MORE LETTERS FROM NEW SWEDEN
The following letters are, so to speak, a continuation of those published in the April 1975 issue of the Quarterly. Readers of those letters will recognize two writers: John and Paul Sodergren, father and son. A new writer also appears: Paul’s sister Brita.
John Sodergren (1820-1902) came from Undersaker, Jamtland, to New Sweden, Maine, in 1879 with his wife Margreta and their youngest son, Peter (later on the author of Levnadsoden och reseskildringar, Los Angeles, 1932). In his letter from 1879, published in 1975, he tells about his journey and first impressions of life in the colony, and ends by promising to report more in his next letter. That letter was written in 1880 and appears as the first of the letters given here.
Paul Sodergren (b. 1849) and his sister Brita (b. 1859) emigrated in 1881. They became pioneers in Stockholm, Maine. Brita married Alfred Svensson (1850-1935). Paul married Kerstin Edlund, with whom he had ten children. The oldest was Martha (b. 1876), mentioned in John Sodergren’s letter. All of John Sodergren’s other children also emigrated to Maine.
We can trace the Sodergren family in Sweden far back in time. The best-known representative of the clan was Nils Sodergren (1828-1897), who was the manager of a copper works at Ljusnedal, Harjedalen. He donated a large sum of money for public education (Sodergrenska fonden). The original purpose of the foundation has long since changed. Every December the parish pastor in Undersaker still distributes money from the fund to people who need some support.
New Sweden, (Maine) Sept. 18, 1880
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Grace and Peace! As a long time has passed since we received your letter I must now sit down to send you a few lines and to thank you for your letter, and let you know that we all are alive and well and to tell you how we have it here in this new land. I can understand that you have long been expecting a letter from us. We, too, have long been thinking of writing to you, but since we have had to write many letters to Sweden on account of our daughter’s coming here we have neglected to write to you, but as the proverb says, “better late than never,” I may use it myself, too.
I can tell you now that we have had a good summer and a good year here in America. It has been a warm summer and with little rain, and we have now taken in our first harvest at our new home, except for some oats, which were planted late. Our harvest is so large, that you can hardly believe it, but I want to tell you what we have. We have 95 shocks of fine wheat, 195 shocks of rye, 120 shocks of oats, but we will probably get 50 more. We are also expecting to harvest 30 bushels of buckwheat and also a few bushels of beans. We get all the potatoes we need and some to sell. That sounds like a lot, and it is, but we need more here than in Sweden, because so much bran is removed, which is used to feed cows and pigs. A lot also goes for bread, for we always bake twice a week and always eat new-baked loaves. If they would do here as in Sweden, grind whole meal and bake thin bread 4 or 5 times a year, such a quantity of grain would be enough for many years. I am really very happy now to have seen the day when I do not have to go to others to get what I need to live on. It is very strange to compare the forest here with the thickest ones in Sweden, and when I came here a year and a half ago there was only that kind of forest (except for the clearing that was there before I arrived), and this fall I was able to get such a rich harvest, and not a bit of manure has been used on my land. I am sure there are many people who can’t believe that, but you must trust me because I will not write any lies to you. I might also say that I didn’t do very well with burning off (the land), so I had much more work to do than if it had gone well. This summer we have cleared forest on a little more than 5 acres, we also burned off, but with poor results, so we will have much more work to do. The reason the burning-off went so badly was a forest fire before we settled here, which burned all the leaves on the ground.
As for news, I can tell you we have had a grand festival, which took place on July 23rd. We then celebrated the day when the first Swedes arrived in New Sweden in 1870. We were visited by all the prominent men of the land, who came to our forest settlement of New Sweden that day. The founder of New Sweden or first leader of New Sweden, Consul (William Widgery) Thomas from Portland
was to pay us a visit and he was to bring many prominent men with him. The Swedes got together and invited Thomas and his company to a grand dinner. More than 3000 people visited New Sweden that day. Our new Lutheran church was then dedicated. Everyone considered it was marvelous how New Sweden had developed, considering its state of wilderness 10 years ago.
I must now tell you that my son Peter has written several times and asked for help to come here, and we are much concerned that we cannot help him. [This Peter (b. 1849) is identical with Paul Sodergren, the second of John Sodergren’s five sons.] It would be very good for him to be here, and for all who are workers and don’t have a home in Sweden.
We can probably sell some produce now, but we have so many needs when we are going to buy tools and furniture. We got help for Brita [Brita (b. 1859), one of John Sodergren’s two daughters] because our pastor wanted a maid. We sent her ticket this week, but I hope you will get this letter as quickly as she gets the ticket, because a registered letter takes a little longer, so you can send an answer with her if you like. We have written to Petter and asked him to send his daughter Martha together with Brita, if he can. We need her so as to have someone to take eggs to the store, because we have 29 hens and eggs for sale to buy coffee and tobacco for the money.
