Church History
15 In Storms and in Calms

“In Storms and in Calms,” chapter 15 of Saints: The Story of the Church of Jesus Christ in the Latter Days, Volume 2, No Unhallowed Hand, 1846–1893 (2020)

Chapter 15: “In Storms and in Calms”

Chapter 15

In Storms and in Calms

men waving from dock to passengers on ship

On January 26, 1856, apostle Franklin Richards published the First Presidency’s epistle in the Latter-day Saints’ Millennial Star, the Church’s newspaper in England. As editor of the paper, Franklin gave his enthusiastic support to the handcart plan. “The faithful poor in foreign lands have the consolation of knowing that they are not forgotten,” he rejoiced.1

Since the earliest days of the Church, the Lord had commanded the Saints to gather together to prepare themselves for the tribulations preceding the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.2 Franklin believed that these hardships were coming soon and that the European Saints needed to act quickly to avoid them.

Knowing that some Saints worried about the difficulty of gathering by handcart, he presented the proposal as a test of faith. He also reminded emigrants that the ordinances of exaltation awaited them in the Endowment House. “Come, all ye faithful, who have stood firm in storms and in calms,” he declared. “We are ready to welcome you home and bestow upon you those blessings for which you have long hungered.”3

With his time as mission president almost over, Franklin planned to return home to Utah as well. Writing to other returning missionaries, he advised them to assist the handcart emigrants until everyone had arrived safely in the valley.

“On your journey home,” he directed, “you should constantly seek how you can aid them by your experience, direct and comfort them by your counsels, cheer them by your presence, strengthen their faith, and keep the spirit of union and peace in their midst.”

“The Saints look to you, and have a right to, as the angels of their deliverance,” he wrote. “Discharge the responsibility like men of God, for it is upon you.”4

That winter, Jesse Haven traveled to London after serving for almost three years as president of the South African mission. His companions, William Walker and Leonard Smith, had already come to England a few months earlier with fifteen South African Saints bound for Zion.5 In a matter of days, both William and Leonard would be sailing out of Liverpool with nearly five hundred emigrating Church members.6

Eager to reunite with his family, Jesse looked forward to his own voyage home. Still, he already missed the South African Saints. Finding people to teach had been a constant challenge in such a large and diverse region, yet he and his companions had achieved great success and left behind many friends.7 More than 170 people had been baptized in South Africa, and most of them were still faithful.

While Jesse would have liked to accomplish more on his mission, he believed the Church in South Africa would grow larger with time and that many more of its members would come to Zion.

“It is not so easy a matter as one might suppose, at first thought, to establish the gospel in a country,” Jesse wrote in his official report to the First Presidency, “where the people speak three or four different languages, and where they are of all kinds, grades, conditions, castes, and complexions, and where only two or three hundred thousand inhabitants are scattered over a territory twice as big as England.”8

On a sunny day in March, soon after Jesse’s arrival in Britain, another group of about five hundred Saints left Liverpool for Zion. These Saints were from the United Kingdom, Switzerland, Denmark, East India, and South Africa. Before they departed, Jesse bid farewell to the South African emigrants, sad that he could not join them on the voyage. He would be leaving England two months later with an even larger group of emigrants.9

Many of these emigrants expected to travel by handcart once they reached the Great Plains. Since arriving in England, Jesse had heard much about handcarts, but he felt unsure about using them. “I don’t know but what they will do well, yet I have not much faith in them,” he confided in his journal. “I am inclined to think that the plan will prove a failure, yet as it is recommended by President Brigham Young, I shall back it up and recommend it too.”10

On May 25, Jesse left England on a ship with more than 850 Church members, most of whom were longtime British Saints who had received financial assistance from the Perpetual Emigrating Fund. They were the largest company of Saints to cross the Atlantic Ocean so far. Before they departed, apostle Franklin Richards called Edward Martin to lead them and appointed Jesse as one of his counselors. A capable leader, Edward was one of the first British converts, a veteran of the Mormon Battalion, and one of the many missionaries sent throughout the world in 1852.11

Franklin and other mission leaders saw the Saints off at the docks in Liverpool. Before the ship set sail, they gave the emigrating Saints three cheers. The Saints responded with three cheers of their own, and Franklin and the other leaders said goodbye, giving one more cheer as a parting blessing for the Saints.12

The ship arrived in Boston just over a month later. Like others on board, Elizabeth and Aaron Jackson had been members of the Church for years. Elizabeth’s parents had joined the Church in 1840, not long after the first missionaries came to England, and Elizabeth had been baptized a year later at the age of fifteen. She had married Aaron, an elder in the Church, in 1848. Both had worked in the British silk mills.13

Traveling with the Jacksons were their three children—seven-year-old Martha, four-year-old Mary, and two-year-old Aaron Jr.—and Elizabeth’s nineteen-year-old sister, Mary Horrocks.

