Reversing Cleng Peerson’s migration
Americans prepare to celebrate Norwegian-American history at Tysvær’s Midsummer Festival
The Norwegian American
Almost two centuries ago, 52 brave men, women, and children boarded the 54-foot sloop Restauration in Stavanger on July 4, 1825, ready to make the treacherous journey across the Atlantic and become the first group of Norwegians to emigrate to America.
Leading the Sloopers, as they were called, was a man named Cleng Peerson. Born in 1783 in Tysvær, located between Bergen and Stavanger on Norway’s west coast, Peerson went on to establish three Norwegian settlements in the United States: one by Lake Ontario in Kendall County in New York in 1825, another by Fox River in Illinois in 1834, and the final in Norse County near Clifton, Texas, in 1854.
Peerson—who would come to be known as the “father of Norwegian emigration”—lived the last years of his life in Clifton, where he passed away in 1865. His legacy as an important figure in Norwegian-American history has lived on, however, creating a strong relationship between his birthplace of Tysvær and his final home of Clifton.
In fact, the mayors of Clifton and Tysvær signed an agreement of intent in August 2012 to further cooperation within education, culture, and industry, and the leaders of the Tysvær community have since visited Texas on multiple occasions.
That same year, the CP Farm in Clifton—where Peerson lived his final years—returned to Norwegian hands when Eldbjørg Djønne Stuve and Thomas Mannes of Tysvær decided to buy the property.
“This was really a coincidence. We visited the area in connection with a vacation, and later we heard the property was for sale and people feared that the historical value would not be taken care of. Then we decided to buy it—to secure the historical value and make it available to public,” explained Mannes.
Shortly thereafter, while exploring the farm, Mannes’s mother made an incredible discovery: she found some pages handwritten by her own grandfather, Viglerik Rosseland. They were titled “Cleng Peerson” and turned out to be a draft of a play about Peerson’s return to Tysvær to describe the journey and the opportunities in America to the Norwegians planning to emigrate.
Her cousin Kristbjørg Eide then translated the pages into English and produced the play with a group in Duluth, titling it The Uprooting. The production was a success, and they performed it again, in Clifton this time, in connection with the 150-year anniversary of Peerson’s death.
Now, the cast has another performance lined up—in Peerson’s hometown of Tysvær.
“The first time we gathered as a cast, we talked about taking our play to Norway. At the time, I was expressing a fantasy,” said one cast member. “Now, it’s becoming an exciting reality.”
The cast will be performing The Uprooting as part of the Tysvær Midsummer Festival, an annual festival of activities and events popular with residents and visitors alike. This year, the festival will be held from June 16 to 25 with a special focus on the first Norwegian emigration to America and the city’s partnership with Clifton.
The performance of The Uprooting is certainly one of the highlights of this year’s schedule and will be held at Tysværtunet on June 22.
“This will be fantastic. It will be great to show people also at home what we have been doing in USA,” said Mannes.
The cast of The Uprooting won’t be the only Americans making the journey to Tysvær for the festival, though. Kirk Mies—a direct descendant of Sloopers Daniel and Britha Rossadal and their five children who emigrated aboard Restauration with Peerson—will be reversing the footsteps of his ancestors for the second time, along with his family.
“I guess you could say that I come from a long line of proud Norwegians,” explains Mies. “My Grandpa Mies was very proud of his Norwegian heritage. He was a member of the Norwegian Slooper Society of America and even served a term as the president of this organization… At any rate, my grandfather’s love for his Norwegian heritage was contagious, and at a very early age, I knew that I wanted to someday visit this country of my origin.”
At the age of 46—190 years after Daniel Rossadal made his Atlantic crossing at the same age—Mies finally fulfilled his dream of traveling to Norway and visiting the farm of his ancestors.
“It is difficult to describe the emotions I experienced in actually standing on this ground and touching the foundation that my ancestors built. It was a very moving experience to be sure,” he said.
When his family learned that this year’s festival would include the traditional “Cleng Peerson walk”—a march along the very path the emigrants took from the Rossadal farm down to the Hersdal farm and eventually to Kårstø where they boarded the ship that would take them to Restauration in Stavanger—they knew that they had to return to Tysvær this summer to experience it.
In fact, Mies has even agreed to give a speech at the beginning of the march—in Norwegian.
“I have been giving a lot of thought to what I might say. To prepare, I have been re-reading the stories of my ancestors and studying other resources that tell of the times in Norway in 1825,” he said. “Perhaps I will try to convey to the audience what the Rossadals and their five children may have been feeling as they prepared to leave their home—their hopes and fears as they crossed a dangerous ocean aboard a 54′ sailing vessel to a new land and a new life.”
To further relate to the experiences of the Sloopers, visitors at the festival will also have the opportunity to go aboard a recently built replica of Restauration to experience the tight conditions on the sloop, taste the food the emigrants ate, and listen to the story of their emigration.
“This may sound rather odd, but when we visited last year, I truly felt as if I were ‘home,’ and so I guess you could say that we are looking forward to going ‘home’ again this summer,” Mies said.
It’s not too late to join in on the fun this June and return “home” to Norway yourself—the Tysvær community would love to have you!
Migration-related events at the Tysvær Midsummer Festival
Friday, June 16: Curtis W. Callaway, talented photographer and senior lecturer at Baylor University, will open his exhibition of 10 photographs. The theme for the exhibition is “The Light” and “Cleng Peerson’s Texas.”
Sunday, June 18: Kirk Mies will give a speech at the beginning of the traditional “Cleng Peerson walk.” Tysvær locals will follow the path from the mountain farms Rossadal via Hersdal to Hesthammar, along with participants from Minnesota and Illinois.
Thursday June 22: Actors from Duluth, Minn., will perform The Uprooting at Tysværtunet, Aksdal. Tickets cost 200 kroner and can be purchased upon arrival in Tysvær.
Visitors can board the replica of Restauration in Tysvær. Trips aboard Restauration can be booked at www.restauration.no.
The Norwegian-American Historical Association will hold part of their seminar “Migration, minorities, and freedom of religion.”
For more information on the festival and the complete schedule, visit www.tysver.kommune.no/midtsommarfest (Norwegian). To learn more about the CP Farm in Clifton, Texas, visit www.ClengPeersonCabin.com.
This article originally appeared in the March 10, 2017, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.