Federal Writers' Project – Life Histories/2020/Fall/105i/Section 50/Captain Otto Olsen
Overview[edit | edit source]
Captain Otto Olsen was a Norwegian sailor before he moved to New Bern, North Carolina. He was interviewed by James S. Beaman and Edwin Massengill for the Federal Writers Project in 1939.
Biography[edit | edit source]
Early Life[edit | edit source]
Olsen was born in 1883 in Norway. He lived in a farm outside of a small town of 14,000 people. His parents were dairymen and farmers, as well as, Lutheran Protestants. Olsen also had three sisters and one brother. He was a part time student and a part time farmer who disliked farming. He preferred the sea over the farm.
Adulthood[edit | edit source]
Sailing with the British[edit | edit source]
When Olsen was 20, he sailed with the British. He did this for two years. He worked on a trade ship and helped trade goods between the British and other countries. He has experienced three shipwrecks; one at the Baltic sea, another at the Coast of Siberia, and another at the Gulf of Mexico. Compared to the other shipwrecks, the shipwreck at the Gulf of Mexico was the worst. In that shipwreck, out of 39 crew mates, Olsen was the only survivor.
Olsen was saved by a passing boat and received help from a fellow Norwegian on land. During his time with his friend, he managed to survive a flood caused by the Galveston hurricane. The same friend gave money to Olsen to help him reach New York and then England to get his pay from the British Board of Trade. Once Olsen reached New York, he was mesmerized and stayed in the city for six months before returning to England.
When Olsen reached England, the British Board of Trade attempted to try him for deserting; however, they couldn't because he was the sole survivor of the crash. During the time, British merchantmen wasn't given pay until they returned back to British to prevent deserting and to have all the money spent in England. Still, the Admiralty refused to give him pay causing Olsen to leave British ports.
Post-British Life[edit | edit source]
After the British incident, Olsen decided to travel with Dutch merchants. It is not explicitly known how long he sailed with the Dutch and if he worked with other countries. He claimed to have visited every country that has a seaport and he sailed around the world 3 times. He claimed to buy books and liquor in every country he has been in (the first for knowledge, the second for pleasure).
Settlement[edit | edit source]
Olsen moved in New Bern, North Carolina when he decided he was too old to sail on the seas. He took on the job on a dredge boat which was similar to his previous work.
Olsen met his wife in North Carolina (another reason of his settlement) and adopted two children, a boy and a girl. Although Olsen wanted children of his own, he and his wife were unable to reproduce. The daughter's family were Baptists, so she went to a Baptist Church whilst the son went to an Episcopal Church with Olsen's wife because the son's family were not affiliated with a church. Olsen also attended the Episcopal Church because there were no Lutheran Churches nearby. Olsen also prayed every night not only for religion, but to honor his parents as well.
The house was also owned by Olsen's wife and the family did not own a car. His adopted children attend school to receive the education neither he nor his wife received. The exact date of his immigration, marriage, and adoption is unknown.
The exact date of his death is unknown.
Social Issues[edit | edit source]
Norwegian Immigration in the U.S (1890 - 1921)[edit | edit source]
Immigration in the United States was difficult from 1890-1921. As the number of immigrants increased, housing prices increased and worker's wages were reduced. However, according to race, the acceptance of immigrants differed. For example, a Scandinavian would find it easier to attain citizenship then an Asian.
Between the 1890s and 1921, many Norwegians immigrated to America. Most immigrants moved to areas where other Norwegians were present, creating large clusters. Minnesota and Dakota had the most clusters of Norwegian immigrants. Within the clusters, very few Norwegians were rich. Most Norwegians in the large clusters worked in farms for low wages instead of working in white-collar jobs.
Most of the Norwegian immigrants were religious; they were mainly Lutherans. The Norwegians built new Lutheran Churches to practice their beliefs. These new churches, with new synods, strayed far from the Lutheran Churches in Norway. They also helped establish the present Lutheran community in the United States.
