by Melissa White term paper for 12th grade English class, All Rights Reserved

As with all endeavors, very few if any, may be considered a total success. The Swedish commune at Bishop Hill, Illinois, was one man's dream. Many combined their efforts, but met with less than what can be considered success. The colony's religion and reasons for immigration influenced the daily life of its members. It also determined its successes and failures. As members gradually drifted from the original religious ideals, their mutual bond vanished, and they no longer had a purpose for remaining incorporated.

Olof Olson, who was sent ahead of the main body of immigrants, selected a spot northeast of the present town of Galesburg, Illinois. This site had been recommended to Olson by Rev. O. G. Hedstrom, a Swedish Methodist with whom Olson had become acquainted in New York.[1] The site was named Bishop Hill, for the Swedish parish Bishopskulla where Eric Janson was born.[2]

The history of the religion in Sweden is typical of that of other European religions. Eric Janson claimed that when Christianity became a state religion, it was extinct. He felt that he had been sent to restore the Second Coming.[3] Janson said that he was a "'Godsent prophet', 'the restorer of the true doctrine', 'the greatest light since the time of the Apostles', and 'the vicar of Christ on earth"'.[4] He planned to build the New Jerusalem in America where he and his heirs would reign until the end of time.[5] He once wrote, "I am come in Christ's place to bring grace. Whoever despises me despises God."'[6] Janson felt that the Bible was the only true book of God. and simplicity was the way to salvation.[7] He taught that a true Christian has no sin and no shortcomings, or at least cannot be guilty of the same sin twice.[8] He also declared that there is no true faith without persecution. The fact that the Jansonists had opposition signaled their righteousness.[9] Janson tried to heal and to prophesy, and when both failed he put the blame on others' lack of faith.[10]

Eric Janson was born in 1808 in the province of Uppland. While he was young, he was severely hurt in a wagon accident.[11] He also had an extreme case of rheumatism which kept him from being actively involved with other children.

One day while working, Janson had an extremely severe attack of rheumatism. He claimed to have had a religious vision. and he began studying the writings of Luther, Arndt, Nohrborg, and Murbeck in earnest [12,13]

He held revivals and led his followers in burning all printed religious material, including the works he had studied for so long. The Bible was the only book that escaped Janson's wrath.[14] He was also accused of seducing some of his female followers.[15] These kinds of incidents led to several arrests.

To Janson, the Swedish clergy appeared corrupt and held too liberal views. He claimed that the majority of them drank excessively, and some even sold liquor to their parishioners. Janson thought that some of them appeared to be more interested in agriculture and politics than in the spiritual welfare of their flock. He also claimed that their sermons were much too complicated for the common people to understand.[16]

The Jansonists were forced to pay fines for not attending the state church and also for attending their own private meetings. They were often physically attacked r and refused to send their children to school because they would be taught from Luther's catechism.[17]

After obtaining an audience with the King, Janson was released because there were insufficient charges to retain him in prison.[18,19] He dodged the police and skied into Norway. From there he sailed to New York. King Oscar I also issued passports for the immigrants after other authorities refused to do so.[20]

Along with the factor of persecution, two poor farming years added to the final decision to immigrate. In 1844 there was too much rain, and in 1845 there was a drought.[21] The believers pooled their funds because many were poor miners and factory workers who could not pay their own passage, Janson also based this communalism on Scripture.[22]

The actual trip took quite some time. First, the immigrants sailed from Sweden to Denmark and then on to New York. From here they journeyed up the Hudson River and through the canals to Buffalo. Then they sailed through the Great Lakes to Chicago. The final 100 miles from Chicago was covered on foot. [23]

After their arrival at Bishop Hill, the colonists set up quarters for the winter to come. The first land was purchased on September 26, 1846, but it was not until a year and a half later that they started any of the major buildings. [24]

Religious services were first held in a tent built of logs and canvas. This tabernacle, which was destroyed by fire, was replaced by a three story structure in the summer of 1848.[25] The new church had a Federal style basement and a gambrel roof. The third floor auditorium seated 1,000 people in handmade black walnut pews. A center divider separated the women and the men.[26] Light was provided by wood and wrought iron chandeliers.[27] An organist from Helsingland province built the pulpit which was painted to resemble marble.[28] The first floor and the second floor were each divided into rooms 100 feet square. These rooms housed a total of twenty families. Families lived in one room, either in the church or in an apartment house. Single people were segregated by sex.[29,30]

Services in the new structure were often three or four hours long and were conducted twice on weekdays and three times on Sundays. Dozers were cracked with a rush by monitors. First a chapter in the Bible was read and then explained by anyone who felt called to do so.[31,32]

