The service is over, and 25-year-old Ole is standing outside the Biri church. An ice-cold breeze from Mjøsa makes him shiver. It is Feb. 25, 1814, and Norway's first national elections have been held at Biri church. He is just old enough to vote, but does not meet all the requirements. He is 25 years old, but is neither married nor a landlord. Standing there, Ole hears that Bailiff Poul Heltzen Flor and farmer Anders Lysgaard are rumored to have been chosen to be among the nominees for the electoral vote. On March 14t, 1814, local elections were held in order for the electorates to be chosen from the men of the various parishes. This election took place at the Hund farm in Vardal, and thus a representative from the district was elected to the National Assembly. There were only weeks left until everyone was to congregate in Eidsvoll.


This year, we are celebrating 200 years since Norway established it’s own constitution. It was not until 1905, however, that we gained our independence. The Black Death reduced the population of Norway sharply in 1349, and we were unable to rise up again as an autonomous nation. In 1380, we were joined in union with Denmark, and then with Sweden in 1814.

In the latter half of the 1700s there were two revolutions in the world that inspired the Norwegian people to seek their independence from Denmark; the American Revolution in 1776 and the French Revolution in 1789. Norway later based their constitution on the principles of these revolutions - liberty, equality and fraternity.

The early 1800s brought the Napoleonic wars to Europe. The two great powers, France and Great Britain, were the main players at the start, but more countries were eventually involved. A trade blockade in the North Sea pressured Denmark-Norway to join Napoleon in 1807, thus making Great Britain an enemy. In 1807, Great Britain seized the Danish-Norwegian fleet, and in 1808 Denmark-Norway went to war against Sweden.

Ole Tostensen Gullord

But let us go back to Ole who is standing outside the church in Biri. He was born in 1788 and married on Nov. 24, 1814 at the Biri church to Randi Pedersdatter from the upper Gullord farm. Although he was born on a croft under Lønnum farm, he married above his station in life. At the time of the wedding ceremony, he was actually a servant at Svennes, and Lysgaard was his best man at the wedding ceremony. In 1815, his son Tosten was born at Gullord, followed by Peder (b. 1818), Ingeborg (b. 1821), Even (b. 1824) and Henrich (b. 1826), all of whom were born at Strandbakke. The littlest girl, Marthe, was born at upper Gullord in 1830.

In 1846, Ole’s son Even Olsen Gullord decided to emigrate to America. He settled on Coon Prairie in 1848. Even's parents, Ole and Randi emigrated afterwards in 1849 with Ingeborg, Henrick and Marthe. Peder emigrated in 1850, thus bringing the whole family together again in the area called Coon Prairie in Wisconsin.

Tosten Olsen Gullord married Berte Evensdatter Galtestad (b. 1813). They emigrated to America with their children Regine (b. 1839), Ole (b. 1840) and Even (b. 1843). Their youngest child, Bergine, was born in the United States.

Tosten and Berthe's son, Ole Tostensen Gullord (1840-1890) called himself Ole Tostensen Westby in America. He started a general store at Coon Prairie in 1867, and the town of Westby, Wisconsin was named after him.

Biri 1814

So let us return once again to Biri, and more importantly to March 14, 1814 in Vardal. Here, it was decided that Anders Lysgaard would be the district representative to the National Assembly which was founded on April 10. He was born in Tretten in 1756, and baptized August 15 under the name of Andreas, son of Erich Jefne, as it is registered in the church records. His mother was Ingeborg Iversdatter Bøe. The family later moved to Lysgaard in Fåberg. In 1786, Anders Lysgaard moved to Svennes in Biri when he married Ingeborg Larsdatter (1771-1858). They took over the farm Svennes from Ingeborg's father. On February 1, 1814, Svennes was blessed with an honored guest. Prince Christian Fredrik stopped there on a trip to Trondheim to eat dinner.

At the National Assembly in 1814, Lysgaard represented the Independent Party. Anders Lysgaard was also elected to the first parliament in 1814, but from 1815-1816, he had to decline due to an illness. Lysgaard was sheriff in Biri for a while and he also received the Order of Dannebrog in 1812 in recognition of his having repaired local roads and building a bridge over the River Vismunda. Ingeborg and Anders Lysgaard had no children of their own, but took in a foster son who later inherited the entire farm. Anders Lysgaard died in 1827.

17 of May

As previously mentioned, the National Assembly gathered in Eidsvoll on April 10, 1814. On the 17th of May, 112 representatives established the Norwegian constitution. The Danish prince Christian Fredrik was elected King of Norway. By October of that year, however, he had to return to Denmark as Norway was joined in union with Sweden. King Carl XIII was now King of Norway, but in reality, it was the adopted son Karl Johan who ruled, as the King was ill. Karl Johan was born in Paris on Jan. 26, 1763 as Jean Baptiste Bernadotte. Jean volunteered to enlist as a soldier in 1780 when he was just a teenager. Bernadotte rose quickly through the ranks and in 1788 he attained the degree of staff sergeant. The summer of 1789 brought revolution in France, and the values of freedom, equality and fraternity, became important catalysts for change. As the son of a citizen, the young soldier put freedom and justice high up on his priority of values. Having a military career was usually reserved for the nobility, but the revolution opened up new opportunities. In 1794, Bernadotte was appointed Divisional General.

Karl Johan was strongly against the celebration of the 17 of May. On the 17 of May, 1829, there was a so-called, “demonstration”, as people gathered at the quay in Oslo to celebrate the new steamship, Constitusione, which was docked there. One of the demonstrators there, Henrik Wergeland, was said to have called out, "Long live the Constitution". He might have been referring to the actual Constitution, and not the ship in this context. After a while, the group moved up to Stortorget in Christiania, where they continued their celebration. Karl Johan sent in military force to disperse those gathered there.

Henrik Wergeland (1808-1845) was the son of Nicolai Wergeland, another citizen of Eidsvoll. He was one of Anders Lysgaard's fiercest opponents, and was a member of the opposing party, the Union Party. Nicolai Wergeland did not come from a wealthy background, but his marriage to Alette Dorothea Thaulow brought him into the upper social circles. He was a pastor in Eidsvoll from 1817, and died there in 1848. The 17 of May was probably celebrated as early as 1815, but it was only in 1836 that it officially became a National Day. Henrik Wergeland held the first official speech on The 17 of May, 1833, when the Krogh statue was erected in memory of parliamentary president Christian Krogh (1777-1828) and unveiled in Christiania. When Karl Johan died in 1844, his son Oscar overtook the throne and allowed Norwegians to freely celebrate the 17 of May (Syttende Mai).

Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson, a Norwegian poet, is credited with starting the first official children’s parade (barnetoget) in Christiania in 1870. Bjørnson also wrote the Norwegian national anthem, “Ja, vi elsker”, in 1859. Richard Nordraak composed music to it in 1863.

The Commemoration of the Constitution on the 17th of May, 2014

In Norway we celebrate our Independence Day a little differently than in other countries. A big military parade is not at the center of the celebration, but instead, a children’s parade. This year, more work will go into the celebration than ever, as it has been 200 years since the Constitution was signed at Eidsvoll. The Eidsvoll building (Eidsvollsbygningen) has been fully restored back to what it was in 1814. Across the country that day will be commemorated and not just on the date of May 17, but also the days leading up to the signing of the Constitution, from February until the 17 of May.


Westby Times editor

Dorothy Robson is editor of the Westby Times. Contact her at 608-637-5625.

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