Erik Joseph Larson is the central and prominent person of this family history. Through him there are many connections to the Mathiason and Solomonson families. Erik was the first chairman of Tromso Lutheran Church when it was organized in his home in 1885. The picture of Erik Joseph Larson is from the portrait that was in Grace Lutheran Church, Lake Lillian. The portrait is taken from a family photo from about 1882. Grace Lutheran Church has now merged with First Lutheran Church in Lake Lillian and the name has been changed to United Lutheran Church.
The painting of Tromso Lutheran Church was by Lorraine (Lund) Kerr (1908-1997). a granddaughter of Marit Mathiasdatter Nelson and William Lund and the daughter of Nils Lund and Sophie Johnson. The painting was done for the century observance of the Tromso/Grace Congregation in 1985. Lorraine was baptized and confirmed at Tromso Lutheran Church.
It is difficult to establish what the earliest flag of Norway looked like. From the 16th century until 1814 Norway used the same flag as Denmark, as it was in union with that country. The upper flag of Norway, 1821 - 1844. During this period of time, Erik Larson, his wife, Ingeborg, and many of the early Lake Lillian area settlers were born in Norway. Until 1838 the Norwegian flag was only used in the northern waters.
The second flag, the national and merchant flag of 1844 - 1899. It was during this period that many other Norwegians emigrated to the Lake Lillian community. Including those from the Mathiason and Solomonson families. In 1844 a union badge combining Norwegian and Swedish colors was used. The badge was popularly called Sildesalaten (the herring salad). Initially, the union flag was popular in Norway because it denotes equal status with Sweden. Norway abolished the union Badge in 1899 and has used the 1821-1844 flag until the present time.
The 36-Star Flag, 1865-1867; This became the official United States flag on July 4, 1865 to 1867. It was during this time period that Erik Larson and others settled in the Lake Lillian area. The President was Andrew Johnson.
The 38-Star Flag, 1877-1890. This became the official United States flag on July 4, 1877 to 1890. It was during this time period that most of those in the Mathiason and Solomonson families settled in the Lake Lillian area. Five presidents served under this flag; Rutherford Hayes, James Garfield, Chester Arthur, Grover Cleveland and Benjamin Harrison
This history was first compiled and printed by Arlan E. Johnson, son of Marie Larson Johnson, grandson of Anton E. Larson and great grandson of Erik Joseph Larson, in July 1999 and June 2000 and revised and expanded in 2009. Posted here by Gary Gauer in 2017
The following is a partial account of the history of Erik Joseph Larson and his family beginning with their ancestors in Norway and their lives in America. The Mathiason and Solomonson families have been closely connected with the Erik Larson family; both in Norway and in Minnesota and their ancestors and descendants are also included. The initial part of this research was done through the years by John Orville Larson, a grandson of Erik and Ingeborg Larson and was printed in 1966 for the observed the 132nd anniversary of Erik Larson’s birth and the centennial observance of his arrival to the Lake Lillian area. Without the efforts, interest and dedication of John, this history could not have been revised at this time. There are certain events in Norwegian history that contributed to the immigration of these three families and several hundreds of thousands of other Norwegians to America.
History of human settlement in what is present day Norway goes back at least 6,000 years. Some writings state Norway’s habitation goes back 11,000 years. Petroglyphs dating from 4,000 to 1800 BC show scenes of hunter-gatherers. There were more permanent settlements during the Bronze Age (1800 to 400 BC) and the Iron Age. The period from 800-1066 saw significant expansion, and is referred to as the Viking age. By the 11th century, the Norwegian kingdom was firmly established, although there was still only a very rudimentary administrative framework. The Black Death arrived in 1349, killing perhaps half the population, after which Norway entered into a period of decline.
Norway was part of the Denmark-Norway union from 1536 - 1814. Denmark-Norway entered an alliance with Napoleon, with the war leading to dire conditions in 1812. In 1814 Denmark-Norway was defeated in the Napoleonic wars and the king was forced to cede Norway to Sweden in the Treaty of Kiel. This was a very loose union and Norway was able to maintain its own constitution. The Norwegian parliament elected the Swedish king as king in 1814. The union with Sweden was dissolved in 1905 when Sweden recognized Norwegian independence. The parliament offered the throne to Prince Carl of Denmark. On Nov. 18, 1905 he ascended the throne under the Norwegian name of Haakon VII. Norway remained neutral during WWI. They claimed neutrality again during WWII but were occupied by Germany from April 9, 1940 to May 8, 1945.
