Lewis N. Johnson
Swedish name before emigration: Lasse Jönsson
Another surname used on him: Johansson

Last updated: February 9, 2019

Lewis N. Johnson (b. July 14 , 1842 in Sweden, d. June 13, 1894 in Maynard) emigrated to America in 1868. He died 51 years of age in Leenthrop, Maynard, Chippewa County in western Minnesota.

Lasse Jönsson and his first wife

Lasse and his first wife Anna and their two children emigrated from Sweden in 1868. In America Lasse changed name to Lewis N. Johnson. For a long time the Swedish name of Lewis N. Johnson, and the place he came from in Sweden, was not known. In 2018 Mats Hessmark and Birgitta Bommarco in cooperation figured out that Lewis had to be the same person as Lasse Jönsson, who was born in Tranås, Sweden on the same day as Lewis' known date of birth. Lasse's first wife was Anna Johnsdotter. Lasse, Anna and both children emigrated together from Tranås on April 27, 1868. The destination for the journey was Swede Grove in Minnesota. Only Lasse survived the journey and arrived Swede Grove.

Lasse Jönsson (b. July 14, 1842 in Baggahuset, Tranås)
Anna Johnsdotter (born May 3, 1838 in Lövestad)

Anna and Lasse's children:
Anna (born 1864)
Nils (born 1866)

The story Memoirs of Mother tells that both children became ill and died on the ship at the Atlantic ocean, and that Anna Johnsdotter became ill on the ship as well and that she died right after arrival in America.

Anna Johnsdotter was born in Lövestad. She had several siblings who emigrated from Sweden as well. Some of them used the name Johnson Levander in Minnesota. The brother Anders (Andrew Johnson Levander) emigrated from Lövestad to Swede Grove, Minnesota in 1866. Seven other siblings of Anna Johnsdotter left Sweden in April 1868, some of them went to Quebec in Canada, others to Swede Grove. For most of them the journey ended up in Swede Grove. These seven siblings probably crossed the Atlantic Ocean on the same ship as Anna Johnsdotter and Lasse Jönsson. Swede Grove is the same location that the story Memoirs of mother tells Lewis N. Johnson lived at the first years in the States.

Lasse Jönsson's official name in the States became Lewis N. Johnson. Lewis' grandson Donald Edward Johansson (1927–2015) found old letters as late as 1940 using the surname Johansson. Donald concluded that Lewis N. Johnson came to the United States as a Johansson. For this reason the Donald E. Johnson family changed their surname to Johansson. It is a mystery why Lewis N. Johnson was called Johansson in the letters.

Ellen and Lewis N. Johnson

Ellen and Lewis N. Johnson family.
Ellen and Lewis N. Johnson family 1886. Back row: Henry 15, Ellen 40. Middle row: Alfred 10, Lewis 44, Annie 12. Front row: Edward 6, Joseph 8 years.

After his first wife died, Lewis N. Johnson married Ellen Nilsdotter (b. Dec 25, 1845 in Sweden, d. August 5, 1936 in Grove City, MN) in Minnesota. Ellen's name in Sweden before emigration was Elna Nilsdotter. Our first argumentation for Ellen's name of birth was found in Ellen's Bible. Read about it here: Johnson Bible.

Lewis N. Johnson with his first family and Nels Jenson family (Nels' official U.S. name: Nels Johnson, Swedish surname: Jönsson) emigrated at about the same time over the Atlantic Ocean, probably from Liverpool in England to New York (source: Memoirs of mother). Most of the Nels Jenson family emigrated from Sweden late in 1867. Lewis N. Johnson, wife and two children left Sweden in April 1868. Among Nels Jenson family's numerous children was a girl with the Swedish name Elna, anglicized to Ellen in America. Elna Nilsdotter became Lewis' second wife. Elna and her sister Hanna Nilsdotter seems to have crossed the Atlantic Ocean on the same ship as Lewis N. Johnson. Read about Elna Nilsdotter, her parents and siblings here: Nels Jenson family...

