Polycarpus von Schneidau

Johan Fredrick Polycarpus von Schneidau and family,
1852.  Collection of Moderna Museet, Stockholm,
object no. FM 1985 042 001
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 influence 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; 
  • Just three years separate von Schneidau's departure from Stockholm in 1842 and Peter Cassel’s departure from Kisa in 1845;
  • 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 that culture; 
  • 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 some histories that von Schneidau had an important influence on Peter Cassel seems implausible, if not a bit preposterous.   First of all, 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.  The von Schneidaus left Gustaf Unonius’s Pine Lake and settled in Chicago in 1845.

Second of all, although it is possible that Peter Cassel knew Polycarp von Schneidau personally during the period from 1832 to 1835 when the younger von Schneidau might have lived in Kisa,  it seems unlikely that any letters from an aristocratic bon vivant 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 that was represented by such figures as von Schneidau.

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 personality in the early Swedish settlement of that new city.

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.

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. An often cited history by Florence Edith Janson, The Background of Swedish Immigration, 1840-1930, Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1931, p 128 notes 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.”  More recent accounts have moderated the attributed influence of von Schneidau and corrected the error that any such correspondence was not with his father, Major von Schneidau (who died in 1837), but rather with his half-sisters.

    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.

  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.

    Beyond the attribution for his emigration due to his betrothal to a Jewish Swede, Carolina Jacobsson, other histories suggest that baron Cronheilm removed his financial support from von Schneidau, who then became indebted to cover his lifestyle, and this became the prime motive for his emigration to America. 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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