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Difficult times at Liljeholmen – Erik Alfort and his children
© Esben Alfort 2014-2023
While as we have seen Erik Alfort may not have been a suitable husband for Maria, there is no doubt that he had a lot in common with his father-in-law Gabriel Gyllenståhl. He too had a habit of expecting to be obeyed. He had a hot temper and regularly filed lawsuits with his neighbours, his servants, and even his own daughter Maria Catharina Alfort, who was only told at her parents’ death that they had disinherited her. Erik was growing ever more irritable, possibly because of finansiable troubles. These were difficult times for many, and the Alforts at Liljeholmen were no exception, but thanks to the son Gabriel Ahlfort’s pioneering work in developing more effective farming methods they managed to survive and thrive on the meager soils by the lake Sommen for generations afterwards. The third brother Carl Henric Ahlfort died during a military campaign in Finland, but he had an illegitimate son who was adopted by the family, so in principle there could be an entire unknown branch of the family just waiting to be discovered.
Some of Erik’s edginess may have been due to growing financial concerns, as Sweden was thrown into ever more expensive wars by the belligerent king Karl XII, culminating in his murder in 1718 and the following peace treaty with Russia in 1721 which marked the definitive end of Sweden’s domination of the Baltic. The 1720s and 1730s were certainly not a good time for a family to depend on the military as a source of income. Sweden had collapsed as a superpower, and the riches which had so recently flowed in from every direction suddenly dried up. The peace treaty with Russia meant that the time had come for paying the bills and cleaning up after a very long and extravagant party.
From the available sources, it seems that Erik was particularly depressed during this time, and financial trouble may have been part of the explanation, though it is not spelled out as such. Gabriel Gyllenståhl’s heirs were almost without exception involved in military work, and the large number of estates that they had inherited were very expensive in upkeep. Consequently, this period would be remembered as a very tough one for everyone in their social circles.
The land around them was now their main source of income. Weary eyes were cast on the stony fields which people attempted to cultivate. Tons of stones were removed from the fields to expand the cultivated area, and new roads were built. More cows were let out onto the wooded meadows, and even into the forests, in order to ensure maximal exploitation of the meagre assets and secure a little extra income on the side. Cottages were built further from civilised society than ever before, in defiance of the wolves, wolverines and lynxes which roamed the forests.
Although Erik himself had withdrawn from the navy long before the final demise of Swedish hegemony, everybody around him whom he could call family was affected by the hard times. It would take someone special to restore the Alfort family fortune, but after Erik’s death his son Gabriel rose to the task. Innovative thinking, hard work and dedication would pay off in the end.
Erik’s three children were destined for very different fates. Maria Catharina married a simple farmhand against her parents’ wishes, was disinherited for it, but founded a family of farmers in northern Småland who did not inherit the family name, but flourished no less for that; Gabriel was united with his noble cousin Anna Brita Wetterström and inherited the Liljeholmen manor; and Carl Henric, who was ten years his junior, died during a military campaign in Finland, but left an illegitimate son about whose life very little is known.
This information-packed chapter deals with Erik’s countless lawsuits and disagreements, the whole scandal of his daughter’s marriage with his farmhand against her parents’ wishes, his son’s pioneering agricultural work in the face of economic hardship, and the death of their young brother in the course of his military duties in Finland. Gabriel left us a fascinating diary about his youth, and so the entire next chapter will be reserved for the exploration of his voyages on the seven seas and the romantic story of his betrothal and marriage. At present, we shall only be dealing with life at Liljeholmen.
Erik’s court squabbles
Erik and his wife were involved in countless trials over the years, but had a bad habit of not turning up in court, whether they were the prosecuting or the defending party. They were consequently often fined for illicit absence.
This was a time when all disagreements were settled in court, because it was the main forum – apart from church – in which people could appeal to a higher authority. Some cases therefore inevitably appear somewhat trifling to us. For instance, in 1725 Erik’s wife and daughter were brought to court by Captain Ekerén simply for having allegedly insulted his wife Greta Torpadia. It must be remembered of course that this was also a time in which a bad reputation could do a lot of harm to a respectable lady. As it happens, it turned out that the accused were innocent; it was actually Mrs Maria Christina Rosenquist who, without thinking, had uttered the deprecating words. The court persuaded the families to simply be friends again, and the whole matter was laid to rest peacefully. In that way, further scandal was avoided for all parties involved.
Often it was about money. As the owner of an estate, Erik acquired certain rights as well as duties, as did his tenants. Whether in a farm or a cottage, tenants were required to replace any rotten timber, replenish worn-out stone fences etc., and having limited resources they often failed to meet the requirements fully. Erik had barely arrived in the parish when he started to complain of this. When a surveillance of his properties revealed not only rotten timber but also dilapidated fences and ditches as well as broken iron gates, barn locks and window casings in what was technically his buildings, he could feel his temper rising. It was his first lawsuit, but his father-in-law had shown how it was done.
It turned out that the tenant in question was a widow, neither of whose deceased husbands had ever signed any contract regarding restoration.
