Log Cabins brought to you by Finns

One of the more unique threads I ran across history is that the log cabin was brought to the New World by Finns.  Actually Forrest Finns from the New Sweden colony in 1638.  Think of all of the American folklore tied to the log cabin, from the mountain men of the frontier to President Lincoln’s birth.  All of those stories set around Finnish log cabins.

Finns were very adept at building log cabins, probably because of the fast growing nature of birch made it an accessible material.  It was the Forrest Finns that probably brought over the technique.  With a new need for charcoal for iron forging, some of the practices of the Forrest Finns were outlawed making many of them move to New Sweden brining this style of building with them.  This meant that most of the buildings in New Sweden were log cabins.

Meanwhile the New England colony was making building using clapboard style.  First a frame would be built and then overlapping boards would be attached to the frame.  This style relied on sawed lumber.  This was more labor intensive but allowed several building to be constructed from a stand of trees.  To find a log cabin in New England history one really had to search through history.

In 1659, we find the first evidence of log cabins in use in New England.  In 1659 a log cabin was built to be used as a meetinghouse in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.  We know that the Pilgrims landed in 1620 and New Sweden was founded in 1638.  The pilgrims had lived in New England for 39 years before the first log cabin is known to have been built.  Twenty-one years earlier, log cabins were being built in New Sweden.   In 1655 Sweden lost control over New Sweden, causing migration from the colony.  That’s 4 years before this meeting house was ever built.

In fact before New Sweden fell, New England colonies were using masonry building.  In 1632, Virginia’s St. Luke’s Church was probably the first brick building in the Americas.  Clay and shale were heated to create bricks what would last thousands of years.  Wait this means that bricks were already in use 6 years before New Sweden was even founded.

My guess is that one of two scenarios occurred.  One, a New Sweden colonist made their way to New Hampshire bringing along the technique.  Or two, a trader or sea captain traveled between the two and “borrowed” the technique.  My guess, based on the fact that a seaman had his own particular tradecraft, is that it was a colonist who brought log cabins to New England.  If I find more I’ll share.

Frank Eld has authored a book “Finnish Log Construction – The Art.  The book presents how Finns used to build Log Houses, including the tools of the age.  He has been restoring Finnish homesteads in Roseberry, Idaho.

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