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From the on-line archives of NAHA

This article has been copied in its entirety from the NAHA website.  It is an important presentation of the reasons for emigration from the Tinn, Telemark community. The NAHA website includes detailed information about their holdings and makes key works like this one available on-line in whole or in part.

 

Emigration from the Community of Tinn, 1837-1907: Demographic, Economic, and Social Background *
by Andres A. Svalestuen translated by C. A. Clausen (Volume 29: Page 43)

 

This article summarizes some of the main points in a thesis presented to the History Department of the University of Oslo in 1968 and published by the Oslo University Press in 1972 with the title Tinns emigrasjons historie 1837-1907 (History of Emigration from Tinn, 1837-1907). The word Tinn as used in this article refers to that geographical area which constituted a separate municipality during the period 1859-1964. All figures and statistical material relate to that definition of Tinn.

THE AIM of this article is to clarify and analyze the background and relate the story of the emigration from a community in Upper Telemark during the period 1837-1907. Tinn was chosen because the district has a special interest from the viewpoint of migration history. This community was the point of departure for the first emigrant group to leave eastern Norway, in 1837; and through many decades it had a very high rate of emigration, relatively higher than most of the other communities in Telemark. {1} During the early phase of Norwegian pioneering in America people from the community of Tinn were, proportionately speaking, strongly represented. Throughout the seventy-year period 1837-1907 other movement out of the community was small in comparison with emigration to the United States, while migration into the district was minimal. The present analysis is limited to the pre-industrial period of the community.

In 1907 industrialization set in with full force - Tinn then became definitely an immigration area. Population doubled in five years: from about 2,300 in 1905 to about 4,600 in 1910. The establishment of Norsk Hydro’s industries in Vestfjord valley meant that the district entered a period of vigorous economic growth and the opportunity to emigrate became less attractive than before. {2} Few people born in Tinn left for America after 1907. The emigration to Canada which occurred during the 1920s was of a different character: it consisted almost exclusively of personnel connected with the industries at Rjukan. Prior to 1907 it was the agrarian society which was undergoing change, and the emigration was a purely rural phenomenon.

Who emigrated and why did they leave? How did the number of emigrants vary from period to period, and what were the causes of the fluctuations? These are some of the main questions which this article attempts to answer by examining the underlying demographic, economic, and social conditions connected with the migration to America. It is hoped that this study of one specific community may be of significance for a number of mountain districts in Upper Telemark and Numedal which had a similar economic and social structure during the nineteenth century.

The most important statistical data utilized in this research were the migration lists in the church records and the emigrant protocols in the State Archives at Oslo. The protocols were kept by the police in accordance with a provisional decree of April 6, 1867, and a law of May 22, 1869, which established regulations for the recording of overseas emigration. A total of 1,932 emigrants are registered as leaving from Tinn during the years 1837-1907. This represents a minimum figure, but it seems close to being correct. The official published statistics seem to have overestimated the emigration from the community between 1866 and 1905. For the whole region of Upper Telemark, however, these same statistics underestimated by about 200 the number of emigrants during the five-year period 1861-1865. The full identification of the emigrants with respect to names and social or occupational status presented special problems, but only eighty-six persons - about 5 percent - among the registered emigrants from Tinn are still unidentified.

Tinn is located in the northeastern corner of Telemark fylke (county) - called Bratsberg amt before 1918. Toward the north and east it borders on Veggli and Uvdal in Buskerud fylke, while to the west is the vast Hardanger mountain plateau. Toward the southwest Tinn borders on Rauland, toward the south on Hjartdal and Seljord, and toward the southeast on Hovin.

The community covers an area of about 706.4 square miles, of which 4.4 square miles consists of cultivated fields, 50 of water, 65 of forests, and no less than 587 square miles of hill pastures and mountain plateaus. Tinn is distinctly a mountain region. Merely 0.6 percent of the total surface is under cultivation while 99 percent consists of upland pastures, mountainous terrain, forests, and water. Of the total area 89 percent lies 2,625 feet or more above sea level, varying from 630 feet for the large inland lake of Tinnsjø, Norway’s second deepest lake, of which one third lies within the boundaries of Tinn, to 6,178 feet for the highest mountain peak, Gausta. From the northern part of this large body of water five valleys spread out in fan fashion: Vestfjorddalen, Husvolldalen, Gjøystdalen, Mårdalen, and Tessungdalen. In former times, rivers with precipitous falls rushed through these valleys, but now they have been harnessed and regulated to produce electric power.

At present industry provides the main source of livelihood for the people. In 1960 the population of Tinn numbered 9,635, of whom 6,985 - more than two-thirds of the total - lived in the industrial city of Rjukan. Some 55 percent of the population were connected with industry while only 10 percent were tied to agriculture or forestry. Since shortly after the turn of the century, Norsk Hydro has been the largest industrial establishment.

The farms lie along the river valleys and up the mountain slopes. Frequently they are located on rather steep inclines and are small in extent, having on an average merely 5 to 71/2 acres under cultivation. Out of a total farm area of some 2,594 acres in 1959 only 309 were in fields and gardens while 1,803 and 430 were in meadows and cultivated pastures respectively. On the whole, production of field crops plays only a minor part in Tinn’s agriculture. Cattle raising or dairying combined with forestry were and still are the main pursuits of the farming population. Since 1894 the state has been the largest owner of woodland in the district, controlling about 45 percent of the forest.

According to the first Norwegian census, in 1769, the population of Tinn was then 1,707. By 1800 it had grown to 1,810, an increase of only 6 percent in thirty-one years. During the next thirty-five years, however, the population had risen 37 percent - to 2,481. The contrast between the two periods is striking and significant. Equally striking is the contrast with the next thirty-year period, 1835-1865, when the increase again had fallen to a mere 6 percent. This meager gain can be ascribed primarily to the heavy emigration from the district. The population in 1865 had reached a total of 2,632.

With the help of the census reports and statistics showing the surplus of births over deaths it can be estimated that about 500 more people left the community than moved into it during the years 1769-1801 and 312 more during the period 1801-1835. The figures indicate a decreasing mobility during the first three decades of the nineteenth century. At the same time there was a rapid population increase because of a lowered death rate and higher birth rate. 1810 was the last year when deaths outnumbered births. {3} As a result of these developments the number of people without property increased rapidly. In 1801 the property-owning group comprised 56 percent of the population, but by 1835 only 43 percent. The number of day laborers and farm workers especially increased - as did also the number of landless cotters (husmenn). {4} In 1835, the cotter class constituted 20-23 percent of the population. Tenant farmers (leilendinger) doubled in number between 1801 and 1835; and in the latter year, people on public relief and officially classified as poor constituted 8.7 percent of the total.

This pattern indicates clearly that the agrarian society was undergoing a process of proletarianization. As the landowning class was by far the most numerous group in 1801 it follows that it had the largest share of the population increase up to 1835. Subdividing of farms and clearing of new homesteads could not keep pace with this proliferation. As a result, certain freeholders (selveiere) were forced to become tenants, while sons and daughters of independent farmers were threatened with a decline in social status. Some of them became cotters or even servants and day laborers. The danger of merging into the agrarian proletariat undoubtedly spurred many young people on to test fortune somewhere else.

One might naturally assume that an isolated mountain community like Tinn was largely immobile before overseas emigration began to offer relief to its ever more numerous and hard-pressed population. An analysis of demographic developments in Tinn during the years 1771-1835 gives another impression, however. The period is found to be characterized by considerable mobility. The excess of movement out of over movement into Tinn during 1801-1835 took care of about 32 percent of the natural population increase (excess of births over deaths) during that period, whereas for the years 1770-1800 it had accounted for 70 percent. At first thought it may strike one as strange that the urge to leave the district decreased in strength during the first decades of the nineteenth century. But it must be remembered that after the Napoleonic Wars there was widespread economic depression in Norway. Only the fisheries held up fairly well, and the possibility of securing employment within this branch of the economy drew a few people toward the western part of the country during the 1820s and 1830s.

The people of Tinn were not locked into their deep valleys even before the emigration to America began. The population pressure had long since burst open certain escape channels, and especially during the years 1770-1800 a large number of people had found their way through them. Tinn was thus from an early period a point of dispersal, but during the first third of the nineteenth century the situation on the labor market elsewhere in Norway was not such as to encourage escape. A trickle of people still left, but most of the younger generation had to manage as best they could at home. At the same time the population increased as never before because the birth rate greatly exceeded the death rate. To a greater degree than previously the community was thrown upon its own resources. These were also better utilized but the limited possibilities within the economic life caused the burden of the increased population to fall mainly upon the shoulders of the unpropertied section of society. Some of the freeholders found themselves declining in social status. A population reservoir was gradually building up to flood stage. In 1837 a group of intrepid men and women broke through the dam, and from then on people streamed toward America and the far West.

