The diary of Knudt Thompson

Knudt ThompsonI find myself of late in the enviable position of finding and receiving information about our family history faster than I can analyze it and write it up. Rather than sit on this information until I have a chance to write about it, I’ll share it with you now and then I’ll circle back at a later date to look into it in more detail.

For today’s post I’d like to share a document that my cousin Anne sent along last week. It’s a transcription of the diary of Sever Severson’s brother-in-law, Knudt Thompson (Knudt’s wife Anna and Sever’s [future] wife Martha were sisters). Among other things, the diary recounts the voyage of Sever, Knudt, Anna, Martha, and more than a dozen other members of their extended family from Sør-Aurdal, Norway, to America. I’ll be looking into their trip from Norway to Wisconsin in another post in the not-too-distant future.

I haven’t yet seen the original diary or images of the original diary, and have only the four-page typewritten transcription that Anne recently sent along to family members working together on the Syndé/Severson family history. What follows is a verbatim transcription of that document.

Copied from the Diary of Knudt Thompson
Father of Sena Christina Thompson

I was born in Northern Aurdal Co. in Valders, Norway. My parents were Torsten Knudsen. My mothers name was Helleborg Tronsdater Thomaseth.

Date of my birth was 2nd of April 1832 and I was baptized April 15, 1832.

In the general way of schooling, we went from one home to another and in additional had our religious education. They also had Conformation. I was confirmed July 12, 1846, Med Charateren, Meget Goett (good deportment, very good ..

On April, 1850, I entered wedlock with Anna Arnesdater Nordfjold from South Aurdal. She was born on an estate in Nordfjold in South Aurdals County. Her parents were Arne Nelson and Anna Jorgensdatter. She was born March 17, 1835, and baptized May 10, 1835, and confirmed July 1, 1849, Med (good) character.

In the spring of 1850 we left for America in company with my wife’s parents and others from the same place.

We landed in New York in nine weeks and four days over the Atlantic via boat from Dramen, Norway. From New York we were transported by canal boat to Buffalo, then on a steamboat to Milwaukee, then we walked with our packs on our neck until we can to York Villo in Musrigo where there were some Norwegian people that had come there two or three years before, so we got to them after staying overnight in the open and sleeping among rattle snakes and every other thing. The night we left we were in midst of a thunder storm, so it was very unpleasant for women and children.

These people were very hospitable and we stayed in their settlement for two weeks, until we could get someone to take our baggage and then we finally got a man with an ox team to haul stuff up to Musrigo, from there to KasKonang. We had to hire a new driver becaused we were destined to go to Bluemount and we finally came there where we found our acquaintances who were Knud and Nils Sycerund and Tore Masnum. They had settled there two years before and we stayed there that winter and some who were their company had taken up some land around.

I got sick eguen (malaria fever) so I was in bed until after Christmas and then all my worldly wealth was 25 cents and a young wife, and she was going around doing some sewing and spinning so we didn’t starve.

The next spring I was well enough so I went ten miles further south and took up a piece of land which was in the town of Moscow. There were just a few settlers there at the time and most of them were Americans.

I built a little shanty to live in for the summer. My wife lived there alone. I was out working and in between times I was home and chopping timbers for the house and hauling them home to set up a good log house, only it wasn’t ready to move into and we lived in the shanty till my wife bore the first child, son Anton, October 8, 1853, and every thing went good until the eighty day and weather turned cooler and the makeshift chimney was not too good and with straw roof it caught fire and everything we owned burned, even to the clothes we had on. We had to go to a neighbor who had made himself a cellar so we had to sleep there on the floor under the bed. That’s the way it went with the first Norwegian settlers in Moscow, Iowa County, Wisconsin. In a few days I got the house in order and it is already October so the weather is turning cold. I got a man to break six acres the first summer and the next spring I planted five acres of wheat and we tramped the wheat out with two pair of oxen. I got 100 bushels with clear wheat and the next spring it was very much in demand and I sold my wheat to a man for fifty dollars. Then I bought 40 acres of land and that was the way we did from year to year. We sold our wheat and bought land until we had 160 acres and we were very lucky in the years 1852 and 1853, and then there came a lot of newcomers in the neighbor township, Perry, in Dane County and they settled there and raised lots of wheat and every thing seemed to be going good. Had plenty to eat and a surplus. There were getting hungry to have church, to have something for their soul. It was hard to get a Norwegian minister, but they got one named Pastor Prus. He came from KasKonang and he was there a few times, but then we didn’t have any meeting place so they went together to build a log house.

