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Of the Forest-Destroying Finns

C. Ward

Although Finland had been part of the kingdom of Sweden, since the twelfth century, and Swedish civilization, its religion and, to a great extent, its language had supplanted the Finnish, the two peoples differed widely in racial origin an in character. The Swedes and Norwegians were of identical stock, dwellers in the Scandinavian peninsula at least since the Neolithic Age. The Finns were a branch of the Finno-Ugrians, a division of the Ural-Altaic family which dwelt in the Ural Mountains. The Magyars of Hungary, many of the Russian racial division, the Lapps, the Esthonians and the Livonians were of the same stock. The Finns came to Finland about the end of the eighth century. The Finno-Ugrians in their original state were nomads, but dwelt in the forests rather than on the plains. They were unwarlike and had little aptitude for political organization. The Finns of Finland displayed these ancestral traits.

In person they were of low stature, strong and hardy, with round heads, low foreheads, rather flat features and oblique grey eyes. They were generally morally upright, faithful and submissive, but stolid and indolent, though possessed of a keen sense of personal independence. In general, there was to be seen a resemblance to the Mongolian race.

By common repute the Finns were warlocks of distinguished eminence. Magic was native to them, wizardry was their birthright, sorcery their peculiar province. Only the Lapps, their blood-brothers, excelled them in the black arts. A competent Finnish practitioner could always raise the wind. He tied three knots in a string. When he untied one, a strong breeze blew. When he untied the second, there was a gale. If he dared unloose the third, trees crashed before the tempest and roofs sailed through the air. They had, of course, many parlor tricks not so devastating, charms and incantations to cure disease, for example, or to make the cattle prosper, or to prevent rain in harvest time. There were necromancers among those who came to Delaware. "Lasse, the Finn" was condemned by Printz to imprisonment for his wizardry, "Karin, the Finnish woman" also for a similar offense. Her arts were potent enough to deliver her from the lockup at Fort Elfsborg, but the bars and bolts of Fort Christina were proof against her powers. All in all, the Finns were an interesting element in Delaware's early population.

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Their nomadic tendency had carried many of them over into Sweden. There they cleared the land and planted it, but their methods of deforesting the ground by burning the trees in a rather extravagant and promiscuous fashion met with objection by the government. They were great hunters and in this, too, they were unnecessarily wasteful, killing large numbers of elk for their skins only. They disregarded the laws passed to curb their destructive tendencies, and, as they lived in the wilder parts of Sweden and had no settled homes, they were hard to catch.

As material for export to the new colony these Swedish Finns seemed thoroughly well qualified. Certainly they ought to be attracted by a new land where there were an unlimited supply of wild animals, no game laws, and forests to burn. Word went out to offer them these and all other inducements to emigrate, and, if enough would not go voluntarily, to "capture the forest-destroyers" and ship them west.

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As a result, the Kalmar Nyckel and the Charitas sailed from Gothenburg in July 1641 with at least thirty-five colonists including a number of Finns, a millwright and a tailor and their families, two young adventurers of gentle birth, a preacher, Herr Christoffer, Måns Kling, who had gone home in 1640, and his wife and child. Horses, goats, sheep, cattle and farming implements were in the cargoes, besides a great store of provisions, supplies and goods for trade. It began to look like a serious attempt at permanent colonization.

The ships reached Fort Christina in October. The new arrivals and the abundant supplies cheered the rather discontented little settlement. Its storehouse was almost empty, the major items of its contents being a few hundred bushels of corn, six hundred axes and four thousand fishhooks - a ha’penny worth of bread to an intolerable deal of fishhooks, one might think.

Now things began to look up. New houses were built outside the fort, more ground was cleared. In the following spring the millwright contrived a windmill to grind the grain. Rev. Reorus Torkillus, Lutheran, and Herr Christoffer, Calvinist, divided the spiritual care of the settlers amicably, and theological concord was prevalent, especially after that ardent follower of John Calvin and quite worthless person, van Langdonk, left for Sweden on the return trip. All in all, though the ships returned empty because there had been no trade for furs, the little colony at Fort Christina was not in such bad shape in the fall and winter of 1641-2.

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In Sweden, too, matters were going forward. The company was all in Swedish hands, which ensured greater unity of purpose, but funds were lacking. Fleming, still striving toward success, suggested combination with the old South-Ship Company, which had a substantial capital. Also he proposed a participation by the royal government. A plan of reorganization was worked out in 1642 on the basis of a capital of thirty-six thousand dalers, one-half taken by the South-Ship Company, one-sixth by the crown, the balance by the Oxenstierna family, Fleming and Spiring. After this time the company was almost a branch of the government. The ships were provisioned, the crews, soldiers and certain officers paid by the crown. But it still functioned as a private corporation, with Fleming at its head.

All this might seem to have put the company in good condition, but in fact its funds were still insufficient. Its management was never really effective. After Fleming was killed, two years later in the war with Denmark, Axel Oxenstierna became its de facto head, and its affairs fell into confusion. Oxenstierna was too busy with the Danish war and the long negotiations for peace to give it the necessary attention. This ineptitude of its officers contributed to the final catastrophe, which was, however, yet some years in the future. For the present it was still in workable condition. Indeed it was about to enter on the liveliest years of its career, beginning with the fifth expedition.

There was great activity in fitting out this new excursion. Two ships, the Fama and the Swan, were provided and freighted with supplies for the colony. Horses, cattle and sheep, grain, clothing, guns, wine, malt for their brewing, and writing-paper and sealing-wax for their letters home were in the cargo, but no goods for trade with the Indians. The character of these shipments indicates an intention to sustain and build up the colony without primary reliance on the fur trade, and, to that end, the usual rather frantic search for emigrants ensued.

Gregorius van Dyck agreed to go out again. Christer Boije was engaged as a military officer. A blacksmith was hired and a new minister, Rev. Johan Campanius Holm, who remained in New Sweden for five years. But, as always, volunteer voyagers were lacking. Recourse was had to compulsion. More Finns were rounded up, convicted poachers, deserters from the army, insolvent debtors, were condemned to deportation. Two married men, "who had committed adultery three times and one of them had, in addition, shot some elks", were added to the party, also a new governor to succeed Hollandaer. On the first of November the ships sailed.

Published in The Dutch-Swedes on the Delaware. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 1931, p. 102-106.

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