Captain at the royal Admiralty Hon. and Manly Mr Erich Ahlfort accused the widow Mrs Catarina Månsdotter Kling in Aspenäs for house rot on his estate Liljeholmen in Torpa Parish acquired with his wife, which was surveyed by constable Lars Persson and the jurors Bengt Carlsson in Salvarp and Jöns Jönsson in Förnäs on 4th November 1701, and (it) amounts including the faults on the stone fences to 415 riksdaler 14 öre copper. The widow answers that her first husband was called Jonas Persson who rented the farm from Major Gabriel Gyllenståhl for 160 riksdaler copper. The second was called Måns Jonsson who also took the same upon him, but no contract or agreement was made with either about house rot (…) 2) The Captain presses charges regarding two iron gates with latches as well as a barn lock, 9 windows and window casings (…)Translated from Swedish
In the absence of a contract, the court acquitted the widow of any obligations.
Robbed of a victory in this case, he immediately took to complaining about the state of the road from Liljeholmen across Torpön island to the church – a regular complaint of his for years to come. This road was very important to the Alfort family, who in the absence of a local church were forced to cross the lake to Torpa church every Sunday, given that attendance at church was compulsory for at least one member of each household. The obligation to make sure that the road was in good condition had been placed with the landowners over whose lands the road passed, and they did not fulfil this duty sufficiently well according to Erik.
Then Mr Captain Ahlfort complained of the church road between Liljeholmen and Torpa church which is very foul to ride 1½ miles [i.e. 15km] long, that road being in addition the market, court and mill road. It was hence decreed that the sheriff shall see to it that the people in question clear said road each on his land, those who are negligent will be sued and fined for contumacy.Tramslated from Swedish
The family’s journey to church involved rowing from Liljeholmen to the boathouse at Torpa vicarage in summer and riding across the treacherous ice in winter. Because the lake’s size invited sudden powerful winds, it was often at least as dangerous to cross it by boat as on a sled. In fact, hardly a year went by without someone drowning, and people who did not know the lake’s temper were well advised to remain on land. Consequently, the road which allowed passage over the long island of Torpön, minimizing the distance that it was necessary to travel over the lake, was of great importance. The family at Liljeholmen would cross the lake to Torpön and then ride down across the island to a point right across from the church where they would again board a boat or ride across the ice depending on the season. However, the family is also said to have had a share in the Dragsnäs bridge further south connecting the island with the mainland, so why they should choose to row the last bit is unclear, if this is true.
Though tenants were not allowed to fish in the lake or collect firewood without permission, people were occasionally tempted to complement their income by such illegal measures. In 1704, Erik accused Jon Nilsson in Brandsnäs, the farm across the lake from Liljeholmen, of taking fish from a part of the lake belonging to him. However, it turned out that he had merely confiscated what a couple of other fishermen had illegally caught – as he thought – in his waters.
(…) Gabriel Jonsson in Eklabo explains that he was with fisherman Jöns fishing, first on the waters of Liljeholmen and then on the shallows of Brandsnäs, and before Jon joined them, they had caught 4 fishes, 3: Jöns and 1: Gabriel, Jon admits of having taken 6 fishes from them after they had fished out his waters without leave (…)Translated from Swedish
During the 1710s, Erik regularly complained of missing payments from tenants, rotten houses etc., and in several cases these accusations proved at closer inspection to be unfounded. In 1711, he accused a former tenant of his at Blåvik, Lars Larsson in Arrebo, of having illegally removed timber from the premises and for having left his tenancy before the agreed time was up. He also accused him of not having paid his rent, and finally of leaving the buildings in a rotten state. However, it turned out that Lars had only left because Erik had broken the contract by depriving his tenant of a certain amount of timber which should rightly have been his, thus in effect forcing him to get his timber from elsewhere. As Erik had broken the contract, it was clearly the tenant’s right to terminate it and leave. Also, the rot had arisen after his departure, simply because Erik had not bothered to keep the house in a good condition afterwards.
Like his father-in-law, Erik probably could not write, so he had people to help him. In 1712, he had so much to complain about that his lawyer Nils Svensson in Gunnarstorp composed a list of no less than 9 accusations against a certain Jonas Eriksson who had lived at Hårdaholmen and who owed the captain money for various services. The payments were two years overdue, and once again the reason seems to be that he had left the premises in anger in 1710 because of the unbearable conditions afforded by his landlord at the time. The court found it hard to sympathise with Erik in these cases. In fact, when you read the old legal documents you cannot but be impressed with how fair and effective the legal system really was, even in rural districts with strong feudalistic traditions and people like Erik Alfort and Gabriel Gyllenståhl who were not exactly easy to move, from a very early date. I’ve met with no clear cases of the nobs being favoured over the poor – or vice versa for that matter.
In 1715, Erik once again witnessed against the same Jonas Eriksson who then stood accused of not having paid for a pair of leather trousers he had bought for the soldier Per Hurtig back in 1712. It was his duty to equip the soldier, who was going to war. Per Hurtig was eventually taken prisoner and brought to the village of Højby at Sjællands Odde in Denmark, where he decided to stay for life. In spite of having married in Sweden before the war, he now married a local Danish girl and refused to go home to Sweden, claiming that he was much better off in his new life.
That same year, the captain’s bad grace towards his tenants sparked a dangerous scene in which one tenant, Sven Månsson in Kopparhult, refused to pay his taxes, which Erik had provisionally paid for him, and turned up at Liljeholmen brandishing verbal threats and violent behaviour towards the household in general in his absence.
(…) having on the Captain’s estate Liljeholmen in his absence with abusive words and yelling as well as cuts and blows threatened his people, when he was ordered to pay his tax contribution for the farm Kopparhult, which the Captain had paid for him.Translated from Swedish
Erik had five other complaints to make of him. The controversy had originated when Erik had accused him of house rot without actually having surveyed the improvements that Sven had done. Sven admitted to not having paid his taxes, but was duly provoked by the other accusations.
