Jaensson, Swen [Swante Palm] (1815–1899)

By: Alfred E. Rogers

Type: Biography

Published: 1952

Updated: April 25, 2019

Swen Jaensson, known as Swante Palm, son of Anders and Ingerd (?) Jaensson (Jensson), noted book collector and promoter of Swedish immigration to Central Texas, was born at Bästhult, Barkeryd Parish, in the province of Småland, Sweden, on January 31, 1815. He was tutored by the parish clerk and became interested in books and learning at a very early age. He left home to serve as secretary to the parish recorder in Norra Vedbo and later became a clerk at the Göta Court of Appeals in Jönköping. Between 1838 and 1844 he lived in Kalmar, where he was a clerk in the sheriff's court and editor of the newspaper Kalmar Posten.

Influenced by his nephew Swen Magnus Swenson, who had immigrated to Texas in 1838, Jaensson followed in 1844 and soon thereafter took the name Swante Palm. He first worked in Swenson's general store in La Grange, Fayette County, and from 1847 to 1850 was La Grange postmaster. In 1850 Swenson moved his store to Austin which became the state capital that year, and Palm continued as his bookkeeper. In 1853 Palm went to Panama as diplomatic secretary to Thomas William Ward, United States consul there. He returned to Austin in 1854 and lived there the rest of his life. In 1854 he married Agnes Christina Alm. A son, Swante Sture, was born in 1855 but died in infancy.

After his return to Austin, Palm continued to be associated with Swenson in various business interests. Proslavery but antisecessionist, he cautiously maintained neutrality during the Civil War. This fact left him in a relatively advantageous political position after the war, and he served in a number of public offices, among them Travis County justice of the peace and member of the Austin City Council. From 1858 to 1860 he participated as a meteorologist in the first Texas Geological and Agricultural Survey. In 1868 he helped organize the Swedish Evangelical Lutheran Gethsemane Church in Austin (later called Gethsemane Lutheran Church). From 1869 to 1872 he served two terms as Austin postmaster.

In 1866 the Swedish government named Palm vice consul for Norway and Sweden, a position he held the rest of his life. As vice consul and as agent of the American Emigrant Company in the 1870s, he encouraged Swedish immigration to Central Texas and helped immigrants once they had arrived. In 1883 on one of Palm's two trips to Sweden, King Oscar II awarded him the Order of Wasa in appreciation of his service as vice consul. As a result of this award, he is often called, incorrectly, Sir Swante Palm. In 1891 Bethany College, Lindsborg, Kansas, awarded him an honorary doctorate. Palm was a member of several scholarly organizations and helped organize the Austin Archaeological Society.

Palm is best known for his library of about 12,000 volumes, collected over a lifetime from all over the United States and Europe. His collection included Scandinavian works, books about Texas, classics, literature, and scientific books. He knew English, French, Latin, German, and various Scandinavian languages and dialects, and copious marginalia indicate that he read much of what he collected. He donated most of his books to the University of Texas in 1897, a gift that increased the size of the university library by more than 60 percent. Palm spent his last days as assistant librarian, supervising the cataloguing and use of his collection, which, he stated, "is closely interwoven with my very existence." He died in Austin on June 22, 1899. See also SWEDES.

Swante Palm Papers, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin. Harry Huntt Ransom, "A Renaissance Gentleman in Texas: Notes on the Life and Library of Swante Palm," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 53 (January 1950). Alfred Ellis Rogers, Swante Palm: With Notes on the Library of a Nineteenth-Century Texas Book Collector (M.L.S. report, University of Texas, 1966). Siv Vedung, A Book Collector on the Texas Frontier: Swante Palm and His Swedish Library at the University of Texas at Austin (Houston: Texas Swedish Cultural Foundation, 1990).

  • Peoples
  • Swedes
  • Politics and Government

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

Alfred E. Rogers, “Jaensson, Swen [Swante Palm],” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed July 05, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/jaensson-swen-swante-palm.

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April 25, 2019