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Travels of Cleng Peerson

Cleng Peerson, the little sloop called "The Restoration", and main inland travels

In the early 1800s Quakers were tensely persecuted in Europe but not in the USA. It is held that some Quakers in southwest Norway sent Kleng Pedersen Hesthammer (Cleng Peerson) to America with Knud Eide in 1821. Both men were from Ryfylke in Southwest Norway. Cleng probably did not count himself as a Quaker, but had many friends among them. Besides, Cleng had married a wealthy Swedish woman, it was her third marriage, and the saying goes that Cleng found it best to get away from her.

Cleng returned to Norway after three years and told how fine life was in the United States. Persecuted Friends and companions in southwest Norway, desirous of more and better freedom, hired Cleng: Next year he was sent to the States with Andreas Stangeland to get land and prepare their coming.

In spring six families of the Stavanger area bought a little boat, a sloop named "Restaurationen". It was about 18 metres long and sailed off on the 4th of July to a salute. In a very short while, however, the boat returned because some of them repented: a young boy wanted to go home with his two minor sisters. Then the boat sailed off again.

The sloop Restaurationen
The small sloop "Restaurationen" crossed the Atlantic in 1825.

And if Ole Rynning, an early writer about conditions in America, can be trusted, they sought harbour in a town in southern England and started to sell illegal whisky to the people there. They had to get hurriedly away to escape punishment.

When they neared Madeira southwest of Portugal and Spain, they found a barrel of wine floating in the sea. Everybody on board got drunk, and while they were drunk, the sloop drifted and was carried toward the capital of Madeira. No sail or flags were hoisted, everybody were on deck in a stupour or asleep. The fortress fired shots of warning, but to no avail. People feared it was a pestilence-carrying ship and were about to sink it by firing cannon balls at it when people from a German boat luckily managed to wake up those on board.

After a feast on land the Norwegians sailed off again toward west in just three days. The wind was good, and on October 9 they arrrived in New York, three months and two weeks after they departed from Norway. People in New York wondered how such a small boat had been able to cross the Atlantic, while the authorities confiscated the boat because there were too many in it. However, after a petition to President John Quincy Adams "the sloopers" were pardoned and could go on, aided by Cleng. He and the sloopers went via Hudson River and the new Erie Channel to Kendall in the north of New York State by Lake Ontario. This became the first Norwegian settler area of the United States, and the immigrants suffered hardships there.

It is believed that Cleng Peerson also had wanted to impose a kind of Early Christian Communitarianism on them. Communitarianism holds that the community, rather than the individual, the state, or any other entity, should be at the centre of the value system. But as it turned out, the "sloopers" wanted to stick to personal ownership.

Cleng went out to find more land, and led on west to Illinois and Wisconsin at a time when Chicago was a muddy bog. He found several fit places as he travelled in the inlands on foot, yet his counsel and offers of leadership were solidly ignored by his countrymen by-and-by. Thus, when he died in Texas in 1865 on a Bosque County ranch - it was given to him by the State of Texas - he who had drawn the attention of farmers and fishers of Norway to a new, promising land more than any other emigrant, was still regretting that Norwegians had moved into the upper Mississippi Valley. The land was better in the South, he claimed.

The sloopers on board the "Restoration" were the first group of Norwegians to settle in the United States. Most of these Lutherans had suffered hardships before they left their homeland. Most immigrants in the century that followed came by boat too. From New York most of them sailed up along the Erie Channel to Lake Ontario and further westward, as new territories were made available for venturing settlers.

Vikings Were there before them . . .

Norwegian Americans often take pride in being descendants of Vikings in their aspects as bold, seafaring adventurers. As for their discovery of North America, the medieval Icelander Snorre Sturlason (1179-1241) writes just a little about it. Earlier still, the German historian and geographer Adam of Bremen's History of the Archbishops of Hamberg (ca. 1075) includes a geographical appendix and describes the Northern lands and the islands in the Northern seas. It contains the earliest mention of America found in any geographical work, based on what Adam had been told in person from the Danish king Svend Estridson (1047-76) [1].

There is also textual evidence of Vinland in Ari Thorgilsson's vernacular History of the Icelandic people (Islendingabok), and the Icelandic Annals for the year 1121 record that Bishop Eric of Greenland set out in search of Vinland. Vinland is also mentioned in the two medieval Icelandic chronicles, the Groenlendinga Saga ("The Greenlander's Saga") and Eirik's Saga.

Moreover, the Norwegian Aftenposten (The Evening Post) passed on sad evidence in 2000 that Vikings had introduced malignant syphilis to Europe before Columbus.

Hard evidence that Norse settlers had been in North America 500 years before Columbus, was excavated by Dr Helge Ingstad (1899-2001) and his archaeologist wife Anne Stine Ingstad. The couple discovered the remains of a small 11th century Norse community at L'anse Aux Meadows on the northern peninsula of Newfoundland. Ingstad concluded that "the site at L'Anse aux Meadows must be Norse and pre-Columbian."

Centuries after the Norse Catholics had abandoned their sites in North America, Genova-born Christopher Columbus sailed off for India on a Spanish mission and discovered Central America in 1492. Says Sven Svebak,

It is said about Christopher Columbus that when he set to sea to find the sea route to India, he did not know where he was heading; when he came to the West Indies, he did not know where he was - and when he returned home, he did not know where he had been (2000, 99).

Conquest of the two Americas followed by stages. And then, in 1825, a group of determined and salty Norwegians ventured over the Atlantic Ocean in a small boat with destination North America. They were roughing it.

Most of the Norwegians that first immigrated to America in the early 1800s were farmers and fishers. Oppressed in their homeland because of a Lutheran Quietist way of living, the first group of emigrants of 1825 was later followed by others and still others. Most Norwegian emigrants went to America. About one third of the population emigrated.

Norwegian American song lines, Collection

Cleng Peerson, Vanguard Norwegian Americans, Literature  

Svebak, Sven. Forlenger en god latter livet? (Does a Good Laugh Prolong Life?) Bergen: Fagbokforlaget, 2000.

NOTE 1. Catholic Encyclopedia, s.v. "Adam of Bremen" (IV, 38)

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