First Icelandic Settlement


First Icelandic Settlement Monument, Spanish Fork, Utah

Write up by Charles O. Wolfgramm

Placed By: Daughters of Utah Pioneers

GPS Coordinates: N 40° 06.280 W 111° 38.458

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Historical Marker Text: On September 7, 1855 the first immigrants from Iceland arrived in the Utah Territories, and between 1855 and 1914 there was a total of 410 Icelandic immigrants that made this journey. All of the Icelandic immigrants that came to the Utah Territories were converts to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and they were sent by the leaders of the church to Spanish Fork. This was a perfect area for these new convert Icelandic immigrants because this area was already  home to immigrants from Scandinavian countries, so they were able to share some common cultural values. This Marker was placed in this area on August 1, 1938 by the Daughters of the Utah Pioneers and the Icelandic Association of Utah. The monument is a lighthouse with a viking ship a top of the  roof of the lighthouse. There are listed 16 names of the first immigrants to arrive in Utah, and this is on the lighthouse wall. Lighthouse’s are located all over Iceland because of its location in the middle of the northern Atlantic ocean, so this is an appropriate monument to remember the Icelandic members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

Image result for picture of plaque on the first icelandic monument in spanish fork ut

Extended Research:

Iceland is a country that is isolated from the other Scandinavian countries, but it still has alot of similarities and religion is one of them. Lutheran Church is what is practiced in most of the Scandinavian countries and this is the same in Iceland, 80 percent of the population are members of the State Lutheran Church. Any other religion that may not fit into the same mold as the Lutheran church can have a difficult time sustaining itself by getting new converts because of the popularity of the Lutheran church in Iceland. Icelandic citizens would have to leave the country to be exposed to other religious beliefs different from the Lutheran theology. This is how  Guðmundur Guðmundsson the first Icelandic to Join The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Saints, he was born in Iceland, but his conversion happened in Denmark. Guðmundur was born in the year 1825 in a farm town in Artun in the Rangarvalla district of the Oddi Parish in Iceland. He was baptized a member of the Lutheran church a few months after he was born, he left Iceland as a teenager to be educated and pursue a career as a goldsmith in Denmark. While in Denmark he was converted to the Mormon religion. Around this same time he was converted to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saint, Pórarinn Hafliðason a childhood friend was also converted in Denmark. The two friends reunited and was called to survive as missionary for their new found faith in Iceland.  The new Icelandic converts were not very successful in the mainland of Iceland so they went to an Island southwest of the capital Reykjavik,  called Vestmannaeyjbaer or  Westman Island.

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The two new convert missionaries were able to find many new converts in this part of Iceland but they did face a lot of opposition form the established church in the area. Samuel and Margret Bjarnason, along with Helga Jónsdóttir who were converted by the two native missionaries in the Island were the first Icelandic members to make the move to Utah. Samuel and Margert arrived in the Utah on September 7, 1855 and were told by Brigham Young the President of the Mormon Church to go and settle in Spanish Fork. Scandinavian saints were already in the area and so Brigham Young felt this would be a great place for the Icelandic saints to build a community. Hundreds of Icelandic Saints would eventually make their way to Utah in the following years until about 1914 when WWI began. During this same time the Icelandic Mission to The Church of Jesus Christ would be closed, and general immigration from Iceland was closed.

Einar Eiríksson was the last missionary to serve in

Iceland before the outbreak of World War I in 1914.

Courtesy of the Icelandic Association of Utah

For the next fifty years the Mormon church did not exist in Iceland. In 1977 Iceland was again dedicated for Mormon missionary work to continue. Twenty years later in 1997 the president of Iceland and his wife were invited to celebrate Iceland Days marking the centennial of the first Icelandic members of the Mormon church to settle in Spanish Fork.

Finally on June 30, 2000 a monument was erected to with the names of 410 Icelandic Mormons who made the journey from the Westman Islands to the Utah Valley from 1857 to 1914.

Image result for icelandic monument spanish fork utah who put it there

This monument is a true testimony of the faith and dedication of the Icelandic members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Saints who sacrifice so much for their beliefs.

Image result for first icelandic plaque in spanish fork ut( This rock was transported from the Westman Island, it is significant because the first baptism for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Saints in Iceland was Performed in the Westman Island. The rock is a volcanic rock from the Westman Island, 44 years ago in 1973 the Eldfell Volcano on the island erupted and this almost lead to a permanent evacuation of the Westman Island.)

Primary Sources: 

William Mulder states, “Altogether, of the 46,497 converts which Scandinavia yielded between 1850–1905, 50 percent were Danish, slightly less than 36 percent were Swedish, and not quite 14 percent were Norwegian. Of the 22,653 of these ‘members of record’ who emigrated, 56 percent were Danish, a little over 32 percent were Swedish, 11 percent were Norwegian, and a fraction Icelandic” {Homeward to Zion [Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1957], 107).

