Edward Griswold

Henry Wadsworth LongfellowLast year I shared with you a family history connection we have with Henry Wadsworth Longfellow – great American poet and truly one of the “rock stars” of the 19th century.

We share with Longfellow the common ancestors of John and Priscilla Alden.

Another common ancestor we share is “The Deacon”, as Longfellow referred to him in his famous poem, The Birds of Killingworth.

Cousin Henry Wadsworth Longfellow is famous for a lot of things.

He was very educated. He spoke ten languages and studied dozens more. He was not only a poet but also a famous educator, teaching for a time at Harvard.

His published works not only showcased his knowledge of history and literature but they reflected well his sensitive nature about things as personal as love and family.

As an artist, both then and now, he has had to endure the barbs of critics who felt his works were frequently too romanticized and filled with fantasy.

I’m no critic. I’m also no expert on the high-minded world of poetry. I cannot write it, much less understand it well when I read it.

But in studying the life of Longfellow I do know this: he knew his family history, whether talking about John Alden or The Deacon.

The Birds of Killingworth is a poem set in the very real village of Killingworth, Connecticut – a very important place in early American Westover family history.

It was, for a time, home to Jonah Westover, the first Westover in the New World.

In the poem the story is told of a town meeting held in Killingworth where the farmers implore town leaders to do something about the birds that were feasting on the farmers’ crops.

Even as the songs of those same birds wafted through the windows of the old church where the meeting was held the argument was made to kill the birds.

The town elders were riled up. The Squire, the Parson, and the Deacon were there, which gave weight to the proceedings.

Of the Deacon, Longfellow described him like this:

And next the Deacon issued from his door,
In his voluminous neck-cloth, white as snow;
A suit of sable bombazine he wore;
His form was ponderous, and his step was slow;
There never was so wise a man before;
He seemed the incarnate “Well, I told you so!”
And to perpetuate his great renown
There was a street named after him in town.

Arguments were made in the debate from every side but for the birds, well, “Hardly a friend in all that crowd they found”.

The town voted to kill the birds and as the poet tells the story they came to regret it. Without the birds the worms took over the crops and the insects devoured most of the grain and the leaves on the trees, leaving the fruit to be scorched by the sun.

The farmers and the town indeed learned the lesson of that balance to nature that the birds provided.

Many interpretations of this famous poem do not recognize Killingworth as a real place.

But Longfellow did.

Killingworth was a stopping point for Longfellow in his travels when he wrote The Birds of Killingworth in 1863. Why was Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in Killingworth, Connecticut?

Because he knew it as an ancestral homeland.

If Longfellow knew anything, it was his family history.

His father was a lawyer and his maternal grandfather was a general in the American revolution as well as a member of Congress. Longfellow knew he was descended of at least four Mayflower Pilgrims.

When he was 15 he attended Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine – a college founded by his grandfather and his father was a trustee of the institution.

Longfellow was taught his family history and used his knowledge of his ancestors in many of his most famous works. They inspired him – even the Deacon.

The Deacon was Edward Griswold, town father of Killingworth, Connecticut and father to Hannah Griswold Westover, wife of Jonah Westover, the first male Westover in America.

Griswold was born in 1607 in Kenilworth, England, from which the name Killingworth is derived. He was born in a family rich in English history and famous for providing greyhounds for the King. He was educated and his family was connected.

Edward Griswold married in 1629 and with his wife Margaret had about five children before immigrating to the New World in 1639.

Edward brought with him younger brothers Michael, Francis and Matthew, all who would make historic contributions to the history of Connecticut and Massachusetts.

Edward quickly became prominent in the affairs of Windsor, Connecticut. He served as Deputy to the General Court from Windsor and was also Justice of the Peace of Windsor prior to 1663.

He was granted land from the King in Poquonoc (now Groton), about 4 miles west of Windsor, in 1642, but he didn’t move there until after the Indians were gone from the area. When it was safe, they settled the area with the families of John Bartlett and Thomas Holcomb in 1649.

His brothers Francis and George came to settle there soon after. His homestead consisted of 29.5 acres, bounded at the east by the Poquonoc River, the south and west-northwest by Stony Brook.

The house stood on the hill just to the north of the main road. Because of the potential dangers of the wilderness, the families were relieved of military duty so long as there was always a man available to stand as sentinel.

In 1663 Griswold was appointed to a committee charged with developing a new area near a place called Saybrook.

KillingworthIt took some time but within a few years Griswold had moved his family there, including new son-in-law Jonah Westover and his family. He helped to charter the foundation of a Church there and was named Deacon. In 1667 he was named deputy of Killingworth, a position he held nearly up to the time of his death.

Over the course of his years there Griswold was influential in nearly every major civic action, collecting properties and settling claims with other area pioneers.

Edward and Margaret had at least a dozen children. As such, Edward sits as head of a very large family tree, with some 20 million plus people in his downline. As a prominent individual with fairly well documented history there literally thousands who have been working on his history.

