by Greg Carter
Between 1825 and 1925, more than 800,000 Norwegians immigrated to North America—about one-third of Norway's population with the majority settling in the United States, and lesser numbers immigrating to Canada. With the exception of Ireland, no single country contributed a larger percentage of its population to the United States than Norway.
Norwegian immigration through the years was predominantly motivated by economics. Plagued by crop failures, Norwegian agricultural resources were unable to keep up with population growth, and the enactment of the Homestead Act in the US—a law that gave an applicant ownership of land at little or no cost—encouraged Norwegians westward with each passing year.
Norwegian settlements grew first in Pennsylvania and Illinois, but then moved westward into Wisconsin, Minnesota, and the Dakotas. Later waves of Norwegian immigration landed further west through the missionary efforts of the Mormons. In addition to the promise of economic opportunity, some Norwegians were escaping religious persecution at home, especially Quakers and the Haugeans, a Lutheran sect which derived its name from Hans Nielsen Hauge. In additional, craftsmen immigrated to the larger, more diverse markets of North America, like Sunset Park, Brooklyn, originally populated by Norwegian craftsmen.
In 1825, organized Norwegian immigration to North America was launched when several dozen Norwegians left Stavanger bound for North America on the sloop Restauration (often called the Norwegian Mayflower) under the leadership of Cleng Peerson.
The next two ships to ship to sail directly from Norway to America did not depart until 1836. They were the brigs Norden and Den Norske Klippe. In the beginning, such emigrant vessels were relatively small. The emigrants traveled on brigs and schooners. The great majority of the Norwegian emigrants travelled as steerage passengers—the cheapest class of ticket, which offered only the most basic amenities, with limited toilet use, no privacy, and poor food.
ANTON BENGT OSMUNDSEN
One of the passengers on the Norden was twenty-four year old Anton Bengt Osmundsen (William Monson). He was registered as Passenger 28. Because his name does not match that of either family group listed above or below his, one can guess that he was traveling alone. The transcript of the original passenger list may include interpretive spellings that obscure relationships. For instance, Passengers 29-31 were a young family whose named is recorded as Hetland. The next group, Passengers 32-37, were a family of five named Osmundsen Tretland. If Hetland/Tretland were in fact the same name (poorly transcribed), then William Monson may have been traveling with a sister and in-laws. If so, he separated from them almost immediately upon arrival.
Monson was presumably a citizen of Stavanger, though he might have just come to the city to catch his boat. Once immigration became popular, Oslo, Bergen, and Stavanger became the most important ports of departure for the crossing to America. Monson's parents were Salve Osmundsen and Gabriela Chaloine. He listed his profession as a joiner—a reference to a process in cabinetry—a craft later picked up by his son, though the younger used the more general term "cabinet maker" in the 1860 census.
Norden left Stavanger on May 25, 1836, with 110 passengers and a crew of twelve. She arrived at New York City, July 12, though this date is not without dispute. One official described Norden's date of departure from Stavanger as "the first Wednesday after Pentecost," and the date of arrival at New York as July 12. But the ship's manifest recorded a later date in July for arrival, and another source suggests a date as late as August 13.
Norden was mastered by Captain Tønnes Willemsen. The ship was owned by IA Køhler & Co in Stavanger, and had a burden of 114 Norwegian kommerselester. Kommerselester, or commercial lasts, was a measurement for the inside volume of a ship. Commercial lasts were recognized as the ship's burthen, or burden. A Norwegian commercial last was roughly 2.08 register tons per 165 cubic feet of cut board, or 130 cubic feet of round timber.
The relevance of a vessel's calculation of commercial lasts was a restriction on how many passengers a ship must carry. The number of passengers on Norden was 110 and approached very near the legal limit. The first Norwegian immigrant ship, Restauration, with fifty-two passengers and forty-six tons, met trouble on its arrival in New York in 1825. Probably because the Captain and his company knew of this difficulty with the authorities, Willemsen wrote a postscript in a letter that claimed, "The ship was measured in New York 280 1/2 tons and so I can take 112 persons."
Captain Willemsen described the voyage, though comparatively brief, as cold, wet, and stormy—though they avoided meeting a hurricane while crossing. Many passengers caught severe colds, according to Willemsen, from a lack of sufficient clothing, especially for the legs. The captain blamed the sick for not heeding his advice about the legs and feet, going so far as to recommend that future immigrants provide themselves with wooden shoes. He referred to the illness of nursing infants, but made no mention of the five deaths on the voyage noted in the manifest. On the contrary, he repeatedly spoke of the voyage as having gone very well.