Up until about 1300, the written language of Norway was essentially Old Icelandic. Spoken language was still mostly regional dialects, and in the north, Sami and Kven. During the time of Denmark rule, written Norwegian was replaced by Danish, referred to as Dano-Norsk. The official and church records were written in Dano-Norsk. When Norway was in the union with Sweden there was a surge of independence and nationalism and some of the old oral language traditions were revived, and a “Norwegianization” of the Danish written language was developed, Bokmål (book language). Nynorsk (New Norwegian) was also created during the 1800’s to provide an alternative to the Danish language. Norwegian dialects are the spoken basis for Nynorsk. At this time both Bokmål and Nynosrk are taught in the schools.
The ancestors of these three families were of Norsk (Norwegian), Sami and Kven heritage and they first lived along Lyngenfjord in Finmark County (fylke), Norway, which was divided in the early 1800’s and the southwestern portion became Troms County. The first Lyngen church was built in Kærnes in 1731. A few years later it was dismantled and moved to the where the village of Lyngseidet is now, the main settlement on Lyngenfjorden. A new building was built in 1770 and replaced in 1840 which is still in use. During the WWII German occupation of Norway the church’s furniture had been removed and the German army used the church as a stable. After the war the church was restored.
In the early 1800’s some of these families moved from Lyngen and settled to the west along Ullsfjorden and Sørfjorden which is the southern branch of Ullsfjorden, east of the city Tromsø. This area at that time was part of the Karlsøy Parish which was named after the small island of Karlsøya from the male name Karl and øy for island. On January 1, 1867 the area along Ullsfjorden and Sørfjorden became part of the Lyngen Parish, the Sørfjorden annex.
This area can definitely be considered “The Land of the Midnight Sun.” The city of Tromsø is at 69 degrees north latitude, about as far north as Barrow, Alaska. From May 21 to July 23 the sun doesn’t dip below the horizon. However, from November 21 to January 21 the sun doesn’t rise above the horizon.
The area along Ullsfjord and Sørfjord is very mountainous. The peaks between the fjords are 4000 to 5500 feet in elevation. The hillsides along the fjords and the river valleys are the only areas suitable for farming. The Breidvidelva (river) valley is fairly wide and flat, flat enough for a golf course, the northern most golf course in the world. During the midnight sun there is golfing 24 hours a day. Was this the area of the farms of any of our ancestors which is now a golf course?
The Sami had inhabited northern Norway for several thousand years as indicated by rock carvings and other archeological finds. One of the first accounts of those living there was by a Roman historian, Tacitus, in 98 A. D. who wrote about small people that wore animal skins and traveled on narrow pieces of wood (skis), farther north than the Germanic tribes were living. These people were called “fenni” but through the years they also have been referred to as “Lapps”, “Laplanders”, “Finn”, “Finner”, and “Finnfolk” in the Norway records. However, the preferred name is “Sami” as they call themselves. They are indigenous people that have lived in northern Norway, Sweden, Finland and part of Russia along the coast as fishers, inland as hunters and trappers. The best known livelihood is reindeer herding, but only a small percentage of the Sami have been mainly reindeer herders over the last centuries. The men in these families were primarily farmer-fishermen. It is not known where the Sami came from but one theory is that they came from the region between the Ural Mountains and the Volga River thousands of years ago. (From Aud Haugli) However, there has been recent research about the indigenous people of the north, not Sami as such. The latest information uses a new theory and argues convincingly for those people having lived there from “the beginning”, developed in their environment into what we today call Sami. The idea used to be that the Sami had come from the east or elsewhere.
The Sami moved freely across the area even after national borders were established in the 18th and 19th centuries. The Sami and Norse of northern Norway lived in peaceful coexistence over the centuries. The Sami were subsistence farmers and fishers, and some herded reindeer, the Norse were farmers with fishing for exchange for trade with the south and other countries. It was in 1349 that the svartedauden (Black Death) came to Norway and in one to two years, two thirds of the population had died. In comparison, the Sami seemed to have suffered little from this epidemic due to their isolation. As a result, local authorities encouraged the Sami to settle on the vacated Norse farms and become farmer-fisherman to help the economy. It would take about 150 years for the population to reestablish itself in Norway. In the 1600’s the population grew very fast and the old farms in the south had been split up and there was no more room for more farms. The only place at that time to look for more land was in the north. The Norsk farmers with livestock and horses settled on the Sami places in the north in Balsfjord, Ullsfjord and Lyngen in Troms where many of the people were Sami farmer-fisherman. Lyngenfjord and Ullsfjord were known as the “Lappish” fjords. The census records from the 1800’s show that in some areas along the fjords most of people were “finner, forstaar norsk” (Sami, understands Norwegian).
