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My Trip to America, A. Bartell from Esse, Finland


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Ann-Sofi (Sunqvist) Gäddnäs

Written in local Swedish dialect by A. Bartell from Esse, Finland
Published in the Jakobstads Tidning in 1946
Translated by Ann-Sofi (Sundqvist) Gäddnäs from Ytteresse in 2008

In 1909, a group of three individuals left from Esse, Finland to find their riches in America. A. Bartell (thought to have been Björkell as Bartell is not a common name in Esse), John West and Jakob Sundqvist left their homes to strike it rich. Jakob Sundqvist (1881-1941), the grandfather of Ann-Sofi Sundqvist (translator), sent money home to Ytteresse from America. Because of this, their property (Påvall) did not have to be sold. He came back to Ytteresse and married Selma Johanna Johansdotter Englund (1889-1975) in 1915 and they continued life and the family traditions on Påvall, which is still in the Sundqvist family today. John West also came back to Ytteresse where two of his sons still live on Påvall.

A man from Esse tells of his journey to America:

It was on the 1st of November in 1909. In those days the emigration was popular. Everyone who wanted to try his luck in a foreign country could do it without a lot of arrangements. All one needed was an identity card from the priest, passport and money for the ticket. Only a few days before date mentioned above, I and two other boys from Ytteresse decided to travel to America. I will never forget the farewell from my home and my family. My mother’s last words were: “As long as I live I will pray for you, remember that”. I can still see her sitting at the table crying. It was not easy to cut the connection to the loving family and my home. But the trip had to come true. I and my two friends Jack Johnson (Jakob Sundqvist) and John West went with happy minds and great dreams. When we once arrived in America, everything would become perfect! I stopped at Lassfolk, Ytteresse for a couple of minutes to say goodbye to my aunt and her family. The trip then continued. My brother, John, took me to the train station in Kållby. Others joined us to the station but I don’t remember who. John was a quiet and kind brother and I still gratefully remember the words of wisdom he said to me. I was only 18 years old. He was much older. He and my other brother, Anders, had also been in America as teenagers. Alex Blomqvist, our teacher happened to be at the station and he wished us good luck on our journey. The last words I heard were my brother John’s: “ we shall forgive everything”. I loved my brother and there was nothing special to forgive, but he wanted to make sure that all was right when we said goodbye.

The trip by train to Hangö (Hanko) took the rest of the day and all night. During this trip by train, I soon realized that I was far away from home, because at the home for emigrants the inspector only talked to us in Finnish. Unfortunately all three of us were very bad at Finnish and as we did not know what he said we could not answer him. He shouted: “You know Finnish but you are too proud to speak!” Well, I thought later that he only wanted us to scare us. After one night in Hangö we were onboard the streamer Arcturus, which would take us to England. The trip continued without any big problems, but I must mention that together with us on the trip were people which did not behave properly. We shared a cabin with people who did respect neither God nor people. We ate potatoes and herring, but it was ok, because we had food in our luggage from home enough for many days. We came to Hull, where wagons waited for us. Big horses whose hooves were the same size as smaller wooden boxes for “fil” (=sour whole milk) in Esse.


The horses took us to the railway station and from there we took the train to Southhampton. If I remember correctly, we only had to wait two days there and then we went with “the white starlines’ streamer” Oceanic. All went fine and the weather was great, but we felt a bit sad. John West was most sad. He must have felt in the same way as the writer of the song “the girl I left behind me.” I did not really know about his feelings, but there was a certain person in Esse who he missed more than others. I also remember that he used to sing “vem kan segla förutan vind” (=who can sail without wind).

On the sea I did something I regretted later. When the last food brought from home was eaten and the butterbox was empty I threw it overboard. A few other things went overboard too, like clothes with vermin from Southhampton. But the butterbox was brand new. My father had made it for me and it was specially made. I could never make such a box myself. I should have saved it as a dear memory from home. But I did not think about that because we were on our way to the land of gold - America.

On the 17th of November we came to New York. We were nervous as to how to manage, because they would inspect and examine us. We had of course been checked many times already during the trip without problems. We did not have any problems in New York. I can’t describe the happiness I felt, when they confirmed that all was fine and we could continue the trip to Moline, Illinois which was the goal for our trip. In Moline we started to work. We were paid 18 cents/hour, i.e only a small part of the salary of today. Unfortunately I only managed to work 12 days, then I became almost blind. On the train from New York I had a cold, which later affected my eyes. Luckily, with some help, I found a good eye doctor in Moline. My eyes soon became better and after one month I could continued my work.

However, our stay in Moline did not last long. The following April, we travelled to Duluth, Minnesota where it was easy to find a job. In those days, there were a lot of sawmills in Duluth and a lot of jobs.

I could tell a lot about my experiences in America, but it would make my letter too long. Maybe the reader wouldn’t be excited about my lack of telling skills. Maybe somebody would ask: What happened to the big dreams which took us all the way to the big country in the West? What have you done for all of these years?

Well, I have cut ties in the forests of Minnesota and Northern Michigan. Many years ago, I also took a trip to Butte, Montana in order to work in the copper mines, but I did not stay long. The last 30 years I have been working in the iron mines here in Michigan. I did not have to stay long here until I noticed that everything was not as promising as expected, but anyway, I was now in America. However, America is a land with possibilities, but it requires hard work to manage. I think about the saying: “Don’t you think it is good that we somehow are able to manage.” I have learned that if you feel satisfied and grateful without the big earthy treasures you dreamt of, you can be happy being in America. During my stay here, I have noticed many improvements for the workers.

Our thoughts of sympathy here in the USA have often been with our dear motherland during the terrible years of war. We still feel this sympathy and we hope that you in the future will experience peace and brighter days.

My two friends travelled back to Finland after a few years’ stay here and as far as I know they are still in Esse.

My mother died 1912. Her advice and prayers during threes many and long years have been with me as a lovely memory. Dear greetings,

A. Bartell
Negaunee, Michigan
February, 1946

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