by Rebecca Bartholomew
[p.133]When in 1838 Mormon missionaries arrived in England and began proselyting from rented meeting halls and borrowed street corners, “they addressed themselves to a mass that was already on the move.”1 This was how a London Times reporter of 1857 described a populace agitated by “acute economic difficulties” and “grave social discontent.” The populace was on the move religiously, as evidenced by the continuing success of Lorenzo Dow’s Primitive Methodism, and on the move literally: between 1800 and 1880 the equivalent of the entire population of Great Britain abandoned the mother country. 2
Most of these emigrants went to the United States. Others settled in Canada (especially during the Civil War), Australia, and South Africa. Mormon elders followed them and obtained converts from all these places, as well.
One out of every four immigrants to the United States in the 1800s was British. Only one out of every 150 of these was Mormon. When considering other immigrant populations, British Mormons were little more than a ten-minute cloudburst in a very wet sum-[p.134]mer. Yet their impact on Utah would be significant, for in the mid-nineteenth century transplanted Britons comprised one quarter of the population of Utah territory. 3
Historians have debated for a hundred years what motivated the Mormon migration from Britain and Europe. P. A. M. Taylor proposed five different theories but was not satisfied with any one of them. Instead of considering theories of why they emigrated, we will examine the phrases with which emigrants themselves described the adventure of migrating.
They “clamored to go.”
By some accounts Mormon planners could not keep up with British Saints’ keenness to leave. The histories evidence enthusiasm, even though some records are suspect as products of the Utah-centric tradition. But many statements that the woman “had a strong desire to go to Zion” are verified by either the facts of her emigration or the proximity of the historian to her life or both.
My own ancestress, Eliza Ann Clarke Worthington, was said to be “a very religious woman” for whom it was “her soul’s desire to come to America and join the Saints.” Ann Everington Roberts, mother of church historian B. H. Roberts, was described as “insatiable to go to America where her children would be numbered among the chosen people.” This assessment of her drive is borne out by her actions. Unable to accumulate funds to take all her children, she found foster homes for the two older ones and left them in England while she emigrated with the two youngest.
“I want to get home.”
Now and then a phrase encapsulates the experience of an entire group of women. Elizabeth Wilkins Steadman’s letters to her mother contain such a saying. Her motives might have been to join her older brother who had homesteaded in Utah; to find a [p.135]husband as she was well into spinsterhood; or because she had caught the emigration contagion (as Taylor calls it) since many of her friends and neighbors had gone to Zion. But during the journey, in a letter to her mother still living in the family house in England, she wrote, “I have no inclination to get married. I want to get home.” Being a Mormon, she felt a greater pull from Utah than from her natural home.
“We obeyed the gospel and emigrated.”
Emigration was a duty. Gathering to Zion was one of the commitments one assumed in becoming Mormon. One woman wrote, “I was the only one in my family to obey the gospel and gather to Zion.”
From the first and second years of the church’s founding it had been the intent to establish a gathering place: “The time has come when the voice of the Lord is unto you: Go ye out of Babylon; gather ye out from among the nations, from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other … Let them … who are among the Gentiles flee unto Zion.”4 During the first decade the gathering was mostly from New England to Ohio and Missouri. But as soon as Nauvoo was established, English converts began to congregate in Illinois. The first group of forty-one Saints left Liverpool in 1840.5 Each year a full-page announcement from the First Presidency appeared in the Millennial Star encouraging Saints to emigrate, calling for those skilled in needed trades and giving general and specific instruction for preparations for the journey by sea and land.
Sometimes the route to Zion was indirect. A woman who shared the desire to “obey the gospel” was Margaret Blythe, an attractive divorcee of British origin living in San Francisco. She married and then converted John Blythe, a storekeeper. After [p.136]baptism John neglected to pay tithing in spite of Margaret’s warning that he would lose everything if he did not. When fire broke out in the shop it destroyed nine-tenths of John’s property. After that, says the history, he not only paid the Lord’s tenth but sent $4,000 in gold to assist Brigham Young in defending Utah against Johnston’s Army. Within another year he and Margaret had abandoned the store and moved to Utah. Blythe would not be caught disobeying again.
“She felt the spirit of gathering.”
A synonym for willingness to emigrate was having the spirit of gathering. Margaret Griffith Morgan joined the Mormon church through her husband, who had seen a newspaper report on Joseph Smith, investigated, and been converted. “In time the spirit of gathering came upon them and they desired to cast their lot among the Latter-day Saints in Zion.”
Caroline Lloyd Corbett was the solitary Mormon among her family, but after the deaths of two of her three children, when she sold everything to buy passage across the Atlantic, her mother, brothers, and sisters joined her. They all settled in Pennsylvania for several years, but “soon” she too “felt the spirit of gathering” and left for Utah with her remaining child.
One girl who had the spirit without using the litany was Harriet Tarry, again the only member of her family to be baptized (her mother wanted to join but dared not defy her husband). Harriet did factory work and tailoring until she pre-paid not only her ocean passage but her wagon passage across the plains. In Florence, Nebraska, she was told there were no more wagon spaces and that she would have to go by handcart. This was in 1860. Having probably heard of the difficulties of the 1856 Martin and Willie handcart companies, Harriet refused. Non-Mormon friends offered her a place in their household. Undaunted, she thanked them for their kindness but told them “she was going on to Zion.” She hired on as a cook and laundress for a private freight company, earning food and a wagon to sleep in though not to ride in during the thousand miles to Salt Lake Valley.
[p.137]They were seeking “the blessed place.”