The Kven were a Finnish speaking people that wandered north from the Torneälven (river) valley which is on the border between Finland and Sweden at the north end of the Gulf of Bothnia which is the northern end of the Baltic Sea. Kven is a word Norwegians (also “qvæn-folk”) earlier used about these people of Finnish descent. From early middle ages this is the name given to the people living around the Gulf of Bothnia. The word Kven is probably from a North Norwegian form of the Old Norse word “hvein” which means flat and humid land which is the land by the Gulf of Bothnia. The Kven were drawn by the fishing from the north of Finland and Sweden during the 19th century. In the beginning they came as seasonal fisherman and later as immigrants who became fisherman and farmers and settled in Norway. The Kven language is a variant of old Finnish. During the “Norwegianization” period from the 1870’s Kven was felt to be a term of negative connotation and therefore many avoided using this word. The Karlsøy and Lyngen Parish records in Troms also show that in the early 1800’s many families had come from Hedmark in southeast Norway to better themselves.
The following is written by Aud Haugli, a distant cousin of the Larson and Mathiason families: “I carry old structures; Born some distance north of the Polar Circle on the western mainland of Eurasia I come of the indigenous peoples that populated these regions before Scandinavians settled in the area. During the seventeenth and eighteenth century there was immigration to the area from the east, from Finnish and Swedish side of the border northwestwards towards the rich fishing on the north Atlantic coast. This influx came especially from Tornedalen, the valley of Torneå and from the northernmost area of Finland. Most of these people were Finnish speaking. There was also a Norwegian movement into the north during this period. Thus three different people and three different languages met on the coast of the north of Norway during these centuries, namely the indigenous Lappish which were a majority, Finns and some Swedes from the eastern side of the border and Norwegians from the south. The Swedes and the Norwegians could communicate and understand each other, but neither Lappish nor Finnish were spoken by the Danish/Norwegian administrators. Needless to say this caused problems, particularly language problems in schools, but also problems connected with the church. Many a Lappish wedding ceremony must have been pure guesswork as far as what was actually said by the parson. Hopefully the content of the ceremony was never in doubt.”
“This meeting between the three people are still felt to-day, and it is still causing emotions to rise and old wounds to bleed in the coastal region. The seventh largest fjord counting from the Russian border and southwest is the 120 km long Lyngenfjord. This is the fjord where I was born and grew up. At the census of 1801 there lived in this fjord 1728 persons. Of these 1367 were Lapps (Sami), 257 were Finns (Kven) and only 104 were Norwegians.”
While the men were fishing, much of the work was left to the women and a hired man or girl. That included caring for children and other family members, gathering food from the land and sea for the family and farm animals. There are accounts in church records of fisherman dying at sea. Concerning education during the 1800’s, Aud also wrote that “children went to school after a fashion all through the century. They certainly did not spend much time at school and since the school moved around and only stayed in one place a few weeks at a time or the school was kept in make-do buildings, education cannot have been very thorough. School was different a lot of time and the place depending on local conditions. In addition there was abominable poverty. Children did not have shoes and sometimes clothes so they could go to school. Often they were desperately needed at home to look after siblings or to do work.”
“There was a new school law in 1889 which introduced a number of new subjects, a more modern curriculum.” (Erik Joseph Larson must have received an education because there are examples of information he recorded in Norwegian while he was living in Minnesota.)
In the 40 years between 1860 and 1900, over 46,000 Norwegians emigrated to America from a Norway whose population in 1875 was less then 2 million. The only country that lost a higher percentage of the population was Ireland. Many of those that came to the Lake Lillian community in the southeast corner of Kandiyohi County in Minnesota were from Balsfjord, Ullsfjord and the Lyngen areas in Troms County, Norway. Both the Sami and Kvens were gradually assimilated into the Norwegian population through marriage and change of lifestyle. This was the case for many of the Norwegian families that settled in the Lake Lillian community from the 1860’s to the 1890’s, including Erik Joseph Larson, and the Mathiason and Solomonson families. In their effort to assimilate, much of that heritage was hidden and lost. However, those with Sami heritage were at times referred to as “Finn” which was a derogatory term.
Mona Nelson, a Lake Lillian born historian and genealogist wrote “Many of us from Lake Lillian carried ‘Saminess’ in our hearts, without realizing it and despite our grandparents or parents who tried to make sure we would not. It is sad to think of the Sami-Kven heritage so carefully hidden, or downright rejected, by the immigrants and their children, but so exciting now for those of us rediscovering, recognizing, and remembering.”
