[ End of article ]

Baltic Tercentenary Celebration in the United States

Eugene Van Cleef

(Columbus, Ohio, U. S. A.)

On June 27-30, 1938, both native and foreign-born Swedes and Finns resident in the United States joined with the representatives of Sweden and Finland to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the first landing of Swedes and Finns in the Delaware River region of America. Some of the proceedings enjoyed the participation of all elements interested while others were celebrated by Swedes or Finns alone. A few persons neither Swedish nor Finnish witnessed the ceremonies and took an active part in them. As many as ten thousand persons were present at certain functions while processions and festivities of an informal character were also well attended.

The tercentenary celebration was considered of more than ordinary significance because it not only emphasized the activities of Swedes and Finns in the early conquest and settlement of North American terrain, but offered an opportunity for the re-affirmation of friendly relations between Sweden, Finland and the United States. That advantage was taken of this opportunity was evidenced by the visits of large delegations of individuals prominent in the political and social life of all three countries. The Swedish group was led by H. R. H. Crown Prince Gustaf Adolf and the Crown Princess with their son Prince Bertil, while the Finnish delegation was headed by his excellency Rudolph Holsti, Foreign Minister of Finland. The President of the United States and the Secretary of State, Mr. Cordell Hull, received the foreign representatives on disembarking from the m. s. Kungsholm at Wilmington, Delaware, on June 27, and both addressed the celebrants on the same day.

The details of the ceremonies are of less importance than certain activities which reflect fundamental relations, historical and present, among the peoples concerned. Several controversial points which for many years have been under the consideration of historians and others were brought into somewhat sharper relief and in consequence will receive in the immediate future the benefit of renewed and intensive research. Among the matters still unsettled or in dispute are questions (1) as to the presence or absence of Finns in the first expedition to the Delaware River region; (2) the place of origin of such Finns as may have accompanied these pioneers, that is whether or not they came from Finnish territory or were settlers in Sweden; and (3) whether we may properly view these persons as having been representative of Finland as we know that country now, or whether they should be classified as Swedish nationals, since at the time of the settlement Finland was politically a part of Sweden.

Before examining these several problems, we should take note of the original sites of settlement. These can be better appreciated through the medium of a sketch map than by reading written descriptions. Available records reveal that a considerable number of settlements of varying duration were established during the most intensive period of Swedish-American colonial activity (1638-55). One of these settlements received major consideration throughout the recent ceremonies, namely Fort Christina, located on a site now lying within the corporate limits of Wilmington, Delaware. The other was Finland, which lies partly within the present city of Chester, Pennsylvania. Another settlement, 'Uppland' (now Upland), named after an eastern province of Sweden and located wholly within the present boundaries of Chester, was established about the same time. However, whilst Fort Christina was the fruit of the expedition of 1638, Finland and Uppland did not come into existence until 1641 as a result of the second venture. The first would-be colonizers, essentially commercial pioneers, arrived in two ships, Kalmar Nyckel and Fogel Grip, and landed on the site of present-day Wilmington at a short distance up a small tributary of the Delaware River bearing the name Christina River.

Other settlements of which records have been handed down and whose influence is revealed in current names are Finns Point in New Jersey, almost opposite Wilmington, and Swedesboro in the same State on Raccoon Creek. Such outposts as Ft. Elfsborg, Ft. New Korsholm, Ft. New Gothenburg, bore names which at the time identified them with the home country but are now merely historical memories.

Both the Swedes and the Finns have erected monuments to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the first settlement on American soil of their respective nationals, the former setting up a monument on the site of Fort Christina in Wilmington, the latter in a public park of Chester. The cost of each monument was covered by funds subscribed by the respective governments and by their nationals or descendants resident in the United States. The State of Delaware provided the setting for the Swedish monument and the city of Chester gave the land for the Finnish monument. The States of Pennsylvania, Delaware and New Jersey granted liberal subsidies to further the Tercentenary Celebration. On the Finnish monument the following inscription figures in English and Finnish:

'Sons of Kaleva far sailing
Passed an ocean's western reaches
To this soil their strength applying
On this shore a home established
Toiled their crops to sow and garner
Hewed their dwellings from the forest.'

'Near this spot stood a settlement named Finland
so called by the first Finnish settlers on this
continent in remembrance of their homeland.'

'This memorial was erected in 1938 by the Finnish Nation
and the Finns in America in commemoration
of the Finnish pioneers of the first permanent
settlement in the Delaware River Valley in 1638.'

