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Subject: Norwegian Sailors in American Waters - 185-195
Date: Thu, 15 Aug 2002 08:54:21 -0700


The following selection is taken from "Norwegian Sailors in American
Waters" published by the Norwegian-American Historical Association (NAHA)
in 1933. The volume is out of print and not available from NAHA at where you will also find the first 33 volumes
of Studies and Records online. This chapter is published with the kind
permission of NAHA. The book this selection is drawn from is under
copyright and permission has been granted for educational purposes and it
is not to be used in any way for any commercial purposes.


WE have seen that personal freedom and the rights of man were grudgingly
and tardily granted to seamen. It was a long time also before definite
steps were taken to promote their spiritual, social, and moral welfare.
In Norway, where a large part of the youth of the nation go to sea at the
age of fourteen or fifteen, to be separated from friends and relatives
for long periods and to be exposed to hardships and privations and to the
temptations offered by the seaports of the world, the welfare of the
young seaman is not merely a matter of religious and altruistic sentiment
but an important social and economic problem. If no effort is made to
prevent it, the loneliness that the young seafarer feels at first may
develop into indifference to his homeland, and it is important that his
loyalty to home and relatives be kept alive. Thus the home folks have
gradually come to see that the welfare of the seaman is identical with
the welfare of the nation and that it is their duty to reach out friendly
hands to help the sailor walk in the paths of religious faith and moral
rectitude and to keep inviolate the tender ties that bind him to home and
In 1864 the Norwegian Seamen’s Mission Society (Foreningen til
Evangeliets Forkyndelse for skandinaviske Sjømænd i fremmede Havne) was
organized in Bergen, Norway, through the efforts of the Reverend Johan
Cordt Harmens Storjohan, and pastors were sent out to leading seaports in
England and other countries to do missionary work among Norwegian
sailors. The society has since been active in establishing churches for
Norwegian seamen in all lands and in encouraging the organization of
sailors’ homes by local organizations and individuals.
Religious work among the Scandinavian seamen of New York began in the
sixties. A Lutheran congregation of the Norwegian Synod, organized there
in 1866, from the time of its beginning conducted active missionary work
among the seamen. In 1867 the Norwegian Seamen’s Mission Society decided
to contribute to this congregation and its pastor a yearly sum of twelve
hundred kroner for their work among the Norwegian sailors, who were
rapidly increasing. The Norwegian Synod pastors Reverend O. Juul and
Reverend C. S. Everson did an important work among the seamen, the former
from 1867 to 1876 and the latter during the two years following. In 1871
steps were taken to raise funds for the erection of a suitable house of
worship. The building, a combined seamen’s and parish church on Monroe
Street near the East River, was dedicated on September 29, 1872.
During this period some twelve or thirteen hundred Norwegian vessels were
arriving in New York every year; as the number of seamen increased and
the resident population grew, the joint seamen’s and parish church was
found to be impractical, and in 1878 the Norwegian Seamen’s Mission
Society sent O. Asperheim, professor in the Norwegian Lutheran Synod
Theological Seminary at Madison, Wisconsin, to take charge of the
seamen’s mission work in Brooklyn. For a time services were conducted in
a rented hall, but in 1879 a Methodist church building, located at what
is now 111 Pioneer Street, was purchased on a mortgage foreclosure. The
church was large and commodious and the location favorable. In 1880, when
Asperheim returned to Norway, the Seamen’s Mission Society sent Reverend
Andreas Mortensen to take his place. Besides some twelve hundred
Norwegian ships that entered the port annually, there were numerous
Danish, Swedish, and Finnish vessels, and on Sundays the church was
usually filled with Scandinavian sailors. A seven-thousand-dollar
indebtedness on the church was a heavy burden for a time, but in 1882 the
firm holding the mortgage relinquished its claim and the church was freed
from debt.