In Boston, the family boarded a train with most of their company and traveled to Iowa City, a point of departure for westbound Saints. When they arrived, Elizabeth and Aaron expected to find handcarts ready for them, but the number of Saints going west that season was higher than expected. Three handcart companies had already left Iowa City that summer, and a fourth company, led by returning missionary James Willie, would soon be leaving. There were not enough handcarts ready for everyone.14

Knowing they needed to leave soon to get to the Salt Lake Valley before winter, the newly arrived emigrants helped to assemble handcarts. The emigrants split into two handcart companies, one led by Edward Martin and the other by Jesse Haven. Other emigrants joined two wagon companies also led by returning missionaries.15

The four companies left Iowa City in late July and early August. About five people were assigned to each handcart, and they were allowed to bring seventeen pounds of personal items apiece. A handcart weighed around two hundred pounds when fully loaded. Each handcart company also traveled with mule teams and wagons laden with tents and provisions.16

Toward the end of August, the companies stopped in a town called Florence, not far from the old Winter Quarters site. Franklin Richards, who was traveling with a smaller and faster-moving company of returning missionaries, was already there, preparing to continue on to Utah for the upcoming general conference. In a meeting, Franklin discussed with company leaders whether the emigrants should spend the winter in Florence or continue to Zion, despite the risk of meeting bad weather on the trail ahead.17

In their epistles to the Saints throughout the world, the First Presidency had warned emigrants repeatedly about the dangers of starting for the valley late in the season. Wagon companies needed to leave Florence no later than spring or early summer to arrive in Salt Lake City by August or September. While Church leaders believed that handcart companies could travel faster than wagon companies, no one was sure they would, since the first handcart companies were still on the trail. If the Martin company left Florence in late August, they would still be on the trail in late October or early November, when it sometimes began to snow.18

Knowing this, some men urged Franklin to recommend wintering the company in Florence. Others counseled him to send the emigrants on to Zion, regardless of the danger. Two weeks earlier, the Willie handcart company had faced the same dilemma, and most members had decided to move ahead on the advice of Captain Willie and other leaders, who promised that God would protect them from harm. Franklin also had faith that God would open a way for the emigrants to arrive safely in the valley, but he wanted them to decide for themselves if they should stay or go.19

Gathering the companies together, Franklin warned them about the dangers of traveling so late in the emigration season. Some infants and elderly Saints would likely perish, he said. Other members of the company would suffer disease and exhaustion. If the emigrants wanted, they could spend the winter in Florence living off the provisions already purchased for their journey. Franklin even offered to buy additional provisions for their stay.20

Several returning missionaries spoke after Franklin. Most encouraged the Saints to continue to the valley. Brigham Young’s son Joseph urged them not to press forward that season. “Such would cause untold agonies, sickness, and much loss of life,” he said. “I do not wish such upon my conscience but wish all to stay here for the winter and then go on in the spring.”

When the missionaries finished, Franklin arose again and asked the emigrants to vote on the matter. “If you knew that you should be swallowed up in storms,” he asked, “would you stop or turn back?”21

With cheers, most emigrants removed their hats, raised their hands, and voted to continue to Zion.22 Franklin merged the two handcart companies under the leadership of Edward Martin and assigned Jesse Haven to help lead a wagon company with Captain William Hodgetts. The companies left Florence a few days later with a large herd of cattle.

Though Elizabeth and Aaron Jackson were young and healthy, the daily grind of pulling their heavy handcart over rocky trails, patches of deep sand, and streams soon took a toll on their bodies. Some emigrants also struggled to keep up with the company when poorly made handcarts broke down. At the end of every day, the Saints arrived in camp with hungry stomachs and a sure knowledge that the backbreaking work would begin again in the morning.23

In September 1856, as the handcart and wagon companies traveled west, the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve began preaching repentance and moral reform throughout Utah Territory. Although many Saints lived righteous lives, Church leaders were concerned that too many Saints were not actively striving to become a Zion people or to prepare for the Second Coming. They worried as well about the influence of those in the territory who did not belong to the Church, the weak faith and commitment among some emigrants, and those who had left the Church and now fought against it.

