Pastor Ole Paulson Autobiography – Chapter Two – Norwegian Settlements; 1850s



Pastor Ole Paulson;

1907 Autobiography.

Chapter Two

Pastor Ole Paulson

A translation from the Norwegian language into the English language.

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

Norwegian Settlements; 1850s

Muskego is one of the oldest Norwegian settlements in America. Most of the settlement lies in the town of Norway, Racine County, Wisconsin, about an equal distance from Milwaukee and Racine.

In 1850, the settlement was fairly large. It was at its largest then. I have often wondered why Norwegians went away and settled in a place where the land seemed as uninviting as in Muskego. It was, for the most part, rough oak forest and swampland. In the middle of the settlement was a great wet swamp many miles in circumference. This swamp generated malaria and was the cause of a great deal of sickness, malaria[1] and other fevers. At this time there was scarcely a house that didn’t have someone who was shook with malaria. Not many miles from the settlement, to the south and north, east and west, lay uninhabited land, the finest and best in the world. Some of the Norwegians had gotten a look at the beautiful Yorkville Prairie, where they had settled. The majority, however, had taken a place[2] in the forest. Wooded land has its advantages for those who arrive poor. In the woods, a poor man can build houses for people and livestock, and have access to fuel to burn without having to pay through the nose, as prairie dwellers must do. It was probably the woods that appealed to the Norwegians at Muskego.

Here they had settled themselves on their patches of ground and built small wooden houses for themselves. The farms were small, which was no wonder, for it cost hard labor to clear the rough oak woods from the land so one could begin to cultivate it. The soil was pretty good, but not as good as out on the prairie.

A few of the very first settlers had obtained land that was easier to clear. Those who came later were glad they could take up residence in the same settlement, even if the land they got wasn’t exactly the best.

When we came to Muskego, poverty was noticeable among the majority. This was absolutely nothing to wonder at. The acreages were small and the prices for farm products were so low that to work at farming in those days was almost to starve to death. Wheat was sold in Milwaukee for 25 to 30 cents a bushel;[3] butter, 5 cents a pound; bacon, 2 cents a pound; potatoes for almost nothing. They were hard times for the farmers. People had to match their appetites to their means.[4] Women had to be satisfied to show themselves in simple calico dresses, coarse shoes, and home-knitted hoods in the winter and homemade sunbonnets in the summer. There was no one who had any women’s hats.

Wages for girls were 50 cents a week. A common farmhand got eight to nine dollars a month for his work, plus meals. There were few ovens in Muskego. One made do with the old-fashioned open fireplaces and baked bread in kettles that were made for this purpose. Only the very fewest owned a horse; one got by with oxen. Wagons were few in number, and driving implements in the summer were carts with wheels made from log slabs and in the winter homemade long sleds.

There were a few farmers who had fairly nice-looking frame houses, and began to do well for themselves.

There were, however, very few who complained. Nearly all appeared to be well satisfied with America. One looked out over the fertile acres and waited for better times, which did come later on.

The cause of these miserable times was partly the free-market system. Europe could flood America with its wares without paying any tariff. America could not build factories and compete with the old, wealthy English manufacturers. Everything that one needed of manufactured goods came from England. All of our tools came from England; our knives and forks were English, sewing needles, pocket knives, shaving razors, and all of the instruments that doctors use for surgical purposes came from England. In a word, the English were lords and we were peasants. America didn’t have so much as a sewing needle factory. We had to buy everything from England and pay a pretty steep price for all of it. Whatever the farmer had to sell, he got little for, and whatever he needed to buy, he had to pay an arm and a leg for. So it was only natural that poverty was common in those days. So it is that foolish laws and bad politics can impoverish a country’s population. Only with the end of slavery and a new system of governance did a blessed change in circumstances arrive for the majority of people.

In the middle of the settlement was a high hill, which the Norwegians called “Indian Hill.”[5] At the top of this hill stood the famous first Norwegian Lutheran church in America, called the Muskego Church. It was not any fine house of worship. It was erected at the time when Pastor Claus Lauritz Clausen[6] was the pastor of the congregation.