Taylor identified “millennial fever” as another motive. A few converts wrote about wanting to go to help establish the city of God, where a pure society would welcome the Savior and where the temporal government was theocratic. They wished to flee the troubles and calamities plaguing or about to fall on “Babylon.” Elizabeth Lewis wrote home to her Welsh friends about the “peace, prosperity, and love” which reigned in Zion:
I have not seen a drunken person in this place or anyone quarrelling with another; I have only heard of someone threatening to take another to court, except that he was too ashamed to be the first one in the place to do that. I have yet to hear an oath or swearing on the street; not one murder or theft that I know of in the place, nor have I seen any immorality … I fear greatly that sickness, pestilence, poverty, and oppression are causing much suffering to my dear brothers and sisters in the gospel in Wales, which causes me to desire and to pray a great deal to be able to see them by the thousands in this blessed place.
“They decided to emigrate.”
For every convert for whom emigration was a foregone decision, another made it a matter of deliberation. Thomas Bullock and his wife “decided to emigrate” after consideration, it necessitating his resignation from a secure position as an excise officer (Henrietta R. Bullock). Margaret Caldwell Bennett’s husband travelled to America by way of Canada to look over the country before concluding to send for his family. When he was killed in an accident she “decided to come to Utah” herself. Converts such as these did not act primarily out of group enthusiasm but took their time and made careful preparation before acting.
“They grasped the opportunity.”
One might expect economics to have been a partial motive for many families. In 1850 Sarah Hattersley Wells’s husband was laid off when “conditions” in their manufacturing town became “bad.” With twenty of his company’s best men, Samuel was offered a chance to open a branch of the business in America. He and his wife “grasped” the opportunity. Yet their motives were not en-[p.138]tirely financial, for before leaving they developed rather satisfactory economic prospects. Left by Samuel with only 30 cents, Sarah still had her craft as milliner and could have used her earnings plus the assistance of an aunt to establish herself in Britain. Instead she spent her aunt’s gift on fabric to take to Utah. Samuel could have returned to Britain with his earnings, purchased property, and set up his family in their own home. But Sarah consented to Samuel’s working abroad because this meant “the sooner realization of their dream of going to Zion.”
John H. Barker, husband of Susan Barker, after becoming established as a jack-of-all-trades in Utah, wrote letters to his sister in England that could well have persuaded another laborer to emigrate. He described Utah as a place where no one was unemployed and even the poor were well off. In England he and Susan had been hired hands at a resort hotel, and very likely one of their hopes for emigrating was upward mobility.
But economics as a primary motive for emigration can be ruled out for many women. Elizabeth Archbold Anderson’s husband was a mining engineer who earned a “rather large” income. When they emigrated in 1856, six weeks after their second daughter was born, he left a good job for a poorer one in the Pennsylvania mines. Had their motives been economic, the family would likely have stayed in England as did her brothers who joined the church but left when polygamy was preached.
Jean Rio Griffiths Baker had little financial incentive to leave Britain. Her husband, a civil engineer, had passed away, leaving her with at least two houses, and she had a successful dressmaking business which allowed her to put away savings. Another emigrant, sixteen-year-old Jessie Belle Stirling, took leave not only from her immediate family but from a wealthy aunt who offered her a comfortable living if she would remain in England. Jessie Belle chose to emigrate.
Logic rules out economics as a paramount motive for most women. The family of Elizabeth Wood Bennett, for instance, could have stayed in Capetown indefinitely, for she had a good position earning the family’s rent and board as housekeeper for a wealthy man, and her husband earned a salary at brickmaking. Perhaps [p.139]that is why they delayed emigration to America for ten years. On the other hand, emigration was expensive, and those who would benefit most from moving could not immediately afford it.
“Her family turned against her.”
Leaving was easier for women whose ties to family and associates had broken. The break may have been a result of conversion, in which case the woman sought to evade harassment from former loved ones and neighbors. Ursula Chapelle’s history explicitly states that she left to escape hostility. Her husband, son, and one daughter disowned both her and her second daughter Naomi upon their baptisms. A sea captain, her husband left on a voyage and never returned, presumably in deliberate abandonment. Finally, “Due to the anger of friends in Malmsbury, Wilshire, they went to London” from where they emigrated to the United States and Utah in 1862.
For years Margaret Davis was punished by her family. Baptized through the influence of her grandmother, she was torn from the old woman by her mother at the docks of Liverpool. Later she ran away from home, living with one set of relatives who pawned her off on a well-to-do uncle. The uncle, disliking the girl’s religion and possibly her independence, put her in the servants’ quarters. When the elders found her again, she was taken in by a local church family until persuaded to marry a Mormon widower, Frederick Thomas, with whom she emigrated (Margaret Rees Davis Thomas).
The most haunting account is that of Mary Nixon Bate Buckly, whose handwritten memoir tells of her three years between baptism and emigration. It is difficult to know how to interpret a tone which is at times hysterical and semi-literate as she describes threats of violence from her husband and others. But whether the psychological abuse was great or small, it prompted her departure. In this sample, notice how her indifference to punctuation gives her narrative an additional eerie quality:
my Enimies was so powerfull against me it Seemed that it was almost Impossible for me to Endure it being my nearest and dearest Freinds that was Fighting against me, I preached Mormonism to my Husband feeling quite Sure that i could convince him of the truth but the more i tried to Show him the Beauty of [p.140]the gospel and the plan of salvation wich the lord had Instituted for the Redemtion of the Human family, the more he raged against it but the lord was very mercefull to me and gave me many Dreames and vissions to comfort me for i was cruely percecuted. My Husband became so cruel that nothing was to bad for him to Say or do it seemed to Fight against me he came Home one day told me in the presence of my children that i had Sent twelve of my Brothers as i called them to watch for him at night and Kill him, and he Said they had pelted him with Bricks and left him for dead, but they where mistaken and he had Settled two or three of them he told the children not to let there mother drag them into Hell where She was taking herself this was Heartrending to me to have my childrens minds prejudiced against me but it grew Harder all the time …
Mentally inserting punctuation, one is persuaded by her despair. “After three years of this cruel treatment from my friends my life being threatened continually,” she was advised by her branch president to “take some money out of the bank and go to the valley,” which she did with her six children, grudgingly followed by her husband.