As the man was clearly dangerous, Erik claimed he was afraid for the safety of his household and so not only demanded protection by the authorities, but also that the violent perpetrator be kept in custody. The court was not convinced that such drastic measures were at all necessary, however.
It is possible that Erik later got one over on Sven, if indeed he was the same Sven Månsson as the married farmer in Håraholmen whom in 1719 he accused of having slept with the likewise married woman Lisbetta Simonsdotter from a cottage on the Liljeholmen estate. This was a criminal offence. Now it so happens that Lisbetta’s lawful husband was the very same soldier Per Hurtig who had been taken prisoner in Denmark and had remarried there. Lisbetta had not seen him for 8 years, so she did not feel much remorse on his account. She promptly admitted the offence, given that the event had resulted in a son being born, but Sven, who had no excuses, denied it absolutely.
Perhaps the growing tension with his tenants, and the realization that the authorities did not back him pushed Erik over the edge at last. He may have started to feel persecuted; he did not belong in this kind of society and adopted it with very bad grace. His wife he had always used ill, but now he started being abusive even in court. His next appearance in court in 1715 is a testament to this.
Captain Ahlfort burst out at this with harsh words and yelling, cursing badly several times, accusing the bailiff, the jurors who had been sent to him and the farthing men of seeking the tax money from him out of envy (…)Translated from Swedish
He also threatened the bailiff then and there with a personal lawsuit. In less than five months the situation had been reversed; now Erik was the one accused of not paying his taxes, and he was the one reacting violently. Strangely enough, these violent outbursts seem to have been completely groundless if we are to believe the court register, because apparently he did not in any way refuse to pay the money in question. It appeared instead to be a personal matter, and perhaps a one-sided one. It was one thing to have your wife reproach you and try to change you, but to have the authorities against you as well made you an officially recognised naughty boy. One cannot blame the jurors for thinking that Erik was at least as likely to cause someone harm as his tenant. He was definitely not a happy man, and he spread it around.
While the last 15 years had seen him involved in legal disputes almost continually, he would now hardly appear in court for the next decade. Indeed, he seems to have lost his fighting spirit forever, and never to have appeared in court again if he could help it. On the other hand, it is possible that he started to appreciate his wife and his children more at this point. The couple definitely had another son in 1713, at a time when the other two children were coming into their teens and were requiring a little more attention. Also, one should not forget that Erik was after all in his mid-fifties, so a midlife crisis of sorts is hardly surprising, especially in view of the fact that his wife was 23 years younger than him.
At the next court gathering, in February 1716, the court wanted to penalize the captain for his verbal abuse, but he did not show up. Instead, he sent one of his lesser tenants to deliver a written message that his master was ill and could not stir out of doors. The case was therefore deferred until June, when he once again failed to turn up. This time, he had sent his notary Israël Stenberg, who did not improve matters by arriving in an intoxicated state, showering the jury with insults. The case was deferred to the following day, when the notary once more turned up drunk. Both Erik and his notary were fined heavily for their unacceptable behaviour.
The lull in court activity that followed this incident was broken when, on 26th May 1719, Liljeholmen was damaged by a catastrophic fire, destroying an entire building of approximately 17 x 10 m with a total of 11 rooms, including a sleeping chamber above and two lesser kitchens below as well as a cellar. No possessions could be saved from the fire; the total value lost was estimated at 3328.20 riksdaler in silver. In accordance with his new cautious approach to dealing with the authorities, Erik was uncharacteristically passive during the inspections that followed the catastrophe. The court ruled that there was no evidence to suggest that he had been in any way responsible for the fire.
His old cases he could not run away from. In 1726, Erik at long last came to an agreement with his neighbour in Eklabo about the cottage Baggemålen, which had been the topic of a lawsuit that had gone on since 1715, and in fact had its roots when his father-in-law Gabriel Gyllenståhl had sold Eklabo off. This sparked a dispute about whether Baggemålen was part of Eklabo or belonged to Erik’s Blåvik. This kind of ownership disputes were quite common, because when you owned a lot of land which you did not yourself inhabit and perhaps did not visit very often, it was easy to lose track of exactly who owned a certain cottage – very much to the dismay of the inhabitants who were occasionally asked to work on two estates simultaneously because both landlords thought they were tenants of theirs.
Erik argued that Baggemålen’s legal status showed it as having belonged to an estate (säteri), and pointed out that that estate must have been Blåvik, which had had this status in the years 1654-1660. However, it turned out that Eklabo had also had that same status 1669-1680, so the argument was useless. The court then called the witness Knut Patkull who reported that he had often had the privilege of hunting in the forests around Baggemålen in the time of his uncle Christer Lillie (after whom Liljeholmen was named), and he had always been told that Baggemålen belonged to Eklabo. On the strength of this statement, the court ruled that Baggemålen did belong to Eklabo.
We know from other sources that Knut Patkull was not a reliable witness, and indeed the evidence accessible to us suggests that Erik had right on his side. He certainly felt that way and therefore appealed the case.
A new inspection was made in 1716, but unfortunately only six of the necessary twelve jurors turned up in the forest by Baggemålen on the appointed day in order to measure and check the boundary markings. When the poor judge furthermore felt unequal to penetrating the dense thickets and “morasses” of the forest in several places, the whole inspection was subsequently deemed invalid. Ten years later, a new inspection was made, this time with the necessary number of jurors, but before any legal decision could be made, the parties involved came to an agreement on their own in order to avoid the costs of an already very expensive process. Both parties could in fact have bought the disputed cottage and land several times over for the amount of money they had already invested in the process. They decided to settle that Baggemålen did indeed belong to Blåvik as Erik had insisted.
