Search billions of records on Ancestry.com

The First Swedish Colonies in Iowa

Among the early settlers that first located in the eastern part of Iowa were comparatively few of foreign birth. The great tide of European emigration to North America had not yet set in. Thus the first influx of settlers into the first and second "Black Hawk Purchases" came almost exclusively from the eastern states. It was first in the forties and the fifties that European emigrants in greater numbers began to reach the shores of United States, and spread westward over the great prairies in the interior where they have so largely contributed to the upbuilding of this great agricultural section. The Scandinavians, the Germans, the Irish, the Dutch, the Poles, and the Bohemians, have each contributed their large quota to the population of these middle states among which Iowa today occupies such a prominent place.

None of these foreign nationalities (excepting the Germans) has played a greater part than the Swedes in the reclaiming of the great prairies from their primeval condition. Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, Kansas, and the Dakotas, each received its valuable contribution of sturdy Swedish settlers, and the prosperous communities of their children and grandchildren now dot the plains of these states, and bear eloquent testimony to the foresight, industry and perseverance of those early pioneers. Of hardy Norse stock, and from early childhood inured to hardships, the Swedish immigrants who arrived here in the latter half of the nineteenth century were men and women especially fitted for the struggle, that confronted the homesteader on the western prairies, and they did their part with a courage and a vision that gave them rank among the most desirable of our early immigrant farmers. Their rugged honesty and straightforwardness, their respect for law and government, their love of liberty, and their ability to read and write their own language, made them, from their first arrival in this country, worthy residents who soon developed into valuable citizens, known and esteemed for their devotion to their adopted country and its institutions.

As most of the Swedish immigrants came from the rural districts of their native land, their chief desire was to acquire ownership of a home and a piece of land. This desire attracted them to the western prairies, instead of the more densely populated eastern states, and made them brave the dangers and the hardships incident to pioneering in a new country. Many of them located on homesteads, and took up their first abode in a dugout, a sod house or a log cabin. Others purchased railroad land, or bought out earlier settlers who had tired of frontier life and were ready to dispose of their holdings. Their unfamiliarity with the English language and their devotion to their own form of religious services, in the only language that spoke to their heart, caused the Swedish pioneers to settle in groups, whenever convenient. Thus more or less compact Swedish settlements sprang up in various places all over the state of Iowa, and wherever a number of Swedish families located, a little frame church soon raised its spire heavenward, indicative of the religious fervor and fear of God that characterized those early pioneers.

While, as stated above, no considerable number of Swedish immigrants reached the western states before 1840, some scattered ones came over much earlier. We have no record of who these earlier ones were, or where they located, but now and then a purely Swedish name appears in the early annals of the various eastern counties of Iowa. According to the census of 1850, there were living in Iowa at that time only 23.1 persons born in Sweden. Ten years later their number had increased to 10,796, and the census of 1910 numbers the inhabitants in Iowa of Swedish parentage at 66,135, counting the first and second generation. Owing to the anti-foreign agitation during and after the world war, which caused many American-born children of foreign parents to ignore their foreign ancestry, I have found the 1910 census more reliable than either of the two later ones, and for that reason have made use of the 1910 figures as a basis for report on the Swedish population in counties and cities of the state.

Among the first known Scandinavians in Iowa was a Norwegian sailor by the name of Alexander Crookshanks who lived in Lee county, where he owned a big farm as early as 1833. A Dane by the name of N. C. Boye is mentioned in Muscatine county in 1837. In Des Moines county there lived in 1836 three families by the name of Anderson and two by the name of Nelson, but, although these are common Swedish names, they might also be of English or Scotch origin.

The first permanent Swedish settlement in the state of Iowa was the so-called Cassel colony which was founded in 1845 at New Sweden in Jefferson county. Smaller Swedish colonies had before that year been established in Wisconsin, as the Friman settlement at Salem, in 1838, and the Unonius colony at Pine Lake, in 1841, but to Cassel belongs the distinction of leading the first large party of emigrants from Sweden into one of the prairie states of America, and founding a community that is still in existence.

The second Swedish colony in Iowa was founded in 1846 at Swede Point, in Boone county, by the Dalander family. Its name was later changed to Madrid, by which name it is still known. In due time, a number of smaller settlements sprang up in the vicinity of Madrid, at Boonesboro, Moingona, Pilot Mound, Boxholm, and Ogden.

The town of Burlington, in Des Moines county, became from the beginning a kind of port of entry for Swedish immigrants arriving in Iowa, and, as a result, a goodly number of them located in that town. Colonel F. Brydolph had his home there as early as 1846, and four years later the Swedes in and around Burlington were said to number 200.

The Burgholm colony, in Wapello county, was founded in 1847. Its name was later changed to Munterville, in honor of a Swedish school teacher by the name of Munter. Other settlements were started at Dayton, in Webster county, and at Swede Bend (Stratford) in Hamilton county, about 1849.

At Swedesburg, in Henry county, and at Chariton, in Lucas county, Swedish colonies were founded before 1850; and in Clayton and Allamakee counties Swedish settlers were found in the early fifties. Other settlements were started in the fifties in Lee, Muscatine, Guthrie, Kossuth, and Calhoun counties. From these earlier settlements the Swedish colonists migrated to other localities, and between 1860 and 1870, new communities of Swedish farmers grew up in Winnebago, Woodbury, Marshall, Montgomery, Clay, Page, Mitchell, Pocahontas, and other counties. Of a later date are the Swedish colonies in Appanoose, Clinton, Cherokee, Palo Alto, and Linn counties, besides which small communities of Swedes are now found in many other localities in the state.


 Return to Iowa Swedish Settlements Table of Contents