John Eric Carlson (1861-1951)
Every week several of you read Emmett Hunt’s diary entries from 1888 and will continue until 1892. Then perhaps we’ll start on Volume II of his entires. Today, we are going to read a few selections from the diary of John E. Carlson.
The diaries of the early settlers to America are quite interesting, and many books and novels have been written for those diary entires. Which brings me to the question: do you write in a diary or journal? What do you entries reveal about you? Are they about your daily life, or are the about your thoughts, your difficulties or your joys? Many of us probably kept diaries growing up, but didn’t continue doing so as we grew older. Most of those who continue that I know are also writers of short stories, essays and novels.
The important thing about diaries is in my mind what they reveal to us about the times and people are things not available elsewhere. They help to continue the picture about the time and place past. It would be interesting for your thoughts about the written records of history from various individuals in all walks of life.
But now, let’s learn about John Carlson from his own words as taken from an article written in The Peninsula Gateway on February 22, 1995 by Kevin Parks:
Swede’s diary entries read like series of historical snapshots
The following are excerpts from a translation of a diary kept by Gig Harbor pioneer John Eric Carlson, who was born in Walinge, Sweden, on Aug. 16, 1861.
July 6, 1882, in Gothenburg: “I had been thinking some of going to America but I could not get passage until early in July.
One June 21 I quit working, having made up my mind to go to America. On June 27 I went home to Walinge. On July 5, I said good-bye to my family. From home I went to Stigtomta Station, then to Flee and from there to Gothernberg.”
July 7, 1882, aboard the S. S. Romeo, which would take him to Hull, England: “At 7 o’clock (6 o’clock English time) we received our first food on board. It consisted of black coffee and something to push it down with.”
By 8:30 they had started to dance, the Finns staying on one side of the ship and the Swedes on the other. At 10:15 p.m. while the dance was in full swing I went to bed and slept soundly until 8 a.m. July 8. Breakfast was the same as we had the night before except that the coffee was cold.”
July 12, 1882, aboard the S.S. City of Brussels, which took him from Liverpool, England, to the United States: “There was plenty of food, all we could eat, and a lot was shown overboard besides. At 12 o’clock we anchored outside Queenstown, Ireland and picked up about 50 Irishmen also emigrants. This ship is a big improvement over the Romeo. There is plenty of room and the food is good and people are beginning to get acquainted.”
July 15, 1882: “Our crowd consists of Swedes, Englishmen and Irishmen. The Irishmen sing loudly all the time until midnight, mixed with loud talk and much argument.”
July 16, 1882: “The Irishmen are a wild and ragged lot, and I have little patience with them.”
July 22, 1882, “New York, N.Y., USA.”: The trip over has been pleasant enough but I have heard of many that were bad. The worst we had to contend with was that bunch of Irishmen, but that is all in the past now.”
“Tacoma is a small city of about 1,000 inhabitants, but it is growing rapidly.”
July 28, 1882, aboard the Union Pacific Railroad: “The hotel (in Council Bluffs, Iowa) was fine. We had night lunch, lodging and breakfast for 75 cents. The weather was fine but not as warm as New York. We set our clocks again at this place and the time is now seven and a half different from Swedish time.”
Aug. 9, 1882, in “Portland, Oregon, U.S.A.”: The country is heavy timbered, but half of it is too big for any use.”
Aug. 10, 1882, in “New Tacoma, Washington Territory”: “At 6 a.m. we took a riverboat from Portland called S. G. Reed. This boat is propelled by a paddle wheel at the stern. I have never seen anything like it in Sweden.”
Aug. 13, 1882, “Old Tacoma, Wash. Territory”: “Yesterday was my first day of work in America, carrying planks in the Old Town Mill. It is hard work but good pay: $30 per month without board and lodging. I will do fine here and this is a beautiful place. There are many Swedes and Danes here and now and then a Norwegian. Also there are a good many Chinese and a great many Indians. The food is good and Anderson and I have a room with a Norwegian family named Kildal. We pay only one and a half dollars per month, which is cheap.”
At this point, the diary switches from almost daily entries to weekly roundups written each Sunday.
Sept. 3, 1882: “Today Andren and I went along the beach looking for seashells, then we went for a walk in the woods where we saw much that was new to us and, to our way of thinking, remarkable.”
Oct. 29, 1882: “The Danes I can understand well enough, and the Norwegians speak almost Swedish. I am beginning to understand English a little, but it doesn’t go fast. Nevertheless, one learns a word at a time, so it probably will go with time.”
March 30, 1884: “Many of the people talk about going to Idaho and digging for gold. But I must stay here because I have hardly any money and I don’t want to go anyway.”
Aug. 31, 1884: “I am working on a street called Tacoma Avenue. It is 10 hours per day and not very heavy either. We are 26 men in the gang and 23 are Scandinavians. Even the boss is Swedish.”
