Pioneers Across The Atlantic|
On 12 May 1870 four pioneers set off from Eyrabakki for America. They reached Quebec, Canada on 18 or 19 June and from there they carried on, arriving at Milwaukee in the United States of America on 27 June and shortly afterwards at Washington Island on Lake Michigan where they settled alongside farmers and fishermen. Over the next few years, additional Icelanders joined the settlement.
In 1872, a group of 22 Icelanders emigrated to the United States and Canada. Páll Ţorláksson, a farmer's son and high school graduate from Stóru-Tjarnir in Suđur- Ţingeyjarsýsla, led a group of 17 people. Ţorlákur Jónsson, his father, had encouraged him to study in North America rather than in Copenhagen. The group consisted mainly of people from Ţingeyjarsýsla and southern Iceland, including Páll's brother Haraldur. They set off on 13 June from Eyrabakki to Liverpool and from there to Quebec. Some of them went to Washington Island but Páll, Haraldur, Jóhannes Arngrímsson and a few others went to Milwaukee. There they all found work, except for Páll who began studying Theology. Three men from Akureyri went to Milwaukee and one carried on to Boston.
Sigtryggur Jónasson, an energetic 20-year-old from Eyjafjörđur, made the journey alone. He found work in Ontario, Canada and prospered. Páll
and Sigtryggur were the main spokesmen for Icelanders during the early years, the leading pioneers in the United States and Canada. Both of them also encouraged their fellow countrymen to emigrate to North America.
An advertisement from the newspaper Framfari 1877.
The idea of emigrating continued to be an attractive prospect, especially in Ţingeyjarsýsla. There, during the winter of 1872-3, farmers met to discuss the idea. Ţorlákur Jónsson and two others were chosen to travel the country and advocate for emigration.
During the following spring and summer, several Icelanders set out to cross the Atlantic. Amongst them were the young poet, editor and exile, Jón Ólafsson, and the minister Jón Bjarnason, who became the religious leader of Icelanders in Canada. Finally, late that summer a large group of approximately 160 left Akureyri for Canada via Scotland, after a rather long and tiring delay. The group included respected landowners such as Ţorlákur Jónsson, intellectuals and four poets. The latter would later be considered as some of the finest Western-Icelandic poets:
Kristinn Stefánsson, Undína, Sigurđur Jón Jóhannesson and Stephan G. Stephansson. Guđmundur Stefánsson, Stephan G.'s father, wrote an interesting description of the voyage.
During the first years, the majority of emigrants seemed to have been adventurous individuals eager to try something new. Later however, when crossings were less costly, it became more common for emigrants to flee poverty and dreadful conditions. There were even cases of local authorities paying the fare of local paupers just to get rid of them. This is recounted in Gunnsteinn Eyjólfsson's short story, "How I got the better of the county council". Very few emigrants had any worldly experience and were therefore easy prey for cheats and swindlers. Many also succumbed to temptations found in Winnipeg.