“She was free to emigrate.”
Janet Downing Hardie, who studied obstetrics under a pioneering Scottish physician and authorized using ether and chloroform long before it became universal practice, is said to have decided to come to Utah “after the death of her husband.” Hannah Daniel Job and her husband determined to emigrate after his parents died, freeing him from the burden of working the family farm. From these stories it appears that for some women circumstances divested them of responsibilities and death could wean them from their homeland, making emigration a natural course.
Still other women had every reason to stay. Jean Rio Griffiths Baker had lost her husband but enjoyed many friends whom she “collected together” before her departure, “in all human probability never to see them again on earth. I am now … about to leave forever my native land, in order to gather with the Church of Christ in the valley of the Great Salt Lake in North America.” The only suggestion of personal gain was written in her journal several [p.141]days after sailing: “Little Josiah very weak. Oh how I pray that the sea may return his health.”
“She wanted to join her family.”
Occasionally women emigrated to reunite with relatives already in Zion. Emily Ann Parsons’s family emigrated to Ogden in 1874 to join two brothers and a grandfather “who had come before.” Frances Farr Miles was baptized in 1850 but followed her soldier-husband to the British colonies and nursed him and others through several battles before he died in 1863. She and her daughter then went to Utah to join three of her other children. Virtue Leah Crompton (Blackburn) came to Utah in 1862 to be with her five sisters. In England they had been obliged to leave home to find work when their father remarried, but in 1862 he decided to bring them to Utah (the record does not reveal whether he brought his second wife as well). Clara Alice Robinson had little choice but to emigrate at age one with her father, stepmother, and three half-siblings.
Some women married a missionary and emigrated upon his release, such as Ellen Birchall Barton in 1860. Sarah Elizabeth Smith Ross’s lawyer-husband served two missions before the family left England. Still other women emigrated with husbands who were in charge of emigration companies. Janet Aicol Gibson’s husband William served a nine-year mission during which he presided over several branches. Finally in 1851 he and his family came to Utah when he was placed over a company of poor Saints helped by the church to Zion. Fanny Stenhouse wrote bitterly of the inconveniences of emigrating in 1854 with a company of the poor when her husband was released as president of the Swiss Mission.
Most of these women were personally committed to their religion and were happy to emigrate, but in a few cases loyalty was limited to husband rather than to church. Isabella Lambert had emigrated with her parents in 1844 when she was eight, married James Winner who was killed in the Civil War, and later married Mr. Burgess, a carpenter, who “lost interest” in the Reorganized LDS church and wanted to move to Utah. She opposed him, but in 1874 they went to Utah anyway where she converted and was set apart by church leaders to study midwifery. Edinburgh native Ellen Brooke Ferguson came to Utah from Ohio as an experienced [p.142]physician. While she visited in Scotland for her health, her husband had corresponded with Mormon leaders and determined to relocate to Utah upon her return. She came with him.
Eliza Chapman Gadd’s is a poignant story. After twenty years of marriage, her husband was baptized with several of her older children. Not a member of the church herself, she came to Zion only because her husband wanted to come. She was to qualify for Mormon sainthood unwittingly as a member of the unfortunate Willie handcart company, which was caught in early snows. Death claimed her husband and one son plus a younger son just before rescue wagons reached them. “So through this great sorrow she didn’t have the comfort of the gospel as others did who belonged to the Church and lost their loved ones along the way.”
In spite of enthusiasm for the Gathering, emigration took courage. Prospective emigrants knew from the letters of predecessors that very few families arrived in Utah fully intact. At least one member and often two, three, even four were lost. Consider the perils of a typical 1850 journey half-way around the world: on ship seasickness, smallpox, measles, bad water, bad food, shipwreck, storms, leaks, collisions (especially at port), theft, annoyance from crews, and occasionally hostile captains. At destination, theft again, cholera, and a host of illnesses and misadventures peculiar to a part of the world to which newcomers had not established immunity. Crossing the plains there were wagon accidents, bad water, theft and threats from natives, blisters, sunburn, sunstroke, mountain fever, stampedes, starvation, discomfort, and taxing labor. For women there were also childbirth and “female problems” with medical help often unavailable. For all, the journey meant culture shock, the loss of old associates and surroundings, and braving the unknown.
Once the decision was made to emigrate, families and individuals became like Priscilla Evans: “We were busy making preparations …” Because her husband was a missionary, his and Priscilla’s fares were paid by the church so that they were able to depart immediately upon the close of his mission. For most members preparations continued for several seasons or even years. One fare—15 pounds—required a year’s wages or roughly 50 pounds per family, an amount not easily come by.6 This was quite an undertaking for people on subsistence incomes, and it took careful, persistent planning. Members went about it in several ways.
The usual option was to remain in one’s present situation but intensify wage-earning efforts. Alice Maw Poulter’s father and mother “worked and saved” in this manner until her mother became ill and died, after which her father worked alone until he had accumulated passage for himself and three children. Harriet Tarry Hirst worked in a factory by day and at tailoring by night and holiday to earn her passage. Mary Jane Ewer Palmer “worked and saved five years,” each day giving her emigration money to her father who handed it over to the church emigration agent.