 

THE FIRST GROUP EMIGRATION FROM EASTERN NORWAY (THE RUE PARTY)

“The poet’s word about our mountains, that they ‘like memorial stones would at some future age stand and show where Norway once lay’ will soon be fulfilled as far as Gausta is concerned, because the people of Tinn have also been bitten by the urge to leave for America.” Thus wrote Henrik Wergeland in the paper Statsborgeren (The Citizen), May 28, 1837. {5}

When a group of some fifty people from Tinn left their homes on May 17, 1837, to embark on the hazardous journey to America, it aroused considerable attention even beyond the borders of the community. Such migrations later became annual occurrences and gradually lost their dramatic effect, but in 1837 matters were different. The departures from Tinn and other communities in eastern Norway were startling events, and people generally had only very vague ideas about the United States. In the early years these ventures toward the West brought in their wake the most extravagant expectations as well as the strongest condemnation. An intense debate broke out in the press, and the first departure of a sizable group from this part of the country received due comment in the newspapers. The sheriff (lensmann) in Tinn, H. A. Bernaas, even submitted a report to the county governor (amtmann), on May 15, 1837, which was passed on to the Ministry of Finance.

What was the immediate motive for the organization of this first group and their departure from the country? Was there a special reason why people of this district initiated the mass emigration from eastern Norway?

Measured by conditions at the time, Tinn had for generations maintained close relations with western Norway. Over the mountains wound age-old trails: toward the west to Ryfylke and Hardanger; toward the east to Numedal. People from Tinn and Numedal traded in salt, hides, horses, and cattle with people from the west coast at annual markets in the highlands. Connections were also maintained by independent horse and cattle traders and by roving peddlers with packs on their backs. Some of the mountain folk thus covered large areas and came in contact with numerous people of other communities. These connections furthered the spreading of news and rumors. It is not surprising, therefore, that information about America came over the mountains from the west and that it came comparatively early to Tinn. The geographical location of the community explains, in part at least, why the people of Tinn were among the first to be carried away by the mass migration to the New World.

It is the pioneers Ole and Ansten Nattestad from Veggli, Numedal, who have become known to later generations as the persons primarily responsible for spreading the “America fever” to Tinn. {6} In 1836 they crossed the mountains to the west coast of Norway on a trading venture. In Tysvær, near Stavanger, they heard and read about the American wonderland. The early emigrant Knud Slogvig had visited that community the previous year. The two brothers were gripped by the idea of leaving for the new land to the west, and on their return trip home they brought along copies of letters from America. On April 8, 1837, they strapped on their skis and set off on their famous journey toward America. On their way westward toward Stavanger they spent a night in the Lurås neighborhood in eastern Tinn where they told about their audacious plans and agitated in favor of emigration. On the Lurås-Rue farm they met willing listeners who seriously considered following their example. This trip of the Nattestad brothers caused a great stir in the community. Some people were filled with enthusiasm and thought it was a great undertaking while others prophesied that the brothers were sailing straight into the jaws of death.

Hjalmar Rued Holand wrote as follows about this incident: “When the two men from Numedal skied over the mountains to Stavanger they spent a night on the farm Rue in Tinn, which lies quite close to Veggli. The people there became much excited about this journey to America and made the Nattestads promise to write as soon as they reached their destination. This they did and praised the land highly. As a result, that very summer a group from Tinn made ready to emigrate.”

This account is in error. It was not as a result of letters sent from America by the Nattestads that the so-called Rue party was organized. That is a chronological impossibility, since the Tinn group departed from their home community on May 17, 1837, and from Skien on May 22; at that time the Nattestad brothers were still aboard the sailing vessel Hilda, bound for America. The earliest America letter the author found in Tinn is a copy of one of Gjert G. Hovland’s well-known letters, {7} with the notation: “This copy was made at Vaaer in Dahls Parish, March 26, 1837, by me the undersigned, Vetle Olsen Vaaer.” Another copy of the same letter was found in a diary kept by a teacher named Kittil Gregersen Sæbrekke, who was an ardent Haugean. {8}

Hovland’s letters were given wide circulation through numerous copies. Reading his glowing accounts from America one can easily understand why these particular letters circulated from farm to farm, from community to community, and why they were read with such avidity. Here are eloquently presented, in words that the common man could understand, the advantages which America would offer the immigrant: political, social, and economic freedom and equality, low taxes, fertile soil. It can be argued that Hovland gives a one-sidedly optimistic account, but this bias did not lessen their effectiveness as propaganda. The prospect of owning productive, easily cultivated land must have seemed irresistible to many people in Tinn at the period when emigration to America began to be a realistic alternative.


“Yesterday fifty-six people from Tinn set sail from here in order to find a brighter future in North America.” Thus begins a note in Ugeblad for Skien og Omegn (Weekly for Skien and Environs) for May 23, 1837. If their experience was promising - so the note asserts - every third person in Tinn and Numedal intended to emigrate the following year.

As the Rue party was the first group of emigrants from eastern Norway it may be of interest to study it in more detail. Events leading up to the migration seem clear: America letters from western Norway and the example of the Nattestad brothers acted as a release mechanism. Fundamentally, however, it was an exodus of people preconditioned by economic and social conditions to tear themselves loose from their native soil. The group began their journey by boat, heading southward on Tinnsjø, May 17, 1837, and sailed from Skien for Gothenburg on May 22 aboard the Paketten of Brevik with Ole Halvorsen as captain. In Gothenburg they secured passage on the Swedish brig Niord, commanded by Captain Hans Brink. They reached New York on August 15, and Chicago in early September, where they received assistance from some people from Stavanger. Thence the journey continued on to the Fox River settlement in Illinois where most of them found new homes. {9}

The exact number of people who left Tinn in 1837 is somewhat difficult to determine. Earlier historians have worked with incomplete and partly misleading data. {10} On the basis of facts gathered from such sources as the church list of emigrants it can be established that the widow Gro Johnsdatter Rue was accompanied by only one son when she left in 1837. This son was John Torsteinsen, then ten years of age, later to be known as Snowshoe Thompson - the most famous of all emigrants from Tinn. {11} The name is incorrectly entered -Torstein instead of John - but the age is correct. The eighteen-year-old son, Torstein Torsteinsen, and his sister Kari came to America in 1839.

Sheriff Bernaas reported that the 1837 group from Tinn consisted of fifty-three persons, and in the previously mentioned newspaper note the number is given as fifty-six. The church records show that sixty-four individuals obtained emigration certificates from the pastor. Among these were two families - each of five members - from the parish of Hovin, which at that time belonged to Tinn. The pastor has recorded that one of these families did not leave. We are then left with fifty-nine persons in the original Rue group: five families who had owned farms, four cotter families, two families of farm workers, three unmarried men, and two unmarried women. Additions in the church book and information secured from the family-history society of Rogaland, however, indicate strongly that fifteen persons from the group - consisting of two families often and five members - ultimately chose the Stavanger area instead of America. If this is true, they must have returned from Gothenburg.

This tentative conclusion was fully verified by further research, by examining the record of passports issued in 1837 and the passenger list of the brig Niord. {12} The ship arrived in New York on August 15, 1837, with sixty Norwegian passengers aboard. Of these, thirty-nine were from Tinn proper and five from Hovin. Two children belonging to the Rue party died at sea.

 

GENERAL ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL BACKGROUND

Behind the enormous population movement from Europe to America lies a wide spectrum of causes varying from year to year, from country to country, from locality to locality. There were, of course, countless specific decisions where purely individual or personal motives made themselves felt. But there were also certain general factors which proved decisive over longer periods and wider areas and influenced greater masses of people. Among such factors were the great population increase in Europe and the enormous demand for manpower needed to develop America’s untapped resources. Throughout the period there was an interplay between certain forces which pushed people out and others which pulled them toward America. These underlying causes show the emigration movement in its true perspective as an historical phenomenon. They were at work throughout the period, while economic conditions on both sides of the Atlantic determined precisely when people should leave.

