Bratsberg Amts Correspondent
Thursday the 4th of January 1844
Anders Brynhildsen's Letter from Wisconsin:
As I hope you have received our letter from New York, where we arrived happily and well on July 22nd, and from where we, (me, Bache and Clausen) wrote a letter together, then I will now not repeat what we then told, but rather tell you a little about what we later have experienced.
Conditions in New York
We left New York on July 24th, after having looked around for a couple of days in this crowded town, but which also seemed to be a real home for crooks and swindlers, at least those were the people we most often had the honour to meet during our stay; though we had hardly set foot on American soil, before they were all around us, not American, but Norwegian crooks who had found in New York a field of activity for their dirty tricks, and as those kind of people have the habit of conveying an impression of honesty and uprightness by slandering their colleagues, this was also the case here, as the Norwegians who had undertaken the task of supplying passengers for the various American transport-companies to transport into the country, tried to give the impression of not being in any company's service, but just for their love of mankind, to try and help their countrymen not being cheated by others. Nearly half a dozen of these "fine gentlemen" gathered around us, and soon we heard from each and one of them, that the others were crooks and cheaters. We had a lot of fun with these men for a couple of days, but at last we settled for one of them, who looked decent and gave the best prices.
Up the rivers and canals
Then we were stowed together on one of the tow-vessels which are hauled by the steamers on the Hudson-river up to Albany, on which boat we, together with Scots or Irishmen, had to lie scattered around day and night on the deck just like pigs. The agreement we had with the New York-company said that we from there to Buffalo should pay 1.3/4 dollars for each adult; one dollar to be paid by departure in New York and the rest when we came to Buffalo. For children from two to twelve we paid the half and children under two were free. Bed-clothing together with provision should be completely free, and we should also have 100 pounds free to Albany and 50 pounds through the Canal. For every 100 pounds excess-weight we should pay 60 cents. We should have one tow-boat alone to Albany, and if this was not enough, we should get another one, also for us alone.
These were the main items of our contract, which we also had in writing, thinking this would be most safe and we also thought the contract to be quite sensible, but as mentioned above, it was broken at once with regard to the tow-boats which we were supposed to have for ourselves. We were packed together with strange and suspicious people.
When we came to Albany where we should board the canal-boat, we experienced what kind of people were dealing with, and what kind of importance one in America attached to written contracts and agreements. We came to Albany July 25th, and there we met Bache and our agent, a man from Drammen (I will not mention his name for the sake of his family, but only call him agent.), who had travelled from New York by another boat, and we received the very same evening a joyous message from the agent that he would the next day cheat us for another 2 or 3 dollars each, which he tried to his best ability to fulfil. This promise was given to us under the influence of strongbeer, but it suited us very well, and made us watch our steps.
The next morning all our clothing was weighed, and completely against the contract, all bed-clothing and provisions. We protested, but were told that it was not because we should pay for it, but just in order to know the weight when the boat should be weighed by the locks. This calmed us down and all our clothing was packed onto two boats. The first boat was for the Norwegians and then mostly those from the mountains. The other one, on which we were, were again against the contract, filled up with a lot of wealthy passengers, but as they looked quite respectable, we said nothing about it, as it was space enough onboard, but you should know we were irritated as these hangers-on were given the cabin, while we, who had paid for it, had to be satisfied with the hold. But I guess that in order to fill the pockets of our agent, we should have to suffer a bit.
When we were onboard the canalboat, we received a message from the agent that we should deliver those tickets we got in New York and would get others which should be valid until we reached Buffalo. This change of tickets had already taken place on the other boat, and now we were supposed to hurry up, as we were about to depart, but as they say "once bitten, twice shy", so we decided to keep our tickets until we knew what we would get in return. The matter was that the tickets we already had was in fact valid to Buffalo, and all the talk about changing tickets was just dirty tricks in order to cheat us for more money. Several of us came into the office and soon experienced how the matter was. All the passengers on the other boat had quite correctly got new tickets, but should according to them, when they arrived in Buffalo, pay freight for both the provisions and bed-clothing along with the excess-weight for the rest, and instead of 50 pounds free according to contract, it now read 40 pounds on the tickets. We would of course not accept this, nor would we part with our tickets in exchange for these new ones, but kept to the written contract and said that if the contract was not fulfilled, then we would refuse to have anything more to do with this agent and his people. Nor would we pay another cent more than what we already had in New York, but from now on take care of the further transport ourselves.
When the passengers on the other boat heard this statement and also learned about this fraud, they also came up with their tickets and agreed with us that either the contract had to be fulfilled or they would not have anything more to do with this agent. The agent was now grave difficulties as it was now apparent that he had tried to cheat his fellow countrymen, and it was fun to see how he wriggled like a snake to get out of his troubles, but the poor fellow had to accept that we had the law on our side and he had to fulfil the contract. The new tickets were once more exchanged with the old ones, and the matter was settled once and for all when we arrived in Buffalo, from where we the very evening happily could continue our voyage to Albany.
