decisions

Decisions and Consequences

When Gabriel and Joanne Westover of Taunton, England married in 1618 they likely had no idea how larger events would impact their family.

A son, John, was born in 1619. Then came a daughter, Johanne. Another son came in 1622, named Gabriel III, and another, named Richard, was born in 1623.

Then there is a gap in the ages of their children.

As Puritans, the Westover’s were embroiled in the overall conflict between the Crown and Parliament. Religion, theology and control of the Church of England was at the center of the conflict and it affected those who opposed the Crown.

In 1625 Charles I ascended to the throne and persecution of his enemies, which included the Puritans, intensified.

As with many other Puritan families, Gabriel and Joanne Westover reportedly took their young family to the Netherlands to escape the conflict. But it appears they soon returned to Taunton.

More children came to the family. Daughter Jane came in 1626 and Jonah was born in 1628. During the 1630s four more children would be born.

During these years the conflict escalated.

Charles I dissolved Parliament and persecution of Puritans powered what is called the Great Migration, where over a period of roughly ten years during the 1630s more than 80,000 people, mostly Puritans, sailed to the New World in order to “grow a society of Saints”.

During these years, right around the time their youngest child Joshua would be born in Taunton, Gabriel and Joanne made a fateful decision. They first sent Jane, believed to be about 14 years old, to the New World. Then they sent Jonah, age 11, in 1639.

Why these two children were sent is not known. It is written that the original intent was to migrate as a family but the Westover’s lacked the financial resources to do so. Perhaps Jane and Jonah were sent because they were old enough to be self-sufficient but young enough to have the best opportunities in the New World.

Regardless, Gabriel and Joanne would never see these children again.

Jane and Jonah stayed in America and built families. Gabriel and Joanne, like many other Puritans, decided to stay in England after civil war broke out and Charles I was defeated in 1645.

That decision, made under real world pressures, would have long-lasting consequences for the Westover family.

It is doubtful this ever crossed the minds of Gabriel and Joanne. They were concerned about just surviving.

Yet here we are, nearly 400 years later, exploring how this one decision has had a lasting impact on our family history.

There would be many others.

~ Personal and Sacred ~

When I was a teenager my Mom told me of a near death experience she had when I was very little. It was a story she would tell me at least four other times in my life.

As I work on the history of my parents I have struggled with whether or not to share this story. We are told to be careful in sharing sacred experiences and to me this was as sacred and as personal as a story can get.

But like the story of Gabriel and Joanne Westover of 400 years ago this story highlights a moment of decision that impacted our family history. It needs to be told.

Mom

Mom with the four of us not long before the ectopic pregnancy

My Mom had four of us in the span of five years. After my youngest brother, David, was born, my parents entered a period of transition that saw many significant life changes. My Nana, Mom’s mother, passed away. She was 49 and my Mom was just 25. My Dad graduated from college during these years, he started his career and we moved from the place we had first called home as a family.

During these years mom had an ectopic pregnancy resulting in a severe medical emergency.

One of the things to know about my mother is that she had some extraordinary spiritual gifts. Shortly after my parents married my mother converted, but only after having a vision related to the Book of Mormon.

She told me that story many times as well, and I’ve discussed that event with my Dad many times. It was the kind of revelatory experience I believe many of us hope for and the type you read about in books and in scripture.

Perhaps Mother was given such a gift because of her standing in her family, and the work of family history and temple that would later manifest itself in her life. Whatever the reason, Mom was prone to have connection with the other side. It was her gift.

I remember mom telling me of her severe pain and the operating room they rushed her to when this happened. They began to operate immediately and while they did Mom’s spirit separated from her body.

She looked down upon herself and witnessed no small amount of blood as they operated.

Mom described leaving the room, rising up very high and leaving the hospital altogether. She experienced what many others describe during near death experiences – a tunnel of light, a sensation of being surrounded by great love, and the presence of a Holy Being.

Mother was told she had a choice.

She could return to her body, and resume her life, being allowed to raise her children. Or, it was okay for her to stay where she was.

Mother told me it was not really a choice in her mind. She instantly asked to be returned to her body, and she was.

That was a moment of decision that impacted family history. If Mother decided not to return, how would my life be different?

While for many years I digested that question I got to see from my parent’s perspective how that decision impacted their lives as a couple.

Several years later, my folks were delighted to hear they were pregnant again. After Mom’s ectopic pregnancy she was told the odds of her having another baby were very slim.

The birth of my baby sister, Kris, came at an impactful time for me. I will never forget that day or that time of my life, it made such an impression on me.

But in discussing all this at length with both Mom and Dad individually I learned how they considered this whole event a faith affirming consequence of the choice my Mother made in coming back.

Mom was not given a knowledge of my little sister during her experience. While she and my father wanted another child – and particularly, another daughter – that was not something promised or foretold.

Dad

Dad, pictured here with the custodial crew at Mt. Diablo High School, where he was employed during these years.

Dad’s feeling about it was interesting. My parents married very young, and Dad in particular suffered with feeling qualified in being a husband, father and provider. He recalled to me a few times how as an 18-year old groom he was grilled by both of my grandfathers about how he expected to support my Mom in marriage.

Both pairs of grandparents had made significant sacrifices and contributions to set my parents up in a home for us and helped as my Dad worked several jobs to work his way through school.

After he graduated and we moved from that area, my parents experienced a kind of independence as a couple they previously had not known or felt. Having my little sister and adding her to the family was something of a certification of their union, they felt. They had finally grown up and were sitting at the adult table. That is how they felt and they were grateful.

Now that we are older the years are not the separation they once were for me and my little sister. But she was the baby, and is common with many youngest children, her growing up experience was different than mine and that of my siblings.

Dad with Kris and Debbie

That doesn’t matter now.

I know having spent time with my parents towards the end of their lives what Kris’ coming into the world meant to them. It was different and special for reasons the rest of us who didn’t walk their path can understand.

I think the natural inclination we have when we hear or read about the experiences, decisions and consequences of our ancestors is to say, “What would I have done?” or “How would I have felt?”

Those are impossible questions to answer.

But they remain instructive to us because it helps us to see their real struggles and desires.

Through knowing these things we come to appreciate their humanity, as well as their sacrifices.

Jeff Westover
Jeff Westover

Husband, father, Latter-day Saint, 11th generation American, and web geek currently residing in Smithfield, Utah. Please visit my website at JeffWestover.com

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1 reply
  1. Kirk says:

    Once when I had an automobile accident, I asked myself about the exquisite timing required to be at the wrong place at the right time. Why didn’t a shoelace come untied on that morning?
    We seldom foresee the effects of the decisions we make with any clarity. How fortunate that there is one who does, who can direct the path of our experiences and learning.

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