[25] Carter, “The First Icelandic Settlement in America,” Our Pioneer Heritage, 7:485.

[26] Letter from Charles R. Savage to John Taylor, Millennial Star 18, no. 13 (1856): 206.

[27] Autobiography of Peter Gottfredson, Church Archives, 8–9.

[28] Autobiographical Sketch of Theodur Didrickson, Church Archives, 7. See also “The Life of Einer Erickson,” 21—23, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah wherein Erickson notes on his arrival in Spanish Fork on 18 July 1878, “I was gladly received by my Family at Elder Theodur Dedricsen’s home.”

[29] Manuscript History of the Icelandic Mission, 1851–1914, LDS Church Archives, 1857, 14. This does not include Guðmundur Guðmundsson, who voyaged on the Westmoreland with the Garff family, whom he was instrumental in converting.

[30] Manuscript History of the Icelandic Mission, 1857, 14.

[31] The Historical Record of the Icelandic Mission of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints 1873–1914, Church Archives, 2, contains a “Register of Elders” that lists the twenty-three missionaries by name. There are also individual columns for the date they arrived on their mission in Iceland with remarks concerning release and leadership appointment dates, and where they were residing at the time of their call. Fifteen of these missionaries resided in Spanish Fork, six in Cleveland, Utah, one (John Johannesson) in Raymond, Alberta Canada and one in Brigham City (Lorenzo Andersen). Allred, The Icelanders of Utah, 11, lists Andersen as the lone Dane from the Danish Mission as all others were native Icelanders.

[32] Allred, The Icelanders of Utah, 16.

[33] Manuscript History of the Icelandic Mission, 1873, 15.

[34] Manuscript History of the Icelandic Mission, 1874, 27 and 29 May 1874, 17–18. Only one of the eleven left as a member of the Church. However, the other ten were baptized after arriving in Utah. The group sailed from Iceland to Great Britain on the ship Hermine and on the Nevada from Liverpool to New York.

[35] Manuscript History of the Icelandic Mission, 29 May 1874.

[36] One of the emigrants had previously been baptized, while the other three or four other emigrants had not yet been baptized (see Manuscript History of the Icelandic Mission, 1875, 8 August 1875).

[37] A copy of this work is housed in the Historical Department of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City. Byron Geslison, who was called to reopen the Icelandic Mission in 1975, indicated that the missionaries still used Pórður’s tract a century after it was written (see oral interviews with Byron Geslison and his family in the winter of 2000).

[38] Manuscript History of the Icelandic Mission, 1879. “The Gospel to the Icelanders,” Millennial Star 41, no. 37 (1879): 587, notes that these missionaries had a copy of the manuscript and were planning on printing no less than two thousand copies of the tract. In an article written a quarter century later by President Loftur Bjarnason titled “The Work of the Lord in Iceland,” Millennial Star 66, no. 10 (1904): 145–47, he states, “The precious truths this book contains (referring to Thordur Didricksson’s missionary tract) have been the cause of many accepting the Gospel and emigrating to Utah, where they are to-day staunch and faithful Latter-day Saints.”

[39] Marius A. Christensen, “History of the Danish Mission of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints 1850—1964” (masters thesis, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, 1966), 128

[40] Letter of John Eyvindson to President William Budge, Millennial Star 42, no. 22 (31 May 1880): 350; see also Manuscript History of the Icelandic Mission, 22March 1880.

[41] Manuscript History of the Icelandic Mission, 7 July 1881, lists 17 of the 22 emigrants by name.

[42] Vilhjálmur Gíslason, Eiríkur A Brúnum (Reykjavik: Isafoldarprentsmiðja H.F., 1946), 116, translated for author by Darron S. Allred.

[43] Vilhjálmur Gíslason, Eiríkur A Brúnum, 116; see also John Bartholomew, Gazetteer of the British Isles: Including Summary of 1951 Census (Edinburgh: John Bartholomew & Son, n.d.), 301, for details regarding the location of Granton Harbor.

[44] Letter from John Eyvindson to Pres. A. Carrington, Millennial Star 43, no. 35 (1881): 554–55.

[45] Manuscript History of the Icelandic Mission, 1881, 7 July 1881.

[46] Research compiled by Bliss Anderson (a member of the Icelandic Association of Utah), reveals that 264 of the 410 Icelanders who emigrated to Utah during the period of 1854–1914 did so during the decade of the 1880s.

[47] Christensen, “History of the Danish Mission,” 128.

[48] This is the first known translation of a portion of the Book of Mormon. The original is in the possession of Marian P. Robbins, who is the great-granddaughter of Jón Jónsson.