I don't find it worthwhile to tell you about the voyage through the canal, as it would be just as boring for you to read, as it would be for me to write. All what seemed to me somewhat interesting on this voyage, was the constant danger we were surrounded by all the time, partly all the ugly bridges and locks in which we tumbled about all day, and by which many, especially the Norwegians, who have travelled this way this year, have had their limbs crushed, so they now have become cripples for the rest of their lives; yes, even some have lost their lives there, caused by those wicked and rough people, by whom we all the time are surrounded, and whose dishonesty we experienced, when one of them stole a silken scarf from my wife, and whose inclination for murder and robbery is just as suspicious, and as people say, not seldom has been proved by real action.
The extremely beautiful countryside along the Hudson river and the canal, which the bragging letter writers had so much bragged about to Norway, must either have changed this year, or it must have only existed in the braggers' imagination, with the exception of some beautiful parts along the Hudson river, but even these were not to be reckoned as real beauties. What was to be seen, was mostly rather ordinary or some times ugly land, especially along the canal, where we often travelled many miles through thick forest, which grows in the most horrendous swamps and bogs. On this part of the voyage I found the art much better to admire than the nature, because there are so many enormous constructions like bridges, locks etc.
However, we and our crew arrived safely in Buffalo, in the morning on August 2nd. The agent had been with us all the time, although we had no need for him; it was rather his own wish to come with us.
Onboard we learned, that his intention was, when we arrived in Rochester, to travel before us on the Canal Packet-boat to Buffalo, as this boat travels much faster than the freighter, in order to secure us the best and cheapest transportation from there to Milwaukee, but we had all of us already in Albany been so fed up with his affectionate consideration for us, that we did not want any more of it, and in order to prevent further problems like we had in Albany, we all decided to choose three men and send them in advance from Rochester, to inquire at all the Transport-offices about the best and cheapest contract, so that we, when the rest of us arrived, would not be confused by the agent, and each and one of us could decide for himself how he would continue his travel.
So, Clausen, Krogh and Helgesen were chosen and travelled, without the agent's knowledge, by the steamer which was about to leave Rochester when we arrived, and they arrived already the same evening in Buffalo, about 1.1/2 day earlier than us. When we arrived in Buffalo, the agent had nothing to do. Not only did we now have the cheapest fares for the transport to Milwaukee, but the three chosen ones had also got in touch with a highly recommended and noble man, by the name of Robinson, and he saw to it that our contract from New York was fulfilled and not one of the agents dared protest, but had to be satisfied with a settlement according to the contract.
Our boat was in front and the other a couple of hours behind, and we were now separated, as a steamer lay ready for departure, which some of us boarded for the cheap fare of 5.1/2 dollars per person and all our belongings free of charge, but some stayed behind, among them Krogh and Helgesen, and also the passengers of the other boat, in order to make the voyage by sailing-ship, which of course was much slower, but they paid a fare of only 2 dollars per person above 12 years, the half for children under 12, nothing for children under 2 years, and all their belongings free of charge, together with free disembarkation in Milwaukee, which normally was quite costly. We arrived in Milwaukee early in the morning of August 6th.
From the above you will learn, that we all in all have nothing to complain about concerning our journey, though happy and well and fairly healthy we reached our destination, even for such a cheap rate as any had so far achieved, but you will also learn about all the dirty trick we were exposed to along the way, and which one hardly could avoid even with the best of knowledge and caution, even if one is accompanied by people who are used to travelling and know the language. It is therefore no wonder why a large bunch of partly inexperienced, uneducated and ignorant mountain-people, who on their own had to travel up here, should be plundered in this way, so they hardly owned a shirt to wear, when they reached their destination, of which we also this year have lots of examples, yes, so sad it is, that every heart, which is in possession of human feelings, would be deeply touched. How things have been the previous years, I do not know, and need not try to find out, but how the travel has gone this year, mostly for the Norwegians, thereof I can and will tell, and I do it with certainty, because I am sure that my testimony will not stand alone between Norway's beloved mountains, just as certain as this tale has not come from a single person, it will surely cause too many people weeping and sorrow in our dear mother-country.
Yes, people still go about, sick and poor, without home, almost with no food or clothes, so one can hardly help the other. Many have died both during the journey and since they came here, and those people, we could probably reckon among the more fortunate, if you take the conditions hereabout into consideration.
When even those, who are poor and miserable in Norway, were here in the the same situation, we might be able to let it pass, and not say much about it, but that's not how it is, though few of them come here, because they have nothing to come here for. No, there are several families here, who owned big farms and were comfortably off , but are now on the road begging for their survival, partly because they have helped other needy families during their voyage, or partly because they have been severely tricked and cheated, as they have not been experienced and enlightened enough to take care.
Not a single one of the large number of Norwegians, who immigrated this year, at least only a few among all of those I have spoken to, apart from them, that they in unison wished they were back in Norway, even if they should come there without a shirt on their body; even though they had saved and kept some of their possessions, they have suffered so much from illness and other troubles, as the climate and altered conditions could cause, that they have almost lost all inner peace and activity.
There is a man here from Voss in Bergen County, who has still managed to keep some of his fortune, but has lost 4 of his children, 3 during the voyage and 1 since he came here, apart from his wife, who is closer to death than to life, another 2 of his children are sick (he had 10 children when he came). What kind of peace this man may have after his America-travel, is hardly necessary to ask, and similar examples could easily be found in multitude, and would after a while also be known in Norway.