Gustaf Unonius and New Upsala

Gustaf Unonius arrived in Wisconsin in 1841 and established the first Swedish settlement in Wisconsin in Chenequa by Pine Lake. He named the settlement New Upsala after the the city in Sweden he had left, Upsala (current spelling Uppsala). Unonius life and travels from Sweden to USA was summarized by SAHSWI board member John Elliott in a society meeting in 2018.

Link to his presentation: The first Swedish Settlement in Wisconsin.

State of Wisconsin Historical Marker

Swedish American Historical Society of Wisconsin announced, in the 2020 annual meeting, a project to establish a State of Wisconsin Historical Marker to commemorate Gustaf Unonius and The New Upsala first Swedish settlement in Wisconsin. An introductory presentation was shown and members asked of their interest to participate in the project.  

Link to Wisconsin Historical Marker project pdf

Gustaf Unonius memoirs

After returning to Sweden in 1858 Unonius wrote and released a book in1862 titled “Minnen fran en sjuttonarig vistelse in Nordvestra Amerika” (Memories from a 17 year journey in Northwest America). This book was translated to English titled “A Pioneer in Northwest America, 1841 – 1858” and is available in two volumes, publisher Swedish Pioneer Historical Society; University of Minnesota Press, and made available on the internet digitized from North Park University in Chicago. The first volume deals with Unonius travel from Sweden to Wisconsin, his founding of the colony, and finally his departure to Chicago. The second volume focus more on his activities as an episcopal minister.

Volume 1: A Pioneer in Northwest America, 1841 – 1858: the Memoires of Gustaf Unonius

Volume 2: A Pioneer in Northwest America, 1841 – 1858: the Memoirs of Gustaf Unonius

New Upsala publications

“New Upsala, The first Swedish settlement in Wisconsin”, by Filip A. Forsbeck, M.D. published in 1936 in Milwaukee by The State of Wisconsin Historical Society focus on the historical value pertaining to the first Swedish colony in Wisconsin including a lot of information from the first volume of the Unonius memoirs. (only 200 copies of this book were printed, a copy may be available on Here is the introduction of the book….

The “Pine Lake” by William Stark book was published in 1984 and is the story of the Pine Lake settlements, first by Gustaf Unonius New Upsala, the Swedes and the Norwegians side by side with the Potawatomi Indians, later taken over by the Germans and the Swiss, describing the evolution of this area to more modern times. In the first section of the book Stark makes numerous references to the Unonius memoirs.

The first Swedish colony

Gustav Unonius accompanied by his wife Lotten, Christine Sodergren who had been a maid at Lotten’s family, Iwar Hagberg, a student from Upsala, Carl Groth, a relative of Unonius, and Wilhelm Polman, a medical student, who they met on the ship going overseas, arrived in October of 1841. With the help from other early settlers in surrounding areas the first cabin was built. One of the helpers was Friman, who had arrived 3 years earlier (the first Swedish settler in Wisconsin).

Unonius cabin completed 1842

The Swedish colony was established during the following two years, including the following individuals, some with their families. (reference Pine Lake, William Stark)

  • George Edward Bergwall, a Customs Inspector from Gothenberg
  • Baron Fredrik Thott, Officer of the Swedish Army
  • Bengt Petterson, a Regimental Paymaster in the Swedish Army
  • Knut Bottiger, a Lieutenant in the Swedish Army
  • Carl Fredrick Polycarpus von Schneidau, Nobleman, Lieutenant of the Swedish Artillery
  • A.F. von Proschwitz, Lieutenant from the Varmland Regiment
  • Lars and Anders Wohlin, Blacksmiths
  • John O. Rudberg, Surveyor and Forrester
  • Charles Balkman, Sailor
  • Adolf Fredrik St. Cyr von Lindsfelt, exchamberlain of the Swedish Court

Gustaf Unonius, a religious man

Gustaf Unonius held religious devotions at his cabin for his family and neighbors. In 1842 he met James Lloyd Breck, an Episcopal Missionary, who later would establish the Nashotah Episcopal Seminary. In 1844, Unonius was accepted as a student at the Seminary, and in the fall of 1845 he was ordained an Episcopal minister, the first graduate of the seminary.

In January of 1844 Bishop Jack Kemper visited New Upsala and in March the same year the Holy Innocents cemetery was consecrated for the Scandinavian community, and the Pine Lake Scandinavian Parish was established. Gustaf Unonius was ordained as its first pastor. A few years later a small church was built on the cemetery grounds.

This picture is taken after the church was moved and remodeled to a residence

In 1847 many Norwegian members of the Pine Lake Parish left to organize the Norwegian Lutheran congregation, St. John’s Lutheran church in Johnson’s Mill, currently Stone Bank. The other part of the Pine lake Parish remained at the original log church. In 1864 the church became known as the Holy Innocents Episcopal Church. In 1962, Holy Innocents merged with Grace Holy Innocents Episcopal Church in Hartland, and in 1975 the name was changed to St. Askar’s Episcopal Church.

Current points of interests impacted by Gustaf Unonius, the New Upsala Swedish Colony and the Pine Lake Scandinavian Parish

  1. Unonius and New Upsala historical marker erected in1948 by Wisconsin Swedish Pioneer Centennial Commission which was a set up by The Swedish Pioneer Historical Society, today Swedish American Historical society, headquartered in Chicago. The marker is located at Chenequa Village Hall property at the intersection of Highway 83 and Waukesha County Road K.

2. Holy Innocents Cemetary located east of Highway C, Kettle Moraine Scenic Drive, at Ivy Meadows, 2 miles south of Stone Bank.

3. Nashotah House Theological Seminary, 2777 Mission Rd, Nashotah, WI, by Upper Nashotah Lake

4. St. Anskar’s Episcopal Church, N48W31340 State Road 83, in Hartland east of State Road 83, just north of Highway 16 intersection

5. Saint John’s Lutheran Church in Stone Bank, W334N6990 Stone Bank Road, Oconomowoc, WI.

Leaving New Upsala

In 1847 Gustaf Unonius left New Upsala for a newly formed parish in Manitowoc, Wisconsin. However, after a very short time he was convinced by one of the New Upsala settlers, von Schneidau to move to Chicago to establish an Episcopalian church there. He remained in Chicago for about 10 years and moved back to Sweden in 1858. In 1902, at the age of 92, he passed away in Hacksta Parish, close to the city of Enkoping, Sweden.

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