How much cash do I need to take with me when I emigrate? What possessions should I take and what should I leave behind? How will I cope with the language? These are questions emigrants have always had to consider.
When Maria Nilsdotter, my 2x great-grandmother, emigrated in 1875 from Skällarbyn, Sweden, she probably had the same concerns. In my previous blog, I discussed the reasons why Maria chose to emigrate. Here I explore how she might have traveled to America.
The anticipation began the day Maria decided to follow her sister Christina to Clinton, Iowa. She knew she could rely on Christina’s experienced advice, as well as emigrant handbooks to guide her. It must have been a comfort to know her sister could help her get settled, find a job, and teach her English. Maria focused on what she needed to do to emigrate.
The first step required that she visit her pastor’s office and request a moving certificate (Flyttningsbetyg). The document included name, birth date, parish, county, vaccination date (smallpox), baptism, confirmation, marriage, profession, destination, general social behavior, and the pastor’s signature.
The Moving Out records (Utflyttades) for Skällarbyn noted for the month of May 1875, that Maria departed her village and parish. Her destination – North America.
Upon arrival at a Swedish or Norwegian port, Maria had to submit the (Flyttningsbetyg) to the Police Department for inspection. Without this document, she could not leave the country.
PLANNING THE TRIP
Maria had several problems to solve before her departure to America. How to pay for her ticket and purchase it? What route to travel and what time of year? What supplies to take?
Initially, I thought Maria received financial assistance from her elder sister Christina, who emigrated in 1872. Quite often, a sibling who had already immigrated would send money to family members to help pay for their trip.
After I reviewed the 1896 probate records for Maria’s and Christina’s mother, Karin Olsdotter, I realized where the girls obtained at least half the money required for their expenses. Each girl received an advance of their inheritance in the form of a dowry payment for their travel to America. Although it wasn’t typical for Swedish parents to provide a dowry for their daughters, Karin and Nils provided some assistance. Maria received 100 Kronor (approximately $30 in 1875), which was half of her total inheritance of 200 Kronor. Today the 100 Kronor would be worth about 5606 Kronor ($631.00). Christina received more than twice as much as Maria, possibly because she had a son to care for on her own. Her dowry advance was 250 Kronor, half of the total 500 her parents provided for her.
For most emigrants, the cost of passage from Sweden to America was a considerable financial burden. The money Maria received from her parents would not suffice for all of her expenses. She probably saved her earnings from work as a servant (piga) on a neighboring farm over the course of a couple of years. A farmhand could earn an annual income of about 100 Kronor ($27) in 1869, and 138 Kronor in 1880. Her inheritance combined with savings would cover the cost of an emigrant-class steamship ticket.
During the Swedish mass emigration era (1870-1900), fees fluctuated due to competition For example, in 1869, a one-way steerage ticket from Göteborg to New York, or Chicago, cost about $41. During the 1880’s a steerage ticket cost around about $28. The1870 Handbook for Immigrants to the United States noted the costs from Christiania (Oslo) to New York as $45. Maria probably needed at least $60 to cover her costs from Skällarbyn, Sweden to Clinton, Iowa.
TICKET AND ROUTE
Because of the favorable exchange rates and higher wages in America, it was easier for a relative in America to buy a ticket for their family member in Sweden. Christina may have purchased a ticket for Maria, who later reimbursed her sister.
If Maria bought her ticket in Sweden, then it was best to use an emigrant agent. Shipping lines advertised throughout Sweden and had agents in ports of departure. These agents had sub-agents and representatives throughout the country, including remote rural villages. Often, schoolmasters served as representatives who supplemented their meager income by selling tickets for shipping lines. They distributed leaflets with travel information and posted up placards.
Emigrant agents served as a type of travel agent, advising prospective emigrants about costs and travel routes. The emigrant agents provided a “Utvandrare-kontrakt” (emigrant contract), the ticket for the journey. Often, it was a “multi-ticket” that included all the trips along the route – (ship to rail in England and ship to rail in the USA) – and lodging at all the stops.
When Maria and her siblings emigrated, a direct ship route from Sweden to America didn’t exist. Instead, emigrants took a small steamer, known as a ‘feeder ship’ to a British port, such as Hull or Grimsby, on the east coast of England. Then they traveled via train to a larger emigration port, such as Liverpool, where they boarded a transatlantic steamship bound for America or Canada.
Although almost 80% of Swedish emigrants departed from Göteborg, Sweden to Hull, England, I believe that Maria and her siblings left from Christiania, the nearest port city. The distance from Skällarbyn to Christiania was 56 miles versus 165 miles to Göteborg. Emigrants from Värmland who lived close to the Norwegian border often departed from Christiania.