If this theory is accepted it is logical to examine the general background, even though one is dealing specifically with only a single community. The great fluctuations from period to period will be clarified in connection with the statistical analysis of the emigration movement. But first: which local conditions of a more constant nature associated with population structure and socioeconomic conditions can explain why people left Tinn for America?
The population of Tinn increased by 37 percent between 1801 and 1835, while both the preceding and the succeeding periods recorded gains of only about 6 percent. During the period 1865-1905 the population declined steadily from 2,632 to about 2,300, for a loss of 11 percent. The decrease was most marked during the latter part of the period. This trend changed abruptly during the five years from 1906 to 1910 when a vigorous in-migration occurred in connection with the beginning of industrialization.

Even though the number of inhabitants did not increase between 1865 and 1905 but actually decreased by more than 300, the population pressure remained strong through most of the period. It is obvious that population pressure can not be measured objectively, that conclusions can only be drawn from the effects it produces. Emigration may be considered as one of the major effects. A population increase does not necessarily result in greater economic pressure. Under certain circumstances a large number of laborers and consumers will act as a spur to stimulate economic activity - which will in its turn cause a further increase in population. In a pre-industrial society, however, with only slight possibilities of expanding the means of subsistence, even a relatively small population increase will result in a constant pressure on limited resources. The decisive factor in such a situation is the relationship between productive capacity and the number of inhabitants. During times of economic crisis the population pressure may continue even though the number of mouths to be fed is actually decreasing.

By and large, such was the situation in Tinn. The growth possibilities within the existing economic system - agriculture, forestry, some handicraft and trade - were so small that the community could not absorb any appreciable increase in population. But during the years 1801-1835 Tinn was confronted by just such a problem: how to take care of a population increase of 37 percent. This increase very likely resulted in lower economic and social status for many people. The community as a whole, to be sure, did not become poorer during the first half of the last century. Despite everything, agriculture experienced a considerable quantitative and a certain qualitative advance. But as a result of these demographic and economic developments a growing number of unpropertied people sank relatively lower while a certain percentage of the landowning class rose on the social ladder. In the community of Tinn this tendency was not as noticeable as in the central agricultural districts of eastern Norway, where the economic structure resulted in a pronounced social polarization. Cattle raising and dairying, which was very important in Tinn, was more conducive to social equality. Furthermore, the system of ownership in the community was so nearly uniform that society necessarily assumed a more egalitarian stamp than, for instance, in the more ample agricultural districts of Hedmark. There were few property owners who towered above the average farmer. But even so, the somewhat more prosperous freeholders were able to strengthen their economic position by exploiting the large reserves of cheap labor. Wages were low, and the system would inevitably breed discontent and bitterness among farm laborers. Seasonal unemployment became prevalent.

Throughout most of the 1800s the birthrate in the community far exceeded the deathrate, until a decrease set in toward the end of the century. This natural increase kept the population pressure high. New generations arose and entered the labor market, where they found that few opportunities were available and the jobs that were offered were unacceptable. The pressure on the labor market naturally varied with changing economic conditions and the number of new recruits. But the result was always the same: people streamed out - either to America or to other communities. The situation changed considerably around the turn of the century as the population decreased most markedly and advances were made in both agriculture and forestry. For the potential emigrant, however, the subjective evaluation of prospects at home did not seem particularly brighter. People’s expectations had increased as far as wages and living standard were concerned, especially among the rising generations. As a consequence many of the young people decided to break through the narrow bounds which curtailed their ambition and their earning capacity at home.

Statistics reveal that it was primarily emigration which served as a safety valve to release the population pressure. It accounted for 83-84 percent of the total figure by which people who left exceeded people who moved in. During the period 1835-1875 the combined net movement to other communities in Norway and emigration to America absorbed the total natural population increase except for about a hundred, while during the following period, 1876-1905, emigration alone absorbed the entire natural population increase plus about a hundred persons. During periods of heavy emigration to the United States (1837-1845, 1876-1890, 1901-1905) there was light movement to other parts of Norway. A certain interplay of forces thus made itself felt: decreasing internal migration during increasing emigration and vice versa.

According to the censuses of 1865, 1891, and 1900, there were in Tinn 162, 192, and 175 persons, respectively, who were born outside the community. No other community in Upper Telemark had attracted so few outsiders, which was only to be expected, since Tinn had very little to offer prospective settlers. {13} Nor is it surprising that an unusually large percentage of Tinn’s population left the district: about 2,600 during the years 1835-1905, or 300 more than the total population of the community at the end of the period.

It seems to l)e a common pattern that areas with heavy emigration had relatively little migration to or from other parts of the country. A similar pattern is found in Rollag and Veggli in Numedal. The explanation of this phenomenon can be found partly in the fact that these districts were located far from urban centers where industry and other activities acted as a magnet. It is also important to note that Tinn and many other mountain communities were pioneers in the emigration movement and thus early developed a tradition in that respect. When the young people left for America they followed a well-beaten path. Frequently relatives or friends could help them get a start in the new land. Furthermore, people from such communities were not oriented toward city life; their conception of affluence was tied to land ownership. They left for America with the hope of becoming possessors and operators of wealth-producing soil. Few of them settled in cities. {14} Very seldom was the association with an agrarian form of life broken.

Population pressure, then, was one of the basic factors in the general background of the overseas emigration. The outflow relieved a stress which could easily have resulted in serious economic and social conflicts. But, one may ask, what special features were built into the old economic structure of Tinn to make the population situation there so precarious? What characterized developments up to 1907? Did the community face a serious crisis immediately before the arrival of industry?
Aside from crop and cattle raising and forestry, other means of earning a livelihood were of little importance. In 1865, 80 percent of the population - 2,099 out of 2,632 - drew their sustenance from the soil or the forests. By 1900 the figure was still 77 percent.

Agricultural production increased until the early l870s even though few technical changes were introduced. A period of stagnation set in during the last quarter of the century, but in the 1890s a marked qualitative improvement compensated for the quantitative decrease. Later the difficulties which arose in the district during the transition to a modern agricultural system will be analyzed in more detail. It is a pattern which is also found in other mountainous districts of eastern Norway.
It is clear that natural conditions did not favor an extensive agricultural system in Tinn. There were three negative features in particular: the smallness of the tillable area, the quality of the soil, and the climate. In the higher altitudes, especially, crops often failed. If farming was carried on and even expanded until about 1875 it was because crop raising was a necessary link in the barter economy of the time. Very little money circulated in the community and transportation was expensive. Buying of grain from outside was therefore restricted to a minimum and the cultivated area expanded during the first three-quarters of the century despite the fact that clearing new land was extremely strenuous and costly.

The tillable soil was used almost exclusively for the raising of grain and potatoes. Toward the end of the century, however, crop rotation became more general, and increasingly more of the cultivated area was turned into meadows or used for the production of fodder.

The farm implements were primitive. Not until the 1860s does one hear of iron plows and harrows in general use in Tinn. New types of agricultural machinery do not really enter the picture until after 1910. In 1900 there were only five mowers in the community! It was a common opinion that the new machines were not adapted to local conditions. But the main reason was probably the fact that market conditions did not warrant investing money in expensive machinery.

It was especially the production of potatoes and to a lesser degree the production of barley which continued to increase up to 1875. But throughout the period grain production was insufficient to satisfy the demand. During the middle 1860s the people of Tinn had to import a third of their seed grain and a quarter of their grain for bread.

Both grain and potato raising reached a peak in the early 1870s. Between 1875 and 1907, the total seeding of grain was reduced by 38 percent. Grain production declined much faster than the population, which was reduced by only about 10 percent during the same period. As a consequence, people had to buy more grain than before, and a money economy began to assert itself in earnest. On the other hand, statistics show that during the years 1835-1865 grain production had risen more rapidly than population and potato production had increased even more, nearly 50 percent during the same period.

The fact that the food supply in the community increased more than the population might be construed to mean that the living standard improved. In general this was probably true; but statistical tables cannot show how equitably the supplies were apportioned among the people. Increased grain production benefited primarily the landowners. The cotters raised mostly potatoes, and even though the total output increased greatly during the period, they had little to fall back on when crops failed during bad years. Then the unpropertied classes, especially, found themselves hard pressed in the struggle for food, as they had little cash with which to buy the expensive grain. It is nevertheless a fact that farming produced more food per capita in 1865 and 1875 than in1835.