Another approach was to immediately relocate to Liverpool or another port city to work and await the opportunity to sail. Hannah and Thomas Job did this, moving to Carmarthen upon the death of his remaining parent. Sarah Jane Neat Ashley’s family “had such a strong desire to come to America” that “the whole family left their old home and got other work to secure funds for passage.” Elizabeth Tripp Gerrard moved to Liverpool where she benefited from the “love and esteem” of the branch. Elizabeth and Charles Wood emigrated to Capetown, South Africa, to find work so as to be able to save toward eventual emigration to Utah. Ellen Bridget Gallagher Cottam’s husband relocated to Pennsylvania, sending his mine wages as support so that her midwife earnings could be used toward hers and the children’s emigration expenses.
For about half of those who wished to, emigration would have been impossible without assistance. Recognition of their circumstances led to Brigham Young’s creation of the Perpetual Emigration Fund (PEF) in 1850. Over the next twenty years 38,000 would be wholly or partly assisted through donations from a few wealthy Saints, tithing from branches, but mostly from contributions and repayments by saints reestablished in Utah. Historians Leonard Arrington and Davis Bitton note that out of 2,312 assisted by the PEF in 1853, 400 emigrated in the “poor companies” (and were [p.144]wholly assisted by the fund), 1,000 travelled in church companies (and were partially assisted), and 955 came in “independent companies” (and paid their own expenses entirely).7
Mary Johnson Talton’s family belonged to this “poor” class, even though her father was of respected heritage. Only through the combined assistance of the PEF and two individuals was the family enabled to emigrate. A relative, William Butler, contributed their sea passage, the fund helped them from New York City to Utah, and a prior emigrant in Ogden offset some expenses by hiring Mary’s father to protect machinery being shipped from Europe.
The Ashworth family, through disposal of their property and help from the PEF, were able to travel as far as New Orleans, where they stayed and worked five years before being able to continue the journey. Mary Foster Windley’s father had been a member “for some time,” so the mission president decided to let the family come entirely on PEF funds. Two daughters came first, after marrying their sweethearts just released from missions. The rest of the family followed a year or so later.
Although the bulk of PEF funds came from repayments, a good share accumulated in the form of weekly or monthly deposits made by British Saints. These deposits were recorded in the contributor’s name by a local emigration clerk, who then forwarded the money to the Liverpool emigration office.
A few British Saints were in a situation to help more than themselves. Jane and John Benbow, when they emigrated to Nauvoo in 1846, donated the profit from sale of their large house and farm to pay the fares of associates in the local branch. Ann Jones Rosser, though she never emigrated herself, apparently made regular donations to the PEF. Caroline Rogers Taylor, after receiving an inheritance, emigrated her own family and funded passage for 124 others.
Though well-organized, the church emigration effort did not always go smoothly. Lizzie Weaver Brown’s father had a great [p.145]disappointment when he and his family arrived in Liverpool prepared to sail. He had been told he could serve as ship’s cook in exchange for passage only to learn that the post had gone to another man. “He was rather stunned, at first, to think that the man he had trusted had broken faith with him.” But somehow he and his family were able to join a church company to New York where he worked as a stone mason for three and a half years to repay passage and save for the remaining journey.
Mary Nixon Bate and Caroline Lloyd Corbett were among a class of Saints who had sufficient means to emigrate at will. Elizabeth Clark Handley, her husband, and children were able to emigrate through the beneficence of her father who “paid transportation for his whole family” in 1853.
A few women emigrated through unorthodox methods. My ancestress, Eliza Worthington, got to Utah by marrying. Edward Horrocks, a widower, had been a missionary and branch president long enough to justify the PEF’s paying much of his family’s passage, and Eliza and her daughter Mary were included by virtue of the marriage “shortly before sailing.” Jane Stephens and her husband were too poor, so they sent their two oldest children ahead first to establish themselves in Utah. These two then “helped the rest to come” in 1866. Rachel Powell Killian was supposed to join her husband in Philadelphia, but by this time the Civil War had begun and she was advised to take out just enough money to feed herself and children and return the rest to her husband so he could join them on the trail “without tarrying in Pennsylvania.”
Emigrants had a pretty good idea of what to pack for the trip due to communiques from church headquarters, advice from experienced missionaries, and letters from friends and relatives already in Utah. Two letters from twenty-seven-year-old Elizabeth Wilkins (Steadman) to her mother back home are informative. From the ship she wrote, “I bought a mattress; they are very cheap … You will want some nails, hammer and some string …” From Florence, Nebraska, eight weeks later, she added,
You had need to scratch your mark on all your tin. You need a shallow tin for your puddings. You need baking powder … and bring flour if you can and well soak the meat before you cook it … . Don’t carry any more in your hands from New York here than you can help, but bring a water bottle. If you bring a teapot, you can have tea in the cars … If you have money, you can get bread, butter, treacle [cultured cream], eggs and meat on the way. A tin cannister or two would be handy. Soap and towel to wash with and a cloth in your basket … You need some shoes … to keep out the water. It is very wet on deck when it is washed …
Mormon ship companies were well-organized. Church agents chartered the ships, bought provisions, and appointed captains of hundreds, fifties, and tens. The provisions consisted of meat, crackers, and potatoes, a healthy enough diet but one which must have grown tedious, for Mary Jane Ewer after several weeks of this was given “a snack of real bread and ham” which she remembered as “the tastiest bit of food she had ever eaten.” Elizabeth Wilkins, too, warned her mother, “Fancy being without bread for six weeks. The name of the biscuits made many of us feel sick …”
Parting with prized possessions must have been difficult for all voyagers, insurmountable for some. Mary Ann Chappel Warner’s mother could not part with her prized feather beds, even when another ship rammed theirs in a fog and all excess baggage had to be dumped overboard. She obeyed, discarding all but one “which she said she would go down with.”
