Bishop Hill History

Bishop Hill was named for the it's founder Eric Janson's home parish of Biskopskulla in Uppland in central Sweden. He was regarded as the chosen one of God by his congregation and led the first large Swedish emigration to America. This group of people left Sweden in search of religious freedom. Janson and his family left Sweden from Norway in January of 1846. The main group of emigrants left from various ports in Sweden later in 1846.

Eric Jansson's religious passion prompted him to travel from parish to parish holding religious meetings and while on a trip to Soderala in Halsingland he met brothers Olof and Jonas Olson who had been impressed and influenced by George Scott. Both brothers would play important roles in the establishment of Bishop Hill.Olof Olson and several other men were the first ones to immigrate and find a place that was suitable for the Janssonits to settle.The supremacy of the Bible and the doctrine of true faith must have appealed to many because the Jansson followers were estimated at several thousand in spite of increased objections from the church of Sweden. Eric Jansson was arrested six times but three times released by Royal order of King OscarI who believed in religious freedom. Olof Olson was fined for "repeating the Lord's prayer and also "Sabbath breaking".

The Jansson followers were assaulted and some of their homes were stoned but they continued hold secret meetings. Jansson held meetings where all religious books were burned except the Bible that Jansson felt was the only true book of God.

The plan to immigrate was developed at the secret meetings of active supporters and also people with money, prestige and faith. The plans were very thorough and they planned for everything. People with money were recruited as well as people with trades, skills and also farmers.Several wealthy people contributed everything they owned. Others contributed what they could.This was put into a fund to pay for travel for the Janssonites and the rest was to be used to buy land and anything else the colonists would need in the new land.Linjo Gabriel Larson was the biggest contributor. He used an old trunk full of gold to pay for an entire ship load of people and the rest of the gold he contributed to a community fund for settlement of Bishop Hill.Later in 1849 when Larson died of cholera and Jansson's wife died. Jansson married Larsson's wife Anna Sofia.

Olof Olson met a Swedish minister whose brother lived in a small town named Victoria in Knox county. Olson then visited Knox county and was impressed by the praire and the rich soil and decided this was where the Swedish community would be.

In July of 1846 Jansson and a few of his followers arrived in Victoria. After exploring the countryside 60 acres were bought in the county north of Knox (Henry county). This property was bought on August 1. Three weeks later a farm with live stock, grain and buildings and with it 156 acres was also bought. The main site for Jansson's settlement was selected and bought from the government for $1.25 an acre and consisted of 480 acres. In the fall of 1846 large numbers of emigrants began to arrive.

The settlers were eager to become Americans and wanted to forget Sweden that had been so cruel to them. Lessons in English were started shortly after they arrived.The first settlers to Bishop Hill faced many difficulties. The extreme heat of the summer and bitter cold in the winter was a terrible hardship. Shelters were built into the side of a ravine and were caves with timber fronts. Some reports told of as many as 50 people living in one dwelling.96 emigrants died the first year. Many found the conditions too hard and moved to neighboring areas such as Galesburg and Victoria. Fasts were often imposed by Janson because of the lack of food.

Bishop Hill flourished under Eric Jansson's leadership and about 20 large commercial buildings were built, the Big Brick which contained a 96 room dormatory and was 4 stories high.the steeple building with it's clock tower that had four clocks facing each direction with an hour hand only, also the Bjorkland Hotel which was built as an overnite stop between Rock Island and Peoria, a dozen houses were built along with a post office, store and several workshops and three years later 12,000 acres of land was being farmed. People worked from sun up to sun down. They borrowed horses from neighbors and primmative plows were used until better plows could be bought.

On May 13, 1850 Eric Jansson's leadership ended when he was murdered in Cambridge by John Root the husband of his cousin Charlotta.Janson had been there over some financial matters and Root had been there on a trespassing charge.

Management of Bishop Hill was given to a Board of Trustees made up of seven men. In 1853 a charter was granted by the state of Illinois with approval of an act incorporating the Bishop Hill. Seven trustees were named to manage the affairs of the colony. The seven were Jonas Olson, Jonas Erickson, Jacob Jacobson Jr. Swan Swanson, Jonas Kronberg, Olof Johnson and Peter Janson. Olof Stonberg replace Peter Janson in 1859. Peter Janson was the founder Erik Janson's brother.These men had been appointed by Janson to positions of trust so the distribution of authority remained pretty much the same.

A democratic form of government was established which was very different from what the Jansonists were used to. This form of government was very beneficial and the colony flourished. The most important debts were paid and the future of the Colony looked bright.Regular church services were still held and some of the preachers were Jonas Olson, Anders Berglund, Nils Hedin, Olof Osberg and Olof Stoneberg.

An annual reprt was given in 1851 stating the colony over 8,000 acres of land, 50 lots in Galva valued at $10,000 10 shares of stock in the Central Military Railroad valued at $1,000. The livestock was given as 100 horses and mules, 1,000 hogs and poultry. All other assets were valued at over $49,000.

In 1857 there was a nation wide financial panic that devestated Bishop Hill which had over extended credit to buyers of their products. Disenters also began calling for division of the Colonies assets.

Severe famine in 1860 made many Swedes leave and dissolution took place in 1861 and many residents settled on their own farms on the Colony's property or moved to nearby towns. such as Galesburg ,Galva, Altoona and Moline.Bishop Hill will be the beginning of Swedish Immigration in the 1800's.

The people of Bishop Hill have made a wonderful effort of preserving the history of the largest colony of Swedish emigrants. I strongly recommend anyone interested in Swedish Immigration to Illinois to visit Bishop Hill. It's a wonderful ,peaceful town rich in Swedish heritage.

Swedes in Illinois

Contributed by Wini Caudel


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Illinois Ancestors