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JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY STUDIES
HISTORICAL AND POLITICAL SCIENCE
HERBERT B. ADAMS, Editor
History is past Politics and Politics present History.-Freeman
THE BISHOP HILL COLONY
A RELIGIOUS COMMUNISTIC SETTLEMENT IN HENRY
BY MICHAEL A. MIKKELSEN, A. M.
Fellow in History, Johns Hopkins University
THE JOHNS HOPKINS PRESS
The author does not find it necessary to make any apology for the appearance of this little contribution to the history of the Scandinavian settlements in the Northwest. The Bishop Hill Colony will always occupy a prominent place in any history of the State of Illinois. It was founded when Chicago was but an overgrown village, and when there was not a single city worthy of the name in the State. It brought 1100 able-bodied immigrants into the county of Henry when the entire population of the county was only four times that number. It put large quantities of ready money into circulation at a time when business was largely conducted by barter and when the principal medium of exchange was the skins of fur-bearing animals. It inaugurated that mighty tide of Swedish immigration which has flooded the State of Illinois and the entire Northwest with prosperous Swedish homesteads and flourishing villages. The Bishop Hill Colony built mills, erected manufactories, and put thousands of acres of virgin soil under cultivation. It engaged in banking, and its history connects itself with that of early railroading in the State. In the days of its greatest prosperity it was the principal commercial and industrial center in all the distance between the cities of Peoria and Rock Island. Yet, in spite of its importance for the early industries of the State, the Bishop Hill Colony was primarily a religious society. The history of the Jansonists before their emigration belongs to the ecclesiastical history of Sweden. What they sought in the New World was not wealth, but freedom to worship God after their own manner. They held views that were repugnant to the Church of Sweden. It was the realization of these views which they sought in the New World. Of the
character of these views, as well as of the result of the experiment, the reader of this historical sketch will be able to judge for himself.
The Bishop Hill Colony was incidentally an experiment in practical communism. Perhaps also this side of its history may not be void of interest or profit in our day, when social improvement is sought largely along similar lines. It is now, indeed, thirty years since the society was dissolved, and circumstances have been modified by the advance of civilization and the progress of the industrial revolution. But human nature is substantially the same to-day as in the day of our fathers and grandfathers, and many of the difficulties which the Jansonists encountered must be met again in any attempt to apply the theories of modern socialism to practical life.
The author has attempted to give an impartial presentation of the important facts in the history of Jansonism. These facts have not been easy
No complete history of the Jansonists has been written, and a large part of their documents has been either accidentally or purposely destroyed. Hence, much of the information contained in this volume has needs been gathered from the lips of surviving members of the Bishop Hill Colony. In many instances the reports were of a conflicting nature, for the Jansonists are now split up into several religious parties, and each has its separate views to uphold. But care has been taken not to accept any statement unless supported by proper collateral evidence.
Another serious obstacle encountered was the unwillingness of the Jansonists to reveal any of the “absurdities” of their religion. The author stayed several weeks among them before he was able to discover the real historic meaning of Jansonism; and Charles Nordhoff, who devotes a few pages to them in his Communistic Societies of the United States, is reported to have said, on leaving Bishop Hill, “D— these people; I can't get anything out of them.” The fact of it is that the Jansonists have outgrown their creed, and many of them are now ashamed of the views for which they were once willing to sacrifice their all. Furthermore, they have been so frequently maligned and reviled that they can hardly be blamed for having grown suspicious of the motives of strangers.
In view of this, the author's thanks are due in a special sense to Mr. Jonas Olson, now in his eighty-eighth year, but remarkably well preserved, for the liberality with which he drew upon his memory for the facts connected with the inner history of the Jansonists. Jonas Olson stood near to the person of the founder of Jansonism, and, after the great leader's death, succeeded to his authority. It is not too much to say, therefore, that without Mr. Olson's invaluable assistance this monograph could not have been written. Recognition is due also to Mrs. S. J. Anderson, Messrs. John P. Chaiser, J. W. Olson, and others for valuable assistance. The author further acknowledges his indebtedness to Messrs. John Helsen and Andreas Berglund for the use of manuscripts and original documents relating to the history of the Jansonists. Mr. Berglund's collection of original documents contained a part of the correspondence and the incompleted autobiography of Eric Janson. Mr. Helsen's manuscript notes were especially valuable. Their author is not a literary man and his collection was not intended for publication. But for many years past, in the leisure of his retirement from active life, Mr. Helsen has been perfecting his notes for the use of “some future historian."
Through the kindness of an anonymous friend the author has also had access to a certified copy of the complete transactions of the Bishop Hill Colony, the original records being no longer in existence. Mention is made elsewhere of the printed books and documents which have any bearing on the history of the Jansonists.
It might appear strange that, in spite of its scientific and general interest, no adequate attempt has been made to present a complete history of Jansonism. But it must be remembered that the Jansonists were illiterate people, who,