Another reason I concluded Maria and her siblings did not go through Göteborg is they do not appear on the Göteborg emigrant passenger lists. Nor did they appear on the Göteborg police lists, which noted all the passengers who departed from that city. Each emigrant had to provide to the Police Department their “Utvandrare-Kontrakt“(emigrant contract), their ticket for the journey. The Police chamber verified that the ticket was genuine, not fraudulent, and recorded the emigrant on a chronological list.
I also checked the Christiania/Oslo police emigrant lists and found a Marie Nilson who departed in May 1875. It is an assumption, but I believe this might be “my” Maria Nilsdotter, who had already simplified her name before traveling to the United States. Christina may have advised that an American name would make travel easier.
Maria may have traveled via an alternate route from Sweden to England, but I am going on the premise that she chose the most convenient one. Below is a chart outling how Maria might have traveled from Skällarbyn to Clinton, Iowa.
Maria probably relied on Christina’s advice regarding recommended travel items. She may have also read information from travel brochures for emigrants – Vägledning för Svenska utvandrare till Amerika, (Guidance for Swedish Emigrants to America.)
For the two day journey across the North Sea from Christiania to Hull, passengers had to supply their food. Typical items Maria may have brought with her: flatbread (Knäckebröd), butter, hardtack, cheese, herring, and sour milk. The voyage across the Atlantic included meals, although the passengers seldom found them appetizing.
A typical weekly menu for steamship passengers in 1859 contanined the following items:
Sunday: a half pound of beef, porridge, or pudding, dried fruit
Monday: pork, pea soup or boiled cabbage
Tuesday: beef, gruel or peas
Wednesday: beef, rice and molasses
Thursday: beef, porridge or pudding, dried fruit
Friday: beef, pork, pea soup or dried fruit
Saturday: herring or fish, peas or brown beans
Lars Ljungmark, Swedish Exodus, (Southern Illinois University Press, 1979),77.
According to the Swedish and American guide books for the transatlantic trip, third-class passengers needed: mattress, bedding, tinware, plate, mug, knife, fork, spoon, and water pail. If a passenger could not buy the items before they arrived in the port city then a ship’s official could advise where to purchase them inexpensively.
“Necessary items during the trip for third class passengers: are the following food containers: plate, drinking cup, water pitcher, knife, fork, spoon. Mattress to lie on, and a blanket. The food containers may be made of tin…The agent can instruct passengers where things can be bought at the cheapest price. Otherwise traders seek to entice passengers to buy too much unnecessarily for a high price.”
Perhaps Maria received advice from Christina similar to what Maria Helene Jonsdotter wrote to her her sister in 1869.
“I advise you not take a lot of linen cloth. Instead bring plenty of tinware. Pack down some food so that you have something to eat, in case you cannot stomach what they give you at sea. Hardtack is good; also some cheese and dried meat. Take along a food basket. When you arrive in America there will be many who approach you and offer you help. But you must watch your step, for there are plenty of scoundrels around you read to cheat the emigrants.”Lars Ljungmark, Swedish Exodus, (Southern Illinois University Press, 1979),76.
Additional advice about provisions came from handbooks such as the Handbook for Immigrants to the United States.
“An emigrant ought to have one or more stout boxes, well roped, and plainly marked. He should fill it or them with substantial clothing, including boots and shoes, part for winter, part for summer wear, all costing much more in the United States as in America.”Handbook for Emigrants to the United States, (Hurd and Houghton, New York, 1871), Internet Archive.
BEST SEASON TO TRAVEL
The easiest decision for Maria was what time of year to travel. She chose to travel in the spring. According to the Handbook for Emigrants to the United States:
“Spring is by all means the best season, summer the next, autum the next, and winter the worst. In the summer the ocean is even quieter than in the spring, but by going early, one has a better chance of immediate employment on landing. In the winter, rough weather generally prevails on the ocean, but the ships are usually much less crowded than during the rest of the year.”
Emigration Dates for Maria and her siblings:
- April 1872 – Christina Nilsdotter -age 32 & son Carl Bryntesson- age 5 (later changed his name to Charles Nelson)
- May 1875 – Maria Nilsdotter/Mary Nelson-age 21
- April 1880 – Anna Nilsdotter – age 22- traveled as Anna Nyberg with her fiance Carl Nyberg
- April 1888 – Per Axel Nilsson – age 26
TRAVEL TO CHRISTIANIA (OSLO), NORWAY
Before her departure, I imagine Maria’s farewell was much like that of Mina Anderson who emigrated in 1890. Like Maria, she left Sweden in the spring during the month of May.
