A Husmann's Contract
Contributed by Neil Hofland and translated by Oddvar Natvik
A husmann was a tenant farmer or cotter, who was given a place to live and (sometimes) a small piece of land in return for terms that might include a cash payment and/or work for the farm owner. This contract, from Lærdal in inner Sogn, is relatively generous to the tenant.
In his history, in discussing circumstances in eastern Norway, Blegen states:
It is clear that heavy demands were made upon the cotters. In 1850 they were asking that their required services be restricted to five days a week and the working day to eleven hours. One writer states that practically the only free time the husmann had for their own plots of ground was on Sundays. The value of services beyond the stipulated arrangements might be placed as high as twelve pennies a day in summer, less than half that in winter. Professor Koht writes that the husmann were personally free - that is, they were not bound to the soil - but that in effect they were economic serfs. "It was only on rare occasions," he continues, "that any of them were able to win their way out of poverty."
Oddvar Natvik, who translated the contract below, comments:
Conditions were different in the east of Norway than in the west. The west of Norway has always been more democratic and equal in its social structures than the east of Norway. My father used to say that the husmann and the gardbrukar were in the same boat. Meaning literally that they sat together in the same row boat when fishing, and that conditions often were as tough for the gardbruker as for the husmann. Some of the husmen in Luster had a quantity of cows, sheep and goats comparable to the smallest gards. Some of them were very well off. In Sogn at least, the great majority of husmen were far from being serfs.
Contract between Ole Gullaksen Øvre Lysne (gårdmand) and Hermund Ericksen Hestethun (husmann)
Undersigned, Ole Gullaksen Øvre Lysne, acknowledges hereby to have rented to Hermund Ericksen Hestethun, from Årdal, the husmann's place Galdene, belonging to me, on his and his wife's lifetime, on these conditions:
1. The whole field belonging to the place, in addition a field at (gard) Øvre Lysne, called 'Skomageragerenm' (Shoemaker's field).
2. All the strip of hayfield that has been part of the place.
3. All the birch wood that earlier has been used by the users of this place, and all the sallow wood that likewise has been used by the place. In this wood the user may take his firewood, of whatever can be found like: Birch,..., ..., and pine, etc. After my directions he may take timber in my woods for fences and what is necessary for repairing houses and keep them in good order.
4. Freely use the home pastures of the place, and støl (mountain pastures) at Lysnedalen.
Yearly dues to be paid for the place to Ole Gullaksen Lysne or his succeeders:
1. Four Speciedaler every year on April 14. (This equates to a little over $4.)
2. To work 6 days every spring before spring work has started, and 6 days in the fall after the haymaking season. Every year to repair and keep in order part of the main road that passes by the place. Likewise the husmann must keep a decent living for Tøri Jandatter, that she has a right to obtain yearly from the place according to her 'kaarbrev" (pension contract).
The survivor (of the husmann) has the right to keep the place according to the conditions set forth above, as long as he/she does not remarry.
Should I (the husmann) after some time increase my wealth and decide to move from the place, without the consent of the owner, I agree to pay him, before moving, 40 Speciedaler.
As mentioned before, timber for keeping the houses on the place in order, should be taken after the owner's directions. The husmann is obliged to keep the houses in good order. (...)
Should the husmann or his wife die before taking over the place, this contract may be cancelled, if the survivor should want to do so.
The place shall be taken over on April 14, 1859.
I (husmann) approve of all the paragraphs set forth in this contract.Lædalsøren May 29, 1858
Ole Gullaksen Lysne Hermund Eriksen Hestethun
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