Jón Sigurðsson was born in 1811 at Hrafnseyri in Arnarfjörður in the West Fjords, where he lived until 1829. During his early years, Jón was acquainted with people at Hrafnseyri who were known for their erudition and enquiring minds; they also possessed old Icelandic manuscripts which had been passed down through the generations. This early experience of an atmosphere of eagerness to learn, and acquaintance with historic manuscripts, no doubt kindled Jón’s interest in Icelandic studies, which he would pursue for the rest of his life.
In the spring of 1829 Jón left home for Reykjavík, where he took his matriculation examinations for entrance to university in Denmark. He then worked in the P. C. Knudtzon store in Reykjavík. A year later he was engaged as secretary to Steingrímur Jónsson, Bishop of Iceland, who owned one of Iceland’s most extensive libraries of books and manuscripts. Jón had free access to these, and also learned much from the bishop, who was one of the most learned Icelanders of his time.
In 1833 Jón Sigurðsson sailed to Copenhagen, where he studied linguistics and history. But before long he was busy with a variety of scholarly tasks, such as making copies of manuscripts, and for that reason he never completed his degree.
In 1845 Jón married Ingibjörg Einarsdóttir. They settled in Copenhagen, where they lived for the rest of their lives. The couple were close, and ready to assist their fellowcountrymen in many ways. Visitors were frequent in their home, and they held dinners and receptions. In 1859 Jón and Ingibjörg took in Jón’s eight-year-old nephew Sigurður, the son of his sister Margrét and her husband Jón Jónsson, a ship’s captain. They raised him as their son.
About eight thousand letters connected to Jón Sigurðsson are extant. These include just over 1,300 letters and drafts written by Jón, and more than 6,700 letters he received from friends, relatives and others. The letters contain a wealth of information about Jón Sigurðsson the man, the scholar and the statesman. People often wrote to Jón to ask for various favours and assistance.