I left Sweden in the month of May and everthing was in full bloom. It was so beautiful…Nothing could be more beautiful that a Nordic spring. It was not fun to leave all that I loved: father, mother, siblings, friends, and land of my forefathers. I walked around the forest to all the places I had visited as a child. I walked to my childhood home and saw the playhouse my father had helped me to build. An apple tree and a couple of gooseberry bushes that I had planted that had grown and bore fruit – all I had to see and bid farewll to. I became so sad that if I had stayed longer, I think I would never have been able to leave. The day arrived when I tearfully said farewell to all that had been the joy of my childhood and youth.”
Joy K. Lintelman, I Go to America, Swedish American Women and the Life of Mina Anderson (Minnesota, Minnesota Hisorical Press, 2009), 67.
Tickets, documents, and baggage in hand, Maria commenced her journey in late May 1875. Likely accompanied by both of her parents, Maria probably traveled by carriage 13 miles to the nearest railroad station in Arvika, constructed in 1871.
The trip to Christiania took ten hours on the slow train, seven on the fast one. There were two trains a day with a stop in Ottebo, Amot, and Charlottenberg. Located 24 miles from Arvika, Charlottenberg served as the frontier point between the Sweden and Norway railway system. After an all-day train ride, Maria arrived in Christiania, where she spent at least one night before then next leg of her trip – her first experience aboard a steamship.
The Wilson shipping line had a weekly service from Christiania to Hull with departure scheduled every Friday. Based on the Oslo police records for emigrants, and the ship records, Maria probably departed Christiania on Friday, May 28, 1875 on the S.S. Hero. Originally, I thought she left Christiania on May 21, 1875 on the S.S. Angelo.
Thanks to a thoughtful Swedish genealogist who recognized an error I made regarding Maria’s departure date from Skällarbyn, I revised her travel schedule. When I viewed the “Moving Out” records (Utflyttades), I saw the date as “May 14”, instead it was “May 24”. Rather than a newer ship, the S.S. Angelo, launched in 1874, Maria would have boarded a smaller and older vessel, the S.S. Hero. Built in 1866 at Hull England, the 1034 ton ship had two decks, 2 bulkheads and three partial bulkheads.
Generally, the passengers began to arrive for boarding between 2:00-3:00 p.m., and the vessel sailed at 5:00 p.m. It usually docked in Hull Sunday evening or Monday morning, which would have given Maria time to connect with her transatlantic steamer, scheduled to depart on Wednesday, June 2, 1875.
Emigrants experienced mixed emotions on the day they departed from Christiania to Hull, excitement, confusion, anticipation, as well as sadness. As she boarded the small steamship, referred to as a ‘feeder ship’, Maria may have known from her sister’s letters that crossing the North Sea would be grueling. Wilson’s “old tubs” had a reputation for rolling in the heavy gales. For many emigrants, the 40 hours aboard the ‘feeder ship’ were much more punishing than the Liverpool to New York trip, which took five times longer.
An article in the Swedish American Genealogist described a newspaper reporter’s eye-witness account carried in The Göteborgs Handels -och Sjöfartstidning on August 26, 1865. Although this describes a voyage from Göteborg to Hull, the trip from Christiania to Hull would have been very similar.
“Every week we witness larger and smaller groups of peasants from almost every province in Sweden, who have arrived here, ostensibly to travel with the large British steamships to the New World. The entire deck is covered with chests and bed clothes. The motivating drive for making this journey is the fact that relatives in America have written letters telling of how good life is over there…Down in the harbor, where the Hull steamer Argo is docked, there is life and activity. The deck has to be cleared before departure, and now everybody is working desperately to stow the baggage. The emigrants are to be quartered on the middle deck..Boys and girls, mothers with babies, still nursing, young and old, every class of humanity is represented here. The family fathers are attempting to cheer up their families, telling them to keep up their courage. The women seem passive. The Word of God is on their lips and with tearful eyes and anxiety in their hearts they attempt to sing a religous hymn in their solemn meditation..Now the signal is given and the departure is at hand. Now the situation changes. Friends and relatives leave the ship. The passengers gather along the railing for the last look at the city. Now the engines start up and there is unrest on board, weeping, moaning, crying and shrieking is heard. Many of the passengers change their moods as they soberly reminisce about their homes and life in their native land. ‘Farewell dear Sweden’ is the cry one hears from many lip.”“Emigrant Traffic on the North Sea,” Swedish American Genealogist, Vol 34/Number 1 Article 11.(http://digitalcomons.augustana.edu).
Unfavorable conditions aboard the ‘feeder ships’ from Christiania to Hull resulted in a series of five reports by the Assistant Secretary of the Marine Department Board of Trade in 1881. Charles P. Wilson, Principal Officer, described the scene aboard the S.S. Angelo. Conditions aboard the S. S. Hero were probably more extreme because it was almost ten years older than the Angelo, and had transported thousands of emigrants.
