Peter Gunnarson Rambo and Britta Mattsdotter

Peter Gunnarson Rambo was one of the first Swedes to settle on the Delaware and he became one of the most prominent. He was born in 1612 in Hisingen, Sweden. Hisingen is an island formed by the Göta River, and is now part of the city of Gothenburg.1 His adopted surname of Rambo was probably based on a place, such as the mountain near Hisingen called the Ramberget. In early 1640, as a young man, he came on the Kalmar Nyckel.  The ship originally sailed in September 1639, but twice it sprang leaks and had to turn back for repairs. It finally started across the Atlantic in February of 1640. According to one account, “The journey was far from pleasant for the Swedish colonists. The Dutch master of the ship spent his time smoking and drinking with the Company factor. They showed their dislike of the Swedes by scolding and cursing them. Both men were contemptuous of the Lutheran religion, and extremely disrespectful toward Rev. Torkillus who was being sent to a post in New Sweden. However, the ship safely reached port in New Sweden on 17 Apr 1640.”2

The Swedish colony was established at a time when Sweden was a strong power in Europe, due to the success of King Gustavus Adolphus in battle. His daughter Christina supported the idea of a colony in America, and Peter Minuit (formerly the Director in New Amsterdam) agreed to lead it. The first shipload of colonists arrived in 1638, but Minuit was killed in a hurricane on the return voyage. After that blow the colony floundered. The authorities in Sweden were reluctant to support the colony with shiploads of people, animals, or goods. Swedes were not eager to leave their country for an unknown adventure in a new colony. Some colonists came as workers for the Swedish West India Company; others were sent as punishment for various infractions. Peter Rambo, who came as a worker for the Company, became a leader in the new colony.

In 1683 Peter gave a deposition in the boundary dispute with Lord Baltimore, in which he gave more detail about the settlement. He signed it with his mark.

“In the year 1638 Came into this Countrey …two shipps, Who anchored in Cristina Creek & Lay thee six weeks and three days, supplying themselves with wood and water only, Expecting that if any under the crown of england had any just pretensions to the adjacent Lands, they might then have an Opportunity to Claime. At the expirations of the saids six weeks and three days and no body Claiming nor hindering they went a shoare and built a fort. Theafter they agreed with the Susqauhanna Indians and bought from them as much of the Adjacent Lands as they could shoot over with a Cannon bullet from Cristina… In the year 1639, 10th March one of the abovesaid shipps returned with Peter Holland deputy Governor for the Sweeds, Peter Rambo, Andrees Bown, and several other Sweeds, who bought Land from an Indian kind Named Kekesikkun… These Antient Sweeds doe Certify respectively from the time of their arrivall.”3

Once in America Peter settled in as a farmer. He had signed on with the Swedish West India Company as a farm hand, probably for a term of four years. He received 10 guilders each month as his wages. In 1643 and 1644 he sent part of this home to his father Gunnar Peterson. He was listed in the 1644 roll list of the colonists, taken by Governor Johan Printz, as a farmer and tobacco grower.4

According to the recollections of his grandson, who met the Swedish traveler Peter Kalm in 1749, Peter had brought apple seeds, other garden seeds, rye and barley. According to Kalm, “His grandfather has prospered, so that Governor Penn had often lodged at this house; and when the English first came here it had been rather difficult for some of them, so that Rambo not only helped them as much as he could, but for ten years gave to everyone that came to him free food and lodging. The old man was very kind, but liked to drink a bit at times.”5

He became a free man when his contract expired in November 1644, and settled on his own farm near Cobbs Creek, Kingsessing, part of present-day Philadelphia. In April 1647 he married Brita Mattsdotter, from Vasa, Sweden and they started their family. She may have come over as a servant to Mäns Nilsson Kling, commander of the Swedish fort.6

