Chapter Four: Emigration
“I stayed there until I had enough money to emigrate to America”
O Ye Mountains High
O ye mountains high, where the clear blue sky
Arches over the vales of the free, Where the pure breezes blow and the clear streamlets flow,
How I’ve longed to your bosom to flee! O Zion! dear Zion! land of the free,
Now my own mountain home, unto thee I have come; All my fond hopes are centered in thee.
Tho the great and the wise all thy beauties despise,
To the humble and pure thou art dear; Tho the haughty may smile and the wicked revile,
Yet we love thy glad tidings to hear. O Zion! dear Zion! home of the free,
Tho thou wert forced to fly to thy chambers on high, Yet we’ll share joy and sorrow with thee.
In thy mountain retreat, God will strengthen thy feet;
Without fear of thy foes thou shalt tread; And their silver and gold, as the prophets have told,
Shall be brought to adorn thy fair head. O Zion! dear Zion! home of the free,
Soon thy towers shall shine with a splendor divine, And eternal thy glory shall be.
Here our voices we’ll raise, and we’ll sing to thy praise,
Sacred home of the prophets of God. Thy deliv’rance is nigh; thy oppressors shall die;
And thy land shall be freedom’s abode. O Zion! dear Zion! land of the free,
In thy temples we’ll bend; all thy rights we’ll defend; And our home shall be ever with thee.
Text: Charles W. Penrose, Utah.1832–1925 Hymns 34
As early as six months after the Church was organized, revelation was received with regards to gathering. Joseph Smith received revelation, and issued calls to numerous missionaries. (See D&C sections 25, 45 and 52) In 1831, this revelation concerning the gathering was received:
Send forth the elders of my church unto the nations which are afar off; unto the islands of the sea; send forth unto foreign lands; call upon all nations, first upon the Gentiles, and then upon the Jews. And behold and lo, this shall be their cry, and the voice of the Lord unto all people: Go ye forth unto the lands of Zion, that the borders of my people may be enlarged, and that her stakes may be strengthened, and that Zion may go forth unto the regions round about… Let them, therefore, who are among the Gentiles flee unto Zion… Go ye out from among the nations, even from Babylon, from the midst of wickedness, which is spiritual Babylon. But verily, thus saith the Lord, let not your flight be in haste, but let all things be prepared before you… (D&C 133: 8-15)
After the Church was established in Nauvoo, this invitation was published in the Millennial Star. “In the midst of the general distress which prevails in this country on account of want of employment, the high price of provisions, the oppression, priestcraft and iniquity of the land it is pleasing to the household of faith to contemplate a country reserved by the Almighty as a sure asylum for the poor and the oppressed—a country every way adapted to their wants and conditions.” (M.S. II p 2)
Because of persecution, the Mormon Zion moved from place to place. They were forced to leave both Ohio and Missouri and settled in Nauvoo, Illinois. After the prophet, Joseph Smith and his brother were murdered in 1844, the Saints were forced to leave Illinois in 1846. They eventually settled in the Great Basin, Salt Lake area, over 1000 miles from the Missouri River taking off point of Florence, Nebraska. P.A.M. Taylor quotes William Clayton about finding a home “where the Saints can live in peace and enjoy the fruits of their labours, and where we shall not be under the dominion of gentile governments, subject to the wrath of mobs, and where the standards of peace can be raised, the Ensign to nations reared, and the kingdom of God flourish until truth shall prevail, and the Saints enjoy the fullness of the Gospel.” (Taylor, P.A.M. p 50)
Petra Press, historian, in her book about the multicultural move West noted:
As a result of mob persecution, and having been ejected from their homes on several occasions the decision was made to move West. “Not surprisingly, church leaders, led by Brigham Young… became convinced they needed to find a new home for their congregation. Although they considered the more common migrant destinations of Oregon and California, Mormon leaders liked the idea of the arid basin land around the Great Salt Lake near the Rocky Mountains in Utah. They believed that the difficulties they would face building a settlement in such a rough country would ensure that they would be free to build their own economic and social order with little outside interference. They knew it would be hard. They had no idea just how hard.