The Swedish monument bears the following inscription in Swedish and English:

'The people of Sweden erected this monument
to the memory of the first Swedish settlement on
American soil and placed it in the custody of the
State of Delaware.'

'This monument was dedicated June 27th, 1938,
in the presence of the President of the United States
and the Crown Prince of Sweden.'

In addition to the dedication of monuments and plaques at various spots, the completion of the American Swedish Historical Museum in Philadelphia was celebrated by appropriate ceremonies attended by both the Swedish and Finnish delegations. Owing to the illness of the Crown Prince of Sweden, his address was transmitted by radio from his suite on board the Kungsholm and was supplemented by an address delivered in person by Prince Bertil. The Museum, the cornerstone of which was laid by the Crown Prince in 1926, when it was known as the John Morton Memorial Museum, is an expression of the interest which the Swedish-American population maintain in the cultural contributions made by themselves and by Sweden to the United States of America since the landing of the first Swedes in 1638.

The Museum was named originally in honour of John Morton, who was born in 1724 in what is now Ridley Township, Pennsylvania. He served in the Continental Congress and signed the Declaration of Independence. The parentage of John Morton has been disputed, some persons maintaining that his parents were of Finnish rather than Swedish origin. This is a matter which historians hope to clarify.

Details of the several expeditions to New Sweden have been recorded in a number of books, monographs and special papers. There need be no repetition here, nor are we in a position to implement the data already recorded in many places. Amandus Johnson's The Swedish Settlements on the Delaware, 1638-1664 (Philadelphia 1911) is considered to be the best treatise on this subject in the English language, and probably the best in any language. It is a thoroughly documented work and testifies to great care and precision in its preparation. The linguistic efficiency of the author and the responsible auspices under which the necessary research was carried out both in the United States and in Europe add further to the reliability of the investigation. The writer of this article being familiar with the life of the Finns in America and abroad ventures only to suggest some possible answers to controversial matters still unresolved.

The Swedes have contended that no Finns were included in the contingent which arrived in the Delaware River area in 1638. One of the reasons leading them to take this view is based on the names of the members of the expedition. But on this basis no distinction can properly be made, since many Finns have Swedish names and what is more, not infrequently adopt new names whenever circumstances make such action advisable. In the absence of documentary evidence, the only basis at present for believing that some members of the first expedition were Finns lies in the unequivocal evidence produced by Amandus Johnson of the participation of numerous Finns in the second and several later expeditions. Johnson is also careful to cite cultural and other contributions made by Finns to life in New Sweden.

It would appear that none of the early Finns held positions of responsibility in connexion with the organization and financing of the first expedition. As a matter of fact, no doubt attaches to the organization and underwriting of the New Sweden Company. It was essentially Dutch and only partly Swedish. Historians are agreed that the idea of a commercial venture originated with William Usselinx, a Netherlander, who proceeded to Sweden in 1624 in the hope of gaining financial support. Although his plans did not materialize they were revised later by three Netherlanders, Blommaert, Spiring and Minuit by name, who negotiated with influential Swedes to the end that a commercial enterprise to America be realized. Although Spiring seems to have adopted Sweden as his permanent home, he was of Dutch origin. In later years he served in various capacities in the Netherlands in the service of the Swedish government. Furthermore, five Swedes and six Dutchmen according to Johnson's findings subsidized the expedition of 1638, but the amount of money contributed by each group was equal. We should add that it was Peter Minuit, with the assistance of Blommaert, who actually completed the final details and led the expedition. However, there is no gainsaying that the Swedish nation as such made possible this activity and that the Kalmar Nyckel and Fogel Grip sailed from Gothenburg.

When the Finns showed themselves interested in joining with the Swedes in the tercentenary celebration, certain Swedes in the United States opposed the idea. They argued that the Finns accompanying the settlers came either from Sweden, whither they had migrated from Finland some years before, or originated in the western coastal areas of Finland, which were essentially Swedish and even today have a considerable Swedish-speaking population. That representatives of Finland, a territory then owned by Sweden, had responsible connexions with the ultimate development of New Sweden is maintained by Dr. John H. Wuorinen1 in view of the fact that Klas Fleming, who was born in Finland, not only helped to organize the first expedition but maintained his interest in the development of the new colony until his death in 1644. At the time of his decease he was an admiral in the Swedish navy.

