Was Asbjorn Roe first owner of octagon barn?

Sunday, April 3, 2011

The octagon barn in the mid-1980s, showing its further deterioration. (Photo courtesy of Lou Ann Floistad Sather)

Special to The Gazette

Asbjorn Roe, the first owner of the town of Amherst site of the octagon barn, was born in Norway, according to the U.S. censuses of 1860, 1870, and 1880. He was 46 in 1860, 57 in 1870, and 66 in 1880, which means he was born in about 1814.

His total financial worth (real estate plus personal property) was $1,200 in 1860, and $1,500 in 1870; the 1880 census does not list residents’ wealth or lack of it.

If we extrapolate from numbers in Scott Derks’ The Value of a Dollar: Prices and Incomes in the United States 1860-2004 (2004), Roe’s $1,200 would be worth about $25,000 today, and his $1,500 about $35,000.

(Third in a series)

Roe died in July of 1890, according to the July 12, 1890, Stevens Point Journal. But so far, as with his wife, no death certificate seems to exist for him.

Even that Journal obituary is very short and uninformative: "Mr. Roe, father of Knud Roe, died at his son’s residence here (in Amherst Village) Tuesday night. He was 77 years of age."

The first two censuses list his wife (or at least a woman aged either four or six years younger than he; the censuses disagree), and her occupation, as is usual in census records of the time, is given in the 1870 census as "keeping house."

Her name is a mystery; the 1860 census handwritten rendition looks like "Ragiel," while that in the 1870 seems to be "Rachema." But she is not listed at all in 1880, suggesting that she had died in the intervening decade, but, again, so far no death certificate or obituary for her has surfaced.

An e-mail from Laurel Holland on ancestrylibrary.com says that Asbjorn's wife's name was "Ragnhild," which the Web site babynology.com/meaning says means – in Old Norse – "wise counsel in battle." The same site says that Asbjorn means "divine bear" or "bear god" – a holdover from pagan, pre-Christian Norway.

There is equally sparse information on most of Asbjorn’s children. The 1860 census lists, apparently (again, the census taker's handwriting is hard to read) Anders, a son aged 16 (?) and Ann, a daughter aged 9.

The 1870 census lists Ole, aged 16, "at school"; Anne, whose name now has an "e" in it, and who is now identified as a "domestic servant," but her age is given as 19, the same age as the “Ann” of 1860. (So: another mystery.) Other children in 1870 included Knudt, age 13, and at school; Andreana (?), aged 11 and at school; and Martina (?) Roe, born in Norway, aged 67, and retired (who was she, and when and why did she enter the family?). Absent is the Anders who was 16 in 1860; what became of him?

By 1880, the family had shrunk to four: the father, aged 66, "farmer"; Ole, aged 26, "works on farm"; Knudt, aged 24, "works on farm"; and "Andrena" (?), aged 22, "keeping house."

We don’t know much about what became of Ole’s siblings. However, we do know a couple of facts about Knudt (or Knud or Knute).

According to the Amherst-news column in the Feb. 10, 1925, Stevens Point Daily Journal, he was "Killed by a Switch Engine":

“Word has been received here by relatives, announcing the death of Knute (sic) Roe at his home in Staples, Minn. Mr. Roe was employed as a section foreman, at Staples, and died shortly after being struck by a switch engine, in the Staples yards. He was a member of the Lysne and Roe firm, which operated a general store here on the C.J. Iverson corner (southeast corner of Main and Mill streets) for a number of years. He was also a brother of Ole Roe of Nelsonville."

(The 1920 U.S. Census for Todd County, Minnesota, tells us that Knute was 62 years old in that year, and that his wife, Hattie, was 51. When they moved there from Wisconsin, is unclear. It is interesting to speculate whether he would have lived into old age had he stayed in Amherst.)

Laurel Holland summarized the Asbjorn Roe family’s history:

My Roe family is from Laerdal, Norway. Asbjorn Raae (Roe) (1813) and wife, Ragnhild Raae had 5 children (:) Anders, Ole, Anna, Knute and Andrina. All the children but Anders were born in Wisconson (sic). Born between 1844-1859.

The names of other families on the Roes’ page of the 1860 census imply that in that year, Asbjorn Roe lived in or very near the – very small – village of Amherst, because those families lived in that area then.

Some of them are: Gardner Harvey (whose namesake and great-great-grandson recently died in the Veterans Home in King, Wisconsin, according to the Stevens Point Journal of Jan. 12, 2010), William Loing, Peter Grover, and William Williamson. (Malcolm Rosholt wrote in Our County Our Story (1959) that the village was not incorporated for another 40 years, in 1900.)

For Roe's name to be listed on the same page as those of these men, means that he certainly did not live three miles northeast of the village.

But then we already know from the deeds that he did not buy his future homestead until 1865.

At the moment, the only other fact we have on Asbjorn Roe is reported in Malcolm Rosholt’s book, From the Indian Land: First-Hand Account of Central Wisconsin’s Pioneer Life (1985).

True to his indefatigable perseverance, Rosholt found that A. H. Roe attended a large convention of many Norwegian Lutherans at the Scandinavia (Waupaca County) Lutheran Church from Nov. 15-21, 1888.

The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the controversy over the doctrine of “election” or predestination – the idea that God arbitrarily chooses some people for salvation regardless of their faith or works.

This dispute threatened to split the local congregations, the Norwegian Lutheran church in the United States, and even, Rosholt says, the national churches in Denmark and Norway, whose newspapers and magazines carried bitter arguments on the subject.

One of the differences of opinion sprang from the fact that the only training center for Lutheran ministers in America for many years was the Concordia Seminary, in St. Louis, Mo. (hence the "Missouri" Synod Lutheran Church).

But Concordia was not only in a North-South border state (Missouri was the scene of bloody Civil War battles), and so had some pro-slavery sentiments. It was also founded by German immigrants, who like Martin Luther leaned more toward predestination than many Norwegians were comfortable with.

The upshot over this theological hairsplitting was schisms between synods, congregations and families.

The Lutheran church in Scandinavia split in two, as did the New Hope Lutheran Church, which became the North New Hope and South New Hope churches, each with its own cemetery.

Rosholt summarizes the long-term effects:

“The attempt to spell out highly controversial doctrines was an exercise in futility that left scars on the hearts of two generations of men and women not only in Scandinavia and New Hope but in Lutheran communities across the Midwest.

“It went so far that some of the participants in the struggle refused to be buried with their old neighbors and when the (new) Norwegian Synod groups built new churches, they also laid out new cemeteries. As a result, husbands were often buried apart from wives because they could not abide the tombstones in the 'old cemetery.'"

We don’t know what Asbjorn Roe's opinion was on the issue of predestination.

SOURCE: Wendell Nelson, "Was Asbjorn Roe first owner of octagon barn?" Portage County Gazette (7 May 2010), 17.


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