The decline in grain production was the main feature of agriculture during the 1875-1907 period. More and more of the cultivated area, by 1907 more than 50 percent, was turned into meadows or other forms of fodder production. This increase reflects an important change in the other main branch of farming, animal husbandry or cattle raising.
In contrast to field crops, animal husbandry yielded the community a certain surplus for sale - a total of about 1,500 speciedaler annually, according to a report from 1866-1870. Cattle raising and dairying was the main pursuit in Tinn - as in the other districts of Upper Telemark. Throughout the whole period animal husbandry was characterized by an extensive høstingsbruk, by which is meant the exploitation of uncultivated tracts through grazing or fodder gathering rather than fodder production on cultivated ground. The natural plant life was spread over wide areas, thus making the activity extensive rather than intensive.

Natural conditions were well adapted to a høstingsbruk with cattle raising as a central occupation. The community had large outlying expanses and mountain regions which could support a relatively great number of animals. The summer pastures were so abundant that they could feed more cattle than could be supplied with fodder through the winters. The problem of providing fodder for the largest possible number of animals through the winters therefore became the central one, and the enterprise was largely shaped by the existing natural resources.

The høstingsbruk system and the old form of animal husbandry were at their peak during the decade from 1865 to 1875. But the system was encumbered with weaknesses which became very pronounced during the last quarter of the nineteenth century. One basic requirement for its success was a large supply of cheap labor. When this supply failed, the høstingsbruk system fell into a prolonged crisis. The margin of profit was meager and the income small in comparison with the work involved. A series of factors brought the crisis on, but the shortage of cheap labor seems eventually to have become the most serious. People streamed out of the community when opportunities for better income opened elsewhere - not least in America. Undoubtedly many chafed under the low living standard in which the høstingsbruk system seemed to chain them.

In 1865 there were about 6,750 acres of natural meadows and pastures in Tinn, located mostly in outlying highland and mountain regions. The long distances made the harvesting of fodder a labor- and time-consuming activity and the results were meager compared with the drudgery. The farmers exploited practically every possibility in order to keep alive as many animals as possible through the long winters. Often they kept them on what might be called starvation diets. But under the høstingsbruk system summer was the productive season and therefore it was essential to save a large number of cattle so as to utilize the lush pastures. A large herd also meant a well-filled storehouse and a surplus for sale. Furthermore, it worked to the advantage of the one-crop agricultural system which needed much manure in order to keep the fields fertile. The herds were usually reduced by about 10-15 percent in the fall.

The traditional system of animal husbandry was harshly criticized both at the time and later. The criticism at times shows lack of understanding. It was not possible to discontinue long-established operational methods in a moment. There was a linkage between various aspects of’ agricultural life which was adapted to local conditions. Innovations had to come gradually, in harmony with the over-all development away from the barter system.

The agricultural historian Sigvald Hasund said very aptly that the old dairy system retained “basically the nomad’s view of economics.” The pastures were held to be the real source of income. The summer dairying in the uplands (seterdriften) was therefore a very important link in the whole system. It was the summer season of about twelve weeks in the highlands and the mountains which yielded most of the income. During this period the herd was moved several times; it was therefore a half nomadic activity. About 800 mountain pastures (setre) had at one time been in use in Tinn. By 1907 only 323 of these were still being used. {15}

As mentioned earlier, the traditional system of animal husbandry reached its peak around 1870. From 1875 until 1907 agriculture underwent a marked decline. The total number of animals was reduced during the same period by 1,360 head or 35 percent. The number of milk cows declined 33 percent. Eventually this decline was more than offset, however, by improvements in the dairy herd such as scientific stock breeding, and more and better fodder, which led to a doubling of milk production per cow between 1870 and 1905. But it is important to emphasize that these improvements occurred around the turn of the century. From about 1870 until 1890 the høstingsbruk system experienced a serious crisis, causing stagnation and decline without being counterbalanced by anything essentially new.

Thus some characteristic features of the old dairy industry in Tinn have been sketched: an extensive høstingsbruk combined with a half nomadic pasturing system which demanded a large labor force and produced little income. The crisis in this branch of the economy coincides with the period of greatest emigration.
In a normal year, at the time when grain production was at its peak, Tinn imported about 25 percent of the grain consumed in the community. During the 1860s the imports amounted to at least 24,000 bushels at a cost of some 6,000 speciedaler. {
16} The net income from the cattle industry during the same period is given as 1,500 speciedaler per year. This figure is undoubtedly too low, but it is evident that most of the money needed to buy consumer goods and pay taxes had to come from other sources. Among these forestry was the most important. Other activities included hunting, fishing, and making of scythes - a home industry which was highly developed in Tinn. Variety was characteristic of operations on a typical farm. Agriculture furnished most of the products for consumption and a bit for sale while forestry and minor pursuits furnished most of the cash income.

In earlier years forestry in Tinn was closely tied to privileges which the state granted to towns and sawmills. This system put the farmers into a state of dependency and indebtedness to the burghers who well knew how to profit by their advantages. For example, the master of Gimsøy cloister near Skien had a monopoly on the purchase of timber in the whole drainage area of Tinn until it was canceled in 1798. {17}

But a number of the owners of timber land in Tinn did not long profit from the dawning liberalization of the timber trade. Already in 1801 a series of extensive sales began which ended by placing the best forest areas in the hands of lumber speculators. The temptation to get rid of old debts and have an unaccustomed amount of cash in hand caused many a farmer to sell. These sales brought in their wake damaging consequences for a long time to come. Toward the end of the eighteenth century practically all of the forest and agricultural lands were owned by farmers. But the many sales to the merchants Cappelen and Blehr in Skien altered these conditions. The so-called Tinn estates were gradually consolidated under the control of the Cappelen firm. When Cappelen was forced to sell his possessions in 1894 the Tinn estates consisted of ninety farms covering 25,000 acres of forest lands and 750 mountainous acres. In that year most of this property was taken over by the state. But even so, the fact that about 50 percent of the forests were not owned by local people had a deleterious effect on the district. A substantial part of the income derived from lumbering passed out of the community. Furthermore, the municipality lost the taxes levied on the property when the state assumed control.

The timber industry was very sensitive to economic fluctuations and consequently production varied sharply in response to market conditions. During most of the period 1814-1850 the Norwegian lumber market was in a depressed state. {18} As a result of better communications and rising demand the export of timber from the community increased considerably during the last half of the century. {19} This was partly connected with the rise of the mechanized wood-pulp industry in the rivers of the Skien area. After 1870 the price of timber increased and toward the end of the century the forests rose in value. But the advances were unsteady: flourishing years were followed by years with sluggish sales and falling prices.

Because of difficult operating conditions, timber prices in Tinn and neighboring districts were 25 percent lower than in the central areas of Bratsberg amt (Telemark fylke). Much of the timber was ruined or damaged in transportation. The owners of the forests often had to enter into unprofitable contracts and easily fell into a debtor relationship with the merchants. The widely used credit system made economic conditions very touchy for many a landowner in Tinn.

Despite the uncertainty of the timber trade the farmers continued their deliveries even when the prices were poor. A report for Upper Telmark in the newspaper Varden of March 23, 1899, puts it well: “The timber prices this fall were low, but where else can we secure money for taxes, installment payments, rents, and everything that the age demands.” For many families the forest was the only source of ready cash. It was a common complaint that agriculture was neglected for the furtherance of logging.
The foregoing description and analysis of farming and forestry in Tinn during the nineteenth century should cast some light on the weaknesses in the economic condition of the district. These weaknesses - together with the population increase - form the broad background for the unusually heavy emigration from the community: an agricultural system balked by unfavorable natural conditions and totally unable to supply the needs of the people; an extensive, labor-craving dairy industry which yielded but meager returns; and a timber industry hampered by difficult working conditions and market fluctuations dependent on European demands, where absentee ownership siphoned off a substantial part of the income. Furthermore, developments during the last half of the century caused a veritable crisis in the old order of things. This was especially true of the høstingsbruk system. A new age with new demands pressed to the fore. A series of outside forces worked toward the breakdown of the old social structure, but inner forces were also at work: people wanted to break out of the old shell. Economic, social, and cultural factors were involved in the collapse of the traditional agrarian society. The emigration movement played an important role in this drama of transformation.
In the last half of the nineteenth century Norwegian farming passed through a period of serious readjustment. A market-oriented system appeared, based on larger capital investments. Manual labor was increasingly replaced by machines. Grain production decreased while major emphasis was placed on animal husbandry. Agriculture became less labor-intensive and more capital-intensive.

