Pastor Ole Paulson Autobiography – Chapter Twelve – Augustana College and Seminary



Pastor Ole Paulson;

1907 Autobiography.

Chapter Twelve

Pastor Ole Paulson

A translation from the Norwegian language into the English language.

Copyright © 2022 by Gary C. Dahle, all rights reserved.

A Change in Fronts; Augustana College and Seminary

Toward the end of 1860, I became more convinced that, if I should be of more permanent use to the church, I would need to give up my current rootless life and prepare myself for work as a pastor in the congregation. In this I had no lack of encouragement from several quarters, especially from pastors on the Swedish side that I knew. But I had a family, which was not large, only a young wife, and worse, I was beginning to be old, 28. But there was this consolation that people gave me: “You can still study for many years and be a useful servant to the Lord in the congregation for a long time. When your conscience tells you to go, then it’s not wise to act against your conscience.” I wrote to Professor Lars Paul Esbjørn in Chicago and was counseled to make my reason captive to the duties of faith and come.

I resigned from the colporteur service in the autumn of 1860 and traveled around the start of the new year, 1861, to Chicago to study at Augustana College and Seminary.

It was no joke to come from Carver County, Minnesota, to Chicago in midwinter in those days. There was no railroad nearer than Prairie du Chien and LaCrosse, Wisconsin. There was also deep snow that winter. “But where there is a will, there is a way,” people say. I decided to travel to Prairie du Chien by horse-drawn wagon and the trip went thus:

Pastor Peter Carlson drove me to Pastor Peter Beckman in Spring Garden.[1] He sent a man to take me to Pastor Nels Olson in Houston County, Minnesota. Pastor Olson drove me to Pastor Peder Asbjørnson near Decorah, Iowa. When we arrived there, we heard that the railroad to Prairie du Chien was blocked. There was no going forward via that route. What to do now? Pastor Asbjørnson said: “You are going to Chicago! I’ll hitch up my fast trotter to the sleigh and drive you to LaCrosse. That route is open.” So it was said, and so it was done. We went via Rushford and came on a Sunday evening to the church, just as Pastor Andreas Aslaksen Scheie was at the pulpit and held a thundering sermon. Both of these pastors, Asbjørnson and Scheie, have passed away long ago. From Rushford, we drove to Bostwick Valley, Wisconsin,[2] and with Asbjørnson held many edifications there before I left for Chicago. Finally, after two weeks of difficulty and trouble, I arrived there. At the station house, two men came, who both wanted to be of service and drive my suitcase ahead to my destination. They were nearly at loggerheads.[3] I said: “Neither of you will get the work, when you are so shameless as to fight over it.” The suitcase could stay there until the next day. I was directed to Pastor Erland Carlson in Chicago. The next morning, I gave word of my arrival to Professor Esbjørn, who received me with the greatest friendliness.

I got instructions about what I would be studying and which books I should buy. I had five classes each day. It was foolish, naturally, to plunge into so much right away, but I had come to learn and learn I would, no matter what it cost.

Augustana College and Seminary was no grand institution at that time. In that first year, we were 15 or 16 students. The following year, we were 12 with one professor. There were some who had teaching hours in addition to the professor, as, for example student Erikson who taught Norwegian; Amond Johnson, English; and Pastor Carl Johan Peter Peterson, Greek and pastoral theology.

The next year, I studied in earnest the whole school year. This time, Mrs. Paulson was along and was housekeeper for the students and I was “boarding boss.” It went pretty well. The whole school was like one big family.

At Easter, I was sent out to preach in Norway and Freedom, in LaSalle County, Illinois. I told the people that I was boarding boss at the school and had to look after the students’ bellies. I would be very grateful for whatever food I could take back to the school with me. Did I receive any? I got a whole barrel of eggs, and meat and pork and butter and cheese in great quantities. I came home like the rich man who has all of life’s necessities. This was in the year 1862.

The war broke out, as we remember, the year prior. On the 12th of April, 1861, Fort Sumter was attacked by the Rebels and fell into their hands. Major Anderson abandoned the fort on the condition that he and his soldiers would be allowed to depart with their weapons, and that the United States flag would be saluted when it was taken down. This event opened the bloody drama that ensued for a full four years.

The nation awakened with horror at the fall of Fort Sumter into the Rebels’ hands. The event showed that the insurgents really meant to dissolve the union by force of weapons and perhaps rule over the nation’s capital, Washington. Their intention was to form an independent union, built with slavery as its cornerstone.

Obviously, the excitement was overwhelming. Chicago lay on the route for the regiments that were sent to the south. In the spring of 1861, we saw rather lively times in Chicago. Great mass meetings were held in the Republican Wigwam, which could hold 10,000 people. The building was constructed the prior autumn, for the occasion of Lincoln’s election. The house was packed each time there was a mass meeting. The best speakers in the country were employed to urge a lively participation in putting down the rebellion. Bishop Simpson,[4] a popular Methodist bishop, spoke to an overflow crowd one time. Another time, later in the spring, the famous Democratic politician Stephen A. Douglas, Lincoln’s political opponent, spoke one evening in the Wigwam. The crowd was enormous. I was in the middle of the crush of people. The enthusiasm for Douglas was tremendously high. All of Chicago was on its feet when Mr. Douglas came into the city in the afternoon. It’s likely that Chicago has never shown any man greater honor than it showed to Stephen A. Douglas that time. Douglas was a so-called War Democrat and an ardent Union man.