Per Brahe, Governor of Finland in 1637 and in 1648, who was a staunch supporter of the people of Finland, often advised the colonists how best to conduct themselves in the new land and how to encourage the friendship of the Indians. Needless to say, his suggestions were not always practicable owing to his having no first-hand knowledge of the region. He may also have had a hand in encouraging Finns to join the expeditions.

The question arises, should these residents of Finland be construed today as Finns or Swedes? Wuorinen finds an answer by using the expression 'Sweden-Finland' as applicable to the Kingdom of Sweden during the period of Swedish sovereignty in Finland. He justifies this usage because 'in recent years historians in Sweden and Finland have begun to use the term.' In referring to Sweden's possession of Finland he uses the phrase 'temporarily held'. However, the ownership of a territory by another people throughout a span of nearly seven centuries can hardly be termed 'temporary'. In terms of stability of government it bears all the features of permanence.

It seems in this controversy as to whether Finns or Finland should share with the Swedes the credit for the foundation of New Sweden, that we must differentiate between national and ethnic groups. As nationals, all persons under the Swedish flag were Swedes, but ethnically there were at least three distinct groups - Swedes, Finns and Lapps. One of the speakers at the Finnish Ceremonies, a person born in Finland but resident in the United States since childhood, declared himself happy in the knowledge of his Finnish heritage but proud to call himself an American. Were he to engage in exploration now, would he credit Finland or the United States with his activities? The answer is obvious. Wuorinen admits that 'by the seventeenth century Finland had become not a subject province of Sweden, but an integral part of the kingdom, whose inhabitants were native Swedes in the eyes of the law, etc.' So we may say that whereas ethnically Finns and Swedes should share the credit for the development of New Sweden, nationalistically Sweden must be acknowledged as responsible for the rise of New Sweden. However, as we have intimated above, the Dutch may well be credited with having first stimulated the idea and given it the momentum requisite for its fruition.

That the Finns as a racial group wielded considerable cultural influence in the life of the colony is incontestable. The records are clear and abundantly cited and quoted by Amandus Johnson and other writers. In the erection of log cabins, the making of utensils and clothing, the introduction of the sauna (bath), the application of certain agricultural techniques, the Finns were to the forefront. Beyond doubt they exhibited the same hardiness in New Sweden which they had revealed at home. However climatic conditions were different in the colony from those in Northern Sweden and Finland, and in consequence the settlers had to make some re-adjustments.

To a student of Finnish life in America two questions arise, namely what became of the descendants of these first settlers, and why did the flow of Finns to America cease apparently till about 1850? We have called attention above to the suggestion that John Morton was one of the descendants and if this be correct we may justifiably assume that the descendants of the seventeenth century settlers were still identifiable at the close of the eighteenth century. Unless evidence is unearthed bearing upon the immigration of Finns prior to 1850 we shall have to assum an hiatus in Finnish-American relations of this nature ranging over a period of at least half a century and perhaps of one and a half centuries. Why this cessation? Undoubtedly many factors entered into this problem. At the risk of advancing a theory which eventually may be entirely disproved, one is offered now.

Studies of Finnish settlement in the United State show beyond doubt that climate and the landscape of the terrain account for the location of the majority of them since 1850-60. It is conceivable that had the first Finns chanced to land in New England or had they found their way to the Great Lakes region, more particularly the Upper Great Lakes, they might have maintained an uninterrupted flow into the United States ever since the foundation of the first settlement. There was nothing in New Sweden to attract a Finn accustomed to the invigorating atmosphere of the Baltic with its Northern pine, spruce and birch tree forests, bouldery surfaces and numerous glacial lakes. Naturally, the vagaries of economic conditions, wars and political uncertainties would make an impression upon the migration curve. But these would be merely incidental. At the moment it seems true to say that after their experience in New Sweden, Finns showed little further interest in occupying American soil until the middle of the last century, when they encountered that part of the region which physically was 'just like home' and at the same time offered richer economic opportunities than did their native land. However, this theory has yet to be confirmed. The Tercentenary Celebration was a happy occasion and the fillip it has given to interest in Swedish and Finnish settlement in America bids fair to lead to the solution of this and other problems associated with Finnish life in America.


1 The Finns on the Delaware, 1638-1655, New York 1938. 'Klas Fleming was born in Louhisaari, Finland, in 1592' (p. 39).

Published in Baltic and Scandinavian Countries. Vol. IV, 1938, p. 386-388.

[ Beginning of article ]