If a family had the resources to lay aside cash or bring goods that were scarce in Utah, they were that much better off upon arrival. Sarah Hattersley Wells had the foresight, with the help of an aunt, Mrs. William Bland, to buy curtain and dress fabric which she used to make dresses and hats for her daughters in Salt Lake City. She arrived in Utah in 1854; less than two years later during a famine she traded her remaining stash of fabric for “bits of food and flour.” After a year she had “disposed of everything but necessities,” but her family had not gone hungry.
Mary Bate Buckly described a strange unfolding of aid and betrayal in her preparations to emigrate. Unwilling to endure her husband’s threats any longer, she secretly took her four daughters and two sons to the home of a Sister Johnson in another part of London where her branch president had told her she would be safe. “I paid her well for all accommodations,” Mary wrote, and [p.147]after five weeks her family was escorted by the president and his wife to the train station, bound for Liverpool.
But “to our great surprise,” at the Euston Square Station tavern they found Mr. Bate, who had been waiting all night, warned by Sister Johnson of the impending departure. “Sister Johnson had betrayed me tempted with five pounds,” Mary wrote, although one wonders if the betrayal was also due to second thoughts about assisting an abandonment. For Richard was contrite. In company with Elder James Marsden (a conference leader who would be excommunicated by spring), Richard had spent five weeks scouring England from London to Liverpool to Birmingham looking for his family:
when they got [to Birmingham] his money gave out so he had to send to London for more, while waiting there for the money to come he said he was in bed two days and could not offer himself any consolation for he said he felt he was like pharaoh when he was persuing the children of Isreal for he had brought it all on himself …
Mary’s husband was so “subdued” that “we could Handle him,” and she got him to promise “on oath” that if she would wait until the following spring to emigrate, he would not only sell the rest of their property and accompany the family but “go with us to the End of the world for he could not give us up … ”
However, “like pharoah he hardened his Heart again,” in Mary’s eyes inventing all sorts of troubles and annoyances:
For about three weeks he Mr Bate took me about to different places of amusement water Excursions and everything he could think of[,] thinking he could win me from the Saints but my Heart was with them and the work of God, his pleasures was nothing to me[,] it was a Sacrifice of time to me but i had to do many things not very agreable to my own feelings to keep him to his promise …
One begins to feel competing sympathy with Mary and commiseration with Richard, who was frantically trying to hold onto a wife and family slipping away from him.
Throughout the winter of 1856 the battle between Richard and Mary Bate waged. At one point Richard marched down to the [p.148]church clerk and demanded the money his wife had paid into the emigration fund. When he could not get it, he merely glared at the clerk but returned home and threatened Mary: “he said he would have the money or my life before he Slept … ” Mary calmed him by telling him the money had been sent on to Liverpool but that it could be recaptured within a few days. By that time his mood had passed.
The struggle had yet to reach its horrible culmination:
On the first of January 1857 previous to our Starting in march another little son was born on the tenth he [Richard] came Home fo[u]nd I was all alone the nurse was gone home for a while and he comenced to threaten and act so bad i did not know but he would Kill me and the baby i was almost dead with fear and two weak to Stand or walk So i could not Help myself i put the baby to the Breast and that caused the death of it …
Mary, in other words, smothered her baby in panic while fending off her husband’s assault. Apparently, Richard left the house in the midst of the confrontation, not realizing what had happened. When he returned and discovered it from the nurse, he went wild. “He was about to Run out of the House said he would go and Drown himself for he could not live.” Mary and the nurse talked to him until he was calmer. Strangely, there seems to have been no investigation by local officials into the incident.
The energy gone out of his protests, Richard resisted feebly while Mary sold their remaining houses to a friend (“I sold them to her cheap”). He followed his family to America.
After considering and reconsidering this tragedy for four years, I still do not know what to think of it. There is not enough information to assign blame or even causes. Richard Bate’s inconsistencies indicate possible abuse of alcohol, and Mary’s abandonment may have been to escape him as much as to get to Zion. Yet he ended up emigrating with her. One wonders if his behavior was inspired solely by a desire “to quarrel with the Saints.” If so, how odd that he should agree to live in Utah. I don’t believe that anyone could read their story without being saddened and baffled by it.
For some emigrants one of the hardest things about “gathering” was leaving family and friends. Jean Rio Griffiths Baker arrived in Liverpool from London on 6 January 1852 with an entourage so large it seems she could not be leaving many behind: it included her five unmarried sons and one daughter, her married son and his wife, the aunt and uncle of her late husband, and another family of six. She had made visits to all her associates in London before leaving. On 8 January, the day before sailing, she went into Cheshire to make one last visit to “an old friend … I have now, I suppose, seen the last of all my friends in this country.”
Mariah Davies’s husband wrote, “Now comes the sorrowful time for us to leave our friends and relations behind us in our native land.” But Mariah, too, was fortunate in that her father and mother accompanied her. Imagine the feelings of Jane Graham Laidlaw’s aunt and uncle who had raised her from childhood: at age twenty-six she had joined the Mormons, married a Mormon elder, and was taking her children not just to America but to Utah, never to see her step-parents again.
Sarah Hattersley Wells’s family supported her emigration plans, yet it must have been with deep feeling that she gave away all her household items to her sister and said goodbye to her aunt. When Susan Dermott Baker saw her mother for the last time, it was to get her permission for marriage. Susan’s fiance John walked eighteen miles to say goodbye to his sisters, yet “they would not let me see them.”
For Hannah Daniels Job, the parting was so trying, and her fear for her ailing infant daughter so great, that she decided not to go. She returned to her parents’ home, refusing to see Thomas or to allow him to speak to his two small daughters.
One family emigrating with the Barkers’ company in 1862 met a great disappointment. The ship had already been towed out into the river when the anchor was lowered, and the family, who had taken ill, was sent back to shore by the ship’s doctor.
