Page 123 — Vignettes of Yesteryear — Roger L. Thelin — 2001

               Chandlers Valley history shows that at one time it was called Swedesburg, but because there were many Swedesburgs in the United States, the name was changed to Hessel Valley — this from the Swedish community, Hessleby, from which most of the immigrants came.

               Behind the scenes, life was hard for these immigrants; there were many tribulations that little or nothing is known of. One of these heart-rending tribulations is alluded to on a plaque in a little park across from George LaVigne’s old garage. The plaque tells of the Swedish emigration but also tells of two small Swedish girls, age six and nine, who came unaccompanied to Chandlers Valley in 1846. This heart wrenching story is in need of telling, and here is the story as told in 1943 by Dr. E. B. Lawson, then president of Upsala College in East Orange, New Jersey, and other local historians.

               Early history tells us that most of the earliest immigrants to the Sugar Grove area were fiom Scotland and Ireland. But in 1845, following the receipt of a letter from Peter Kassel, who had traveled a bit in this country, Fredrik, J. Johnson, who lived in Gotherburg, Sweden, was afilicted with a strange sickness known as America Fever. He wanted to do as thousands in Europe had done: go to the land that lay in the west. Others from nearby communities joined him.

               In May of 1846, Fredrik, his wife and their two children, along with 61 others from nearby communities boarded a three-masted sailing vessel, the Virginia, and headed to the promised land, America.

               Enroute, two women and three children died and a baby (a boy) was born. Each family carried its own supplies for the voyage. It took them until August 5, 1846 to find their way into the harbor of New York City. The vessel then continued up the Hudson River to Albany where all disembarked, and, using horse-propelled boats on the Erie Canal, reached Buffalo on August 18th.

               In Buffalo, 15 people set out for Iowa, where Peter Kassel, who wrote the letter that caused them to migrate, lived. The remainder stayed in Buffalo. In some manner, between New York and Buffalo they had been plundered, and in Buffalo their total treasury was 25 cents. What could they do? They were in a strange land, they didn’t know the language, they had no work, and they had no money.

               They found a countryman in Buffalo who helped them find lodging and work in Hamburg, New York, but Germond Johnson and his wife, Catherine, from Kisa, Ostergotland, Sweden, were worried about what might happen to their two daughters, Louise, age nine, and Sara Sophia, (whose name was later changed to Josephine) age six. The children were placed in a children’s home apparently in Buffalo. Imagine the heartache that they must have felt!

               And now, what does all of this have to do with Warren County, Sugar Grove, and Chandlers Valley? After only two weeks in the children’s home, daughter Louise was placed in the custody of the Thomas Struthers family of Warren and in December of 1846, Sara Sophia (later to be called Josephine) was placed in the custody of the Robert Falconer family who lived between Sugar Grove and Chandlers Valley.

               This transfer of the children took place while the Johnson family was in Hamburg. When they learned where their children were, they walked the 80 miles from Hamburg to Warren and Sugar Grove to visit their children. Because their children were here, Germond Johnson (also spelled Germun Jonson) signed an agreement with Robert Falconer. The agreement dated October 25, 1847, binds Germond and Catharine to Robert Falconer for a period of one year. Germond and Catharine were to work for Falconer, and Falconer was to provide them with food, lodging and $100.00 in cash for the one year of service.

               A second agreement was signed on January 4, 1848, making Sara Sophia (later renamed Josephine) now age 7, a bound servant of Robert Falconer for 11 years (until she was 18). The agreement "[gave] Falconer & wife to have full control of her person & her services & said Jonson neither to take her away or to demand or receive anything for her services...The said Falconer and wife to feed, clothe & educate her in a respectable manner...the services of (Josephine) during said term of eleven years (are to be) free of charge...And at the close of her term of service to pay to her the sum of fifty dollars..."

               The Johnsons were so favorably impressed with their situation that they went back to Buffalo and Hamburg, and persuaded many of their own party and others who had come since, to move en masse to Sugar Grove and Chandlers Valley. An interesting caravan, traveling by horse and wagon arrived here October 13, 1848.

               In the ensuing years, scores of additional Swedes came to Sugar Grove and Chandlers Valley. They were a hardy, self reliant people who took great stock in home and family. During the Civil War, they served valiantly for their country. Thirteen did not return.

               If one looks back closely it will become apparent that the Swedish population of Sugar Grove, and especially Chandlers Valley, started with a little six year old girl named Sara Sophia, later changed to Josephine. How appropriate that the writer of the plaque in Chandlers Valley closes with a quote from the Bible: “A Little Child Shall Lead Them.”


Courtesy of the Warren County Historical Society