|Norwegians in the
1850 US Censuses
|Norwegians in the
1860, 1870 and
1880 US Censuses
Finally in the USA, the fairy dream of success and happiness for everyone soon evaporated. The immigrants met a huge continent where the opportunities were manifold, but the contrasts were great, and the distances were long. The new comers were confronted with a new language, new diseases, new buildings and architectural techniques, and many of the immigrants were going to make a living out of products they barely had heard of. They also had to adjust themselves to a market. There was more to the agricultural production than having a good crop. The larger the crops, the lower the prices became.
The Norwegians who came to America before 1850 moved all around the country, to Texas, Missouri and California. It seems, however, that they learned from experience that they were more adaptable to the northern parts. Thus the states up north became the destination for most of the Norwegians. The 1850 census shows that Wisconsin had already become a target. In the years to come, Minnesota became the great Norwegian settlement state, even though a lot of the Norwegians chose Dakota, Montana and Washington in the next decades.
The prairie represented a huge contrast from Norway and its mountains. It sure was beautiful with all this land for miles and miles in every direction! But for some people, it became a strain never to have variations upon which one could rest ones eyes. The open scenery did also have storms with tremendous powers, and with the winds, the temperatures turned quickly and with much larger variation than in Norway. The immigrants had to adjust themselves to a whole range of new things.
The new comers, though, sent encouraged and positive letters about America home to Norway. These letters became an important basis for the recruitment of new emigrants.
The gold fever raged, first in California, later in Alaska. A lot of helpful men participated and some became wealthy, mostly those who had sold equipment, bevarages and other services. The disappointments, however, are not difficult to find.
Sjur Jørgensen haaheim, who emigrated in the first half of the 19th century, but returned to Norway again, wrote at length about his experiences in USA. His story was printed in 1842. in his script he literally warned Norwegians from emigrating to America: "I would warn everyone from this voyage, for there are so many difficulties which one never anticipated, for instance, the journey itself, the embarrassment caused from the new language -- and they come often even though there is nearly one Norwegian in every city. Still, the worst part is the diseases, which everyone must suffer and which have put many fathers to sleep. I also must add that a man who abandon his farm in Norway and travels to America thinking that he will have a better farm, rarely succeeds(...)"
Guri Endreson Rosseland lost her husband and her sons in the violent meeting with the indians. Most of the Norwegians who emigrated did not find the happiness and wealth they sought in USA, we see that from the number of emigrants who returned to Norway. For instance there were registered 20 000 American-Norwegians who returned to Norway in the 1910 census, most of them returning due to the bad economic period in USA in 1907.
As a comparison to the different destinies the immigrants could meet, you may read about two Norwegian emigrant families. The son in one of the families became very rich, and he tells about his fortune in his own words in this letter.
|It was common to include photos of oneself with all its property and goods when writing home to relatives and friends.|
Depressing stories did not stop an ever increasing number of Norwegians to emigrate. They found new settlements and transferred values and norms from their home country.
The first church in Story City, Iowa.
A priest was soon transferred to the Norwegian congregation in America, although the priest's house
was not ready. He had to settle for the cabin you see below.
A solid religious society manifested itself in the USA. Since the quakers, and other dissenters of the State Church were discriminated in Norway, they were the first to exploit the freedom America represented. In 1892, there was a fright for the influence of the Mormons in Utah.
As a tradition and a way of bonding, the Norwegians in America continued to celebrate the Norwegian Constitution Day, the 17th of May.
As a final element in the exhibition, we bring you the recollections of Martha Slotten, written in 1956 when she was 80 years of age. She tells us about the time when she emigrated from Jølster to America with her family.