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Martin Sorenson History
In the summer of 1878, there arrived in Bosque County, a sick and
penniless Danish immigrant. His only shelter was a live oak tree, and he had
to pawn his trousers to buy medicine. He had heard that America was "the land
of opportunity", and he soon found out that this was true. His name was
Martin Sorenson. He was born October 26, 1848, in Volstrup Parish, Denmark,
the son of Thomas Mortenson and Johanne Marie Sorensdatter; and he grew up on
Kjaersgaard, his grandparents' dairy farm.
In 1869, he emigrated to America and found temporary employment on a
Minnesota farm. Later he worked in a Wisconsin barrel factory and for a
railroad in Illinois. In 1877, he moved to Texas with his uncle, who had
married a widow with three children. They settled near Waxahachie, where they
farmed for a year before moving to Bosque County to escape the constant
threat of malaria.
Unfortunately, they had not moved soon enough and were already infected
with the disease when they arrived in the Norse community. Destitute and
suffering from chills and fever, Martin pawned his extra pair of trousers to
buy medicine for himself and the family. In a short time, he regained both
his health and his trousers and found employment, breaking horses for Leroy
Parks and building miles of rock fences for J. W. Fields.
Within three years, he was the owner of a 100-acre farm and a herd of
dairy cattle. Each morning, by the time he had hitched his horse to the plow,
he had already milked eighteen cows and been to Meridian and back to make
door-to-door deliveries. In 1880 his job as a milkman was made more
interesting by the new maid who answered the back door of one of the homes.
She was a young Norwegian emigrant who had just come to America, and her name
was Astrid Knutsen Lien.
Astrid, who was the daughter of Knut Ellefsen (1828-1905) and Marie
Olesdatter Nystel (1828-1887), was born January 1, 1852, on the Lien farm in
Aamlid Parish, Norway. As a young adult she worked as a maid for her pastor;
and, with a wage of thirty dollars a year and tips from the frequent house
guests, she had managed to save $110 by the end of her third year.
Her grandfather, Ole Terjerson Nystel, had emigrated to Texas with most
of his family in 1850; so with money in her pocket and relatives already
there, Astrid was easily persuaded to join a girlfriend who wanted to go to
America. Along with her meager belongings, she packed a statement of
recommendation from her church. In addition to information concerning her
birth, baptism, and confirmation, it also stated: "She has taken communion
the last time the 4th of the month and is not here officially bound to a
marriage promise. She is first of all a great Christian. These things we
witness to since she is emigrating to America. God give her his blessings and
strength and take care of her in Jesus Christ."
The two young women left Norway in October of 1880 and arrived in
Philadelphia a month later. From there they traveled by rail to Waco, where
Astrid's uncle, Terry Nystel, met them. Astrid made her home with him and
soon found a job in Meridian, working as a maid in the home of Dr. Lumpkin.
Here she met Martin, and their early morning meetings developed into a
On December 8, 1881 they were married in Our Savior's Lutheran Church,
after which, they made their home in the Harmony community. The Sorensons had
six children and 27 grandchildren, plus two who died at birth. Their children
were: Johanne Marie, "Mary", (1882-1966) who married Carl Tobias Knudson;
Samuel Conrad (1884-1954) who married Lula Mickelson and later Beatrice
Stone; Canute Oliver (1886-1955) who married Gunella Dahl; Mathilde Emelie
(1888-1910) who married Otto Anderson; Thomine Therese, "Tess", who was born
in 1891, married Walter Murphree, and is now living in the Clifton Lutheran
Sunset Home; Morris Alvin, who was born in 1895 and is now retired Lutheran
minister, living in Madison, Wisconsin. He was married to Bertha Megorden and
later to Margaret Ronnerud. [The information in this paragraph is out of
Martin and Astrid were active in their community, especially in the
affairs of church and education. They were faithful members of Our Savior's
Lutheran Church; and Martin was one of the signers of the petition for a
charter for Clifton College and was a member of the Lutheran College
Corporation until his death.
All though many of the Scandinavian immigrants looked upon American
citizenship as a birthright for their children but did not consider it for
themselves, Martin was an exception. On January 19, 1893, he appeared in the
Bosque County Courthouse and swore to support the Constitution of the United
States of America, and to "absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all
allegiance and fidelity to the King of Denmark of whom he vas subject."
Through their ambition, industry, and good management, "The American
Dream" became a reality for Martin and Astrid. During their 32 years of
marriage, "the milkman and the maid" became the owners of three farms,
totaling 500 acres, numerous head of livestock, and a fine new home. And
benefiting from their hard work were their three main interests in life:
their children, their church, and Christian education. Shortly before
Martin's death on June 7, 1914, he signed a codicil that provided, not only
for the education of his children, but also for a substantial contribution to
the Lutheran Church Extension Fund. A few years later, Astrid gave $1,000 to
Clifton College, helping to lay the foundation for an endowment fund that did
much to insure the financial stability of the school; and in her will she
provided for a generous sum to be given to her church.
When Martin died, the Sorenson property was sold; and Astrid spent the
remaining 24 years of her life in the home of her daughter, Mary Knudson. She
died on February 8, 1938, and was buried beside her husband in the Norse
Cemetery. The text for her funeral sermon was taken from the 13th chapter of
Psalms: "I have trusted in Thy mercy; my heart shall rejoice in Thy
salvation. I will sing unto the Lord, because He hath dealt bountifully with
me." The verses were a fitting summation of the lives of both Martin and
Astrid. They trusted in the Lord, and He dealt bountifully with them.
by Betty Knudson Edgar
Bosque County History Book Committee, compiler, Bosque County: Land and People
(Dallas; Curtis Media Corporation, 1985), 688.