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The Finns in America. The First Settlers

Doctor D. A. Robertson in his research, published in Jour. Amer. Geog. Soc. vol. V., contends that the North American mounds were built by Finns long before the Christian era. He maintains that a people belonging to the Finnish race had been in this country previous to the Indians.

This theory, however, has never been proved; but it is a historical and undeniable fact that when the nations of Europe began to settle in America the Finns were among the first to come. They brought under cultivation the shores of the Delaware River from Naaman Creek to Philadelphia, long before the time of William Penn.


THE history of America shows that the Swedes founded settlements in America only a short time after the English and Dutch had come to this country. A few years after the Pilgrim Fathers had landed at Plymouth, a Dutchman, William Usselinx, had aroused the interest of Sweden's hero king, Gustavus Adolphus II, in founding a Swedish Colony in America. Sweden had become a great power and was anxious to expand its frontiers. With the support of the government a company was formed in 1624 for the purpose of the realization of the plan. The war of Thirty Years, however, stopped the enterprise. Gustavus Adolphus fell on the battlefield of Lutzen. This first enterprise led to no results except that a few Swedes and Finns arrived at New Amsterdam. Three hundred years have passed since these pioneers landed.

During the reign of Queen Christina, the daughter of Gustavus Adolphus, Peter Minuit arrived in Sweden and received the interest in the undertaking. Peter Minuit was the founder and first governor of New Amsterdam, but had, on account of a quarrel with his government, left his country's service. He reminded the Swedish government of the scheme of Usselinx and urged that it be realized. He offered also his services to Sweden for the founding of a colony. Sweden took up the matter with enthusiasm and the first Swedish expedition left in 1638 for America under the leadership of Peter Minuit. This expedition made treaties with the Indians for the ownership and titles of the land situated on both sides of the Delaware River where it was decided that the colony of New Sweden should be founded.

Sweden, at that time, was a powerful nation: long and victorious wars had made the people courageous, daring and adventurous. It was easy enough to find men willing to enlist as soldiers. There were more than enough men who were willing to defend and command the forts and lead the commercial enterprises, but it was difficult to persuade people to become settlers, to go with the intention of staying permanently in the then unknown country. The agents of the government spoke to deaf ears. No bona fide settlers went with the first expedition.

In this emergency the government thought of the Finns. At these times there were Finns not only in Finland, but also in the western part of Middle Sweden, especially in the province of Vermland. They had come there in answer to the call of the Swedish government and had taken possession of the large woodlands. They had been burnbeaters in Finland and they continued to use the same agricultural methods in Sweden. They felled the trees and after the trees were dry enough they set fire to them and burned them to ashes. The cleared patch of land was then ploughed and cultivated. The government soon objected to these wasteful methods as far as Sweden was concerned, but they considered burnbeating excellent and most suitable for America.

The government commissioned Mons Klinga, a soldier who had been of the first expedition (1638) to the Delaware, to go to the Finnwoods in order to persuade the Finns to leave their woods and go to America. He was eloquent in describing the wealth and beauty of the new country, but the adventure was so tremendous that the Finns naturally hesitated. They were suspicious, too, where the promises of the government were concerned. Experience had taught them that. Many of the Finns in Vermland had had cause to regret that they had left their homes in Finland. Where persuasion did not lead to results, the government began to threaten. The obstinate ones were arrested and sent to the ships as prisoners. They were to have their trip whether they liked it or not.

"Key of Kalmar" and "Charitas" sailed from Sweden in August 1641 with settlers for New Sweden. These first emigrants reached their destination, Fort Christina (the present Wilmington, Delaware) on the 7th of November of the same year, that is only twenty-one years after the arrival of the Mayflower with the Pilgrim Fathers to New England. New expeditions arrived from time to time until Sweden lost her colony in 1655 to the Dutch. The Dutch in their turn lost it to England in 1664. Yet, long after Sweden had ceased to send ships and expeditions to New Sweden, Finns emigrated to the former colony by way of Holland and England; they had heard from those who had gone before that the new country offered huge possibilities to the faithful and industrious.

The Swedes as a rule inhabited the forts, they being soldiers and magistrates. Those who tilled the ground settled in the immediate vicinity of the forts. True to their customs and inclination the Finns went rurther into the wilderness. Their settlements comprised the country from Naaman Creek, which is the border between Delaware and Pennsylvania, on up the river. The name of the first settlement in the present Pennsylvania was Finland. By and by the settlers tilled the ground farther up the river. The second settlement was named Upland and the third, which marks the site of the present Philadelphia, was called Takamaa or Tacony, meaning Backland.

