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Swedes of Jamestown

Posted on Mar 30, 2017

This photo from the RTPI archives depicts Roger Tory Peterson and Sir Lorimer Moe (knighted by the Swedish government on behalf of King Carl Gustaf XVI) at Bass Rock in Scotland. Lorimer Moe was a son of Jamestown, New York, who went on to become an outstanding newspaperman and diplomat. In the early days when RTPI was just an idea, Lorimer, Roger’s high school classmate, took the lead in enlisting broad support for the idea of an Institute in Roger’s birthplace, to honor his work and house his collections. In fact, the Institute’s charter was signed in his home, on a dining table that his wife Helen has since donated to RTPI.

Lorimer was also the author of “Saga From the Hills – A History of the Swedes of Jamestown, New York”. It is the story of the Swedish immigrants and their descen¬dants in Jamestown (located in western New York) when they first arrived in about 1850 but settled in droves after the American Civil War. This book is not, however, a mere eulogy of the past; for as the author-editor writes, “few among us would forfeit indoor plumbing and the countless amenities we enjoy in exchange for the ‘good old days.'” But it is a sincere acknowledgement of “our debt to those of the past who so greatly enriched the lives we lead today,” to those who “bröto vägen för o s s ” (broke the way for us—attributed to Rev. Eric Norelius, a pioneer leader in Minnesota, p. 17), building ” a new world of freedom for their children and their children’s children”. (Henry Hanson, Swedish-American Historical Quarterly, North Park University). Published in 1983 by the Fenton Historical Society in Jamestown, “Saga From the Hills” is long out of print, but if you’re lucky, you can pick up a copy at a sale or on Amazon or eBay.

Roger Tory Peterson’s own Swedish heritage is reflected in the architecture of the RTPI building that bears his name and houses his collections. His life’s work was honored with the Linnaean Medal of the Swedish Academy of Sciences, for his outstanding accomplishments as a Swedish-American. You can see the medal at the Roger Tory Peterson Institute on your next visit! Stay tuned for another story about Swedes in Jamestown; King Carl Gustaf XVI and Queen Sylvia of Sweden visit RTPI!