalo to Toledo) to Chicago for 28 riksdaler riksgäld per person. Jonsson did not mention the parade to the train station. 

Ellen Perkins 1852

In September 1852, Williston was again cited for his assistance to Swedish immigrants.  Captain Blithens brought (as noted above) an over-crowded schooner into the small port of Fall River, Massachusetts.

Arrival of Swedish Emigrants. 

The schooner Ellen Perkins, Joseph B. Blithens, Master from Gottenburg, Sweden, arrived at this port on Monday late, with 102 Swedish emigrants. She left the above port the 26th of June, and has, therefore, been nearly three months on her passage. Hearing various reports respecting her, we were induced to examine her, and for that purpose went on board. The vessel is small, ill-looking craft, of only 130 tons burthen, unfit to convey a small, much less a large number of passengers so long a voyage across the Atlantic; and as a matter of course, a great deal of suffering was endured. Eight children and one of the crew died on the passage, and the wonder is that so many lived in such a pestilential atmosphere for so long a period. We learned that the vessel and the emigrants also were poorly provisioned, and the crew were put on allowance in a few weeks after they left port. After the emigrants had consumed all their provisions they were supplied from the vessel's provisions; and in reaching this place, most of them were destitute of means of support.

On their arrival, they could find no one who understood their language here, yet our citizens on learning their destitution supplied them with food. The next day, a Swedish gentleman by the name of Willinston, living in Boston, learning their arrival, came on to assist them, learned their privations and ascertained their wants, and remained here several days, ministering to their wants, and assisting the more needy in getting aid and employment. The poor strangers were overjoyed when the gentleman made known to them that he was one of their countrymen. He remained with them until Thursday afternoon, when he was necessitated to return to Boston. Previous to leaving he called upon us, and expressed his thanks to the people of Fall River for the kindness and attention bestowed upon them, in supplying their wants and assisting them to obtain employment.

The emigrants appear to be an industrious class, and shipped for Boston with the intention to go West. Many of those who have the means have gone, while others intend leaving. Most of those who remain, have found employment; and will no doubt be found useful and industrious citizens.

We understand that the Superintendent of the Railroad kindly tendered the use of the Depot for their accommodation nights, and they gladly accepted the offer. 

Notwithstanding the reports to the contrary, we are informed that the vessel did not bring as many passengers as the law allows, and that the accommodations, certainly not very tempting, were good compared to the majority of emigrant crafts. If so, we think it high time the whole system was reformed. Human life should not be thus jeoparded, in order to swell the gains of ship owners. 
Source: Fall River Monitor, 25 September 1852, p 1. Reprinted in the New York Times, 27 September 1852, p 3.

Like moths to a flame, the great demand for emigrant ships in Göteborg in 1852 attracted vessels from outside of Sweden to compete.  The Ellen Perkins was a New England schooner with a capacity (burthen) of only 137 tons who had arrived with cotton from New Orleans and departed loaded with iron ore, salted cod  and 113 passengers.  This small ship survived a perilous 92 day crossing with one sailor and eight children dying onboard. Capt. Joseph P. Blethens from Somerset, Massachusetts, sailed past Boston and put in at Martha's Vineyard for provisions before bringing the schooner into port at Fall Rivers, Massachusetts (across Narragansett Bay from Providence, Rhode Island).  No deaths were listed on the ship's manifest containing 104 names. The capacity of this schooner calculated by the Steerage Act was 54 passengers.  The peculiarity of the arrival made local news, solicited a generous public response in the city, and was undoubtedly a scheme of Captain Blethens to avoid the authorities in Boston and the large fine (US$7,800) that he should have received. This terrible episode explains the strange circumstances of the Peter Monson [1852.279] family, whose biography noted that the family was first in Fall River before coming to Jamestown.  Peter F. Williston's travel to Fall River to care for these new immigrants is laudable. 

Sagadahock 1853

Williston also assisted with the cholera ship Sagadahock that arrived in Boston harbor 24 October 1853.  Fifty-three (53) passengers died during the voyage and possibly more died in hospital on Deer Island during their quarantine.

“AN APPROPRIATE TESTIMONIAL  Mr. Williston, the benevolent Swede, who has done so many kind acts to the emigrants from his country, has received a handsome present of plate from the passengers of the ship Sagadahock, as a testimonial of their gratitude for his kind services, rendered on their arrival in a very distressed condition, the particulars of which our readers are already familiar with.
The presentation was made by Dr. Moriarty of Wednesday, 23d inst, in behalf of the passengers.  The plate consists of an elegant Silver Cup lined with gilt, a spoon, knife and fork, and napkin ring.  The cup bears this simple and appropriate inscription: --
Presented to
by the Swedish passengers of the ship 
Sagadahock, 1853
Mr. Williston deserves the greatest credit for his self-sacrificing efforts in behalf of the Swedes.”
Source: Boston Herald, November 28, 1853, p 4.

