Early in the twentieth century, drawing upon the hundreds of letters written to his father by students who had emigrated to northeastern Iowa from Mecklenburg, in northeastern Germany, Johannes Gillhoff created the composite character of Juernjakob Swehn: the archetype of the upright, honest mensch who personified the German immigrant, on his way to a better life through ambition and hard work. Gillhoff's farmer-hero, planting and harvesting his Iowa acres, joking with his neighbors during the snowy winters, building a church with his own hands, proved so popular with the German public that a million copies of Jürnjakob Swehn der Amerikafahrer are in print. Now for the first time this wise and endearing book is available in English.

“First, let's talk about pigs,”Juernjakob Swehn writes from his farm in Iowa. “In America, pigs have a curly tail and talk in Low German so I can understand them.” Swehn builds a log house and makes a success of farming, marries a woman who's “a whole different nation that has its confidence from the inside,” raises a family, and becomes an elder in the Lutheran church. He recognizes his good fortune but acknowledges that memories of his village grow stronger every year, that “being homesick is the best thing that home can do for you …no power on earth holds on to you like your homeland.” It is this sense of home, both in Iowa and in Mecklenburg, that makes Juernjakob Swehn appeal to today's readers as much as he appealed to readers in 1916.

“Whoever wants to farm should stay in Iowa. That's what I think. In Iowa there's plenty of everything: plenty water, plenty hay, plenty corn, plenty potatoes, and plenty opportunity.”—Juernjakob Swehn


Translator’s Introduction by Richard Trost

Author’s Preface by Johannes Gillhoff

1. Over the Ocean Waves

2. The Longest Month

3. My Own Farm

4. Life in the New World

5. The American Farmer

6. Our German Neighbors

7. As the Children Grow Up

8. A Little Farm and a Log House

9. All Kinds of Grief and Their Medicines

10. Indian Stories and Letters from the Children

11. At the Chicago World’s Fair

12. At My Mother’s Deathbed

13. Churches and Pastors in America

14. A New Church and a New Organ

15. The Old Skinflint

16. The Baptism of the Firstborn

17. In the Beginning

18. It Takes All Kinds to Make a Church

19. Try Anything, Once

20. Working Up the Corn Crop

21. Friends and Memories

22. Our School Needs a Teacher

23. Company from Back Home

24. Old Stories in the New Land

25. Jurnjakob, You’re Homesick

26. Mark This Page in Your Bible

Afterword by Hartmut Brun

Index of Family Names


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Publication Details

Publication Date
200 pages
15 drawings, 1 photo, 1 map