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The Finnish Pioneers of America

References to some important events in the history of the Delaware Valley three hundred years ago

In the spring of 1638 there was founded on the Delaware River a colony known as New Sweden. It was, along with the English and Dutch colonies, one of the earliest white settlements in North America and made important contributions to the development of the economic, social and political organism which, many years later, became the United States of America.

The Federal Government and the Governments of the States of Delaware, Pennsylvania and New Jersey have duly recognized the historical significance of this settlement by arranging for the tercentenary celebration of this event and inviting Sweden and Finland to participate in the festivities.

The part played by Sweden in the colonial enterprise has been known to most students of early American history. But the role of Finland which then - as for 481 years earlier and 171 years later - was under Sweden, has only recently become a subject of popular study, with the revealing information that, as the Allen Report, dated July 29, 1937, submitted to the House of Representatives, states, citing Dr. Amandus Johnson, of the University of Pennsylvania, "the Finnish element in New Sweden was important; it represented one-third and probably more of the total population of the colony".

With Enqland and Holland engaged in colonial and commercial rivalry, it was in order for Sweden, which at that time was a great power and had grandiose imperial aspirations, to take part in it. And in the fall of 1624 one William Usselinx, a Hollander, who had traveled far and wide, presented to King Gustaf Adolf II a proposition for the organization of a trading company which was to extend its operations to Asia, Africa and other lands and bring great revenue to the kingdom. Usselinx obtained full power to carry out the project, and a general solicitation for funds was begun. In explaining the plan, he directed attention to the country on the Delaware, its fertility and the opportunity for the church to Christianize the heathen Indians. The royal family of Sweden was among the chief contributors of funds.

In 1630 Sweden and Finland became involved in the Thirty Years' War, and in November, 1632, Kinq Gustaf Adolf fell in a battle at Lützen, Germany. Now it became the duty of Chancellor Axel Oxenstierna and the Finnish Admiral Klaus Fleminq to carry out the project. ...was beset with so....that the company was dissolved. The plan was revived however ... one Peter Menuit who had been in the service of Holland in America and knew the region well offered to organize another trading company and invest one had of the needed capital, the other half to be ransed by stock subscriptions in Sweden and Finland.

In 1637, practical steps to realize the plan were taken. The Government of Sweden placed at the service of the traders and colonist two ships, "Kalmar Nyckel" ("Key of Colmar") and "Fagel Grip" ("The Bird Griffin"), which were equipped with arms ammunition and goods for barter with Indians. A detachment of soldiers under Måns Nilsson Kling was sent to garrison the forts to be erected and orders regarding the buying of lands from the Indians were issued.

Having set sail in August, 1637. the two ships arrived on the Delaware River (then called Poutaxet) in March, 1638. Sights of paradisiacal charm greeted the explorers and filled them with high hopes. They continued their voyage up the river to the site of the present city of Wilmington.On March 29th Peter Menuit met a number of Indian chiefs who agreed to give him land on the western side of the river up to its tributary, the Schuylkill. The colonists landed and the colony of New Sweden was proclaimed. A fortress named Christina, in honor of the Swedish Queen of that name, was built and Måns Kling became its commandant. The colonists proceeded to plow and seed the lands.

In a few months the Hollanders who had been trading in that region and had also built a fort on the river, issued a vigorous challenge to the newcomers, regarding Menuit as a traitor. But he was not worried. After making sure that everything was done according to plans, he started hack for the old country to get more supplies and people. But he never returned because he was drowned on the way.

Another expedition was being fitted out in Sweden to take emigrants to the new colony. Historians relate, however, that it was difficult to induce free men to move there, and it appears that a number of Finnish families from the province of Vermland were forced to come along. The governor of the province, Olaf Stake, had ordered their seizure, on various charges or pretexts, alleging violation of hunting, fishing and forestry ordinances. Each man was given a suit of clothes and ten brass thalers, with the promise that those who so desired might return home within a year or two.

