Knoxville is the oldest town in Knox County, having been founded in 1831. During the first two years pf its existence the place was known as Henderson. For many ears it was the county seat until the more prosperous town of Galesburg laid claim to the honor. A bitter fight ensued, Knoxville piously defended the right once granted, while Galesburg claimed it as the prerogative of the principal city in the county and was victorious. One day in 1873, the question having been settled, the archives of the county were removed to Galesburg where they have since remained.
In the fight for the county seat none took a more active part than Sven Peterson of Knoxville, who scarified both time and money in behalf of Knoxville as the seat of the county government. Prior to 1849 there were no Swedes in Knoxville, but that year several coated there, among whom were two shoemakers, Adolf Anderson and one Boström. The later left in 1850. Andersson remained until 1853. Simultanios with these two men were other settlers, among whom one Tinglöf with his family, Kristian Johnson, A. Bergqvist, a farmer, and Trued Persson, a schoolmaster from Stoby, Skåne, known as Granville among the Americans of Knoxville and Galesburg. He moved to Vasa, Minn. In November of 1855, where he attained prominence, was elected to the state legislature and held other positions of trust. He died there December 27, 1905. One Daniel J. Ockerson came to Knoxville in 1851 and went to California in 1859 and moved to Red Oak, Iowa in 1880. the same year Ockerson came, John Gottrich located in Knoxville and in 1880 was the only one of the early Swedish settlers still living there. The aforesaid Sven Pettersson arrived in 1852 as did a considerable number of Swedes. The influx was steadily on the increase and in 1854 the Swedes formed a considerable part of the population.
That year cholera broke out in Knoxville, its ravages being confined to the Swedes, forty of whom died of the disease. The fact that Americans usually escaped the disease is attributed to their more sanitary dwellings. As poor immigrants, the Swedes, on the other hand, had to be satisfied with little stuffy huts, besides they weren’t accustomed to the climate and did not know how to accommodate their diet to the circumstances. The lack of proper sheltering resulted from the lack of money, for while there was plenty of work to be had, the pay was usually in the form of cows, calves, sheep and pigs.
For a period of about twenty years from 1852 there was a rapid increase of the Swedish population. But in the latter seventies came a stagnation. The descendents of the old pioneers, as also the Swedes who have located there in later years are generally prosperous and belong to the best portion of the Swedish population of Illinois. During the Civil War the Knoxville Swedes displayed their great loyalty to the flag by enlisting to the number of forty to fight for the perpetuation of the Union.
The city has a Swedish Lutheran church, one of the oldest in the state, founded in 1854. In Knoxville there was printed, in December 1854, the first issue of “Gamla och Nya Hemlandet” the oldest Swedish newspaper in the West and the next oldest in the United States. The first number was dated Jan. 3, 1855. From 1873 to 1885, Knoxville had a Swedish institution of learning, the Ansgarius College, owned and controlled by the Ansgatius Synod. The total population of Knoxville in 1900 was 1,857. The number of Swedes can’t be precisely stated. The membership of the Swedish Lutheran Church at the beginning of the year 1905 was 280 and the total numbers of Swedes in the city will not exceed 850.
The Knoxville Church
This congregation also was organized by Rev.
Hasselquist in the year 1853. The founder was its pastor up to 1863,
simultaneously with his pastorate in Galesburg, the church afterward receiving
it own minister.
A small frame church was built in 1854 and dedicated Dec. 2nd, the following year, while still unfinished. The Americans in Knoxville had lent some aid toward its erection, but the bulk of the expense fell on the impecunious members themselves, who scraped together the needed funds in various ways, ending by a voluntary assessment of one dollar for each hundred dollars worth of property, the valuation to be made by the owner. The little church, which they considered light and lofty, cost about $1,700 of which sum $800 had been paid.
The church in 1860 numbered one hundred and
seventy-three communicants and its current annual expenses amounted to $250.
In after years the congregation has had but a modest growth, the Swedes in
this locality not being very numerous. At the beginning of 1907, the
membership had reached 235, of whom 183 were communicants. Its church
property, including church building, parsonage, and the lots appertaining, was
valued at $3,000.
There lived in Knoxville from 1852 to 1855 a blacksmith by the name of Hakau Olson who, in view of the lack of clergymen, was induced by Rev. Hasselquist to study for the ministry. He was ordained in June 1860, when the Augustana Synod was organized, and labored in the ministry for more than forty years, including ten years in Illinois. Rev. Hakan Olson died in Port Wing. Wis., June 1, 1904.
Another of the laymen of the Knoxville church during the fifties who entered the ministry at the instance of Rev. Hasselquist was a farmer named Johannes Jongson, afterwards known as John Johnson, who became minister of the churches in Moline and in Princeton. (Swedes in Illinois-1906)