Governor Johan Printz led the colony after Minuit was killed. Printz was a forceful leader and alienated many of the colonists. In July 1653 twenty-two freemen, including Peter Rambo, signed a bill of complaint against Printz. They charged that he had forbidden the colonists from grinding their own grain at the mill, forbidden them from trading directly with the Indians, that they did not feel secure in their life and property, and more. Printz was furious, had Anders Jönsson, one of the ringleaders hanged, and threatened others. There were limits to what he could do, since the signers were fully one quarter of the adult male population of New Sweden.7

In 1655 there was a confrontation between the Swedes and Dutch. The Dutch under Peter Stuyvesant, after years of jostling with the Swedes over trade on the South River, finally determined to oust them. They raised a fleet of ships and sailed around the cape and up the South River, arriving in early September. The Indians, who favored the Swedes over the Dutch because of better treatment, warned the Swedish governor, Johan Rising, who had succeeded Printz. Rising made what preparations he could with his outnumbered force. He gathered the most loyal men, including Peter Rambo, and had them travel by boat and canoe from their settlements to Fort Christina, the chief fortification of the colony. A few days later the Dutch arrived and surrounded the fort with troops and cannons.8

For two weeks there were negotiations back and forth. Peter Rambo was in the thick of these. On September 7, he was part of a group of Swedes who met with Stuyvesant. They asserted the Swedish claims to the country and that they would defend it to the last. Stuyvesant was unmoved. A week later, facing mutiny and illness within the fort, Rising capitulated. A treaty was signed, on favorable terms to the Swedes, allowing them to keep their land and property and to manage their own affairs under the sovereignty of the Netherlands.9

After this the colony settled into a period of stability. In May 1656 Peter Rambo was selected as a magistrate.  He served on the court (the only court in the state until the arrival of William Penn) for 29 years, under Swedish, Dutch and English rule. The court heard all civil and criminal cases, levied taxes, arranged for roads to be built and named county officials.10 It was effectively the local government. Along with men like Peter Cock and Sven Skute, Peter Rambo was one of its leaders.

Peter was on good terms with the local Indians, the Lenni Lenape, and may have learned some of their language.  In 1671 murders by two drunken Indians had aroused fears in the colony. The official William Tom reported to the Governor Lovelace in New York that the Indians wished to avoid retribution. At a council at Peter Rambo’s, Tom met with the sachems, who promised within six days to bring the murderers. They fulfilled their promise, and warned their young men to avoid a similar fate. As Tom wrote, “How to believe them we know not, but the sachems seem to desire no war.”11

The good relations with the Indians were maintained by many interactions where both sides asserted their desire for peace. In May 1675 the magistrates, including Peter, were present at a conference between Governor Andros and the sachems of both sides of the river.12

“… The names of the Chiefs were Renowewan of Sawkin on the Eastern side, Ipan Kickan of Rancokeskill, Kitmarius of Soupnapka, Manickty of Rancokestill heretofore all of N. Jersy side. The Govenor declares his desire to continue in friendship with them & his readiness to protect them, and thanks them for their coming down….They by Israel Helme the Interpreter expresse their rediness to continue in good friendship, and return their thanks to the Governor. …They are told they must not kick the beasts or swine belonging to the Christians and the Christians shall not doe them any injury, but justice shall be done as they might see today in the case of Jam[es] Sandylands.13

The first sachem rises up and walks up and down taking notice of his old Acquaintance P. Rambo and Peter Cock, Lansa Cock with C. Cantwell then taking a band of sewant, he measured it from his neck to the length downward and said his heart should bee so long and so great to the Gov. and the Christians and should never forget the Gov. so presents the belt of wampum, throwing it at the Gov. feet. … The Gov. presents them with four Coates and four lappeloathes. They return thanks and fall a kintacooying with expressions of thanks, singing kenon, kenon.”14

