Atlantic History The Swedish Atlantic World
Gunlög Fur
  • LAST MODIFIED: 20 February 2024
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199730414-0403


Sweden’s involvement in the formation of an Atlantic world of circulation, travel, and commerce followed upon the formal establishment of a kingdom in the early 16th century and subsequent interests in expanding the kingdom’s territories and strategic footholds in all geographical directions. While formal colonies constituted only a small part of the country’s investment in the Atlantic world, a wider and more significant involvement occurred through trade and travel and the circulation of goods, narratives, and objects which contributed to the development of a transatlantic consciousness in Sweden. Interest and investment in trade included exporting iron and copper from Swedish mines and importing sugar, cotton, and tobacco. Swedish ships sailed the transatlantic routes, carried goods, and enslaved people from West African harbors to the Caribbean and the American mainland. Knowledge of the vast amounts of gold and silver pouring into Spain from its claims in South America inspired royal officers and merchants to seek and invest in silver and copper mining in northern Scandinavia, hoping for glorious profits. They followed the events of the American War of Independence and Sweden was the first foreign power to formally recognize the new nation. Stories, novels, images, and objects from the colonies near and far adorned curiosity cabinets and entertained an increasing number of readers and contributed to spreading awareness and knowledge of the existence of places far away across the Atlantic. By the mid-19th century, the large-scale emigration to North America constituted the dominating feature of Swedish Atlantic presence. That, however, falls beyond the scope of this article. Three larger trends can be discerned in the interest of scholarship since 2000. One is a sustained interest in the New Sweden colony but with a greater focus on materiality and circulation, while an interest in emphasizing a bilateral US-Swedish history suffuses commemorations. The second trend consists of a concerted effort at analyzing and making available the records pertaining to St. Barthélemy and Sweden’s involvement in the slave trade. Both New Sweden and St. Barthélemy are increasingly interpreted in terms of Sweden’s complicity in the creation of an early modern colonial world and often discussed in the context of specificities and commonalities among the Nordic countries. The third trend is a movement away from methodological nationalism toward greater emphasis on global interactions and entanglements, with studies on the circulation of objects, ideas, goods, and faiths.

General Overview on Archival Sources

In general, Swedish archival sources are abundant and holdings have not been interrupted by wars or disasters, although a major fire destroyed the royal castle in 1697 including valuable 17th-century records. Documents concerning New Sweden are primarily found in the National Archives in Stockholm under the heading Handel och Sjöfart, no. 194–196: Kolonier, Nya Sverige I-III. Other collections, such as letters to Axel Oxenstierna and Per Brahe, are also in the National Archives. Manuscript Collections at Uppsala University Library and at the Royal Library (Rålambska samlingen) in Stockholm contain letters, descriptions, and maps referring to New Sweden, and to the Indigenous peoples living there. The Uppsala Arch Diocese Records, at the Uppsala Landsarkiv, contain letters from Swedish pastors sent out to the congregations in America, under the heading Handlingar angående svenska församlingar i Amerika F VIII. For St. Barthélemy, the archival holdings at the French National Colonial Archives (Archive National d’outre mer) in Aix-en-Provence contain the Fonds suédois de Saint-Barthélemy and consists of 327 volumes, approximately 130 linear feet, of documentation from the island under Swedish administration. The archive has recently been catalogued and made available for research through the efforts of Fredrik Thomasson, eloquently presented in “The Caribbean Scorpion: The Saint-Barthélemy Archive and Swedish Colonial Amnesia,” Small Axe 24:2 (2020): 53–66. Records for the Swedish Africa Company are generally limited. Parts of a copy book can be found in Handel och Sjöfart, no. 42–45, at the National Archives, and an account book for 1645–1654 are in Leufstaarkivet. Records from the East India Company (EIC), Dutch East India Company) VOC, and the Dutch West India Company (WIC), housed in Dutch, German, and Danish archives, are valuable as these records to a significant degree mention the Swedish Africa Company (SAK). There is a large collection of published primary sources relating to all the Swedish overseas engagements. The ones listed below have been deemed to be the most useful or contain references that lead to other collections and publications.

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