I also believe, given his ties to the Puritan movement, that Edward Griswold had a very large influence upon the children of others.

I cannot prove it but I strongly suspect his ties to Jonah Westover pre-date the marriage of his daughter Hannah to Jonah. The year of their immigration and the year of Jonah’s ascension as a married man, a Freeman, and a property owner coincide very closely with the movements of Edward Griswold.

I believe Edward Griswold was as much a step-father and mentor to Jonah Westover as father-in-law. Their lives were that closely aligned. In both Simsbury and in Killingworth the Westovers were also neighbors to the Griswolds.

I don’t think Longfellow was plagued much by imagination in his poetry. I believe he educated himself on history of both places and individuals.

In fact, The Birds of Killingworth stirred the suspicions of experts long after Longfellow’s death. What was his inspiration?, they wondered.

“The Birds of Killingworth” is the only episode in Tales of a Wayside Inn that Longfellow had not adapted from an older textual source.

For many years readers suggested that Longfellow might have likewise based this tale, describing the massacre of pestilent birds by the citizens of the town in Connecticut, on some forgotten legend or historical incident.

Shortly after Longfellow’s death a literary sleuth wondered whether the tale originated on the other side of the Atlantic, since Killingworth got its name from Kenilworth, in England. One person even went to great lengths to write the town clerk in Kenilworth, England to see if ever there was a town vote about killing birds. None was found.

Nobody in the 19th century seemed to make the connection of Longfellow to Killingworth, though they never stopped trying.

In 1890 a publication called American Notes and Queries published a letter from Longfellow’s brother Samuel, who claimed that he found a newspaper clipping reporting a debate in the Connecticut legislature upon a bill offering a bounty upon the heads of birds believed to be injurious to the state’s farmers. It was from this not-so-famous debate that it was concluded that Longfellow had to have used it as his inspiration for the famous poem.

We know now that had little to do with it. Killingworth was a personal connection for Longfellow. While the story of the birds has no known basis in historical fact the characters within the poem were strikingly real when compared to what is known about Killingworth history — and Longfellow history (and, by extention, our history).

On Longfellow’s 100th birthday in 1907 journalist William E. A. Axon reported in The Nation that, a year before Longfellow died, he had written to him, asking “whether this narrative had any basis of fact or was merely the fantasy of a poetic brain”— and the great poet himself had replied:

The poem is founded on fact. Killingworth is a farming town, on Long Island Sound…of course, the details of the poem are my own invention, but it has substantial foundation of fact.

That fact was family.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and his family.

It is the time of year when my mind wanders to the beautiful cemeteries of Cache Valley. In the years I have lived here I have learned to love these sacred places and the memories of those who rest in peace here.

I logged on to Family Search this week not expecting to learn of another family member buried nearby.

My feed on Family Search showcased newly uploaded photos of one Anna Clark Hale, who rests now in the cemetery in Preston, Idaho – just about 20 miles north of where I now reside.

But is she really family? Well, yes…and no.

(I’m claiming her anyway and this year I will bring her flowers, too).

Anna Clark is listed on Family Search as the fourth wife of James Chauncey Snow – my fourth great grandfather through the Snow line.

James Chauncey Snow was the son of Gardner Snow, who joined the Church very early.

By the time James was around 40 years of age he found himself to be a stake president in Provo, Utah.

This is where he met and allegedly married Anna Clark in March of 1857. She was just 16 years old.

To the uninformed, this seems a very odd and even disturbing thing.

What business does a 40-year old man have marrying a 16 year old girl? And yet, there it is, a footnote for both of these 19th century people in our family tree.

I decided to check it out.

After all, Anna Clark was the first of many women in our tree who married at precisely that same time.

~ Lots of Marrying Going On ~

I will leave the history and the debate of the Mormon practice of plural marriage to the experts. For the purposes of this discussion, I only want to point out the facts as it relates to our family in the 19th century.

The fact remains that between September of 1856 and September of 1857 a great number of our ancestors married and many of them were in plural spouse situations.

Ann Findley (age 17), fresh after arriving by handcart from Scotland in September 1856, married Edwin Westover in February 1857. Edwin was 33 years old.

His brother, Charles Westover, took Mary Shumway (age 21) to wife the same month.

It wasn’t just the very young who married either.

Albert Smith married Sophie Petersen, age 34 and already a mother to 7 children, as his 2nd wife in Manti, Utah.

The Denmark-born Ane Marie Jensen (age 24) married Samuel Barnhurst around the same time.

Even James Chauncey Snow entered into plural marriage around this time. Although already married to Eliza Ann Carter for 18 years in February 1856 he married Lydia Chadwick (age 38) and in December of that same year he married Jane Cecelia Roberts (age 20). (It was from this union with Jane Cecelia Roberts that we descend).

So why all the marrying?

And why did all the plural marriage arrangements listed above endure — except for James C. Snow and Anna Clark?

