Friday, September 23, 2011

Patriarch: Mikal Alfsen Roland-Hornnes-Espetveit, 1805, part 1

Mikal Alfsen Roland-Hornnes-Espetveit*, ca 1870s
[photo courtesy of Alf Georg Kjetså]

Looking to a generation further back in time and to the life of the father of Lill Anna, Mikal Alfsen was christened 5 May 1805 in Grinheim parish, Vest Agder, Norway. He is shown in the picture here sitting on a chair dressed in a suit, tie, vest and wooden shoes! I am guessing at the date (ca 1870s) from the style of the photograph, his pose and the clothes. I liked the shoes, which are a bit hard to see in the picture, and his large hands. He was a working farmer and it shows even when he was dressed up like this.

The family was living at Haaland farm at the time of his birth. His father, Alv Simonsen, mother, Mari or Maren Mikalsdatter, were married about 1789 and had a total of ten children of which Mikal was the seventh. Their children in chronological order are:

1. Aase ca 1790
2. Anna, 1793
3. Simon, 1797
4. Askier, 23 Sept 1798
5. Torkild, 22 Sep 1799
6. Abraham, 16 Jul 1802
7. Mikal, 5 May 1805
8. Askier, 28 Aug 1808
9. Simon, 15 Jun 1810
10. Ole, 12 Dec 1813

Two of the sisters, Aase and Anna and five of the brothers, Torkild, Abraham, Mikal, Simon and Ole survived to adulthood, married and had children.

The family moved from farm to farm for a time and Alv Simonsen tried to buy his father-in-law’s place but was not successful. They ended up on Roland farm in Bjelland, Vest Agder, living there until a big fire in 1825 burned the house down and resulted in the death of Mari’s sister Jorand who had been living with them. Anna, their second child married Lars Nielsen Roland the same year as the fire, 1825, and lived in Bjelland. After the fire Mikal's parents remained in Bjelland where Alv died in July 1829 and Mari died in December of the same year.

The oldest surviving son, Torkild Alvson had moved from Bjelland to Hægeland where he married first, Marie Kristendatter Kiledal and after she died he married second to her sister, Anna Kristendatter Kiledal. A shrewd move since it allowed him to keep all the property and not have to divide it immediately. The other brothers followed their oldest sister, Aase, to the neighboring community on the other side of the county line, Hornnes, in Aust Agder. There Aase married Ola Olson Valebrokk-Abusland. Once in Hornnes these four brothers were known locally as the brothers from Roland or Bjelland. All five brothers gained a reputation for marrying well.

As further background to help us understand the times and situation Mikal may have found himself in, it is helpful to realize that as a younger son he would have had very little or no chance to inherit land as that right would have gone to his oldest brother except that the fire had destroyed everything so no one took the property. One of the things he could do was become a soldier and another would be to find a “farm girl” a girl who was of marriageable age without brothers or sisters and who would therefore get her father’s land. Mikal did both.

At the time he married his first wife, Ragnhild Nottosdatter Hornnes he is listed as a soldier. Soldiers were generally picked from the best men available; i.e., the healthiest, intelligent, better educated (could at least read and write some), taller than average. In those days sometimes the local minister would have a soldier sit in front of the congregation with a long stick to “poke” the parishioners who fell asleep. The uniform of a soldier was handsome and flattering to the figure, and he most often had the pick of any local girl he wanted to marry. Also advantageous was the fact that he was probably not from the area and therefore unlikely to be a cousin as was often the case with local marriage partners. Mountains, water, forest, and distance isolated the valleys, so marriage partners were limited. Always the primary concern was keeping the property within the family. Families often had owned and lived on the same land for generations, 400 to 600 years or longer.
Mikal became the owner of the farm in Hornnes upon his marriage to Ragnhild the only child of Notto Salvesen Hornnes.