This agrarian crisis did not appear simultaneously in all parts of the country and its course varied somewhat from area to area. Three common factors, however, can be mentioned: competition with imported grain, {20} transition from a barter economy to a money economy in both private and public life, and a gradually decreasing labor supply.

In Tinn large imports of foreign grain did not have a harmful effect because the district did not raise grain for sale. On the contrary, the community must have benefited from the lower prices caused by foreign imports. The already marginal grain production was greatly reduced after 1875 and the gristmills fell into decay. It was more profitable to buy grain for home consumption and turn the former grain fields into meadows for the production of animal fodder. Three other factors were more important to the agrarian crisis in Tinn: labor shortage, money shortage, and growing indebtedness.

The høstingsbruk system, as described earlier, was a main pillar under the old order of things in Tinn. It was adapted to a society based on barter with a large supply of cheap labor. But as early as 1860 the elements of crisis began to announce themselves; and after 1875 competition on the labor market in combination with the developing money economy made it impossible to maintain the traditional methods of operation. The farmers responded by restricting their field of activity. The extensive gathering of fodder in highlands and mountain areas was reduced and the seter economy went into decline.

The population increase was the cause behind the spread of the høstingsbruk in the early 1800s. But despite this extension the labor market was full to overflowing. Furthermore, the demand for labor was seasonal. During certain parts of the year unemployment and under-employment were common phenomena. The supply of labor surpassed the demand. The community was over-populated.

For most people - servants, day laborers, cotters, small holders who could not exploit the cheap labor - the høstingsbruk meant severe toil, poor pay, and a low living standard. When the possibility of better income and better prospects for the future became apparent in other places it was quite natural for people to leave. The economic realities spoke louder than any counter-arguments that might be voiced. Emigration became the order of the day in Tinn. The first phase of the movement began in 1837 and culminated in 1843; after a brief pause a new phase set in toward the end of the 1840s.

Despite the heavy emigration the population increased until 1865, and decreased only slightly during the following decade. The høstingsbruk could easily satisfy its demand for cheap labor, even though the situation became somewhat more critical toward the end of the period because of rising wages. The size of the herds grew steadily until about 1875; but after that year both the population and the number of domesticated animals declined quite considerably until 1907. This is an important point: in this typical mountain community it was primarily a labor crisis which forced the farmers to curtail their old system of animal husbandry.

The old agrarian system did not face serious competition in the labor market during the early 1800s. But the emigration movement opened undreamed-of possibilities for those who found conditions at home too restricted and yearned for a better way of life. The American settlements became the Mecca for ever-increasing numbers of people from Tinn. The exodus relieved the community of an oppressive population surplus and did not create any problems for the farmers as long as the number of people kept increasing or stayed somewhat constant. But when the tempo of migration accelerated a generation after the Rue group left in 1837, the competition with America began to be felt. The population began to decline. One by one the cotters’ places were abandoned, thus depriving the farmers of a stock of cheap labor. Wages were rising, and to an ever-increasing degree they were being paid in cash. The høstingsbruk was unable to survive this development. The margin of profit had been small and the cash income minimal. Faced with the new age when money economy became ever more widespread, the old system was doomed to decay.

Farming in the home district had little to offer compared with the tempting possibilities promised by America: high wages and land at low prices, described in detail in the many America letters. It was not only the hired farm help which was rapidly reduced during the last decades of the century, but the family help on the farms also became scarcer. The large family units were dissolving. The old social order was characterized by a comparatively large number of children remaining at home. But it was not to be expected that grown-up children would now stay on the farm year after year to help their parents when good opportunities presented themselves elsewhere, and statistical studies reveal that growing numbers of farm youth did join the emigrant stream.

Did changes within the agrarian economy uproot groups of people and make them superfluous or were they drawn away from the farms by the attractive force of America and by new industries springing up in Norway? This is a difficult question to answer definitely because there is always a complicated interplay of forces, some of’ which pushed people out while others pulled them away. How then, are developments in Tinn to he interpreted?

It seems as if the farming community in Tinn had a surplus of laborers up to about 1870. In the last quarter of the century, however, developments took another direction than in the richer and more centrally located districts of eastern Norway. There modernization of agricultural production released and made superfluous a substantial percentage of the former labor force. In brief, it can be said that the crisis came to Tinn but not the change in farming methods. A main feature of this crisis was that people were pulled away from the farms and that wages rose as a consequence. The most important point in this connection was that the people of Tinn fled away from the unprofitable høstingsbruk, not that the system dismissed a labor supply made superfluous through modernization of working methods. Thus, during a twenty-year period, conditions within agriculture came to be characterized by a forced retrenchment, not by a planned modernization. The change in farming methods came late, caused by the flight away from the farms and not vice versa: modernization did not force people to leave. Machines were first brought in because of the labor shortage. This was, on the whole, true of all Upper Telemark. Conditions may have been somewhat similar in other mountain areas in eastern Norway.

Complaints about the shortage of manpower and the high wages became general toward the end of the 1870s. As the district physician wrote in 1876, wages did not decline in less prosperous times: “Since the laborers receive about the same wages as before, the hard times affect primarily the farmers who are forced to cut back both their standard of living and their hired help.” In 1910 a report from Tinn stated that “no one wants to be a dairy maid any more.”

But it was not merely competition with America which drained people away from the farms. Growth in the forest industries after 1870 also attracted laborers because of the better wages. Furthermore, the increasing tourist traffic in Tinn through the last half of the nineteenth century aggravated the farmers’ problems. During the 1880s and 1890s the community was visited by some 2,000 tourists every summer. The greatest attractions were the Rjukan falls and Mount Gausta. The farmers were paid for transportation, guiding, sale of food, and other services. Some of the people in the community disliked this tourist traffic, since it increased the difficulty of securing help during the busiest season. Certain tourists also took a negative attitude. For instance, the Norwegian-American author Peer Strømme recorded these impressions of Tinn in Varden, June 6, 1895: “Farther west the Vestfjord valley expands but the farms are still small and a person gets the impression that there is poverty everywhere. I made the trip through the valley westward to Rjukan and back on foot and thus had a good opportunity to look about. Everyone in the valley was busy trying to earn something from the many strangers who visit Gausta and Rjukan. I got the impression that the tourist traffic has demoralized people in this area.”

The competition for manpower had a destructive effect on the old agricultural system in Tinn. The once abundant labor supply disappeared and the new demand drove wages up. People’s expectations from life sharpened. Traditional agrarian activity fell hopelessly behind as a result of this development. But the rising wage level was only one phase of a fundamental reconstruction which took place in the socioeconomic structure of the community: the transition from the traditional barter system to a money economy. It was the sum total of all the difficulties connected with this transformation which made the over-all picture of the economic situation seem so dark.

Self-sufficiency had been a fundamental principle of the old social order. Very little money was in circulation beyond what was absolutely necessary for purchasing certain goods not produced at home and for paying taxes. But during the 1860s and especially after 1870 the transition to a money economy gained momentum. Certain important and concrete examples can be cited.

Annual salaries for hired men rose by about 35 percent between 1865 and 1900 (from about 150 to 200 kroner), and for hired girls by about 90 percent (from about 70 to 130 kroner). These were the annual cash wages; in addition came board, room, and possibly clothing. The cash wages for a hired man during the 1830s had often been as low as 20 to 40 kroner. Wages for day laborers just about doubled during the period 1860-1900. The wage increases went by spurts as, for instance, during the boom period in the early 1870s. When prices for agricultural products fell toward the end of the decade, however, wages did not follow suit but still had a tendency to rise: the law of supply and demand kept wages up.

Better communications, such as steamship routes on the big inland lakes of Telemark - Nordsjø, Heddalsvann, Tinnsjø - which opened in the 1850s and 1860s, eased the transportation of goods and people to and from the towns in the county. As trade restrictions were gradually abolished by laws during the years 1842-1866, local stores were opened for the sale of consumer goods. {21} Conservative forces fought this liberalization, but the movement could not be stopped. By 1895 there were seven country stores in various parts of Tinn. The supply of goods increased, and this in turn created new demands which strengthened the trend towards a money-oriented economy. Coffee, sugar, and tobacco became common consumer goods during these years and home-woven fabrics were replaced by store-bought clothing.

