Sjur and Martha come to America


(This story is a fictional depiction based on the historical facts.)

The winter before, a ship captain traveled throughout the parish, talking about America. Letters came from former neighbors who now lived in a place called Kendall County, Illinois in America. During the winter of 1857 and 1858, Sjur Ingebrigtson and Martha Knudsdtr, a young Norwegian farm couple talked about America. They talked about going to the same place that their former neighbors had gone. It was a very long ways away. It would be perilous for them and also for their two young children. Life for a cotter farmer in Norway, however, was a life with no future, no future for Sjur and Martha and no future for their children. The decision making had recently been further complicated by the revelation that Martha was again with child.

What should they do? Should they go to America? Should they go to America this year?

They decided to go to America that spring. On 16 April 1858, Sjur and Martha announced their voyage to America on a Fjeilberg Parish Leaving Record. The family still had only four members; Sjur, Martha, Peder and Margrette. All farm equipment, animals, and most personal items were sold. They kept some clothing, bedding and cooking equipment. Martha had prepared enough food for the trip. Then, Martha gave birth to their third child on 28 April 1858. They named her Anna, after Martha’s mother. There was no time to delay. They had to go.

They began the walk from their home on Innbjoa Farm to the city of Stavanger. Sjur and Martha had spent their entire lives within 10 English miles of Innbjoa Farm. They were now beginning a journey, which would take them thousands of miles away. As they neared Stavanger, the number of families on the road increased. Most of these families were also going to America. Martha felt more comfortable when she saw the other women and children that would be on the ship.

Stavanger was grand and busy but they didn't care. Martha and Sjur wanted to immediately get on the ship. There was nothing in this city that interested them. They made their way toward the dock and soon a large sailing ship came into view. This was the ship that would take them to America. People were already standing in line, waiting to board the ship. They had earlier paid the $60 for the trip, so they joined the line.

They finally got on board and were directed below deck to the area where they would stay for the next 6 to 8 weeks. The space that they would call home during the trip was a double bunk with storage underneath for their belongings. Water was available in a communal barrel. When the weather for agreeable, they would be able to cook their meals and walk around on deck for a couple hours each day.

After they stowed away their belongings, they returned to the deck to watch the ship pull away from the dock. As the minutes past, the Norwegian shoreline became more and more distant. Peder and Margrette were thrilled by the experience of the moment. Sjur and Martha, however, understood the gravity of the event. They were headed into an unknown future. They would never again return to Norway. They would never again see their friends and relatives in Norway. There was no turning back now. They were on their way to America.

The next several weeks passed without incidence. The quarters were crowded. There was no privacy but, at least, the weather remained pleasant. There were no major storms and they were able to spend time on deck, almost every day. Finally, one day they saw the coastline of Canada. The desire to walk on land again became overwhelming.

The ship docked at Montreal, Quebec and the immigrants began to disembark. Everyone was in a hurry. They all wanted off the ship. They were all very glad that the voyage was over. While moving through Montreal, a new realization dawned on them. Although they had been given very detailed directions to the next leg of their journey, they quickly grasps a new problem. If they became lost, they would have a difficult time finding their way, because no one in this city of Montreal spoke their language.

After an exhausting walk across the city and paying another fee, they were aboard a small boat, which was crossing an inland body of water. Someone said that it was called 'The Great Lakes'. The children were tired and the baby, Anna, was crying. Sjur and Martha knew that they still had a long distance to travel.

A week later, they arrived at a town named Chicago. According to the letters that they had received from their former neighbors, they would have to walk the rest of the way to Kendall County, Illinois. They were too tired and too anxious to feel excited that they were now in the United States of America, the country of hope.

The family arrived in Kendall County, safe and sound. Sjur got employment as a farmhand for the incredible amount of $17 a month. They made their home in a small 10x12 foot building, which had been the original home of the owning farmer. Anna was baptized that September. Three years later, Martha gave birth to another daughter. They named her Martha, after her mother. After eight years of hard work and saving, they were finally able to realize their dream. They bid farewell to the people of Kendall County and made their way to Story County, Iowa in 1866, where they purchased a farm, their own farm.


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