Johannes Jensen, Company Fiddler and Drummer

How do I begin to explain that musical ability was the talent that brought success to the life of Johannes Jensen? I guess I will start at the beginning.

Johannes, no middle name, Jensen is my 3x great grandfather, born 27 April 1810 in Copenhagen, Denmark. The Johnson/Jensen family was my brick wall for thirty years. It has only been during the past four years that the wall came crumbling down, bit by bit.

My grandmother, Hazel Coleman Adams, was musically inclined. She had a piano in the basement which she played regularly. I remember her showing me middle C and teaching me to play a simple song like “America,” (My Country ‘Tis of Thee). I have no musical talent whatsoever so my lessons never went further. I have wondered through the years where she got her natural abilities in both music and art.

Now I have an answer and it is Johannes Jensen. I’ve written posts about Johannes and my Danish research multiple times, but I’ve never taken the time to outline what Johannes’s life was really like.

He received only two things from his parents, and they weren’t love and a home. His unwed mother gave birth to him in the Den Kgl. Fodselsstiftelsse, the Hospital for Unwed Mothers established by the Danish king in the 1750’s. Kirsten Jorgensdatter promptly signed rights over to the wife of Master Tanner Zinn.

Entrance to former Unwed Mothers’ Hospital
Copenhagen, Denmark in May 2014

What did he receive from his father, Jens Jensen Lundqvist? More about that in a bit.

Kirsten Jorgensdatter likely thought that baby Johannes would be cared for by the Zinn family and that, when the time came, he would be apprenticed and learn the tanning trade. That was not to be, as Master Zinn died by the time Johannes was five years old.

No records have been found from 1815 until March 1826 when a not-quite- sixteen year old Johannes entered the Danish army. I believe that Mrs. Zinn, with a couple of her own children to feed and raise, probably sent Johannes to the Copenhagen orphanage. No direct records exist in terms of day-to-day lists of its residents.

There are confirmation records – every child would have been baptized and confirmed in that era, regardless of family circumstances. However, much to my chagrin, about a decade’s worth of confirmation records for the orphanage are lost and it is precisely in that time period that Johannes would have been confirmed. A search of confirmation records in all the other parishes in Copenhagen has not turned up any likely candidates to be my Johannes.

Now back to the gift that Johannes received from his father. There is an odd second entry in Johannes’ birth record at the Fodselsstiftelsse. A note was added ten years after he was born, in 1820. This second entry actually names his mother – women could choose to remain anonymous when giving birth at the hospital and Kirsten initially chose to do so. Besides naming Kirsten, her age is given AND it mentions the fact that she is living in the area with the child’s father. The unnamed father agreed to provide one outfit of clothing for Johannes. This is a second clue that makes me think he was living in the orphanage.

Johannes’ entry at top
Note different ink between 1810 & 1820 entries

The relationship between Johannes’s parents was interesting, to say the least. Jens married (1) Inger Andersdatter in Helsingor, Frederiksborg, Denmark on 24 August 1801. They had at least three children together before Inger died on 12 July 1809 in Helsingor. There is no way to know how Jens felt about the loss of his wife, but the timing of Johannes’s birth at the end of April 1810 indicates that he quickly traveled to Copenhagen and had a relationship with Kirsten.

There is also no way to know whether or not Jens was aware that Kirsten was pregnant with his child, but exactly one week after Kirsten gave birth, on 4 May 1810, Jens married  Anna Dorthea Gyse back in Helsingor. Jens and Anna Dorthea had no children together and no burial record has been found for her.

However, the records of Vor Frelser Church in Copenhagen do contain an entry of the marriage of Jens Jensen Lundqvist and Kirsten Jorgensdatter on 13 August 1824.

They obviously maintained a long term on-off relationship. The fact that Jens agreed to provide an outfit of clothing for ten year old Johannes is proof that, by 1820, he was indeed aware that he had a son. However, it doesn’t appear that Jens and Kirsten were interested in claiming any parental rights and I have found no crumbs of information leading me to believe that Johannes ever even knew who his parents were.

No burial record has been found for Kirsten, but Jens died on 22 December 1839 and was buried in Vor Frelser parish. However, his burial record does not indicate if he was married or a widower. It also appears that Johannes was the only child born to Kirsten Jorgensdatter.

At this time in Danish history, children born to unwed mothers, or outright orphans, had little chance to move up the social or economic ladders. A military career was the exception to this situation and this was the path that Johannes chose for his life.

In late March of 1826, a few weeks before his 16th birthday, Johannes entered Danish military service and became a career soldier. Given the circumstances of his early life, it is extremely unlikely that he had any formal musical training.  However, he must have had some innate talent because his military records indicate that he was the company fiddler and drummer. Until modern times, the company musician held an important job as it was their duty to keep the unit marching in order, whether they were on guard duty or heading into battle.

Danish Military Card Index to Underofficers

Notice the left card under “Johannes” is written “Tamb” for “stabstambor” or “drummer.” The card on the right says “Spillemand” or “fiddler.”

Johannes spent his entire career stationed in the old historic area of Copenhagen. The 1840 and 1850 censuses list the street address of each family. Johannes was unmarried in 1840, but his address was the same before and after marriage. He lived in the army barracks at Rosenborg Slot, or Rosenborg Castle.

The barracks were built in the 1600’s and are still used for military housing today.

Army Barracks at Rosenborg Castle

I visited Copenhagen last year and, while I was walking the grounds of Rosenborg Slot, I heard fife and drum-type of music nearby.

Sounds of Music Behind Barracks Wall, left

I was in this garden when I looked around and saw the soldiers’ heads marching by for the Changing of the Guard. How fortuitous that we happened to be at the castle right at that moment! I can see Johannes marching that same path 165 years ago. That was his job.

Being MUSICAL opened a lifetime career for Johannes Jensen, a young boy who had to create his own path to success.

Photos were taken by Dave on our spring 2014 trip.

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