~ The Mormon Reformation ~

Each of the individuals listed above were caught up in the trials and times of Utah Territory and specifically in LDS church history during the years of 1855-1857. It is a complicated tale.

The years 1847 and 1848 were the years of the first Mormon immigrants in the territory. We know well their struggle for survival those first few years. They lived in forts, tents and wagons as they scratched out a desperate existence in the desert valley of the Great Salt Lake.

The gold rush of 1849 brought visitors, cash, supplies and new immigrants to the valley.

As they came and stayed, or came and passed through, the valley prospered. Farms were established, new settlements were explored, and the desert slowly began to “blossom as a rose”.

In fact, after the drama of the seagulls, and the first walls of territorial forts went up, there came an eventual and steady kind of rugged prosperity to Utah Territory.

Winters were harsh but leaders continually encouraged industry and the people began to thrive.

But the years of 1854 and 1855 brought drought and famine – and things got a little rough.

As church leaders juggled concerns with Indians, the food supply, and a steady stream of immigrants they began to feel a lacking of the faith of the people.

Starting in the spring of 1856 they began to call the people of Utah to repentance.

This period of time is now known as the Mormon Reformation.

A great deal has been written about this time frame and what I share here is not meant to displace anything put out there by historians.

I only mention the Mormon Reformation in context of the individuals listed above and how this time frame affected their choices – and thus our very existence as their offspring.

With this call to repentance came an invitation to be re-baptized and to earnestly seek living the higher laws of the gospel.

One of those laws was plural marriage.

Again, I’ll leave it to the historians to lay out all the facts of how plural marriage came about in the Church. It was practiced on a very limited basis in Nauvoo but was not revealed to the world at large, including most of the Church membership, until 1852.

Even then, only a very small percentage of church members were engaged in the practice — until the Mormon Reformation of 1856-57.

Just as many – such as Electa Westover – rushed to the waters for re-baptism, so too did many apply to practice plural marriage – including all the people listed above – and also allegedly including James C. Snow, the 40 year old Stake President of Provo and Anna Clark, the 16 year old pioneer girl from Provo.

~ But what about love? ~

The story of Anna Clark and her family is typical. Her parents joined the church in the 1830s, experienced persecution for their faith everywhere they went and eventually found their way to Nauvoo.

There they saw their family split up as two older brothers soon joined the Mormon Battalion and the rest of her large family had to make their way across the plains after a difficult experience at Winter Quarters.

They made it to Utah after some trial and loss (three of the Anna’s siblings died on the way) and settled in the Provo area.

As a teenager in the Provo area during the 1850s Anna had an active experience mixing church and family. As was typical, she was engaged in the work of survival with the rest of her family.

When she was thirteen years old a boy two years older than her came to work the family farm over the course of a summer.

For hours they would herd, tend and milk cows, often “talking love” after they came to know each other. They had a small book they hid in a tree that they would use to trade messages with each other.

According to her memoir Ann and this fifteen year old boy pledged to marry each other once they were old enough to do so.

For the next several years she kept tabs on her beau, even though she came to understand that her parents were not keen on him.

They thought Solomon Hale “too wild” for their young Anna.

There were reasons aplenty for parents to safeguard their daughters. While Solomon Hale was just a teenager himself he was far from the only concern for the parents of Ann Clark.

In fact, there was real danger for nearly all young women in the territory.

“Keeping the women safe” was more than a motto after the depredations of Missouri.

In fact, between the hostile natives and the ever-shifting immigrant population of Utah it was observed by many that the overall population of Utah kept their women folk well protected.

But for young Anna Clark it was set in her mind just where her future would lie – and with whom. She was, after all, in love.

~ The Three Phases of the Mormon Reformation ~

According to historians, there were three phases of the Mormon Reformation.

Over the summer of 1856 Brigham Young and other church leaders traveled the different settlements in the territory preaching repentance and encouraging the congregations to elevate their spiritual lives.

When this effort didn’t seem to achieve the desired results a 2nd phase of the Reformation began that “rained down pitchforks” on the Latter-day Saints. Many historians call it a period of hellfire and damnation preaching in Mormon church meetings.

They called upon the Saints to improve their homes, lots and farms. They encouraged better church attendance. They discouraged excessive singing and dancing and encouraged more frequent prayers. They wanted the Saints to “wake up” spiritually.

The 3rd phase of the Reformation really began at the October General Conference of the Church when Brigham Young stopped the proceedings to organize the rescue of the handcart companies still out on the plains.

It took nearly two months to bring them in and the whole experience tempered the Reformation movement, giving it a gentler tone and an emphasis on compassion.

This time of compassionate messaging led to an increase in plural marriages. This was, after all, a season for marrying for pragmatic reasons.

For example, Sophie Petersen was a single mother member of the Willie Handcart Company who had four of her surviving children to care for when she arrived penniless in Utah.

