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Why did our ancestors leave Telemark for America?


Why did they leave Norway? The reasons are complex and we just begin to touch on them here.

John Evansen Møli of Tinn described his reasons for leaving Telemark for America to Professor Rasmus Anderson in 1895, long after his work as a pioneer had been completed.

"I remained at home to help my 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 the generations, but alas! I was obliged to leave the old nest with no hope of getting a nest of my Cotter's Cabinown near home. My oldest brother, according to the law of primogeniture (odelsret), would take the farm unincumbered, 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 not 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 being 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 you 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 roam upon the free sea".

From his recollections, we can see that the lack of available land and an over stocked labor market were two key reasons why Norwegians decided to come to America. 

The poverty and the lack of available land and opportunity for improving one's situation were key reasons for their immigration. One look at this picture of a cotter's cabin is worth 10,000 words in describing why our ancestors came to America.  A family of nine lived in this one-room cabin which is preserved at the Tinn Museum in Rjukan, Tinn, Telemark.

In the end, the reason for coming to America may by summarized by this paragraph from The Industry Standard, February 26, 2001 by Jonathan Webb:

The idea that everyone in America has an equal chance, that our fates are not determined by accidents of birth, is not only one of our core values but also the one that most powerfully distinguishes us from most other nations.



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