A Schoolmarm All My Life
Joyce Kinkead, editor
Elizabeth Terry Heward
[p.32]Born in Palmyra, New York—where Joseph Smith first received his divine inspiration—Elizabeth Terry reached adulthood at the height of the religious fervor of the Great Awakening. She became a Baptist in 1830, then a Mormon in 1837.
Elizabeth’s schooling was meager, her childhood spent in sparsely populated Canada, near Toronto, Ontario, where schools were few and far between. Her mother tried to teach her, but caring for thirteen children took up most of her time. Elizabeth’s history suggests that few opportunities outside the home presented themselves to women in the 1830s, the decade when Catherine Beecher was just beginning her campaign to feminize the teaching profession. Elizabeth opted for marriage, following her father’s advice. Unfortunately, her husband—Francis Kirby—was not as principled as her father. Elizabeth lived with his abuse for nine years, relying on her religious beliefs to see her through.
After Kirby’s death, Elizabeth moved to Nauvoo and married John Heward who had formerly worked for Kirby. Although Elizabeth no longer had to suffer the abuse of her first husband, life did not grow easier. She arrived in Nauvoo just before the murder of Joseph Smith; with her second husband, she departed for Iowa and lived in a dugout cut in a creek bank for a year until joining a company bound for the Salt Lake Valley in 1848. In the promised land, cold and starvation were constant companions as she watched her children suffer. Even so, she felt inspired to begin a small school and conscientiously sent reports to church authorities. The [p.33]daily struggle of putting food on the table takes precedence over classroom activities in Elizabeth’s recollection, which is based on diary entries (the last of which was dated 23 February 1859). For Elizabeth, teaching was a logical extension of motherhood.
Elizabeth lived until 1878, spending most of her last twenty years establishing a home in Draper, Utah. Her story illustrates the harsh life of early converts; in spite of that, she still felt that children’s minds needed as much nourishment as their bodies.
I was born in the state of New York, town of Palmyra and county of Ontario, the 17th of November, 1814. The country is now called Wain, where I was born.
My name is Elizabeth Terry, daughter of Parshall and Hannah Terry [from England]. My parents moved from Palmyra to the town of Sheldon when I was two years old, and when I was four, they moved to Upper Canada. It was a new country, with much timber upon the land. No prairies within hundreds of miles, and very thinly inhabited. My parents were poor. They had thirteen children.
The people lived so scattered that we could have no school, only Sunday School, and that was sometimes three miles from where we lived, and never nearer than two miles. By this means, I got what little education I have except what little my mother was able to teach me until I was seventeen years old, then I went to school three months and what little I have been able to learn myself.
My father was an honest man, and taught his children to be strictly honest and truthful. I was naturally of a religious turn of mind and learned to pray when I was very young. In 1830, I joined the Baptist Church before I was sixteen years old, for I believed that I could not be saved unless I was baptized. I spent the time doing the best I knew until July 18, 1833, at which time I was married to a young Englishman named Francis Kirby. He was almost an entire stranger to us, but father advised me to marry him and go to keeping Tavern, but I soon found he was not such a companion as I wished to have for life. In December of 1837, we heard there were “Mormon” preachers in [p.34]Canada, about 20 miles from us. I sent for Brother Theodore Turley to come and preach at our home. He preached several times to us, and I believed it was true. Kirby hated the Baptists, yet as soon as he found that I believed the Mormons, he hated them also, and would not let them preach anymore in our home and swore that I should not go to hear them.
One very cold day in the winter, Brother Thompson sold me a Book of Mormon for $1.25; Kirby was near when I received it, and he snatched it out of my hand and threw it into the fire, which was very hot, and it went in open, and he kicked it down between the stick of wood. I was across the room from the fire, but I sprang as quick as I could and took out the book, which to our great astonishment was not burned, and neither was there a letter scorched.
My mother and father and their family came to our home and started on their way to Far West, Missouri.
