REPORT OF THE BOARD OF IMMIGRATION – 1870
[This report of the Board is also an introduction to the more extensive Report of the Commissioner of Immigration, 1870. Several similar reports were made in succeeding years. All are available at the Maine State Archives. See also the Swedish Colony Law.]
To the Honorable, the Senate and House of Representatives:
The Board constituted by the Legislature of 1870 to promote immigration to the settlements of the Public Lands, deem the action entrusted to them of so much importance in its nature, its present stage, and its foreseen results, that they beg leave to present a brief report, which may serve not only to lay the proper information, before the legislature, but to give an outline, yet an accurate account, of the whole undertaking.
It is well known, that at various times hitherto, the subject of inducing immigration from the north of Europe into Maine, has received the attention of those who are interested in her public policy and welfare.
No measures, however, were entered on in any manner that even promised success. The few efforts that were made on a private scale, failed for want of the prudence necessary in selecting or establishing colonists; and with each new agitation and abandonment the end seemed the farther from being accomplished.
What was now to be done had not even the advantage of open ground, but must be carried against the force of previous experiment, and the prejudice of previous reaction.
The movement which has now resulted in the establishment of a colony of Swedes in Maine, originated in a course of interviews and correspondence in the year 1867 with gentlemen in the Western States who were familiar with every aspect of immigration, and whose patriotism was broad enough to embrace the interests of other sections than those which contributed to their private advantage. A grateful recollection would prompt especial acknowledgements―were not the permission of mentioning names withheld―to one gentleman who on a visit to this State was struck by the remarkable advantages which might be afforded here to the best class of colonists, and entered with much interest into the project of a Swedish colony in Maine.
So convincing were the facts and arguments drawn out by this conference, that in the address of the governor to the legislature in 1868, the subject of Swedish immigration was broached with emphasis and yet with caution; the object not being so much at that time to urge immediate action, as to stimulate thought and discussion.
As might be expected, the ideas now propounded met with little more than tolerance, as motions which claimed respect only from the position of the mover and not from the merits of the matter.
The idea, however, took some hold upon our people, and in the address of 1869, the bolder step was taken of advising the legislature to appoint a committee to investigate the subject, a report a feasible plan of operations.
This recommendation received the favor of the intelligent legislature of, that year.
The committee was appointed. Happily at this juncture, the opportune return of William W Thomas, Jr. from an official residence in Sweden, brought to the friends of Scandinavian immigration an able ally. Thus the legislative committee were furnished with extraordinary facilities for ascertaining the elements of the question on the Scandinavian side. This committee rendered valuable service and their part in the matter should not be forgotten. They unanimously reported in favor of the enterprise, and the result was, that at the close of the session of 1869, a resolve was passed authorizing the appointment of a commission to examine the subject, and recommend practical measures for settling our public lands.
The gentlemen, appointed on this commission―the Hon. P.P. Burleigh, W. W. Thomas, Jr., and William Small―fulfilled their mission with great ability, and their report at the close of the year is an interesting part of the history of immigration in Maine.
In noticing the report of this Commission,, the recommendations of previous years were repeated in 1870. The most sanguine friend of the enterprise rallied to its support; and at the close of the session. The Legislature having intelligently weighed the matter, passed an act providing with equal generosity and prudence for the establishment of a Colony of Scandinavians on the soil of Maine.
By this Act the Governor, the Secretary of State, and the Land Agent, were constituted a Board of Immigration. They were authorized to appoint an agent to recruit the colony abroad, and superintend its establishment, and were fortunate in retaining the valuable and indispensable services of Mr. Thomas. The Board met immediately, selected the township in their opinion most favorable for the success of the undertaking, and made those preliminary dispositions of the work which fell to their share. Mr. Thomas proceeded immediately to his duties.
In order to insure the complete success of the undertaking, it was deemed necessary that something more should be done here than collect statistics, prepare maps and circulars, and render aid and comfort to our commissioner abroad; we must make material preparations for the arrival of the colony, by providing for them a home, and some means of sustenance.
These great responsibilities and labors fell upon the land agent, Hon. P. P. Burleigh; and here it may be permitted the chairman of this board to say that the steadfast energy, zeal and discretion of Mr. Burleigh from first to last were vital to the enterprise. The township selected was No. 15, Range 3, west from the east line of the State, lying on the Little Madawaska river, and distant about eight miles from Caribou village in the town of Lyndon. It was covered by an unbroken forest. A survey had been made, roads laid out and lots located. The trees on five acres of each lot were now felled and burned, and a neat log-house eighteen, by twenty-six feet in size erected on each lot, to the number of twenty-five in all. A cook-stove and some necessary provisions were also furnished for each; all, however, upon the strictest principles of economy, and with an eye to the appropriation made by the State.
All was ready. The two elements that had been maturing―two oceans asunder―were now brought together and the experiment would fairly begin. This was done. The least that can be said is, that the intentions of the law were carried out with spirit. The act was passed on the 23d of March, and on the 23d of July the Swedish colony entered their homes in the wilderness. The day and the event, we believe, will be remembered in Maine.
The strangers were welcomed to their new home with the generous hospitality which characterizes the people of Aroostook, and everything was done by the proper authorities consistent with the provisions of the law, to make this new home agreeable and permanent. The colony consisted of fifty individuals, all fitted to make good and reliable citizens. Additions have since been made from Sweden, and of others, of the same nationality, from other places, to the number of one hundred and fourteen, and more are now on the way. All have gone to work at their trades with a skill and determination that augur sure success to the enterprise. Additional acres have been cleared on almost every lot, and winter grain sown. A commodious building has been erected on State land, reserved for the purpose, at a convenient place for the accommodation of the people, as a public storehouse on the lower story, and for school-room and hall for public meetings in the upper story.
A noteworthy feature of this colony is, that they have paid their own expenses hither. All seem contented and happy. They are intelligent and educated, and will become a valuable element in our population. The fame of “New Sweden” has gone abroad on both sides of the Atlantic. Very many inquiries from all quarters are constantly coming in, which are likely to end in large and increasing additions to the colony.
It will be seen that some expenses were necessarily incurred by the Land Agent outside of any specific appropriations. These should be made up to him.
In order to the complete success of the enterprise which the State has thus begun to foster, something more is yet to be done. The colonists have but small means, and having come too late to secure a harvest the last year, some aid is necessary in order to their support until a living can be earned by them in their new home. It is a matter of the utmost importance that the State should make an appropriation sufficient to furnish seed for the colonists in the ensuing spring. Provision should also be made for locating and “bushing out” roads, and establishing lots so as to front upon them, and to meet any contingencies which may attend this early period of the colony. The enterprise is too advanced, and too promising of good, to be allowed to languish or stand still. Successful beyond our hopes, it has now assumed an importance which justifies the liberal policy on the part of the State, to support and foster it. Well sustained and properly managed, there is no doubt that this little colony will prove the forerunner of a most valuable immigration, and the speedy settlement of our great wilderness domain.
We commend to the attention of the Legislature the interesting Report of Mr. Thomas submitted herewith, and would here express our obligations to him for the energy and discretion with which he has conducted one of the most important achievements in the history of Maine.
For the Board of Immigration.