Though the number of Norwegian sailors in the harbor of New York
decreased with the disappearance of the sailing vessel, the work in the
Seamen’s Church grew, for many people in the city attended services there
and regarded it as their own parish church. In 1885, when Pastor
Mortensen returned to Norway, Reverend Carsten Hansteen, who had been
assistant pastor since 1883, became pastor and Reverend Kristen K.
Saarheim, assistant pastor. {1} More recently the number of Norwegian
seamen in New York has again increased, since a greater number were
serving on American ships than formerly. Before the restriction of
immigration in 1921 and 1924 their number was probably not much smaller
than in the days when the sailing vessels flourished, and the Norwegian
Seamen’s Church continued to be the center where many of them assembled.
In a report of 1926 Reverend Vilheim Vilhelmsen writes, "The Norwegian
Seamen’s Church in Brooklyn is probably more than any other place in the
world a meeting place for seamen from the Scandinavian countries. During
the year about 300,000 men pass in and out here, or about 1,000 men a
day." The church has a large reading room equipped with books,
newspapers, periodicals, and free stationery. In one year sixty thousand
envelopes and sheets of letter paper were furnished. In connection with
the reading room is a post office containing eight hundred individual
mail boxes. In 1925 over a hundred thousand letters were received for
seamen, of which over nine thousand were forwarded to other addresses.
As the years pass many seamen cease to communicate with their families at
home and are counted as lost. On one occasion a father in Norway, eighty
years old, wrote to the Norwegian Seamen’s Church in Brooklyn that he had
nine sons in America, but did not know the address of any one of them and
had heard nothing from them for a long time; often a wife, perhaps the
mother of children whom she has no means of supporting, has a sailor
husband from whom she no longer hears. In such cases the church
institutes a search, and it has been successful in finding about half the
lost ones and in persuading them to reestablish connections with their
families. From the beginning of 1915 until November 1, 1927, search had
been made for 4,725 lost men, of whom 2,650 were found.
The Seamen’s Church serves also as a banking institution where sailors
can deposit their money for safe-keeping, and it assists them free of
charge in sending money to their folks at home. In 1925 the church sent
5,988 remittances, totaling about $387,820. It carried 2,908 accounts
amounting to about $1,045,000. {2} In cases of sickness the church
generally sees to it that the patient is brought to a hospital and is
given proper care. The church has received financial aid from the
Norwegian Lutheran church of America and at times from other benevolent
In 1925 Dr. Frank Crane wrote as follows in the New York Journal:

A meeting was held in New York at which the Norwegian Seamen’s Church of
Brooklyn was discussed.
This is a peculiar institution. It seems to be more than a church, or
rather, it seems to be a church in the full modern sense of the idea.
It stresses service. It is not so particularly concerned with the
people’s ideas and opinions, with their creeds and notions, as it is in
helping the class of people who need help.
The sailor is a rover. He has no home ties that bind him, as a rule. And
many sailors are Norwegian, or some kind of Scandinavian.
This has always been a sea-going and sea-loving race, and now the hand of
service is stretched out to help them.
The Norwegian church in Brooklyn has been fifty years engaged in
successful work and has lately been increased by great strides. Its work
not only includes work done for Norwegian sailors, but a constant
visiting of the hospitals to people of all countries.
It cares for the shipwrecked. It is a postoffice where the lost and found
are looked after.
It has outgrown its old quarters in Brooklyn and is now engaged in a
campaign for a new building. This is sadly needed and there are few works
of society that better deserve support.
To many sailors the Seamen’s Church is the goal first sought when they
strike New York. These men come from every part of New York, and from
Yonkers and Bayonne.
They amount to over half a million visitors a year. They are mostly
Norwegian, Swedish or Danish, and a full quarter of them are American
citizens who have taken out their first papers.
They come from the four corners of the earth and the Church to most of
them is their only address.

As the church gradually outgrew its old quarters in 111 Pioneer Street,
the management took steps to secure a more suitable church edifice and in
1927 succeeded in purchasing the large and beautiful Westminster
Presbyterian Church at Clinton Street and First Place in Brooklyn, where
it established itself the following year.