Kirby was seldom at home during the whole day, but kept going about getting drunk and coming home at night and abusing me.
It was in June, 1839, that we heard from father the first time since they moved away. They had suffered very much having been driven out of Missouri by the mob in November.1 They had to leave much of their property, for the mob told father that if he was not gone within twenty-four hours they would tie him to a tree and give him 100 lashes to begin with, so they had to flee for their lives to the state of Illinois. My sister, Deborah, died, having been exposed to the cold, wind, and storms in the open air. She was nearly eleven years old.
November, 1839, Kirby hired a young Englishman to live with us a year for $110. His name was John Heward. I was glad of this because he was steady and a sober man, and all the other hired men were just drunkards like Kirby. Sometimes when Kirby would come home drunk and act so bad, John Heward would come in the kitchen and seeing me crying, would say, “Never mind, you must bear it as pa-[p.35]tiently as you can.” It was consoling to know that someone noticed my troubles.
On May 4, 1841, John Heward started for the States. Kirby went three miles with him, came back drunk and cried because John was gone. He said John was the best man he had ever hired.
[Kirby visited Illinois but did not like it.]
I thought he was a wicked man before he went away, but he was ten times worse when he came back. When he was at father’s, he promised them that he would let me go the next summer to see them. I had resolved in my mind to go and see the Prophet Joseph Smith and ask him whether I should go back to Kirby or not. If he should say “stay in Nauvoo” I would write and tell Kirby to come to me. I was two weeks in coming 250 miles [by wagon company], so I decided to take a rail car and in two days I was 300 miles from them. At this time [August 1842], some of the mobbers were after the Prophet Joseph with a writ, so I could not see him. I saw Brother Hyrum Smith and asked him what I should do. He told me to go back to Kirby, and that I should be blessed. I believed what he said and told him I would do so.
September 12, I reached Chicago and on the 19th I arrived in the city of Toronto. I was 25 miles from home, and I was almost overjoyed to think I should soon be at home. It was night when I arrived at Mr. Wallace’s tavern. The first one I saw was Mrs. Wallace; I caught hold of her hand and said, “How do you do. How is Francis?” She turned from me as if with horror at seeing me so happy, then turned back in a moment and said, “You must know the worst. Francis Kirby is dead and buried.” If there had been an earthquake, I should not have been shocked half as much as I was at this news. He died August 31, after only four days of sickness of inflammation and fever. They said he kept calling for me. I allowed myself to be comforted because I knew the Lord, in His mercy, had taken him from me.
I rented my place to Mr. Johnson and made ready to join my father’s family in the States. On June 29 , I boarded the steamer “Robert Fulton” for Chicago. I arrived at my father’s house July 19 in Nauvoo. I spent a great portion of my time working for the sick. Sister Wheeler sang in tongues [at prayer meeting] and the gift of interpretation was given to me.
[p.36]About this time [November 1843], it was taught in our meetings that we would have to sacrifice our idols in order to be saved. I could not think of anything that would grieve me to part with in my possession except France Kirby’s watch. So I gave it to help build the Nauvoo Temple and everything else I could possibly spare and the last few dollars that I had in the world.
I wrote to my sister in Belvidere to bring my things that I left [there], but they could not come, so they got John Heward, who was living a few miles from there, to come. I had been acquainted with him for several years. When John Heward saw the circumstances under which I was placed, he told me if I was willing, he would buy a place in Nauvoo and go back to Belvidere and sell his farm and come to Nauvoo to live. I knew that I could not obtain my blessings2 as I was, so I thought perhaps it was the best thing that I could do. So, on the 20th of May, 1844, we went to Brother Hyrum Smith3 and got him to marry us.
[The first days of marriage were difficult with both John and Elizabeth sick and having little to eat.]