After Lewis lost his wife and children during the emmigration journey, he went together with the Nels Jenson family, which made their home in Swede Grove in Meeker County, Minnesota. This location name was later changed to Grove City. It was about that time in Swede Grove Lewis married Nels Jenson's daughter Ellen. In the first period as married, probably for a couple years, Ellen and Lewis N. Johnson resided in Swede Grove. Here Ellen and Lewis got their first two children.

Right after Henry Victor, their second child, was born they settled on the prairie and built a farm near Leenthrop Township, Maynard, Chippewa County, Minnesota. After Lewis died 51 years of age the son Alfred continued to live and work on the farm. He, at some time, inherited the farm. Alfred built a house on his farm yard, just a few yards from Alfred's and his wife's house so his mother Ellen could have help. Ellen lived here until she came up to Nelsons in Grove City in 1933. Approximately four years later, in 1936, she died at 91 years of age (ref. Leenthrop Memorial Cemetery, Maynard).

Ellen and Lewis N. Johnson's children:

1) Victor (born c. 1870 in Swede Grove, Meeker County, died after two days)
Buried in the Grove City Baptist Church Cemetery.

2) Henry Victor (b. September 1, 1871 in Grove City, d. September 6, 1947 in St. Paul, Minnesota)
He married Hulda Fredine, not Huldah Olander from Willmar as written in Memoirs of mother by K. E. Nelson (source: Kenneth J. Johnson). They had two children.
More about Hulda and Henry Victor Johnson's family and descendants here...

3) Annie Elizabeth (b. March 5, 1874 in Maynard, d. 1966)
Her second name has also been spelled Elisabeth. Annie Elizabeth L. Johnson married Andrew P. Nelson (b. 1873, d. 1941), who was a farmer near Montevideo, Chippewa County, Minnesota. They had several children. A son of theirs, minister Kenneth E. Nelson wrote the booklet Memoirs of mother when his mother Annie was 90 years old. More about Annie and Andrew P. Nelson's family and descendants here...

4) Alfred W. (b. February 18, 1876 in Maynard, d. October 12, 1949)
Alfred Johnson stayed on the farm and inherited it. He married Lena Anderson. Alfred died suddenly of a heart attack in 1949. They had three children. Lena and Alfred W. Johnson are buried in Leenthrop, Maynard.
More about Lena and Alfred family and descendants here...

5) Joseph Theodore (b. July 9, 1878 in Maynard, d. February 17, 1956)
Joseph Theodore L. Johnson was a printer. He married Nettie Norton. They had two sons: Theodore, a minister, and Kenneth, a doctor.
More about Nettie and Joseph L. Johnson's family and descendants here...

6) Edward Enoch (b. August 23, 1880 in Maynard, d. April 7, 1927)
Edward Enoch Johnson graduated as a doctor (M.D.). Edward E. Johnson was buried in Maynard. More about Edward here...

7) Trudi (b. circa 1884 in Maynard, d. November 13, 1884) (Source: History of Chippewa). Buried in Leenthrop, Maynard (ref. Leenthrop Memorial Cemetery).

8) Rhoda (b.1885 in Maynard, d. 1886) (Source: History of Chippewa). Buried in Leenthrop, Maynard (ref. Leenthrop Memorial Cemetery).

9) Alexander (b. between 1880 and 1895 in Maynard, d. November 26, 1956 in Florida).
Alexander was a survey engineer. He married Mary, and they had one child.
More about Mary and Alexander here...

10) Elmer Arbie (b. about 1891 in Maynard, d. March 8, 1940)
Elmer A. Johnson became a Baptist minister. He married Theresa Boberg. They had three children. More about Theresa and Elmer Johnson's family and descentants here...