This man was most likely the first Norwegian Lutheran pastor in America, and the church on Indian Hill was the first Norwegian Lutheran church. The building was constructed of timber, laid log upon log with cut notches, as on the houses in Norway. It consisted of two buildings, one larger and one smaller, attached to each other. The smaller portion was both narrower, less deep, and not as tall. It served as the choir. In this portion, the altar and pulpit were placed. On one side, a booth was built for the pastor to sit in. On the other side was a similar booth for Per Jacobson, who was the sexton. There was a “loft” where the youth could gather. The pews were very primitive. Everything was unpainted, both inside and outside. These two log boxes put together made up the famed first Norwegian Lutheran church in America. Now it can be seen at the United Church’s seminary in St. Anthony Park, St. Paul.[7]

About 10 to 12 years ago, I was in Muskego and saw the old House of God standing in Hans Jacobson’s farmyard, converted to a pig house. The congregation sold its old temple when it built a beautiful, modern brick church on Indian Hill.

Pastor Hans Andreas Stub was the pastor in Muskego when we came to America. The first Sunday we were in Muskego, we were at the service in this venerable mother church and heard the synod’s senior preach. The senior was at that time a fairly young pastor. I heard him pretty often, while I was in Muskego.

Mr. Elias Stangeland[8] was then in the flower of his manhood, and was a merchant, postmaster, and Sunday school teacher in the congregation. I was a student in this Sunday school for a short time during the summer of 1851.

Already at this time there were two congregations in Muskego. This was still before the synod[9] was organized. Stub’s congregation was large. The other congregation was small and was served by Pastor Ole Andrewson, who was then known by the name Ole Aasen. Stub would not recognize this congregation as Lutheran, and neither would he recognize Anderson[10] as a Lutheran pastor. He called him a Franckean[11] because he was supposed to have belonged to the Franckean Synod in the East. At this time, he belonged to the Northern Illinois Synod. Andrewson’s people were actually Haugeans and gathered for prayer meetings. Such gatherings were not to Pastor Stub’s liking, so he thundered against them with strong words. I feel that I can hear him and see him still, agitating from the pulpit against these people, who went among the houses and held long prayers. With a raised finger, he “claimed God as his witness” that they “were not Lutherans.”[12] From that day on, I was determined not ever to become a follower of “the Wisconsin Pastors.” And I have kept my promise. In this way, one can alienate people.[13]

How Is Muskego Now?

Now Muskego is as attractive and good a settlement as one could wish for. The woods are long since torn out with their roots. The uninviting, malaria-producing swamp is dried out and converted to useful acres and exceptional hayfields. The farms are nicely built up with modern houses. Everything within and without among the farmers gives witness to their well-being. In the ’50s, there were many who sold their farms at a cheap price to the Germans and went to Iowa, around Decorah, and to southern Minnesota. Some of the settlers stayed back on their farms and remained in Muskego. Now they are just as well off as those who left. Land in Muskego can probably not be bought for less than 100 dollars per acre today.

That’s the marvelous thing about America: the land has to be awfully poor if it cannot, with the right course of action, be made productive.

There are settlements with land that is as poor and ugly as anything one could imagine, but which, with diligence and the right cultivation, is transformed to the best kind of farms, and the farmers are well-to-do. If only one can manage to perservere and not hasten to make an untimely sale, the land will increase in price manyfold over time. I know of farms that, 25 years ago, were bought for the then-enormous price of 20 dollars per acre, but that today sell for 100 dollars per acre.

[1] Paulson names malaria twice, using two different words that mean the same thing. Here, he writes koldfeber, while earlier in the sentence he writes malaria.

[2] Paulson uses the verb å bygsle here, which means “to rent” in modern Norwegian. Given the context, he probably did not intend that meaning. Etymologically, the word bygsle is related to other words meaning “to build” (å bygge) and “to take up residence at a place” (å feste bo). I’ve applied those older meanings here. Source: Det Norske Akademis Ordbok (the Norwegian Academy Dictionary), published by the Norwegian Academy for Language and Literature at Relevant entries here:

[3] Here and in scattered spots throughout the book, Paulson blends English words into his Norwegian, typical of an immigrant who is no longer new to the United States. In this paragraph, he uses the English words “bushel” and “sunbonnet,” for example. A little further down in this chapter, he mentions that a few farmers had “framehuse,” joining the English word “frame” to the Norwegian word huse, an archaic form of the plural “houses.”

