about the Emigration from Iceland to North America we usually refer to the period of 1870 to 1914. The reason is that during this time the emigrants usually enlisted groups organized by special agents and on ships made available for that purpose. It's estimated that roughly 20.000 people left the homeland, about one fifth of the country's population and searched the fortune in a new one. And why did people emigrate? Well, we can come to that later. But first to another story.
Prior to the massive
emigration mentioned above in the year 1870 and up to the 20th Century, caused primarily by natural hardship, a migration some fifteen years earlier, due to causes of a different nature, actually led to the establishment of the first (permanent) Icelandic settlement in America.
People of the Mormon faith had settled in the territory of Utah in the year 1847.
These Mormons, as they are often called, were members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They had left previous settlements in Ohio and Illinois due to persecution and had travelled west where they would be able to form zion, or a peaceable community. The community was small in number at first, but grew as missionaries sent to other countries shared their gospel with others and many were converted. Converts, primarily from European nations, began arriving in Utah in great numbers, adding to the community of Mormons already there.
In 1850, two Icelandic students in Copenhagen, Þórarinn Hafliðason and Guðmundur Guðmundsson
, met Mormon missionaries from Utah. In 1851 they were baptized members of the Church and shortly returned to their homes in Vestmannaeyjar in Iceland, where they shared their new faith with neighbours and friends. Just as the early American Mormons had experienced persecution, the early Icelandic Mormons also found it difficult to practise their faith. Many of the early Icelandic converts decided to emigrate to the gathering place of the Latter-day Saints in Utah.
Samuel Bjarnason, Margrét Gísladóttir Bjarnason, and Helga Jónsdóttir, were among the first to leave their homeland for Utah. They left Iceland in the year 1855 and arrived in Utah in 1856, settling in the town of Spanish Fork, where a Danish settlement already existed. Other Icelanders soon arrived in Spanish Fork, including Þórður Diðriksson and Guðmundur Guðmundsson, Loftur Jónsson, Magnús Bjarnason and his wife Þuríður, Ragnhildur Stefánsdóttir, Vigdís Björnsdóttir, Jón Jónsson, Anna Guðlaugsdóttir, Guðrún Halldórsdóttir, Guðný Hafliðason, and many others, along with members of their families. Many of the early Icelandic settlers later became missionaries and went back to their homeland of Iceland, which contributed to both the establishment of the Mormon faith in Iceland and the eventual emigration of new converts to Utah.
The Icelanders contributed greatly to the Mormon community of Spanish Fork. Their skills in carpentry, metal working, painting, stone masonry, watchmaking, dressmaking, weaving, and farming, helped create a thriving town. These settlers formed an Icelandic Library Association
which continued for many years through the contributions of Icelandic books of literature and other texts. The books now form part of a special collection of Icelandic books at nearby Brigham Young University
. Emigration from Iceland to Utah would continue throughout the late nineteenth Century, bringing the rich traditions of Iceland to America.
Read about Þórður Diðriksson's voyage
to America and travel through the prairie to UTAH. And remember the book: The Icelanders of Utah.