Tuesday, November 10, 2015

John August Johnson - Part 1 Life in Sweden

Plätt Farm is situated on flat, grassy acreage, spotted by light woodlands, near the town of Väggeryd, in Byarum Parish in Jönköping Lan, Sweden. Houses barns and other buildings, some cranberry red, trimmed in traditional white are arranged in a cluster around a common yard with fields and wooded areas all around. In the summer, lingonberry bushes, ferns and wild flowers dust the ground around the roots of the trees flanking the road that leads to the farm.
I can picture Plätt farm in my mind and as I think of my ancestors’ stories, I see events from their lives happening around me.  
"Johannes!" Inga cries out in the night, shaking her husband from a deep sleep. "Wake up! I think it's time. The baby is coming!" Johannes starts and scrambles to stand facing his wife; coming to his senses as his feet touch the cold floor. "You're sure?" he asks.
"I may be 22 but I've seen many babies born in my life. I am sure! Run now and get Lena. With six children already, she'll know how to help."
Johannes pulls on his clothes and drags his heavy coat off the hook. The embers dosing in the hearth crackles and hisses as he tosses a log on them. He tugs on his boots and headed to the door. "Stay in bed." He commands over his shoulder. "I'll be back soon."
As he pulls open the door and feels the icy wind punches him in the face, he frowns anxiously, turning back toward her small form lying in the bed. She may have seen babies born but his experience was with livestock and he knew many things could happen during birth. Dangerous things... and this was his young wife. No time for worry now, he tells himself as he secures the door, trapping the warmth inside, and slogs through the late February snow to Christopher and Lena's cottage across the farmyard.
John A. Johnson, as he was known later in his life, was born Johan August Johannesson on the 28th of February in 1847 on Plätt Farm. He was the first born of Johannes Ivarsson and Inga Christina Svensdotter.
In my imagination, I see little Johann August, bundled and curled up in his mother's arms as Inga eased herself onto the bed. It's the 1st day of March 1847. Baby, born and baptized. New mother, tired but satisfied and father, proud and very relieved. Now life will begin as a family.
By the time Johan was 10 he was elder brother to 5 brothers and sisters; Britta Wilhelmina, Emilia, Christina Carolina, Sven Edvard, and Anders Gustaf.
Life on the farm was hard work and, in order to feed and clothe a family of eight, everyone's help was required. Six children must have livened up the farm a bit.
From the age of about 7 or 8, until age 12, Byarum children went to folkschola from fall to spring when the weather allowed. The rest of their time was spent in chores and play.

Household Records show the residents of a cottage on Plätt farm. Names that are crossed out on this page all died of rödsot in September of 1857. New husband is written in above Johannes.
Diseases such as dysentery rolled across 19th century Europe in unpredictable waves of devastation. In 1857, Jönköping was hit hard with an epidemic of rödsot, what we now know as dysentery. The household records kept by the Parish priest give the stark facts without a hint of the despair and grief that must have ripped through communities.
Byarum wasn't spared this disease and in the fall of 1857 dysentery spread through the parish. On the 9th of September, 1857, when Johan was ten years old, his four year old sister Christina, and two year old brother Sven, succumbed to the illness. Just five days later, their father, Johannes, also died. Johan's youngest brother, Anders, was only a few months old at the time. It's difficult to imagine what that time would have been like for the family, Inga in particular.**
Johan most likely took on many of his father's responsibilities and Britta, at nine years of age, no doubt helped with her surviving siblings and the work needed to be done to sustain their family.
The Inga Stina and her children remained at Plätt and she remarried in 1858. Sad times weren't over for her as the two sons she gave birth to in her second marriage had very short lives. Both died in 1863.
Sweden experienced wide-spread drought between the years of 1866 and 1868 which caused years of poor crops and subsequent famine. Many Swedes decided to leave Sweden to make better lives in America. By doing this, they hoped the smaller family could survive easier until the drought was over.
In the 1860's, there was pressure from the government for all young men to join the army. That meant at least six years. Johan didn't want to be a soldier and he didn't want to give six years of his life to service. John told his own children, years later, that the bad crop years, the 6 year military conscription in Sweden and the push at that time for young men to volunteer contributed to his decision to emigrate. 

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