Koshkonong, Wisconsin Settlement
Dane County, Wisconsin
The largest and most important Norwegian-American settlement in Wisconsin was Koshkonong. In 1840, pioneers from Jefferson Prairie and Fox River moved to this area, which is close to present-day Madison, Wisconsin. Gunnul Olsen Vindegg is credited as the first to claim land in this area and he was quickly followed by others. Sondre Sondresen and his wife Ingeliev left Skålebo in Tinn, Telemark for Wisconsin in 1840, and may have been the first Telemark settlers at Koshkonong.
689 parishioners in upper Telemark signed out of their parishes for Amerika in 1843. This was the beginning of the great exodus, which would in the next two decades become a flood as entire communities were beckoned to America by "America Letters" that promised good land and a bright future. The first large party of Telers to head directly to Koshkonong made the trip in 1843, led by Olav Knutson Trovaten.
By 1850, over half of the 5,000 Norwegians in Wisconsin lived in the Koshkonong settlement. As more Norwegian immigrants came to Wisconsin, Koshkonong became large enough so that it was split into an East and a West church community. In the 1840's there were 543 families or 2,670 people. In the 1860's there were 633 families or 3,699 people. 150 years ago Koshkonong Prairie was known as "Queen of the Norwegian Settlements." This became the largest settlement of Norwegian immigrants in America, and over the years became the parent of key settlements in Minnesota, Iowa, and elsewhere in the Midwest.
As with all immigrants, food became an important way of expressing cultural identity, and lefse, lutefisk, and rommegrøt quickly became recognized Norwegian staples. Unlike many other ethnic groups in Wisconsin, the Norwegians immigrants retained much of their culture, in no small part because of their tight-knit communities. In Norway, the church was the centerpiece of the community, and reflected not only religious faithfulness but also provided an identity for each area's moral, social and political culture. It is not surprising that the first concern of immigrants was to create Lutheran congregations that served that same role. In the fall of 1844 the Koshkonong area was visited by Norwegian minister, Johannes Wilhelm Christian Dietrichson. Congregations serving the East and West areas of the settlements would spring up soon after.
The Norwegian language was maintained through church services and passed along to succeeding generations through church education. In many areas, Norwegian language church school and confirmation instruction continued until World War II. Well into the mid 1900's, storefronts in many rural midwestern towns advertised their products and sales in Norwegian. The Norwegian immigrants also created a large and active Norwegian-language press. Norwegian-American newspapers allowed immigrants to communicate with each other and develop a strong sense of national community.
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