Tuesday, July 1, 2014

A Letter from Nephi to Abergavenny

While searching for other things, serendipity gave me a great glimpse into a Welshman's view of pioneer days in Utah. It appeared in the The Usk Observer, Abergavenny and Raglan Herald, Pontypool Messenger, and Monmouthshire Central Advertiser* of Saturday, July 25, 1857. That was the day after the 24th of July Pioneer Celebration up at Silver Lake when Brother Brigham learned that federal troops were on their way to Utah to put down an alleged rebellion of tyrannical despotism. Most of the newspaper articles published in Britain concerning Mormonism were more similar to President Buchanan's views of Utah.
MORMONISM,-The following letter is from a Patriarch in the Mormon Camp, to his Brother at Abergavenny.
Nephi City, February, 1857.
Dear Brother,—I have no doubt but that you have long been expecting a letter from me, but pens, ink, and paper are not very readily obtained here, as this settlement is nearly 100 miles from the Salt Lake City, and there are no shops here as in England, it being a new country, and, consequently there are many inconveniences to put up with, that are not felt in old countries; yet poor people have more independency here than with you. We left Liverpool April 22nd, 1855, and landed in New York the 22nd of May. There was nothing very particular occurred with us crossing the sea. I believe the company altogether was over 500, and most of the passengers were sick, more or less, but no deaths. We saw numbers of vessels going to and from different parts of the earth, and several strange kinds of fish or animals. If you should cross the sea (as I hope you will), provide a little additional provisions to the company's allowance. A little jam, pickles, and preserves; a little flour, and plenty of patience, for I tell you these will be very necessary, especially on the plains. Now let me caution you particularly, that if ever you start for this country, let it be with a single eye to the glory of God,-have no other object in view than to do the will of God—to assist in building up His kingdom-and accomplishing His purposes on the earth. The limits of a letter will not allow me to say much respecting the journey. New York is a pretty place when we get into the best part of it; and there is very grand scenery for about nine miles along the banks of the river before reaching it. From thence to Hutchinson, our last landing place, is about 3000 miles. By far the greater portion of this journey is by water, up the Ohio and Missouri rivers, passing several cities on the way, and immense woods. We stayed at St. Louis five days. I believe this part of the country is very unhealthy, and many other parts of America also; yet it is a fine country, and, generally speaking, working people do better than in England. I do not know whether your business is good or bad in America. The land journey from Hutchinson to the Salt Lake City is a tiresome journey of 1,200 miles. My wife's health was pretty good until she had sailed a few hundreds of miles on the Missouri river, above St. Lewis, when the cholera broke out amongst us, and several died, among them my wife. This caused me much sorrow - not as those who have no hope, for we know the resurrection is not far off, when I shall have her again, never more to be separated. We arrived at Salt Lake City, October 23, 1855. This is a pretty location, and many good buildings and houses are already erected, and is continually improving, I remained in the city about a fortnight, but thinking the country would suit me better I came here, and Dick, James, Elizabeth and Emma came soon after. We have plenty of land, and we can rise all the grain and vegetables we need. There is very little rain in these vallies. We have to irrigate our land. The summers are warmer, and the winters longer and colder than in England. There is much more snow here than with you but little work is done here in the winter, as we can provide plenty in the summer. Ann was married in London, and they were both in New York, on their way here, in September last. I have not heard from them since. People can do well here; yet it is not for temporal blessings alone that we gather here. I think yourself, wife, and family will believe me (it would be no benefit to me to tell you untruths, or endeavour to lead you into errors, and God knows it never was in my head to do any such thing) when I testify to you all, in the name of God, that the doctrine taught by the Latter-day-saints is truth, and the only plan of salvation that ever was, or ever will be offered to the human family; and I do exhort your wife and children, as one who loves their souls, to embrace it; and be sure to remain steadfast yourself; and all of you come to these vallies as soon as the Lord shall open a way for you: for this is the place the Lord has appointed for the gathering together of his people in the last days. But why are we brought here? I answer, that we may be weaned from Gentile principles and practices, which are an abomination in the sight of God. Here we can be taught the will of God, and learn his laws, and walk in them. Here we can purify and sanctify ourselves, and be prepared to meet Christ at His coming, which will not be many years hence—say 34; but many mighty events will take place before that time, -the Jews will be gathered to their own lands - build up their city and temple -and many and great judgments will be poured out upon the Gentile nations of the earth; and many thousands will yet be glad to fly to these vallies, to escape troubles in their own lands. Great numbers have come here this last fall, by the emigration fund, and walked the whole of the land journey, 1,400 miles, and drew hand-carts. Some of the first companies came in well; but some of them started too late, and the snow and cold weather overtook them before they crossed the mountains, and no doubt they suffered considerably but Brigham Young sent a number of teams, men, and provisions several hundred miles to meet them, and