Until 1840 emigration from Sweden was restricted by law, and during the first years of the 1840ies only a few rather wealthy pioneers sought new ground in North America. The great wave of emigration from Sweden started around 1845. The early Swedish emigrants came from farming background and they settled mostly in Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota and Wisconsin. Later a large number of Swedes found work in cities like New York and Chicago, and at the turning of the century 1800/1900 there were so many Swedes in Chicago that it was called "Sweden´s third city".
The first emigrants came in groups, usually with the closest family. They were mostly farmers and religious dissidents. Later, when the cost of the crossing had gone down, also farmhands and maids left Sweden in hope of a better life "over there". In the 1840ies a Swedish farmhand or maid needed almost a year's pay to buy the ticket to cross the Atlantic, but towards the turning of the century prices had almost halved. Many found contacts in America and made deals of work in exchange for money for the crossing. However, that was a risky business, quite a few were cheated and had to work under much harder circumstances than they had anticipated. On the other hand, since the Swedes were looked upon as honest and clean, many found work with better conditions than they could ever have hoped for in Sweden. Perhaps even with a day off per week!
Early emigration from Kisa
In 1835 the apothecary Carl Gustav Sundius arrives in the Kinda area. He gets authorization to take over the old pharmacy in Kisa. Sundius was dedicated to helping simple, ordinary and poor people who lived under the tyranny of those in power. During his studies in Germany and Denmark he had met radical ideas of a society free from opression. He, like many others at the time, looked upon America as the country of freedom. When the first wave of emigration from the Kinda area started in the middle of the 1840ies, Gustav Sundius´ pharmacy was to be the starting point for many of the emigrants leaving for America. In fact it could be considered to be the first emigration office in Sweden.
Life in Kisa and the surrounding countryside
In the middle of the 19th century Kisa and the surrounding countryside was overpopulated and the taxes were higher here than in any other part of the province. Families were very big and there was a lot of poverty and misery, especially during the second half of the 19th century when crops failed disastrously. Also drinking was a big problem. At that time Sweden was a country of social, economic and religious oppression and a poor farmer, crofter, farmhand or maid had very little possibility to change his or her life for the better.
Carl Gustaf Sundius meets Peter Cassel
Apothecary Sundius´ talk of seeking freedom in a country far away across the big sea, was however at first considered a mere phantasy, but one day Gustav Sundius found a person sharing his ideas. The local story goes: One dark and bitterly cold winter afternoon a man enters the door of the pharmacy. Sundius starts a conversation which, after a while, he finds very interesting. So interesting that when the man is ready to leave, Sundius comes with him, forgetting the other customers and even his coat and hat in spite of the cold. While walking in the cold and darkness, Sundius tells the farmer all about his radical ideas of freedom and the land across the sea. This listening farmer is Peter Cassel and he had, himself, had thoughts of emigration.