The letter to America

The discovery of a unique letter that became a postage stamp motif and the history of an early emigrant.

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This is the only known letter to the United States with a 3 skilling banco stamp. One of the stamps is damaged and one 24 skilling banco stamp has fallen off. The letter is written by my fathers fathers mothers mothers father, Johannes Danielsson at Eke Klockaregård in Dädesjö Parrish. The receiver is his son Carl Johannesson, who emigrated to the United States in 1854. More about them a bit further down the page. The envelope also contained a letter from his parents-in-law Gustaf Håkansson and Ingri Johansdotter at Näsby Kronogård, Dädesjö. (Photo from Postmuseum in Stockholm)

The letter was discovered by a coincidence. In 2003 I got in contact with a previously unknown relative in the U.S. He had some very exciting things to tell about his ancestor who emigrated from Småland already in 1854. Among other things he had some old letters that had been sent from Sweden to the United States between 1854 and 1865. I got copies of them and they were very interesting to read. He had also copied the envelopes. All except one had no stamps, and I did not pay much attention to them at first. But one day I notice that the envelope was stamped with 3 skilling banco stamps, and I knew that they were rare and valuable. I checked with stamp catalogues and a couple of stamp experts, and found out that this was the first ever known letter to the United States with this stamp. If it had been undamaged it would have been very valuable, but the missing and damaged stamps reduced the value considerably. But it is still a unique object. The envelope has been donated to Postmuseum in Stockholm and the letter inside had been donated to the American Swedish Institute in Minneapolis several years before. The letter (somewhat retouched) can be seen on one of the stamps that were issued May 26th, 2005, for the 150th anniversary of the first Swedish stamps. The motif symbolizes the importance of the letter for keeping in contact with friends and relatives around the world.

Johannes Danielsson (1803-1872) was a farmer and juryman (member of the local court) at Eke Klockaregård in Dädesjö Parrish. He was married to Cajsa Nilsdotter (1808-1897) from Hult Storegård, Herråkra Parrish. Of his seven children, all but his daughter Lisa (my fathers fathers mothers mother) emigrated to the United States. The first letter, dated June 29th, 1854, is addressed to the city of Karlshamn, where his son was waiting for the ship. The letter has many admonitions and Bible quotations. When the next letter is written, dated February 7th, 1855, he has received letters from his son both from Karlshamn and America. That letter and the following are very interesting to read. They tell everything that has happened in the district, which has died and got married, how the crop is growing and what you get for it. He reads the local newspapers and is updated on the latest decisions from the government and the development in the Krim War. In one letter he thanks for the corn and pumpkin seeds that his son has sent to him. The pumpkins got ”long, with grooves and knobbles” and the corn gave ”big cobs with ripe corn” (corn and pumpkins were very uncommon to grow in Sweden then). The year after (1860) the corn is growing poorly and he asks his son instead to send some three and bush seeds from America that he can try to plant in Eke. To his son he sends apple seeds from different threes, and different flower seeds. In one letter he tells about the brutal murder of Joachim in Ebbahult, and in another about a bright comet (the famous Donati’s Comet) that could be seen in the fall of 1858: ”Last fall a Comet could be seen here in the evenings in the west in line with the rear stars of the Big Dipper, in the beginning small, but finally further to the south and unusually big and with a big tail”.

Carl Johannesson (1829-1913) was the first of the children to leave. He left in 1854, via Karlshamn, to New York and further on to Scandia, Washington County, Minnesota. Together with him were his wife Christina Gustafsdotter (1834-1909) from Näsby Kronogård, Dädesjö, and his cousin Sven Karlsson (born 1830) from Skårtaryd Kroken, Dädesjö, with his wife Johanna Johannesdotter. Both couples had got married just before the journey. He got 513 acre of land and changed his name to Charles Ekdahl in the beginning of the 1860s. He took part in the Civil War with Minnesota 4th Regiment, Company G, and marched with General Sherman in the infamous March to the Sea in 1864. He was hit by a musket ball but not seriously wounded. He was a county supervisor during six terms and a member of the local school board for several years. 1874-75 he represented his district in the Minnesota State Legislature. In 1887 he built a general store and a residence in Otisville, Minnesota, where he also was postmaster from 1886 to his death in 1913. EkdahlTo the left is a photo of Charles Ekdahl from the 1870s, and to the right a photo of Charles and his wife Christina (Stina) from the beginning of the 1900s.

There are also preserved letters that Carl (Charles) sent to his relatives in Sweden between 1856 and 1906, but I only have English summaries of those. In the first letter, dated August 5th, 1856, he thanks for the cloth and money (150 riksdaler) that his father has sent to him. They have a friendly relationship with the local Sioux Tribe and they buy deer meat from them. He writes that he seldom uses suspenders, but instead belts (it seems to be something new to him). For holidays they dress like the upper class back in Sweden. In the next letter, dated February 22nd, 1860, he describes the political system in detail and also the election procedures. He mentions that the president is James Buchanan, and that the slave states has threaten to set up a union organization of their own if a Republican is elected next year (the Republican Abraham Lincoln was elected). When the next letter is written, dated March 24th, 1862, the Civil War has started. He expresses his sadness for what the war is costing in human lives and money. In a letter dated January 23rd, 1891, he tells that his brothers Daniel and Johan have died in nerve-fever. The last letter from 1906 has a letterhead that reads, ”Charles Ekdahl, General Merchandise and Building Material.” By then his parents have been dead for several years (his father for more than 30 years), and the only close relative left in Sweden is his sister Lisa. A few years before, he had visited Sweden and his old home district, which he had left more than 50 years before.

A descendant of Charles Ekdahl is Mark Parrish, a former professional ice hockey player in the NHL 1998-2011*, and a member of the U.S. hockey team in the World Championships 1998, 2001, and 2005. He was also a member of the U.S. hockey team in the 2006 Olympic Winter Games in Turin, Italy.

*In the following teams: Florida Panthers 1998-2000, New York Islanders 2000-2006, Los Angeles Kings 2006, Minnesota Wild 2006-2008, Dallas Stars 2008-2009, Tampa Bay Lightning 2010, and Buffalo Sabres 2011.

Great thanks to Daniel Schivone in Saint Paul, Minnesota, for all the information about Charles Ekdahl.