Colony dress was not dictated, but was uniformly the same. Linen, flannel, denim, and dress goods were woven in the colony. Each person received two full sets of clothes, one pair of boots, and one pair of shoes yearly. [33]

The four daily meals were served in two large segregated dining halls on the bottom floor of the colony's apartment house.[34] Each week a cow and several hogs were butchered. There were 12 waitresses and 18 cooks to prepare and serve the food. The colonists ate large quantities of mush, bread made of pumpkin meal and wheat flour, and they drank milk, coffee, and small beer.[35]

The Illinois land was much better than Sweden's. It was well-drained and had deep topsoil, allowing the colonists to plant year after year without fertilizing. Small groves of leafy trees, plums, apples, berries, and hops were abundant. [36]

Through colony enterprise, over twenty buildings were erected. The "Big Brick", a 96 room dormitory, was four stories high. This is where most people had their living quarters.[37] The Steeple Building was constructed of brick and stucco with Palladian facades, and it served many purposes. One of its outstanding features is the clock tower which was added in 1849. Each of its four faces has a clock with only one hand, which makes the mechanism much simpler.[38] The church was a major accomplishment, being 84 feet in length, 50 feet in width, and three stories high.[39] Twelve houses were constructed in later years, with the largest being 200 by 445 feet and four stories tall.[40] The Bjorklund Hotel was an overnight stop between Rock Island and Peoria. It was three stories tall and had a two-tiered,lantern-like tower. The third floor was a ballroom, which seems out of place since Janson felt musical instruments came from the Devil.[41] Other structures included a colony store and post office, a school, and various workshops.[42]

There were advantages to colony life. The people were not overworked, and each held a job at which he was talented. The old and the ill were cared for. The colonists enjoyed more comfort and security than their neighbors who struggled to stay warm and have enough to eat.[43] Everyone under the age of fourteen attended school for six months during each year. [44]

The colony was successful in many ways. The system of work division allowed for greater production than if each person had several tasks.[45] Some of the deserters eventually returned to life in the colony. One ". . . bought himself a stone house. . . and expected to live off of his riches. . . . He did not get any peace until he came back here. [46] Letters to relatives who had remained in Sweden told of the colony's wealth and the happiness colonists experienced. Many encouraged others to join the colony. [47]

A park was constructed where a ravine cut through the middle of the town. This ravine was the site of the dugouts where the colonists spent the first two winters.[48]

The colony provided an entire company of officers and enlisted men for the Union cause during 1861. These men fought at Shiloh and Vicksburg, and marched with Sherman from Atlanta to the sea.[49]

In 1853 the colony became legally incorporated to avoid legal problems with deeds for their land holdings. Seven trustees were elected to oversee financial dealings. [50]

The colony had an outstanding financial report. By 1860, they owned over 12,000 acres of land within a few miles of Bishop Hill.[51] They also had over 500 cattle, 100 horses, 1,000 hogs, and poultry. They produced 12,000 yards of linen in a single year from flax that they grew. [52]

The broom corn market improved the financial status greatly. In 1851, the Peoria and Chicago markets opened up, and the colonists increased the acreage planted in broom corn. This increased their annual income from $30,000 to $50,000.[53]

The colony refused to let the C. B. & Q. Railroad company lay tracks through Bishop Hill. The tracks were laid about five miles away; a new town was built around them. It was named Gefle after a town in Sweden, but was modified to Galva. The colony purchased fifty town lots and built a general store, a large brick warehouse, and a hotel.[54]

There were also disadvantages to colony life, Eric Janson expected the members to live on an eighth less than they had in Sweden. In the early days they fasted to save food.[55] One man wrote: "'We have received the glad tidings that you. . . . have decided to forsake all your comfort to walk in Christ's footsteps. . . ."'. This implies that some had comfortable lives in Sweden and wouldn't have at Bishop Hill.[56]

During the first two winters, many died. Four hundred and seventy people were forced to live in twelve "dugouts", each 25 to 30 feet long and 18 feet wide. There were two tiers of beds on each side. In one dugout, there were three tiers of beds on each side with three women in each bed, or a total of 52 unmarried women. The food supply was poor and there was little heat. A single sod house was used as a kitchen and dining room. Many left after these hard winters.[57]

If a member decided to leave, he received no compensation for the years of labor he had donated to the colony's wellbeing. With the amount of profit that the trustees claimed the colony was earning, this was most likely done to discourage deserters.[58]

Colony failures were numerous. Asiatic Cholera was contracted by a group of immigrants, and they brought the disease to Bishop Hill.[59] Janson would allow no doctors and told the people they were dying because they lacked faith. His wife died, and he blamed her death on their unbelief. Finally, after being threatened by area residents who planned to report his lack of action, he did allow a doctor to examine and treat the colonists. Those with fever were given no water in accordance with a medical superstition. [60]