Erik’s relationship with his wife had become closer in recent years, and perhaps he was at last about to grow up and settle down. However, as he started to adopt the ways of a landowner, the fact that his wife outranked him in society pained him all the more. As long as he could live in his memories of life in the navy, he could feel that he was important and deserved to be proud of himself, but the moment he settled down in acceptance of life as a landowner, it became apparent that the only thing that counted in their present society was nobility, and only his wife had that. This naturally annoyed him. As mentioned in chapter 2, it troubled him to such a degree that in 1723 he composed a letter to the authorities in which he argued that he ought to be granted a knighthood, given that he had served his country dutifully for 32 years. To his regret, the knighthood was refused him.
A new lawsuit concerning a small island in Sommen by the name of Fiskarp Ö was forced upon him at this time, and was destined to go on for years right until his death. The big question was whether this island belonged with Fiskarp, which was part of the Liljeholmen estate, or with Brandsnäs on Torpön across the water.
Erik was legitimately excused from appearing at the inspection of the island in spring 1729 due to a serious leg fracture, followed by a bad infection. At the second inspection in autumn, he was still bedridden and unable to participate, and did not have the strength to instruct a stand-in either. Naturally, people were by now somewhat suspicious of his excuses, given that he had so often failed to appear in court, but this time it really was serious. A year later, he died of the infection. His son Gabriel, who was travelling in Cádiz in southern Spain at the time, received the message of his father’s death by letter.
18 th December my late father Captain Erik Ahlfort died at home at Liljeholmen, after having for most of a whole year been bedridden after having broken off his right leg, 73 years old.
1730 20th January his soulless body was honourably buried at Torpa church in our maternal grandfather’s grave. This was told me by letter.Translated from Swedish
Note: As mentioned previously, Erik may in fact have been 70 years old when he died, as claimed by the church registrar. Either one of them was wrong, or the above quote was misread by the editor when the diary was published. If someone happens to know where the diary is today please let me know. At the time of publication in the 1950s it belonged to Naima Pontin.
The rewards of hard work – Gabriel Ahlfort
Now let five years pass from the death of Erik and take a look around the area in the year 1735. A heavily built captain with the look of a pirate is approaching the Liljeholmen estate on horseback. This contentedly smiling man is Erik’s eldest son Captain Gabriel Ahlfort, who has just returned from his travels to marry his young cousin Anna Brita Wetterström and take possession of the estate after the death of his father. He knows that bringing it up to standards is going to require a lot of hard work, but he is not afraid of hardship; he has travelled the oceans for years and has survived pirates, storms and dangerous illnesses. He can do this.
At the Somvik estate across the lake his aunt Hedevig Gyllenståhl has established herself with her father’s secretary Anders Wetterström after the death of her first husband, lieutenant Gustaf Adolf Macklier.
The children of her two husbands do not get on, and in fact will be in legal disputes with each other for most of their lives. Her two children from the first marriage Maria Catharina and Johan Gabriel are now in their thirties and have left home. The former, who was probably the reason that Erik ever came to the area, has married major Carl Gustaf Gripensköld and settled at the Stjärnesand estate nearby; their granddaughter is destined to be the wife of Gabriel’s son Gustaf Adolf Ahlfort.
None of her four much younger half-siblings are married, and those who are not busy in the military are still at Somvik, including Gabriel’s betrothed Anna Brita. He is going to visit her tomorrow, and he is very much looking forward to it. He has not been on Swedish soil for almost eight long years.
His other aunt, Märta Gyllenståhl, has married vice district judge Johan Svanhals. They have nine children still living, many of whom depend on an income from the military, or will do in a few years. Something has to be done in order to secure the livelihood of the next generation, and Gabriel is determined to do his bit.
The reason that a previous owner of Liljeholmen, Christer Lillie, had been allowed to turn Eklabo into an estate in its own right was that the agricultural conditions at Liljeholmen were so poor that he had had to leave the place in order to make ends meet. On 13th November 1668 he wrote a letter to the county governour (landshövding) requesting to have Eklabo assessed and approved as an estate.
(…) regarding my estate Lillieholm, which is of a quite poor condition, as to croplands, pastures, woodland and land as well as other resources; so that I have not been able to make a living there but have been forced to settle down here in the countryside in Småland, which however is a starved and meager place to live in, but now however two years ago a farm of mine called Eklabo in Ekeby-Rinna parish Göstrings county had almost been deserted, for the reason that the tenant was forced to resign the farm by reason of having lost his livestock and therefore I have now for two years had it cultivated myself, and have a mind to establish an estate there, and already have established a building there in order to conduct my own cultivation if God will, as a support and help in view of the poor condition of Lillieholm, as the place is quite plentiful as regards fishing, woods and land, as well as other resources (…)Translated from Swedish
His request was granted, but Liljeholmen remained the estate on Norrsjölandet, the area directly to the north of lake Sommen, in spite of the meager resources. Gabriel Ahlfort (27/10 1703 – 10/1 1780) eventually became rather famous for his dedication and perseverance in the furthering of his pioneering agricultural ambitions. Word of his brilliance even reached the Swedish capital when the following article was printed in the newspaper Inrikes Tidningar on 21st November 1772.
