A Maine Immigrant Scourge

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Congregational Church, Yarmouth Maine courtesy Wikimedia Commons

 

The transcontinental railroads brought both of my parents to North America — my father from Denmark to Seattle, and my mother’s parents to Alberta, Canada from Ukraine. North America has always offered new lives to immigrants.

But not always without conflict. Long before they came, by the 1790s, early American churches were losing parishioners. Delancey Place’s January 6, 2017 blog features excerpts from the book, Taming Lust by Doron S. Ben-Atar and Richard D. Brown. Church ministers believed that the loss was due to the influence of Godless  “European immigrants … convicts of the worst kind, guilty of murder and rape.”

The mixture of politics and religion led to explosive rhetoric. Fears of Christian decline blended with partisan warnings about  revolutionary radicalism.

the New England elite feared European radicals might possibly turn the U.S. into New World France. A reporter noted that “Most European immigrants were convicts of the worst kind, guilty of murder, rape, and sodomy.” It was felt that the French Revolution had generated “‘evils’, which without experience, cannot be known.” Immigration had to be checked because ‘the fortune of every community must depend upon the character and conduct of its members.”

Senator Uriah Tracy stated that “these immigrants must never flood into New England because they posed political, cultural, and sexual threats.”

Cusp of 20th Century Klondike Gold Fever

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Boat on the Upper Yukon River, courtesy Wikimedia Commons

One of my favorite books of all time is Pierre Berton’s Klondike Fever, the Life and Death of the Last Great Gold Rush. My father, Hans Pederson, a Danish Immigrant to Seattle, succumbed to the Klondike fever before he returned to Seattle to become a major early 20th century builder. The April 14 Delancey Place blog quotes one passage where Berton describes some of the characters who stayed.

“Who were these men who had chosen to wall themselves off from the madding crowd in (Fortymile), a village of logs  deep in the sub-Arctic wilderness? on the face of it, they were men chasing the will-o-the-wisp of fortune . . . But they seemed more like men pursued than men pursuing, and if they sought anything, it was the right to be left alone.

“They were all individuals, as their nicknames (far commoner than formal names) indicated: Salt Water Jack, Big Dick, Squaw Cameron, Jimmy the Pirate, Buckskin Miller, Pete the Pig. Eccentricities of character were the rule. There was one, known as the Old Maiden, who carried fifty pounds of ancient newspapers about with him wherever he went, for, he said, ‘they’re handy to refer to when you get in an argument.’ There was another called Cannibal Ike because of his habit of hacking off great slabs of moose meat with his knife and stuffing them into his mouth raw. One cabin had walls as thin as matchwood because its owner kept chopping away at the logs to feed his fire; he said he did it to let in the light. Another contained three partners and a tame moose which was treated as a house pet. , , ,

“Fortymile, in short, was a community of hermits whose one common bond was their mutual isolation. ‘I feel so long dead and buried that I cannot think a short visit home, as if from the grave, would be of much use,’ wrote William Bompas, a Church of England bishop who found himself in Fortymile. . .

“Fortymile’s residents enjoyed a curious mixture of communism and anarchy.”

Immigrants, Seattle, Travel, History, Family, Writing, and Maine

 

Pederson-Cover-Front

Features excerpts of our wide-ranging lives

 

All  the themes covered in my updated book are finally published after years of work. For decades I believe my mother’s tale that Danish immigrant Hans Pederson left us penniless. Then I uncover the truth about my father’s wealth and prolific contributions to Seattle. I discover my mysterious father’s boom to bust life in the early 1900s as I grapple with family secrets and heartbreaking deception in this very personal memoir. My coming-of-age journey from Seattle to Singapore, Shanghai, Honolulu, New York, New Jersey, Maine and North Carolina.

 

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