P.F. Williston's efforts are not comparable to Rev. Hedstrom.  Williston appears to have been paid commissions by the railroad company for tickets bought by Swedish immigrants.  While helping his countrymen, he also helped himself.

Williston was part of a group who established a mutual relief society in 1853 in Boston.  The New England Scandinavian Benevolent Relief Society was founded in 1853 and incorporated in 1855.  It was dissolved in 1934.  


  1. "In the last item [in the small guide book Råd för emigranter från Swerige till America, Gävle 1851] potential emigrants are warned against well dressed men, mostly Swedes, but also foreigners, who offer them help for the sole purpose of depriving them of their money. Märtha Ångström. "Swedish Emigrant Guide Books of the Early 1850's," American Swedish Historical Museum, Yearbook 1947, p 28. "A Swede named John Anderson, was arrested by the North Watch on a charge of robbing a room-mate named Martin Anderson, at their boarding house of $47 and a pair of pantaloons. He was committed to jail." Boston Evening Transcript, August 23, 1852, p 2. This is only a start of a long list of infraction by Swedes against Swedish emigrants.
  2. Other efforts to improve arrival conditions included transit points. Bremen was the first to safeguard emigrants followed later by Hamburg.  Useful travel guides were especially important in safeguarding emigrants and Rev. Erland Carlsson published in 1854 Några råd och underrättelser för utwandrare till Amerikas Förenta Stater. Vaxjö : H.S. Cederschiöld. Digital edition: hdl.handle.net/2027/umn.31951p01105588f
  3. The identity of the Swedish travel agent named Johnson has not yet been made; he responded to the published letters to editor first by arguing that the letters were fake and second that he was an honest man.  His "honesty" led to the deaths in 1853 on the Franklin King.
  4. Samuel Berg vouched for my own great-great grandfather, Samuel J.O. Jones, for his citizenship.  The funeral of Samuel Berg was described in the  Jamestown Evening Journal, 16 Aug 1886, p 4.
  5. This book is available online through OpenLibrary.  Digital access: openlibrary.org/books/OL1558398M/The_Hedstroms_and_the_Bethel_Ship_saga
  6. This was common in the early days (Bergenlund autobiography) but continued long through the ministry.  An 1857 letter written by Hedstrom and Newman was a response to Eric A. Helsten's search for immigrants to hire for his tannery. Olof Gustaf Hestrom and Sven B. Newman letter to E.A. Hellsten (1857), MS 2958.4467, The New-York Historical Society.
  7. A. J. Lannes (1914), p 21. Digital access: archive.org/details/jamestownswedishlannes/page/n21/mode/2up.
  8. Williston married Louisa Burr of Holliston, Massachusetts in 1837.  Fifteen months later, she died after the  childbirth of their daughter, Louise.  Peter Williston then married Margaret Brown of Maine in 1840 – they had no children together. In 1859, Louise Williston married Elijah F. Dewing of Holliston, a young lawyer educated at Dartmouth.  They had a daughter in 1861, Mary Louisa Dewing, their only child.  Dewing moved with his family to New Orleans in 1862 and was a Federal judge in Louisiana during the Grant administration.  Dewing and his family then returned to Massachusetts in 1877. In 1870 his wife, Margaret (Brown) Williston, died in Newton, Massachusetts. She was buried in Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge. In 1880, Peter F. Williston died at the age of sixty-eight, likely at the home of his daughter in Natick. Williston was buried in W. Trenton, Hancock County, Maine, almost certainly beside his first wife (cemetery not identified).
    Williston's only child, Louise, died in 1896, a decade after her husband.  Their only child, Mary Louise Dewing, had married Alonzo G. Faye, Jr of New York City in 1884.  They had no children. Mary Louise (Deming) Faye lived until the 1930s and likely died in Natick.
    Beginning in 1862 and continuing to about 1870, Peter F. Williston worked as a Customs Inspector at the port of Boston.
  9. Williston  was part of a group of four (all related) who traveled from Helsingborg across to Helsingør, Denmark and then on to Boston as the only passengers aboard the American bark Ellen. Olsson and Wikén identified Peter Fredrik Williston as the passenger listed on the manifest as Peter Poleson.  Olsson, Nils W, and Erik Wikén. Swedish Passenger Arrivals in the United States 1820-1850. Stockholm: Kungl. bibl, 1995, p 155. Emigration before 1840 was unusual and required special permissions. Nevertheless, the parish record for permission to leave noted that "Peter Fredrik Willström ... til staden Boston i Norra America." Sölvesborgs kyrkoarkiv, Utflyttningslängder (1824-1850), SE/LLA/13397/B I/1, np [image 62/143].

MinonaAmbrosiusGovernor HinkleyEllen PerkinsSagadahock


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