Saturday, March 29, 2014

Claiming the Legendary Teapot and Colander

There's a story circulating for some time now picked up by Stake Pioneer Trek websites about an elderly woman who walked all the way to Salt Lake City in 1856 with a teapot and colander tied to her apron strings. There was a strict weight limit for personal items in the handcarts. This woman found a way around that. Another woman in the first company carried a hat box, but she died along the way. These stories were recounted in the Ensign of July 2000. However, in the Ensign, the teapot is covered by ellipses. . . .

With some pretty good circumstantial evidence, I am prepared to claim the woman with the teapot and colander as our ancestress, Elinor Jenkins Vaughan. I think I know who the lady with the hat box was too.

This story originates with Mary Ann Jones who married Edmund Ellsworth as a plural wife. They were both in that first company of handcarts with Elder Ellsworth as Captain. The story is from her journal, the first publication of which I am aware is a reminiscence dated 20 August 1910 and published in the Deseret News. The 1910 version has a few stylistic changes and seems to be adapted from what Mary Ann had written earlier. Both contain the apron-strings story. The story has been picked up by many writers of handcart histories. Here it is in its earliest version:
"One old Sister carried a teapot & calendar [collander] on her apron strings all the way to Salt Lake. Another Sister carried a hat box full of things but she died on the way." Ellsworth, Mary Ann Jones, Diary of Mary Ann Jones (Age 19) on Her Trip Across the Plains. LDS Pioneer Overland Travel Database.
Now, for a 19-year-old young woman, any woman older than 35 maybe could be considered "old." But we have the complete list of the company and a very complete record kept of the company's journey. Andrew Galloway was the scribe and there are daily entries. We know who died and when. Captain Ellsworth was one of those who had come up with the handcart idea so he had every interest to make it as best of a success as possible. He wanted a good record to show that they made it record time.

Among the women, Eleanor is the oldest. There is a mistake in that she was only 66 turning 67 that Christmas,* not 78 as on the company list (consistent with the passenger list on the Enoch Train as well). Nobody seems to have questioned her age so she must have appeared to be as old as every day of 78 years. The "older" women by eldest to youngest (I'm cutting it off at 50) are:
Vaughan, Eleanor (66 - but believed to be 78!)
Mayo, Mary (65)
Armstrong, Eliza Salt (63)
Card, Sarah Sabin (63)
Walker, Isabella Dixon (62)
Franklin, Elizabeth (59)
Ash, Sarah (58)
Bond, Elizabeth (55)
Morris, Sarah Ann (53)
Clarke, Mary Anne Mitchell (53)
Bailey, Mary Ann Woodlock (51)
Warner, Ann Miller Bradley (51)
My first thought is, wow! Wallace Stegner was right! The strength of the Mormon Pioneers was in their women. My hat is off to you, dear Sisters!

Looking at the list we see that the next eldest to Eleanor is Mary Mayo. Sister Mayo is the one who matches the woman who carried the hat box. She died 13 September 1856 and is buried up on the high Wyoming plains near South Pass. While seventeen people died during the Ellsworth Company's journey, there was only one adult female who died, Mary Mayo.

So, we're left with three women in their 60's and seven in their 50's who could have girded up those apron strings. I suppose it could have been any one of them, but there are additional reasons to believe it was our Elinor (original Welsh spelling at her christening).

To tie up those items and walk 1,300 miles would take a bit of stubbornness, maybe a little pride. Elinor would not have had the pride of riches, quite the opposite. Her father died less than two years after her birth. Her mother, Jane, was thrown into widowhood with two infants. It's possible that Jane Jenkins stayed on at Stowe Farm in some form of service. It could have been in any poor status on the Whitney/Clifford estate next to the Welsh border, or in the market town, Hay, across the border. Similar circumstances were likely for Elinor.

The next recorded event is Elinor's 1810 marriage to a lower-class butcher, John Vaughan, born "fatherless" as a "bastard" on church records matching the fatherless status of Eleanor. They did well enough in a marriage lasting 41 years only ending when John was buried in the St. Faiths churchyard in Llanfoist, Monmouthshire. It couldn't have been an easy life as John's occupation switched between "butcher" and "labourer" several times as their nine children were christened.

They moved to Llanfoist in the second half of the 1830's when economic depression hit the industrialized world. There, Elinor's husband is listed as a drover of cattle. Sons become labourers, workers on the wharf (of the Brecon and Abergavenny Canal), and in the iron mills across the Blorenge Mountain. They were on the edge of the smokey, filthy, carbon-colored industrialization of once green mountains and valleys. In 1841 Elinor was baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by Elder John Needham.

For fifteen years she waited to go to Zion. That was most likely from lack of family support and lack of funds. She was a prime candidate for the Perpetual Emigration Fund once she had laid her John in a grave. She did have a daughter, Jane, and her husband, John Lewis, who joined the church in 1849 at Tredegar. That John served in a Branch Presidency with Thomas Giles, later known in Utah as the "Blind Harpist."

Elinor did not go to America alone. her daughter, son-in-law, and two grandsons also headed for Zion. For some reason she was on the Enoch Train while they were on the S. Curling. When they met up in Iowa City, she would have learned that the infant grandson had been buried in the North Atlantic.

She was a poverty stricken, hard-working, faithfully committed woman. No one could wait 15 years and walk 1,300 miles for a religious belief and not be. She would have had few possessions. If she had taken any at all to Zion in the New World, she wouldn't have easily given them up. Was the teapot something that had belonged to her mother? perhaps a wedding gift from her only sister along with a colander? One must give all for the Kingdom of God, but can we begrudge her the only two treasures she had in life? This widow, determined not to defy the weight limits in the carts, hitched up her apron strings and carried on. Her last mites had already gone as the 10 shillings she deposited in the PEF - likely all the money she had in a very cruel world.

For one-hundred-fifty-seven years, no one else has claimed the woman with the teapot and colander strung on her apron. I think it's about time somebody did.

Recreation of 19th Century Welsh Iron-Worker's Home. St. Fagan's National History Museum, Wales.
Note the teapot just left of center by the fire. Anybody seen anything like that kicking around the DUP?

*Eleanor's own registration at the Endowment House on 15 November 1856 indicates her birth as 25 December 1789. LDS FHL Special Collections. One isn't likely to forget when told they were a Christmas baby! The 1 February 1790 Christening in Whitney, Hereford Parish Records with the same parents in the same location confirms that this is our ancestor.

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