History calls all these settlers by one name - Swedes. In a way it is correct and natural. Politically each and all, including those from Finland, were Swedes in the sense that they were all faithful subjects of the King of Sweden. Finland, at that time, was only a part of Sweden. Moreover, the greatest part of the Finns who came to New Sweden, did not come from Finland at all, but from Vermland, Dalecarlia and other provinces of Sweden. However, in the isolation and solitude of their woods, the Finns had tenaciously preserved their customs and their language, until the war of Thirty Years threw them in closer contact with their Swedish neighbors. The Finns have always been inclined to flock together as much as possible. And owing to different customs and language, misunderstandings were not always avoidable.

Such names as Lapland, Korsholm and Tornea, which can be seen on old maps of Pennsylvania, indicate Finnish settlements. The map drawn by the Dutchman Roggevin is the oldest and shows the country surrounding Philadelphia. At the place where this city is situated and exactly on the spot where the Sesquicentennial Exposition is being held today, the map shows just one name-Sauna. Many have tried to explain the meaning of this word. The Finn, Peter Kock, had settled on the land marked Sauna. The first house which a Finn builds very near the water is always a Sauna (bath-house). When Roggevin came to the place, he no doubt found Peter Kock's Sauna there-which explains the name.

As a rule the Finnish settlers had very large families. Even William Penn comments on that. So, on that account they were compelled to extend their lands beyond the Delaware River to the present State of New Jersey. Today such names as Mullica Hill and Mullica River in New Jersey are memorials of Eric Mullica, the Finn, who came from Vermland near the Norwegian border, where people who bear the old name still live.

The conquest of New Sweden by the Dutch did not greatly affect the Finns. They adapted themselves easily to the new conditions. They soon became used to the English rule, too, though a certain soldier and adventurer incited a small number of Finns to rebel against the English.

When William Penn arrived in 1682 he settled first in Upland where the majority of the farming population were Finnish. When he founded Philadelphia his next door neighbors were Swedish and Finnish farmers such as Rambo, Peter Kock, Swanson and others. History records that William Penn was on Otto Kock's land and was his guest when he made his famous compact with the Indians in the shadow of the Treaty Elm. The same Otto Kock acted as William Penn's interpreter in his dealing with the Indians and was in other respects a man who had his full confidence.

By and by the Finns were assimilated by the English. With them they helped to build the United States, fought for its liberty and have ever since contributed to the life of this great country.

The historian Bancroft maintains that every nineteenth Yankee can trace his descent to the colony of New Sweden. As the population of said colony consisted of a considerable percentage of Finns, it is beyond doubt that Finnish blood is running in the veins of many a Yankee. And there is no reason to be ashamed of the fact because no real criminals were ever deported to New Sweden. It is true that many of the Finns were deported there as prisoners, but their "crime" was that their ideas of agricultural methods were different from those of their rulers. They were too anxious to have land to till and trees to cut, or they had been too ardent hunters and followed the game beyond the district where they were allowed to hunt.

According to genealogy many worthy, great and prominent American family traces its origin to the colony of New Sweden or is allied to it by ties of marriage. It is not possible to make an exact division and final settlement regarding what New Sweden families are Finnish and what Swedish. And it is by no means necessary. Both Swedes and Finns came from a great common home, the Kingdom of Sweden, and even those who were of Finnish origin can be called Swedes in the same sense that American Finns call themselves Americans. There is no excuse for a quarrel.

But as the history of Finland tries to ascertain what has been Finland's special share and contribution to history during the time that Finland was united to Sweden, it is interesting to prove what part the Finns played in the history of New Sweden.

The Finns have from ancient times used both first names and family names. Especially is that true of those Finns who came from Savolax, as were most of those who settled in Vermland and Dalecarlia. On the contrary in Sweden family names were not used as a rule among the lower class of people. In conformity to Swedish custom the Swedish documents and deeds mention only the first name of the Finns followed by the father's name, as Anders Pehrsson, Matts Thorsson, Morten Mortenson, etc. During the Dutch rule, the names remained unchanged and, in many cases, only the Dutch ortography was applied. When the English came and a land settlement was necessary on account of the increased population, the register books show the revival of Finnish family names. For example, Matts Thorson's name has added "Tossawa" which name clearly indicates his Savo-Finnish origin. Later Tossawa became Tussey, which name still exists.

One of the earliest settlers was Peter Kockin, as the name was spelled first. It was abbreviated Kock and many of that name enjoyed a good standing in the colony. It was later frequently written Cox. But not all who bear that name derive their origin from New Sweden.

Hannes Kolehmainen, the marathon runner is not the first who has represented that name in America. Old chronicles mention Coleman, the Finn, in connection with the mutiny attempted by "the long Finn." Coleman here is a corrupted form of Kolehmainen, but it has many other sources, too.