When William Penn got his charter for Pennsylvania from King Charles in 1681, he invited Quakers to immigrate to the new colony, where they would have freedom to worship without persecution. Thousands responded, buying land and coming over in the summer of 1682 and 1683. Many came with few goods and none of them came with enough food to sustain them through their first winter, until they could raise a crop the next summer.  The Swedes and Indians were invaluable to the Quakers, selling them food and animals. Swedes like Lasse Cock and Peter Rambo smoothed the dealings of the Quakers with the Indians. In July 1683, when Penn bought land in present-day Delaware County from the Indians, Peter Rambo witnessed the sale, and probably acted as interpreter.15 In 1683 a Quaker who lived near the Swedes in Kingsessing wrote that, “Most of the Sweads and Finns are ingenious people: they speak English, Swead, Finn, Dutch and the Indian.”16

On January 11, 1683, many prominent Swedes, including Peter and his son Gunnar, were naturalized as English citizens, to have full privileges for owning their land and serving in the Assembly.17  Penn appreciated the Swedes and added Peter Rambo to a list of prominent people he “saluted” in a letter from London in March 1685.18 In 1683, Peter’s son Gunnar was on the jury when Pennsylvania’s only witchcraft trial came up for trial. Margaret Matson was accused of being a witch, and tried before the Provincial Council, with Penn himself presiding. Various people told stories about how she was believed to bewitch cows. In her defense she pointed out that the evidence against her was hearsay. The jury returned a verdict that she was guilty of having the fame of a witch but not of witchcraft.19

In 1685 another court case struck closer to home for Peter and his family. His son John, youngest of his four sons, was sued by Bridget Cock and her father Peter for breach of promise and for ruining her reputation. He had opened a plank in the roof, jumped down into her bedroom, and stayed until morning. He promised to marry her, but did not. She bore his child, sued him again when he attempted to marry another woman, and forced him to marry her. They went on to have eleven children and moved to Gloucester County, New Jersey, where John served on the West Jersey Assembly. Emotions had run high in the trial. Bridget’s father Peter was fined for swearing at the court. This must have strained the relation between the Rambo and Cock families, in spite of the marriages between their children.

In 1693 Peter was an old man. It must have been a surprise to him to receive a letter from his sister back in Sweden, whom he had not seen in over 50 years. He immediately replied to her, in a letter that has been preserved in the Riksarkivet (Royal Archives) in Stockholm, along with letters written at the same time by his fellow colonists Charles Springer and Lars Cock.20 At the time when the letter was written, Peter was about 81 years old. His wife and third daughter were alive, but they died before he wrote his will on 3 Aug 1694.

“Highly honored Dear Sister: Greetings in God almighty! Your letter, dear Sister, came into my hands here the 23rd of May, dated Gothenburg, the 16th of November 1692. From this letter I understand your temporal condition. That you are still alive, God be praised; which makes me, my wife, and children glad at heart, that I might once again be permitted to hear of your condition and the Fatherland, before it pleases God to call me from this world.

“lnasmuch as I have also understood from your letter that you now, and for some years past, have lost your eyesight and hearing (which comes as a great blow for me to hear); and you write to me that I should support you with assistance in your poverty, which I should with all my heart to do, but there is now such discord, war, and naval warfare that there would be great doubt whether you should receive it or not. I have already sent you money several times, but I understand from your letter that you have received none of it.  Therefore I beg you, Dear Sister, to have patience until I can hear from you again, and safer conditions may be found for my letters and what I send you.

“Now what concerns my trade and conduct, and what my life has been here in this land. I have been here in this country 54 years last March. When I had been here for eight years I entered the state of holy matrimony with Britta Mattzdotter, who (God he praised) is still living. She also came from Sweden, from Vasa, whom I have lived with in harmony and love for forty-six years, and have had with her four daughters and four sons, but the one daughter when she was eight years old fell asleep in the Lord.  And so I have still four living sons and three living daughters. All are well provided for and live in plenty with their husbands, wives, and children, so that now from my lineage there are living thirty-seven souls of my children’s children.