Captain lieutenant Ahlfort has at his home Liljeholmen in Östergötland, Torpa parish, the farm Håraholmen and the cottage Häggarp etc., despite his limited assets, constructed more than 1300 fathoms of stone fences, and has stacked 13-14 stone pipes (?) well on very small foundations; has constructed 8 stone houses without using clay and chalk, and also blockhouse(s) under a stone sawmill, has cleared and paved his necessary roads etc. He has successfully organised improvements of local agriculture, in the stony areas, and possesses comfortable tools for easing the work, and is able to show how to use them efficiently.Translated from Swedish
Unlike most of his neighbours, Gabriel was not afraid of getting his hands dirty and helping out in the fields when stones needed to be removed and built into fences. This was in fact a favourite pastime of his now that his naval days were gone, and though the public in Stockholm seems to have found it highly praiseworthy, it was something that his local peers would frown upon. Partaking in the daily work showed that you could not afford a sufficient workforce and was therefore not an option if you feared the contempt of those who mattered.
The rather eccentric Gabriel seems never to have cared about what his neighbours thought. He gladly went about helping his six labourers construct the abundance of fences and cairns which have graced the fields ever since. In fact, he didn’t consider a good day’s work to have been done unless two fathoms of fence had been built. If his personal dedication wasn’t sufficient to keep up the working spirit of his co-labourers, he encouraged them with a flask of brandy which he carried about on his person. He called the daily construction of the obligatory two fathoms of fence ‘ett karlastycke’ (a man’s piece of work), suggesting that the hard work he invested in the fields helped him appreciate his own masculinity and accept himself in a way that his father never managed to do on land.
Gabriel is said to have been physically massive, and to have been able to withstand most things, but at the same time one of his tenants, who had once been a farmhand at Liljeholmen, tells us that both he and his wife were friendly and hospitable towards everyone who approached them. Somehow you get the feeling that he was one of those who made a really good friend as long as you didn’t cross him.
He certainly did have several enemies. His wife’s half brother Johan Gabriel Macklier was one. Like Gabriel, he also had to work in the fields with his men, and he couldn’t even afford his own cows but had to rent them. What little money he had left, he then felt obliged to spend on a trial with his half siblings, in which he lost the farm Skurebo to Gabriel. It had formerly belonged to Somvik, their mother’s estate, and locals later claimed that Gabriel was very annoyed when he discovered exactly how poor Macklier had become, because if he had known it sooner, he would have carried on the trial until he had got Somvik too. There were definitely bad feelings in the air. With time, Macklier too managed to regain something like the former wealth of his family.
Perhaps Gabriel was a little too busy building two fathoms of fence a day, because after his death his sons pointed out that although their father had certainly done a good job in his time, the fences were ’ett stoll-göra’ (a fool’s work), as they were already collapsing in many places. The fact remains, however, that in the end he managed to work his way up, first in his maritime career, and then as an agriculturalist, thereby succeeding in restoring the family fortune for the next generations to inherit. By pure commitment and hard work, he rallied at last and overcame the temporary setback by innovating local agriculture and pioneering a more intensive exploitation of the resources.
Disinherited for her love – Maria Catharina Ahlfort
Gabriel’s sister Maria Catharina Alfort (7/8 1702 – 31/10 1781), who was one year his senior, was a desirable bride thanks to her noble and prosperous mother, and though at first she declined to marry anyone, she had several eligible offers over the years.
In March 1724, a bookkeeper by the name of Georg Ramberg approached the family with this purpose in mind. Her parents accepted him on the proviso that he end his job with his current employer ’factor’ Mårten Rääf in Norrköping, who was very likely a foreman at the rifle factory. However, when Erik discussed the matter with his daughter, she claimed not to be inclined to marry at present. Interestingly, her father does not seem to have attempted to enforce his authority in the matter. Perhaps he was secretly hoping for something “better” than a mere bokkeeper for a son-in-law. Ramberg was therefore compelled to wait and hope for better times.
Unlike her husband, Maria’s mother was an excessively active force in the affair. She cunningly imposed her will by dispatching several letters to the bookkeeper in which she urged him not to lose hope, and to quit his job as soon as might be in order to remove the only legitimate obstacle which she could perceive. He was somewhat hesitant about taking this step, however, since he had a secure income and might not be able to get such another position.
It seems that Maria did at some point accept him as a future husband whenever she should have overcome her disinclination to marry at all, and that she actually accepted two golden rings as tokens of the intended union, as well as certain other gifts, but as Ramberg had not quit his job yet, her mother wrote to him in an attempt to give him the final nudge.
I cannot but must let Mr Bookkeeper know of our situation and that we are all in good health. Otherwise I ask that you let me know how Rääf and you are separated. Maria sends word (that) she stands by her word, provided you get a good position.Translated from Swedish
We do not know exactly what Maria felt at this point, except that she probably did not love him and very much hoped that someone else would come along. Perhaps she saw him as a last-resort insurance against ending up as an old maid.
And then someone did turn up. On 1st August, a captain of the admiralty, no less, arrived at Liljeholmen. His name is unfortunately unknown to us, but he soon made friends with Erik and within the week had received his blessing for her hand. Erik was of course delighted – this was someone with whom he could thoroughly sympathise. His appalled wife, on the other hand, had had more than enough of her own captain and had probably lost faith in captains in general at this point, so she did everything in her power to fend him off. She also hastened to write another letter to Ramberg in which she assured him that she would have the last word in the matter and that she would certainly stop the match.
