History

Swedish Immigrants in Texas

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East Sweden Presbyterian Church

Photo by andrewbutlerphotos.com
By John Hallowell

This historic church was the focal point of a Swedish settlement (called East Sweden) just east of Brady in McCulloch County.

It would be impossible to write a story of Swedes in the Hill Country without mentioning Sven Magnus Swenson; although he never lived in the Hill Country and spent his later years in New York City, he was the first Swedish immigrant to settle in Texas and the driving force behind much of the Swedish immigration that followed. And it was Swenson’s cousins, whom he had encouraged to come to Texas, who first settled the area called East Sweden in McCulloch County.

Swenson left his home in southeastern Sweden at twenty years of age, telling his mother in a letter that “I will get there (to America) someway or another, and I will make my fortune there. That was in 1836, the year that Texas declared its independence from Mexico. He arrived shortly thereafter in New York, where he went to school for two years before sailing to Galveston in 1838. The ship was wrecked just outside of Galveston, and Swenson lost all his possessions, but he was able to collect enough salvage from the wreck to go into business as a peddler. One of his customers, a Dr. Long, became a good friend, and when Dr. Long died in 1842, Swenson married the doctor’s young widow and inherited a plantation with 40 slaves.

Texas joined the United States in 1845, and looked for settlers to increase its population. Newspapers in Europe extolled the “American Dream,” and published glowing reports of the good land and great opportunities in Texas. Large numbers were coming from Germany, and Swenson decided to recruit some from Sweden as well. He sent for his uncle, Swante Palm and two cousins, Daniel and Carl Hurd. In 1846, Swenson made a journey to Sweden, recruiting more immigrants and bringing his sister, Annie, back with him. In 1854, with his business making money supplying settlers all along the frontier, Swenson turned his attention to acquiring land. By 1860, he owned more than 600,000 acres: 128.000 in the Austin area and nearly 500,000 in West Texas. According to the 1860 census, there were 163 Swedes  in Texas that year; Swenson sent Daniel Hurd back to recruit another 300.

Swante Magnus Swenson
Photo by williamson-county-historical-commission.org

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