Home History Townships & Maps Birth, Marriage & Death Biographies Census Military Churches Schools

Carl John Cassel

Photo page.pdf">Page 361

Carl John (Charles John, or C. J.) Cassel was born in Kisa Parish, Ostergotland, Sweden, December 26, 1821. His mother died in childbed when he was nine years old, and his sister shortly after. His father, Peter Carlson Cassel, subsequently remarried. Peter Cassel was a miller and millwright, and C J. learned that trade when he was about 13. When C J. was about 18, his father invented and began to build threshing machines. C. J. also learned this trade, which he followed until the family came to America.

In the Spring of 1845, after obtaining permission to leave Sweden, and after selling most of his property and leaving the remainder in the care of his brother, John, Peter Cassel set out for America with his wife, Catherine, sons C. J., Anders, and Gustav, daughters Matilda and Catherine, his sister and her husband, and two other families, making up a party of twenty some people. They first went from Kisa Parish by horse and wagon to Berg, and then by Gota Canal to Goteborg (Gothenburg). Their sailing vessel, the Superb, took exactly eight weeks to reach New York City harbor.

That summer, a Methodist evangelist, Olaf Gustav Hedstrom, had established a mission for Scandinavian sailors, and as it turned out, immigrants, in an old hulk he named "Bethel Ship." There, the new arrivals met Captain Per (Peter) Dahlberg, who advised them to go to Iowa, where the good land was just becoming available, rather than to their original destination of Pine Lake, Wisconsin; and he offered to guide them. They accepted, going first by boat to New Jersey, and then by rail to Philadelphia, although the rail car was also the boat. C. J.'s brother, Andrew, describes it in the 1904 Korsbaneret:

"Four railway wagons (without chassis, wheels, axles, etc.) were combined in such a way that they constituted sort of a boat. Through canals this 'wagon-boat' was pulled by a horse . . . At the arrival at the railroad, the chasis were transported . . . on rails down to the canal and went underneath. Over the Allegheny Mountains, these 'boat-wagons' were pulled by means of machinery located 'on top of the mountain'. They 'pulled us up and dropped us over all the heights.'"

The Pennsylvania Historical Society also has a brochure, describing those "boat-wagons."

From Pittsburgh, they went by steamboat down the Ohio River to Cairo, Illinois, then up the Mississippi to St. Louis, where they saw slaves being sold above the waterfront, and finally, Burlington, Iowa. There they purchased tools and supplies, including teams and wagons, and walked the last 30 miles up along the Skunk River, and then Brush Creek into open land in Jefferson County. Mrs. Everett (Katherine) Bogner, of R.F.D., Lockridge, a descendant of Peter Cassel's sister, now lives across Brush Creek Valley from where the group finally stopped on September 13, 1845.

Life did not immediately become easier. Shelters had to be erected and food obtained. C. J.'s sister, Catherine, died that first winter. When Peter Cassel died in 1857, he had "opened up" only seven acres of his 40-acre farm half mile west of the New Sweden Methodist Church.

Nevertheless, the newcomers saw Iowa as a veritable "Land of Canaan," and Peter Cassel so described it in his letters home. In addition to extolling the cheap, rich land, he emphasized the lack of beggars (at that time, supposedly, every fifth person in Sweden was a beggar) and the lack of class distinctions. The latter was particularly important, since at that time, the gentry were generally exempt from taxation. Also, lifting one's cap in the present of one's "betters" was not universally appreciated by the lifters.

Since Peter Cassel was the first Swedish "bonde," or land owner, to sell out and emigrate, his letters carried additional weight, and were published and republished in Swedish newspapers. This was the first group of Swedes to settle in Iowa, and their settlement, called New Sweden, and located about three miles northwest of Lockridge, Iowa, was the first permanent Swedish-American settlement since the 17th century.

C. J. remained one year at New Sweden, helping his father "open up" and establish his farm, and then went to Fairfield, where John Dalander and he became partners in the carpentry business. C J. also later made shoes in Fairfield.

At some time in 1847-48, C. J. and John were in Swede Point, and made a set of burrs, which were turned by a hand-operated crank for grinding corn into meal. These burrs were reportedy broken up, and later used in the foundation of his house, which was built in 1862.