“And I have served faithfully, both the Swedish regime, the Holland Dutch, and now the English. I also sat on the court for twenty-nine years, both in the Swedes’ and the Hollanders’ time; for the Dutch had a rule that no case should he decided at court unless the Swedes had their voice in it – but now I am old and can no longer endure that toil.

“Our nations also live faithfully with one another, both in harmony and affection. Our land is a very splendid fruitful land, so that we have no lack of anything on which the sustenance of our bodies and lives depends, for the nearby islands are fed by us with the land’s goods, with seed, flour, and beer. We have cause also to thank God that we live in harmony, affection, and faithfulness with the Indians, while the surrounding lands and neighbors have had great duress from the Indians; and I may truthfully say, that God has wonderfully preserved and shielded us and has shown a peculiar grace toward us in this heathenish land.

“Nothing more occurs to me to write this time, but my dear wife and children send greetings to you and all good friends who may or can be found living, hoping for and awaiting your reply by the first ship that can come. Commending you to the protection and care of God Almighty,

“Always remaining your most obedient brother until death,”

{Signed Petter Gunnarson Rambo}

He added a postscript to John Thelin, the postmaster in Gothenburg, thanking him for delivering the letter to his sister and for appealing to the Swedish King for books and ministers for the Church.

The early Swedish settlers brought their Lutheran faith with them to Pennsylvania. They built a log church on Tinicum Island, in the Delaware River, in 1646. The second church was built at Wicaco in 1677, now part of south Philadelphia. Later churches followed, including Gloria Dei, built in 1698, and Old Swedes Church in Wilmington, Delaware.21 The churches were the center of social life for these families for a hundred years – serving as the site for marriages, funerals and christenings. The Rambo family were supporters of the church. Peter’s son Peter served as church warden, and Peter himself asked to be buried in the churchyard.

Between 1669 and 1682 Peter acquired three large tracts of land and smaller tracts of marsh. He bought 300 acres in Passyunk in 1669, on the east side of the Schuylkill, and moved his family there from Kingsessing. He later added another 233 acres of adjoining land. He attempted to buy 250 acres in Wicaco in 1677, but a court later ruled that the Swansons held prior rights to the land. In 1682 Peter bought 625 acres in Gloucester County, West Jersey. These tracts went to his sons in his will.22

Peter’s wife Britta died in October 1693. They had been married for over 45 years. Peter then lived with his son Anders. Peter died in January 1698, at age 85.23 He and Britta were buried together at the church at Wicaco, now Gloria Dei.24 Peter left a will, proved in Philadelphia County in 1698. He named his six living children, four sons and two married daughters. He left land to three of the sons, and the remainder of his property to be shared equally by the six children.25 Besides his legacy of service as a citizen and magistrate, Peter and Britta left a substantial heritage in form of their numerous descendants.

Children of Peter and Britta:26

Gunnar, b. Jan 6 1648/49, d. 1724, m. in 1670 Anna Cock, daughter of Peter Cook and Margaret Lom. Lived in Shackamaxon. In 1685 served in the Pennsylvania Assembly. Supported Gloria Dei Church with contributions. Later moved to Upper Merion. He died in January 1724 at the age of 75. Anna died before him. Children: John, Peter, Gunnar, Anders, Måns, Brigitta, Gabriel, Matthias, Elias.

Gertrude, b. 1650, d. after 1705, m. in 1668 Anders Bengtsson; he had arrived in 1656 on the Mercurius; lived in Moyamensing; Anders was a church warden and lay reader at Wicaco, a Court justice and in the Assembly for three terms. Children: Children: Bengt, Anders, Peter, Catherine, John, Jacob, Brigitta, Daniel. Drowned in the Delaware River in 1705. His wife survived him. Descendants used the name Bankson or Bankston.27

Peter, b. 1653, d. 1729, m. Magdalena Skute, daughter of Sven Skute; Capt. Skute was chief military officer under the Swedish regime. In 1677 a warrant was issued to “Pelle Rambo” for 300 acres. In 1678 the land, called Ramsdorp, was surveyed from the Pennypack Creek  northeast along the Delaware.28 He died there in December 1729. Active in Gloria Dei Church, as a warden, assisting the minister, contributing for the building. Served in the Assembly for one term in 1709. His wife survived him. Children: Sven, Brigitta, Peter, Anders, Elias, Jacob, John.