He had received an enthusiastic ovation as he stepped forward onto the stage. He spoke for about 10 minutes, when he became powerfully ill and died a couple of days later.

In the autumn of 1861 and winter and spring of 1862, we saw many regiments pass through Chicago to the theater of war. Chicago put up a company, Company A of the Norwegian Regiment, the 16th Wisconsin. When the regiment passed through Chicago, we stood out in the rain and slush almost a whole Sunday in order to see the brave Norwegian boys make their way through the town. They were supposed to have been in Chicago in the forenoon but didn’t arrive before well into the evening. The train got stuck in snow on the way and was therefore many hours delayed.

Joseph Esbjørn, a son of Professor Lars Paul Esbjørn, put on the blue and went to war. Otherwise, the school remained, for the time being, untouched by the cause. But one day, one of our fellow students was gone. We grew a bit anxious for him, because we didn’t know what could have happened to him. After some days, however, he came home with a soldier’s uniform on. He had allowed himself to be recruited into the artillery. I’ve heard nothing about him since he left. He most likely did not return alive. We thought it was pure insanity to see these dear ones go. It seemed to us that we, who were going to become pastors, were naturally the ones to remain at home. But these, our comrades, had gotten “war fever,” and nothing could keep them from taking up arms, when the country’s need called to them. We experienced it ourselves some months afterward, about which more later.

With the close of the school year in May 1862, we were just 12 students at the school. We were now spread like chaff before the wind, without an examination and without commencement. Some went to Minnesota, others to Wisconsin or Iowa; the majority were from Illinois.

I and my wife stayed for some days with Pastor Erland Carlson. We were both well-acquainted in his home, since Pastor Carlson had confirmed my wife some years earlier.

There is nothing to tell about the trip to Minnesota. We came home to our farm in Minnesota and found everything in the best of order at home.

The 1862 Synod Meeting

The Augustana Synod held its annual meeting that year in Wasa, in Goodhue County, Minnesota. Pastor Eric Norelius was the pastor of the congregation.

A week before the synod meeting, I received a call from a larger Swedish congregation in Marine,[5] to become their pastor. I was well known to the congregation, as I had visited every house and preached there a great deal during my work as a colporteur.

I went to the synod meeting halfway resolved to accept the call and allow myself to be ordained, assuming they found me capable.

In those days, people examined pastoral candidates at the annual meeting. I stood for examination for half a day. It went well, so far. The examination committee consisted of five pastors, including the professor, if he was present.

When I went to the examination in the afternoon, I wandered arm in arm with Pastor Erland Carlson, who was a member of the committee. I had been very troubled by the thought of becoming a Swedish pastor, I who was Norwegian. I was also overcome now with a strangely heavy mood, which was inexplicable for me. I felt it was an impossibility for me to abandon my people and become Swedish, when there was such a great need for pastors among our own people in this country. I told Pastor Carlson my feelings, and I believed the right thing was for me to withdraw. When he had heard my reasons, he agreed. I asked Carlson to inform the committee’s foreman that I, for reasons of the scruples of my conscience, had withdrawn, which he did. In this way, I was prevented from becoming a Swedish pastor. I have long seen God’s hand in this.

If I remember correctly, there were two other Norwegian candidates who were ordained as pastors at this meeting, namely Amond Johnson and Ole Estrem. The former is dead, and the latter belongs to the Norwegian Synod and is a pastor for congregations in Texas. It was my firm decision that at the beginning of the school year in September, I would go to Chicago and continue my studies, but “people make plans, and God rules.”[6]

[1] Spring Garden was a primarily Swedish settlement in Leon Township, Goodhue County, to the southeast of Cannon Falls. Spring Garden Lutheran Church, a congregation formed in 1858, is still there. A past version of the church’s website is still online, and gives a brief history that includes mention of Pastor Peter Beckman:

[2] The area around the town of Barre, in LaCrosse County, Wisconsin, was a settlement known as Bostwick Valley.

[3] The Norwegian text says, literally, “They were almost in each other’s hair,” which has an idiomatic meaning in Norwegian, but not in English. “At loggerheads” is an English-language idiom with the same meaning.

[4] This almost certainly refers to Matthew Simpson, a leader in the Methodist Church who had moved from Pennsylvania to Evanston, Illinois, in 1859. Simpson was a friend and informal adviser to President Abraham Lincoln and an outspoken advocate of the Union cause.

[5] “Marine” here is most likely the community in Washington County, Minnesota, that is better known today as Marine on St. Croix, which became its official name in 1950. Marine on St. Croix was founded as Judd’s Mills in 1838, and platted as Marine Mills in 1853. It is in Marine Township and it has long been referred to by the shortened name “Marine.” Another possibility is that Paulson is referring to the community of Marine in Illinois.

[6] The saying that Paulson quotes here is a rhyme in Norwegian, and it likely refers to Proverbs 16:9, which says, “The human mind plans the way, but the Lord directs the steps.”

Translation of chapter from the Norwegian language into the English language, and preparation of footnotes, by Denise Logeland.