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SWEDES

SWEDES. Immigrants from Sweden began coming to Texas in 1848. They were preceded by Swante M. Swenson, who first came to America in 1836. Arriving in Texas by way of Baltimore and Alabama, he was joined by his uncle Swante Palm (Swen Jaensson) in 1844. Swenson prospered and soon acquired a plantation in Fort Bend County. He became a friend and admirer of Sam Houston, who urged him to recruit Swedish immigrants to settle the sparsely occupied interior of Texas. Swenson did as Houston suggested and brought twenty-five Swedes to Texas in 1848. They were from Barkeryd parish in northern Småland and were related to one another or to Swenson and Palm. First joining Swenson in Fort Bend County, they moved with him after he sold his plantation and slaves to a large sheep and cattle ranch just east of Austin. Swenson continued to assist his countrymen in coming to Texas by advancing passage money in return for their labor. The depression of 1873 slowed immigration, but the movement resumed in 1878. The census of 1880 recorded 364 Swedes in Texas. During the 1880s Swenson established the SMS Ranches out of his vast acreage in Northwest Texas. Operated by his sons, Eric and Albin, the ranches employed many managers and ranch workers who were Swedes. The Swensons laid out the town of Stamford in Jones County around 1899, and Swedish immigrants worked in the area as ranch hands and farmers.

The 1900 census indicated 4,344 Swedes in Texas. Immigration from Sweden had practically stopped by 1910. There had also been considerable immigration into Texas from the north central states, notably Illinois. The bulk of that movement took place between 1870 and 1900, with large numbers coming in 1893 and 1894. By the 1940s there were concentrations of Swedes and their descendants around Stamford, Lyford, Melvin, Brady, Fort Worth, Dallas, and Waco. Texas place names indicating Swedish origin include Govalle, Lund, Manda, New Sweden, Hutto, Swedonia, East Sweden, West Sweden, Palm Valley, Swensondale, and Bergstrom Air Force Base. In 1980 there were 8,147 people of Swedish descent in the Dallas–Fort Worth Standard Metropolitan Statistical Area, 6,569 in the Houston SMSA, and 4,795 in the Austin SMSA.

Swedes were more numerous in Texas than in any other southern state. They published several newspapers, but the longest surviving one was the Texas-Posten, published in Austin from 1896 to 1982. They sponsored two ventures of higher learning—Trinity Lutheran College in Round Rock, chartered on March 22, 1906, by Texas Swedish Lutherans, and Texas Wesleyan College at Austin in 1912, sponsored by Swedish Methodists. Both colleges closed by the 1930s. Trinity Lutheran College in Round Rock merged with Texas Lutheran College (now Texas Lutheran University) in Seguin. The assets of Texas Wesleyan College were sold to the University of Texas, with a portion of the proceeds used to establish the Texas Wesleyan Foundation which provided college scholarships for hundreds of children of Texas Swedish heritage. Notable Texas Swedes have included Erik Jonsson, a co-founder of Texas Instruments and former Dallas mayor, and Carl G. Cromwell, an early twentieth-century oilman who was contracted to drill the famous Santa Rita No. 1 well (see SANTA RITA OIL WELL) in 1923 and who became drilling superintendent for the Texon Oil and Land Company. Numerous Texas historical markers have been placed on buildings and sites associated with Texas Swedish heritage. In 1988 a celebration entitled "New Sweden '88" commemorated the 150th anniversary of the arrival in Texas of the first Swedish immigrants. There were numerous cultural events staged in Central Texas, including an official visit by King Carl XVI Gustaf and Queen Silvia of Sweden. The 1990 census showed 155,193 persons claiming Swedish descent. By 2000 that figure had increased to approximately 160,000.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Magnus Morner, The Swedish Migrants to Texas (Chicago: Swedish-American Historical Society, 1987). Carl Martin Rosenquist, Swedes of Texas (Austin, 1942). Larry E. Scott, The Swedish Texans (San Antonio: University of Texas Institute of Texan Cultures, 1990). Ernest Severin, Swedes in Texas in Words and Pictures, 1838–1918, trans. Christine Andreason (Austin: "New Sweden 88" Austin Area Committee, 1994). Alan H. Winquist, Swedish American Landmarks: Where to go and what to see (Swedish Council of America, 1995).

Art Leatherwood

Citation

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

Art Leatherwood, "SWEDES," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/pts01), accessed August 31, 2014. Uploaded on August 31, 2010. Modified on March 24, 2011. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.