The demand for cash was not least in the public sector. There was a large increase in the official budgets as state, county, and township gradually assumed more responsibilities. Municipal taxes doubled during the period 1863-1883 and tripled by 1907 - from 5,956 to 17,802 kroner. Outlay for schools and poor relief rose especially fast after 1860; these were extra burdens placed on the municipalities by national laws, as for instance the school law of 1860 and the poor law of 1863. {22} Nine new schools were established in Tinn during the years 1860-1883 and expenditure for poor relief throughout the period represented 50 percent of the municipal budget. About 10 percent of the population received support.

Complaints about the increasing public outlays became routine. The tax burden was especially depressing because agriculture was experiencing a general crisis which, of course, was aggravated by the heavy tax load. The burden was especially noticeable in the most isolated communities, where the economy was already heavily strained and where the opportunity of changing to a modern, market-oriented system was minimal. To he sure, local budgets from the past century seem small when compared with the present; but one must hear in mind that the economic base was quite different then. During the transition period from barter economy to money economy the farmers had one foot in the past and one in the present. Farming was still largely patterned after the old order of things and the income was small. Consequently, heavier taxes - plus higher wages, rents, and installment payments on debts - could mean a serious hardship. The lists of unpaid taxes became long after 1870; during the 1880s the prices of farm produce were also generally in a decline. Under these circumstances the net outcome of all the toil and worry could well be negative: farmers were unable to pay taxes, installment payments, and rents. Against this background it is easy to understand the retrenchment policies of the agrarian representatives in the Storting, even though the opposition branded them as sterile and based on narrow class interests. {23} Despite all attempts to keep expenses down, the community of Tinn went deeper into debt, which rose from as little as 608 kroner in 1866 to 17,800 in 1900. A district savings bank was organized in 1858. The loans floated by the bank rose from 194,129 kroner in 1876 to 511,747 in 1907. These figures tell us very little about the total private indebtedness, but they are indicative of the trend. {24}

The old agrarian social order was being transformed. People left the unprofitable farm industry in droves. The høstingsbruk system was in a state of decay, manpower was lacking or was too expensive. At the same time the money economy was taking control of both private and public affairs, thus undermining an economic structure which was out of harmony with the new age. Crises and problems of adjustment characterized developments during the last quarter of the nineteenth century. These factors form part of the general background for the heavy emigration at the time.

In conclusion the grievous effects which crop failure could inflict on the old agrarian society should be mentioned. When farm families depended largely on their own produce, when money was scarce and communications were poor - in such an age the fluctuations between good and bad years meant much more for the common man than economic conditions in the outside world. The effects of crop failure could be dreadful. The famine of 1809-1812 was deeply imprinted in people’s consciousness far into the century. Actual famines resulting from crop failures occurred sporadically during the late 1830s and the years 1859-1861. But deaths did not outnumber births during any of the bad years after 1809-1810.

Serious crop failures struck Tinn during the years 1837-1839, 1859-1860, and 1868. This meant that grain had to be imported at a time when prices were high and people’s purchasing power was low. Naturally, such misfortunes were especially hard on the lower classes, even though the potato crops often saved them from outright starvation.

Toward the end of the nineteenth century, better communications and a more advanced money economy drew the community into a wider system, where fluctuations in the general economic situation were more important than the unpredictable whims of nature.


By way of introduction the question was raised whether the community of Tinn was in the midst of a serious economic and demographic crisis immediately before the coming of industrialization. After having analyzed the developments during the pre-industrial period one can attempt to formulate a reply. It seems clear that over-population presented a real problem until about 1870. After 1875 the situation took another turn: an outright shortage of farm laborers developed. Especially from about 1890 the population decreased relatively rapidly. It is not correct, therefore, to speak of a population crisis - if that term means over-population - during the last decade before the coming of industrialization. The crisis symptoms at that time were rather connected with a decline in population: a sharp decrease in the number of marriages and births and a relative increase in the number of older citizens.

The crisis in the høstingsbruk fell primarily during the period 1875-1890. Later, dairy production increased considerably because of improved methods of operation. The forestry industry became more profitable. Those groups which had been hardest pressed under the old order of things composed a much smaller part of the population by the turn of the century. The cotter class was disappearing and the number of agricultural laborers had shrunk greatly. More was being done for the poor and the sick than in previous ages. To be sure, the growth in public expenditures represented a problem for a part of the population, but when people had adjusted to the money economy, things went more smoothly. Cash income also increased gradually, especially after the 1890s. And the municipality was richer in 1907 than before, despite the burdens of debt.

Generally speaking, the people of the community had a higher standard of living by 1900 than during the 1860s and 1880s. The economic and population crises, properly speaking, struck the old agrarian society, primarily during the generation preceding 1890. But this did not mean that migration from the community declined drastically after 1890. Living conditions in Tinn continued to be less favorable than in many other places. The young people, particularly, were pessimistic about future prospects in the home surroundings. They were gripped by a spirit of restlessness - a demand mentality. They bore within them dreams of a better future in America.

Settlements of emigrants from Tinn had existed beyond the Atlantic ever since the late 1830s. When good years in the United States coincided with bad years in Norway immediately after 1900, many young people resolved to leave; and the last big wave of emigration departed from Tinn as from Norway in general.
Variations in the social structure of the population during the period 1835-1900 can be established by reference to some figures from the census returns. Even though these figures are not entirely comparable from census to census they do clearly indicate the main lines of development.

The number of landowners in Tinn rose by about 25 percent from 1835 to 1865 (217-270) but remained rather stable during the rest of the period (275 in 1900). Dividing of farms occurred frequently as long as the population increased, but by 1865 partitioning of land had gone so far that further subdividing was not advisable. The population pressure began to ease and inheritance laws also tended to restrict the practice. The number of’ separately taxed farms is listed as 299 in 1836, 359 in 1870, and 345 in 1900.

The number of tenant farmers decreased rapidly between 1835 and 1865 - from 104 to 45. By 1900 there were only 36 left in Tinn. The reduction within this group was due to the fact that the old loddbruksystem {25} was being discontinued. Toward the end of’ the century it is primarily tenants on state-owned land who are represented in the census figures.

Developments within the cotter class had some distinctive features. Their number rose until about the middle of the century, but already by 1865 the numerical decrease had become noticeable. After that the cotter institution fell into rapid decay. This is probably the most important social phenomenon within the agrarian society during the last half of the 1800s. The decline seems to have been especially marked between 1875 and 1891 when this class was reduced by 75 percent. According to the census lists of 1900 there were only 25 cotters with land left in Tinn as compared with 157 in 1835, 140 in 1855, and 134 in 1865.

Between 1848 and 1865 the cotter class made up proportionately the largest segment of the emigrant group from Tinn (48 percent - 187 persons). Thirty-five cotter families left for America during this period - 18 during the three years, 1859-1861. The rapid decrease in the number of cotters during the rest of the century must, to a great degree, be ascribed to emigration. A total of about 560 persons belonging to this class left between 1837 and 1907. The recruiting of cotters failed: people would no longer bind themselves to this type of life. They could either emigrate or support themselves as free laborers at home.

Smaller groups within the population showed an increase in numbers. This was true, for instance, of persons connected with the crafts and light industries or with trade and transportation, which numbered 94 and 25 respectively in 1900. A group of full-time forestry workers also appeared gradually in the community. Because of the great numerical decrease in the agricultural proletariat, however, the net result was that the population shrank after 1875; and in composition it was less agrarian by 1900 than in earlier generations.

The humblest of the occupational groups, day laborers and servants - who were usually connected with agriculture - numbered 330 persons in 1865, while by 1900 only 140 were so designated. In earlier years the farmers, tenants, and cotters could count on considerable help from adult sons and daughters who remained at home, in 1865 well over 400 of them. But this group also decreased considerably during the last decades of the century. If cotters, day laborers, servants, and adult sons and daughters are taken together, their total number declined from about 850 in 1865 to about 250 in 1900. This was a drastic reduction in the available labor force, and it was largely caused by emigration.

If the social distinctions in Tinn during the 1800s are to be understood, it is best to start with the coffers. They were a social and economic lower class in the old agrarian society, but below them were ranked servants and farm laborers. The distinctions between the various layers of this rural proletariat were never great, however: the lines were fluid and easily crossed. The cotter’s son frequently started life as a servant but secured a cotter’s plot when he got married. If no such plot was available he would have to work as an innerst (a worker who lodged with the farm family) for some landowner or set up as a landless cotter and, if he had the skill, seek work of sorts as a laborer or craftsman. Or he might, like so many others, leave the community.

