Norway in America - Introduction

From Norway to North America

By Hallvard Slettebø
Viking-era exploration
Norsemen from Greenland and Iceland were the first Europeans to reach North America. In 1960 archaeological evidence of the only known Norse settlement in North America was found at L’Anse aux Meadows on the island of Newfoundland. This proved conclusively the Vikings’ pre-Columbian discovery of North America and there is a consensus among scholars that the Vikings did reach North America, approximately five centuries prior to the voyages of Christopher Columbus.

Colonial settlement
The Netherlands (and especially Amsterdam and Hoorn) had strong commercial ties with the coastal lumber trade of Norway during the 17th century and many Norwegians emigrated to Amsterdam. Some of them settled in Dutch colonies, although never in large numbers. Thus, there was a Norwegian presence in New Amsterdam (New York after 1664) in the early part of the 17th century.
There were also Norwegian settlers in Pennsylvania in the first half of the 18th century, and in upstate New York in the latter half of the same century.

Organized immigration
Organized immigration from Norway to America was focused on the United States. The first organized group of Norwegians arrived 1825 in New York. They came in the sloop Restauration and was often referred to as the ‘sloopers’. They were met by Cleng Peerson who helped them settled on the shores of Lake Ontario and created the Kendall Settlement. The earliest immigrants from Norway to America emigrated mostly for religious motives, but the majority that came after were predominantly motivated by economic concerns.
Between 1825 and 1925 more than 800,000 Norwegians emigrated to the U.S., about one-third of Norway's population. The early immigrants often came from farms and therefore they settled in rural areas in the Midwest.
Very few originally stayed in Canada but some, after a stay in the American Midwest, made their way across the border and settled in the present provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan. From 1850 on, Canada became the port of choice as Norwegian ships carried passengers to Canada and took lumber back to Britain. Of the over 28,000 Norwegians who came to Canada in the 1850s it is estimated that only 400 remained in Canada; the majority moved on into the American west. Gradually, Norwegian settlements also began in Canada, and significant Norwegian immigration took place from the mid-1880s to 1930. Norwegian Canadians are found throughout the entire country but with a major concentration in Western Canada. The Prairies were the hub of the Norwegian settlement in Canada.

21st century
There are more than 4.5 million people of Norwegian ancestry in the United States today, and nearly half a million in Canada. Of these, approximately three million claim “Norwegian” as their sole or primary ancestry. The population of Norway itself is nearly 5.5 million. Half of Norwegian Americans live in the U.S. Midwest; 20% in Canada, 20% in California, Oregon and Washington, and the remainder scattered over the continent.

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