From the time I was a young child I have heard the stories of the Forsgren siblings: of John Erik's missionary journey back to Sweden, of how he found his very ill brother Peter Adolph whom he blessed and healed, of how his sister Christina Erika had had a vision that a man would come bearing books that she was to look at and pay attention to...and, of course, the very common reference to Peter Adolph being the first baptized convert to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in all of Scandinavia. The stories have been repeated in Church media for years, particularly on the anniversaries of various Scandinavian events.

John Erik Forsgren was a great force for good and growth for the early burgeoning church membership. It is stated by those who knew him then that he embraced the doctrine with great zeal and preached firm and fiery sermons. He led a group of Saints across the ocean and into the Salt Lake Valley, encouraging them and admonishing them all the way. He served in the Mormon Battalion.

It is also true that later in his life, for reasons we don't totally understand, he became disenchanted with the Church - or more accurately, with some of its leaders. He began to be very vocal in his statements against Brigham Young whom he felt had cheated him out of a land inheritance due him from his service in the Battalion. At this point people said of him that he became cantankerous and a religious fanatic. He set up a tent on the East Bench of Salt Lake City and began preaching his own form of religion. At first he had followers, but over time lost the attention of local residents and was ignored. Tragic events occurred in his life which are referred to in other blog posts. He died in great poverty after living for a time in Idaho, then wandering homeless in Utah - a nonmember of the Church he had earlier embraced with such zeal.

This part of the story is, of course, very distressing to his descendants who for many years did not want to talk about the last years of his life. But I feel that accurate history is honest history. Not addressing an unpleasant event does not change the event. What was, was. What OUR responsibility is is to not judge. We did not walk in his shoes or live inside his head. It is our job to look at the entirety of the life of this unique man, admire him for the incredible contributions he made and not be overly critical of things we don't know much about. John E. kept a huge journal of his life. The greatest tragedy for us is that that 720 page manuscript has disappeared and we can't know all that he related in it.

This blog was created for the purpose of setting forth all the information about John Erik Forsgren that I have been able to glean from as many sources as I could. It is very much a work in progress. It is my hope that his numerous and wonderful descendants might contribute, correct, question and help verify any data I have included here...and, that ultimately this be a means of reaching out to others who want to know more of this man. I have come to reverence and respect him as I have worked on details of his life and the individuals connected to him by blood and marriage. As keeper of the Forsgren Family Association Archives it is my great pleasure to offer up what information we have. Believe me, there is nothing that better "turns our hearts to our fathers" than researching details and events of their lives. Enjoy!

Adele Manwaring Austin, July 2010


Monday, June 7, 2010


     The conversion stories of  John Erik,  Peter Adolph, and Christena Erika Forsgren often mention the incident of John E's arrest & appearance before a magistrate who asked him for a photo of Joseph Smith, who then snatched the photo and burned it.  John Erik is quoted as prophesying that the city of Gavle would in like manner be burned because of this action.    I have always had uncomfortable feelings about the story - for two reasons:

  • Photographs were not a common thing yet in the 1850's.  Historian's tell us that there is only one known photograph of Joseph Smith which is the property of the Library of Congress.   That, of course, does not prove that John E did not have a print from that daguerreotype or that he might have had a portrait sketch of the Prophet.  I just don't know what he had, if anything, and if that part of the story is true.
  • I wanted to know if the city really had suffered such a fire.   It did.  Quoting from the on-line Wikipedia:
     "Over the last 300 years Gävle has been ablaze on three different occasions. After the fire of 1776 the      town was rebuilt with straight streets and rectangular city blocks. The number of stone and brick houses also started to increase. The biggest town fire occurred 1869, when out of a population of around 10,000 approximately 8,000 inhabitants lost their homes, and about 350 farms were destroyed. Almost the whole town north of Gavleån was burnt down. All the buildings south of Gavleån were saved. An area of the old town between the museum and the library has been preserved to this day as a historic reserve."

     THAT, my friends, is what you can find in an instant through modern technology!   I first had my curiosity put to rest in Mar 1977 when I addressed a personal letter (with a typewriter, carbon paper and a stamp and using snail mail!) to Stads-och Lansbibliotek i Gavle  P.O.B. 801, S. Strandgatan 6, Gavle Sweden.    I quote:
    "Dear Sirs:
        I have family who emigrated from Gavle in the early part of the 1850's.  A story has been passed down from them that some nineteen years after they left the area, the town of Gefle was almost totally destroyed by fire.
        Since I have no immediate access to the "Gefle Posten" or any other newspaper that might have given an account of this fire, I would like very much to know if you can be of some help in proving or disproving this family tradition.
        Was there, in fact, such a fire about the year 1870 or 1871?  If so, what was the extent of the fire and can it be ascertained where it might have started and why? ...... "

On April 5, 1977 I received the following reply from Anna-Lisa Hillbom, 1st librarian at the Stadsbiblioteket of Gavle:
 "Dear Madam
        I write this to let you know immediately that there was in fact a great fire in Gavle 10-11 July 1869.  It destroyed the entire Northern part of the town, i.e. north of the river Gavlean.  Only the parish church was saved, and, miraculously, a big wooden building owned by the family Berggren.  This house was surrounded by trees and bushes that the fire could not get through.
        There are, of course, newspaper accounts of this disaster, and I will translate and send you a summary of what was written immediately and later on about the great fire. . . "

I never did hear any more from Ms. Hillbom as it turned out, but my curiosity on the matter was satisfied.  The fire did not reach the Forsgren family home which still stands among other structures of the era and is part of a historical district or artist's colony.   I find it interesting that the parish church was also preserved, probably allowing for the saving of  important vital record books for the town.


  1. It has been passed down in our family, to me, that the fire started in the jail where John E was kept for preaching "illegally" and where the "photo" was burned by a "constable", and that the fire started 10 years (to the day) from the date of the photo being burned, and that the Forsgren home was preserved. That would place John E in the jail in 1859 ???? Also, we have been told that Christina, not Peter, was the first convert baptism.

    Mike Carter
    decendant of Peter A

  2. This the frustration of "family lore"...stories get changed with the telling. Christina was NOT the first convert. She was the last of the siblings to finally enter the waters of baptism even though she is purported to be the one with the visions about John (or "a man") coming with books in his hands that she should pay attention to [see the 2013 post about yet another "history" of the famous story]. She was not baptized for nearly two weeks following her brother Peter.

    All of the Forsgren siblings left Sweden together in 1852. That date is well documented. Papa Forsgren came to America to join his children in Brigham City in 1863.