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A “Swedish” Missionary

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by Jim Hove, author “From Scandinavian Shores”

In the summer of 1869 Arvid Ullmark traveled to Finland to work as a Baptist missionary in Jacobstad and other communities (see “Quarterly, F/W 2006, p. 103). He continued to work for and support Finnish Baptists, but before 1879 he returned home to Svartvik (near Sundsvall), 120 miles west across the gulf from Jakobstad. Ullmark was Swedish; he was born and raised in Sweden. Svartvik and 1879 are the location and date of Sweden’s first large labor strike. On the 27th of May 1879, 6,000 workers at 20 sawmills (Svartvik was the largest) walked off the job. The issue was pay. Responding to lower wholesale lumber prices, the owners had reduced workers’ pay below what they needed for day-to-day survival.

The strike was well organized, and apparently many of the strikers, including the leaders, were Baptists. They had already stood up to the Lutheran State Church which vigorously punished dissent, so standing up to the owners was not much different. No one aided the strikers. The Temperance Union was well represented among working people, but their leaders had ties to the government. The “Sharpshooters” (a fraternal organization) had lofty ideals about the brotherhood of man, but they were upper class. State Church clergymen preached humility and submission to authority. Baptist pastors like Arvid Ullmark preached about the afterlife, and they apparently identified with the upper class. The government sided with the owners. With no outside support, the strike failed.

He opposed them, but Ullmark and many strikers were Baptists who shared common roots. They (or their parents) had been raised in small forest communities such as Ulfsjön about 25 miles west of Svartvik. Ulfsjön and hundreds of similar forest villages were first settled about 1600 by colonists from eastern Finland. In the early 1600’s Russia was engaged in an internal strife regarding succession to the Russian Throne. Swedish King Carolus IX utilized the opportunity, conquering the entire Ladoga Region, including Ingermanland, Nöteborg and the Neva River. The new border between Sweden and Finland was defined in the Peace Treaty of Stolbova 1617. The Swedish king was anxious to populate unoccupied forest areas in Sweden, encouraging population from the conquered provinces to migrate to Sweden.

The Finnish pioneers were welcomed by the king, but some Swedish farmers resented the newcomers who were trespassing in “their” forests and hunting “their” game animals. There were conflicts. Possibly, the worst occurred in 1654 in Jämtland Province when three Finns were murdered in an unprovoked attack. This was an extremely rare occurrence, but the Finnish settlers were sometimes discriminated against and made to feel like outsiders. As a result their descendants were often troublesome and obstinate-they were somewhat hostile to the government and they did not feel at home in the State Church. Dissent against the Swedish State Church began in the 1700s with small groups of people who read the Bible and discussed what they read; they were “läsare” (readers). The first “readers” in Orsa Parish of Dalarna Province were Finn descendants; the first “readers” in Hassela Parish, Hälsingland Province were Finn descendants, and so on.

Starting in the 1850s, Baptists successfully recruited “readers” including Anders Pålsson of Ulfsjön (mentioned above). Pålsson was a direct descendant of one of five brothers who emigrated from Rentanibe, Finland, about 1600. He became a legendary preacher among the forest Finns, and his lengthy obituary stated that all of his ancestors traced back to the colonists who had migrated about 1600. Another direct descendant of the five brothers who settled at Ulfsjön was Arvid Ullmark, our “Swedish” Baptist missionary who came to Jacobstad in 1869. Almost certainly, more than 50 per cent of Ullmark’s roots traced back to eastern Finland.

Sources

  • Personal correspondence with Lennart Sving of Hudiksvall, Sweden, who grew up in a small village on the edge of a Finn forest.
  • Richard Gothe, Hassela-Finnarna (1942)
  • Richard Gothe, Finnkolonisationen inom Ångermanland, Södra (1948).
  • David Eden, Svenska Baptisternas I Finland: Historia 1856-1931 (1931)
  • Harold Lundberg, Sundsvalls Strejken 1879 (1979)
  • Erik Sjölander, et al, Något om Separatismen och Baptismen i Hassela, Bjuråkers och Bergsjö Socknar (Sundsvall, 1885).
  • Lars Lundin, In Gottlunds Fotspår: En vandring genom Orsa Finnmark (Ljusdal: 1995).
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