Reasons for Leaving Norway

Generally speaking, many Norwegians emigrated for economic reasons. Only the oldest son would inherit land; younger siblings would be landless – and with that came poverty. So at the very time Norway had too many people, America wanted more to settle the expanse of the Great West (never mind that native Americans were there).

Semmingsen’s book Norway to America tells that Norway’s growing population in the first half of the 1800s put pressure on the country’s resources. Only when the “golden prosperity” of the 1850s gave way to poor crops and falling prices in the sixties, however, was the pressure felt throughout the land. In this economic crisis many adults could not find productive work. Among the poor, the pressure was even greater.

Semmingsen writes, “A pastor in Solor [many Blair, Wis. immigrants came from Solor] reported in the spring of 1870 that well-to-do farmers were feeding thirty to fifty people every day and that small farmers had difficulty getting along because their grain and potatoes had frozen” (104).

At the same time, Norwegians were hearing of the American Homestead Act of 1862, whereby a settler could claim 160 acres for working the land. That must have seemed too good to be true. In fact, the Norwegian newspaper first learning of this opportunity was certain it was false. Surely our ancestors heard this news too, and likely it was the talk of many.

Perhaps these were the motivations that led the Borresons and Estensons to leave Norway about this time. Elias and Kari Borreson departed in 1869; Bertinus Estensen in 1875 with his wife Maria joining him the following year. Three of these four (all but Bertinus) had their roots in inland Norway, a steady source of emigration for a century but especially the years 1865-1884 (cf. Semmingsen’s maps).


This entry was posted in Bertinus Estensen, Elias Borreson, Farming, Immigration. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Reasons for Leaving Norway

  1. Dan Borreson says:

    Glen, when Shelley and I were in Norway, now more than 20 years ago, we visited one of the farms where the Estenson branch came from. The farm was North East of Trondhiem. We had a great afternoon with the then current generation on the farm. One of the questions I asked the owner was, what did he think was the reason that folks went to America. I referenced our ancestors situation and asked why he thought they would have left. He responded by saying they did NOT own land. Our ancestors lived in a “hired mans house” on this farm. The house had been removed and the land had been restored to a field for farming. He said something about voting rights. As I recall, I think what he said was those owning land got to vote in 1800’s, the man of the household, unless he had died, then his surviving widow was entitle to vote. Women did own land except after death of her husband. I don’t know what level or levels this voting procedure applied too (Town, County, National, Etc. as we would know them). From this I surmised that if you did not expect to be able to own land, such as brothers other than the eldest, and those that worked for others, the opportunity in America was just to great to resist. I also recall reading somewhere that some of our ancestors traveled from farm to farm building houses, barns, and other buildings. They too may have seen little opportunity to better themselves since they did not own land and had no real firm roots anywhere. Just some thoughts I had after I read your post. Keep up the research. I am always interested. Dan Borreson

  2. Dan Borreson says:

    Glen, one other comment. You do know that most of Wisconsin was ceded to the Railroads some years after statehood I believe. The Fitch Coulee farm was in fact purchased from the railroad. The Homestead Act was very important in the states of Iowa and Minnesota but not Wisconsin. Our ancestors probably heard about the price of land in Wisconsin and may have thought it was a bargain. Thanks, Dan Borreson

    • Glenn Borreson says:

      Thanks for the helpful comments, more relevant to our family than my general ones. The possibility of owning land was indeed a big incentive in coming to America. And the United States was ahead of Norway at that time in voting rights. You are right too about the railroads in Wisconsin: our ancestors did purchase land from them, as Aunt Clara’s history indicates. – Glenn

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