She needed a husband and needed one quickly. Albert Smith raised his hand in response to the call as one who would be willing to marry her.

The same was true of Ane Marie Jensen, who arrived from Denmark during this period. When she was introduced to Samuel Barnhurst during a church meeting they couldn’t even converse due to the language barrier.

Women of these situations were placed in plural wife arrangements because there simply were few eligible single men — and no time – for them to court.

But even the younger women like Ann Findley, Mary Shumway, and, yes – Anna Clark – were in demand from those older men who were eager to show an increase in their faithfulness through plural marriage.

These young women likewise were willing participants in the call to greater obedience. Love of God had far more to do with it than anything else.

~ On the March ~

The Mormon Reformation soon ran out of steam, however, due to a new crisis in the territory.

In the summer of 1857 – while celebrating 10 years in the valley – Brigham Young and the Saints learned of the march of Johnston’s army.

This event affected nearly every community in the territory.

Anna Clark – now supposedly married to President James Chauncey Snow of the Provo, Utah Stake – knew it better than anyone. Anna wrote:

“…The Saints were all ordered by President Brigham Young, those living in Salt Lake City and all the settlements north and west, to leave their homes and move southward, which they did as soon as spring opened, settling mostly in the Provo area.

So, when Johnston lead his army through Salt Lake City, last of June, he found it deserted. But history tells this story.

However, history doesn’t tell the story of thousands of girls who lived through it all like I did.

I was 17 in April of that year, and it’s easy to remember how the Saints came flocking into Provo by the thousands, pitching their tents, camping in covered wagon-beds on the ground, throwing together make-shift log cabins, etc – many going on to Springville and parts near-by.

I want to tell you that this was a time when we girls had to stay close to home, and never be caught out alone anywhere.

Johnston’s Army set up what looked like a rather permanent encampment west of where the town of Lehi is now situated, which they named Camp Floyd. And the officers and soldiers were coming into our town thick as bees and were hot after the girls….”

Interestingly the memoir of Anna Clark fails to ever mention her sealing to President James Chauncey Snow around this time.

In fact, James Chauncey Snow’s history fails to mention her either.

So where did this phantom polygamous marriage of a 16 year old pioneer girl to a 40 year old Stake President come from?

~ Family Stories Lacking Evidence ~

Both James C. Snow and Anna Clark Hale have on their profile pages of Family Search a tie to each other, dating from March 13, 1857.

The note there says that according to a history written by a great-granddaughter, Myrlene Snow Woodbury, James Chauncey Snow and Anna Clark were married in his office in Provo, Utah.

The marriage supposedly lasted six years, resulted in no children, and dissolved when Anna divorced James and married Solomon Hale.

In fact, the history purportedly states that James Chauncey Snow went to prison because of this union, incarcerated for living polygamy.

But there are no other sources than this written history. There are no official records of the marriage.

I’m torn about it all.

Without any kind of records – or mention in their personal writings about each other – I’m inclined to doubt this ever happened.

However, Myrlene Snow Woodbury was no slouch as a family historian.

Her work in the history of the Snow family is something of legend. While she didn’t source this story it is clear that she had heard this story from someone.

While I will as a matter of interest continue to pursue evidence, either for or against this story, I fear there is no way in this life we can know the truth of the matter.

However, with perfect hindsight that comes from people dead now for more than a century, we do know the rest of the story.

And the story is this: both James Chauncey Snow and Anna Clark Hale were incredible people, even if their lives only crossed each other briefly.

~ Who was James Chauncey Snow? ~

James Chauncey SnowJames Chauncey Snow was the son of Gardner and Sarah Snow, early converts to the LDS faith. He was baptized in to the church as a 16 year old. When he was 19 he served a mission in the New England states and received a Patriarchal blessing under the hands of Joseph Smith Sr. in Kirtland, Ohio in 1837.

He married Eliza Ann Carter in 1838, traveled to Missouri and eventually settled in Nauvoo, where he became a member of the Nauvoo Legion.

He remained active in the Church and even in local politics. He was away on another mission when the Prophet Joseph and his brother Hyrum were martyred. He left Nauvoo with his family in 1846 and made it as far as Council Bluffs, where they remained in 1852. He then captained his own company, arriving in the fall of 1852 and settling in Provo in 1853, where he was called to serve as Stake President.

While in this position James C. Snow also served as a member of the territorial legislature and as a United States deputy marshal. He was also elected as a surveyor of Utah County.

As Stake President, there is no doubt that when visiting church authorities came to preach in church congregations near Provo that James C. Snow was there. He likely heard more of the preaching than the average person. The call to increased faithfulness surely impacted him as well.

Perhaps that is why, with the permission of his wife Eliza Carter Snow, he entered into the practice of plural marriage to Lydia Chadwick in February of 1856.

Little is known of this union and proof of it happening as well is scarce. Again, this is a matter of dated family history written in the early 20th century. Perhaps his marriage to Lydia was one of material support, as was common for widowers and older women without husbands.