"Kalmar Nyckel" started its second voyage to Delaware in the fall of 1639, arriving there in April, the following year. On the return voyage the ship carried a number of members of the first expedition, including Måns Kling, and a Hollander who had assisted him in creating the settlement. Soon after the Hollanders were ousted from the trading company and one Peter Ridder-Hollender was appointed governor of the colony. Under his guidance the colony advanced rapidly. Relations with the Hollanders were strained but they improved gradually as the British appeared on the scene to trade with the Indians.

The Swedish government now proceeded to lend its prestige and funds to the trading company, called the Southern Company, in order to strengthen the colony. Admiral Fleming was elected chairman of the Board of Directors of the Company, and the Governor-General of Finland, Peter Brahe, was appointed a director. Another expedition was set on foot, but efforts to get free men to go across the seas again met with difficulties. Thus the eyes of the authorities once more turned to the Finns who were living in the woods of the province of Vermland, with the result that the majority of the new group of emigrants were Finns. They arrived in Delaware on November 7, 1641: the garrison of the fortress was strengthened and Måns Kling again became its chief.

Soon there was established on the western side of the Delaware River another colony named Finland, about ten miles up from the present city of Wilmington, now known as Marcus Hook.

The Swedish ships again visited the colony on the fifteenth of February, 1643, when Governor Ridder-Hollender was freed from his duties. His successor was a Finnish man, Lieutenant-Colonel Johan Printz, the most famous official of the Delaware colony. He brought with him a considerable number of Finns from Sweden and Finland .....on the charge of clearing forests by the old method of burning.

The having conditions of the new settlers were, as may well be quessed quite primitive. The houses or cabins were builtof small round logs, says Albia Widen a Sweden historian the doorway so low that one had to bow on entering no windows but openings covered with sliding wood panels, depressions between the logs were pointed with clay inside and out and firepace was made of stone or clay. The oven was built inside the cabin. Covernor Printz appears to have been well satisfied with the colony and states in his first report that the land seems to contain everything one could wish for on this earth. There are all kinds of fruit trees and the land is suitable for agriculture."

So he proceeded to work for the promotion of tobacco and maize culture and carried on trade with the Indians. Under his governorship the new settlements of New Korsholm and New Vasa, whose populations were chiefly Finns, were established. These new settlements, about ten miles away from the settlement of Finland, were equipped with log forts. Another settlement named Molikka, was founded on the eastern side of the Delaware, within the limits of the present state of New Jersey.

In March, 1644, the ship "Fama" brought additional settlers and a cargo of supplies. The first priest, named Torkillus, died but other priests came in his place, and a church was built. During the years 1646 and 1648 ships brought goods for trade with Indians. But the relations with the Hollanders became more and more strained, and as several years passed without help from the old country the conditions became very difficult and, finally, Printz decided to return home.

The mother country seems to have forgotten her colony and there were many reasons for this. The eighth expedition in 1649 never reached its destination. The old ship "Kalmar Nyckel" was replaced with a ship named "Katten". Of the 300 Finns who offered to sail, about 70 were accepted. The ship was wrecked in the West Indies, but the crew and emigrants succeeded in saving themselves, only to fall victims of piratical Spanish sailors who robbed them and took them to Porto Rico as prisoners of war. Finally the survivors succeeded in securing a small vessel and proceeded to sail away, but at St. Cruz French freebooters seized the ship, robbing, torturing and even killing some of its passengers, selling the survivors as slaves. Only a few of the emigrants ever returned.

In 1653 preparations were made for a new expedition. A government agent was ordered to corral 250 Finns from Vermland and Dalecarlia, and in the following year 350 people started for the colony. Near the Canary Islands the ship had to fight off three Turkish buccaneer vessels before it could go on. Only about one-half of the members of this expedition reached the Delaware River, others having died on the way. A new and the last governor, John Rising, arrived with this group and he proceeded to improve the conditions in the colony.

In the meantime, Peter Stuyvesant, last governor of New Netherland, had laid plans to conquer the colony of New Sweden, and on the 26th of August, 1655. his fleet of seven ships, with nearly 700 men, arrived at New Amsterdam (New York). Defense against such superior force would have been unavailing, so Governor Rising decided to surrender. The tenth expedition of 105 people, of whom 92 were Finns, reached the Delaware after the colony had surrendered. Stuyvesant, however, had little reason for elation as marauding Indians invaded his settlement, killing about one hundred persons. The Hollanders thereupon proposed joint action for offense and defense, suggesting that the Finns and Swedes retain all land north of the Christina fortress. The colonists, however, declined the offer. Some returned to the old country, but most of them remained although only nineteen seem to have taken an oath of loyalty to the new masters.

