Land of Opportunity: Family Embarked on Hazardous Atlantic Crossing

Carrying their provisions, family survives hazardous journey to settle in Minnesota.

| Good Old Days

My Grandfather Swen was born in Sogne, Norway, in 1840. At 18 he came to America, the land of opportunity; at 21 he purchased a farm in southern Minnesota. His parents, with their remaining seven children, embarked on a sailing vessel in 1861, headed for America. After a long and hazardous voyage of two and one-half months, they landed at Quebec. They carried their provisions for the journey. The youngest child waxed exceeding ill and at one time was thought to be dead, but thankfully he lived, as a burial at sea would have been heartbreaking. They first went to Iowa and later homesteaded in southern Minnesota near Swen.

My grandmother, Sarah, came with her parents and family from East Toten, Norway, landing in New York in 1853. They were among the first permanent settlers in Mower County. Swen and Sarah were married in 1861 and had 13 children, nine of whom lived to adulthood. Two of Sarah's sisters married two of Swen's brothers. Today Swen and Sarah have nine living grandchildren. The two oldest are 86 – about the same age Sarah was at her death.

My maternal great-grandparents came from England and Bohemia. William Withers married Sarah Smith in 1820. She died in 1842, leaving eight children. William remarried, and his second wife and the children left Bentworth, England, in 1844. They landed in America about two months later and went to Westfield, New York. William and Martha had six children; Grandfather Warren was the third one. He was born in 1848 and lived until 1938 – and was the last one living.

Franz Novotny, a weaver, married Theresa Houdek in Bohemia. They came to America for religious freedom. They settled in Wisconsin. They had six children. My Grandmother Cecelia married Warren Withers in 1873, and they had six children. Three grandchildren remain from this marriage.

Erma Hawkins
Tucson, Arizona

Back in 1955 a call went out from the editors of the then CAPPER’s Weekly asking for readers to send in articles on true pioneers. Hundreds of letters came pouring in from early settlers and their children, many now in their 80s and 90s, and from grandchildren of settlers, all with tales to tell. So many articles were received that a decision was made to create a book, and in 1956, the first My Folks title – My Folks Came in a Covered Wagon – hit the shelves. Nine other books have since been published in the My Folks series, all filled to the brim with true tales from CAPPER’s readers, and we are proud to make those stories available to our growing online community. 

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