It was the practice in Norway for the father’s first name to be part of a child’s last name; Lars Andreasen’s son’s last name would be Larsen or a daughter’s would be Larsdatter. After a girl married in Norway she would keep Larsdatter as her last name. This practice was later changed in America and a married woman would take her husband’s last name. Sometimes the farm name was also used as part of the last name. At times it was the custom for the first born son to have his paternal grandfather’s first name and the first born daughter would have her paternal grandmother’s first name, etc. If a child died that child’s first name was commonly used again for the name of the next child of the same gender. Often the spellings of names were changed or names were changed when people came to America. An example; Andreas Johansen and his wife, Ane Mathisdatter came to Minnesota. He used the name Andrew Johnson and his wife also used the last name Johnson. Their daughter, Elen Andreasdatter born in Norway, also used the name Johnson in America until she married when she took the last name of her husband. A son, Anton Andreasen would also become Johnson. Some families began using a Norwegian farm name probably to retain part of their Norway identity or because there were others in the same community with similar names. Johan or Johannes became John, Andreas became Andrew, Villhelm became William, Carrie became Karen, Maria or Marit often became Marie or Mary, etc.
It has been determined that many of the families that came from the Troms area of Norway were dissenters from the state church including Erik Larson and his first wife, Ingeborg, in 1860, and some from the Solomonson and Mathiason families. The Free Apostolic Church in Norway was the first group to break away from the State church in the North and it became an important part of Northern opposition religion. Many of these followers were Sami and Kven. They denounced child baptism and the holy supper. Pastor Gustav Adolph Lammers (1802 - 1878) broke with the state church and came to Tromsø in 1857 and stayed about a year. The fact that Lammers spent a year in the north shows the importance of these congregations and the role they might play in furthering the growth of the movement. Lammers later returned to the state church as did some of the dissenters.
One of the first settlers in the Lake Lillian area was a “Rev.” Johannes Andreas Johannessen Bomstad (also known as Bomsta as it is pronounced in Norwegian.) from Balsfjorden, Norway. He was also a dissenter from the state church and formed a congregation in Balsfjord.
(“Lake Lillian” is the name of a lake, a township which was divided as Lake Lillian and East Lake Lillian Townships in 1893, the community which also included parts of Fahlun and Lake Elizabeth Townships and the village which was established in 1922 and straddles the Lake Lillian and East Lake Lillian township border. Lake Lillian was named after the wife of the explorer, E. Whitefield. There had been a Lake Lillian post office earlier.)
From the “The First 100 Years, 1864 - 1964”, a Lake Lillian history; “In the northern part of Norway there were dissenters of the state church. They had followed the leadership of Gustav A. Lammers for more freedom in religious worship. The Rev. J. A. J. Bomstad, a fiery preacher, who had been an assistant to Rev. Lammers, started a movement to emigrate to America. He became the leader of the group who became the first Norwegian settlers in the Lake Lillian community. This group became known as the Tromsø or Bomstad Colony. It was not only religious freedom that they desired but the improvement of their economic conditions. As it was, they hardly had enough to live on and often went to bed hungry. There was no hope for betterment in Norway at this time. They were a very pious group who had a religious service on the ship before departing from Norway. In coming to Chicago on a Sunday, many stayed on board that day in order to have a religious service on the ship.”
“They left Chicago for St. Peter, Minnesota, where they remained for a little over a year because of the Indian outbreak at this time.”
“Two of Rev. Bomstad’s sons, a brother and Andrew Anderson enlisted in Co. B, of the Second Reg., Minn. Cavalry. It was during their patrol duty that they happened to visit the Lake Lillian and Kandiyohi Lake area. They were amazed at the beautiful scenery, the lakes, and wild life in abundance. Returning to St. Peter they informed Rev. Bomstad of their discovery. He wasted no time in making the trip to see for himself what had been reported. He was more then satisfied and decided to leave for Lake Lillian as soon as possible.” (However, after being in northern Norway it is hard to conceive that the Lake Lillian area had beautiful scenery! A. J.)