The main social dividing line ran between those who owned land and those who did not: roughly between the farmers and the cotters. The tenant farmers occupied an intermediate position, but on the social ladder they were closer to the farmers than to the cotters. Within the actual group of independent landowners there were no marked social distinctions, as the values of the different properties were rather uniform. The small farmers were economically, socially, and politically dominant in the community; as a group they also formed the largest part of the population. To be sure, minute gradations based on family reputation or economic situation might make themselves felt; but, on the whole, the farmer class had a markedly homogeneous structure in Tinn.

On the other hand, there was a real and rather broad social chasm between the landowners and the cotters which was caused by the differing economic conditions of the two classes. The cotters usually led a miserable existence. Their plots were small; in 1865, for example, the best of them could support three or four head of cattle and several sheep or goats, while less than eight to twelve bushels of potatoes and half as much barley would be seeded. But very few cotters’ places could equal these figures.

The relationship between landowners and cotters can be deduced from a study of 46 contracts entered into during the period 1843-1874. Two fundamental principles characterized their relationship: the cotter was guaranteed lifetime tenure of his plot and the amount of labor, if any, that he had to perform for the farmer was specified. The annual cash rent averaged from 5 to 10 speciedaler. These conditions were customary when landowners living in the community leased plots to cotters and they held for practically all the 31 contracts entered into between 1843 and 1864. But in 12 of the 15 contracts drawn up between 1866 and 1874 leases for a period of years replaced life tenure and unspecified replaced specified labor duties. These particular contracts were drawn up by the firm of H. Cappelen, owner of the Tinn estates. They broke definitely with earlier practice. Cappelen’s cotters had to accept stiffer terms than was traditional in the community, a clear indication that the profit motive was asserting itself. The company’s object was to secure a fixed labor force to carry on its forestry work. The laborers, for their part, were assured of steady jobs while the other cotters were frequently faced with unemployment.

The desire of cotters and cotters’ children to escape from their restricted life was not inspired purely by dissatisfaction with economic conditions. They were also motivated by a spirit of protest against the humiliating and oppressive social conventions of the traditional agrarian society. The cotters were looked down upon and treated as an inferior class and were often made to feel the sting of mockery and disrespect. There was something essentially degrading about a cotter’s contract, which in many respects made him dependent on another person and exposed him to the possibility of arbitrary or unjust treatment.

The old order prior to 1850 was in most respects fettered by a static view of life. The age-old conception that everyone did best by remaining in his class was widely accepted. Many pastors may have opposed emigration first and foremost because they felt that the movement did violence to the venerable idea that the shoemaker should stick to his last. Advancement within the peasant society was infrequent. Change, when it did occur, rather went in the opposite direction: from the landowner class to the agrarian proletariat. The humiliation of such abasement was a fruitful source of bitterness and strengthened the urge to get away.

During the last half of the nineteenth century there was a new stir in the social order. The development of industry, trade, and transportation created new possibilities at home while across the Atlantic America beckoned with its broad acres. People realized that it was possible to leave the old surroundings and thereby improve their condition. The people of Tinn were especially affected by the emigration movement. A mighty upward surge was made manifest when hosts of the agrarian proletariat simply broke loose, turned their backs on the old order, and set off for America. It was a protest against and a rejection of the prevailing economic and social system in the community.

By and large the cotters in Tinn and the other mountainous regions of Upper Telemark were somewhat freer than cotters in the more prosperous areas of’ eastern Norway and Trøndelag, but less so than the cotters in the western coastal regions. Be that as it may, social distinctions did exist in Tinn. According to one study, every fifth wedding entered into during 1857-1866 was between a member of the propertied class and a cotter’s son or daughter. The class barriers were, thus, breached quite frequently by marriage. Such connections were usually fl-owned upon, however; and there were instances where family disagreements over such matters tipped the scales in favor of emigration.

But it was not only among the agrarian proletariat that social motives - together with the economic - were effective causes of emigration. In general accounts much emphasis is naturally placed on the insecure living conditions which cotters and laborers endured. From Tinn, nevertheless, it was the landowning class which furnished the largest contingent of emigrants between 1837 and 1907 - somewhat more than 40 percent. Many heads of families sold their farms and left with their whole household. Far more numerous, however, were younger sons and daughters who saw few possibilities in the home community, since the oldest son - or if there were no son, the oldest daughter - would assume control of the family farm. Very few of them saw a chance of securing land of their own. The fear of sinking into a lower social status undoubtedly lent weight to the thought of emigrating. In this connection the experiences of John Eivindsen Møli can be cited, who left Tinn via Rennsøy in 1839. He had his son, the linguist Elias J. Molee, write a letter to Professor Rasmus B. Anderson in 1895. It deals, in part, with the reasons for his departure from the home community:

“I remained at home to help father work his land until I was nineteen years old, when I began to wonder what I should do in the future. I loved the pleasant old homestead, the goose that had laid so many golden eggs for us through many generations, but alas! I was obliged to leave the old nest with no hope of getting a nest of my own near home.

“My oldest brother, according to the law of primogeniture (odelsrett), would take the farm unencumbered, and there was not enough cash or personal property on hand for me and my sisters with which to buy another farm, for we were seven children. I thought often, ‘Oh, where shall we younger children go? What will become of us?’ We had no thought of North America then. The labor market was so overstocked that strong young men could hardly obtain work for more than five dollars and clothing a year. I had not been used to be a servant, nor had my dear sisters. When my oldest brother Halvor marries, and gets a family of seven or eight children, there will be no room for us. I can hardly tell how bad I felt for my sisters and myself in the year 1835. . . . I dreaded a servant’s life. The professions and trades were also overstocked. A laborer was not allowed to eat at the same table with a landowner. Labor commenced before sunrise and lasted till after dark. . . . Yet it was worse before the French Revolution when my father was a boy.

“At the age of nineteen, I gained my parents’ consent to go to the western coast of Norway with a view of becoming a sailor, and roaming upon the free sea. . . . {26}

Those who were fortunate enough to secure possession of a farm seldom thought of emigrating. But if the property happened to be heavily laden with debt, the result might be that even the oldest son and heir (odelsgutten) would sell out and leave for America. As a spokesman for this category of emigrants John Nelson Luraas, who left Norway in 1839, will have the final word:

“I was my father’s oldest son and as such was entitled to inherit the Luraas farm, which was held to be one of the best in the community; but it was encumbered with a debt of 1,400 speciedaler. I worked at home until I was twenty-five years old and consequently was unable to save any money. It was obvious that I would assure myself a hopeless future by taking charge of the farm with its heavy indebtedness, buying out my brothers and sisters in such a fashion that they suffered no injustice, and, finally, providing a pension (føderaad) for my father. I noticed with apprehension how one farm after another fell into the hands of the sheriff or other moneylenders. This increased my fear of getting involved with any kind of farming. But I got married and had to make some provision for the future. Then it occurred to me that it would be best to leave for America.” {27}

It is difficult to distinguish between the economic and the social reasons which induced people to emigrate. They were, in a sense, two sides of the same coin. Social possession of property, especially land; it provided the foundation for wealth and prestige. Consequently, social ambitions were closely connected with the desire to become an independent landowner. In America all could satisfy their land-hunger, while at home only a limited number could reach this goal. Some of the farmers who emigrated undoubtedly did so out of concern for the future of their children. Jacob Olsen Einung and Anne Johnsdaughter left for America with their eight children in 1842. Before her departure the wife said with deep emotion: “I do not go for my own sake but because of the children. I will never get to America.” This couple owned a rather good farm but they still felt that they ought to leave their native land. The mother’s premonition proved to be correct: she and two of the children were buried at sea; but the father survived to provide the remaining children a start in the new country by giving each one of them forty acres of land.

 

 

NOTES

<1> Hjalmar Rued Holand says that “Tinn parish in Upper Telemark has sent more emigrants to America than any other community (bygd) with the possible exception of Luster in Sogn.” De norske settlementers historie (Ephraim, Wisconsin, 1909), 111.

<2> Norsk Hydro, Norway’s greatest industrial establishment and the largest electrochemical concern in the Scandinavian countries, was founded in 1905 to extract nitrogen from the atmosphere for the production of nitrates, which are primarily used as fertilizers. One of its largest power stations is located at Bjukan, one of Norway’s highest and most picturesque waterfalls. Construction was begun in 1907 and as a result a town, also called Rjukan, grew up near the falls.