O.O. Uleberg, in his book Hornnes I, tells the following story about Mikal and Ragnhild:**

“Ragnhild grew up to be a clever girl. And because she was the ‘farm girl’ (the girl who inherits the farm), the story goes that she had many advantageous marriage proposals. One of them was with the seventh child of her mother’s sister (a first cousin), named Notto Salveson Jortveit, who was certainly a rich young man with promise of inheritance. Her parents were willing and wanted her to marry him. But she preferred the boy from Roland in Bjelland who was called Mikal Alfsen. Because she was in a hurry her parents did not like that, she ran away one lovely day with Mikal.“

There are poems about their rendezvous; here is one of several variations with translation:

This is not Mikal Alfsen riding to meet Ragnhild but it is such a wonderful visual for the poem I am putting it here anyway.
[photo courtesy of Alf Georg Kjetså]

“Ragnil Honnes ho sto å reidde.
Mikal kom rians oppette leite.
Ho sa: Skjit i bå mor å far!
Ho kasta tvorå, la mae Mikal.”

“Ragnil Honnes, she stood ready.
Mikal came riding up from over there.
She said: Hurry – mother and father!
She threw her arms around Mikal (and cast her lot with him).

“Notto Salveson Jortveit had a warning that Ragnhild had run away with Mikal Roland. He quickly set out from Hornnes to find her. Mikal was a distance away with a man who was a spy (messenger or lookout) from Kjetså, and a spy from Sannaberg in Abusland. (Ola Sannaberg Abusland was the brother-in-law to Mikal)."

The story continues,

“Mikal and Ragnhild hid under a bridge that night. After some time, perhaps even the next day or so, Notto Salvesen found them and discovered that Ragnhild was with child.*** When Notto heard that he turned away.”

This same story with very little variation has been passed down orally through the family and was related to me by Odd Svanstrøm, a great-grandson of Mikal Alfsen. Mikal and Ragnhild came back to Lunnen in Hornnes and her father forgave them and gave them permission to marry. They were officially married 19 April 1830 at Hornnes where they eventually took over the farm and had 12

Ragnhild died at age 49 in 1859. Mikal married again in 1862 to Anne Gundersdatter Uleberg who was born in 1842. According to Odd Svanstrøm she was somehow related to the family of Notto Salvesen Jortveit the same man who Ragnhild was to marry in the first place, so Mikal managed to gain double through his marriages. (Wouldn’t want to suggest that he cheated Notto twice now, would we?)

Hornnes Church, ca 1982

End of part 1



* Mikal’s farm names reflect the places he lived. He was known as one of the boys or brothers from Roland; his first marriage netted him Hornnes; and he spent his last years at Espetviet. This photograph is undated but may well have been taken as early as his second marriage in 1862.

** The translation is mine. If any of our Norwegian cousins notice obvious errors, I would be most grateful and happy to make corrections.

*** It was a fairly common practice for a young couple to conceive a child before marriage especially in a situation like this where it was important to convince her parents to let her marry the man of her own choosing. Since there was a good piece of property at stake her parents would otherwise be unwilling to give their permission.

**** The children of Ragnhild and Mikal:

• Mari Mikalsdatter Hornnes, born 14 September 1830
• Åslaug (Osloug) Mikalsdatter Hornnes, born 22 November 1832

• Anne or Anna Mikalsdatter Hornnes, born 28 March 1835

• Notto Mikalsen Hornnes, born 7 April 1837, died 24 May 1839

• Jorann Mikalsdatter Hornnes, born 16 September 1839, died as an infant
• Kari Mikalsdatter Hornnes, born 26 November 1840

• Gunvor Mikalsdatter Hornnes, born 6 May 1843, died 1 March 1844
• Notto Mikalsen Hornnes, born 25 Jan 1845 [He took half the farm Lunnen in 1868 as his inheritance from his mother]
• Gunvor Mikalsdatter, Hornnes, born 11 May 1847
• Alv Mikalsen Hornnes, born 10 May 1851
• Asierd Mikalsdatter, born 23 March 1853
• Unnamed infant died or stillborn.

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