We took our axes and went out and chopped, and everyone took two or three logs and hauled them out, and then we set a day to go together and built it. It was built in a hurry and that was the first Norwegian Church that was built in Perry, Dane County, Wisconsin, and then we had a place they could have their meetings.

There were several who came, one being Eling Eilsen and a well known minister Pastor P. A. Rasmussen. He used to come and it was very hard trip for him to make and very inconvenient. He was avery good man and enjoyed hearing him very much. He had now for a long time been gone to his reward.

They wanted to get a regular minister so they sent a letter to Norway to a fellow named John Nelson Fjold, and he came here so they then had a steady minister in their log church.

They then built a log church in York. Some other Norwegians built a stone church in Perry and they belong to Norwegian Synod. There became some misunderstanding between the Hauge and the Norwegian Synod but there was a little difference in the belief and in the learning, they couldn’t get together, but I will go past that. I was able to understand more clearly when Pastor Rasmussen had a lecture in a grove near York Church June 14, 1860, showing the difference in the two churches.

I went back in my books used during my childhood learning and had a more clear picture of the truth.

We had lots of hardships and many nice things too. Went around to these log houses and even dirt cellars. Our clothes weren’t very modern and overalls on a man and a calico dress on a lady; and our transportation was a pair of oxen and a wagon was a Kubberulle (wagon with solid wooden wheels) and we went to church this way.

We worked hard and money was hard to get for the work. You could stand in snow all day up to your knees, get fifty cents a day and eat a frozen lunch and still we were heartily glad to get work.

There is nobody living today of the younger generation that can visualize what the first settlers had to go through in this country, both in cold and frost and in poverty, and with God’s help it has gone good till today, but this is just a little of the things I have named so far. It is the hereafter the big sorrow and worry shall come. It has now come, the war of 1860 has begun and there are hundreds of families have gone and the women and children come home often in poor circumstances, and it’s the daily talk, “Shall we go and enlist or shall we wait till we are drafted?” It was something that was laying on everybodys heart. There is nothing else to do, let God’s will decide and with this in mind I enlisted August 18, 1862, in town of Moscow, Iowa County, State of Wisconsin, Co. E-31 Regiment, Volunteer under Capt. J. Mason.

I was well and strong but in 1863 I got sick and I was taken to the Garrison in Columbus, Kentucky. The water was so poor they took sick and some dying each day. I took sick May 1863 and had rheumatic chronic diarrhea, then I was sent home July 1, 1863. I was so thin and sick I weighted 160 pounds, weighed 230 pounds when I enlisted. After being home awhile had to report to Camp Randall General Hospital in Madison, Wisconsin, was there until able to go back to my regiment. There were then at Murfeesboro, Tenn. Then I was somewhat well. Had to leave my wife and five small children. Then I was under General Sherman. Went to Atlanta Georgia.

I got sick again. It wasn’t too bad and in Oct. 1864, we left Atlanta and were on the long march to the sea (Shermans Famous March to the Sea), and we took in all the large towns that lay between Atlanta and Goldsboro, North Carolina. We had many battles which would be too long to talk about and the things which happened on that long march. Those that have read Shermans History of the March from Atlanta to the Sea understand in part but no one can describe how much we suffered on the march but God was with us.

We were in Goldboro N. C. when General Lee surrendered. The war was ended in April 1865, there was shouting and a cry of joy from the people you could hear for miles after the long sorrow and home sickness. Everyone was very glad and still there were many who didn’t reach home. Many didn’t live to get home. I was sick when war was over. I was transported by steamship to New York on 16th of April. I was there until 27th of May and then got my discharge. Arrived home June 1, 1865. Found my family all well.

Everything was pretty barren as my farm had layed idle the past years, just a few acres my wife had plowed and planted as there wasn’t a man in the whole neighborhood to get to do a days work. Everyone able to work was in the war. Just a few old ones able to care for themselves. The first I did was to take the plow and start plowing and get ready for the next year.

Now the family is bigger and the crop is smaller and the expenses get bigger each year.

Then they got the fever to go West. We sold out for a small price. We took wagons, horses and went to Minnesota and settled in Noble County Minnesota. We came to Noble County Minnesota in 1871. We were the first to settle. We had to go 60 miles to the nearest railroad and that was Lamont. There we had to go to buy provisions and there we had to go in storm and in the rain.