You want to know the prices of coffee and tobacco, and so on, so I will give you a short report. Coffee costs 20 cents a pound (skalpund), sugar 10-15 cents, pork and butter 10 cents. Tobacco is sold by the measure, it is pressed into cakes and sweetened. Syrup costs 40-50 cents a gallon, that is 1 ½ kanna, kerosene 20 cents a gallon, prunes and raisins 10 cents a pound, apples 6-8 cents, wheat 100-125 cents a bushel, rye 75 cents, oats 40-50 cents, buckwheat 38 cents, beans around 2 dollars. A pair of good work trousers cost 40-50 cents.
You also want to know if there are any kinds of trees other than birches. Yes, of course there are—fir, which is most used for building, and cedar. Cedar is a sort of tree that almost never rots; it is used for making roof shingles. There is also pine, and three kinds of spruce, Swedish spruce, white spruce, and English spruce. There is also aspen, alder, ash, and bird cherry.
Our farm is 111 acres, and there is some timber, so we have what we need for building. Fir and cedar grown on low land where there is bad soil, not good for cultivating, but we also have as much good land as we need, where only hardwood trees grow. There are great differences in the land. Some settlers have such bad land that they have to work twice as hard to clear it and can’t get more than half as much yield per acre as you can get on good land. I can’t find any difference between the soil here and in Sweden, it looks rather dry and thin.
The climate is certainly pleasant, but it is stronger, because we are closer to the equator. You have to be very careful when you are out in the rain and get wet. A thunderstorm is more powerful here than in Sweden, and the lightening is terrible, sometimes it seems as if there are flames everywhere. We have not yet dug for water on our farm, but it is not so far to a little stream where there is good water. There are real springs here with fresh, good water.
From you letter I see that you also want to know whether we have tried fishing, and certainly we have, but we have scarcely anything to fish with. I regret that I did not buy some net twine and bring it when I cam here. You can probably buy it here too, but it is not the right sort, except for machine-made thread, and that is much too expensive. There are two lakes
half a Swedish mile (3 English miles) from here, and there is lots of fish, if only you have something to catch them with. There are trout, perch, and sunfish, and a sort similar to sik, which we call whitefish. There are also eels and a fish similar to the lak (burbot), but it has long horns on its head (catfish?). There is also another kind of fish which cannot be caught by hook, because it has no mouth but sucks in its food.
I have now told you some of what I can remember this time, so I end my poor and simple lines, and I hope to get a letter from you soon, full of news. Please greet everyone who wishes to be greeted, my sister Brita, and Anders, and my old aunt and her husband, and their children, and the rest of the people at Ottsjo, Vallbo, and Valodalen. Finally, greeting to you and to my old mother. I also send many greetings from all your acquaintances around here.
Signed by John Sodergren and Margreta
P. S. I must tell you that we get along here just as well as in Sweden. We have recently received a letter from John. [John (b. 1852), the third of John Sodergren’s sons.] He is now in Harjedalen and Sveg. Tell Brita that she has to put on warm clothes, so as not to suffer from the cold at sea, because it will surely be chilly so late in the fall.
Jemtland, Maine, Nov. 4, 1902
Dear Relatives at Stamgarde,
I will herewith send you some lines and remind you that we are waiting to hear from you and to hear about your journey home. (Olof Skutberg from Undersaker, married to Margreta Sodergren’s sister Ingrid, visited his relatives in Jemtland, Maine, and lived with them for 8 months. His diary from that visit is preserved.) We hope you are back home again and that the journey went well. We are now having fine weather. We are working in our shirtsleeves. Otto and I are sawing down trees and Jon is ploughing. We have not seen any snow yet this fall, but there has been a lot of rain. We finished digging up potatoes on Oct. 22nd. We got no more than 480 tunnor [ca. 2250 bushels] but the price is good, already $1.75 per tuna [ca/ 5 1/3 bushels].
You may be sure, Aunt, that Kerstin celebrated her birthday today, presents lie everywhere in all the corners, and what a commotion there is when a crowd of old women come together! I believe that more than a dozen were here, there were 19 of them. Karl Johansson and I had to go out- otherwise I don’t know what wold have happened to us, maybe our ear-drums would have burst. You can’t be of a nervous disposition at an old woman’s party!
A week ago they were out shooting and carrying on for Alfred Tall and Ulrika Hedin. (This refers to the old custom of the charivari or “shivaree” for a newlywed couple.)
Brother Jon Sodergren has brought a pair of horses for 425 dollars, he is going to haul bark this winter. We have not yet made our trip. Our excursion to Boston was last October, but then we had not yet finished the potato harvest. I have no more to write about this time. We are all getting along the same as when you left us. Three weeks ago three fellows from Are and Nordhallen visitied us. One of them was here before. They told us there was deep snow in Storlien on Sept. 22nd. If that is true, pack your things and come here. Gunarson in Uppsala wants to sell his farm since he has no time for farming, for he is always building houses for other people. They are building houses constantly along the river in Uppsala, as you know.
