The story of Ole and Ansten Nattestad (Natesta is the Americanized version of their name) is not unlike many other coming to America stories. We are all descendants of people who made the journey because they wanted a better life than the one they left behind. But this is their story and one that must be told. Through these brave men many other Norwegian families found their way to America and a better life than the one they would have had in Norway at that period in its history.
Life was not at all easy in Norway during the pre-industrial era. The state of Norway itself was in its infancy. The financial system was not stable, bureaucracy was out of control and led by a very distinct class system of privileged aristocracy. If you were not a part of this “Upper Class” you existed in one of three groups:
- The land holding farmers
- Tennent farmers
There was such a tight grip on the lives of these three groups that very little hope existed to move up in life. Ole and Ansten were born to a land holding farmer. On the surface this may seem like a good thing to us, but at that time in Norway’s history the only person to inherit was the first-born son. This left both Ole and Ansten out in the cold. The only hope they had was being a tenant farmer or eking out a living any other way they could. Ole attempted to save and buy land of his own but the very tight bureaucratic system did not allow it.
This left Ole and Ansten to find their own way in life. With very little options in front of them, America sounded like the best bet. So, they saved enough for their passage and in April of 1837 set out for Stavanger to join a group that was setting sail for America. Things didn’t go as planned. One evening on their journey a man came to them and said they had been given the wrong travel papers and if they continued and tried to join the group, the only future in store was prison.
With this knowledge the pair avoided Stavanger and went to Sweden. Once there, they found passage on a cargo ship headed to America where they would begin to build a life.
That story is for another day!