In 1664 the British conquered the region although the conquest was not formally conceded before 1667. Although the imnmigrants were allowed to keep their lands and means of livelihood, they appear to have had reason for dissatisfaction with the Dutch and also the English, and in 1668 there was an uprising which was put down and one of its leaders, "Long Finn," was captured and sent into slavery in the Barbadoes. Some historians regard this uprising as a symptom of the coming struggle for independence of all the colonies. But notwithstanding the turbulent times, the same year that England took the colony, some 140 Finns from Sweden are reported to have tried to reach America through Holland and Norway, only to be turned back at the instance of the Swedish government.

In 1681 the English government sold the lands on the Western side of the Delaware River to the noted nobleman and Quaker, William Penn, who, being a benevolent man, allowed the old settlers to keep their lands and to participate in the government. In his reports and memoranda Penn has testified to the industry, honesty and general uprightness of the colonists, both Swedish and Finnish.

The Delaware Finns appear to have been doing rather well in those times. In a letter dated 1693 and sent to friends in the old country they style themselves "peasants, plowing, sowing and clearing the land - very good and fertile - getting good crops and a good living, selling bread, grain and flour. Our wives and daughters are industrious at spinning and weaving. We live in peace and amity with the Indians who have not molested us for years." In an earlier letter it was stated that an emigrant had to bring only gunpowder and flaxseed in order to succeed in New Sweden.

One difficulty in determining who were Swedes and who were Finns in the colony lies in the fact that the names of both Finns and Swedes were nearly always given in Swedish in the records. Thus Dr. Amandus Johnson - who, according to the Allen Renort, "has in no way gone out of his way to emphasize the Finnish element in New Sweden" - considers names like the following as belonging to Finnish settlers: Eskil Larsson, Klement Jöransson, Jöns Påfvelsson, Bertel Eskelsson, Clemet, Anders, Johan, Måns, Clemet Mickelsson, Hendrick, Karin Lasse, Evert Hindricksson, Karl Jansson, Johan Fransson. But names of indisputable Finnish origin also appear in the records, such as "Mollika" (Mullikka). "Laican" (Laikkanen), "Halton" (Halttunen), "Parckon" (Parkkonen) and "Homman" (Hommanen).

Much speculation has centered on the name of John Morton, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, who was born in Ridley, Pa., in 1724 and died in 1777. His ancestors were residents of the colony of New Sweden and some students of its history claim to have found evidence that he was of Finnish descent.

With the increase of English influence in North America the Delaware Finns and Swedes gradually disappeared from the ken of history as distinct entities. Their common monuments consist of a stone church built in Wilmington, Del., in 1699, a brick church in Philadelphia, completed in 1700, and a third church in Swedesboro, N. J. Many gravestones in the cemeteries near these churches bear Finnish names.

For a long time after the colony was taken over by the English. Sweden maintained religious and cultural connections with the colonists, and in 1693 the Swedish Diet discussed the question of sending a Finnish-speaking preacher or school-master to the colony but it was held unnecessary as all were said to be able to understand Swedish. A religious dreamer, Peter Schaefer, of Turku, Finland, remained in the colony from 1695 to 1701, trying also to convert the Indians. A more prominent visitor was Peter Kalm, of Närpiö, Finland - first noted European scientist in America, whose travels extended as far as Niagara Falls. He came in 1748, going back after three years.

Thus is appears that the Finns constituted a comparatively large part of the population of the first permanent settlement in the Delaware River Valley. Therefore the Finns are honoring their memory by suitable festivities which will reach their climax at Chester, Pennsylvania, on June 29, 1938, where a memorial by Väinö Aaltonen, Finland's foremost sculptor, will be unveiled...

Published by the Fitchburg Finnish Delaware Tercentenary Committee.

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