European and American Trade via Seas (1850 - 1914)[edit | edit source]
During the 1850s to 1914, trade was done via sea. America had difficulties with trading other countries. In the beginning, America was unsure where their trade should be prioritized: Latin America, England. It seemed to be more beneficial to side with the British because the Empire had good control over the seas and many lands. However, trading more with Latin America meant that America could isolate itself from the other continents.
The British were not the only ones that traded with America. Other countries like France and the Netherlands also traded with America. However, on British and Dutch ships, there were also Norwegian sailors present. America wasn't trading with the countries that own a ship but also countries with sailors on those ships.
Still, a question of whether or not America truly needed to trade with other countries arose. To help the farmers in the United States, an act (the McKinley Tariff Act) was implemented in 1890. The act increased tariffs on exported items to encourage the public to buy American goods. The act backfired when farmers started to buy more imported goods and was repealed in 1894. After the act was repealed, America went back to trading with other countries.
References[edit | edit source]
- Interview, Captain Otto Olsen to James S. Beaman and Edwin Massengill, May 4, 1939, folder 288, Coll. 03709, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
- Goldin, C. 1994. "The Political Economy of Immigration Restriction in the United States, 1890 to 1921." Pp. 223-57 in The Regulated Economy: A Historical Approach to Political Economy, edited by C. Golden and G.D. Libecap. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
- Quintero, Angelica. "America's Love-hate Relationship with Immigrants." Los Angeles Times. January 13, 2018. Accessed October 02, 2020.
- Eriksson, Katherine. 2018. “Ethnic Enclaves and Immigrant Outcomes: Norwegian Immigrants during the Age of Mass Migration.” NBER Working Paper No.24763. doi:10.3386/w24763
- Lovoll, Odd Sverre. 1998. The Promise Fulfilled: A Portrait of Norwegian Americans Today. University of Minnesota Press. P. 89. ISBN 9781452903576
- Fordham, Benjamin O. 2017. "Protectionist Empire: Trade, Tariffs, and United States Foreign Policy, 1890-1914." Studies in American Political Development 31 (2) (10): 170-192.
- Tangeraas, Lars. 1982. "Norwegian Sailors in American Waters, 1850-1914." Scandinavian Studies 54 (2) (Spring): 137.
- Robinson, Edgar Eugene, et. al. "McKinley Tariff Act" Encyclopædia Britannica. September 27,2020. Accessed October 02, 2020.
Bibliography[edit | edit source]
Eriksson, Katherine. 2018. “Ethnic Enclaves and Immigrant Outcomes: Norwegian Immigrants during the Age of Mass Migration.” NBER Working Paper No.24763. doi:10.3386/w24763
Fordham, Benjamin O. 2017. "Protectionist Empire: Trade, Tariffs, and United States Foreign Policy, 1890-1914." Studies in American Political Development 31 (2) (10): 170-192. doi:http://dx.doi.org.libproxy.lib.unc.edu/10.1017/S0898588X17000116. http://libproxy.lib.unc.edu/login?url=https://www-proquest-com.libproxy.lib.unc.edu/docview/2036424707?accountid=14244.
Goldin, C. 1994. "The Political Economy of Immigration Restriction in the United States, 1890 to 1921." Pp. 223-57 in The Regulated Economy: A Historical Approach to Political Economy, edited by C. Golden and G.D. Libecap. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Interviewer Beaman, James S. and Massengill, Edwin on Captain Otto Olsen, 1936-1940, Folder 288, in the Federal Writers' Project papers #3709, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Quintero, Angelica. "America's Love-hate Relationship with Immigrants." Los Angeles Times. January 13, 2018. Accessed October 02, 2020. https://www.latimes.com/projects/la-na-immigration-trends/.
Robinson, Edgar Eugene, et. al. "McKinley Tariff Act" Encyclopædia Britannica. September 27,2020. Accessed October 02, 2020. https://www.britannica.com/place/United-States/The-Sherman-Antitrust-Act#ref612939.
Tangeraas, Lars. 1982. "Norwegian Sailors in American Waters, 1850-1914." Scandinavian Studies 54 (2) (Spring): 137. http://libproxy.lib.unc.edu/login?url=https://www-proquest-com.libproxy.lib.unc.edu/docview/1296981884?accountid=14244.