Before they could plant and harvest crops, the Mormons had to build dams and canals to irrigate the bone-dry valleys. Before they could build homes or businesses, they had to build sawmills. Almost all the essentials they needed, such as sugar, cloth, iron, and glass, had to be brought from the East by oxcart which made these items expensive. (Press p 37)
In the Church film “Faith in Every Footstep,” President Hinckley explained, "Rising above the Salt Lake Valley is a cone shaped peak. Brigham Young saw it in a vision before the Saints left Nauvoo. He saw an ensign descend upon the hill and heard the voice of Joseph Smith say, 'Build under that point and you will prosper and have peace.'" President Hinckley then explained how the leadership of the church climbed the peak a couple days after arriving in the valley. Brigham said, "This is where we will plant the soles of our feet, and where the Lord will place his name amongst his people." The first Latter Saints believed theirs was fulfilling of prophecy, "And he shall set up an ensign for the nations, and shall assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth." (Isaiah 11:12)
At the October conference of the church, held in the Nauvoo Temple, Parley P Pratt gave voice to the need for the Saints to find a new “Zion. “We know that the great work of God must all the while be on the increase and grow greater. The people must enlarge in numbers and extend their borders. The Lord designs to lead us to a wider field of action, where there will be more room for the Saints to grow and increase.” Heber Kimball spoke at the same conference. “I am glad the time of our exodus is come.… We want to take you to a land where white man’s foot never trod, …and there we can enjoy it, with no one to molest and make us afraid; …Let us become passive as clay in the hands of the potter. (Larson p 57 quoting History of L.D.S. Church)
Brigham Young Explained why the Saints gathered so far from civilization. "We wish strangers to understand that we did not come here out of choice, but because we were obliged to go somewhere and this was the best place we could find. It was impossible for any person to live here unless he labored hard and battled and fought against the elements, but it was a first-rate place to raise Latter Day Saints, and we shall be blessed in living here, and shall make it like the Garden of Eden" (Skousen)
When the Gospel was first introduced to England, the Church was not prepared for the converts to gather to Zion. “Although there was immediate response to proselyting in England in 1837, converts were not urged at that time to come to America, for ‘Zion, was not yet prepared to absorb them. In 1840, however, after Nauvoo had become the Church headquarters, the missionary movement became a part of the great program of ‘Gathering.’” (Larson p 40) Immigration came to a stop after the Saints were expelled from Nauvoo in 1846.
However, ffter Zion was established in the Great Basin, the following call was issued in the Millennial Star:
The channel of Saints’ emigration to the land of Zion, is now opened. The long-wished for time of gathering has come. Good tidings from Mount Zion! The resting place of Israel, for the last days, has been discovered. Beautiful for situation, and the ultimate joy of the whole earth is the Stake of Zion established in the mountains. In the elevated valley of the Salt and Entau [Utah] Lakes, with the beautiful river Jordan running through it from south to north, is the newly established stake of Zion.
Now rejoice, and lift up your heads, O ye pure in heart, and let the laboring and heavy laden, that have been bowed down under the weight of accumulated oppressions, in every nation, prepare themselves to come to their inheritance in the land of promise. The day of release dawns, and the notes of millennial jubilee reverberate form the mountain heights of Zion. Let all that can, gather up their effects, and set their faces as a flint to go Zionward in due time and order. All things are now ready. The word of the Lord comes forth from Zion to the upright of all the earth, “gather yourselves to the place of your rest, for there is no time to be lost.” Let your preparations, however, be in wisdom, and not in heedless precipitancy. (M.S. X p 40)
The call had been given to gather to Utah, but to do so in wisdom. “Confronted by Church and Kingdom on the one hand, and the unredeemed world on the other, the convert’s duty was to migrate to “gather” to “Zion”; and this was as much a doctrine as any of the others...” (Taylor, P.A.M. p 8)
The Mormon converts were to flee from Babylon… and gather to Zion, which would not only give them safety but also a positive role in building the Kingdom. To reassure them about the character of the journey, Millennial Star printed abundant reports and letters from leaders of emigrant companies, or letters from ordinary emigrants to their relatives in Britain. To keep Zion firmly in their minds, the journal carried numerous reports and articles describing conditions in Utah… Such articles commonly bore the title “News from Home,” for it was an essential part of Mormon teaching that, for a convert his birthplace, his original home, in Europe was really an exile. (ibid p 26)