Once again, we know nothing of Maria’s feelings, but whatever they were, the captain left Liljeholmen defeated, and the next spring even Erik was willing to give the bookkeeper another chance, if only he would get a “handsome” job somewhere. Once more, his wife was quick to report back on 27th April, this time using an almost biblical phrasing which might well have made the recipient feel he hardly had a choice in the matter.
The lord [i.e. master] spoke and said: that if you make yourself independent of Rääf and get a true release from him, and you can get some handsome condition or posting, then it will be possible, therefore I ask that you kindly separate yourself entirely from Rääf.Translated from Swedish
This he finally did, choosing to believe that these encouraging letters must mean that his beloved Maria had seen sense and would be willing to marry him soon. Possibly this was when he gave her the rings in order to make sure that she would not run away at the last moment.
Unfortunately, this was exactly what she did do, because by then Maria was falling in love with another. Suddenly her dislike of the married state was gone, but what she dared not tell her father was that her chosen one was a simple farmhand of his called Jonas Andersson who worked at Liljeholmen. Erik would soon find out, however, and he certainly did not like it. On 3rd November 1725, he dragged his own daughter to court for having slept with his farmhand. The young couple readily admitted to the crime and promptly added that they wanted to get married, but as her father was against the match, they appealed to the court for help. The jury seem to have been rather favourably disposed towards them, but as Erik himself did not turn up for the trial, the matter was delayed till the next court meeting, and he was duly fined for his absence.
This unfortunate affair sparked a new chain of events. Ramberg was furious. He was probably not interested in marrying her after her recent escapades, but he demanded recompensation for the gifts he had given Maria over the years, as well as for the job he had lost on her mother’s instigation.
Erik had been doing business with Ramberg’s former employer, and that was probably where the two families had met. When the bookkeeper was forced to quit his post there, some financial matters had to be cleared up in court as well. Erik paid his debts to the factory in the form of one load of bar iron (obviously from his ironworks at Börgöl) and one cow.
The young couple’s offence seems originally to have been discovered in June, as her mother once more sent a letter to Ramberg on 17th June 1725, in which she urged him to take the trouble to travel to her residence at Somvik.
(…) for I have so much to speak to you about, and what we shall do about Maria, who has behaved so badly: I assure you that I shall by the grace of God be true to you that you may have your true payment. Please come hither, that I may speak to you and make up with you, what that which you have given shall cost.Translated from Swedish
Nine days later, she repeats her so far disregarded entreaties more forcefully.
It is with the greatest worry and dislike that I must return the things, which I have never thought to do, but I ask that you be so good and not suspect me, for I have never thought anything but that God would have the two of you together. Please, if it is not too much trouble travel down here to Somvik, that we may consult and make up what you shall have for what you have given her, therefore I would like it if you were to come down here yourself, please be so good and come down here to Somvik, for I cannot confide in her (?) regarding my dislike and worry, this you must not doubt, that I shall pay up with the greatest gratitude, and shall try to pay that for your goodness to me, though I cannot help the wicked misfortune.Translated from Swedish
These are strong words indeed, but do we detect a tinge of bad conscience among the assurances that she has certainly only wished him the best?
Given that Maria was to get pregnant and have a child in May 1727, it is clear that the couple was still intimate more than a year after their relationship was first made public. Evidently, she disregarded her parents’ opinion entirely, as other women in the family had done before her.
Ramberg subsequently sent a letter to Torpa vicarage to inform them that no marriage could take place between Maria and Jonas, as she was engaged to him. This new information must have upset matters in the eyes of the authorities, and may possibly have postponed the legal case further. Oddly enough, the case does not seem to appear at the following court meeting in February at all, a fact which may possibly be related to this development.
Erik told his wife strictly not to meddle in the case; as a man, he ought to handle it for both of them. At all events, in October 1726 Ramberg sued Erik for denying the existence of an engagement. He also demanded legal compensation for the gifts amounting to 120 riksdaler in copper, as well as for the disadvantages to him following the loss of his job. To Erik’s surprise, he in his turn had apparently also – or so he was told – sued Ramberg for having sent the mendacious letter to the vicarage. However, he had no recollection of having done so, and he denied it forcefully in court. The jury was astounded and confused, and it all developed into somewhat of a farce, until Maria herself admitted that she had done it in her father’s name.
One can easily imagine the situation. The jurors are presenting the two reciprocal lawsuits, but Erik’s councillor Littorin (Erik himself is absent as usual) denies that any lawsuit has been filed against Ramberg. General confusion follows. Ramberg’s councillor assures the assembly that he has indeed received a written indictment, and professes that he intends to disregard Erik’s attempt to back out. The bailiff is called; he confirms that one of Erik’s farmers handed in an indictment bearing Erik’s name. At this point, Maria cuts in, admitting that she is the author of that document, but claims that she really wanted to write it in her own name, only the bailiff convinced her that it had to be in her father’s name instead. This he denies.
Erik seems never to have forgiven his daughter for exposing him to ridicule in this manner, and it is likely to have been the main reason for his disinheriting her afterwards.
Maria most emphatically denied that there had ever been an engagement. How she could persist in this view after having received rings from him is unclear to say the least, and I should only have ascribed it to her being dizzy with love for another, were it not for the fact that the court jury would later agree with her views, as we shall see.