No children came of this union and official records of Lydia and what became of her are scarce.

In December 1856 James married Jane Cecelia Roberts, a local girl nearly 20 years younger than he.

Jane Cecelia RobertsJane was the daughter of Horace Roberts, who was famously the potter of Nauvoo and later one of the first potters in Utah territory. Jane’s journey of a plural wife showcases yet another situation where there was some wisdom in practice.

She originally married in 1852 to a man named Thomas Wheeler. Together they had two children before Thomas abandoned her.

James married Jane in 1856 and would have 11 more children with her. Jane was a devote wife and, like her husband, was absolutely invested in her Mormon faith. Their children lived well into the 20th century and built a legacy of love and faith.

A surviving letter exists that historians say likely dates from the early 1880s between James Chauncey Snow and his first wife, Eliza. He was evidently incarcerated at this time.

“My dear companion . . . to think of your lonesome hours—your sorrow and sighing torn from friends and home—deprived of liberty—it destroys all my happiness. . . . If it was in my power I would decree all the [United States] soldiers so far back to hell that they would never find their way out. . . . I feel like standing up and defending Mormonism all the day long.”

~ What ever happened Anna Clark? ~

In 1863 Anna Clark got her wish and married her true love, Solomon Hale.

Together they would raise eight children while pioneering in far Northern Utah.

It seems that Ann was destined to marry a busy and influential man. Solomon, despite the fears of Ann’s parents, settled down to an adventurous, productive and distinguished life.

Perhaps he was classed as “too wild” while a young man due to his love of horses and his skills with livestock. As a young man Sol partnered with the largest stockman in Utah and learned the cattle trade. Later he took a job breaking horses for the Pony Express Company.

After Sol and Ann married they settled Bear Lake where Sol bought land in nearby Liberty. He worked to expand his herds and within a few years became very successful.

As he grew in influence he began to take on larger roles in the communities where they lived. He served as a Bishop in Idaho before he was called by the Church to be the superintendent over the construction of the Oneida Stake Academy at Preston.

There the family became deeply embedded in the community where Solomon later became a counselor in the Stake Presidency and later the Mayor of Preston.

Ann HaleAnna Hale likewise was a prominent individual in the communities where they lived. Aside from church service and raising her children Ann served as the community doctor and midwife whose services were in constant demand. She would never accept pay for her services.

The level of love and service Ann rendered to others was recognized by many. When she died in 1914 President Joseph F. Smith sent Apostle Orson F. Whitney to speak at her funeral.

Ironically, Ann had to make the decision whether or not her husband would enter into plural marriage. This he did in 1873 when he married Jane Clark Bollwinkel – Ann’s sister. Jane had lost her husband a few years before and he had lost a business that left their family deep in debt and saw Jane and her children working at the Utah Woolen Mill.

For their decision to marry into polygamy the Hales – Solomon, Ann and Jane were regularly harassed by federal authorities and lived in constant fear.

~ Honoring the Plural Relationships ~

There is a tendency with modern historians and casual observers of Mormon polygamy to whitewash the real conditions during the latter half of the 19th century. Mormon men are often depicted as cruel abusers and sex fiends while Mormon women engaged in polygamous relationships were thought of as weak, subservient and unprincipled.

While there no doubt existed abusive relationships among some polygamous peoples we see almost none of that evident in the polygamous relationships of our ancestors.

Edwin Westover had two faithful wives who, due to his church service, lived most of their days almost as single mothers – raising children and running farms. Both Sarah and Ann Westover lived for years after Edwin died, true to their end in their covenants with him and with God.

In fact, the plural marriages among the Westovers, Smiths and Snows seemed to produce rare levels of love.

The unexpected marriage of Albert Smith to Sophie Petersen not only brought children to their legacy but also years of temple worship and boundless examples of forgiveness and family service.

Both Ane Marie Jensen and Samuel Barnhurst were rejected of their families – people they deeply loved – because of their faith. They built a life together after starting as complete strangers who couldn’t even converse. Was it faith that destroyed their family past? Or was it faith that built a forever family?

For those who struggle with the reality of plural marriage in Church history I would encourage that you study not only the histories of those who engaged in it but also study the histories of their children. You will witness an elevated understanding of not only faith but also of love.

Note: Several months ago in preparation for a lesson at Church I stumbled upon a record of a vision about the afterlife given to a man named Heber Hale. It’s quite a read. Then a few weeks ago I started working on this connection between James C. Snow and Anna Hale. I couldn’t help but wonder if Heber and Anna were related. They are. She is his mother.

In catching up on all the family history news I missed over a very busy holiday season I was pleased to see that the Church History Library has at last digitized the letter Eliza Haven Westover wrote to her son Lewis in 1916. This was the letter where Eliza detailed living in Nauvoo as a teenager and witnessing the transfiguration of Brigham Young. We have shared that story before here.

