Jordbruksdagarna Ag Days

Bishop Hill Colony celebrates heritage with Jordbruksdagarna Ag Days

| September 1999

As others look ahead to a new century, residents of Bishop Hill, Ill., take a look back at harvest methods from the previous century. 

The tiny prairie community (population: 130) was founded in 1846 as the only Swedish communal settlement in the U.S. Erik Jansson, a charismatic Swedish lay preacher, developed a large following in Sweden, but some of his doctrines encountered the antagonism of church and government officials. Jansson decided to lead his adherents to the U.S., where they could enjoy religious freedom.

To fund the mass immigration, Jansson established a policy of communalism. Wealthier Janssonists sold their property and used their money to buy tickets for their families and for less affluent members of the group. When the colonists arrived in the U.S., their co-mingled funds purchased farm-ground and needed supplies.

The Janssonists named their new home 'Bishop Hill' after Jansson's birthplace. The settlement battled difficulties for several years. A cholera epidemic decimated the colony, and, in 1850, a disgruntled colonist assassinated Jansson.

Unlike many communal societies, however, the Bishop Hill Colony did not fall apart following the death of its founder. In fact, the years following Jansson's death were the most profitable the colony had known.

Eventually, as many as 800 Swedes lived in Bishop Hill, and the colony acquired 12,000 acres of farmland. Mile-long furrows were not unusual. In 1856, the colony owned 586 cattle, 1,000 hogs, and more than 100 horses and mules.