October 29, 2022

John Wilson, 1827-1901 [RG0856.AM]


RG0856.AM:  John Wilson, 1827-1901

Papers:  Undated
Knox County, Ill.; and Stromsburg, Polk County, Nebraska:  Farmer, banker
Size:  Three items


John Wilson was born in the province of Smaland, Sweden on July 7, 1827. Orphaned at the age of twelve, he was raised by an uncle and aunt. At age eighteen, he went to Stockholm where he first clerked in a retail store and then apprenticed himself to a piano-maker.

Wilson emigrated to the United States in 1850, finding work in New York as a piano-maker. Determined to reach the California gold fields, he signed on as a sailor on a ship bound for San Francisco by way of Cape Horn. During a terrifying storm at sea, Wilson vowed to devote his life to God’s service, if his life was spared.

Moderately successful during his three years in California, Wilson returned east and settled in Jefferson County, Iowa. There, in 1854, he married Winnie Samuelson. In 1858 the Wilsons moved to Knox County, Illinois where he spent the next several years farming, until moving to Nebraska in 1880.

Locating on a farm ten miles southwest of Stromsburg, Wilson developed one of the largest farms in Polk County. He retired from active farming in 1889 and moved to Stromsburg. In 1891 he purchased a controlling interest in the Farmers and Merchants Bank of Stromsburg. Winnie Wilson, the mother of ten children, died in 1894. John Wilson married Anna Backstrom the following year, with whom he had two children.

John Wilson died in Stromsburg on October 28, 1901. At the time of his death, he was president of the Farmers and Merchants Bank of Stromsburg.


This collection consists of the memoirs and biography of John Wilson, Swedish immigrant to the United States and successful farmer and banker in Stromsburg, Nebraska. The memoirs consist of typescripts in both Swedish and English. Transcribed and translated by Wilson’s daughter, one is titled, “Memoirs of Past Life,” and the other is titled, “Memoirs of the Life of John Wilson.” These provide Wilson’s account of his sea adventure while sailing to California, his religious conversion and beliefs, and a brief sketch of his travels. The biography, written by Wilson’s son, Joseph, provides more details on Wilson’s experiences in the gold fields, his homes in Iowa, Illinois, and Nebraska, and his religious work.



  1. Memoirs of Past Life by John Wilson
  2. Memoirs of the Life of John Wilson
  3. Biography of John Wilson by Joseph Wilson

Subject headings:

Bankers — Nebraska — Stromsburg
Banks and banking — Nebraska — Stromsburg
Farmers — Nebraska — Polk County
Gold mining
Nebraska — Emigration and immigration
Polk County (Nebraska) — History
Scandinavians — Nebraska
Stromsburg (Nebraska) — History
Wilson, John, 1827-1901

Revised TMM       12-26-2006

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