“Come let’s go to America”. The way she said it sounded like America was just behind the barn. With two of his daughters married and already living in America it split up his family. Your children should all live around you so you wouldn’t be alone in your old age but the way it looks now, he was sadly thinking, they would all leave some day. To be with them, would he have to leave Norway where his roots were deep–?” Excerpt from “The Husmand” by Elsie Hagan MacPherson¹
Lars Gulbrandson was born in the province of Buskerud, Norway in 1821. Since traditionally, only the oldest son inherited a father’s farm or business, younger sons would hire themselves out. As the second son, Lars went to work on his uncle’s small farm near Honefoss (Hen Falls) so that he could inherit the old bachelor’s tenant farm rights. Tenant farmers, known as husmann/husmand in Norway, took on the name of their landowner, so Lars gained the last name Haselhaugen upon arriving at his uncle’s farm.
pretty girl in the big house
When Lars was about 23 years of age, he was helping his uncle at the landowner’s “Big House” and crossed paths with a pretty new hired girl named Ragnhild, who had come from a husmann farm in the forest. The two fell head over heels in love and were married in January of 1846. The couple went on to have ten children (three sons and seven daughters.)
The 1801 Census of Norway listed one-third of Norway’s population as husmann. These tenant farmers worked as much as eleven hours a day, six days a week, year-round to pay wealthy landowners for rights to live on a small farm. Their wives usually served as domestic help to the master of the main house. In 1825, organized immigration to the US began, propelled by the promise of land ownership, something which was virtually impossible for a husmann in Norway.
As the population grew over the next few decades “America Fever” took hold, spurred on by activist Mark Thrane, who fought for husmann rights and encouraged them to seek better fortunes in North America. In 1856 Lars missed his daughter Berta’s birth after being jailed for taking part in a meeting of the “rebellion” with Mark Thrane. ¹ The famine of 1866-1868 only increased the frenzy to leave Norway.
Olea had been the first of Lars children to go to America, followed by Cristy and Gunhild, with their husbands. Lars had to face the reality that if he and Ragnhild stayed in Honefoss there might be no children left to take care of them in their old age. Finally, in 1877, Lars made the difficult decision to leave his homeland.
Sailing for a new land
In May of 1877, Lars sold his meager home furnishings in exchange for coins which were sewn into the family’s clothes. They boarded a train at Honefoss which took them to Christiania (present-day Oslo). On May 4th they set sail on the Hero, a steamship transporting eager emigrants to the international shipping port in Liverpool, England.
Once in Liverpool, Lars and family boarded the Steamship Celtic, which would take them to America. In the early days of Atlantic crossing the journey averaged six weeks or more, by the 1870’s the trips took only a few weeks. The Celtic left Liverpool on May 10th, 1877 and arrived in New York only 11 days later, on May 21st.
The Haselhaugen family traveled on the Celtic in steerage class, which was the area between decks. The ceiling height of the between-deck was usually 6 to 8 feet. The bunks, made of rough boards, were set up along both sides of the ship.² Meals in steerage class consisted of bread and butter with coffee for breakfast, a noon “dinner” of soup, beef, and potatoes, followed by an evening tea time and gruel (oatmeal) at 8 o’clock.
According to Elsie’s recollection, “Two Irish girls full of life, danced and had fun. There was music on the upper deck. But one night a bad storm rocked the boat and these laughing Colleens were just as vigorous with their crying and moaning in fear as they got down on their knees and prayed, as when they were dancing. The boat rocked so hard, they all had to hang on to their bunks at night not to fall out.”¹
The family landed in New York and were immediately pulled into Castle Garden for processing. According to Elsie, Castle Garden was “a sort of protective place, until they took their train to their final destination…people were examined there somewhat. If not desirable, would be sent back to their own country.”¹
After riding a train to Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, the family ended up walking for two days to reach the town of Dallas, where Gunhild and Rounog lived. There had been a mixup in the dates and Gunhild’s husband, Tron Wintrone, left a day late to pick them up at the train station.
Lars set up a farm on land adjacent to Tron and Gunhild’s 160-acre homestead in Barron County, Wisconsin. He was 56 years old when they made the trip across the Atlantic and lived happily, surrounded by family until he died at 71. An unfortunate accident, Lars was gored by a bull on his farm and died April 7, 1892. His wife Ragnhild lived until 1906.
learn more about lars’ family
If you haven’t read Esther Hagen MacPherson’s “The Husmand”, I highly recommend it. Her colorful stories of our ancestor’s daily lives, as recounted to her by her mother, Elsie (pictured above), are worth enjoying. The book is out of print, but the family has a digital copy which is permitted to be shared with descendants of Lars and Ragnhild for personal use. Send me an email if you are interested in learning more.
In addition, there is a Finneplassen/Hasselhaugen Facebook group for descendants of the family. There you will find additional photos and a wonderful group of cousins to share stories with. Special thanks to Alice Larson Mueller, Group Administrator, who allowed me to share photos of her trip to Norway.
- MacPherson, Esther Hagan. The Husmand. White Birch Printing, Inc., 1982. (Esther Hagan MacPherson is the granddaughter of Lars and Ragnhild. Stories were passed down from her mother Elsie (Larson) Hagan .)
- Norway Heritage: Hands Across the Sea