Beginning in the 1570s Sweden began a policy of inviting immigrants from Finland to open the way for development in thinly inhabited wilderness districts. In response to the royal invitation a particularly energetic group of semi-nomads known as axe-wielders soon swarmed over the land, disregarding property lines, throwing together hunter's shanties, slaughtering bear, moose, and deer for food and hides, and raising cabins of round logs roofed with boards held down by the weight of poles and cross pieces. They loosed hogs to feed in the coniferous forests and tore through the timber, torching downed trees and sowing rye among the stumps, making spirits from the grain. In this manner they eventually slashed and burned their way from the Baltic Sea to the Norwegian border.
In the 1640s this cabin-dwelling, hog-killing, liquor-distilling society came ashore in the colony of New Sweden on the Delaware—mainly through Fort Christina (Wilmington, Del.), named for Sweden's child queen who commissioned Dutchman Peter Minuit to found a colony in North America—a place at last where Sweden could dump its Finnish problem and at the same time make emperial use of agressive pioneering methods that got the Finns into trouble in the first place. From Fort Christina the axe-weilders spread north to dominate what became Pennsylvania's Chester Township, and crossed the river to the land between the Delaware and Salem River in New Jersey.
Near the kills and rivers they and their Swedish neighbors built low, one-room cabins of crisscrossed tree trunks locked together with corner notches. Without suitable moss, they sealed spaces between the logs with mud, and closed window holes with sliding shutters. In winter they slept under bear and wolf skins. When the garments they arrived in disintegrated they made waistcoats and breeches from elk and deer skins, caps of skin or fur, and replaced worn out shoes with a type of old world footwear called kippaka. At first they had no horses or beasts of burden. The rivers flowing down to the Bay were their highways into the country.
When the Dutch captured Fort Christina in 1655 the new governor Peter Stuyvesant saw no reason to interfere with settlers who succeeded where the Dutch failed, who not only survived in the wilderness but thrived on it. And still Finns were eager to emmigrate from Sweden, lured by stories of endless forest and abundant game. As late as 1693 Swedes and Finns petitioning Sweden for bibles and other religious texts informed potential colonists that not only was the land rich, "there is here also a great abundance of all kinds of wild animals, birds and fish."
The colony passed into British hands in 1664 as spoils of the Dutch surrender of New Netherlands, and for eighteen years little changed. Many "did not trouble themselves [about taking deeds from the English] but only agreed with the Indians for a piece of land for which they gave a gun, a kettle, a fur coat, or the like ... for the land was superabundant, the inhabitants few, and the government not strict." According to Israel Acrelius they "lived in great quiet, but in still greater idleness" with "no agriculture, no traffic, or no more than was required by absolute necessity." Old settlers remenisced to Peter Kalm in 1747 that with "no other people to associate with than the native Indians" the settlers "soon began to differ in their actions and manners from the Europeans and old Swedes and began to resemble the Indians. At the arrival of the English," Kalm said, "the Swedes to a large extent were not much better than savages."
When William Penn arrived in 1682, after being gifted by the future king James II with all the land west of the Delaware, he found Swedes around Wiccacoa (Philadelphia) who paddled and poled dugout canoes to a log church that had "loopholes" instead of "window lights." They brought firearms to defend themselves against the Iroquois who were also enemies of the local Lenape Indians, but used their guns mostly to kill deer and elk. Penn admired their apparent desire "to have enough, rather than a superfluity," but soon used his proprietary power to acquire their land. An old Dutchman who had married a Swede told Peter Kalm that "Penn took much land away from the Swedes and Dutch who lived near Philadelphia and gave it to the Quakers under the pretext that the Swedes had more than they needed and that otherwise it would lie waste and uncultivated." Penn compensated them with ten thousand acres on Manatawny Creek "sixty miles higher up in the country ... that they might there have more room, and live together."
Although James had earlier "ratified" a Dutch grant of eight hundred acres to Sven Gunnarson and his sons Olof, Anders, and Sven who were known collectively as the Svenssoner—later anglicized to Swanson—William Penn selected the forest around their homes as the site for Philadelphia. He had their title extinguished, giving them double the acerage four miles away on the Schulkill. Later, Thomas Penn who Peter Kalm called "the meanest and stingiest of men ... had [the new grant] surveyed three or four times, and each time he cut off a slice from it." The original Swanson homes, including a log house above a landing for boats and canoes near a grove of large sycamores, slowly disintegrated until the British used the last logs for firewood during the Revolution.
The new grants farther up the Schulkill brought the Scandinavians closer to Indians who saw enough similarity between their ways of life to call the Scandinavians their "brothers." Acrelius said Swedes and Finns became so "acquainted with the [Delaware] language" that "there are still [in 1750] some of the older ones who express themselves quite well in it."