On board the above-named vessel, the emigrants were berthed in two different compartments, one forward, the other aft…The sleeping accomodations consists of two shelves on each side of the vessel running the entire length of the compartment; these shelves have no sub-divisions of any kind denoting the berthing space of each emigrant…At midnight I went round the decks with the captain; they were well it, and everything was quite quiet…The emigrants appeared to huddle together very much, and there was no attempt at undressing; in fact, no effort was made to remove such articles as boots, and I noticed several sleeping in their hats, caps and other head coverings…I also noticed that several of them laid at a slight angle, and not exactly on the shelf, but his was doubtless due to the width of the shelf being insufficient for them to stretch their legs out to their full length…From the foregoing it will be gathered that there was no attempt at the subdivision of the sexes, or even of the individual berths, nor any curtain to screen the sleeping arrangements from the central portion of the deck.
The privy arrangements of this vessel I consider to be the weakest point about her. They were small, cramped, dark spaces, without water, those for men and women being close together, the entrance in no way protected from the weather, and altogether more evil-smelling unsatisfactory places it is difficult to imagine…When the ship is carring her full number of emigrants I doubt if there are privies enough supplied, but on this point if there were four for the first hundered and one for every fifty in addition, it would be sufficient to meet the requirements of any number.”
“The Voyage, Conditions for emigrants on the voyage from Christiania to Hull“, NorwayHeritage.com.
To further illustrate the unpleasant North Sea transit Maria probably experienced, here is Mina Anderson’s account.
“I traveled alone without any companions that I knew…We had a severe storm in the North Sea. When we had come out into the Skagerrak [the strait in the North Sea between Norway and Denmark], the waves started to break over the small ship, and some of us who had stayed on deck were told to go down belowdecks so that tarps could be spread over the hatch. It turned out to be a stormy night. We were all seasick and cried “Ullrik” [euphemism for vomiting] all night. Some idiot had opened one of the portholes so that the water was streaming in. Somebody had sense enough to close it, but we ended up with a couple inches of water on the floor. All the single women were sharing one large room.
We could not eat anything – they gave us coarse bread with butter, but we were not given any coffee. It was storming too hard so they could not prepare it. When after much rolling and seasickness, we finally arrived in Hull and the ship stopped we got well in a hurry.”
Joy K. Lintelman, I go to America, Swedish American Women and the Life of Mina Anderson (Minnesota, Minnesota Historical Press, 2009), 68.
ARRIVAL IN ENGLAND
After about three days of travel, the S.S. Angelo arrived at Kingston upon Hull on the Humber River. According to the Swedish Emigrant Handbook, an experienced company official would meet the emigrants in Hull as they disembarked. If the agent fulfilled all of his duties, he would also take care of the transportation of the luggage. The Swedish speaking official would then guide the emigrants to Paragon Railway station, built in 1871. There the emigrants could rest in the waiting room, wash, use the toilet, and take shelter from the weather. Most emigrants arrived and departed from Hull within 24 hours.
The Emigrant Waiting Room of the North Eastern Railway Comapny at Hull Paragon Railway Company at Hull Paragon Railway Station. The waiting room was built for the Scandanavian transmigrants in 1871. [Photograph copyright of the Nichols Evans Collection] NorwayHeritge.com
The trains usually left Hull on a Monday morning around 11:00 a.m. At times there were so many emigrants that there would be 17 carriages pulled by one steam engine. During the five hour trip, third-class passengers had no access to water nor restrooms.
The train arrived in Liverpool between 2:00-3:00 p.m. The huge factory town did not make a favorable impression. Dense smoke rose in columns from tall chimneys. Large grey houses and dirty alleys filled with ragged half naked streetboys might have surprised the emigrants, including Maria.
Mina Anderson described her train travel from Hull to Liverpool.
“We traveled by train from Hull to Liverpool. I still remember how England was both beautiful and ugly. The countryside was beautiful with its green fields, with hawthorn hedges instead of fences. We also traveled through the mining district with its soot and its many tunnels. We stayed in Liverpool for three days and waited for the transatlantic steamer.”
Joy K. Lintelman, I go to America, Swedish American Women and the Life of Mina Anderson (Minnesota, Minnesota Historical Press, 2009), 69.
Upon their arrival in Liverpool, representatives from the steamship companies often met the emigrants. They accompanied them to lodging houses, usually owned by the shipping company. Frequently there were delays and passengers had to spend several days waiting for their ship. They weren’t allowed to board until the day before departure.
After approximately six days of travel, Maria waited in Liverpool about to undertake the longest part of her journey – the transatlantic voyage.
(To be continued)
© 2020 copyright -Kendra Hopp Schmidt. All rights reserved.
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