1908 History of Swedes

Galesburg, Knox County [Page 281]
The city of Galesburg is situated on a rolling plain, 164 miles southwest of Chicago, on the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy railway line. It was named from George W. Gale, who, together with several others, came there from Oneida county, N. Y., in 1836 and purchased 11,000 acres of land in Knox county. On this tract he laid out a town site, the sale of lots and the building of houses progressing nicely at first. In one year the population increased to 232. From 1837 to 1850 progress was slow, owing to lack of communications. The outlook for a railroad line through the place brightened during the latter year, howevr, causing increased business activity in the little town.
During the first decade of its existence Galesburg had a formidable rival in the neighboring town of Henderson, now Knoxville, which had certain advantages through permitting the sale of liquors, a traffic absolutely prohibited in Galesburg. So strict were the authorities in this respect that they inserted in every deed to property sold within the town limits a clause specifically prohibiting the sale of spirituous liquors on the premises. In the meantime, the liquor traffic flourished in Henderson, where the Galesburg people also had to go when in need of the cup that cheers. The rapid growth of the town …

[Page 283] … The first Swedish settlers in Galesburg arrived about the middle of the forties. In 1847, as far as known, the only Swedes there were the following: John Youngberg and family, one of the early Bishop Hill colonists, who later removed to Galva, but returned to Galesburg and went from there to California in 1860; Nils Hedstrom, a tailor by trade, who afterwards settled in the Victoria colony; Anders Thorsell, a shoemaker from Djursby, Vestmanland, who came over in 1846 with one of the first parties of Erik Janssonists; a family by the name of Modin; Kristina Muhr, a widow, and Olof Nilsson, a shoemaker. Thorsell, who is said to have been a very skillful workman, plied his trade for some time with so great success that he accumulated a small fortune. Had he stuck to the last and shunned the bottle, he would have become the wealthiest Swede in Galesburg, but unfortunately he became a slave to the liquor habit. He died in 1870 leaving a widow and one child.
The majority of Swedes who settled in Galesburg earlier than 1854 were such as had deserted Bishop Hill, having become dissatisfied with conditions in that colony. In the year last named, however, the influx [page 284] of immigrants brought many Swedish settlers directly to Galesburg, and from that day its Swedish population has constantly grown, numbering at the close of 1905 about 5,000, American born descendants included. That this numerous element has made itself felt in the development of the city and set its impress on its general character goes without saying. In every line of activity in Galesburg Swedes are engaged. We find them as city and county officials, as merchants, and in all the various trades. They are employed in considerable numbers on the railroads and at the Burlington shops.
In the Swedish colony there different denominations early began missionary work. As early as 1850 Swedish Methodist class meetings were held, and the following year Jonas Hedstrom organized a Swedish Methodist congregation. Simultaneously, Rev. L. P. Esbjorn, the Swedish Lutheran pastor at Andover, began work in this field, and a church was established in 1851. This, the First Swedish Lutheran Church of Galesburg, in 1853 secured as its pastor Rev. T. N. Hasselquist, another pioneer of Swedish Lutheranism in America. The Swedish Baptists in 1857 organized a church, which had dwindled down to seven members in 1880; a few years later, however, work was pushed with renewed vigor, resulting in a reorganization in 1888. In 1868 a second Swedish Lutheran church was organized, composed of former members of the first church, and other persons. We are creditably informed that the present Mission Church was formed form its membership. A third Swedish Lutheran congregation in Galesburg was organized several years ago, which now seems to have disbanded. There is also a Swedish Episcopal church in the city.
The fraternal movement was started among the Galesburg Swedes in 1866 when a sick benefit society, named Skandia, was organized. The society was soon forced out of existence by church opposition. A lodge of Good Templars, organized the following year under the name of Svea, was almost equally shortlived. In 1871a Scandinavian lodge of Odd Fellows was formed. Among the present Swedish population of Galesburg we find no great interest in fraternal movements based on nationality.
In local politics the Swedes of Galesburg have taken aggressive part, many having served the city or county in various capacities. At least one of their number, M. O. Williamson, has been honored with a high state office, having served as state treasurer for the term of 1901-1903.
Galesburg has the distinction of being the cradle of the Swedish-American press. Here was started in 1854, by Rev. Hasselquist, the first Swedish-American newspaper of permanence, viz., “Hemlandet,” its first number being issued Jan. 3, 1855. This paper was published [page 285] at Galesburg until the close of 1858, when it was removed to Chicago. In the early part of 1859, “Frihetsvannen,” another Swedish paper, was launched in Galesburg, but was discontinued in 1861. This journal was started to champion the cause of the Baptist denomination, which was the object of continuous attacks by “Hemlandet.” A third Swedish organ, “Galesburgs Veckoblad,” started in 1868, shared the fate of “Frihetsvannen,” being discontinued after a short time. A couple of religious papers in the Swedish language have also been published here for short periods, and after the great fire in 1871, “Nya Verlden,” a Swedish weekly newspaper of Chicago, was published for five months in Galesburg.
The Swedish colony of Galesburg furnished a proportionate number of recruits to the Union army during the Civil War. Company C, 43rd Illinois Volunteers, was made up exclusively of Swedish-Americans from Galesburg and vicinity.
These data establish Galesburg’s claim to an eminent place in the history of the Swedes not only of Illinois but of the country at large.
Knoxville, Knox County [Page 317]
Knoxville is the oldest town in Knox County, having been founded in 1831. During the first two years of its existence the place was known as Henderson. For many years it was the county seat until the more prosperous city of Galesburg laid claim to the honor. A bitter fight ensued, Knoxville vigorously defending the right once granted, while Galesburg claimed it as the prerogative of the principal city in the county and was ultimately victorious. One day in 1873, the question having been settled, the archives of the county were removed to Galesburg, where they have since remained. In the fight for the county seat none took a more active part than Sven Pettersson of Knoxville, who sacrificed both time and money in behalf of Knoxville as the seat of the county government. The part played by the liquor traffic in the rivalry between the two communities is described under the head of Galesburg.
Prior to 1849, there were no Swedes in Knoxville, but that year several located there, among whom were two shoemakers, Adolf Andersson and one Bostrom. The latter left in 1850, Andersson remaining until 1853. Simultaneous with these two were other settlers, among whom one Tinglof with his family, Kristian Johnson, A. Bergquist, a farmer, and Trued Persson, a schoolmaster from Stoby, Skane, known as Granville among the Americans of Knoxville and Galesburg. He removed to Vasa, Minn., in November, 1855, where he attained prominence, was elected to the state legislature and held other positions of trust. He died there Dec 27, 1905. One Daniel J. Ockerson came to Knoxville in 1851, went to California in 1859 and removed to Red Oak, Ia., in 1880. The sam year Ockerson came, John Gottrich located in Knoxville and in 1880 was the only one of the early Swedish settlers still living there. The aforesaid Sven Pettersson arrived in 1852 as did a considerable number of Swedes. The influx was steadily on the [page 318] increase, and in 1854 the Swedes formed a considerable part of the population.
That year the cholera broke out in Knoxville, its ravages being mostly confined to the Swedes, forty of whom died of the pestilence. The fact that the Americans generally escaped is attributed to their more sanitary dwellings. As poor immigrants, the Swedes, on the contrary, had to be satisfied with little stuffy huts; besides, they were unaccustomed to the climate and did not know how to accommodate their diet to the circumstances. The lack of proper sheltering resulted from the lack of money, for while there was plenty of work to be had, the pay was usually in the form of cows, calves, sheep and pigs.
For a period of about twenty years, from 1852, there was a rapid increase of the Swedish population. But in the latter seventies came a stagnation which has continued to this day. The descendants of the old pioneers, as also the Swedes who have located there in later years, are generally prosperous and belong to the best portion of the Swedish population of the state. During the Civil War the Knoxville Swedes displayed their great loyalty to the flag by enlisting to the number of forty to fight for the perpetuation of the Union.