The ill treatment of sailors by crimps and boarding-house keepers in
years past moved persons interested in the welfare of the seamen to
organize also the Scandinavian Sailors’ Temperance Home in Brooklyn,
where seamen can get board and lodging at reasonable rates and where they
are not subject to corrupting contact with undesirable elements. The
initial steps in the founding of this institution were taken in 1886 by
Captain Magnus Andersen, who returned to Norway in 1889. The by-laws of
the institution state that the business of the Home shall consist in the
promotion of the welfare and morals of the seamen of Norwegian, Swedish,
and Danish nationality in the port of New York and that the
superintendent is vested with discretionary power in temporarily
extending aid in the form of shelter and board to seamen of Scandinavian
nationality who may find their way to the Home. According to the annual
report of the Home, it was visited in the fiscal year ending September
30, 1925, by 3,951 seamen, a number of whom were given a night’s lodging
or free meals. The Home also serves as an employment bureau, and during
the same fiscal year employment on board ship was found for 2,195
Scandinavians. It also receives money on deposit for seamen and aids them
in making remittances to families and relatives at home.
The Norwegian Seamen’s Church in Philadelphia is similar to that in
Brooklyn. After work had been conducted for many years in rented
quarters, a small church building at 262 South Fourth Street was bought
in 1916. The Reverend H. Midtbø had been serving as pastor since 1912; in
1921, when he returned to Norway, the Reverend E. Krogstad became pastor
and later the Reverend Hansen Bauer. Although the church was neither
large nor attractive, its work continued to expand. In 1928 it was
visited by 27,660 seamen, and the deposits of sailors’ funds reached the
sum of $73,364. {3} In 1929 the management bought the State Bank Building
at 22 South Third Street and remodeled it for chapel, offices, and
reading room; since that time the number of seamen visiting the church
has almost trebled, says the Reverend Syllander Brekke, its present
pastor, and the general work of the institution has had a corresponding
In 1919 a branch of the Philadelphia mission station was established in
Baltimore at 5 South Broadway. The following year a building was
purchased and remodeled for chapel, reading room, offices, and apartment
for the superintendent and his family. This station has grown to be one
of the most important Norwegian seamen’s missions in America. It is
visited yearly by about twenty thousand Scandinavian seamen, and in 1927
the money sent by sailors through its office to relatives across the sea
totaled about fifty thousand dollars. {4}
The missionary work among the Scandinavian seamen in Baltimore was begun
in 1923 by the Reverend C. F. Nilsen, pastor of the Scandinavian
Methodist church. The directors of the city mission placed at his
disposal a commodious church, the Seamen’s Bethel at Aliceanna and Bethel
streets, in which provision was made for a reading room and library. A
Scandinavian seamen’s home established in 1926 at 224 South Broadway,
with Fred Berg as superintendent and Reverend C. F. Nilsen as chaplain,
was affiliated with the church. At the time it opened the home had
accommodations for forty-five persons. {5}
In the eighties Halvor Iversen, a ship’s carpenter in Brunswick, Georgia,
began missionary work among the Scandinavian seamen there and with the
aid of friends succeeded in building a small church, the Norwegian
Bethel. In 1892 he was employed by the Savannah Port Society as
missionary in Savannah, where he built a home for Norwegian seamen,
equipped with chapel, reading room, and offices. The station received
financial aid from the Seamen’s Mission Society of Norway until 1903,
when aid was discontinued because of the decline in the number of
Norwegian seamen attendant on the disappearance of small sailing vessels
in American ports. {6}
In the years from 1900 to 1915 a number of Norwegian families settled on
Jefferson Point and at other places on Noodles Isand, now East Boston.