For Mary Oakey the farewells proved too much. From the journal of James S. Brown we learn that Mary had already boarded ship when “a young man who resided at Nottingham, and who [p.150]had been courting” her, arrived at the docks and begged to talk with her. “The young lady went out with him. The two were never seen again by us. We supposed they eloped.”
An Overview of the Emigration
All of our histories, while wanting in detail about the women’s younger years, retell the women’s emigration experience. It is as if their lives prior to emigration were preparatory, only half-lives. Another reason for emigration detail is that many accounts were written for the Daughters of Utah Pioneers, membership in which requires a woman to prove that her ancestors came to Utah before the railroad was completed in 1869.
Most of our women (46 percent) emigrated in the 1850s. Almost that many (37 percent) came in the 1860s, and only a few (9 percent and 8 percent) came in the 1840s and 1870s. The year most mentioned in our histories is 1856. While fifteen of our women emigrated that year, a smaller percentage of the total Mormon emigration did so. Perhaps participation in the 1856 handcart disaster, an episode which took on heroic meaning in Mormon consciousness, inspired more pioneers to write their life histories.
One would guess that, in spite of the success of other handcart ventures, the 1856 fiasco discouraged emigration from that time forward. The 1857 emigration was half that of 1856 and those of 1858-59 even smaller.8 This was partly due to famine and war in Utah. But among our women the numbers rebounded in the 1860s until they exceeded those of the previous decade.
Preparations completed, Elizabeth Wilkins Steadman gives us the best picture of dock life and embarkation.
We had a pleasant ride down here [to Liverpool]. There are some sharpers here, no mistake. I have not lost anything, nor but one of the rest of us … I covered [my belongings and] with my bonnet and all on … laid my head on my bed … . don’t forget [the [p.151]provisions you will need], and your eyes wide open. We shall be safer, I think, when we get farther from land.
Rachel Powell Killian stated that church agents had difficulty getting a ship for her unusually large 1860 company of 802. They approached the captain of a freighter who declined to take passengers because on his last voyage he had “broken some rules and some sailors had said they would sink him if they saw him again.” But eventually he was persuaded. He camouflaged his ship by painting it a different color and plotted an irregular sailing route.
Margaret McNeil Ballard’s mother was taken on board early to give birth to a son. Susan Dermott Barker’s fiance left his mother’s house, said goodbye to his father and brother at the railway station, arrived in Liverpool that day, took their luggage to the ship, and “got on board by night. All was in the greatest confusion and dark, a man fell overboard but was saved.” Fanny Stenhouse notes that upon arriving in Liverpool “some of the brethren were appointed to see that the baggage was safely transferred from the railway to the ship.” Early the next morning they boarded.
Hannah King was disappointed almost to tears at her family’s “gloomy cabin.” When she expressed this feeling to Elder Spenser, he only smiled—”as only an American elder can smile.” She spent the next twenty-four hours wondering what that smile meant. Perhaps it was a fatherly chuckle over a pampered child about to learn the difference between her “beautiful, delicate bedroom” in Dernford Dale and “this awful hole.” Her berth was actually better quarters than most of her peers enjoyed.
Fortunately, missionaries and church agents left records, and both old and recent studies of ship conditions and treatment of immigrants are available. Most Mormon companies were not large enough to charter a vessel exclusively, so passengers included other groups. In these cases the Saints “boarded off their section of the ship” and then divided it into separate quarters for families, single women, bachelors, and missionaries. Each family could then section off its area (using the hammer, nails, string, and sheets Elizabeth Wilkins urged her mother to bring) to create some measure of privacy. Wilbur S. Shepperson notes that the Mormon [p.152]companies were typically well-organized and well-fitted for the journey compared to other emigrant groups, and that they sang psalms, knitted, and “kept happy and profitably employed at sea.”9 He derives this information partly from Charles Dickens who observed of one Mormon company: “They had not been a couple of hours on board when they established their own police, made their own regulations, and set their own watches at all the hatchways. Before nine o’clock the ship was as orderly and quiet as a man-of-war … there was no disorder, hurry, or difficulty.”10 That they were an inoffensive class of immigrants is affirmed by the somewhat snobbish Stenhouse:
Imagine our disgust when we found that as there were not enough of the Saints to occupy the whole ship, the lower deck was filled with Irish immigrants of a very low order, and that their luggage and ours had been thrown together indiscriminately into the hold. Most of the Mormon emigrants recovered their property when they arrived at New York; but as for our own, personally, we never saw it again …
The orderliness of Mormon companies may well have been due to the watchfulness of church agents rather than innate gentility in their charges, for problems did arise between members. Elizabeth Wilkins would warn her mother at the end of the sea journey: “We have some good meetings here but they are not all saints amongst us.” Jean Rio Baker described three sisters disfellowshipped “for levity of behavior with some of the officers of the ship, and continued disregard to counsel of the president.” She also left a firm condemnation of an elder and a married woman of her company:
The conduct of [Elder Booth and Sister Thom] has been most shameful ever since we came on board ship, and since they were placed under suspension it has been worse than it was before. [p.153]Brother Thom is deeply grieved at the conduct of his wife. He is an excellent man and a pattern for every man in the Church. We all hope he will soon be able to forget her entirely. Such a woman deserves no place in the remembrance of a man of God.
After boarding, the emigrants quickly settled into a routine. Jean Rio Baker’s diary reveals the itinerary of a shipside day. The bugle sounded at 6 a.m., “when all who think it proper arise.” At 7:30 there was morning prayer, followed by breakfast and housecleaning.
