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Arland O. Fiske: Cleng Peerson and the ‘Restauration’

When the wars of Napoleon ended in 1814, Norway adopted a constitution and came under the rule of Karl Johan, the king of Sweden.

Times had been hard due to the blockade by the British Navy. There was much hunger and starvation. It was even worse for the “dissenters” who had run afoul of the State Church. Among these we some who had been prisoners of war who returned to Norway with Quaker sympathies. The followers of Hans Nielsen Hauge, a farmer who had started a religious awakening in the land, were also discriminated against.

Peerson was neither a Quaker nor a follower of Hauge, but he shared their dissatisfaction with the state control over religious practices, including baptisms, confirmations, marriages and funerals. He made his first visit to America in the autumn of 1821 and found land for his countrymen on the shores of Lake Ontario.

When Cleng returned to Norway, he campaigned to recruit people for immigration to America. Many people called him a liar, but he persisted. Together with Johannes Stene, he bought a 23-year-old sloop that had been used for hauling herring to Denmark and bringing grain back to Norway. Originally named “Emanuel” after the builder’s son, it was later changed to “Haabet” that means “The Hope.”

Before the boat was purchased, it was renamed the “Restauration” because it was remodeled. The sloop was 4 feet long, 16 feet wide and was registered to carry 37 tons. Despite the smallness of the deck, dances were held onboard.

There were two routes to America. The northern route was the most common, but ran the danger of icebergs and severe storms. The longer route was via Madiera and the Bahamas. Peerson recommended the latter, despite the risks of pirates and Turkish slave traders. They set sail on either July 4 or 5th, 1825, with 6,300 pounds of rod iron. There were 54 passengers, including 20 children.

As they approached Madiera, the pilgrims suffered from lack of drinking water. As luck would have it, a cask of the famed Madiera wine came floating on the ocean. Though they were temperate people, in their thirst they consumed the whole barrel and as the ship sailed in the harbor, they were all asleep on the deck. At a later reception in their honor, they were the only teetotalers at the party. They had learned their lesson well. Pirates were eluded by painting their hands and faces as though they had bubonic plague. While stretching out their hands and crying for help, the pirate ships quickly fled.

The Sloopers arrived in New York City, a city of 15,000 on Oct. 9, only to discover they were overloaded and fined $4,500. Authorities impounded the ship and imprisoned the captain. It took the help of Quaker friends and an acquittal signed by President John Quincy Adams to get them out of that scrape. The ship was sold to raise money for the colony.

In October 1975, Norwegians gathered all over America to celebrate the Sesquicentennial (150 years) of that famous voyage that began Norwegian immigration to America. As a result of these celebrations, several annual “fests” were begun that still meet. Among these are the Nordland Fest in Sioux Falls, S.D. and the Norsk Hostfest in Minot, N.D..  A scale model of the Restauration is on display in Christ Lutheran Church in Minot. It’s worth seeing.

Next Week: Cleng Peerson’s Adventures in America.

ARLAND FISKE, a retired Lutheran minister who previously lived in Laporte and now lives in Texas, is the author of 10 books on Scandinavian themes.