We know a lot about Sweden’s geological history – and Scandinavia’s broader context – but a little about the early Swedish people. Sweden did not become an independent nation until modern times.
Only a few ancient historical stories have been found, carved on stones in the runic alphabet that preceded the Latin alphabet introduced during Christianity.
Artifacts excavated from ancient tombs and dwellings tell of the remarkable sophistication of these early Scandinavian and Germanic people in their works of art, weapons and shipbuilding.
Whole boats have been excavated from the seabed, or from landing sites where they served as graves for some famous Viking.
They tell a story of how tough and brave these Vikings must have been to row and sail across the vast enclosed North Atlantic to Iceland, Greenland and Newfoundland – sometimes without knowing where they were until they released a raven that would instinctively fly towards the nearest land.
Researchers say that it all began millions of years ago with the ice age, when heavy snow piled up and was compressed into ice. Then the ice melted near the bottom – where it was warmest – and the ice glacier above began to move towards the sea and cut out spectacular fjords.
Along the way, glaciers broke off large pieces of mountain sides and carried them towards the sea – and released them when the ice melted at the end of the ice age about 12,000 years ago.
The earliest Scandinavian people settled mostly on plains along the sea coast around 8000 to 6000 BC, and came from other parts of Europe.
They were not Vikings. They were hunter-gatherers and fishermen, who used simple stone tools to make hunting weapons and other necessities.
The Vikings started around 800 AD. and became skilled warriors and sailors – built open longboats with high drivers, powered by sails and rowers.
They were both warriors and traders – plundering some and trading with others, from Ireland and Britain to deep into Asia.
They sailed the largest European rivers inland all the way to the Caspian Sea, more for trade than for plunder.
Historians say that Vikings did not wear horned helmets in battle – in contrast to Hollywood depictions.
During the Bronze Age (3300 BC-1200 BC), a high level of culture developed in the Nordic countries – especially in Denmark and Sweden – as evidenced by the many highly qualified artifacts found in tombs.
After 500 BC. The Iron Age began a period when Sweden grew into an agrarian economy and society.
Among these early inhabitants were the Sami, an original minority father of the Swedish people who became skilled reindeer herders. They would later be part of the Swedish immigration to America. They still live in Sweden – and other countries.
Just when the Iron Age ended depends on which nations were involved. The Germanic Iron Age, which includes Sweden, ended in 1066 when a Viking train in Britain was defeated by the English king Harold.
Immediately after that battle, King Harold faced an invasion by a French army led by William, Duke of Normandy. Harold was killed by an arrow in the eye at the Battle of Hastings and William became William I, King of England – William the Conqueror.
Interestingly, he was a direct descendant of Rollo, the Viking who invaded Normandy 911, stayed there and became French.
The Battle of Hastings (last time Britain was conquered) ended the Viking Age, which had lasted for about 200 years.
There were at least two other reasons that helped end the age of looting northerners:
They changed attitudes during that time due to the rise of Christianity and the changing Vikings who began to abandon their plundering ways and settled down to become part of the population for their former victims – from Ireland to Asia.
Throughout the 15th century, Sweden, Norway and Denmark were united under Danish Queen Margaret, but in 1523 Sweden became an independent kingdom under King Gustav Vasa.
From about the middle of the 17th century until the beginning of the 18th century, Sweden was a European superpower that controlled large parts of the Baltic Sea area. It ended when Denmark, Russia and Poland agreed to defeat Sweden in the Great Northern War.
Since Columbus discovered America, European powers have been anxious to claim territories in the New World. The Spaniards and Portuguese were first, followed by the English and the French.
In 1614, the Dutch started the New Amsterdam colony in New York on Lower Manhattan Island and then elsewhere in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Connecticut and Delaware.
In 1637, a group of Swedish, German and Dutch investors formed the New Sweden Company and sent two ships to North America. They sailed into Delaware Bay and founded the city of Fort Christina, now the city of Wilmington.
Over the next two decades, they built farms and villages in “New Sweden” along both banks of the Delaware River in present-day New Jersey, Delaware and Pennsylvania.
At first, the settlements looked promising – but they did not last.
In 1657, New Sweden was swallowed up by the larger Dutch colony. And they, in turn, were later taken over by the British.
