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Sven Gunnarsson and his Swanson Family

by Dr. Peter Stebbins Craig
Fellow, American Society of Genealogists
Fellow, Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania
Historian, Swedish Colonial Society

originally published in Swedish Colonial News,
Volume 1, Number 18 (Fall 1998)

In August 1639, the Swedish government, needing settlers for its New Sweden colony, sent word to the governors of Elfsborg, Dalsland and Värmland to capture deserted soldiers and others who had committed some slight misdemeanor and to send them to America.

Among the "convicts" rounded up in this effort was Sven Gunnarsson. When the Kalmar Nyckel left Göteborg in September 1639, he was aboard with his pregnant wife and two small children.

Initially, in New Sweden, Sven was stationed at the Fort Christina plantation, where he was found in 1644 working on the New Sweden tobacco farm. In October 1645 he was finally granted freedom from his servitude and joined other freemen residing at Kingsessing (now West Philadelphia). Here he was known as Sven the Miller, as he operated the first gristmill built in New Sweden on present Cobbs Creek.

Being a freeman in New Sweden was like being a peasant under the tyrannical rule of Governor Johan Printz. Like other freemen, Sven was required to work without pay at Printz's Printzhof plantation whenever the Governor demanded, was prohibited from trading with the Indians and forced to buy all necessities at the company store. Like other freemen, he fell heavily into debt. Another such freeman, Lasse Svensson the Finn and his wife Carin had their plantation seized by Printz (who renamed it Printztorp). Both Lasse the Finn and his wife were forced to live without shelter in the woods. Both perished, leaving several impoverished children.

It was not surprising, therefore, that Sven Gunnarsson was one of the 22 freemen signing a petition of grievances which they submitted to Governor Printz in the summer of 1653. Printz called it a "mutiny" and returned to Sweden.
Sven the Miller fared better under Governor Rising, 1654-1655. He even volunteered to help defend Fort Christina against the Dutch invasion. A pitched battle was averted when Rising decided to surrender the colony.

Conditions proved to be even better under Dutch rule. Stuyvesant allowed the Swedes living north of the Christina River to organize their own government. That government, known as the Upland Court, treated Sven Gunnarsson well.
In 1664, Sven Gunnarsson moved with his family across the Schuylkill to Wicaco, a former Indian settlement, where Sven's 1125-acre plantation embraced what would become the future City of Philadelphia. Here, on his land, the first log church at Wicaco (now Gloria Dei Church) was built by 1677. Sven Gunnarsson died about 1678 and probably was one of the first to be buried at the Wicaco church.

In the spring of 1683, Sven's three sons agreed to provide the northern part of Wicaco for William Penn's planned new city, to be called Philadelphia. They were left with 230 acres apiece. Records prove that Sven also had two daughters. His family, in the order of their birth, included:

1. Sven Svensson (Swan Swanson), born in Sweden by 1636, married about 1658 Catharina (Carin) Larsdotter, the daughter of Lasse Svensson the Finn. Sven was a justice on the Upland Court, 1681-1682 and served in the Pennsylvania Assembly in 1683. He died at Wicaco in 1696. His widow, born near Stockholm in 1638, was buried at Gloria Dei on 19 August 1720. Their known children:

  • Lasse Swanson, born about 1660, died unmarried between 1687 and 1692.
  • Brigitta Swanson, born c. 1669, died at Boon's Island, Kingsessing, after 1753. Married Swan Boon c. 1688; 4 children.
  • Margaret Swanson, born c. 1671, died 1699 at Passyunk. Married John Larsson Cock in 1694; 2 children.
  • Barbara Swanson, born 1674, died at Calcon Hook, Lower Darby, after 1743. Married Hans Boon 1699; 5 children.
  • Catharina Swanson, born 1682, died at Wicaco 1711. Married Peter Bankson 1698; 2 children.


2. Gertrude Svensdotter, born c. 1638 in Sweden, married the New Sweden soldier Jonas Nilsson in 1654 and died in Kingsessing c. 1695, survived by eleven children:

  • Nils Jonasson, born in 1655, died at Aronameck in 1735. Married Christina Gästenberg c. 1683; 8 children.
  • Judith Jonasdotter, born c. 1658, died at Manatawny, Berks County in 1727. Married Peter Petersson Yocum by 1676; 10 children.
  • Gunilla Jonasdotter, born c. 1661, died in Gloucester County NJ. Married Måns Petersson Cock in 1680; 7 children.
  • Måns Jonasson, born 1663, died at Manatawny 1727. Married Ingeborg Lycon c. 1690; 6 children.
  • Anders Jonasson, born c. 1666, died at Aronameck 1728. Married Catharina Boon by 1691; 9 children.
  • Christina Jonasdotter, born c. 1668, married (1) Frederick King 1686; (2) Nicklas Lindemeyer 1700; 7 children.
  • John Jonasson, born c. 1670, died after 1738. Married Catharina Lock 1693; 5 daughters.
  • Peter Jonasson, born c. 1673, died after 1697; no known issue.
  • Jonas Jonasson, born c. 1675, died at Kingsessing 1738. Married Anne Amesby 1702; 7 children.
  • Brigitta Jonasdotter, born 1678, died in Blockley Township 1753. Married Mårten Garrett 1703; 5 children.
  • Jonathan Jonasson, born c. 1681, died at Kingsessing 1748. Married Mary; 2 children.