I am not sure how many others asked for that to be done. I have been requesting it to be done for more than five years.

Eliza Haven Westover was the first wife of Charles Westover, brother to grandfather Edwin Westover.

We have shared more of the story of Charles and Eliza at this link. They have their own pioneer story that is worthy of knowing.

It is quite a different thing to just read about Eliza’s letter than it is to actually see it. Seeing it changes the way you see it, if that makes sense.

I hope you click on the first link above to the Church History Library to see the actual letter itself (it is saved as well as a PDF in our Documents Archive here on WFH).

What you see is her handwriting on simple lined paper, written in pencil. Though she was in her late 80s when the letter was written it is clear to read. You can tell it was written not only with a steady hand but also a clear mind.

As previously touched upon in telling the story we note that critics of the Church point out that the memories of this event with Brigham Young were not recorded until years after it supposedly happened. This they say is proof the entire thing was made up. More than 80 people claimed to have had the experience and all those memories were recorded after-the-fact.

The content of the letter will forever be debated. You can take it for whatever you want.

But the letter is family history.

It reveals the heart, mind and soul of Eliza Haven Westover. She was an extraordinary woman.

The 103 year old letter is a treasure. It contains much more than just the story of Brigham’s transfiguration. It speaks of her love for her son and the desire she had to provide him with a sketch of her life. He had, in a previous letter to her, made note of the fact that few remained alive with memories of the Prophet Joseph Smith.

She described Joseph as a “great lover of children”, an important observation considering she was still a child when she arrived in Nauvoo at the age of about 12. She notes his smile and how interesting it was for her to listen to him preach. She talks of seeing him frequently and witnessing his last ride through Nauvoo as he went to Carthage.

She goes on to describe the Nauvoo Temple, then moving to Winter Quarters and then meeting Charles Westover on the plains.

Eliza writes of life on the trail and then in Utah as a pioneer so matter-of-fact. She was, by this point, quite elderly and suffering from ill health brought on by a broken hip.

Eliza was still living in St. George and her son was with his family in Lewiston, Utah on the opposite end of the state when the letter was written.

She would live until the age of 93, passing in 1923.

I believe it is fair to say Eliza Westover had developed a very deep sense of history and her place in it.

She was a stalwart Latter-Day Saint and she lived during a time when Family History was emphasized greatly among the faithful of the church.

Like many of her generation she lacked the means to document far into her family past but she clearly had a vision of the need for her to record her history. A great many details of her life — even beyond this letter — survive because of her efforts to create a record.

She is a beloved grandmother. Eliza made sure she knew them and they knew her. She told them stories. She had outstanding photos taken during an age when it was not common, especially in the place where she lived.

Eliza Westover frequently bore witness of her testimony of Jesus Christ. Her stories were shared. She was in the newspaper from time to time, even beyond her own obituary.

This all happened even though Eliza and Charles Westover were not church leaders or famous community figures. They were just regular folk.

The lessons from Eliza Westover are many, especially as it comes to cherishing her own life experience and sharing it with others.

Her son, Lewis Burton Westover, was born in 1868 and died in 1966. He was a fixture in the community of Lewiston, Utah, not far from where I live now.

My experience in Cache Valley these past several years has led me to encounter many Westovers from this line of the family. As I discuss family history with them I am yet to meet one who does not know all about Charles and Eliza.

But especially Eliza. It’s always the grandmother!

This I believe is Eliza’s greatest legacy — that her many great grandchildren know her and love her.

I can only hope so much for myself.

195th Century Christmas

Historians tell us that Christmas in the United States and even the world was not celebrated much prior to Charles Dickens. They claim that the Puritans of Boston banned it and that it was “quite dead” in England of the 18th century.

That is all false.

While some evidence suggests Christmas was quite different it was not the fragmentary thing they made it out to be in America.

In fact, if anything was out of the usual when it came to Christmas it was the Puritan attitude about it. But the Puritans honestly never had a chance with their ban of Christmas.

Christmas was just too big even before they started.

The history of Christmas in the Americas dates back at least to the 14th century French explorers who first came to Canada. They did not record much of their activities however they did make a record of their Christmas celebrations in a strange land.

Columbus, too, made Christmas an event, even going so far as to name his first settlement in what we now call Cuba, La Navidad.

Of course, Columbus didn’t share his sacred Christmas with the natives and he allowed his own men to run wild. When Columbus returned the following year he found all his men dead and La Navidad burned beyond recognition. Columbus later took a more humble approach to teaching Christmas to later natives he discovered.

When the pilgrims of Jamestown arrived it was none other than John Smith who went on record as the first to drink eggnog at Christmas in the New World in 1607. The Jamestown record of Christmas celebration clearly pre-dates the Puritan ban.

Even in New England, outside of Puritan Boston, Christmas was widely observed. Newsprint clippings from the 1600s and 1700s shows Christmas recipes shared, poetry published and goods sold in association with Christmas.

