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Account from the 1865 voyage on the Galathea

1956 - The Nilsen Saga, by Arnold Borshem

This is the diary of the Johan Nilsen and wife, Pernille Nielsdatter (with children) as they traveled to America. There are seven pages of faded blue paper, hand sewn to the back page of an old, 1865 Almanac, along with penciled-in notes on pages of the Almanac proper. It is in Norwegian. Note that Johan came from Jemtli and Pernille was from Elvebakken. Elvebakken, Selfors and Jamtli were all farms in the mountain valley known as 'Ranfjorn' in the northern county of Nordland. Mo (Mo-i-Rana) is the principal town and post office. It is just south of the Lofoten Islands and just below the Arctic Circle. The diary was printed in "The Nilsen Saga," written by Arnold Borshem during the last few months before his death in 1956. Permission to put this part of the family history on the web site has been given by Arnold's daughter, Janet Gray of St. Cloud, Minnesota. The story was made available for us by George Kline.

"On May 21, 1865, the family took Holy Communion for the last time, in the Mo church. 'As they are now about to depart for America, they sever their relationship with the Mo congregation. It is my sincere wish and prayer that God's richest blessings may follow them in all their journeyings' " --Chr. Nannestad, Parish Pastor of Mo. There was an 'attest' paid with the sum of sixty-five shillings

They are now ready to leave Norway. Their household goods have been sold.. The trunks and chests were packed with the only possessions they had in this world. Food for their entire journey had to be pro-vided to last a period of three to four months for two adults and five children, the oldest less than seven and the youngest only a year old. There were boxes or chests of bread and flatbrød - casks if salted fish - cod, herring and halibut--others with salt pork, beef and mutton; boxes of cheese, butter, flour, sugar, salt and all the other spices that would be needed. Then there were trunks of clothing, "America Chests" they were called. All the clothing, not only for the journey, but for all their needs until more could be made-axes, saws, planes and chisels, hoes and spades--bedding, thread, needles, yarn, medicine--innumerable articles needed to establish homes in the new land. Last, but not least, the Bible, the hymn book and a Book of Family Devotions.

Then there were the farewells to be said. The leave-taking of friends, near and dear, with the knowledge that they would never see them again, must have been an ordeal in itself. Saying goodbye to relatives and friends, turning, as it were, your back on the old and facing the new and unknown world, not knowing what joys and sorrows are in store--takes great courage-!

(Most of the above is from the family history--the diary starts here)

"In the year 1865, the 22nd of May, we departed from Selfors (farm near Mo) to journey to America, and boarded the sloop 'Thran' for our journey to Bergen. Came to Bergen on the 4th of June in the afternoon. The 7th of June we sailed out from Bergen to sea. The 5th of July, Elling Christian died at 3 o'clock in the morning. On July 10th we first saw land. We came very close to Halifax before we got to see this, our first city.

(Two blank pages)

Thursday, the 20th of July, at 4 o'clock in the afternoon, from Quebec to Montreal, at 5 o'clock in the morning of the 21st. Then we took another steamboat (tug) 135 miles from there at 9 o'clock forenoon, and came to Sarnia at 12:00 noon. From here the 25th, and then came on the 26th to Milwaukee, and by train the 29th to Prairie-du-Chien. From Prairie-du-Chien in the evening and came to La Crosse at 3 o'clock in the morning of the 31st, and there we had to stay over to wait for a small steamer that goes up the Mississippi only two times a week. Here we had to stay over and wail till the 7th of August, and came.........(sentences obliterated)......presumably to St. Paul, Minnesota. (Here the diary ends)

The Family History, known as the "Nilsen Saga," indicates that wagons and oxen were then purchased, plus some farm animals , and the family proceeded to Burnett County, Wisconsin--near Grantsburg. Here they first encountered American Indians, who came in large groups from their hunting grounds--and if they were hungry, they would simply walk into the cabin and stand around, expecting a handout. They never harmed anyone, but the settlers were sure to watch that their personal property did not acquire 'legs' and walk off, while the visitors were in the neighborhood.

They lived for two years in Burnett County, Wisconsin. Johan had purchased a plot of ground near Grantsburg, and here he built a house of logs. He did some farming, but because of the necessity of clearing the land, it was a slow process. He eked out their living by working in the woods in the winter and on the railroad in the summer. This did not prove to be satisfactory, and for this reason he began casting about for a new homesite. Johan learned that farther west, in Monangalia County, Minnesota, there was good land available--land that needed no clearing and was ready for the plow. There were also many lakes, all of them surrounded by woods, for both building and for fuel. Other settlers were going to this area , and they learned that friend Ole Kristensen, from Nesnafjord, had already settled in this area They decided to move west to central Minnesota in the spring of 1867.

Part of the Minnesota trek was by train but it was mainly by wagons pulled by oxen. They crossed the Mississippi River into Minnesota at St. Cloud and in the summer of 1867, finally reached Irving Settlement, in what was then known as Monangalia County. There were only three settlers in Irving Township at the time, but it was customary that their homes were open to newcomers to the community. The Nilsen family stayed with Benjamin Bensen, a recently discharged Civil War veteran who had served under General Sherman, and Johan finally found an available spot to homestead. All of the previous settlers were Norwegian, and along with the Nilsen family, they had now established a real Nordlaning community in this Minnesota wilderness..

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