Children of Ellen and Lewis N. Johnson with spouses.Children of Ellen and Lewis N. Johnson with spouses about 1910–1925. Back row: Joseph, Henry, Huldah (Henry's wife), Alexander, Elmer. Front row: Nettie (Joseph's wife), Alfred, Lena (Alfred's wife).

Johnson siblings Joseph, Annie and Alexander.
Siblings Joseph T. Johnson, Annie E. Nelson and Alexander Johnson about 1960.

The Lewis Johnson family leaves Sweden

The family's journey to America and the first time over there is described in detail in the story Memoirs of Mother. The story does not mention which year Lewis N. Johnson and his first wife left Sweden, and from which town. Official sourches states that they left their home in Tranås in Skåne, Sweden with their daughter and son in April 1868. The story says that the children were four and two years old. The story claims that they both were girls but the official sourches says that they were a daughter (Anna, b.1864) and a son (Nils, b. 1866). The ages of the children are identical in the story and the official records.

The story tells that they crossed the North Sea to England by sailing ship, took a train to Liverpool, and boarded another sailing ship to cross the Atlantic Ocean. During the four week long journey on the ocean, both the children became sick and died. Their mother also got sick and died a few days after arrival at New York harbour.

Lewis Johnson family settles on the prairie

While living in Swede Grove right after the emmigration from Sweden they looked for land to buy. In Memoirs of mother Kenneth E. Nelson writes in detail what happend in the continuation:

"Four men including Martin Dahleen, Swen Lindahl, Lewis Johnson and A. B. Peterson walked sixty miles to Chippewa County, Leenthrop Township, Section 26, where they staked out homesteads. Here they spaded up the first sod and built their first homes of sod blocks. Then they walked back to Grove City to spend the winter months of the first year of this new enterprize.

The second summer they returned again. This time with four wagons pulled by oxen, and each having chickens, one pig and one cow. It took two days of slow tedious travel over hills and around ponds, sometimes between earlier settler's fields. But the lure of the virgin soil and fertile country side beckoned them on. This was more than a camping trip. This was for life, with the meager possessions they had.

Sod house on the prairie. Drawing for the Johnson Ancestry Web Site by Ingun Dahlin, 2009.

They finally arrived on the second day at their little sod houses built the year before. Four farms adjoined each other for help and comfort through the coming years of privation and endurance. Each one was a little sod hut dotting the bare prairie with no trees for summer shade or shelter from the winter's snow storms.

Lewis Johnson was very good at making simple furniture, tables, stools, and even wooden shoes. Some of these we still have and cherish as keepsakes. Fuel in the old stove were ropes of dried grass, cut in short pieces. Sometimes it would just smoulder and other times burn too fast. Imagine baking with this type of heat today!

An eventful day for this new settlement took place March 5, 1874. Henry Victor was two years old. 'The snow was still a foot deep. There were no roads. Father walked to Olanders who lived on the farm Nels Norbys bought. Mrs. Olander couldn't come! Then mrs. Martin Dahleen said she would come. Mrs. Dahleen was to come to the Lewis Johnson home and do the work of a doctor, called a mid-wife or nurse when the new little baby was to be born. She had two little boys of her own. The only thing she could do was to bring them along.'

Imagine three little boys less than three years old in a little one room, one door, one window dirt floor sod home besides three adults! However, during the night all three boys were fast asleep in another corner of the of the home when little Annie Elisabeth Johnson was born. All went very well. What rejoicing and blessing this little girl was to become in this early settler's prairie home – a little house and a little barn, two little specks dotting the open prairie country with not even a tree for shelter or shade."

Indians appeared on the farm

Around 2003 Kenneth J. Johnson, grandson of Ellen and Lewis N. Johnson, was asked if he knew if his grandparents saw Indians or had any problems with them on the prairie farm. Kenneth answered that the Indians had been pushed west by the white man before settling in Leenthrop, Maynard. There was only one incident of Indians on Lewis Johnson family's farm. One day when Ellen was alone home an Indian came to the door and stood there, silent and motionless. Ellen grabbed one loaf of bread and handed it to him. He took it, grunted (he said, “Ugh” ), turned around and left.

