She slipped quietly from her bed and dressed in the pre-dawn darkness, her fingers fumbling with the small buttons on the waistband of her blue, handmade skirt. Never before had she experienced such a myriad of emotions; excitement, fear, happiness, uncertainty. Today, her life would change forever.
In just a few hours, she and her uncle would begin their journey from Norway to America. They had talked about this supposed land of wealth and opportunity for months. She had dreamt about it even longer. A stirring in the kitchen area of the three-room cottage roused her from her deep thoughts. Obviously, she was not the only one awake at this early morning hour. She finished brushing her long blonde hair, and with a quick twist and a couple of hairpins, fastened it securely behind her head. Despite protests the night before about eating breakfast, her grandmother had insisted that she have a proper meal to start the day. There was no need to argue. For seventeen years, her grandmother’s firm but loving hand had cared for her. This day would be no different. Reluctantly, she seated herself at the table and proceeded to pick at the food on her plate, all the while oblivious to the older woman’s disapproving glances. When her grandmother turned to get a cup and saucer from the old corner cabinet, the girl placed the remaining bread and cheese in her skirt pocket. The small victory was bittersweet. Although there had been many a battle of the wills throughout the years, she loved her strong and outspoken grandmother. For the most part, she was grateful for her guidance.
At last the hour of departure had arrived. An old family trunk that had belonged to her deceased mother was quickly hoisted onto the back of the horse-drawn wagon. Two additional wooden boxes which held provisions sufficient to last until journey’s end were also placed in the back of the wagon. A hurried embrace and a weak smile were exchanged between the young girl and the old woman. Anything more would have been too painful.
Seated in the wagon next to her uncle, the two traveled in silence to a nearby dock where a boat would transport them to Bergen. Once they arrived in Bergen, they would board the great sailing vessel Mercator and join 400 other emigrants, all of which dreamt of a better tomorrow.
The young and determined seventeen-year-old would eventually arrive in Quebec, Canada. Her beloved uncle would not survive the harsh conditions of the journey and would be buried in the frigid waters of the North Sea.
NOTE: Ingeborg Nilsdtr, my great-grandmother left her birthplace of Sogndal, Norway at the age of seventeen bound for America on the ship Mercator. Her uncle Berent and 72 other Sogndal residents accompanied her. Sadly, Ingeborg’s twenty-nine-year-old uncle died of pneumonia in route but the young Ingeborg arrived safely in Quebec, Canada on June 30, 1870. From Quebec, she traveled by train, steamboat and wagon to eventually reach her destination of Stoughton, Wisconsin.