About three weeks after his wife's death, Janson announced during a religious service that he had been instructed to seek a new "spiritual mother" for the colony. That night two believers appeared at his house and claimed that they had been chosen. He picked one of the women as his new wife. [61]

The murder of Eric Janson was also a failure on the part of the colony. John Root, a Swede who is rumored to have had a shady past, married Lotta Janson, the leader's cousin. Root was a restless man who never really joined the colony, but had signed a written agreement to allow his wife to remain in Bishop Hill if he ever decided to leave.[62]

He broke his part of the agreement when he took his wife and infant son away from the colony in 1849. Some of the Jansonists returned them to Bishop Hill, and Root again took his family, this time to his sister's home in Chicago. The sister disapproved of Root's actions and contacted the colony. The two were again returned to the colony where they went into hiding. Root led a mob of angry citizens to the town, but the neighbors of the colonists came to the rescue, and the mob disbanded.[63]

The Sunday before Janson was murdered, his sermon from II Timothy must have sounded like prophecy, "'I am already being offered and the time of my departure is come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith. . . . ' " [64]

Root brought court proceedings against Janson. On May 13, 1850, during the noon recess of the trial being held in the county courthouse in Cambridge, John Root fatally shot Eric Janson.[65]

The colonists expected Janson to arise because he had presented himself as a messianic leader who was bringing God's kingdom. He was laid in state for three days and then, failing to fulfill the colonists' expectations, was buried. [66]

Eric Janson had stated that his rule was hereditary, and therefore should pass to his son. The child was young, so Mrs, Janson appointed Andreas Perglund as the boy's guardian. In actuality, she ran the business affairs of the colony. [67]

When Jonas Olson, who was in California on colony business, heard of Janson's death, he returned to the colony. He claimed that he should have charge of the colony because he had been closely associated with Janson. [68]

Olson had little trouble convincing the colonists to let him take control because most resented the fact that a woman was in charge.[69] Olson adopted a "democratic-republican" rule, gradually quit using Janson's catechism, and completely revised the hymn book. The religion of the colony was now much like that of the Methodists or like that of the moderates in Sweden.[70]

Olson was also responsible for the incorporation of the colony. The seven trustees were elected to life terms, and after their election, the colonists had little control over the actions of these trustees.[71]

Another one of Olson's introductions was celibacy. Presumably, he thought this would save money because the women would be able to work longer hours. The people disliked the idea immensely, and it was a major cause for dissolution.[72]

Under Olson's rule, the colony's financial situation took a turn for the worse. The depression of 1857 reduced their stocks and bonds to mere paper. Industry came to a standstill. Colonists had also graded a railroad bed for a company that went bankrupt, and they lost several thousand dollars in wages. The colony had extended credit to purchasers of colony goods. and never received payment for them either.[73,74]

In the spring of 1861, the colonists decided to dissolve the corporation. Each person over the age of 35 received a full allotment consisting of 22 acres of land, one timber lot (approximately two acres), one town lot, and an equal portion of the barns, animals, tools, and utensils. Everyone under the age of 35 received land according to their age, with the smallest allotment being eight acres of land. The remaining assets were to be used to pay the colony's debts. [75]

In 1865 Olof Johnson, a former trustee, assessed each former member ten dollars for each acre the member had been allotted. In 1868 an additional eleven dollars per acre was assessed. The colonists questioned this action, and a committee was formed to investigate the colony books.

The trustees replaced the original books with new books for the committee to inspect. There was a discrepancy of $42,759.33 between the two sets. It is estimated that Olof Johnson and the other trustees owed the colony a total of $109,619,29. The ensuing court battle was known as the "Colony Case", and it lasted until 1879, spanning twelve long years. [76]

After the final division, "religiously, the Jansonists were spread to all winds. They became a flock without a shepherd."[77] They had been raised as Lutherans. Then they became Jansonists. After the dissolution, Jonas Olson joined the Seventh Day Adventists. Anders Berglund became a Methodist preacher. A few, including Mrs. Janson, went to Kentucky where they joined a Shaker colony. Many preferred to sever all ties with the church. [78]

The original goal of the Bishop Hill Colony was to build a New Jerusalem in America where Eric Janson and his heirs would reign forever.[79] Bishop Hill was to be a holy city where believers would not be influenced by outsiders.[80] The colony's dissolution may be considered a failure of reaching the original goal. However, Eric Janson and the Colony still reign, if only among visitors in the little western Illinois town called Bishop Hill.

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