One of the most successful movie franchises is the Rambo franchise, starring Sylvester Stallone as Vietnam war veteran John Rambo. We were first introduced to John Rambo in the novel First Blood by David Morrell, published in 1972. Since then, John Rambo has appeared in four movies: First Blood (1982), which was an adaptation of the novel, Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985), Rambo III (1988) and finally Rambo (2008). But did you know that the name Rambo was introduced to North America by a Swedish immigrant in the seventeenth century?
In 1640 the ship Kalmar Nyckel arrived in the Delaware River carrying settlers from Sweden. One of the passengers was Peter Gunnarsson Rambo, a twenty-eight year old unmarried man intending to settle in this new world.
Peter Gunnarsson Rambo was born in 1612 on the island of Hisingen, outside of the newly founded city of Gothenburg. It is not known why he left Sweden for North America, but what we do know is that he took the name “Rambo” when he arrived in Delaware. In Sweden he had been known as Peter Gunnarsson.
The name Rambo is most likely derived from the place where Peter Gunnarsson Rambo was born, Ramberget. Ramberget is a rock on the island of Hisingen, today a part of the city of Gothenburg. The name means “Raven’s rock”. In Swedish the suffix -bo means “homestead” or “farm”. Consequently, “Rambo” means the “Raven’s homestead”.
When Peter Gunnarsson Rambo arrived in Delaware he was one of a couple of hundred settlers in the Swedish colony of New Sweden. The colony of New Sweden existed between 1638 and 1655 on the river Delaware where the states of Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Maryland today border on one another. Cities such as New Castle, Wilmington and Philadelphia were founded on top of Swedish seventeenth-century settlements.
Sweden during the seventeenth century was one of the major political players in Northern Europe. Sweden had been on the victorious side of the Thirty Years War (1618–1648) and controlled the entire Baltic Sea. The country wished to compete with England, France and the Netherlands on equal terms. One way of doing so was to found colonies in North America.
Even though Sweden was politically powerful, it was economically weak. The national economy could not sustain settlements on the other side of the world. Moreover, the colony on the riverbank of the Delaware was seen as a provocation by the Dutch. Consequently, in 1655 the colony was lost and became part of the New Netherlands.
After the Dutch take over, many of the settlers, including Governor Johan Risingh, returned to Sweden. Peter Gunnarsson Rambo decided to stay, having married Brita Matsdotter in 1647. Peter Gunnarsson Rambo died in 1698 and is buried together with Brita in the Gloria Dei (Old Swedes’) Church in Philadelphia.
Peter and Brita had six children who reached adult age: Gunnar, Andreas, Peter, Gertrude, Katharine and John.
John Rambo (1661–1741) became a politician and was elected to the council of New Jersey. He married Birgitta Cock, also of Swedish origin, and together they had eleven children.
Today the descendants of Peter Gunnarsson Rambo constitute one of the largest and most thoroughly researched families in the United States.
In the words of my friend, the Australian, I shall return.
Images of Sylvester Stallone, Ramberget and map of Sweden’s Empire have been downloaded from Wikimedia Commons.