3. Olle Svensson, born at sea on the Kalmar Nyckel in 1640, married an English woman Lydia Ashman. He served as a justice on the Upland Court, 1673-1680 and died at Wicaco in 1692. His widow Lydia died in New Jersey in 1730. Their eight children:

  • John Swanson, born 1667, never married and died in 1736 in Gloucester County NJ.
  • Peter Swanson, born 1668, died in 1737. Married Anna Stille; 1 child.
  • Maria Swanson, born c. 1676, died at Wicaco in her youth.
  • Brigitta Swanson, born 1678, died after 1747 in Gloucester County. Married (1) Peter Gustafsson c. 1696; (2) Jacob Van Culen 1700; 5 children.
  • Lydia Swanson, born c. 1680, married Josiah Harper.
  • Swan Swanson, born c. 1682, died at Wicaco 1712. Married Maria, but no issue.
  • Catharina Swanson, born c. 1686, died in Burlington County NJ. Married James Lacony by 1712.
  • Judith Swanson, born 1688, died after 1754 in Gloucester County. Married Matthias Mattson 1712; 6 children.


4. Anders Svensson, born in New Sweden c. 1642, died at Wicaco in 1688. He married Anna (parents unknown), who died in 1709. Seven children:

  • Gunnar Swanson, born 1667, died 1702, leaving 1/3 of his 50 acres to Gloria Dei Church. Never married.
  • Catharine Swanson, born c. 1669, died c. 1700. Married Andrew Wheeler c. 1689; 4 children.
  • Elisabeth Swanson, born c. 1671, died after 1732. Married Peter Larsson Cock c. 1691; 4 children.
  • Christina Swanson, born c. 1673, died in Philadelphia's Northern Liberties 1750. Married Måns Gustafsson c. 1693; 8 children.
  • Margaret Swanson, born c. 1676, died at Boon's Island by 1719. Married Valentine Cock c. 1696; 4 sons.
  • Christopher Swanson, born 1678, died at Wicaco 1735. Married Christina Keen c. 1712; 5 children.
  • Andrew Swanson, born 1686, died at Calcon Hook, Lower Darby Township, c. 1735. Married Brigitta Boon c. 1724; 3 children.


5. A daughter (name unknown), born in New Sweden after 1644, died in Cecil County MD by 1676. Married Peter Månsson Lom; 1 son.

 

Swanson Family Myths

Myth 1: Sven Skute was the father of the three Swanson brothers of Wicaco.
Relying on the self-styled historian, Betty Cosans-Zebooker, the recent book The Buried Past; An Archaeological History of Philadelphia (1992), pages 33 and 222, states that the three Swanson brothers were sons of Sven Skute, whose 1653 patent from Queen Christina embraced their land at Wicaco.
Facts: Sven Skute's 1653 patent did not include Wicaco; it was also nullified by Governor Rising in 1654 because it embraced lands west of the Schuylkill which had long been settled by others. Sven Skute had one son, Johan Skute, who lived on the west side of the Schuylkill. Patents for Wicaco, issued by the Dutch and English, confirm that Sven Gunnarsson was the father of the Swanson brothers. Peter Kalm confirmed the same in his 1748-1750 journal.

Myth 2: Claude A. Swanson of Virginia, (1862-1939), Secretary of the Navy under FDR, was a descendant of the Swansons of Wicaco.
This claim was most recently published in Landelius' Swedish Place-Names in North America (1985), page 228.
Facts: Claude Swanson's earliest identified Swanson ancestor was William Swanson who was living in Virginia in 1750. Although Sven Gunnarsson had many descendants, the surname of Swanson was continued by only one of his great-grandchildren, Gunnar Swanson, son of Andrew Swanson, Jr. Gunnar's son William Swanson was living in Southwark, Philadelphia County, at the time of the 1790 census.

 

Swanson Descendants

Sven Gunnarsson had five proven children, 32 grandchildren and over 120 great-grandchildren. Among his many descendants today are:
1. All members of the du Pont family of Delaware, who can trace their lineage back to Christopher Swanson, son of Andrew.
2. Two officers of the Swedish Colonial Society: Deputy Governor Esther Ann McFarland (via Jonas Jonasson) and Historian Peter S. Craig (via Judith Jonasdotter who married Peter Yocum).