Catherine, b. ab. 1655, m. in 1674 Peter Mattsson Dalbo, son of Matts Hansson.29Called Dalbo from his stepfather, Anders Larsson Dalbo. Owned land in Passyunk and on Little Mantua Creek, Gloucester County, NJ. Served in the NJ Assembly. He died in late 1699. She died after 1709. They were devoted to the church and two of their daughters married ministers. Children (surname Mattson): Brigitta, Elisabeth, Catherina, Maria, Peter, Matthias, Margaret, Johan, Jacob.

Anders, b. 1658, d. 1698, m. Maria Cock, daughter of Peter Larsson Cock and Margaret Lom. Anders died in 1698; his wife was living in April 1717. The heirs divided his 400-acre estate in Passyunk. Children: John, Anders, Peter, Brigitta, Maria, Martha.

John, b. 1661, buried 17 Oct 1741, m. Brigitta Cock, daughter of Peter Larsson Cock and Margaret Lom. In 1685 Brigitta and her father sued John for damages after she bore John’s child and he was unwilling to marry her. Faced with the court fine and the order to maintain the child, John married Brigitta, probably in 1686. They settled in Gloucester County, NJ on land given to John by his father. Brigitta died in 1726. John served in the West Jersey Assembly. In 1740, as an old man, he gave testimony in the boundary dispute between Pennsylvania and Maryland over the three lower counties. Brigitta died in 1726. Children: Brigitta, Catherine, Margaret, John, Peter, Maria, Elisabeth, Anders, Gabriel, Martha, Deborah.

a daughter who married Anders Nilsson Friend, son of Nils Larsson Fränd.30 Lived in Ridley Township, Chester County, then in New Castle County. The wife died between May 1693, when Peter wrote to his sister in Sweden, and August 1694, when he wrote his will. Anders married again, ended up on the Potomac in Virginia. He had children Israel, Charles and Mary (surname Friend), probably with his second wife Isabel, possibly a daughter of Israel Helm.