December 1, 1845, my daughter, Rachel, was born. At this time, the mob raged so bad that it was impossible for the saints to stay in Nauvoo any longer than for them to dispose of their property and leave. Our house was open and the weather was very cold and Rachel was taken very sick. I thought she was better one night. Near morning, I was so exhausted that I fell asleep, and at 6:00 I woke and found that she was dead. I trembled so that I could hardly stand it, but I wrapped her in a blanket and took her to my father and mother’s. When I could part with her, Brother Huntington buried her out on the prairie in the burying ground.
We reached Council Bluffs, July 8, 1846. Here we concluded to stay through the winter with several other families. John dug a cave in the bank of Mosquito Creek and covered it with willows and grass for us to live in. On the 4th of March, 1848, Sarah Heward was born. This [p.37]seemed in some measure to make up the loss of Rachel. We were getting ready as fast as we could to go to the Great Salt Lake Valley. My brother Joshua went in May of 1847 to raise us some grain. We left our cave or dugout on the 2nd of May, 1848. The next day we left Mosquito Creek in company with father Miller for the Valley. We crossed the Elk Horn River on May 30 and 31 and joined Father Pulsipher’s company. We had a very fatiguing journey several months. We reached Pacific Springs, August 20. We should easily have been through to the Valley by this time, but we had to wait weeks to gather for the rest of the company. On the 2nd and 3rd of September, it rained and snowed and the wind blew so hard that it seemed as if we would perish with the cold. John dug a hold in the ground and built a little fire in it so this kept us from freezing.
On the 6th, Brother James Vance came to us from the Valley with a wagon and two yoke of oxen.
[They lived for a month in a house at the fort; then they moved to a city lot and lived in a willow tent. It was very cold; one ox died. Provisions were rationed throughout the valley.]
Father Lemmon was a lame man and could not walk straight. Some boys were playing one day in the fort and I heard them mocking at him and call him old “crook-back.” This grieved me very much, for I had been taught by my parents to always reverence old people and not to make derision of any person deformed or lame or blind. The spirit came upon me and told me I should keep a school for small children and teach them the principles of truth, how to get faith to live, what to live for, to keep the word of wisdom, and the true principles of life and salvation. I thought I would not do anything unless I was sure that I should be upheld in it, so I saw Brother Brigham Young and asked him what I should do and he said, “Keep the school, and you shah be blessed.” I felt thankful to the Lord for this. So, on the 14th of February, I began to teach the little school.
John built an adobe house on our lot in the 10th ward and on the 24th of March, 1849, we moved into it. I sent in a report of my school every conference to Brother Spencer, who was President of the branch and he said he would have it put on the church records.
My little Mary grew smart and intelligent and had great wisdom [p.38]for a child her age. The weather was very cold and stormy, and I had neglected to get her any shoes. Indeed I thought I was not able to pay for them, so she was exposed to the cold. On December 7, 1852, she was taken sick with the scarlet fever and on the night of December 13, she died. She was two years, nine months and eight days old.
In August , there was a great cry about the Indians. “The Indians are upon us—we will all have to live in forts.” But we did not move into the fort.
The time has passed with me after manner of mortal life until I am 43 years old and now all the cry is War, War.4 All the brethren that are able to bear arms are called to do so for the Gentile mob is after us again, and we have to defend ourselves or flee to the wilderness. May 22, 1858, we started for Mountainville. We had a hole dug in the ground and covered with a little brush. July 8, we moved back to Draperville and found our house about as we had left it.
It is said in my patriarchal blessing that my name will be had in honorable remembrance to all generations. Now, my dear children,5 this cannot be done unless you keep this record and also a record of your lives, and hand it down to your children and command them to do the same.
1. The two years of Mormon settlement in Far West, Missouri (1836-38), were disastrous. After Missouri governor Lilburn Boggs issued an “Order of Extermination,” one settlement was massacred by militia while Far West itself was surrounded by 3,000 troops; finally, 15,000 homeless Saints trooped back east to the relative safety of Illinois (Arrington and Madsen, 23-24).