Some Thoughts on Being a California Slooper;
We Knew so Little
By O. Keith Wheeler - written May 2000 for summer trip
I speak only for myself. I guess I cannot call myself a Norwegian-American as the term is commonly used. I could better be described as an "American of Norwegian descent" or an "American with Norwegian ancestry." Technically, as far as I know, I am only one-eighth Norwegian. I am very proud of my Norwegian heritage, however, I am very limited in my knowledge of what this means. I, like many, if not most in my family, did not grow up with familiarity of the Norwegian language or cultural practices. For many of us our only significant knowledge of our Norwegian connection was through the book published in 1961 by J. Hart Rosdail entitled The Sloopers: Their Ancestry and Posterity. Most of us knew that we, like our ancestors who came on the sloop Restoration, were called Sloopers and that the sloop Restoration was often called the "Norwegian Mayflower."
I do not know why more knowledge of our Norwegian heritage was not passed down to current generations. I suspect our closest immigrant Slooper ancestors, Jacob Anderson Slogvik and his wife, Serena Tormodsdatter Madland, desired to become Americanized. After they left the famous Norwegian Fox River Settlement in Illinois, they never lived in what would be considered a Norwegian-American community. As they were both very young when they came to America, they possibly did not have strong ties with their mother country. This, however, is all pure speculation. Just looking at their lives during their several moves and subsequent establishing of new farms, they had to have been very busy with daily activities.
Jacob at some point dropped the use of his farm name of Slogvig and used his patronymic name of Anderson. While Jacob and Serena had several children, only three of them survived long enough to marry, and only two of these, daughters Martha and Isabelle, had children. I descend from Martha. Over the past few years, I have become more interested in genealogy and my Norwegian heritage in particular. I have been able to make contact with quite a few other cousins who descend from Martha. I have yet to make any significant contact with descendents of Isabelle. Of course, none of us carry the family name of Anderson.
Based on my perceptions of my family and Slooper cousins, most of us hold a deep respect for our Norwegian heritage, but our knowledge of this heritage and what it meant was quite limited. Compared to others in this country of Norwegian-American heritage, those who were raised with exposure to the language and customs of Norway, we had only some familiarity with Rosdail's Slooper book. We had no knowledge that this concept had any further significant relevance either in this country or Norway.
Another factor that probably contributed to our minimal Norwegian influences was the length of time and number of generations since immigration. Since Jacob, Serena and her family were among the very early immigrants, more generations have passed compared to those families who came to this country later. Another contributing factor was the early deaths of some family members. Examples of this are Martha's death at age 37, her husband's death at age 30, her sister Isabelle's death at age 42, and my father's death at age 39. Short lives limit opportunities to pass on memories and heritage.
While the Slooper book was the pivotal connection, my interest in my Norwegian heritage has gone beyond this single work. In recent years, I have been able to find numerous other books and publications, attend various related functions, and make related Internet contact that revealed the significance of the Sloopers in Norwegian-American immigration history. It has been most enlightening to find a strong interest in my Slooper ancestors and their place in history by people currently living in Norway. That such an interest exists in Norway has been new and surprising to me and my American cousins.
Our family can also trace ancestral lines back to several passengers aboard the famous Mayflower of the Pilgrims. Maybe I am wrong, but I find no equivalent interest in England with regard to those that left their country for early American settlements. Do the English celebrate the sailing of the Mayflower in any manner equivalent to the Norwegian celebration of the sailing of the Restoration?
It has been very enjoyable to establish contact with individuals and families in Rogaland fylke (county). It has been a delight to receive more information about our ancestors and the areas in which they lived. It was a deep honor to be able to make a journey to the land of my ancestors in the summer of 2000 to witness the celebrations commemorating the 175 years since the Restoration sailed to America. As I shared my findings about our heritage I found that other family members also had a renewed interest and respect for our Norwegian ancestry.
O. Keith Wheeler
Mad River, California USA
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