“The Sloopers and the Slooper Society” by J.Hart Rosadail (April 2, 1958)

This printed article written by J. Hart Rosdail appeared on “Page Four” of a publication with the name of BETHESDA GLEANINGS* and this page was sent by Rosdail to Mrs. Doris Wheeler in Corning, California.  The typewritten cover letter from Rosdail, requesting additional Slooper family information & photos, was dated April 2, 1958.


Bethesda Gleanings, Volume 18, Chicago, Il., Feb. 1956, No. 3, p. 4.

Public attention has recently been focused on the Pilgrim’s ship, the Mayflower.”  A replica was built and sailed across the Atlantic from England in commemoration of the original voyage.  This replica is now being exhibited along the Eastern seaboard.

But several million Norwegian-Americans are probably more interested in their own Mayflower, — the Sloop “Restoration,” for it was this tiny ship that in 1825 started the great flow of Norwegian migration to America.  On board were 52 persons, Quakers and Quaker sympathizers, who set out from Stavanger on July 4 to find religious freedom and economic betterment in the New World.  They voyaged as far south as the Madeira Islands to take advantage of eastern trade winds and, more than three months and 6,000 miles later, landed in New York City.

The “Restoration” story is in many respects more unusual than the “Mayflower” story.  The ship itself was tiny, — only 38½ tons to the Mayflower’s 180.  The Mayflower was 90 feet long and 26 broad; the Sloop only 54 feet long and 16 on the beam.  The Mayflower stood at least twice as high out of the water.  The Sloop was 2½ times as crowded as the Mayflower; in fact, it was crowded almost beyond belief.  Lars Larson, ship’s carpenter, had only about 480 square feet of lower deck area in which to build bunks for 52 people.  In other words, each immigrant had the equivalent of a 3-foot square of space in which to sleep, dress, and store his big immigrant chest.  And as for living and eating space, — that could only be found about six inches above their heads on the top deck with all the provisions and ship’s gear.  And what did they do in bad weather?

It was this very crowding that got the Sloopers in trouble when they reached America.  The law read that all arriving ships must carry no more passengers than two for every five tons weight.  Seven of the immigrants were listed as crew, but there were still 46 passengers (a baby had been born on the ocean) and this was three times the number permitted.  Sympathetic custom officials increased the tonnage but the fine was still $3,150.  The ship was “seized as forfeited” and Captain Helland put in jail.

To the Sloopers this was catastrophe.  Nearly destitute, they had to sell the ship to get money to live on.  But the Quakers came to their aid and provided food, lodging, and legal assistance.  A petition was sent to Washington and in due course our Norwegians were pardoned and the vessel released.  The pardon bears no less signatures than John Quincy Adams, President, and Henry Clay, Secretary of State.

The Sloopers settled in Western New York.  Each family bought fifty acres of land at $4.00 per acre from a Quaker land agent, Joseph Fellows.  The place was know as “The Black North,” and for ten years the Norwegians wrestled with the heavy timber and 7% interest on their mortgages.  In 1834 and 1835 they migrated 1,260 miles via the Great Lakes to LaSalle County, Illinois, where their scout, Cleng Peerson, had had his famous dream.  Here they founded the Fox River Settlement, — mother of all subsequent Norwegian settlements in America.  They built log cabins and pioneered; they fought prairie fires, “klimatfeber,” “sumpfeber” (malaria) and cholera, but they mad good on the land and eventually prospered.

Perhaps more importantly, they wrote letters back to Norway, and some went back to visit and report firsthand.  This started the second greatest emigration in modern times.  With the single exception of Ireland, no other country sent as many of its people into other lands to live as did Norway.  The great bulk of these people went to America, — 805,000 between 1825 and 1943, or 42% of Norway’s population in the mean year of 1880.  “American fever” became an epidemic.

Due to their position in Norwegian-American history, the Sloopers have been honored by commemorative events.  The most important was the Norse-American Centennial of 1925, the greatest gathering of Norwegian-Americans ever held.  On one day alone attendance was recorded at 84,000.  A replica of the sloop was built and exhibited.  Notables from Norway and Canadaattended, and President Coolidge made a trip by special train from Washington.  Descendents of the original Sloopers were honored guests, with expenses paid.  The lunched with the President and attended a reception at the Governor’s Mansion.

As an outgrowth of this celebration, the Norwegian Slooper Society of America was formed.  Promoted by Dr. O. M. Norlie, noted author and historian, it was patterned after the Mayflower Society.  The membership included descendants of the original Sloopers and their spouses.  Captain Joseph M. Johnson of the Chicago police was president for many years.  Two of the objects of the Society are to perpetuate to a remote posterity the story of the spirit and deeds of the original Sloopers of 1825, and to promote the publication of the history of the Sloopers as a group, and of individual families thereof, and to discover and publish other original matter.

In fulfillment of this second object, a book is now being written by the Society’s historian.  It is entitled “The Sloopers, Their Ancestry and Posterity,” and will present the complete story of these first Norwegian immigrants from birth to final resting place.  The ancestries of various families have been traced back in some cases to the year 1150.  The hunt for descendants has involved thousands of miles of travel and much correspondence, but 5,000 names have been catalogued.  Of the 3,000 living today, about 40% are within a 70-mile radius of Norway, Illinois.

The present officers of the Norwegian Slooper Society are Royal Jacobs, President; Nelson Fruland, Vice President; Hart Rosdail, Treasurer-Historian; and Erma Fruland, R.2, Marseilles, Illinois, Secretary.  Meetings are held annually.  The programs are of general interest and all Norwegian-Americans are cordially invited.  The time is 2:30 p.m. on the Sunday nearest October 9, the date of the Restoration’s arrival in America.  The place is the Milton Pope School, 1½ miles east and 4 miles south of Norway, Illinois, about 70 miles southwest of Chicago.

(Our Superintendent, Russell Johnson, prevailed upon his friend, Hart Rosdail to write this article about the “Norwegian Mayflower.”  It is both interesting and timely as October 9th is the anniversary date of the arrival of the Restoration at New York.  Mr. Rosdail, as historian, as done a remarkable job in gathering together all the data, details and material.  It has covered years of research and considerable traveling.  His coming book entitled, “The Sloopers, Their Ancestry and Posterity,” should be interesting and a must for all of Norwegian ancestry.)


* While no positive identification has yet been made, some Internet searching and intuitive detective work indicates that the publication, “Bethesda Gleanings,” was a newsletter or similar publication of the Bethesda Home for the Aged, most probably in the Chicago area.  At first we believed this article was published circa 1957 based on the date this article was mailed to California, its reference to the sailing of the replica of the Pilgrim’s Mayflower which happened in 1957,  plus the question printed at the bottom which asks, “Are your 1957 dues paid.”  Thanks to Blaine Hedberg the correct date above was obtained.