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The Emigration from Ostrobothnia

Pär-Erik Levlin

The Swedish Ostrobothnians are a coastal population. As to in older time it was easier to go by sea than over land they have been used to do long sea voyages. That proves by the treasure of Arabian silver coins from Viking time found in Vörå. Ostrobothnian farmers in sixteenth century brought on their own ships their products to Stockholm. Many of them stayed there to work over winter. It looks like the mobility later diminished when in the seventeenth century towns were founded in Ostrobothnia and took over most part of the trade. But they were also sailors on merchant ships. Thus a little town as Nykarleby around 1850 engaged about 1000 sailors from surrounding area.

This helps to explain why the emigration grow so rapidly in the end of the nineteenth century, but was of course not the cause. That we have to seek in the population growth and the development of the economy. The population was doubled between 1800 to 1850. It was still farming that gave the population their living, but the farms had been divided so many times, they mostly couldn't be divided any more. It was the unpropertied part of the people that grow the fastest.

They had to try to earn a living by working for farmers or anything else they could find to do. Often they went during summer season to other places, such as southern Finland, Sweden or St. Petersburg, the capital of Russia. The Ostrobothnians was known as good carpenters, house- and shipbuilders. Any considerable industries were not developed in Ostrobothnia and with the railroads and Saima channel, part of the trade and shipping was moved from the Ostrobothnian towns to southern Finland.

The great famine of the 1860's made many to realize they had to look for more secure means of subsistense than home district could offer. In first hand many settled in Helsingfors, St. Petersburg or Sweden. But don't think the overseas countries were unknown in Ostrobothnia. Their ships sailed to New York and Boston already in 1835 and Ostrobothnian sailors in English service had sailed to Australia and New Zealand. Ostrobothnians in Sweden had heard and red a lot about America as the emigration from Sweden began already in the 1840's.

The earliest emigrant to America we know from the Levälä-family was the sailor Daniel Björklund (B 365). He run from his ship in Boston 1865. There he worked two years as bricklayer before he went back home. He was not the first to run from a ship, but most others we don't know anything about.

In the 1870's you will more and more often see America reported as destination in the passport journals. The three first persons from Jeppo I have found with that destination was in 1872 Johan Johansson Skog, Johan Johansson Grötas and Matts Mårtensson Nyman of Nybyggar. It is however first in the 1880's the American emigration really grows. In 1881 23 persons from Jeppo went to America, of them two women. From 1893 F.Å.A. (Finnish Steamship Co.) took over the selling of tickets in Finland to America, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand and brought passengers with their own boats from Hangö to Liverpool. They had advertisements in every newspaper and you could see them every week in Vasabladet, the leading newspaper in Swedish in Ostrobothnia.

In U.S.A. the immigrants settled first in the northeastern states. In the middle of 1880's the destination most often was Michigan and northern parts of Wisconsin and Minnesota. There they were offered work in woods and mines. In the middle of the 1880's they often went to work in the woods in the west coast, foremost in Washington, but also as miners to Montana, Utah and Colorado.

During the time 1870 to 1914 2380 persons emigrated from Nykarleby town and parish. That is an average of 59.9 persons/year or 1.11 % of population every year. From Jeppo 1298 persons or 28.8 persons/year or 1.22 %. From Munsala 2826 persons of 62.8 persons/year or 1.30 %. From Purmo 1196 persons or 26.6 persons/year or 1.04 %. From Pedersöre 2526 persons or 56.1 persons/year or 0.90 %. From Sideby 1369 persons or 30.4 persons/year or 1.11 %. From the whole Swedish part of Ostrobothnia 58440 persons emigrated or 0.99 %. From Vasa län 158400 persons and from all of Finland about 300000. Of all emigrants about 90000 were Swedish speaking, also about 30 %, but the Swedes were only 10 % of the population. You also see that most of the emigrants came from Ostrobothnia.

It is to mention that they estimated that 25 % of the emigrants went back home. So did my father and his four brothers who all spent longer or shorter time in U.S.A. The figures above are also not quite true. They are in principal taken from passport journals, but there were some who left Finland without passport. Some were running from military services and so on. They were however not so many, only about 5 % of total number of emigrants.

This was not the latest emigration from Ostrobothnia. After World War II the emigration grew again to proportions like the last century and it is the Swedish speaking part of the population who give the greatest part of emigrants. It is still going on, but on a smaller scale. The principal destination now is Sweden, where also I am living.

Source: Svenska Österbottens Historia, Del III. Vasa 1980.

Published by Medlemsblad för Levälä Släktförening. Levälä Sukuseuran Jäsenlehti, February 1987, No. 9

© Pär-Erik Levlin

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