The emigration of Finns living on the Murman coast to northern America
by Leif Rantala, University of Lapland
In 1874 the Finnish priest Thauvon wrote an article in a Swedish-speaking newspaper, published in Helsinki: “In my previous letter I mentioned that the migration among the Finns from the shores of the Arctic Ocean to America has got hesitative dimensions. Luckily, this mania has passed, since the news from the migrants [to America] to their relatives and friends in the [Murman] colonies contains mostly complaints, one more miserable than the next, and many of the migrant [Finns] want nothing more than to return [to the Murman coast].” Thauvon had been visiting the Lutheran colonists on the Murman coast and performing christenings, marriages, confirmations and funerals among the inhabitants.
Thauvon´s assumption that the migration to America had passed was false. In particular the sources mention two years of considerable migration from the Murman coast to America, namely 1882 and 1889. Another Finnish priest, K. R. Jauhiainen, wrote in his report [from 1889]: “Ticket after ticket [to America] were sent by post, and immediately after, the colonists house was sold at any price as well as the cattle, if there were any. Soon they were on the western side of the Atlantic Ocean.”
The following statistics document this emigration from Murman Coast to America in 1882:
Area Year Number of people
Pummanki (Zemlyanoi) 1882 34 persons (1/6 of the villagers)
Vaitolahti (Vaida-guba) 1882 10 persons
Ura Guba 1882 10 persons
Saanivuono 1882 7 – 10 persons
All together 60 – 70 persons, i.e. 8 % (1/12) of the population Pummanki
1889 8 – 9 families
Generally speaking the 1880s was the high point of the colonization of the Murman coast and later emigration to America.
The reasons for emigration to America
N. A. Kachalov visited the Murman Coast in 1870 and found the inhabitants living in miserable conditions, especially the Russian colonists. Many of them lived in holes in the ground (zemlyanki), and there were no doctors. They had been promised loans, which were not forthcoming. The authorities did not provide any help, and the system of landownership was unclear. The wealthy claimed the places for pearl fishing from the Sami in the estuaries. The Finnish and the Norwegian colonists faced similar difficulties, with the additional burden of coping with the challenge of a foreign language.
The migration of the Finnish colonists was so comprehensive that one Russian official appealed to the Finns: “Don’t all leave us!”