The city has a Swedish Lutheran church, one of the oldest in the state, founded in 1854. In Knoxville there was printed, in December, 1854, the first issue of “Gamla och Nya Hemlandet,” the oldest Swedish newspaper in the West and the next oldest in the United States. The first number was dated Jan. 3, 1855.
From 1873 to 1885, Knoxville had a Swedish institution of learning [page 319], the Ansgarius College, owned and controlled by the Ansgarius Synod. The total population of Knoxville in 1900 was 1,857. The number of Swedes cannot be precisely stated. The membership of the Swedish Lutheran Church at the beginning of the year 1905 was 280, and the total number of Swedes in the city will not exceed 850.
Wataga, Knox County [Page 319]
The little town of Wataga is situated in Sparta township, its first white inhabitant having been Hezekiah Buford, who located there in 1834. Two years later came three brothers, Cyrus, Levy and Reuben Robbins, who planted a grove of shade-trees and a large orchard, known as Robbin’s Grove.
The first Swedish settlers arrived in 1849. They were: Lars Olsson, with family, from Bollnas, Helsingland; Peter Ericksson, with wife and two sisters-in-law, from Alfta, Helsingland; Olof Palsson and Anders Danielsson from Ockelbo, Gestrikland. The first named died in 1864, having lived long enough to reap the fruits of his labors as a pioneer. One of his sons, Wm. H. Olson enlisted as a volunteer in Company I, 102nc Illinois Infantry on Aug. 9, 1862. He was soon promoted to corporal and died March 26, 1865, from wounds received in battle. His brother, L. W. Olson, died in 1907. In 1880 he was a member of the firm of Olson and Bergman. Two of his sisters were also living at that time. Peter Ericksson, his wife and one of her sisters after a few years moved to Bishop Hill, where all died prior to 1880. Olof Palsson moved first to Minnesota and then to Kansas. Anders Danielsson was still living in Wataga in the early eighties.
In 1850 N. J. Lindbeck came over from Ockelbo and settled two miles east of Wataga; also Jonas Pettersson and his wife from Alfta, the Williamson family from Jerfso, Helsingland, and Lars Williams from Ljusdal, in the same province. Lindbeck left after nine months’ stay, subsequently moving from one place to another, finally settling at Victoria, where he was still living in 1880. Jonas Pettersson died after a few years, but his widow and children, two sons and three daughters, were still living there in 1880. The head of the Williamson family died in 1885. His five sons all became prominent citizens in their respective communities. William Williamson went to farming on a large scale near Wataga, owning over 400 acres of land in 1880, a general merchandise store in Galesburg and a large interest in the grocery store of Nelson Chester & Co., in Moline. The third brother, Peter Williamson, had a valuable farm in Lucas county, Ia. The fourth, John Williamson in 1862 enlisted in Company K, 83rd Illinois Infantry, was wounded and received honorable discharge the following year [page 320] dying shortly after his return home. Moses O. Williamson, the fifth of the brothers, born on the Atlantic during the voyage of the family to America, began his career as a harness-maker and later devoted himself to politics, rising from one position to another until elected to the office of state treasurer. After serving one term, 1901-1904, he retired from public life and established himself in business in Galesburg where he has resided for a long period. A sister of the Williamson brothers married W. C. Olson, who, after many years’ residence in Wataga, where he held several public offices, removed to Wakeeney, Kans., some time in the seventies.
Wataga was founded in 1855 by an American by the name of J. M. Holyoke and a Swede named A. P. Cassel, who jointly established a general merchandise store. The next year the place got a railway station and a hotel. Rich coal veins were early discovered in this vicinity and the work of mining began forthwith. The coal mining industry was at its height here about the middle of the fifties, when the mines employed 250 workingmen; after that it declined, causing the floating population, a large percentage being Swedish laborers, to drift away to other localities. Those of the Swedes who had been able to purchase land remained, as a rule, and in time became well-to-do. A few engaged in business with uniform success.
A Swedish Lutheran church was organized here in 1856 and a Swedish Methodist church the year following. Neither church is numerically strong, the former numbering 245 and the latter only 26 members. In 1900 Wataga had 545 inhabitants. The percentage of Swedish-Americans in the town and the surrounding country can only be conjectured.
Oneida, Knox County [Page 340]
The little town of Oneida is situated in the most fertile part of Knox county. Although not among the first settlers there, the Swedes have had a large share in the development of the locality. The first white settler in Ontario township, where Oneida is situated, was Alexander Williams, who came there in 1833. The same year G. W. Melton settled there and built the log cabin which was the first permanent human habitation in the locality. The first schoolhouse was erected in 1839 and the first church edifice, a Presbyterian one, in 1840.