<3> In 1807 Denmark-Norway became involved in war with England and in 1808 with Sweden. Great hardship resulted because Norway had to import much of its food supply and England blockaded the Norwegian coast. In addition, there were several years of partial crop failure. Near-starvation ensued. “The result of the famine was increased sickness and mortality. The number of births sank and the number of deaths rose; in 1807, 20,000 people died in the country; the next year 24,000 . . . by 1809 hunger had reduced the people’s resistance and the famine continued; 32,000 died that year, more than thirty-five per 1,000.” Sverre Steen, Det norske folks liv og historie, 10 vols. (Oslo, 1933), 7:288-289. The standard work covering this period is Jacob Worm-Müller, Norge gjennem nødsårene (Kristiania, 1918). For a brief account see Knut Gjerset, History of the Norwegian People, 2 (New York, 1915), 384-398.

<4> There were several classes of husmenn (cotters): “husmenn med jord,” cotters with a piece of land to till; “husmenn uten jord,” cotters without land: and “innerster” (lodgers) who did not even have a hut to live in but lodged with and worked fur others. In 1855, when the cotter system was about at its height, there were in Norway 65,060 cotters with land, 21,982 cotters without land, and 13,350 innerster. Besides these cotters, properly speaking, there were day laborers and servants, who usually were sons and daughters of cotters. In 1855 there were 28,984 day laborers and 54,631 servants in Norway. “All these together composed the cotter class. When we combine them they were absolutely the most numerous social class in Norway.” See Einar Hovdhaugen, Husmannstida (Oslo, 1976), 91-92.

<5> Henrik Wergeland (1808-1845), the great nationalist poet, wrote in strung terms about emigration. As a political liberal he had some favorable views of America but as a Norwegian patriot he attacked the emigration ‘‘frenzy.” He wanted the people to remain at home and help build up the country. On his death bed he wrote an anti-emigration play, Fjeldstuen (The Mountain Hut). See Theodore C. Blegen, Norwegian Migration to America, 1825-1860 (Northfield, Minnesota, 1931), 155, 288, 318. For a fuller discussion see Jørund Mannsaker, Emigrasjon og diktning (Oslo, 1971), especially 276-281. The poem Wergeland referred to is an ardent but rather bombastic ‘‘Norsk nationalsang’’ written by the poet-pastor Simon Olaus, Wolff (1796-1859).

<6> Brief accounts about the Nattestad brothers can be found in any history of Norwegian immigration. See, for instance, Blegen, Norwegian Migration to America, 1825-1860, 85- 10; Ingrid Semmingsen, Veien mot vest (Oslo, 1942), 4.3-48, 59-62; Billed-Magazin, February 13, 1869; Holand, De norske settlementers historie, 50-54, 123-124. Ole K. Nattestad’s own account of his coming to America is given in Aarbok for Nummedalslaget, 1 (1915), 60-74. A translation by Rasmus B. Anderson is found in Wisconsin Magazine of History, 1 (December, 1917), 149-186.

<7> For Hovland’s importance as a letter writer see Semmingsen, Veien mot vest, 36-39; and Blegen, Norwegian Migration to America, 1825-1860, 63-70. The letter referred to in the text is found translated in Theodore C. Blegen. Land of their Choice (Minneapolis, 1955), 21-2.5, and another of Hovland’s letters follows on pages 25-27.

<8> The Haugeans were followers of the famous religious revivalist. Hans Nielsen Hauge (1771-1824). Many of his followers came to America, where the Hauge Synod was one of the largest and most active of the many Lutheran synods founded by Norwegian Americans.

<9> The Fox River settlement in La Salle counts, Illinois, was founded in 1834-1835, the first Norwegian settlement in the Mississippi Valley. See Blegen, Norwegian Migration to America, 1825-1860, 61-68; and Carlton C. Qualey, Norwegian Settlement in the United States (Northfield, Minnesota, 1938). 21-32.

<10> Among them can he mentioned Holand, De norske settlementers historie, 53-54; George T. Flom, History of Norwegian Immigration to the United States (Iowa City, 1909), 110-112: and Torkel Oftelie, Telesoga, 1 (1909), 3-5.

<11> A considerable literature has grown op about ‘‘Snowshoe’’ Thompson. See Kenneth O. Bjork, “‘Snowshoe’ Thompson: Fact and Legend,” in Norwegian American Studies and Records, 19 (Northfield, Minnesota, 1956), 62-88. This article is fully annotated with material published up to that date. See also Gudrun Hovde, “Ein telemarking i Amerika, Snowshoe Thompson,” in Arbok for Telemark 19.58, 54-56; and Holand, De norske settlementers historie, 313-319.

<12> In tracking down the members of the Rue party generous aid was received from Landsarkivet in Gothenhurg, Nils William Olssen, then with the American-Swedish Institute in Minneapolis, and Gerhard B. Naeseth of the Memorial Library at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

<13> A high percentage of the people who migrated into the community were women who came to he servants or brides. As a result of the small amount of migration into Tinn the proportion of consanguine marriages was high - almost 20 percent in 1891.

<14> The economist John R. Commons, in Races and Immigrants in America (New York, 1920), 164, states that a smaller percentage of Norwegian immigrants were found in cities of 25,000 or over than immigrants from any other country. Only one-fifth of the Norwegian-born people in the United States then lived in those cities.

<15> The seter (akin to the Swiss chalet) played an important role not only in Norwegian agrarian economy hut also in art, poetry, and folklore. A considerable literature has grown up about the institution. For a recent study see Lars Reinton, Til seters, norsk seterbruk og seterstell (Oslo, 1976).

<16> The speciedaler was the main unit of coinage in the Scandinavian countries from the early sixteenth century until 1873-1874, when the krone (crown) was introduced at the rate of four kroner per speciedaler. At that time the krone was equal to about $0.25.

<17> Gimsøy cloister was founded near Skien for Benedictine nuns about 1110. The cloister soon acquired extensive landed possessions and also engaged in trade. It was secularized in 1540 and its possessions taken over by the crown. In 1662 the estates passed into private hands. The Cappelen family of Skien secured control of the properties in 1823 and held them until forced to sell in 1898.

<18> The general European depression after the Napoleonic Wars was aggravated in Norway, especially because of the strict enforcement of the British Navigation Acts, which excluded the Norwegian merchant marine from the British carrying trade and favored Canadian forestry products over those of Norway. Norwegian shipowners and lumber merchants were hard hit. Conditions improved somewhat during the 1820s and 1830s, hut it was not until the repeal of the British Navigation Acts in 1849 that Norwegian commerce and carrying trade revived.

<19> According to some estimates 2,000-2,500 dozen pieces of timber were exported from Tinn annually during the 1860s. The figures had risen to 8,000-10,000 dozen by 1907.

<20> With improved means of transportation provided by railroads and steamships, grain could he imported so cheaply from the United States, Russia, Rumania, and other countries that Norwegian grain could not compete unless protected by high duties, and in 1842 a lowering of protective tariffs began.

<21> Restrictions were abolished during the middle decades of the nineteenth century: guilds were dissolved in 1839, an act of 1842 liberated trade in towns and country, sawmills and foundries lost their monopoly rights in 1860. See Steen, Det norske folks liv, 5:337-338; Olav Kaarstein, “Einevaldstida og dei norske skogane,” Arbok for Telemark 1961, 35-47; Gjerset, History of the Norwegian People, 272-278.

<22> The school law of 1860 provided that all herreder (townships) and parishes should be divided into school districts, and compulsory school attendance was required of all children between eight and fourteen years of age. Before 1860 omgangsskoler (itinerant teachers) were the role in the country districts.

<23> The two most prominent agrarian leaders in the Storting (Parliament) were Ole Gabriel Ueland (1799-1870) and Søren Jaabæk (1814-1894). They were champions of sparepolitikk (politics of economy) and more democracy in government. Both of them expressed admiration for the American system of government and Jaabæk, especially, had much to say about emigration in his widely read newspaper Folketidende (The People’s News).

<24> Deposits in the bank indicate that the formation of capital in the district was also growing. They increased from 244,553 kroner in 1876 to 822,795 in 1907.

<25> Loddbruksystem is an arrangement under which a tenant farmer pays his rent with a part of his crop, that is, as a sharecropper.

<26> Rasmus B. Anderson, First Chapter of Norwegian Immigration (Madison, Wisconsin, 1895), 303-305.

<27> Billed-Magazin, October 3, 1868.

 

 

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