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Pioneer Icelandic Pastor, The Life of the Reverend Paul Thorlaksson

Updated: May 27, 2020

Have you read the book, Pioneer Icelandic Pastor, The Life of the Reverend Paul Thorlaksson by George J Houser? It is a treasure. This book, written in English, has significantly increased my knowledge about the early Icelandic pioneers and their religious life.

Séra Páll Þorláksson

The front dust jacket has the following blurb:


“The Reverend Paul Thorlaksson was one of the best known and most controversial figures among the early Icelandic pioneers in North America. He was a man of resolute spiritual conviction and extraordinary compassion, and he worked tirelessly for the well-being of Icelanders who migrated to the United States and Canada during the late 1800s. He founded the Icelandic settlement at Mountain, North Dakota, where a monument has been erected in tribute to his religious and community leadership.

He is also remembered as being at the centre of the “religious controversy” in New Iceland (Gimli, Manitoba), where he ministered to many of the settlers and travelled long miles on foot to conduct services and provide solace. While his motives were sometimes misunderstood or willfully misrepresented during a determined campaign to discredit him, his determination and steadfast faith were a source of strength to people suffering from the harsh climate, disease, and poverty.

Dr. George J Houser’s biography of the Reverend Paul Thorlaksson is a rich and well-researched story of a remarkable man. It is also a rare and often poignant picture of the hardships endured by immigrants in a new land.”


In Iceland, his name is spelled Páll Þorláksson. Information from Hálfdan Helgason states that Páll was born 13 Nov 1849 at Stangarbakka at Húsavík.

On 13 June 1872, a small group of seventeen people left Eyrarbakki for Wisconsin including the pioneer pastor, Hans B. Thorgrimsen, who served our ND parish for many years. Hans was a cousin to Páll.

Séra Páll (Reverend Paul) is known as the ”Father of the Icelandic Dakota Settlement.” His homestead was in ”Vik”, which is now called Mountain. Séra Páll is buried in the Vikur cemetery in Mountain, ND.

This book begins with the early years in Páll’s life while in Iceland and his immigration to America. There are photos and a great deal of information from letters and articles written by the important leaders of that day. The religious conflict between the pioneers in America is of great interest to me and there is quite a bit about these struggles in the book. You can read about his leadership and how he encouraged and assisted the Icelanders in Dakota. Then, at the end, we read about his early death from tuberculosis, how he sacrificed for the good of his kinsmen, and much more.

I highly recommend this book. To order your own copy, you can try a local library, mine came from ABE Books at this link:

Or contact H.P. Tergesen & Sons; 82 – 1st Ave, Gimli, Manitoba. Phone: 204-642-5958. Email:

Email us your questions or join the conversation on our Facebook Group.

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