The call to the Mountains fulfilled biblical prophecy. “And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it. And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. (Isaiah 2:2-3)
Orson Spencer, European Mission leader, just after the first pioneers entered Salt Lake Valley in 1848 said, “The channel of Saints’ emigration to the land of Zion, is now opened. The long-wished for time of gathering has come. Good tidings from Mount Zion! The resting place of Israel, for the last days, has been discovered. Beautiful for situation, and the ultimate joy of the whole earth is the Stake of Zion established in the mountains.” (M.S. X p 40)
During the period of the Mormon Pioneer, 1846-1869 over 70,000 Mormons would cross the Mormon Trail, most of them walking over 1000 miles to get to their Zion. (See Sonneborn p 7) The spirit of gathering was felt by the first British convert. “…The youthful George D. Watt, enthusiastically spoke of migrating to America within two weeks of his baptism, despite the missionaries’ reticence on the topic… Watt’s stirring came after reading prophetic passages in the Saint’s Book of Mormon… (Walker, p 32)
The call to Zion was real and persistent in Church hymns, discourses and literature:
Strike the Lyre
“…Poor outcasts we, still forced to flee,
By mad sectarians driven,
Condemned, despised, robbed, and reviled,
Without an insult given.
For many years we’ve sown in tears,
Yet, dauntless we’ll remain!
With Ephraim blest, we soon shall rest;
So strike the lyre again, again,
So strike the lyre again. (Lyon)
The Millennial Star, the church publication in England included poems of the immigration, and stories of happenings in Utah. One of the themes was that the individual was no longer “home” but “home” was in Zion. The general epistle of the Church, published in 1842 included this command, “If a Saint who has received the Holy Ghost, is counseled to gather with the Saints, to come home, and he neglects to come, he has no further claim to the blessings promised unto the faithful, who obey all the commandments; …for the ordinances in the house of the Lord, in Zion, and her Stakes, are as necessary for a full salvation, as baptism is for a partial salvation; and the voice of the good Shepherd is to all Saints, even to the ends of the earth; ‘gather yourselves together, come home; …come home! come home!!’ ” (M.S. XIV pp 22-23)
Co-travelers with Isaac expressed this sentient in Iowa. “We have yet to travel thirteen hundred miles before we reach home. The testimony of us both is that we like Mormonism better than ever and we would like all that we respect on the earth to be engaged in the same good cause.” (Bleake, BYU) It is interesting that they refer to Zion as home, before having arrived there. Another testimonial was offered by a hand cart pioneer. “I left my old home where I was born and raised in the county of Suffolk, England, having embraced the gospel of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints some three years before that time, and being anxious to gather with the Saints in the valleys of the mountains, which I had heard talked and sung so much about. (Olsen p 40)
Andrew Olsen in his book “The Price We Paid” described the “push and pull to emigrate.” “The ‘push’ or the practical reasons existed mainly for those who were poor, for whom emigration would provide an opportunity to improve their oppressive economic and social situations. The ‘pull’ or the spiritual reasons for emigrating existed for converts of all economic levels. They wanted to gather to Utah so they could join the community of Saints in the common goal of building Zion” (ibid p 15-16)
Some people explain the success for the church, in terms of its meeting an economic need of the people. That people joined the church not for spiritual reasons but because of the help they would receive in immigrating to America. However such was not the case. “…Mormon teaching about gathering to Zion included an economic element. That was inevitable, for the Church was proclaiming a Kingdom of God in this world, on the continent of America… It would be harder, however, to sustain the argument that the Mormon Church won its successes because of its economic appeal… (Taylor, P.A.M. p.33)
While it is true, escaping a society with no property ownership, long work days and very little income, barely enough to survive day to day, could motivate one towards emigration there were other mitigating circumstances which made the call to Zion more urgent. One of those was persecution--economic, verbal and physical. Ebenezer Crouch talks of his father being forced out of his mercantile business after the family converted to Mormonism because “His old patrons withdrew their patronage and did all they could to injure his business.” (Crouch, BYU)
Historian Gustive Larsen talked about the “push” in this fashion:
Many there were to whom “the Kingdom” made its appeal. Haunted by fear in a precarious social and economic world and comforted little by religion whose only lift was the promise of better things hereafter, thousands welcomed the prospects of tasting the abundant life in mortality. They welcomed participation in a tangible program directed toward its achievement. The fear of “tribulation and desolation” made them long for the security which was promised through fellowship in an organized force for righteousness. The building of the Kingdom challenged them as a cooperative quest for salvation. Social insecurity in many lands contributed heavily to “the gathering” in the half century following Mormon settlement in Nauvoo and in the Great Basin. (Larson p 36, 37)
Some of the "pushes” were emphasized in a Millennial Star editorial in 1855:
The clouds of war have continued to gather thicker and darker over the horizon of nations… These events have sent sorrow and mourning to thousands of firesides. Famine has stared multitudes in the face during the past winter, and many have sunk into the grave under its withering influence. War, financial embarrassment, and disaster, have paralyzed the commercial affairs of the nation; and thereby made more manifest the instability of human affairs. The present is full of calamity and evil, and dark forebodings for the future weigh upon the minds of men. These things are bringing many to reflect deeply on their own deplorable condition, and that of their fellow-men around them. …Thousands are inquiring in their hearts, “Is there no way of escape from these evils? Is there no salvation from the gathering storm?” (Millennial Star XVII p 248)
The British Empire, during Isaac’s youth, was involved in numerous wars. There were conflicts in South Africa, India, China and Turkey. (Wikipedia) About the time when Isaac joined the Church, England was fighting the Crimean War in which the British and French were defending the Turks against the Russians. The Millennial Star, which could have been shared with Isaac, reported on the war:
The Horrors of War.—A Constantinople letter says: “All horrors sink into insignificance compared with the state of the unfortunate passengers of the Colombo. This vessel left the Crimea on the morning of the 24th Sep. Wounded men were being placed on board for two days before she sailed, and when she weighed anchor she carried the following numbers: 27 wounded officers, 422 wounded soldiers, and 104 Russian prisoners—in all 553 souls. To supply the wants of this mass of misery were four medical men, one of whom was the surgeon of the ship—sufficiently employed in looking after the crew. The ship was literally covered with prostrate forms, so as to be almost unmanageable. The officers could not get below to find their sextants, and the run was made at hazard. The worst cases were placed on the upper deck, which in a day or two became a mass of putridity. The neglected gunshot wounds bred maggots, which crawled in every direction, infecting the food of the unhappy beings on board. The putrid animal matter caused such a stench that the officer and crew were nearly overcome, and the captain is now ill from the effects of the five days’ misery. All the blankets, to the number of 1599, have been thrown overboard as useless. Thirty men died during the voyage. The vessel is quite putrid, but a large number of men will be employed to fumigate her, and thus avoid the danger of typhus, which generally arises in such conditions. Two transports were towed by the Colombo, and their state was nearly as bad.” (ibid XVI, page 735)
The British Government was sending 1000 men a month to the war. Many of these were through conscriptions. The church was greatly affected by the war, as new converts would frequently have to go to the war. (ibid. p 499)
Uncle Orrin wondered how much the “push” had to do with Isaac’s desire to emigrate. “England, at that time, was a nation beset by religious controversy, inter-national war, and the problems of an emerging industrialism. (Wardle, Orrin) He further talked of the religious environment, the economic conditions and the Crimean War:
This must have had an impression on Isaac as he may have wanted to get away from the wars and conscription that hung over the young men of Europe in the mid-1800’s; as he wanted to explore his own conscience in relation to the religious teachings of his day; as he sought for a way to break out of the life of drudgery that had enslaved his common people ancestors for centuries and more especially as it had burdened his own shoulders by child-labor… Was he, as a young man in his teens, looking for a better way—a way that might be “better” both economically and spiritually? The way of life he saw and personally experienced in England was not the easiest and the most pleasant of lives for someone in Isaac’s social position. (ibid.)
Some had joined the church for the wrong reasons; however membership in the church in England was itself a sifting process.