Except for Restauration, which made the voyage eleven years before, Norden was a rare immigrant event for America. As on the earlier occasion, bright colors were prominent at the landing, as the immigrants debuted in their best clothes. This made some impression at the harbor, according to Captain Willemsen, and their enthusiastic reception revealed an admiration for Norway by Americans, certainly when compared with the distrust offered Irish and German immigrants.
ON TO FLORIDA
How William Monson spent his time in New York is unknown. By 1838, he was in Saint Augustine, Florida. He had Americanized his name, and on January 15 of that year, he married Laureana Leonardy. Laureana was 21 at the wedding, while William was 25. She was the daughter of two families of Saint Augustine's so-called Minorcan community, a third generation refugee of Dr Andrew Turnbull's ill-fated colony at New Smyrna.
The Minorcans, who in fact included hundreds of Italian and Greek families as well, had become an unusually constant presence in Saint Augustine's development. International politics had at one time or another forced citizens loyal to the governments of England, Spain, or the United States, to pick-up their settlements and clear out while their territory was traded by treaty. The Minorcans, who owed their allegiance to no one after escaping their indenture, were open to any new leadership, and thus remained a community of influence under many governments.
William Monson may have been a striking anomaly in that Mediterranean mix. He was successful enough as a cabinetmaker to report $400 worth of property in the Saint Johns County census in 1850. His taxes were assessed by the city of Saint Augustine in 1855 based on his ownership of a $300 town lot, 1 silver watch, 1 cow, and 3 slaves. His tax was $1.11. William and Laureanna had seven children between 1839 and 1854. All seven were living at the time of 1860 census, an impressive record of health for the period.
Monson appeared in a Saint Augustine business directory dated July 13, 1850. Monson shared a shop with Michael Nelligan (Monson & Nelligan) at the corner of Market Square adjoining the Council Room. They were cabinet makers.
Saint Augustine organized slave patrols between 1838-67. William Monson was part of such patrol in June 1, 1840, serving with Bartolo Leonardy (probably his brother-in-law). During the night, one prisoner was arrested, carried to the fort and the keeper refused to receive him, thus he was discharged. Monson was the Captain of a seven-man patrol reporting on February 18, 1851.
In 1858, Monson purchased a house for his family at 56 Marine Street that by various accounts was one of the ten oldest buildings in the colonial city. Since a great fire had destroyed all structures except Castillo de San Marcos in 1702, the Monson house at most was 150 years old when it was purchased. A structure of some kind occupied its site in two crude maps made by British and Spanish authorities during transitions of power in 1764 and 1788. At its youngest, then, 56 Marine Street was 70 years old when the Monson's moved in.
The house's basic masonry was with a shellstone the Spanish had discovered among Indian builders in 1580. Anastasia Island contained major deposits of coquina, and its quarries were less than three miles away from Saint Augustine, and most of that was over water. Despite its strength and accessibility, coquina stone was not employed for colonial projects until the end of the 16th century, and not fully utilized until the building of Castillo de San Marcos between 1672 and 1696.
Saint Augustine's most durable houses had walls hewn of stone. Standard one-story thickness was one tercia (about 11 inches). A two-story wall was at least 1 1/2 tercias. By present day standard, house walls had no foundations. The unusual preparation was to excavate a trench slightly wider than the wall and about a foot deep. A thin layer of flat stones or oyster shells was tossed in as a kind of spread footing, after which the workmen began wall construction.
Unfortunately, William Monson saw little of 56 Marine Street. He died in 1859 at the young age of 46. Having left his home continent for the promise of America, it was perhaps provident that William did not live to see the violence done to that promise in the American Civil War. His oldest son, William Jr, joined the 10th Florida Infantry at age eighteen, and fought for the Confederates as far north as Appomattox Court House, Virginia. William Jr survived the conflict and returned to Florida to marry and raise his own family.
The house was placed into the care of William's eldest daughter, Amelia, who likewise waited for war's end to marry and raise her family. Amelia's veteran husband was Captain Adolphus Newton Pacetty, who grew up in Georgia, but had a lineage back to the Saint Augustine Minorcans. Amelia and Adolphus, in fact, shared great-grandparents named Bonelly and Moll, two children of Turnbull's enterprise, who had been among those who walked to a new life up the King's Highway.