Mission work there was begun by the Reverend B. E. Bergesen, pastor of
the Norwegian Lutheran church in Roxbury, Boston, who regarded that
section of the city as a promising field for church work. In 1910
Reverend Joseph Johnson was called as pastor. A congregation was
organized in 1911, and in 1917 a church was built at 28 Paris Street,
East Boston, at a cost of sixty thousand dollars. This church, which is a
joint parish and seamen’s church under the jurisdiction of the Norwegian
Lutheran church of America, conducts the same activities as Norwegian
seamen’s churches in other ports. Some years ago Jews began to settle in
this district, and later Italians crowded out the Jews. Most of the
Norwegian families moved to other residence districts where conditions
were more congenial and attractive. About a hundred Norwegian families
now belong to the church, according to Reverend Axel Bergh, its present
pastor, but they are scattered through all the parts of the city of
Boston, some living twenty-five miles away. Their children usually attend
other churches, and the situation for the parish and seamen’s church in
East Boston is a very difficult one. {7}
At the Scandinavian Sailors’ Home, Inc., at 111 Webster Street, East
Boston, which is conducted by the Swedish Mission Friends, seamen can
obtain board and lodging at reasonable rates, and many Norwegian sailors
find it convenient to stay there. The Swedish Lutheran Augustana Synod
also maintains a seamen’s home and mission on Henry Street, East Boston,
near the Norwegian Seamen’s Church.
In 1875 the Norwegian Seamen’s Mission Society decided to establish a
mission in Quebec and a branch station in Pensacola, Florida. The
building in Quebec in which the work was conducted was rented at first,
but later was bought and remodeled to meet the needs of the mission and
in 1887 was dedicated as a seamen’s church. At the time the missionary
work was begun about three hundred ships entered the port of Quebec every
year, but in the eighties and nineties, as ships began to anchor in
smaller harbors nearer the sea, the number decreased, and attendance at
the church in Quebec declined.
The work in Pensacola was begun in 1876; in 1893, when the joint
operation of the two stations was terminated, the Pensacola mission
became an independent station. The pastor in charge at Quebec then sought
to establish branches in Charleston, South Carolina, and in Brunswick and
Savannah, Georgia, but the Quebec station finally had to be closed and in
1898 the church was sold.
At the time the Pensacola mission was established there was great
activity in that port. Oftentimes from sixty to a hundred sailing vessels
were anchored in the harbor, the greater number of them carrying the
Norwegian flag. In 1878 a Norwegian seamen’s mission church was built and
dedicated, but this structure, a wooden one, was destroyed by fire in
1885. Through the aid of interested seamen and especially through the
efforts of C. F. Boysen, Norwegian-Swedish vice consul in Pensacola, a
new brick church was erected the following year with reading room,
offices, and living quarters for the pastor and his family. Being
favorably situated, it was for a time visited by great numbers of seamen.
But with the increase of steamship traffic small sailing vessels
gradually disappeared from this harbor as from others, its importance as
a center of shipping waned, and the number of visiting Norwegian seamen
finally became so small that the station was abandoned and the church
sold. This was a great loss for the Norwegians living in Pensacola; they
now have no congregation and no church of their own. {8}
Pensacola’s great rival as a seaport was Mobile, Alabama, where a large
number of vessels were engaged in the export of lumber, cotton, and other
commodities. From time to time the pastor in charge of the seamen’s
mission in Pensacola went to Mobile to conduct devotional meetings among
the Scandinavian seamen, and when Pensacola became an independent mission
in 1893 a branch station was organized in Mobile. In 1894 a building was
leased on St. Francis Street and remodeled for the use of the mission,
and an assistant was sent from Pensacola to take charge; the following
year the Mobile station had its own assistant superintendent. As a result
of the continued increase of shipping in Mobile and the decline of
traffic in Pensacola the pastor in charge of the seamen’s mission was
transferred in 1909 to Mobile, which now became the leading Norwegian
seamen’s mission station on the Gulf. The Pensacola station was continued
for a time as a branch station, but was finally closed. In 1918 a church
at 156 Conception Street was bought for the station in Mobile.