It may be assumed that among the thousands who accepted the message of the missionary there were those who were not sincere and some who were prompted by worldly motives. The sifting process that soon discarded large numbers whose enthusiasm waned, left no doubt of that. Thousands were stricken from the Church records during that early period. In the five years from 1850 to 1854 inclusive, the records of the L.D.S. “European Mission” show 15,197 excommunications. (Larson p 99)
The Prophet Brigham Young was worried some may be gathering for the wrong reason. He wrote to President Richards with regards to this topic. He wished he had more resources to help with the emigration. “If I had about one hundred thousand pounds a year to expend for that purpose there would be some satisfaction to gather the Lord’s poor, although in so doing we might also gather some of the Devil’s poor and poor devils as well…” He later commented. “I will here repeat my wish and counsel to you, that in your election of the Saints who shall be aided by the Fund, those who have proven themselves by long continuance in the Church be helped first. …Be wary of assisting any of those who come into the Church now, during these troublesome times for Britain, whose chief aim and intention may be to get to America.” (MS XVII p 813-14)
There was a desire among all classes of people, to unite themselves with the Saints in Utah, and to be part of the building of the Kingdom. The spirit of Zion was real. A single woman, Susanna Stone, who traveled with the Willie Company, expressed it in this manner, as quoted by Andrew Olsen. “But I had the spirit of gathering and the Lord opened the way and I come to Utah in 1856 with a handcart company.” (Olsen p 40)
Liz Sonnebom, writing about the Westward migration said, “Some … were not drawn to the West by land gold or silver. Instead they hoped to find the freedom to worship as they wished. Among them were the Mormons.” (Sonnebom p 7)
An Epistle from the Quorum of the Twelve, and signed by Brigham Young, sent shortly after the Saints first established in Salt Lake and sent with advice to be read in all the branches, and published in the Millennial Star, talked about the “pull:”
We wish the Traveling Elders….to….say naught to this generation but repentance. …And if they want further information tell then to flee to Zion.—There the servants of God will be ready to wait upon then, and to teach them all things that pertain to salvation. …Should any ask, Where is Zion? tell them in America; and should any ask, What is Zion? tell them the pure in heart.
Let all Saints who love God more than their own dear selves—and none else are Saints—gather without delay to the place appointed. …Come, then, walking in righteousness before God, and your labour shall be accepted. …For the time has come for the Saints to go to the mountains….to establish it upon the tops of the mountains, and the name of the Lord will be there, and the glory of the Lord will be there, and the excellency of the Lord will be there, and the honour of the Lord will be there, and the exaltation of his Saints will be there, and they will be held as in the hollow of his hand.
…The kingdom which we are establishing is not of this world, but is the kingdom of the Great God. It is the fruit of righteousness, of peace, of salvation to every soul that will receive it, from Adam down to his latest posterity.
…Come, then, ye Saints; come, then, ye honorable men; come, then, ye wise, ye learned, ye rich, ye noble, according to the riches, and wisdom, and knowledge of the great Jehovah; from all nations, and kindreds, and kingdoms, and tongues, and people, and dialects on the face of the whole earth, and join the standard of Emmanuel, and help us to build up the kingdom of God, and establish the principles of truth, life, and salvation, and you shall receive your reward among the sanctified, when the Lord Jesus Christ cometh to make up his jewels; and no power on earth or in hell can prevail against you.
…Come then ye Saints of Latter-day, and all ye great and small, wise and foolish, rich and poor, noble and ignoble, exalted and persecuted, rulers and ruled of the earth, who love virtue and hate vice, and help us to do this work, which the Lord hath required at our hands; and inasmuch as the glory of the latter house shall exceed that of the former, your reward shall be an hundred fold, and you rest shall be glorious. (MS X 44-48)
Another part of the “pull” was to obey commandment:
The Lord never yet gave a commandment to His people, but what, if they would go to with full purpose of heart and try to obey it, they could do so. The commandment to gather out to the land of America is just as binding on the Saints, so far as it is possible for them to accomplish it, as it was in the first place to be baptized for the remission of sins. If the Saints would lay hold of the subject with the faith that it is their privilege to exercise, the very elements would be moved upon to accomplish their deliverance. (MS XVII p 601)
Many of the poems and songs of the day, appealed to both the push and the pull:
Zion by; Rebecca Heaton
Oft while I stand beside the jingling loom,
I think of Zion’s peaceful, happy home,
Where men of God with bold ardour fired,
And with the Spirit of their Lord inspired,
Stand ready to receive Jehovah’s will,
Which they to us in distant lands reveal;
That we may learn the mind and will of God,
And tread the path the faithful Saints have trod;… (MS XIX p 224.)
