Bishop Hill and Victor Witting
The Bethel Ship John Wesley and the Bishop Hill colony in Henry County, Illinois, are undoubtedly the two most colorful institutions of Swedish immigrant history in the nineteenth century. The saga of Bishop Hill and its founder, Eric Jansson, has been told in well-documented histories.1 The scope of this work does not require elaborate detail concerning it. We must, however, deal with direct and tangential relationships between the two institutions, their leaders, and followers. Each seemed destined to affect the other in several significant ways. The unfolding story will note that Swedish Methodism was, in no small measure, indebted to the Janssonists.
Eric Jansson and his followers had no practical alternative other than flight to America. The leader and members of the sect were subjected to persecution, harassment, imprisonment, and sometimes life-threatening violence. An extreme and erratic form of pietism was confronted by institutional religious intolerance.2 Official and legal proscription against religious activities apart from the established Lutheran church by the conventicle edict of 1726 would not be modified until 1860. In addition to legal restraints, the edict had fostered a cultural mindset that took many decades to change. Growing tolerance toward the läsare was noticeable, but far from general. There was some stigma attached to religious dissent for a long period.
Jansson was seen by substantial elements as egregiously provocative. Among his eccentricities were messianic pretensions, always supported by a liberal number of Biblical quotations with little or no regard to their context. His hostility