In recent years the banana trade has increased the traffic in the harbor
of Mobile. Many Norwegian steamers are employed in this trade, and often
there are a large number of Norwegian seamen in port, many of whom are
constant visitors at the seamen’s mission. The church has also become a
social center for the Norwegians living in the city; having no
congregation or parish church of their own, they are glad to assemble
there and join the seamen in social activities as well as in religious
services. At present the station is a branch of the Norwegian Seamen’s
Church of New Orleans and is in charge of J. W. Skoglund, assistant
In 1906 A. Gjertsen, who had served as assistant superintendent of the
Mobile station, went to New Orleans and began church work among the
Scandinavian seamen there. A branch station was soon organized, and
through the valuable assistance given by A. E. Ugland, at that time
Norwegian vice consul in New Orleans, and by others, a building was
bought at 1057 Magazine Street. The history of the Pensacola and Mobile
stations was now repeated. The growth of shipping in New Orleans, second
largest seaport in the United States, resulted in a rapid development of
the mission there, whereas the Mobile station suffered a decline because
of the decrease of shipping in that port. The branch station in New
Orleans then became the chief Norwegian seamen’s mission station on the
Gulf, and Mobile became a branch station managed by an assistant
superintendent. After a time a more commodious building was bought for
the New Orleans station at 1772 Prytania Street, where it is now located.
Mr. Gjertsen served as superintendent until 1926, when he was succeeded
by Reverend Olaf Lohne of Bergen, Norway, the present pastor and
At the time when Mobile was the chief mission station on the Gulf and
Pensacola and New Orleans were branch stations, a third branch was
established in Gulfport, Mississippi, which was visited annually by a
large number of Norwegian vessels. In 1912 a building site was leased
from the Gulf and Ship Island Railroad for the nominal sum of one dollar
a year, and a small church, with a chapel and rooms for the assistant
superintendent and his family, was built. For a time the outlook seemed
promising, but during the World War Norwegian shipping decreased so
rapidly that the mission station had to be abandoned.
In Galveston, Texas, the Norwegian Seamen’s Church, established by the
Norwegian Lutheran Synod in 1910, has served as a combined parish and
seamen’s church, the Norwegians in the city having no church of their
own. The church building, a wooden structure sixty feet long, twenty-five
feet wide, and two stories high, with chapel, assembly room, reading
room, kitchen, and superintendent’s office, is situated at 18th Street
and Market, or D Street. For many years an important work was done here
by the missionary pastors J. M. J. Buckneberg, E. A. N. B. Orting, O. K.
C. Brevik, and others. In recent years, however, the number of Norwegian
seamen in Galveston has decreased, and the Norwegian Seamen’s Church is
now closed.
In 1929 a new Norwegian seamen’s mission station was established in
Norfolk, Virginia, and a branch station in Newport News has been
organized in the former Scandinavian Lutheran church on 811 Moran Ave.
{9} A Norwegian seamen’s church, which is operated only during the summer
months, has also been established in Montreal, Canada.

<1> Foreningen til Evangeliets Forkyndelse for skandinaviske Sjømænd i
fremmede Havne i dens første 25 Aar, 1864—1889, 104 if. This work,
brought out at Bergen in 1889, was published by the managing board of the
society with which it deals.
<2> Vilheim Vilhelmsen, New York Stationen i 1926.
<3> Nordisk Tidende, April 7, 1927. Foreningen til Evangeliets
Forkyndelse for skandinaviske Sjømænd, 1864—1914, 234 f.
<4> Nordisk Tidende, November 29, 1919; June 7, 1929.
<5> Nordisk Tidende, April 15, 1926; August 23, 1928.
<6> Foreningen til Evangeliets Forkyndelse for skandinaviske Sjømænd.
1864—1 889,
<7> Lutheraneren (Minneapolis), November 6, 1829; Nordisk Tidende,
February 3, 1927.
<8> Foreningen til Evangeliets Forkyndelse for skandinaviske Sjømænd,
1864—1889, 178 ff.
<9> Nordisk Tidende, March 13, 1930.

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