Why did the Johnsons and Jensons emigrate?

We do not know for sure what the reasons were for the Lewis N. Johnson and Nels Jenson families to emigrate from Sweden. Lewis N. Johnson's grandson, Kenneth J. Johnson, has told that the Lewis Johnson family were Baptists in a Lutheran-dominated society and that they may have been prosecuted for this reason. The story Memoirs of mother seems to confirm that he is correct and that this was a case for both families.

Since Ellen excelled in her school class in the Swedish State Church, the Nels Jenson family originally seemed to have been members of this Lutheran church in Sweden. But Ellen's daughter, Annie, told her son Kenneth E. Nelson what happened when a German evangelist came to her community and preached the gospel right after her graduation and confirmation: "In true rependance, she accepted Christ as her Savior. On the night before her birthday (December 23) a hole was chopped in the ice and a Baptismal service was held at midnight to avoid persecution by the State Church". We know that Ellen's sister married Martin Dahlquist, the first preacher-farmer of the Leenthrop Baptist Church. It is likely to think that the whole Nels Jenson family may be became Baptists in Sweden.

The most common reason for emigrating from Sweden was lack of farming land for the great number of children at that time. The prospect of prosperity, and for supporting a family, was limited in most of Scandinavia. America was more promising. Maybe Johnson and Jenson familes emigrated for both religious and monetary reasons?

When I visited grandma Ellen Johnson
– "I saw my father's mother (Ellen) only once. I was 12 years old. We had driven out to Maynard, Minn., to see her, living in a very small house all by herself. The homestead area was home for herself close to my uncle Alfred, who owned the farm. My father took me in to see her. "This is my son, Kenneth", he said. She glanced at me, then turned to my father and spoke to him on Swedish. (She couldn't speak English.) She seemed to be complaining about something – maybe her aches and pains?"
Kenneth J. Johnson, 1999

Quote from the History of Chippewa
Source: History of Chippewa and Lac Qui Parle Counties Minnesota, L. R. Mayer and O. G. Dale, Volume II, Illustrated; B. F. Bowen & Co. Inc. (1916) transcribed by Genealogy Trails Transcription Team – Vicki Bryan

Chapter name: Alfred W. Johnson
Link, click here...

"Lewis N. and Ella Johnson were born in Sweden, where they were educated in the schools and there grew to manhood and womanhood and were there married. They remained residents of the land of their birth until 1870, at which time they decided to come to America and there obtain a home for themselves and their family. On their arrival in the United States they came direct to Minnesota, where they resided in Meeker County until 1871, when they came to Chippewa County, where they homesteaded one hundred and sixty acres of land in section 26, Leenthrop Township. The tract at that time was for the most part a wild prairie and required much attention before being in condition for the planting of the crops. The land was broken, crops planted and harvested, groves planted and in time most excellent buildings were erected. Mr. Johnson became a prosperous and successful farmer and stock raiser. He purchased more land and became the owner of two hundred and sixty acres of the best land. It was on this farm that he resided until the time of his death in 1894, at the age of fifty-one years. The widow is still living at the age of seventy-one years.

Lewis N. and Ellie Johnson were active members of the Swedish Baptist Church and reared their family in that faith. Mr. Johnson was one of the organizers of the local church and much of the success of the church was due to his untiring efforts. He with others organized the township and named it. He always took an active part in the local affairs and used his influence in the development of all projects that were advantageous to the best interests of the community. Mr. and Mrs. Johnson were the parents of the following children: Henry, Anne, Alfred W., Joseph, Edward, Alexander, Elmer, Victor, Rhoda and Trudi. The last three died in infancy."

Ellen and Lewis N. were married in Minnesota, not in Sweden as claimed in the first paragraph of the quotation above.