Like the Indians, the dispossessed Finns and Swedes sought new country, away from population centers, higher up the Delaware, east into New Jersey, west along the Schuylkill, and south into the "Hunting Country" at the northern end of the Chesapeake Bay. Perhaps not surprisingly, Native Americans welcomed transient woodsmen like John Hansson Steelman, who bartered for deer skins and furs with Nanticokes, Conoys, and Conestogas on Big Elk Creek in Cecil County, Md. He moved to the Susquehanna in 1706, and later even farther west.
|Diamond notching—formed when the bottom ends of v-notched logs were trimmed to create a diamond shape—is found most frequently in west central North Carolina, but has also been found in western Pennsylvania and the Virginia Piedmont. This distinctively Scandinavian technique migrated south with Finns and Swedes and those who were influenced by them.|
Many Quakers like Daniel Boone's parents and grandparents—who settled on Owatin Creek near the Swedes' Manatawny settlement—followed the Scandinavians to the the frontier. As time passed occasional intermarriage and intercultural exchange with Indians and each other made it hard to tell Finns and Swedes from their British neighbors; and surnames changed. In 1641 the Swedish Crown transported Pehr Larsson, a Finn, to New Sweden for burning the forest to clear land. He took the name Kock (or Cock) because he was a cook on the immigrant ship Charitas. He spent several years as a bond slave hoeing tobacco on the Schuylkill, was freed, later married, and became such an ardent British partisan that he helped quell a Swedish insurrection, knifing the hand of the ringleader who tried to escape from the room in which he was trapped. Cock died in 1688, and by 1693 forty-seven male descendants bore his adopted surname. About the year 1740 his grandson Isaac settled on Patterson's Creek in the mountains of what is now West Virginia where he was known to Colonel George Washington as Friend Isaac Cockes.
About this time a family named Cocke turned up in Bedford County, Va. And sometime before the Revolution a John Cocke moved with his family from Bedford to Crooked Creek of New River. In 1781 he served two months in the militia company of a Captain John Cox who lived close by on Peach Bottom Creek. The two families were completely unrelated as we see by the careful distinction John Cocke made in his pension application between his name Cocke, and his captain's, Cox. Another of the Bedford Cockes, Charles, lived on Cripple Creek of New River, not far from his probable relation John Cocke. A superior woodsman, Charles served as a captain of spies patrolling in Powell's Valley. But "although he had a great deal of common sense [he was] destitute of the knowledge of letters."
Whether or not these Cockes were ethnic Finns, it is indisputable that in the early eighteenth century Scandinavian descendants were moving south and west from the Delaware with their English and Irish neighbors. In the 1740s George Robinson with his brothers David and Joseph Robinson, and his brothers-in-law Bryan McDonald and William Graham, moved from Mill Creek Hundred on the Delaware to Buffalo (now Tinker) Creek in southwestern Virginia. Nothing in the records indicates clan patriarch George Robinson was anything but an Irishman; however, his daughter Mary Robinson McDonald told her children that, while her McDonald in-laws were from Scotland by way of Ireland, her Robinson ancestors were from Sweden. In 1749 Moravian missionary Bernhardt Schnell visited the mill of Justice "Robeson" on Buffalo Creek, perhaps giving in his diary the correct spelling of the name.
On June 17, 1742 Andrew Campbell of Opequon Creek in the Virginia Valley, advertised in the Pennsylvania Gazette for the return of his servant "Stephen Holtstyn, aged about 33, tall and slender, swarthy complexion" who made off with "a gray Horse [and] a Gun." He was almost certainly a descendent of one of the Finns named Holstein who settled at Fort Christina, although he may not have been the Stephen Holston who gave his name to Holston River in southwest Virginia.
That Stephen Holston and his brother Henry settled first on Craig’s Creek where both signed a petition for a road in 1745. It wasn't long, however, before Stephen showed up on what was then known as Indian—thereafter Holston—River and built a hillside cabin near the head spring of the middle fork—twenty miles west of the nearest settlement. On August 19, 1747 Stephen was charged for resisting arrest at Augusta Courthouse. And in 1748 the county listed him as a tax delinquent "not found" because by then he had sold his land and cabin to James Davis, and with his brother Henry and others launched dugout canoes and descended the Tennessee and Mississippi as far Natchez. By 1753 the Holston brothers were back from the west, Henry at the fork of John’s and Craig’s Creek in present Craig Co. Va., and Stephen on Little Saluda River in South Carolina where forty Cherokees ransacked his double log house, frightening his wife who escaped through a window with her baby. Here we lose his track. He probably moved west, perhaps all the way to the Mississippi where, before the Louisiana Purchase, Holstons lived on Sicily Island, a few miles west of Natchez.
The French War drove Henry Holston from Craig’s Creek to Bedford County east of the Blue Ridge. But he didn’t outrun danger. In 1757 the Shawnee captured his son Stephen. When young Stephen Holston returned from captivity he served against the Shawnee in 1774, the Cherokee in 1776, and against the British at the Battle of Guilford Courthouse in 1781.
In Bedford the Holstons were neighbors to the Vardemans who also had Scandinavian roots. John Vardeman arrived on the Delaware from Sweden in 1725, a child of seven. As an adult he married Elizabeth Morgan either before or after settling in present Newberry County, S. C., only a short distance from Stephen Holston's Saluda cabin. Like Henry Holston and the Cockes he settled in Bedford County where in 1758 an aged kinsman William Vardeman, in pursuit of Cherokee horse thieves on Staunton River, flung up his "Elder stick" to fend off a tomahawk flying at his head. In 1767 John Vardeman moved to Reed Creek twelve miles west of Fort Chiswell, and in 1775 was one of the axmen who helped Boone cut a pack-horse trail through Cumberland Gap, after which he settled on Maiden Spring fork of Clinch River. In 1779 he moved to Crab Orchard, Ky. and died finally in 1827 at the age of 109 in his son's Missouri home. His eldest son William settled in the Natchez country near descendants of the Holstons.