Cleng Peerson is known as the Father of Norwegian Immigration.

(17 May 1783 – 16 December 1865) was a Norwegian-American pioneer and traveled to America as an advance agent for hopeful emigrants; returned briefly to Norway in 1824 [for a group of New York Quakers] and imparted what he learned about America.  Cleng Peerson recruited 52 to immigrate; he led these “Sloopers” to Kendall County in up-state New York. 

Cleng Peerson’s birthplace was Hesthammar in Tysvær, Rogaland, Norway.  

Cleng Peerson was an intrepid explorer who tried to find new land in the Midwest already in 1821.  He was under the impression that he was the first Scandinavian on the prairie west of Chicago.  However, a sign nailed to an aspen outside the budding town of half a dozen log cabins stated: “Sacred to the memory of the fallen soldiers of Fort Dearborn, 1812, the first martyrs of the West.”  Frederick Peterson, a Norwegian who enlisted in 1808, had fallen here in a fight between the small garrison and 500 Potawatomi Indians.

Back in up-state New York when rumors reached them of more fertile and cheap land in the far west, Cleng Peerson was sent to Illinois on a trip of exploration, in the year 1833.

After weeks of walking, he reached Chicago – at the time a small village with about 20 cottages of the most primitive kind.  A half-breed offered him 80 acres of Chicago land* for his tobacco pipe and his buckskin coat, but was unable to force the bargain.  Well it was mostly located on swampy ground, not on fertile soil, and that was what Cleng was looking for.  He found it about a week’s walk to the southwest of Chicago, near the junction of Fox and Illinois Rivers.

* That piece of property is where the Chicago Post Office resides today.

* Cleng himself tells that one day when he became very weary, he lay down under a tree to rest.  As he slept, he dreamed.  He saw a wild prairie changed into a cultivated region, teeming with all kinds of grain and fruit, splendid houses and big barns all over the land.  Alongside the fields of waving grain large herds of cattle were feeding.  Cleng interpreted this as a vision and as a token from God that his countrymen should, come here and settle. He immediately went back to the Ontario area and told them about this new land, and in the three years to follow most of the Sloopers moved to the West.

Cleng Peerson  After the Fox River settlement, Cleng always restless to move on, sold his farm in Norway, Illinois

  • 1837 Cleng founded the Shelby County Missouri settlement
  • 1838 returned to Norway
  • 1839 founded the Lee Co, Iowa settlement
  • 1842 returned to Norway
  • 1847 he joined the Swedish group at Bishop Hill, was married a second time.
  • 1849 left Bishop Hill to finally settle in Texas in 1854, where he is was buried in 1865.

There are numerous books about Peerson and his life.  He was very generous, a most interesting talker, didn’t care to work or stay still, married at least twice, and knew four languages.

Norsk Museum  
CALL US  +1.8153435070