We employ ourselves during the day according to our inclinations. Sometimes a few musical ones get together and have a few tunes. Sometimes [a few] get together and gossip and so the day passes … We are most of us getting our sea legs … Sometimes a lurch will come of a sudden when we are at our meals, and capsize our teapot, and send us one over the other, but we are getting accustomed to it so we are on our guard.
She noted that each family had its own “department” in front of its berths where members could cook their food however they pleased. Her family, however, customarily took meals on deck. She had praise for President William Gibson, by whom “we are under no restraint whatever … I much regret that we cannot have his company to the Valley.”
Living procedures varied according to company president, ship size, and ship’s captain. On some voyages each family was served out weekly provisions which they cooked themselves. Jean Rio Baker’s family “laughed heartily” when they were given their first week’s allotment of seventy pounds of oatmeal. They turned sadder when they cooked their last piece of fresh meat three weeks into the eight-and-a-half-week voyage. During Stenhouse’s 1854 voyage meal preparation was done in the gallery by the ship’s cooks, although sometimes the meal was not cooked well, and sometimes it was stolen as it left the gallery. During the Isom family’s 1860 voyage, with 1,000 passengers, cooking was done by the crew.
The King family aroused some ill feelings from other families by getting invited to use the captain’s cabin, “which is the only decent place in the ship.” They were told to enjoy the Poop Deck [p.154]as they wished. “This has already created a jealous feeling but we cannot help that. We shall avail ourselves of the Captain’s kindness and they must help themselves as they can,” Hannah wrote.
As to the vessels themselves, one historian claims Mormon emigrants came on any ship they could get: packet ships, clippers, freighters. The only packet ship mentioned by type was the Constitution, which sailed in 1868 and was “a leaky packet ship,” according to Margaret Wright Dunkley.
Sailing ships (presumably clippers) mentioned in the histories, with the year the woman sailed, included: the Harmony (“a good strong sailing vessel”—1841), Dan Curlin (1856), Golconda (1852, 1853, 1854), Horizon (whose captain wrote, “I’ll carry none but Mormons,” according Wee Granny Murdoch’s historian—1856), William Tapscott (which had “stinking water”—1860, 1861), and the General McClelland (1864).
Freighters included the Kennebec (1878) and an unnamed freight vessel whose captain painted it a different color to avoid retribution from another ship’s crew whom he had displeased.
Vessels named but unclassified included: the Yorkshire (1843), Artley (1849), Buena Vista (1850), George W. Bourne (1851), Georgia (1853), S.S. Germanicus (1855), Enoch Train (1856), George Washington (1857, 1858), Manchester (1862), Bridgewater (1865), John J. Boyd (n.d. but probably 1867), John Bright (“an old ship, tossed like driftwood”—1868), Nevada (1878), and the Saint Mark (n.d.).
During this period an Atlantic voyage took from four to nine weeks, depending on the year of emigration (hence ship technology) but also on the season and route. (During the 1700s an Atlantic voyage had taken eight to fifteen weeks, the average being twelve.11 The Ashworth family, with a small Mormon company, [p.155]made the voyage in 1849 “on a tiny ship” in nine weeks. Other histories show that this time was “streamlined” by the 1850s to six weeks and by the 1860s to four to five weeks. An 1879 voyage to New York took only eleven and one-half days, and an 1884 trip ten days.12 Only twelve of our histories report the specific length of the voyage.13
A sea crossing in the mid-1800s could prove to be anything from a lark to tragedy. It was no longer the terrible experience described by Gottlieb Mittelberger, a Quaker emigrant of 1750: a horror of hunger, thirst, cold, damp, fear, lice, dysentery, boils, scurvy, mouth-rot, and more. Indeed, for the Mormon young it seems to have been mostly amusement. Elizabeth Wilkins was not sick a whole day during the entire voyage. Maria Ann Tuckfield, fifteen, struck an acquaintance with a young man who was so helpful to his ailing mother that Maria decided to marry him. Maria Davies and her fiance “enjoyed ourselves very well while traveling on the sea.” John described in his journal being towed by steamer to open water where they immediately met a good breeze and “ploughed the Main very fast”; how the cold damp of Liverpool turned warm in a few days and they spent much of their time on deck, where it was “a sight to see the ships sailing on the sea.” Their company had a brass band, choir, and string group which played for dances. “We had dancing on the sea,” he wrote, and “Bachelors Hall made lots of fun for us on the sea.” When the inevitable wedding took place, the bride was hoisted up the mast (“What a brave girl,” said the captain) and the groom was carried about deck on a chair.
John Johnson Davies commented on the beauty of the voyage. Davies and Maria, with her parents, set sail 4 February 1854 in the [p.156]ship Colcondale (probably Golconda) with 464 in their Welsh company. “There was one thing that gave us joy and satisfaction for we knew that God was with us to protect us on the sea, and we had a good Captain to guide the ship.” Davies, as his company’s ship sailed up between the Isle of Mann and the coast of Ireland, could see the Scottish hills on the right and quite plainly the Irish houses and farm roads on the left.
Frances Farr Mills had previously traveled with her husband, and it is quite likely that Margery Lisk Spence had joined Captain Spence on local voyages during his long career at sea. Jean Rio Baker, who had apparently sailed before, was in the minority of those whose stomachs withstood the rolling sea, but she compared “the very high wind” to a North Finland gale. She wrote about her clear view of the Irish coast, “mountainous like the Welsh coast,” and the schools of porpoises which followed them once they reached warm waters. When “the brethren” hauled one aboard, skinned, and cut it and gave her a piece, she “did not much admire it—it was like very coarse beef and in color, very black.”