Dec. 20, 1885: “A new Scandinavian church has been consecrated here, so now we have four Scandinavian churches here. A Swedish society is also formed, bearing the name Wallhalla. It has 30 to 40 members, but I don’t belong to it.”
Finally, the weekly entries also petered out and he began keeping reviews of entire years in a few sentences.
1903: “Worked same place as last year. Wages $2.25. Worked 322 days in the year. Bought 40 acres near Gig Harbor from Alexander Ferguson for $480. Sold the remaining 40 acres of homestead (in a town called, peculiarly , Muck) to John Pearson and Gust Bergman for $350.”
1906: “Quit the flouring mill March 15. Went out on the Gig Harbor ranch to build a house and do other work; stayed till July 14/“
1907: “Moved the family to the ranch March 16. Quit Young and Johnson Sept. 1 and went to work on the ranch. Worked for wages 243 days during the year. Sold strawberries, cherries, apples and timber for $127.60.”
That is the end of the transcribed diary entries published in the Peninsula Gateway article. It was accompanied by an article describing his life on his ranch in Gig Harbor.
When searching ancestry.com I discovered a naturalization document filed in the Circuit Court of the United States for the District of Washington, Western Division shows John Carlson was born in Ljuder Fjugesja Sweden in the year 1859 attached to the family tree and that he arrived in Minnesota. The naturalization paper is signed March 7, 1894. This does not agree with his diary where he states he arrived in New York City in 1882. As a result, I believe the naturalization document belongs to another John Carlson.
I have been unable to find John Eric (Karlsson) Carlson and Lydia D. Johnson Carlson’s marriage license; nor have I been able to discover how they met. Perhaps they were friends in Sweden, and then after John arrived in Washington Territory he sent for her. I don’t know how or the reasoning behind it being stated on the Virginia Beardsley Family Tree.
Also, according to the 1900 US Census it shows that Grace L. Carlson, the first child of John and Lydia was born in Washington (and Grace’s age was shown as 9 years old), not in Minnesota as shown on the Virginia Beardsley Family Tree.
So let’s leave this mystery and return to the Peninsula Gateway article written by Kevin Parks “Barn stands as legacy to Swede” of February 22, 1995. The principal contributors to his article appear to be Dr. Ben Carlson and Phillip R. Carlson, born in 1911.
“Flowing through the veins of the boy, not yet 2, (Dr. Ben Carlson’s son), are the blood of the Smiriciches, a family of fishermen; the Carlson’s, the first of whom worked in the Tacoma lumber mills shortly after arriving in this country from his native Sweden; and the Beardsley, longtime ranchers in the Arletta area.”
“The old red barn the Swedish immigrant built shortly after the turn of the century on what he called his “Gig Harbor ranch” has been sold and will be torn down …” The building was located in the same area (5115 38th Avenue NW) as the Midway School building which you can visit when you come to the Harbor History Museum. The Carlson property was “off 38th Avenue NW between Hunt Street and 56th Street NW across from such modern neighborhoods as Brittany Places Plumtree and Harbor Park Estates. …”
“…The land under the barn represented the last of a 40 acre parcel bought in 1903 for $480, (see his diary entry for that year) great-grandson Ben Carlson said.”
“John Carlson, whose last name was originally spelled Karlsson, was born in Walinge, Sweden. …”
“… John Carlson built a house on his “Gig Harbor ranch” in 1906, using lumber from th mills that was too short to be sold, according to one of his sons, Phillip R. Carlson, who was born on the ranch in 1911. …” (Phillip was a retired physicist living in Pasadena)
“… Phillip Carlson recalls a time when people could tell without looking who was driving by in a car. We knew the sound of each automobile. We knew all our neighbors. For 10 miles around we knew everybody who lived on every place.”
“Phillip Carlson graduated from high school when he was 16. There were all of 100 kids in the whole school, which drew students from as far away as Longbranch, he said. Despite the small number of students, the school fielded a football team, Carlson said. He even played on it. As far as I remember we never won a game, he said.”
“As for the old red barn that’s about to pass into history, Phillip Carlson remembered that whenever there was a bumper crop of hay the children all got to do somersaults on it to pack it down so it would fit in the loft.”
“John Carlson served for a time as chairman of the school board, son Phillip Carlson said. One of the chairman’s jobs was the hiring of new teachers, and John Carlson did this in a unique way, his son said. He’d look at their handwriting and say, ‘They look like they could be a pretty good teacher,’ Phillip Carlson said.”
“Virginia Smiricich, one of John Carlson’s granddaughters and Dr. Ben Carlson’s mother, grew up in Yakima but spent summers on the Gig Harbor ranch. She remembers the old red barn with fondness. ‘I remember the hayloft, playing in the hay up there in the summer, she said.