[49] Letter of John A. Sutton, Millennial Star 45, no. 30 (1883): 479. Sutton may have been motivated to learn Icelandic due to his loneliness on the voyage. In a letter written two weeks later, he commented that he would have rather taken a thousand Englishmen across the ocean because he found it difficult to converse with the Icelanders and did not have a Saint to converse with in his language (see Millennial Star 45, no. 33 [1883]: 527).

[50] Manuscript History of the Icelandic Mission, 31 December 1886. Allred, The Icelanders of Utah, 18, notes that there were 63 Icelanders who immigrated to Spanish Fork in 1886. Bliss Anderson’s research suggests as many as 78 gathered to Utah for this year.

[51] This was James H. Hart, who served admirably as the emigration agent at New York from 1882 to 1887. He was a very successful politician and attorney and even continued to serve in the Bear Lake Stake Presidency, in spite of his seasonal emigration assignments in the east. See Edward L. Hart, Mormon in Motion: The Life and Journals of James H. Hart, 1825—1906, in England, France and America (Salt Lake City: Windsor Books, printed by Deseret Press, 1978), for details of his life and experience as an emigration agent.

[52] “The Icelanders,” Millennial Star 48, no. 32 (1886): 507.

[53] In oral interviews conducted in the winter of 2000 with Byron Geslison, who served as a patriarch in Iceland in the late 20th century, he indicated that every blessing he gave in Iceland reflected that the recipient was from the tribe of Ephraim. The only exception was a foreigner who was temporarily stationed at the NATO base in Keflavík.

[54] John Torgeirson, “The People of Iceland,” Deseret Evening News, 24 January 1887,2.

[55] Between 5,000 to 6,000 Saints came through Norfolk on this new route from 1887 to 1890. For more information concerning the cause of the rerouting and the experience of these Saints through the port of Norfolk, see Fred E. Woods, “Norfolk and Mormon Folk: Latter-day Saint Immigration through Old Dominion, 1887–1890,” Mormon Historical Studies 1, no. 1 (spring 2000): 73–91.

[56] Loftur Bjarnason, “The Work of the Lord in Iceland,” Millennial Star 66, no. 10 (1904): 146, further notes, “There are many parts of this country that have not been yet covered, as the Elders, who come here have labored principally in those localities in which they were born and reared. It is only along the southern coast of the mainland and in the Westman Islands that the Gospel has to any extent been preached, while the greater portions of the northern and eastern countries have never been visited.” See also Millennial Star 66, no. 12 (1904): 188 and 66 (1904): 301—2, for evidence of seasonal proselyting in the Westman Islands.

[57] Millennial Star 56, no. 51 (1894): 806. Elder Bjarnason, writing a decade later, also spoke of the difficulties missionaries encountered proselyting in the country. Here he noted, “Houses are scattered, being from a half mile to a mile and a half apart, and the only method of traveling is either by foot or on ponies. Often it is impossible to go from one farmhouse to another without being accompanied by a guide, on account of the dangerous streams that are to be encountered, which only experienced men can find the way to cross. To purchase a horse and pay a guide wages, together with other expenses, has made traveling in this country both expensive and difficult,” Millennial Star 66, no. 10 (1904): 146.

[58] British Mission Manuscript History, Church Archives, 2 Nov. 1899, 1. Andrew Jenson, Biographical Encyclopedia, 4:342, notes that Halldór Johnson labored as a missionary in Iceland from 1898—1900. Five years later, Icelandic Mission President Loftur Bjarnason elaborated on the difficult climatic conditions in Iceland. In an article titled “The Work of the Lord in Iceland,” Millennial Star 66, no. 10 (1904): 145—47, he stated, “During the winter season it is practically impossible to travel around in the country and, during the summer months the people are so busy that they could not, even if they felt so disposed, spare time enough to listen to an Elder explain the principies of the Gospel. Early in spring and late in autumn are the only seasons that the farmers can be approached, for then they have a little leisure time to spare. This being the case, the Elders have spent the winters in the towns and cines along the coast. These are the principal business places as well as seaports and rendevouz for sailors and fishermen.”

[59] “Record of Members of the Icelandic Mission, 1874–1914,” Church Archives, 88.

[60] “Preaching in Iceland,” Millennial Star 64, no. 27 (1902): 427–28.

[61] “Record of Members of the Icelandic Mission, 1874–1914,” Church Archives, 78 ff. Page 88 indicates that the Saints who emigrated with Elder John

[62] Johanneson “took passage on the S. S. Laura for Raymond Alberta Canada via [the] Albion Line.” According to the Millennial Star 65, no. 27 (1903): 426, Elder johanneson and four Saints were to emigrate via Glasgow. The “Historical Record of the Icelandic Mission of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints 1873—1914,” Church Archives, 14—15, 17 notes that three of the group were GuðTinna Sasmundsdóttir, Jón Grímsson, and Guðnurður Jónsson. Elder Halldór Johnson reported that due to the unfavorable temporal prospects in Iceland during this period, “many are emigrating to Canada, and many more would do so if their finances would allow.” See Millennial Star 62, no. 27 (1900): 426.

