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REIERSEN, JOHAN REINERT

REIERSEN, JOHAN REINERT (1810–1864). Johan Reinert Reiersen, colonizer, writer, and publisher, was born to Ole and Kirsten Gjerulfsdatter Reiersen on April 17, 1810, at Vetsre Moland, Norway. Having received his primary education from a tutor, he attended the University of Oslo but was dismissed as a result of a "youthful indiscretion." He then decided to pursue a literary career in Denmark and Germany. During the 1830s he edited a number of Danish magazines and translated into Norwegian some twenty works of fiction by English, Spanish, and French writers. In 1839, having returned to Norway, Reiersen began publication of the liberal newspaper Christianssandsposten. He sought through his publication to improve the lives of the Norwegian working class by encouraging their emigration from that country to the United States. In 1843 a group of prospective emigrants financed Reiersen in a trip to America from which he hoped to compile information for a handbook on the nation and select a site for a colony. After visiting Norwegian settlements in the north central states, he made his way down the Mississippi River to New Orleans. There, upon the suggestion of the Republic of Texas consul, Reiersen traveled to Austin, where President Sam Houston encouraged him to bring Norwegian settlers to the republic and promised aid in the establishment of a colony.

After leaving Texas Reiersen visited Cincinnati and New York City before returning to Norway. In 1844 he wrote and published Pathfinder for Norwegian Emigrants to the United North American States and Texas, the most comprehensive book about America published in Norway to that point. The Pathfinder's ten chapters sketched, among other topics, natural conditions in America, agriculture, trade, industry, and government, as well as conditions in the Midwest and Texas. The study also praised the enterprising spirit and practical knowledge of the American people and argued that the new environment of the United States would encourage tolerance, independence, and self-respect among Norwegians who settled there. In this book and in other writings, Reiersen particularly advocated the American South and Texas as the most promising regions for settlement. His belief that America offered much greater economic opportunity to the masses than did Norway won him public opprobrium from many Norwegian journalists.

Reiersen decided to immigrate to Texas and establish a Norwegian colony in the republic. With a small group of Norwegians, including members of his own family, he returned to New Orleans in the spring of 1845. Before departing for America, however, he established a monthly magazine, Norge og Amerika (Norway and America). In it he hoped to report on the progress of the Norwegians in America to the people of Norway. The journal lasted for two years; Reiersen edited it in Texas during the first year. It featured a series of "Sketches from Western America," immigrant letters, and Reiersen's own polemical writings on emigration.

After the annexation of Texas in 1845, Reiersen led his group of settlers into the state and established the first real Norwegian colony in Texas on 1,476 acres of land purchased in Henderson County. The population of the settlement increased the next year, when Reiersen's brothers, Christian and George, arrived with a group of fifty additional settlers. The colony was originally named Normandy, but after 1848 it apparently merged with nearby Brownsboro and took the name of the latter. Other settlers Reiersen had expected to come to his colony in Texas chose instead to establish themselves in Missouri, however, and his colony remained small. In 1850 Reiersen established a second colony on the border between Kaufman and Van Zandt counties. By doing so he took advantage of the state government's offer of 640 acres to families and 320 acres to single men and also offered an escape from an outbreak of sickness at Brownsboro. Fourteen families from Brownsboro moved to this community, which they named Four Mile Prairie and later Prairieville.

Reiersen married Henrietta Christine Waldt on August 5, 1836. The couple had six sons and two daughters. Mrs. Reiersen died in Texas in 1851 after childbirth, and soon afterward Reiersen married Ouline Jacobine (Orbek), the widow of his brother Christian. He spent the remainder of his life as a farmer and member of the Prairieville community, although his polemic, pro-American letters to Norwegian newspapers continued to mark him as a controversial figure in his homeland. He died in Prairieville on September 6, 1864, and was buried on his farm.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Theodore Christian Blegen, Norwegian Migration to America (2 vols., 1931; rpt., New York: Haskell House, 1969). Lyder L. Unstad, "Norwegian Migration to Texas," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 43 (October 1939). University of Texas Institute of Texan Cultures, The Norwegian Texans (San Antonio: Encino, 1970).

Brian Hart

Citation

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Brian Hart, "REIERSEN, JOHAN REINERT," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fre25), accessed October 26, 2014. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.