The Swedes in America: American Studies by Ernst Beckman

A Dual-Language Book Translated from Swedish to English by Dr. Irmeli Kuehnel

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Immigration is an enduring topic, just as much today as it has been throughout the history of the United States. Scores of books have been written about the people who left their homeland to seek their fortunes in other countries.

The book, Våra Landsmän i Amerika (The Swedes in America) was written in 1883 by the Swedish journalist Ernst Beckman who produced a sweeping chronicle of the Swedish emigration to all parts of the young American country. He traveled far and wide to interview and live the life that the Swedish immigrants lived in the 1880s, where he served as an eye witness to the dauntless courage and adventurous spirit of his countrymen. The book presents a panorama of how and why Swedish citizens left their home to settle in their new foster land.

The first two chapters portray the throngs of emigrants who stand before the ship that they will embark for the first stage of the voyage to America. After a stop in Hull, Great Britain, the ship starts over the ocean to the "promised land". The author vividly depicts the harrowing voyage across the sea with unpredictable weather, sea sickness, and some deaths, but also the happy moments of levity, when the emigrants from many different lands sing and dance together during calmer seas. The second chapter recounts their arrival in the New World in New York's Castle Garden (Ellis Island) where the teeming masses of emigrants were entered into the books and processed as newcomers into a new land. Every emigrant quickly learned that the so-called "travel agents" were as interested in fleecing them as they were "helping " them to their ultimate destination.

Where did the Swedes settle? It turns out that we can find Swedish citizens and their progeny in every state of the Union. They, like many others, listened to the call "Go West, young man. Go West". The Swedes were a part of the intrepid settlers in the Red River Valley, in the Northern timberlands, in the Great Plains, and they joined in the California gold rush.

The author describes the Swedish crofters and later homesteaders who sowed wheat in the plains. His vivid descriptions record their hardships with severe weather, locusts, and hard work as the Swedes adjusted to America's Great Plains. Yet the desire to build a home on the prairie drove the immigrants to succeed and to thrive. The chapter on the immensity of life on the plains of the Dakotas describes how a farmer starts out to sow and plough the wheat seeds on one row in the spring. He continues his plowing on that same row until autumn and then returns to cuts the wheat that had grown up in the spring.

Beckman also categorizes the different social characteristics of the Swedish immigrants from farmers to lumbermen to servant girls to large landowners. These were the workers who forged the path for the next wave of Swedish emigrants.

One chapter is devoted to the birth of the Swedish-American Press and its subsequent amazing growth. Similarly, the chaptered entitled "The Pulpit" juxtaposes the American Lutheran Swedish Church synods to the State Church of Sweden with a commentary on the important role of other religious sects that have Swedish adherents.

Chapter 15 "About Each and Every One of Us" contains interesting and entertaining sections that address language and how the Swedes adapted to their new tongue. Names are important and the reader learns how and why the Swedes were obliged to adapt their names to suit English pronunciation; for example Ákereberg became Okerbery; Ljung became Young, etc.

The last two chapters cover the two sides of emigration. One side represents the effects of the massive population movements from Sweden and how they created enormous consequences for the old homeland, economically and demographically. Emigration created a veritable "national deficit" of people.

The last chapter analyzes the reasons for emigration that include economic authority without government intervention, freedom of religion, freedom of conscience and ideas. Beckman writes "We are all children of immigrants. These population movements are grounded in human nature. Europe's populating by our ancestors to form the current nations is one page in emigration's history; the next page is America's."

This dual-language book contains the original work in Swedish by Ernst Beckman and the English translation by Irmeli Kuehnel. The English translation is placed in the first part of the book, and the second part includes the original Swedish book. The pages have been synchronized, as much as possible to mirror the page numbers of the text in both versions so that the reader can refer to the original. A section at the end includes Endnotes, that provide additional information or clarification on people, places and events that may not be familiar to the 21st century reader.

Primary Source

Beckman, Ernst Johan, Våra Landsmän in America, Ivar Hæggström Boktryckeri, Stockholm, 1883.

Further Reading

1 Anderson, Philip J and Dag Blanck, eds. Swedish-American Life in Chicago: Cultural and Urban Aspects of an Immigrant People, 1850-1930, Urbana, Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 1992.

2 Anderson, Philip J and Dag Blanck, eds. Swedes in the Twin Cities: Immigrant Life and Minnesota's Urban Frontier. St. Paul, Minnesota: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2001.

3 Barton, H. Arnold, A Folk Divided. Homeland Swedes and Swedish Americans, 1840 - 1940, Carbondale, Illinois: Southern Illinois University Press, 1994.

4 Barton, H. Arnold, Letters from the Promised Land, 1840-1914, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, Minnesota, 1975.

5 Beckman, Ernst Johan, Amerikanska Studier: Pressen in Förenta Staterna, Ivar Hæggström Boktryckeri, Stockholm, 1883.

6 Beckman, Ernst Johan, Från Nya Verlden: Reseskidringar från Americas Förenta Staterna, University of Michigan Library, Ann Arbor, 1891.

7 Nelson, Helge, The Swedes and the Swedish Settlements in North America. 2 vols. C.W.K. Gleeup: Lund, 1943.

8 Moberg, Wilhelm, The Immigrants, Bonnier AB, Stockholm, 1969.

9 Norman, Hans and Harland Runblom, Transatlantic Connections: Nordic Migration to the New World after 1800. Oslo: Norwegian University Press, 1988.

10 Ward, Christopher, New Sweden on the Delaware, University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1938.