[62] Loftur Bjarnason, “From Iceland,” Millennial Star 68, no. 8 (1906): 121. Furthermore, seven months later, the Millennial Star 68, no. 38 (1906): 607, reported Loftor Bjarnason was in charge of fifty-three emigrating Saints from Iceland. The Historical Record of the Icelandic Mission, 1873—1914, 62—63, reports twenty-seven Church members and thirteen children under the age of eight. On these pages there is also a statistical membership list for the years 1900 to 1911. By 1911, there were only twenty-six members and three children under the age of eight that were recorded.

[63] Elder Bjarnason, “Notes from Iceland,” Millennial Star 67’, no. 41 (1905): 653. Writing from Reykjavik, Halldór Johnson, noted five years earlier, “If we had a meeting house here we could get many listeners, and, I believe, many would join the Church.” See “Abstract of Correspondence,” Millennial Star 62, no. 15 (1900): 234.

[64] “Historical Record of Icelandic Mission, 1873–1914,” 41: “July 8, 1914, Elder Einar Eriksen, who commenced his labors on the Island July 11, 1913, was released today, on account of a discontinuence of missionary work in Iceland, and in compliance with instructions received from the First Presidency.”

[65] Although there was no organized LDS branch between 1914 and 1964, in 1930 two full-time missionaries were sent to Iceland from the Scandinavian Mission to serve for a few months. Their names were James C. Ostegar and F. Lynn Michelsen (see Marius A. Christensen, “History of the Danish Mission of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1850–1964” [unpublished master’s thesis, 1966], 129). Christensen also points out that in 1955 Elder Spencer W. Kimball raised the question of opening up missionary work in Iceland and indicated that in 1961 President McKay sent Alvin R. Dyer, Assistant to the Council of the Twelve, to Iceland to look into the possibility of again sending missionaries to Iceland (131). For the interesting story of events leading up to missionary work again opening up in Iceland, see 1973 typescript of interview of Grant Ruel Ipsen, president of the Danish Mission, Church Archives, 1—6. Latter-day Saint David B. Timmins also made friends for America and the Church while serving as the U.S. diplomat to Iceland from 1958 to 1960. According to Timmins, during this time he met with the Lutheran bishop of Iceland, who informed Timmins that he “would be pleased to welcome Mormon missionaries back to Iceland . . . because he felt we had a message which would improve the moral climate of his countrymen which he considered deteriorating. Timmins also noted that he and his family met Iceland’s elite when they accepted an invitation to visit the country home of Halldor Laxness who had won a Nobel prize for literature. He discussed his future novel Paradise Regained (published in 1962) which focused on a Latter-day Saint Icelandic emigrant who returned to his homeland (see David B. Timmins, “The Second Beginning of the Church in Iceland,” unpublished threepage document in the possession of Clark T. Thorstenson).

[66] Byron T. Geslison, “Mission Report of Iceland,” December 1977, 4–5, in possession of Byron T. Geslison.

[67] Geslison, “Mission Report,” 19.

[68] Autobiographical Sketch of Thor Leifson, in Icelandic Memories, vol. 1, compiled by Phyllis H. Ashby and in her possession, (n.p., n.d.).

[69] Autobiographical Sketch of Clark T. Thorstenson, in Icelandic Memories, vol. 1.

[70] According to LaNora Allred, “The Icelanders of Utah,” (n.p., 1988), 39, “In 1897 under the leadership of Einar H. Jonson the Icelanders formed a committee to plan a special holiday in commemoration of the settlement of Iceland in the year 1894. Although the actual date of settlement was June 17, the committee decided upon August 2 as the day.”

[71] Interviews with Clark T Thorstenson on 10 July 2001 and David A. Ashby on 11 July 2001.

[72] Interview with David A. Ashby on 6 July 2000. Ashby served as the president of the Icelandic Association of Utah Inc. from 1994 to 1995 and from 1999 to 2000. John K. Johnson is now serving as president for the duration of 2001 to 2002, but Ashby is still very involved with this organization and is currently serving as the chairman of public affairs.

[73] On 1 December the First Presidency issued the following statement: “We wish to reiterate the long-standing counsel to members of the Church to remain in their homelands rather than immigrate to the United States. As members throughout the world remain in their homelands, working to rebuild the Church in their native countries, great blessings will come to them personally and to the Church collectively” (see Church News, 11 December 1999, 7).

[74] This center is owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In 1995 Clark T Thorstenson was instrumental in arranging to have the Icelandic genealogical materials transferred from the LDS Family History Center in Salt Lake to the Regional Family History Center in Spanish Fork, which is an important source for this topic of study.





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