Polycarpus von Schneidau

Polycarpus von Schneider [sic ] 1835 portrait by
Maria Röhl, 28 x 22 cm, pencil on paper, edited.
collection of Kungliga biblioteket (digitized material)
accessed 2020.05.01]
Many histories1  indicate that Peter Cassel was influenced by letters written from Wisconsin by Johan Fredrick Polycarpus von Schneidau to his family in Kisa.   Although it is possible that von Schneidau wrote letters to his step-mother or half-sister who were living in Kisa, I doubt that these letters held any sway in Cassel’s decision to emigrate.

The historical context:
  •  There are no existent letters that provide evidence of correspondence by von Schneidau from America to his step-family in Kisa; no letters were published in Swedish newspapers;
  • Only three years separate von Schneidau's departure from Stockholm in 1842 and Peter Cassel’s departure from Kisa in 1845 and during that time period the von Schneidaus lived miserably in Pine Lake, Wisconsin;
  • von Schneidau's parents2  had divorced and his mother had remarried and lived in Stockholm. His maternal side was connected with the aristocracy of Stockholm and  Polycarpus von Schneidau circulated within Royal circles; 
  • it is unclear if Polycarpus von Schneidau ever lived in Kisa.3  He is listed in the household census for 1831-1835 for Kisa Parish but with the notation “har aldrig varit i Kisa” or roughly translated as “has never been to Kisa”  indicating that he only visited his father's household or that he had never presented himself at the parish church or that he had never set foot in Kisa (see Kisa AI:7 (1831-1835) page 437);
  • his father, had died in Kisa in 1837, five years prior to the emigration of Polycarpus; and 
  • in the period 1842-1845, his stepmother, Anna Maria von Schneidau (nee Fridman) and one half-sister, Henrica Maria Gustava Josephia von Schneidau, were the only relatives living in Kisa.  
The premise of many historians that von Schneidau had an important influence on Peter Cassel seems implausible, if not a bit preposterous.   George T. Flom asserted this point in his 1905 history of Swedish settlements in Iowa (p 601). It is disheartening to read George Stephenson's 1929 work on Peter Cassel and see this conjecture presented as fact (to be fair, it is so much easier to fact check today). Stephenson mistook or was ignorant of Peter Cassel's relationship with Carl Gustaf Sundius and instead noted that it was von Schneidau.

First, in the period leading up to Cassel’s emigration, Polycarpus von Schneidau (in his early thirties) was living with his wife in miserable conditions in Wisconsin having injured his leg on the voyage to America and finding himself poorly adapted as a farmer.  Contemporary accounts paint a less than upbeat situation for the von Schneidaus during this period. (see Nils William Olsson, Documents: A Visit to Wisconsin in 1843, Wisconsin Magazine of History. Volume 31, number 4 (June), 1944, p 452-460.  It seems unlikely that any letter written to his step-mother in Kisa would have been upbeat and motivational for Cassel. The von Schneidaus left Gustaf Unonius’s Pine Lake and settled in Chicago in 1845.

Second, although it is possible that Peter Cassel had met Polycarp von Schneidau during the period from 1832 to 1835 when the younger von Schneidau might have visited Kisa,  it seems so unlikely that any letters from an aristocrat would have influenced Peter Cassel.  In 1845, Peter Cassel was an established,  mature man who seems to have developed antipathy for the economic, religious and social structure of his contemporary Sweden.  The bon vivant von Schneidau represented everything about Swedish society that Peter Cassel probably wanted to leave behind.

The likely motive for historians to connect von Schneidau to Peter Cassel is found in Polycarp von Schneidau’s later success in Chicago - that is to say, these historians were likely name-dropping.  It was after Peter Cassel’s emigration in 1845 that von Schneidau moved to Chicago and became an important figure in the early Swedish settlement of that new city and Swedish consul there.

Secondly, Polycarp von Schneidau became a significant early studio photographer.

Abraham Lincoln, 1854. Polycarpus von Schneidau
This is a later, altered print, Collection of  the
Library of Congress LC-USZ62-10673
Jenny Lind, 1850, Mathew Brady Studio, 
Polycarpus von Schneidau (likely). Collection of 
the Library of Congress LC-DIG-ppmsca-38268

Polycarpus von Schneidau remains historically noteworthy for his daguerreotype portraits of Abraham Lincoln and Jenny Lind.  The Lincoln photograph was later altered to change the name of the newspaper.

Johan Fredrick Polycarpus von Schneidau and family,
1852.  Collection of Moderna Museet, Stockholm,
object no. FM 1985 042 001
A third motive for name dropping was von Schneidau's connection to High Society in the East through their orphan daughter.  Pauline von Schneidau grew up in the Ogden household in Chicago and married Eugene Murray Jerome who was the first cousin of Jennie Jerome Churchill, the mother of Winston Churchill.


  1.  The initial contention was that von Schneidau had written to his father Major von Schneidau in Kisa.  This was done by Flom (1905) and Stephenson (1929). An often cited history by Florence Edith Janson, The Background of Swedish Immigration, 1840-1930, Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1931, p 128 noted that “From this region around the town of Kisa, emigration began in 1842, influenced by the letters of Captain von Schneidau written to his father, Major von Schneidau.”