Johns sister, Ulricka, kept house for them in Fairfield, and in 1848, C J. and Ulla were married there in the first Swedish marriage in Iowa.

In 1849, they moved to Swede Point where C. J. entered a partnership with his brothers-in-law, helping develop their farm of 320 acres in and west of the settlement. Their first son, John Peter, was born August 28, 1849, and died November 21, 1849, and is buried in the Dalander Cemetery. Nine subsequent children survived childhood: Anna Matilda (Tillie), born September 6, 1850, who became Mrs. Charles Oakleaf, and died May 17, 1905; Ulrika Christina, born July 27, 1852, who became Mrs. Andrew W. Anderson, and died September 4, 1924; Clara, born October 16, 1853, an died March 8, 1939; Johanna, born October 6, 1855, who became Mrs. F. W. Johnson, and died February 17, 1933; John A., born September 14, 1857, and died November 2, 1938; Peter born July 9, 1859, and died January 25, 1931; Marie (Mary) Catharina, Mrs. J. H. Peterson, born September 6, 1861, and died November 13, 1941; Amanda, born March 21, 1864, and died November 7, 1935; and Carl W. (Charlie), born March 11, 1867, and died October 26, 1942.

In 1855, C. J. and the Dalander brothers purchased a steam engine, reportedly the first in Iowa, and pulled it from Keokuk by team and wagon. They then constructed the first sawmill in the area, and operated it, often day and night, to meet the demand for lumber. After almost two years of operation, they sold the sawmill, which was moved to Dallas County in 1858, but they kept the engine. In 1857, they constructed a flour and grist mill in Madrid, which C J. managed for about ten years, until it was sold in 1868, and moved to Boone. The flour was taken by team and wagon for sale to buyers in Des Moines, and even as far as Burlington and Keokuk. On one occasion, it was decided to use the river. Unfortunately, the barge leaked, or in some other way, the load became wet, and the entire load was ruined. The effect was near financial ruin. C. J.'s two older sons went to work in a Colorado silver mine, and the two girls, Mary and Clara, opened a millinery store in Sheldahl, later moved to Slater, in order to get the family back on its financial feet. C. J. thereafter operated his share of the family farm, consisting of approximately 80 acres, developed and sold properties in Madrid, and took an active part in church and civic affairs.

After C J. left New Sweden, the Cassels who remained were converted to Methodism by a brother of the Bethel Ship founder, Jonas Hedstrom. But C. J. and his family were charter members of the Swedish Evangelical Lutheran Church, later St. John's when it was formed in 1859, and C. J. remained a faithful Lutheran. He was a deacon for almost 30 years, also serving as sexton and representative at church conferences for many years. During one period of over five years, he served as minister. He served on the first Madrid City Council. He was a Douglas Township trustee for many years, and two years a Boone County Supervisor.

His first house was a log cabin on the north side of First Street in the same block with the Dalander brothers. His second, built in 1862, on West Second Street (now Jonas and Mabel Cleven), is reputed to have been the first frame house built in Swede Point, and is now on the National Historic Registry.

C. J. was first a Whig, but became a Republican before the Civil War began, and so remained.

The Civil War exacted a price from these pioneers. C. J.'s brother, Gustav, first a member of the Coalport Guards, and at the outbreak of war, an enlistee in the Union Army, died of pneumonia at Helena, Arkansas in December, 1862. The next summer, his sister, Matilda's first husband, C. J. (John) Peterson also died. Ulla's brother, John Dalander, fortunately returned home in good health after three years of service, as did Matilda's (second) husband-to-be.

Ulla passed away April 30, 1891, and C. J. on November 25, 1902. C. J. was a peaceful man, and had a pleasant way about him. Present at his funeral were his nine children, his surviving brother, A. F., and sister, Matilda (Mrs. Frank) Danielson of New Sweden, and his other sister, Mrs. Carrie Jacobson of Creston (born in New Sweden). A. F. (Andrew), then a member of the Iowa Legislature, was quoted as saying, "1 can never remember during the time we grew up that a single harsh word or evil thought came between us."

[an error occurred while processing this directive]