I hope you have mailed a letter to us before these lines reach you. We long to hear about your journey, and so on. Greet everyone who wishes to be greeted. Above all, greetings to all of you and to all in your house.
Paul, Kerstin Sodergren, and the children
Jemtland (Maine), Nov. 14, 1904
Dear Relatives at Stamgarde,
After a long silence between us concerning our conditions I must first say, in black and white, that all of us are living and well up to this day, hoping you are the same, for you and we live in the north. We had an unusually rainy and cold fall this year. As for the ploughing, the ground has now been frozen for over two weeks, with only a little snow, now it is getting to be better weather with some rain. This year’s crop has been good and the potato harvest was a rich one. Some of the old farmers have harvested up to 3000 tunnor of potatoes. We got 1100 on our land. We had planted 35 tunnor. The price is now one dollar per tuna. The price often changes.
They have had an election for president, and we won, you can be sure, we are proud of having a Republican government. (Theodore Roosevelt was reelected in the 1904 presidential election.)
Now we have a telephone line up to the town of Stockholm, and everything that happens is gossiped about on the line.
Last summer lightning set fire to the barn at Henning Petterson
and Libaum’s which burned down along with hay and tools and two houses. The people barely escaped in their nightshirts.
This year I had to take in French (Canadian) workers in order to harvest our potatoes and that was as expensive as a ticket to Sweden, so I have bought a machine to dig up potatoes. I have also bought an expensive organ and a buggy, which cost one hundred dollars, and two weeks ago I bought a horse, so now you see I have to give up the trip to Sweden this winter. I don’t know yet if we are going to earn anything with our big team this winter. As for myself, I am going to keep the coffee-pot warm this winter.
Goran from Hallen is now on the ocean. He left here on Nov. 7, but I don’t believe he has so much to report about us around here, because he was not around watching things here. He was working on a place with his son. He visited us only twice very briefly. I had a good map of America and I intended for him to take it to you, but in his haste he couldn’t take it, so I took an old atlas from the shelf which he is bringing you. Study it until you get something better.
I suppose that Uncle Anders is to stay with my mother this winter and help keep the house warm.
Maybe you can tell me if my half-brother Olof Johnsson at Stugun is alive. I have not had any letter from him for a long time.
In my letters I have always told you that you ought to move here, but I suppose it is useless to write such nonsense. So we hope you can live comfortably where you are the rest of your days or years. We hope to hear from you. Greet my sister Lena, Erick Andersson, and everyone who wishes to be greeted.
Address Box 10 Jemtland
Aroostoock C. Y. Maine, U. S. Amerika
Stockholm, (Maine) December 29, 1913
Dearest Aunt and Husband,
Now I must write some lines to you all and tell you that the Lord in His infinite wisdom has called unto Himself my beloved brother Paul after only 5 days of illness. He died of pneumonia at six o’clock on Christmas morning in the faith in his Savior. He was unconscious all of Christmas Eve until o’clock, then he regained consciousness and he was in his senses until he died. He was at peace with God the last day he lived. He told us he was going to celebrate his Christmas in Heaven together with his dear ones who had gone before him. He also talked of you and asked his wife to write to you and answer your last letter, “which I didn’t find time to do, and tell them that I am no longer on this earth.” His last words were that the Lord was coming to release him for he belonged to Him. And the Lord heard his prayer, half an hour later he passed away. None of his children were even present at his deathbed, because none of us had been expecting his sudden passing. They sent telegrams to all of them, but there was not time enough for them to come. Well, so little do we know about our time, and we had better be ready to meet our Lord.
I hope you have had a pleasant Christmas. All in our family are well. Lottie
is now married, she married on Nov. 15, so she has now been married for 6 weeks. Her husband is from Vasterbotten, he is a carpenter. He built a fine big house across the road from our house. There are only 15 or so yeards between us, so it is just like having her at home and I am glad of that.
Mother is well as usual. In brother Paul’s letter I see that you wrote us and didn’t get any answer. I guess that letter got lost, because we didn’t receive it. I have long thought of writing to you and sending a picture of our house, but I am a bad letter-writer, so I thought I had better give up the idea. I believe you will have a lot to do before you can read this letter. I am enclosing a picture of our house. If we live until next summer we will get a picture taken of our family and send you one, so you can see what all our sons-in-law look like. Ida
has 4 children, 2 girls and 2 boys. Emma has only one child, a boy.
I will end now with many dear greetings from all of us to all of you, both relatives and friends, but most of them to you.
Signed by your niece,
I suppose you have heard that Olof Lind passed away this fall after a short illness.
Per-Olof Millgard, translator and editor
(From The Swedish Pioneer Historical Quarterly, Vol. XXX No. 4, Oct. 1979, pp. 245-253)
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