    "It has often been maintained that Polycarpus' letters from America to his father in Kisa aroused Cassel's interest in emigrating." is the manner in which Curt von Wachenfeldt noted the absence of evidence for this contention, "Background to Peter Cassel's Emigration, Swedish Pioneer Historical Quarter, Vol 32, No. 3 (July 1981), p 99.  His and more recent accounts have moderated the attributed influence of von Schneidau on Cassel and have corrected the error made by the previous generation of historians that von Scheidaus's letters were to his father (who died several years before von Schneidau emigrated). Instead of rejecting the contention, contemporary historians have suggested that there were letters to the step-family of von Schneidau:
    Although no letters have survived, all evidence suggests that Polycarpus von Schneidau wrote letters to his family in Sweden about his experiences in America. In all likelihood he wrote to his half-sisters who lived in southern Östergötland, on a farm named Mjellerum just south of the town of Kisa. As was so common at the time, we can assume that these letters circulated in Kisa parish and were heard by many of the parishioners. One of the readers of the America letters was a neighboring farmer named Peter Cassel.
    Source: Kevin Proescholdt, America Letters and Iowa’s First Swedish SettlementsSwedish-American Historical Quarterly, Volume 49 (1986), Number 3, p 171.

    The 1877 history of Sugar Grove printed in Hemlandet and likely based on the recollections of Frederick J. Johnson [1846.003] mentioned the letters of Cassel but did not mention earlier letters from von Schneidau.  Likewise, Johnson and Peterson (1880) make no connection between von Scheidau and Cassel.

  2. Karl Johan Fredrik Polycarpus von Schneidau was born in Stockholm (Olsson 1967, p 43) and was the son of a career military father and a baroness. He became an officer in the Svea Artillery Regiment and was part of the elite social circle of Stockholm. His place in society was likely sponsored by his uncle, namesake and benefactor, Polycarpus Cronheilm.

    Some histories note that von Schneidau emigrated due to his betrothal to a Jewish Swede, Carolina Jacobsson.  This is refuted by Par Rittel with reference to the diaries of  the artist Fritz von Dardel that indicate that the reason for emigration was evasion of his debts in Sweden:
    Vi hade vid ankomsten till Hamburg...[v]i råkade här äfven en kapten Schneidau, som rymt från Sverige för skuld och nu afvaktade en lämplig lägenhet för att fortsätta till Amerika. En ung vacker judinna vid namn Jakobsson hade följt honom hit, och de hade här ingått äktenskap. S[chneidau] var en f. d. vacker gosse med svarta ögon och mustascher. Han hade ruinerat sig genom att lefva öfver sina tillgångar men tycktes emellertid ej alls besvärad öfver att träffa oss och gaf oss en poetisk skildring af sin äktenskapsidyll. 
    Upon our arrival in Hamburg, [w]e also happened to encounter a Captain Schneidau, who escaped from Sweden for debt and was now awaiting suitable accommodations to proceed to America. A young beautiful Jew named Jakobsson had followed him here, and they had entered into marriage. S[chneidau] was a handsome young man with black eyes and mustaches. He had ruined himself by living over his assets, but did not seem at all bothered to meet us and gave us a poetic depiction of his marriage idyll.   
    Fritz von Dardel, Fritz L Dardel and Nils E. C. Dardel (eds.) Minnen. Volume 1, Stockholm, 1912, p 72.
    See biographical notes by Par Rittsell “Polycarpus von Schneidau

  3. Transcription of the Household Census for the von Schneidau family in Kisa

    Household 437.
    Logerar Herr Majoren
    Joh. Hindric v. Schneidau   Stockh 68 7-6             Hikkom ifrån Lönneberga 1832
    Fru Anna M. Fridman Åtvid 89 14-10
    Son Carl Johan Fredric Stockh 12 26-2
    Dot Aurora Anna Johanna Carol Vimmerby 26 15-8
    Dot Henrietta Maria Gustafva Josephina Vimmerby 28 23-6
    Fruns Barn
    S Carl Gustaf Hulström Monterås 21 1-5
    D Maria Sofia  Monterås 22 24-12
    S Per Johan Hulström Monsterås 24 6-5
    Source:  Kisa AI:7 (1831-1835) Image 447 / page 437 (AID: v26285.b447.s437, NAD: SE/VALA/00183)

    Kisa Wärgård
    Logeran Hr. Majoren
    J. Hindric v. Schneidau   Stock 68 7-7  Hikkom ifrån Lönneberga 1832  Död 1837 4/5
    Fru Anna Maria Fridman Åtvid 89 14-10                           /Move to Mjellerum in 1837
    Dot Aurora Anna Johanna Carolina Vimmerby 26 15-8
    Dot Henrietta Maria Gustafva Josephia Vimmerby 28 23-6
    S Carl Gustaf Hulström Monterås 21 1-5
    D Maria Sofia  Monterås 22 24-12
    S Per Johan Monsterås 24 6-5
    Source:  Kisa AI:8 (1836-1840) Image 476 / page 465 (AID: v26286.b476.s465, NAD: SE/VALA/00183)

    Logerar:  Hr. Majoren
    Enkafru Anna Maria von Schneidau Åtvid 89 14-10  
    S Carl Gustaf Hulström Monterås 21 1-5
    D Maria Sofia  Monterås 22 24-12
    S Per Johan Monsterås 24 6-5
    Dot Aurora Anna Johanna Carolina Vimmerby 26 15-8
    Dot Henrietta Maria Gustafva Josephia Vimmerby 28 23-6

    Hr Kongl Secret J. Sundius 78
    Fru Els Sophia Schylander 76
    Dn. Emil Charl Schylander Stockh 09 12-5
    Math Theod. Sundius Stockh 16 15-1
    Anna Gust Soph Sundius Stock 21 10-3
    Source: Kisa AI:8 (1836-1840) Image 456 / page 445 (AID: v26286.b456.s445, NAD: SE/VALA/00183)

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