when they came into the city the inhabitants took them into their houses, fed, and clothed them, and they were treated with the greatest kindness - those that had friends in the city or other settlements went to them—those that had no acquaintances, the Bishop provided for them in each settlement. There are several that came in with hand carts this season with us, and we give flour, wheat, meat, or anything we have to the Bishop, and they do very well. Their wood is brought to their doors, yet there are some that will grumble. I cannot say all I should wish in a letter; but let me advise you not to listen to all newspaper tales respecting this people for I tell you we are the people of God, and there are no people on the earth that are keeping the commandments of God as we are. Nevertheless there is plenty of wickedness in the midst of us; but these things must be before the gospel gathers all kinds, bad and good, and here they will be brought and separated. Very probably you have heard said, what I have often when in England, that Brigham Young had many wives, and took just what man's wife he pleased, and others did the same. The first part is true—Brigham Young and others have several wives but that they take other men's wives from them is a mean and bare-faced falsehood. [The letter then enters into a detailed account of the law among them, regarding a plurality of wives, which it endeavours to prove is the law of God.] By this time, I presume, you understand that we all had an existence in the spirit, before we partook of this fleshy tabernacle; and that we lived with our Father and Mother in heaven; and that we came to this planet to learn good and evil, and go through an experience necessary to qualify us to obtain hereafter a glory and exaltation that we could not possibly attain to without going through this process now. All the spirits appointed to come to this planet have not, as yet, taken tabernacles and come forth; but many of the noblest and purest that were amongst us have been reserved in the heavenly mansions of our Father to come forth in this generation to assist in accomplishing His work of the last days. If those spirits were to take tabernacle and come forth among the wicked, they would, as a matter of course, partake of their wickedness and abomination, and, consequently, would not be strong in the power of God; but if their fleshy tabernacles are begotten and born of righteous parents, that are keeping the commandments of God, then they will be like John the Baptist, their spirits being pure they will be filled with the Holy Ghost from their mother's womb; and one shall chase his thousand, and two put ten thousand to flight; and I tell you that we shall want such men before the latter-day work is accomplished. This is the reason why the law of plurality is given to this people; and I say to you, and all the Saints in your locality, be sure not to spurn it, for it is a divine institution, and must be carried for the above reasons. I would also say to you all (for I love all good Saints) make all the speed you can to come here, for there are troubles ahead you are little aware of; but do not expect to come here without meeting with difficulties, for it cannot be done; but be patient and prayerfull, and all will be well. Remember this while crossing the plains. I have a great deal more in my mind I should like to say, but have no room. Suffice it to say, there are mighty events at hand; not many years and satan will move up the Gentiles against us; we may see troubles, but ultimately triumph over the whole earth (America first). The time is come for this people to be purified, and all wicked distroyed from the midst; and e'er long you will hear of strange things amongst us. By my Patriarchal blessing I expect to live to be very old, and see Zion redeemed, and the armies of the Gentiles come against the Saints, and fall before them like the trees of the forest. I also expect (if faithful) to go into the temple and officiate for my dead relatives, and bring them forth in the resurrection. A short time and Joseph and Hiram will be resurrected, and be in the midst of the people, and help to fight their battles; and if you hear of many hundreds of this people leaving us, remember it must be so—the tares must be separated from the wheat; and they will propagate all evil reports against us, and go over to our enemies: but it will be better for them if they had never been born.
Noting Abergavenny, I had to see if the recipient of the letter was possibly a member of the church. I went to identify the writer first. It appears to have been James Jenkins of Nephi, Utah. He was born December 10, 1803, in Presteigne, Radnorshire, Wales. He had a brother, Edward, who appears on the 1861 Census in Abergavenny. There is no evidence that Edward ever came to Utah. The letter only hints that he may have been a member or had some connection with the LDS Church. Family Search indicates that he died in 1877, presumably in Britain as that record is a little sparse.

James's wife, Elizabeth Wright, born 1805 in Leominister, Herefordshire, came with James across the Atlantic on the S. Curling in 1855. She died on the Missouri. James came to Utah in the Milo Andrus Company. And there's the connection with me as my Piedmontese 2nd and 3rd Great Grandfathers, Daniel Bartholemew and Charles David Roman, were in the same company.

Edward's Utah relatives went to the Manti Temple in 1888 to perform a proxy baptism for him and other family members. There appear to be Jenkins descendants in Nephi to this day.

There is no indication as to why Edward took that letter to the newspaper and why the editors would publish it. It is a straightforward account of James's pioneering and religion. There are a few oddities from the difficult days in '57. And the faith of this good brother, James Jenkins, still comes through.

Good people come from Wales.

*That's quite a geographic tongue-twister of a name for a newspaper!

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