The Swedish Colonial Society
By: Herbert R. Rambo
Founded in 1909 at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania,by a group of 24 prominent academics and cultural historians, The Swedish Colonial Society is Americ’s oldest Swedish historical organization and unique in this country because of its relationship to the Swedish Royal Family and the Swedish government.
Over the past century, the Society’s research provides a strong foundation for the study of New Sweden Colony (1638-1655), the short lived effort by Sweden to claim a stake in colonial America. After 1655 the Swedish flag no longer flew overheard, but the Swedish and Finnish colonists remained as the majority population in Delaware, Southeastern Pennsylvania and Southern New Jersey under successive Dutch and English rulers. They lived with a considerable degree of self government until the arrival of William Penn and the flood of several thousand English Quakers ended the so-called “Swedish Nation on the Delaware” (1655-1681).
New Sweden was unique among the American colonies because the colonists lived peaceably with the Lenape Indians and the friendship between the two communities continues into the 21st century. It was also in 17th century New Sweden where Swedes and Finns carved homes from the forest and introduced the most iconic symbol of the American frontier, the log cabin.
Over the years the Society has published 13 books beginning with Swedish Settlements on the Delaware (1911) by Dr. Amandus Johnson. Additionally the Society is in the midst of publishing the eight volume Colonial Records of Swedish Churches in Pennsylvania, edited by the Society’s renowned Historian and foremost New Sweden chronicler Dr. Peter S. Craig, KNO, FASG and Dr. Kim-Eric Williams, KNO, the leading translator of 17th century Swedish and an expert on period church life.
The most public face of the Swedish Colonial Society is the national awarding winning website www.colonialswedes.org and the recently launched mirror website www.colonialswedes.se. The Swedish Colonial News is the undisputed journal of record for New Sweden Colony, a brief but significant chapter in America’s colonial past.
In 2000 the Swedish Colonial Society moved its historical archives to the professionally managed Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia making scholarly research readily available on a daily basis.
Historic preservation has been a high priority over the years. The Society coordinated the effort leading to Gloria Dei (Old Swedes) Church being the first religious building in American to win designation as a National Historic Landmark in 1942. The Society established “Printz Park” honoring the Royal Governor John Printz, who lived on that site and worked with Pennsylvania State government to preserve the Morton Homestead with its ties to the Declaration of Independence Signer John Morton. The Society coordinated the return of the Rambo Apple Tree to Sweden, where it had been extinct following a severe winter in 1709-10. The species survived because a New Sweden colonist took its seeds to America in 1640. The first planting in Sweden, financed by the King, was by the US Ambassador to Sweden and Swedish officials at the start of the Carl Linnaeus Tercenntenial in Uppsala, Sweden in 2006.
For its Centennial Celebration, the Society commissioned the American Swedish Historical Museum to develop a major exhibit “The Story of New Sweden: From Colony to Community,” with the New Jersey State Museum and the Delaware Historical Society that includes a national tour before going to Sweden.
Currently the Society is working with the American Swedish Historical Museum to develop an action plan to conserve the many historical artifacts at the farmstead, which can be visited by appointment. In addition to being a historical organization, the Swedish Colonial Society has a hereditary program. Those able to prove their descent from Swedes coming to American between 1638 and 1783, are awarded Forefather Member status certifying them as among America’s oldest Swedish families.
A unique aspect of the Swedish Colonial Society is its connection to Sweden’s Royal Family and recognition by the Swedish Government.
In 1909, the Society’s founders sought the patronage of the Swedish King. An invitation to King Gustav V was engraved on a solid silver scroll and sent to Sweden through the Swedish Ambassador. The Stockholm Palace reply was brief but just what the founders wanted to hear, “The King Accepts.”
King Gustav V was the first “High Patron,” serving as the Society’s honorary leader and establishing the tradition that continues today with King Carl XVI Gustaf. The King has awarded the “Royal Order of the Polar Star” to five of the Society’s current leadership. In 2003 Crown Princess Victoria accepted “Deputy High Patron” during her visit to Philadelphia and Wilmington, De.
With a posting to the Embassy in Washington, Sweden’s Ambassador to the United States also takes on the mantle of Patron of The Swedish Colonial Society, an honorary position. His Excellency Jonas Hafström is the Society’s “Patron,” continuing another tradition that goes back 100 years.