Jedediah Grant, second counselor in the First Presidency, led reform efforts under Brigham Young’s direction. Beginning in early September, Jedediah urged the Saints to forsake evil and be rebaptized to renew their covenants and remit their sins. Soon other Church leaders joined him, spreading the message far and wide until a spirit of reformation filled the air.24

Their sermons were often fiery. “I am speaking to you in the name of Israel’s God,” Jedediah proclaimed in Salt Lake City on September 21. “You need to be baptized and washed clean from your sins, from your backslidings, from your apostasies, from your filthiness, from your lying, from your swearing, from your lusts, and from everything that is evil before the God of Israel.”25

In the Sugar House Ward, Martha Ann Smith was already interested in improving herself, thanks in part to the constant advice she received from her brother Joseph in Hawaii. At first, she believed that going to school would help. Since the territory had no public school system, she attended a school run by her ward. But now that the school term had ended, she was looking for other ways to better herself.

In the spring, Martha Ann had begun living with her older brother John and his family, and her new home provided opportunities for personal improvement. As much as Martha Ann liked John, she did not care for his wife, Hellen, or his in-laws. “They will tell lies behind my back and make fun of your sisters and call them liars,” she confided in a letter to Joseph. Knowing Joseph might scold her for speaking ill of family, she added, “If you should know them as well as I do, you would not blame me.”26

That summer, however, a letter from the East drew Martha Ann’s attention away from family squabbles. Lovina, her oldest sister, wrote that she was finally moving to the valley with her husband and four children. Almost immediately, John headed east to bring them supplies and help them on the trail.

Martha Ann and her sisters expected John to come with Lovina and her family in one of the handcart or wagon companies arriving that fall. But when the first companies arrived that season, John and Lovina were not among them. In fact, news of their whereabouts did not come until the third handcart company arrived in early October.

“The handcart company has come into the valley,” Martha Ann informed Joseph, “and they said that the company that John is in is three weeks behind.”

They had no news about Lovina and her family.27

John Smith was not three weeks behind. He arrived in the valley two days later with Franklin Richards and the small company of returning missionaries. While heading east, John had crossed paths with them at Independence Rock, about 350 miles from Salt Lake City. They informed him that Lovina’s family had reached Florence late in the season and had decided not to go any farther that year.28

Disappointed, John thought about continuing east. The weather on the plains was still warm and clear. He could travel the remaining seven hundred miles to Florence, spend the winter with Lovina and her family, and help them come west in the spring. But if he did that, he would have to leave Hellen and their children to fend for themselves in Utah. John asked Franklin what he should do, and the apostle advised him to return to the valley with him and his company.29

On October 4, the evening they arrived in Salt Lake City, Franklin told the First Presidency that the Willie and Martin companies and two wagon companies were five hundred, maybe six hundred, miles away. Altogether, more than a thousand Saints were still east of the Rocky Mountains, and Franklin did not think the Martin company would be able to arrive before the end of November.30

Franklin’s report alarmed the presidency. Knowing some companies had left England late in the season, they had assumed that Franklin and the emigration agents would instruct them to wait until spring to come west. The Church had sent no provisions east to resupply the remaining companies, which meant that the emigrants would not have enough food to sustain them through their journey. If the companies did not perish in ice and snow, they would succumb to starvation—unless the Saints in the valley came to their rescue.31

In Church services the next day, Brigham spoke urgently about the imperiled emigrants. “They must be brought here; we must send assistance to them,” he declared. “That is my religion. That is the dictation of the Holy Ghost that I possess. It is to save the people.”32

Brigham called on the bishops to assemble mule teams and supplies immediately. He asked for men to be ready to leave as soon as possible and called on women to begin organizing donations of blankets, clothes, and shoes.

“Your faith, religion, and profession of religion will never save one soul of you in the celestial kingdom of our God,” he said, “unless you carry out just such principles as I am now teaching you. Go and bring in those people now on the plains.”33

Before they left the meeting, some women removed their warm stockings, petticoats, and anything else they could spare and piled them into wagons.34 Other women and men immediately began collecting food and supplies and preparing to care for the emigrants once they arrived.

Two days later, more than fifty men and twenty relief wagons left the valley and began crossing the mountains. More followed over the coming weeks. Among the first rescuers were five of the missionaries who had returned home in Franklin Richards’s company just three days earlier.35