In fact, old newspapers and family journals clearly show a culture where Christmas in one form or another was already a tradition that was passed for generations long before our ancestors of the 19th century came along.

What transpired culturally with Christmas in America only made it bigger as the 19th century advanced.

In New York City, by the late 1790s already a melting pot of nationalities, the secular Christmas in all of its raucous tradition was wildly celebrated.

The cultured and educated of the city fought to do something about it.

For years, spurred through the writings of Washington Irving, a man named John Pintard took up the challenge of taming the Christmas chaos in New York.

He did it by appealing to a common figure among all the immigrant groups of the city – St. Nicholas.

The true story of St. Nicholas (this historical figure, not the legendary Santa Claus he later became) is another that historians tend to gloss over.

Nicholas was a real person. He was a spiritual man, a bishop and a legendary figure in his time. He was one of those in attendance at the Council of Nicea and was a fervent backer of the Divinity of Christ.

In fact, it was there that Nicholas came to blows with a critic and was thrown into prison, only to be freed, it is said, by Jesus Christ, who returned to him his red priestly robes.

By the close of his life Nicholas was famous in many areas of the world, second only to Christ in terms of his fame. Within a few hundred years of his lifetime more than 2000 churches of the Old World would bear his name.

How did this happen in a world without Internet or media?

Nicholas’ exploits and some say miracles were carried by word of mouth. They were taught, as part of the Christmas season, in many lands.

Nicholas, long after he died, became known in many cultures and, due to his charity and his December 6th feast day, became associated with Christmas.

For Pintard in New York around the turn of the 19th century, Nicholas became the focal point of a more tame Christmas celebration.

He opened a museum of Nicholas history, drawing upon the Nicholas-themed traditions of every culture he could find.

He also used the literary market to great advantage by convincing popular writers such as Washington Irving to create works featuring St. Nicholas and Christmas. One of Washington
Irving’s associates was a wealthy professor of theology and religion named Clement Clark Moore.

Moore and his wife had a large family and, as the story goes, as he was delivering Christmas turkeys to the poor on a snowy Christmas Eve he penned a fun little poem about St. Nicholas based on the jolly demeanor of his white bearded sleigh driver.

Moore later shared his “Visit from St. Nicholas” with his many children, who were delighted.

The poem first became a family tradition of Christmas and later Moore had it published, anonymously in a New York newspaper, in 1823.

As was the tradition in those days, the poem passed from one paper to the next and was shared over time around the country. It became a media tradition of Christmas to share it every year.

Combine the image of Moore’s Santa Claus with Dicken’s resurgent embrace of Christmas with A Christmas Carol and you have the cultural fuel that made Christmas what it has become in America.

By the time our pioneer ancestors crossed the plains in the late 1840s they had, regardless of their land of origin, established traditions of Christmas celebrations.

They would continue those traditions of Christmas where they settled.

Christmas of 1847, the first in Salt Lake City, did not feature much of the usual trappings of Christmas. The 1500 or so of the first Saints in Zion did however gather at the flagpole that had been erected in the settlement and observed the day with song, talks and fellowship.

Christmas of 1848, just months after the Westovers had arrived, likely wasn’t much different in Salt Lake.

But by 1852 much progress had been made in building up the community, including a “social hall” where a Christmas day party was noted in one of the first editions of the Deseret News.

With the Westovers still living at that time within 3 blocks of the social hall there is little doubt that they were there.

It is quite likely that most there witnessed their first Christmas tree, which they then called a Santa Claus tree because it was decorated, as many trees then were, with gifts for the children.

Children really were the focus of the 19th century Christmas.

Thanks to the crafted images of Santa Claus in popular media it was common for children to commandeer the largest sock in the home – usually Fathers’ – to hang for Santa Claus to fill.

Christmas was almost always handmade.

Stockings were filled with handmade rag dolls, knitted items, candy and nuts. If fruit was available, which it often was not, that too might find its way into a stocking as a treat.

Albert Smith noted the passing of Christmas in his journal a couple of times, without much detail.

But with his home filled with children, especially in the 1860s and 1870s, you can be sure a special family meal was held and that inclusion in Manti’s Christmas activities, whatever they were included the Smiths.

It was the Smith home, after all, that served as the community theater for many years after Manti was first settled and Albert, known locally as “Father Smith”, due to his age and long-time Church member status, was certain to speak on any given occasion when folks gathered.

The Westovers of Southern Utah likely participated in the dedication of the St. George Tabernacle, which featured the first ever performance of Far, Far Away on Judea’s Plains.

We will never know if any of our family participated as choir members but we do know that both Charles and Edwin worked on the construction of that building, which took many years to construct and it is likely many of the family were present when it was dedicated.

While details of our pioneer family Christmases are scarce we can be assured their Christmas celebrations always meant a family gathering of some type mixed with church and community celebration.

They changed as the times changed in the 19th century.