In 1871–1872 several Norwegians came to take land there. In 1872 the first Norwegian church was build.

We plowed a good deal of prarie land the first year and seeded it the first year and it grew fine until one day when nearly ready for harvesting the grasshoppers came and settled on it. Couldn’t see a single straw on the ground. The whole crop was destroyed. Next year plowed again and kept it up for five years. Each year grasshoppers took the crop.

Couldn’t hold out anymore, no seed, so had to move. Went then almost empty handed to Iowa, twenty-five miles below Souix City near Sloan. There we built a house and thought we would live there. The drinking water was bad. Land was the best kind, nice settlement. My wife got sick from water so had to leave. Thought we would go to Washington Territory. Didn’t get any further than Nebraska, Shell Creek. One of the children got sick, had to stop a month. It was to late in the fall to come West in covered wagon over the Rocky Mountains so settled down by Loup River on Indian Reservation.

Thought I might buy a piece of property when put on the market, but when that day came had no money so thought I would take a homestead so went 100 miles north in Nebraska and there we homesteaded. The land looked good but warm wind dried it out so couldn’t get any crop. It was a failure each year. It was one plague after another.

The worst came when sickness came. My wife was sick for many years. I took a trip to Washington Territory to see if climate would be better. I was there a year and liked it very well as far as climate. Worked at Johns River, near Markham as a faller in logging camp run by Mr. Voorheis.

Was going to return to Nebr. and sell out and return to Washington Territory but found I had other things to do as my wife was worse and couldn’t be moved. She died July 28, 1885. She left 13 children alive and 2 dead. She was 50 years, 2 Months, and 11 days.

The End.

P.s. If anyone knows anything about the current whereabouts of Knudt Thompson’s diary, please let me know!

5 thoughts on “The diary of Knudt Thompson

  1. I just did a google search for Knudt Thompson diary, which there seems to be plenty of copies circulating around, and I found your site. How fascinating.
    Knudt was my great-great grandfather. I do not know who has the original copy of the diary. But my dad has the original family Bible of Knudt. It is a big, old book and I was always so fascinated with it. I saw it the other day when I was visiting. I couldn’t find the page that had the records of the births. It was missing. I remember always looking at that page and the names of those 17 children. Now, today, at 50, I feel guilty because I feel like I must have been to have lost that important page.

    • Hi Lily,

      Sorry for the late reply. Don’t beat yourself up about the page; hopefully it’ll turn up. I had a family member do the opposite—remove the births page and toss the 170-year-old diary it was once in. ¯\_(?)_/¯


  2. I am amazed to find this site! I just searched for Knudt Thompson and came upon this. Knudt was also my great-great-grandfather. And I also have a copy of his diary! Knudt’s daughter Lena (Karolena) married Amund Ellingson – they were my great-grandparents. They had 12 children, 11 of whom lived into adulthood – I at least met all of them, and knew several quite well. My grandmother was Alice Amanda Ellingson Johnston.
    My mother, Audrey May Johnston Marshall, with the help of cousins, planned a reunion mostly of Ellingsons years ago at Friend’s Landing – near the homestead of Knudt. That home still stands, although it is no longer in the family. A few years later Ken Thompson helped my mother plan a second reunion, with more Thompsons attending. Ken was Knudt’s grandson, via the child of Knudt’s third wife.
    That’s all I will say for now, as I have no idea if anyone will see this! Now I need to let my mother, age 92, know about this!

    • Hi Ken,

      Welcome to my little outpost on the web. I do indeed read these comments and am happy to see yours. I hope one day we track down the original of Knudt’s diary. There’s often much more to be gleaned from the original than from an often selective transcription. Have you seen Sever Severson’s diary here: ? I imaged it and then worked with the owner to get it accessioned into a museum where it should remain safe in perpetuity.

      • Thanks for replying! You probably know that a number of the Thompsons moved to Alberta – I believe in the 1930s – and became involved in the oil industry. I wonder if the diary went with one of them. I recall that for the second reunion at Friends Landing, there was excitement because some of that branch were coming. But then it didn’t work out.
        My mother, 92, and cousin Doris Ellingson are the oldest family members with whom I am in contact. I don’t believe they have any idea as to the whereabouts of the original diary, but I’ll ask! I’m also in contact with the daughter-in-law of Ken Thompson – her late husband David was Knudt’s great-grandson. I’ll ask if she has any ideas, or any family connections.

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