Cheer Saints Cheer by; J.F. Bell
Long, long in Bab’lon we have liv’d in sorrow,
But God in His mercy hath open’d up our way;
“Hope points before, and shows the bright tomorrow,
“Let us forget the darkness of today.”
Cheer, Saints, cheer! We’re bound for peaceful Zion;
Cheer Saints, cheer! For that free and happy land!
Cheer, Saints, cheer! We’ll Israel’s God rely on,
We will be led by the power of His right hand!
See, see the judgments o’er the earth extending,
Pestilence, earthquake, famine, fire, and sword;
Soon shall the rulers of this world “come bending,”
Shorn of their glory, for “thus saith the Lord.”
Come, come away, unto the “hill of Zion;”
Come, come away, to the “temple of the Lord;”
Come ye and hear the roaring of the Lion,
Where all the faithful in latter-days are blest.
Away, far away to the “everlasting mountain;”
Away, far away to the “valley of the west;”
Away, far away to yonder gushing fountains
Where “Ephraim’s children tremble” at the word.
Sing, sing aloud the song of adoration;
Yea, sing aloud for the goodness of our King;
Ye who are blest to see the great salvation,
Lift up your voices, and make the mountains ring. (MS XVII p 272)
These poems not only pointed to the conditions of living in “Babylon,” they also pointed to the advantages of being in Zion; where they could hear the prophet’s “roaring of the lion” and participate in temple blessings.
Wallace Stegner, in his book Mormon Country drew this conclusion:
They were British converts from the black belt collieries, broad spoken proselytes from the dying towns of Cornwall and Wales. They were Manxmen and Norwegians and Danes and Swedes. They were the technologically and Spiritually unemployed, many of them the economically-stranded people of Europe’s back doors, to whom the Church offered both material and spiritual rejuvenation, a chance to own and cultivate a little farm, an opportunity to start over again—most of all an opportunity to assure themselves Heaven by gathering in the valleys of Zion and building up the kingdom. The religious factor was the more important, but the economic should not be ignored. (Stegner, 2)
P.A.M. Taylor did a study of Mormon emigration from England, from which he concluded the pull had an effect on the emigration pattern. The Mormon emigration did not parallel that of Britain in general. His study confirms that the Mormon emigration deviated from English patterns. He concluded there were more than just economic motivations behind the Mormon migration. “We have to acknowledge the plain fact, that before emigrating, these people went through a process of conversion which marked them as a strange minority within British religious life; that they lived in the Church for some time, under the scrutiny of leaders; that they had to gain those leaders’ approval, in many cases, before receiving the financial aid they needed. (Taylor, P.A.M. p 154)
By 1856, the burn to emigrate was greater than ever. In preparation for the emigration of that year, William H. Kimball reported to President Franklin Richards, of the British Mission:
People who once felt they would rather die than leave “happy England,” who use to sing “Happy land,” …who looked upon other countries with supreme contempt… now perceive that they have been in bondage, in darkness, and in Babylon, and sing with joyful hearts—
“There is a land beyond the sea,
Where I should like to be;
And dearer far than all the rest,
Is that bright land to me.”
They are determined to
“Burst off all their fetters,
And break the Gentile Yoke.”