Jean Baker’s diary further tells of one of the exasperating aspects of sea travel in her day: poor winds. Her ship was towed into the river on 15 January. After more than a week a good wind had still not come up, and after two weeks she added, “The wind has not advanced us 20 miles for the past 6 days.” Finally the next morning a breeze came up, but 4 and 5 February brought “almost dead calm.” It was not until 9 February that they began to make good time—eight miles per hour.
Another inconvenience was the crew. Mary Ann Chapple Warner, when a sailor was seen wearing her father’s clothing, helped persuade her father not to accost him over it for “sailors were considered a bad lot and were not past helping one to fall overboard.”
Companies which took the southern route through the Bahamas to New Orleans suffered an additional nuisance. By mid-March half of Jean Baker’s company was “affected with prickly heat.” The captain had a large tub set out in which mothers could bathe their children and themselves every morning, and the men [p.157]would “don a thin pair of drawers and pour water over each other.”
For some women the trip brought more than inconvenience. Mary Jane Ewer was so seasick “she thought she would die.” Newly-wed Priscilla Evans, too, was “sick all the way and had a miserable time.” Jessie Belle Pack wrote that “Stinking water was the worst drawback.” These problems, though not dangerous for most passengers, could bring on dehydration and worsen the condition of a passenger already in weak health.
There was also the possibility of accident and shipwreck. The John Bright, which Mary Ann Chapple said was old anyway hence “tossed like driftwood” on the waves, suffered a jagged hole cut in its side when another ship rammed it in the fog. The seventy-five Saints on board prayed and sang songs to bolster their courage while the leak was repaired, and the Bright drew into New York harbor only a few days late.
Storms were common, ravaging the spirits of almost everyone on board. The George Washington, with my ancestors aboard, was lost at sea for over a week during a stormy 1857 crossing. A storm might last an hour or rage for several days. During squalls the sails were taken in, and the ship would roll and pitch, the water three or four inches deep on deck. For Jean Rio “the sea has never had any terror for me at any time,” but when the wind turned against them after having been idle for two weeks, her company spent a “dreadful night” wondering if the ship would overturn. In the midst of this, before dawn “one sister was delivered of a fine healthy boy.” During such storms, leaks would develop in many ships, although they were quickly taken care of.
There is not one instance in our records of a major disaster. The real danger was disease, and on almost every voyage this culminated in the death of one or two passengers, usually the very old or very young. The intrepid Jean Rio Baker had hoped a voyage would help her little son, Josiah, who had been “very weak” before they sailed. But one evening before dinnertime, three weeks out to sea, “my little Josiah breathed his last. I did not think his death was so near, though when witnessing his sufferings, I prayed that the Lord would shorten them.” Dan Jones’s 1856 Welsh company lost [p.158]five children to chicken pox.14 Elizabeth Wilkins was happy enough with her voyage until two weeks out of New York harbor when her father passed away. Too stricken to write, she sent word of his death through an associate who was on his way to England. Later, from Omaha, she told her mother:
I wish now I had sent you a few lines at New York. But I felt very unfit for writing, and I so do now … . He filled in with the dropsy very fast, which you need not be surprised for it was coming on before he left home. He had many nourishments. There was nice gruel made and arrowroot sage broth received. Porter gin and brandy taken round to those who needed it … I never saw a pleasanter corpse. I have not much reflection about him. I hope you will not grieve. I hope you will be blessed with health and strength. I would advise you to have a husband if you have the offer from a good man, for it is very awkward traveling without a man (Elizabeth Wilkins Steadman).15
Recognizing that the voyage would be harder for her mother than for herself, Elizabeth warned her to bring good shoes, for “it is very wet on deck … Sometimes when the ship rocks so you make a mess.” Her father had lost his hat the first day at sea by not strapping the elastic band under his chin.
Diseases that pose little threat in our day were dangerous then. Isabella Wade was five when she contracted measles aboard ship. But six-year-old Sarah Isom was vaccinated by the ship’s doctor when small-pox broke out among the huge passenger load. She and her family emigrated in 1860. The Civil War dictated a Williamsburg landing which, with the smallpox epidemic, greatly prolonged their journey.
Of thirty-two women whose histories describe the sea voyage, four lost a family member while at sea and another lost two of her [p.159]three children. In at least two of these cases, the family member was already ill at the time of sailing. The other deaths may well have been a result of the voyage, but this is a surprisingly low incidence of death since the religious emigrations of one and two centuries earlier. Jean Rio Baker had not been unreasonable in hoping “to be able to take all my family safely through to the city atop the mountains.” Yet the sea voyage proved to be the easier leg of the journey.
1. London Times, 3 June 1857, cited by Philip A. M. Taylor, “Why Did British Mormons Emigrate?” Utah Historical Quarterly 22 (1954): 252.
5. Richard L. Jensen, “The British Gathering to Zion,” in V. Ben Bloxham et al., eds., Truth Will Prevail: The Rise of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the British Isles, 1837-1987 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987), 167.
11. Based on information given by Edwin B. Bronner, William Penn’s Holy Experiment: The Founding of Pennsylvania, 1681-1701 (NY: Temple University Press, 1962). Also a Quaker immigrant diary by Gottlieb Mittelberger, Journey to Pennsylvania, ed. and trans. Oscar Handlin and John Clive (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 1960), and Albert Cook Myers, Quaker Arrivals at Philadelphia, 1682-1750 (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1957).
13. Mary Nixon Bate Buckly may have remembered wrongly when she reported a twenty-four-day voyage from Liverpool to Boston, although given the right wind and no delays, a three-and-one-half-week voyage was possible in 1858.
14. Bliss J. Brimley, The Book of Thomas Job (Pleasant Grove, UT, 1988). Jones attributed the tragedy partly to the fact that mothers, afraid for their safety, would not take their children on deck for fresh air, not knowing that the real danger lurked below in the crowded living quarters.