4] The idiom Paulson uses here is a colorful one: å rette munnen etter matsekken (in modern spelling) means literally “to adjust your mouth to fit your feed sack” or your bag of provisions. In other words, to live within your means.

[5] Paulson calls this place “Indihaugen,” a compound that combines the Norwegian word haugen (the hill) with the initial syllables “Indi,” which I’ve translated as “Indian.” Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota, is the current site of the old Muskego Church building, which was moved there in 1904. In the seminary’s description of the church and the Muskego Settlement, it says the church “was built on Indian Hill, previously a sacred site for the Potawatomi” people. See

[6] Paulson abbreviates this name as “C. L. Clausen,” and he uses initials in that way throughout his book. In Paulson’s lifetime, it was common for a writer to identify people using their initials, rather than spelled-out names. Throughout this translation, however, names are spelled out wherever possible, to make it more readily apparent who is being discussed. Many of the names are Norwegian Lutheran clergy names and could be confirmed using the following source: Norsk lutherske prester i Amerika 1843–1913 (Norwegian Lutheran Pastors in America 1843–1913) by Pastor Olaf Morgan Norlie, published in 1914, digitized by the Internet Archive, and available in full at

[7] As mentioned in a previous note, the Muskego Church is on the campus of Luther Seminary in St. Paul. At the time of Paulson’s writing, the school was known as the United Church Seminary. It belonged to the United Norwegian Lutheran Church in America, often shortened to “United Church.” The 1890 merger of synods that produced the United Church was meant to result in that church owning and running Augsburg Seminary as its theological school. But a conflict among church leaders—which became a lawsuit and was ultimately resolved in the Minnesota Surpreme Court in 1898—resulted in the United Church building its own new seminary. Sources for this information were numerous, including contemporaneous accounts (some of them in Norwegian) in newspapers archived by the Library of Congress at and by the Minnesota Historical Society: . See also, A History of Luther Seminary 1869–2019 by Mark Granquist, especially pages 81–93.

[8] Elias Stangeland became, among other things, a newspaper publisher who founded Den Norske Amerikaner (the Norwegian American) a Democratically aligned paper, in Madison, Wisconsin, in 1855. He also worked in the 1850s as an immigration agent whose job was to attract Norwegian immigrants to the state. Sources: among others, Norwegian Newspapers in America, Connecting Norway and the New Land, by Odd S. Lovoll.

[9] By “synod” here, it appears that Paulson is referring to the Norwegian Synod, which was formed in 1853 and which Pastor Stub helped to organize.

[10] This appears to be an error: Paulson’s book says “Anderson,” where it seems he is still talking about Andrewson.

[11] The Franckean Evangelical Lutheran Synod formed in New York in 1837. It was socially progressive (anti-slavery, pacifist, pro-temperance) and pietistic, putting less emphasis on academic requirements and more emphasis on religious experience and godly living in preparing pastors for ministry. The Franckeans sent missionaries to Wisconsin. The Norwegians’ early Eielsen Synod had ties to the Franckeans.

[12] This sentence seems to have a typographical error, in which the opening quotation mark in the Norwegian text has been placed in the wrong spot, so that the quotation includes not only Stub’s words, but some of Paulson’s words as narrator: With a raised “finger he claimed God as his witness…” In the translation, I’ve corrected the placement of the opening quotation mark.

[13] By “Wisconsins Pastors,” Paulson means Stub and the other founders of the Norwegian Synod, who rejected the pietism of Pastor Elling Eielsen’s synod (formed in 1846), the Franckeans, and the followers of lay preacher Hans Nielsen Hauge. The so-called Wisconsin Pastors were more aligned with the institutionalism and high-church ritual of the State Church of Norway and found like-minded clergy in the Missouri Synod in the U.S.

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