a daughter who died at the age of 8 years

  1. There is a plethora of source material for the Rambo family. The best source is the massive family tree compiled by Beverly Rambo, and supplemented by Ron Beatty, here called Rambo Family Tree. The several sections are available in published form and as downloads at (as of 2/6/18). The dean of Swedish researchers was the late Peter Stebbins Craig, with his series of articles on Swedish forefathers, originally published in Swedish Colonial News, as well his 1693 Census of the Swedes on the Delaware, and 1671 Census of the Delaware. Many other sources exist, both original records and compiled histories: Craig Horle’s Lawmaking and Legislators in Pennsylvania, land records such as Philadelphia county deeds and the early Minutes of the Board of Property, wills and administrations, records of the Upland Court, histories of the Swedes such as Linn and Egle’s Dutch and Swedish Settlements, the work of Amandus Johnson, the diary of Peter Kalm, numerous published county, city and township histories.
  2. Amandus Johnson, Swedes on the Delaware 1638-1664,  1915.
  3. A.R. Dunlap & C.A. Weslager, “More missing evidence: Two depositions by early Swedish settlers”, Penna. Magazine of History and Biography, 1967, vol. 91(1), now online at Notice that Peter is certifying some events that happened before he actually arrived.
  4. Rambo Family Tree, p. 8. Each of the pdf files starts with a biography of Peter Rambo. The page numbers given here are from volume 2.
  5. Peter Kalm, Travels in North America, 1966, Dover Publications, vol. 2, pp. 712-13.
  6. Rambo Family Tree, p. 10.
  7. Amandus Johnson, Swedish Settlements on the Delaware, 1915, pp. 239-240.
  8. Amandus Johnson, Chapter VIII.
  9. Amandus Johnson, Chapter VIII.
  10. Rambo Family Tree, p. 13.
  11. George Smith, History of Delaware County, 1862.
  12. By now the Dutch had been ousted by the English, and Edmund Andros was governor of the English colonies from New England.
  13. James Sandilands was a prominent merchant of Upland, brought before the Upland Court on a charge of manslaughter in the case of the death of an Indian. Several days later he was let off with a fine. ( Edmund O’Callaghan, Calendar of Hist Mss in the office of the Secretary of State, Albany, 1865.) The case was tried at the house of Peter Rambo.
  14. New York Colonial Documents, Vol. XII, p. 523, reprinted in NJ Archives ,Series 1, Vol. 1, p. 182.
  15. Pennsylvania Archives, 1:1, pp. 65-66. Since Lasse Cock, the usual interpreter, was not present, either Rambo or Swan Swanson (the other English witness) must have interpreted.
  16. Peter Craig, 1693 Census of Swedes on the Delaware, 1993, p. 7.
  17. Papers of William Penn.
  18. By then Penn was back in England, contesting the boundary dispute with Lord Baltimore. Papers of William Penn, vol. 4.
  19. Minutes of the Provincial Council. Lasse Cock was the interpreter for some of the Swedes who did not speak English.
  20. Translated by Dr. Richard Hulan; published in Peter S. Craig, 1693 census of Swedes on the Delaware, 1993, pp. 161-62.
  21. Letter from Peter Craig to Ron Beatty, Rambo Family Tree, p. 18.
  22. Rambo Family Tree, p. 16-17.
  23. The dates are from four pages of death records from the old church book of Gloria Dei (now lost), copied before 1800 and filed with the papers of Amandus Johnson at the Balch Institute in Philadelphia. (Rambo Family Tree, p. 7)
  24. The location of their graves is unknown. The story that he is buried under the altar is probably untrue. See the page of rumors on the Rambo website (footnote 1).
  25. Philadelphia County Wills. The original is hard to read, but the Rambo Family Tree has a transcription on pages 18-19.
  26. The last two were not listed in Peter Craig, “Peter Gunnarsson Rambo”, Swedish Colonial News, Vol. 1(2), Fall 1990. Details of the children’s lives are from Craig, 1693 Census…, pp. 27-28, 33, 67, and the Rambo Family Tree, pp. 22-39.
  27. Peter Craig, 1693; Craig Horle, Lawmaking and Legislators in PA, vol. 1, as Andrew Bankson.
  28. Joseph Martindale, History of Byberry and Moreland.
  29. Matts Hansson signed the 1653 protest against Governor Printz and afterwards fled toward Maryland, but was killed by Indians who were acting for the Swedish authorities. His widow Margaret married Anders Larsson Dalbo. (Craig, 1993, pp. 66-67.)
  30. Peter Craig decided on this marriage between 1993, when it was not listed in his 1693 Census of Swedes on the Delaware, and 1997, when he wrote about it in a letter to Ron Beatty. (Rambo Family Tree, p. 66).

4 thoughts on “Peter Gunnarson Rambo and Britta Mattsdotter”

    1. Hi Sally. Are you asking about the authorship of this blog? I do not make a big deal out of it, but my name is Sue Long. I wrote all of these blog pieces.

  1. Delightful reading about my 11th Generation Forefather. Is there an image of his mark from his “mark” on his letter to his sister in Sweden?

    1. I don’t remember offhand, but I will check my records and let you know. As I recall, the letter is preserved in a library in Sweden. Did you try an Internet search?

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