The old Finnish family name Sinikka was soon changed to Seneca in analogy with the name of the Seneca-Indians who surrounded places where the Finns were living. Because the Finns lived on very friendly terms with their Indian neighbors they were sometimes mistaken for them. This name became Sinnex later.

Olli Rasanen (Woolley Raessen) was a miller on Naaman Creek in the beginning of the English era. The name became Rawson.

From Halttula Village in Finland a man, by name Halttunen, moved to Vermland in Sweden. A member of this family joined an expedition to New Sweden. His name is mentioned in the book first as Haltun, then Hollton and Holton and finally Hollsten.

The Savo-Finnish name Vaananen was, at an early period in New Sweden, written Vaenam and later Vanneman which name is frequently found now in Pennsylvania, Delaware and Maryland.

Peter Rambo, one of the first arrivals from Sweden, settled on the Delaware in 1638. He had been living on the island of Hisingen in Sweden, but a Swedish historian maintains that he had moved there from Finland. The Rambo family was very prominent in Philadelphia once upon a time. Their large farm, Kipka, was situated where the Fairmount Park is now.

Many other families whose Finnish and Swedish origin can be proved have, in the course of generations, become numerous and branched out all over America, Canada included. Such are Putkoinen (Putke) and Lukk (Lock). Many, who apparently had no family name, used their first name and added to it "the Finn", later adapting Finn as family name: though on the other hand, there are many Finn families that have nothing to do with the nationality the name indicates.

Most interesting is it to study the genealogy of the Morton family which John Morton, the signer of the Declaration of Independence, has made famous. There are many other families bearing the name of Morton who did not originate in New Sweden, but it is beyond doubt that John Morton's family did. The forbear of John Morton, Morten Mortensson, came from Sweden. He died in Ammasland (Hammaslahti-Riverbend) on May 31st, 1706 at the age of one hundred years and the pastor has made a note in his records that the old man, was born in Finland. He left a son who wrote his name Morton Mortonson. He died at Calcoon Hook near Ammasland in 1718. The son of this Morton married Mary Archer from Ridley and died at the end of 1724 without having seen his child who was born at the beginning of 1725. This child was John Morton. His mother married a second time and John Morton was brought up and educated by his English stepfather, John Sketchley. On his father's side John Morton thus descends from a Finnish family that had come from Sweden and on his mother's side from an English family.

The Swedes and Finns of New Sweden were soon assimilated by the English element and formed, during the colonial period, one unit. The knowledge of the Swedish language, though, was maintained during a long period of years. The spiritual needs of the Swedes were looked after by pastors imported from Sweden and during all of the eighteenth Century services were held in the Swedish language. But the Finns never had this advantage and so they were swallowed up by the English element even sooner than the Swedes. On old gravestones in the churchyards of Philadelphia, Wilmington. Chester, Swedesboro and other cities, can be found tales of Swedes and Finns who have done their bit for this country and fought for its liberty. There they rest, the old pioneers, by each other's side, all a part of the soil they loved.

The next phase of Finnish emigration to America is directed toward different parts of North America and takes place under different auspices. While Alaska still was a Russian territory, a Russian-American Company was founded in which several persons of Finnish birth held prominent positions. These men persuaded Finns to settle in the vicinity of Sitka and, in the middle of the Nineteenth Century, the settlements were so numerous that they had congregations of their own. Uno Cygnaeus, the father of the the Public Schools in Finland, was one of the pastors there.

The later emigration from Finland to America started in the eighteen-sixties to Michigan and Minnesota and has been continuous since. Census for 1920 showed that 149,824 native-born Finns lived in the United States. If those who are born in U. S. of parents one of which or both are born in Finland are taken into account, the number of the Finns in the U. S. should be 296,276. In addition to that there are about 60,000 Finns in Canada.

The Finns are spread all over the United States though there are only a few in the southern states. The bulk of the Finnish population is to be found in Minnesota and Michigan. There are great numbers in New York City, Massachusetts, Ohio, Wisconsin, North and South Dakotas and Montana. There are many thousands along the Pacific Coast in Washington, Oregon and California. In Canada the majority of the Finns have settled in Ontario. Used in their country to an unceasing struggle against a hard and stern Nature, the Finns are tenacious and hard-working settlers. They have brought under cultivation large tracts of land especially in Minnesota and the upper Peninsula of Michigan. Those who have seen what they have achieved, most of the time without other capital than their faith in the future and the strength of their bodies, are bound to admit it is something to be proud of. In a recent speech the Governor of Minnesota gives the Finns a testimonial, saying they are excellent settlers who have been able to live where many other nationalities have given up and who have tilled ground that many others would have turned away from because it looked so hard and gave promise of too small return, thus leaving a good heritage to other generations.

Printed document in the Turku University Library, Turku, Finland (Signum: s.Amer.I.595).

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