In the middle of the 19th century, a wave of Swedish immigrants came to America – the first Swedes since colonial times. They left Sweden due to economic, political and social problems, and also hoped for better opportunities to prosper in America.
Most of them came in large groups and established a migration pattern that a report described as “a migration tradition between certain sending areas in Sweden and special receiving premises in the USA.
“Examples of colonies founded by these groups include settlements in western Illinois, Iowa, central Texas, southern Minnesota, and western Wisconsin.”
When the civil war broke out, about 4,000 Swedish immigrants joined the fight on the union side.
After the war, the weeds in Sweden motivated about 100,000 more Swedes to come to America, and Swedish settlements spread further west to Kansas, Nebraska and elsewhere.
In 1870, almost 75% of Swedes lived in Illinois, Minnesota, Kansas, Wisconsin and Nebraska.
– The mass exodus of about 1.3 million Swedes to the United States, often young and healthy men and women, during the nineteenth century and the beginning of the 20th century was due to the economic and social circumstances in Sweden, says Swenson Swedish Research Center.
“Strong population growth in Sweden increased the pressure on a society that was basically agricultural and moving to North America gave the Swedish emigrants economic opportunities that did not exist in their home country.
“Religious and political reasons played a much smaller role,” the Swenson report said.
Descendants of the ancient Sami were among the Swedish immigrants who came to America.
They were invited by the US government to teach Alaskan native reindeer herding to replace traditional marine mammal hunting sources that were threatened.
In immigration registers, the Sami are usually listed as Swedish or Norwegian, so it is unclear how many Sami came to America. Estimates say that there are about 30,000 Swedish-Americans today of Sami descent – even though few know it.
When the early Swedes first arrived in Minnesota – now home to a large population of Swedish-Americans – some lived in a small poor district surrounded by St. Paul called “Swede Hollow” – a wooded part of shabby housing with Phalen Creek flowing through it. and empty in Mississippi.
Swedes called the hollow “Swedish Valley”, which in the beginning even had some deer, squirrels, rabbits, partridges, ducks, geese and fish.
There was no water or sewer system and an outhouse was built just across the creek.
The Swedes soon prospered and went on and were in turn replaced by Italians and Mexicans.
Today, Swede Hollow is a park. No one lives there and everything else is gone.
In 1956, the area was called unhealthy and the remaining inhabitants were evicted before the last 13 houses were burned to the ground by the fire brigade – and a piece of Swedish history in America no longer existed.
Today, there are almost 10.5 million Swedish ancestry in the United States
These early Swedish immigrants brought with them character, skills, talent, the Lutheran Church, art, music, food and traditions and added it to the “melting pot” which is America.
They prospered – and helped build a new nation.
The Swedish heritage in America is a mountain of hard work and a long list of high-performing Swedish-Americans from all walks of life.
For them and many others who were not in the spotlight, the crucible worked – and their American dream came true.
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“Swedishness” in America …
Expressions of Swedishness today often focus on family history, food and celebrations, but also on the interest in traveling to Sweden and sometimes on learning about modern Sweden and the Swedish language.
– Augustana College
Swedish-American notables …
Ingrid Bergman, actress; Charles Lindbergh, aviator; Tom Brady, NFL quarterback; Richard Bong, best ace from World War II; Taylor Swift, singer-songwriter; Matt Damon, actor; John Nordström, department store; Glenn Seaborg, Nobel Prize in Physics; both Presidents Bush; Victor Davis Hanson, historian; Carl Sandburg, poet; William Rehnquist, Supreme Court of the United States; Kris Kristofferson, actor-country singer; and Buzz Aldrin, the second man on the moon.
Swedes almost never serve pancakes for breakfast – as Americans do. They are served either as a dessert with sweet jam or whipped cream, or as a meal in itself – with fewer sweet toppings. Pancakes for dinner can, however, be thick oven-baked pancakes stuffed with pork, meat or apples.
Erik the Red and Leif …
Viking Eric the Red, who founded the first European settlement in Greenland, was the father of Leif Erikson, who may have been the first European to visit North America – 500 years before Columbus. They were Norwegians – not Swedes.
Minnesota Swedes …
In 1910, Minnesota was the most Swedish of all states, with more than 12 percent of the population of Swedish populations. They came to the state mainly because of opportunities for agricultural land and employment – as well as political and religious freedom that were not available to them in their home country. Minnesota is still the Swedish state.