It wasn’t until 1870 that Christmas, along with Thanksgiving, became an “official” holiday. It did not come as grand announcement, but rather as a measure designed to give federal workers the day off with pay like most of their private sector counterparts already received.

What did this mean? It meant that Christmas had already been long observed in a special way as a common observance.

Our 19th century ancestors were not strangers to Christmas. As followers of Christ they marked the day, if even in their more unique way.

The Barnhursts

Of the many reasons to be on Family Search few are as important to me than a fairly new feature known as the Family Calendar. It is just a simple timeline tied to your family tree that shows important dates – birthdays, days of passing, marriage, etc. It’s kind of cool because if you set it up right it will send you reminders of these dates via Facebook.

Tomorrow’s date marks the passing of Ane Marie Jensen – a pioneer of great significance in the Riggs line.

Just who is Ane Marie to me? My grandmother, Maurine Westover, is the daughter of Will Riggs. Will Riggs is the son of Will Riggs, Sr and Priscilla Barnhurst. Ane Marie Jensen is Priscilla’s mother – making her my 4th great grandmother.

Riggs Line

If you visit Ane Marie Jensen’s profile on Family Search (KWNC-D9G) you can read a great deal more about her than I am going to share here. Her life is very well documented and it is a great investment of your time to get to know her better.

The spelling of her name is Danish – because that is where she is from. It is pronounced “Annie”.

Ane was born of parents who had done well in their lives in Denmark. Her father served in some capacity with the government there. Regardless of their prosperity, it was required that all adults have a trade and Ane chose to be a seamstress. She learned young and did well, growing well known for her skills in making fine clothes.

While in her early 20s she was discovered by Mormon missionaries and began her conversion experience. Like many, her family did not approve. You can read the details of that on Family Search but suffice it to say here she determined to follow the faith shortly after she was baptized.

She was a handcart pioneer, arriving first after a miraculous sea voyage and then pressing on to Omaha, Nebraska where she would join a company of other Danish saints heading west.

The year was 1857 and her company, the Christensen Company, made their way west either with or near Johnston’s Army, who very famously were headed to Utah to “put down the Mormon rebellion”.

Ane was something of a clothes horse. Perhaps her skills as a seamstress and her family’s position in the community back home in Denmark gave her a great wardrobe. Stories are told of all the clothes and accessories she brought with her. One unproven history states she started across the plains in heels.

She was distressed to have to leave a great many of her belongings behind. Like other handcart pioneers she was limited to about 17 pounds of “stuff”. We don’t know how she covered her feet but somewhere along the journey she ruptured a blood vessel in her foot, which led to infection and made her very ill. Many thought she would die.

She heard people talking outside the tent one night, speculating on her chances of survival. She heard a man pass her tent and she prayed for a blessing. He was prompted to check on her and he did administer to her. He commanded her to get up and get dressed, and she did so – now healed.

She arrived in Salt Lake safely, decorating her handcart and singing her way with the others on the broad streets of Salt Lake as they arrived.

She was placed in a ward with other Danish Saints and the Bishop there, who spoke both English and Danish, asked her why she was not married. She explained that she had been engaged in Denmark before she left but that her fiancé did not want anything to do with the Church and didn’t think they should be married if she became a Mormon. Her heart was broken and she had grown reluctant at the idea of love and marriage.

The Bishop asked her if he found a worthy young man if she would be willing to raise a family to help build the Kingdom. To this Ane faithfully agreed.

Residing in that same ward was a young man whose name was Samuel Barnhurst. We have told a little of his story before. He was previously married, in Philadelphia, and his wife was a conspirator in the plot to get him thrown into an insane asylum – for joining the Mormon Church. He fled, came west to Utah, feeling ambivalent himself about love and marriage.

As with Ane, the Bishop asked Samuel if he would be married and raise a family to help build the Kingdom. He faithfully said yes.

So the Bishop got them together, speaking to Ane in Danish, and to Samuel in English.

They got married in the office of Brigham Young in November, 1857, and about a year later, while living in Ephriam, they brought twin girls into the world to begin their family.

The BarnhurstsThe story is told how it was agreed upon that in the family home the children would learn to speak Danish until the age of 5 – at which point only English would be spoken. This was done to teach them both languages.

This “dual immersion” approach proved useful for all the family, especially for Samuel and Ane, who continued to associated with Danish Saints in the many places they lived. They were able to serve in a variety of capacities because of these skills, as did their children.

In their growing up years both Ane and Samuel had grown up in families with means. This was not their lot in life as Mormon pioneers in central and southern Utah. The rest of their lives were a struggle to survive. They lived for many years in Cedar City, where Ane served in the Relief Society. They later moved to Hatch, where she would be for the rest of her life. While there she was the postmistress — and the Relief Society president.

Ane passed away on July 23, 1906 – leaving a remarkable family legacy.

I’ve only provided a very small glimpse into Ane’s history. I strongly encourage to visit her profile on Family Search and read the many histories of her there.