The main case was to take place in March 1727. Ramberg brought with him all the encouraging letters that Maria’s mother had written to him over the years. Her parents once more did not even turn up in court, but this time the case was continued in their absence on the basis of the letters. Ramberg still forbade the bonds between Maria and Jonas, so the jury’s conclusion was of immense importance for them. Confronted with the contents of the letters, Maria could only say that she had had no idea that her mother had encouraged him in such a manner. She had never known of it, had never been engaged to the man, and would have returned the rings to him long ago if only she had dared.
The jury was not convinced that Maria ever agreed to an engagement apart from having accepted gifts from him, and they could not see that her father had really given his consent either; he had simply said that a marriage might be possible sometime in future, if his daughter were to change her mind. Did not the very fact that a captain had been courting her and had won her father’s approval show quite clearly that he did not consider his daughter to be already engaged?
In the end, Ramberg got his compensation, but the entire guilt was laid at Maria’s mother’s door. She was the one who had encouraged his suit excessively. It was in many ways a repetition of what had happened a generation before when her sister Hedevig had been courted by two men and their mother had encouraged the one she did not want by telling him that her daughter had started to waver in her refusal.
To Maria, the only thing that mattered was that now that Ramberg had received his compensation, she was in principle free to marry Jonas. However, her parents had neither consented nor forbidden the marriage. They refused to get involved at all now that she had disregarded their authority so blatantly, and merely referred her to the authorities. Consequently, she approached the court jury, informing them how matters stood and asked them to make a decision in the case.
She was in the seventh month of her pregnancy when the court met in March 1727. To Maria’s relief, they concluded that her parents had no right to stop her from marrying her favourite; rather, the vicar must decide whether he would wed them after what had happened.
(…) Maria’s parents’ opposition to the marriage with the farmhand ought not to lie in her way; rather she shall ask the pastor of the parish regarding wedding and copulation (…)Translated from Swedish
She had won at last. Her mother tried to reopen the case at the first opportunity, but was denied the right to do so, given that she had not turned up at the original trial.
In May, Maria gave birth to a daughter, and a year later, on 8th May 1728, the happy couple were finally joined in wedlock in Torpa church. It is unclear where they lived during the first couple of years – possibly in Kopparhult – but her father soon deigned to help his son-in-law to an ensignary in the army, and in 1731 they settled in the soldier’s cottage Mosstugan under Skyttlingebäck in the neighbouring parish of Askeryd. He now acquired the soldier’s name Jonas Ekstrand.
All familial contact with her parents was thus at an end. In spite of several attempts on Maria’s part to win her mother’s forgiveness, she was not even told that she had been disinherited until her mother died in 1754. We know that because of two extraordinary documents which are left to us. One is her mother’s final will in which she tells the authorities that she has at last changed her mind about not leaving Maria and her children anything. The other is Maria’s letter to the authorities in which she informs them of her previous ignorance, and humbly requests that the money be paid out to her. Her mother writes:
As my dear daughter Maria Catharina has in her childhood gone against her dear father and me by marrying her husband so that we disinherited her entirely and registered at the Sund assembly that she should not inherit anything at all, but as she has so much asked for forgiveness and I from a motherly heart have let myself be moved to forgive her, for I know that I have offended my graceful God a thousand times more.
Therefore I have with a sound and healthy mind forgiven her and promised that I shall after my death give her seven thousand riksdaler from the Börgöl ironworks after my death as soon as all debts are paid for both Lövingsborg what is left to pay and other debts.
She shall have 7 thousand riksdaler of what remains. The ironworks she shall only have the right to redeem in case my dear son will not keep it, but her 7 thousand riksdaler she shall have immediately, and she shall give them to her children after her death 1 thousand riksdaler per child.
But everything at Liljeholmen is to be my dear son’s alone, both Liljeholmen and all the other farms and cottages, whatever else belongs under those, without the smallest objection, but Lövingsborg is going to be Gustaf Ståhlgren’s, and what is not paid shall be paid with the Börgöl tenancy or it shall be sold.
My dear daughter shall in gratitude accept what I have done with what remains when the seven thousand riksdaler and the debts shall my dear son have the rest [sic], my dear son shall also be satisfied with what (I) have done of motherly love (…)Translated from Swedish
Even if Maria herself still did not inherit anything as such, her seven children did, and that has no doubt made all the difference for the family. In time, their descendants would become very numerous, comprising several politicians in the first couple of generations, but mostly farmers.
Maria’s own letter to the authorities went as follows.
As my dear mother, Mrs Maria Sophia Gyllenståhl, deceased at the end of last December, and as she has bequeathed seven thousand riksdaler to me when she was alive, I have thought myself bound by duty to attach the testament for your excellency and rev. Roy. Court of Appeal both in original and in copy; whereby I also must, as regards the mention in the testament in question that I was formerly apparently disinherited, of which I knew nothing at all, humbly request the use of my right to have my inheritance paid out before the other heirs, from the sum of the estate.Translated from Swedish
In spite of her mother’s unwillingness to let her inherit anything apart from the seven thousand riksdaler, her brother Gabriel succeeded at last in persuading her to let Maria and Jonas have the farm of Gunnarstorp where they had been living and farming since 1738. The very fact that they had been allowed to live there in itself shows that her mother’s heart had already begun to soften shortly after Eriks’ death in 1729.
Gunnarstorp one half farm has by the dec. Mrs Gyllenståhl at the bequest of Captain Lieutenant Ahlfort been left to the deceased’s daughter Maria Catharina, who formerly has been disinherited by her parents by reason of having begotten children with one of her parents’ farmhands Jon Andersson, whom she has later married against her parents’ will (…)Translated from Swedish
This farm was to become central for the family and their descendants for generations to come.
