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While doing some genealogy research, I ran across an interesting story about the family of my second cousin three times removed, Maria Eriksdotter Kankkonen, b. 10 Aug 1792. She was married to Gustaf Adolf Isaksson Hilli-Kankkonen, b. 6 Oct 1792. Gustaf was a sea captain on the Baltic sea in 1845 when rough seas drove his ship onto a sandbank. One of the crewmen jumped off ship to land and survived, but when Gustaf jumped a large wave came along and swept him out to sea where he drowned. He and his wife Maria had four sons who fought in the battle of Halkokari in 1854 during the Crimean War. Two of the sons were awarded medals by the Czar of Russia for their heroism.

The oldest son Matts Gustafsson Kankkonen was trained as a marksman and volunteered to fight at Halkokari, outside of Gamlakarleby. When he arrived at Halkokari, he stood behind a warehouse and saw an English officer stand up in the longboat, light a cigarette and Matts heard him say: "Within an hour the city shall be in flames." At that moment Matts fired a shot and the officer fell. Matts fired again and a second Englishman drowned or fell overboard and the longboat was riddled with bullets. (The longboat is on display in a park in Gamlakarleby.)

When Matts went to Petersburg (Russia) he was awarded a silver medal with the superscription 'for bravery' to wear with the ribbon of the Order of St. George. The Czar also commanded artist V. Svertschkov to paint a portrait of Matts which presently hangs in the Presidential palace in Helsingfors. The portrait of Matts is in full figure and he had on the clothing he wore in the battle at Halkokari. He held a rifle in his right hand and had another gun from the sword belt on his left side. The artist determined that Kankkonen used several rifles in battle. Russian soldiers loaded and he shot as fast as they loaded. The artist painted two pictures representing the moment when the first shot was fired and the pictures were reproduced with Swedish and Russian text below. In his older years the village boys often gathered at his cottage to hear him tell of the battle at Halkokari, his visit with the Czar, his wolf hunting, etc.

His brother Adolf also participated in the battle at Halkokari and exchanged shots. Brothers Karl and Vilhelm were assigned guard duty in the harbor but did not fire a single shot while on duty. They helped take 19 prisoners, together with the English longboat, to the city. Vilhelm was only 19 years old during the battle. He became a master shipbuilder of many fast sailing ships which he designed and built at Bergbom's shipyard. His ships were purchased in Vasa as well as in Helsingfors. He and his wife had seven children, three of whom came to America. Son Carl Vilhelm, b. 1861, came to the US 1880 and changed his name to Charles Wilhelm Wilson. He and his wife lived in Astoria, Oregon and had a son Fred Carl who also lived in Astoria.


Another son Frans, b. 1864, d. in Astoria 1919. He and his brother built St. Mary's hospital in Astoria, Taylor School, and the Finnish church in Astoria 1900-02. He and his wife had five children born in Astoria, and he became the first director of the Union Fishermens Packing Co. in Astoria.

Son Matts Frithiof, b. 1879, d. in Astoria 1948. He was also a builder; married twice and had 14 children. No doubt descendants still live around Astoria.

The Battle at Halkokari didn't mean much to me until a cousin in Gamlakarleby sent me copies of two pictures he inherited from a relative, showing the siege of Gamlakarleby by the English. I made copies of the pictures and donated them to the Swedish Finn Historical Society. When I was in Gamlakarleby in 1990 a relative took me to see the English longboat that was captured and now I have a better sense of what happened on 17 June 1854.

Matts, Karl, Adolf and Vilhelm Gustafsson Kankkonen were not only related to me, but further checking reveals that at least eight members of the Swedish Finn Historical Society are also related to these men!


June Pelo


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