[Page 341] The town of Oneida was founded in 1854 by C. F. Camp and B. S. West, who built a hotel in the place. At Christmas time the same year the railroad came through, giving the place its real impetus for growth.
The first Swedish settler in the township was Georg Bostrom, who came to America as a boy and was reared in an American family. The year of his arrival in Ontario township is not known, but that he removed from there to Wataga in the seventies is a certainty. After Bostrom came D. Danielsson and his wife from Ockelbo, Gestrikland. They had come to Bishop Hill as young unmarried people, and were there subjected to bitter persecution on account of a love correspondence carried on in defiance of the drastic rule against marriage and every form of courtship. Disgusted with the petty annoyances following their innocent correspondence, they removed to Oneida in 1855 and were married. A few years later the pair located in Clay county, Kansas. Simultaneously with Danielsson, E. J. Pettersson from Tjarstad, Ostergotland, settled in Oneida, after living for five years in various parts of the United States. He established himself as a watchmaker and jeweler and was engaged in that business for at least twenty-five years. A number of Swedes early moved into the surrounding neighborhood, where they have become successful farmers and added materially to the wealth of the community. The population of Oneida was 785 at the last census. No Swedish church has been organized here.

Extracted 17 Sep 2016 by Norma Hass from the History of the Swedes of Illinois, published in 1908 by Engberg-Holmberg Publishing Company, Part 1, Chapter 5, pages 271-355.

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