A third branch? – Carl Henric Ahlfort and Gustaf Ståhlgren
We have so far met with two of Erik and Maria Sophia’s three children. The life of the third, Carl Henric Ahlfort (28/10 1713 – 7/5 1740), was tragically foreshortened, but it too is worth dwelling on.
As soon as Carl Henric came of age, he entered the army as a fourir in the Royal First Lifegrenadier Regiment (Kungliga Första Livgrenadjärregementet), his father having died less than a year before. By then, his brother Gabriel was travelling the globe as a seaman like his father, but for some reason Carl Henric chose to be land-based. Perhaps this was a principle with youngest sons, as the same pattern would repeat itself in the next generation with Gabriel’s eldest son joining the navy and the youngest doing his bit in the army.
To his mother’s annoyance, at the age of 24 Carl Henric repeated his sister’s sins by having an illegitimate son with a maid at Liljeholmen by the name of Sara Larsdotter.
- 1. icon-male Gustaf Ståhlgren (17/7 1737 – after 1754)
They were both convicted of this crime, and must undergo ’overt penance’ (uppenbar kyrkoplikt), a punishment which involved going onto a special stool in church during service and officially repenting in front of the entire parish.
Carl Henric never got a chance to marry, for a serious diplomatic crisis between Sweden and Russia resulted in his being sent to Finland in case a war should ensue. The Swedish diplomat Malcolm Sinclair was murdered by Russian agents on his way back from the allied Ottoman Empire on 17th June 1739. This engendered a nation-wide hatred against the Russians and nurtured a lust for revenge on the archenemy. Many felt that the time had come to reconquer the lost territories in Estonia, Ingria and Karelia – the very areas which Erik had seen his country lose in his time.
That year, 6000 soldiers were sent to the Russian border in preparation of the war, but war was only declared on Russia on 8th August 1741. 1740 was an extremely cold year; all the lakes were frozen solid, and sickness must have been everywhere in the army. Whether because of an illness or direct confrontation with the Russians who marched through Finland all the way to Turku, Carl Henric died on his way through Finland, 37 years old. It was a common fate of soldiers; most of them died from illnesses and malnutrition while marching, rather than in battle. We simply don’t know exactly what happened in this case.
Gabriel writes that he died at a place called Nudula in Tavastehus County, possibly the village of Nuutala north of Lake Vanajavesi on the marching route from Tampere to Lahti, but of this we cannot be sure. He was buried in Holula church, which is obviously the old church of Hollola, but if so his body was transported for 40 km.
Carl Henric’s son Gustaf was only one year old when his father died, and he was then apparently adopted by his grandmother. He went to school, probably in Linköping, and then appears to have been trained as a mason, perhaps at the brickworks which lay in connection with their home Lövingsborg south of Skänninge town. He then took the name Gustaf Ståhlgren and soon moved to Stockholm, where he made a living as a mason’s boy.
The last we hear of him at home is when his grandmother leaves him Lövingsborg in her will in 1754. His uncle Gabriel contested this decision, claiming that the property in question could not legally be released from the estate and given away, and in the end it was left to Maria Catharina and her children. This was strictly opposed to her mother’s wishes, but probably with Gabriel’s blessing.
In 1761 Gustaf married the girl Anna Christina Roos in Stockholm, but after five months he suddenly died of an illness and left his widow in a very poor and difficult state. She told the authorities that he had no known heirs, and that he had been so poor as to not leave anything at all anyway.
We do not know for sure that this is the right Gustaf, but it seems highly likely. However, at his death he is claimed to be 28 years old, rather than the correct 24, so it is still very uncertain.
The following clothes were in their mother’s possession when she died:
- 1 grey Halland damask chemise (hallands damast särk),
- 1 black armosin chemise
- 1 black velvet fur coat with lining which was very moth-eaten and torn
- 1 black callminks petticoat
- 1 black satin petticoat with roses
- 1 old torn dressing-gown of Persian damask
- 1 yellow silk jacket, 1 brown striped silk bast (i.e. made from the plant tibast, Daphne mezereum) apron
- 1 yellow silk fabric.
The only jewelry she had, she gave to her favourite grandchild Gustaf Ståhlgren.
Of jewels there are none, nor gold except for a gold ring which was given by the dec. Mrs Captain when alive to Gustaf Ståhlgren. Nor cash.Translated from Swedish
Gabriel tried to do his duty by his mother after her death by paying most of her debts to her many creditors. He also had to pay the expenses for a court process with captain Atterbom, a family with which one branch of the Ahlforts would later be more intimately connected, until a scandal isolated the Ahlforts for a time.
Chapter 6, Political farmers, tells the touching story of Maria Catharina Ahlfort’s struggles to raise her children as more than just common farmers.
Selected sources for chapter 5
This text is a synthesis of several years of work and is derived from countless sources. Among them are the following.
- ArkivDigital / Riksarkivet
- Church registers
- Court proceedings
- The nobility’s probates
- Tranås Hembygdsgille (1958), Från Sommabygd till Vätterstrand VI
- Karoliner och lantjunkare i norra Sommabygden på 1700-talet
- Från Måns i Häggarp till Måsse i Knappla – torp och torpare på Norrsjölandet
- Carl Nisser: Christer Lillie till Lillieholm
- The Royal Swedish Library