The “History of Kandiyohi County” gives this account: “In May of 1864 he went from St. Peter (Minn.) to Lake Lillian on the recommendation of his sons who had been there with the military after the Indian conflict of 1863 had subsided”. This was the beginning of the large settlement of many Norwegians from the Troms County (fylke) in north Norway. The history lists J. A. J. Bomsta, Elias Anderson, Sedevart Nelson, Mrs. Marit Nielsen (a war widow), and John Vick as those who arrived in Lake Lillian in 1864. The history then lists 22 families or individual that came in the next 4 years including Erik J. Larson. Most of these families came from the area of Balsfjorden, Ullsfjorden and Sørfjorden which are south east and east of the city of Tromsø. The Mathiason and Solomonson families and Erik Larson came from the Bredvik farm group along the Bredvikelve (river) which flows into Ullsfjord.
It is not known what ship or what route these early Lake Lillian setters took from Norway to Kandiyohi Co. One of the early ships to sail from Norway to America was the “Sleipner”. There is a plaque on the Michigan Ave. bridge in Chicago; “TRAIL BLAZER First vessel direct from Europe destined for Chicago: The Norwegian sailing ship, Sleipner, left Bergen Norway - May 23, 1862, arrived in Chicago - August 2, 1862. This ship, carrying 107 passengers and 350 tons of cargo, moored at this location in the Chicago River. The Sleipner called again in 1863, 1864, and 1865, thus paving the way for overseas - Great Lakes - transportation by water. This Centennial Plaque is a gift to the City of Chicago from the Norwegian-Americans of the Midwest. Affixed August 2, 1962.” The other voyages; 1863, April 26 - July 6; 1864, March 9 - July 6; 1865, April 29 - Quebec June 25.
From Chicago the settlers would travel across Illinois or Wisconsin to the Mississippi River by hired wagon, by walking or by train, which ever means they could afford. They would then go up the Mississippi River to the Minnesota River and then to the St. Peter area in Nicollet Co. No accounts of the exact route have been located. It seems like many of those that came from Norway in the 1860’s first spent some time, including Erik Larson, J. A. J. Bomstad and Mrs. Marit (Mathiasdatter) Nielsen in Nicollet Co. From there they would go over land to the Lake Lillian area. At what point were they able to build a shelter or house, get oxen or horses for transportation and to break the new land? Some of the early settlers made a “dugout” shelter dug into a side of a hill or bank but in the area where Erik Larson lived there is no evidence of a lake bank or hillside high enough for a dugout.
Parts of this history are taken from church and census records from Norway, Kandiyohi County and state records, Tromso/Grace Lutheran Church, Lake Lillian, records, family history and various sources. Family records written in Norwegian and translated from the writings of Erik Joseph Larson containing copies of official records and events worth recording are also included. These were first translated for John Larson by Lars Quam and later edited by Forrest Brown, archivist for the Norwegian American Historical Association at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn. There are translations of these records later in this history.
This history was first compiled and printed by Arlan E. Johnson, son of Marie Larson Johnson, grandson of Anton E. Larson and great grandson of Erik Joseph Larson, in July 1999 and June 2000 and revised and expanded in 2009. Thank you to the very many family members that contributed information for this history. Also, thank you to LaVonne Bomsta Hookom, originally from Lake Lillian, who has researched many of the early Lake Lillian families and to Aud Haugli (a distant cousin) and her husband, John Brewer, for their research of the ancestors in Norway. And also a big thank you to my wife, Phyllis, for her patience and help during this long project.
1. Erik Joseph (Olsen) Larsen- He was born on July 31, 1834 in Olderbakken, Karlsøy Parish. Baptism on August 31, 1834 in Olderbakken, Karlsøy Parish, Godparents, Mathias Josephsen; Erik Joseph Larsen died on September 8, 1891 in Fahlun Twp, Kandiyohi Co., Minn. Dissented in Nov. 1 1860 from the State Church. Emigration in 1864 to America.
Ingeborg Marie Johnsdatter is the daughter of John Ingebrigtsen and Marit Estensdatter. She was born on July 3, 1842 in Bredvig, Karlsøy Parish, Norway. Baptism on October 26, 1842 in Bredvig, Karlsøy Parish, Godparents, Mathias Josephsen and his wife. Dissented in 1862 from the State Church. She died on May 3, 1876 in Lake Elizabeth Township, Kandiyohi County.
Erik Joseph Larsen and Ingeborg Marie Johnsdatter were married on June 7, 1862 in Bredvig, Karlsøy Parish, Norway.
Alette Bergitha Mathisdatter is the daughter of Mathis Henrik Mathisen and Ane Bergitte Jonsdatter. She was born on July 10, 1862 in Bredvig, Karlsøy Parish and baptism on August 2, 1862 in Bredvig Karlsøy Parish. They were married on November 5, 1877 in Lake Elizabeth Twp, Kandiyohi Co. She died on August 22, 1917 in Poulsbo, Washington.