Not many of them can raise means to go through to the Valley this season, but more have given in their names to go to the States and the Valley in the first ships than went all the last season. (MS XVII p 765)
P.A.M. Taylor summarized:
Escape from destruction was only one side of the doctrine of “gathering.” In Zion the Saints would enjoy positive opportunities. They would be in direct contact with leaders of the Church, and would hear the pure Gospel from their lips. They would be free from persecution. They would be able to work together under inspired counsel in “rolling forth” the Kingdom. (Taylow, P.A.M. p 9)
Mormon immigration was different than the general emigration from England in other important ways. These differences would affect the success of the migration. First, the demographics of those traveling more reflected an English community than the demographics of other emigrating groups. In other words there were a high percentage of young and old people within the group. Over 30 percent were under 14, with a good number of infants. Almost 16 percent were over 41 with one percent over 60. 80 percent of Mormon emigrants traveled in family groups. (Taylor, P.A.M. 146-47)
Another way Mormon emigration differed from the English population is the Mormon emigrants were of a lower economic class than the English population in general. 30 percent of the English population could be considered middle class or above, while only 11.5 percent of the Mormon emigrants could be considered such. Most of those middle class emigrants traveled to Zion early, in the 1840s. Each subsequent decade saw the social class of those emigrating move downward. (ibid p 150)
Isaac does not indicate his personal reasons for immigrating. I imagine the “push and pull” both played parts in his decision. Perhaps his reasons reflect those of other families. “We were anxious to emigrate to where we could enjoy our religion more freely.” (Steward, BYU) Langley Bailey described the motivation of his parents for gathering to Zion. “They did not like the company we were in.” (Bailey, BYU)
Certainly Isaac saw others immigrate from the local branches. He may have even participated in a “farewell.” This would often include an open house, and then those who could, would accompany the individual or family to the train station. It was apparent Isaac was anxious to travel to Zion, as indicated by his willingness to leave his family home and seek out conditions where he could earn more money. He may have thought to go first, and then, through increased wages, help the rest of his family emigrate, because that is what he did. He helped other family members follow.
Finances must have been a hindrance to him. He needed assistance to make the journey, and that was presented to him in 1856. Even though he may not have been the first to be baptized, he was the first of his family to travel to Utah.
Perpetual Emmigration Fund
Helping the poor to emigrate was long a concern of the Brigham Young and the Church. The Church supported immigration in several ways. The first was to encourage the Saints to do whatever they could to prepare for their emigration. The primary arm for doing this was through the “Millennial Star.” By 1851 subscriptions to the “Star” had risen to 22,000. (Larson p 124) All members of the Church would have had access either by reading or being read to, the enthusiasm was catching. Even the poorest of Saints were encouraged to do whatever they could towards their own migration. President Richards taught, “The Lord helps those who help themselves.” (Olsen p 18) More explicitly he said:
We ask all the Saints who are desirous of gathering, have you, during the past season, made it your study and business to accomplish something towards your emigration? Or have you carelessly passed it by, leaving it to some mere chance of fortune? Have you acted as though you expected the Lord to do for you which you have not considered worthy of your own exertions? Or have you laboured faithfully to accomplish your own salvation on the principle that “the Lord helps those who help themselves?”
As strong as the desire of the Saints is almost universally to gather, there are comparatively few who have gone to work systematically to accomplish it. …If they would carefully take their expenditures into consideration, they might save from one to ten shillings a-week without curtailing themselves in the needful comforts of life. Eighteen pence a-week saved for one year, would generally pay passage of one person to the United States. There are many Saints who with care and consideration could save from that to five times as much. In this way, through the blessings of the Lord, they could have already accomplished their deliverance. (MS XVII p 601)
That this teaching was effective is manifested in the stories of those who emigrated. Many did all they could in preparing. For example, one pioneer woman, 13 at the time, later wrote, “The spirit of gathering to Zion was strong upon us and we worked at our looms by day, and our fancy works by night, and saved the proceeds. By this means, we gathered enough in six months to pay our passage across the sea; and in many ways we realized that God helps those who help themselves. (Olsen, 42) Betsy Goodwin Smith wrote in her life history, many years later, “For the benefit of the youth of Zion who may read this, I bear testimony that I know God hears and answers prayers, and the Lord will help those who help themselves.” (ibid p 19)
This teaching must have had some effect on Isaac. In his own history he talks of leaving his family home for Walsall, where for whatever reason he was able to make more money until he had enough for the journey to America. (Wardle, Isaac) This may have been an inconvenience, but Isaac was doing what he could to emigrate. Even so, he took advantage of the Perpetual Emigration Fund.
The idea of the Saints helping each other with immigration was not a new idea. As early as 1839, with the expulsion of the Saints from Missouri, while Joseph Smith was in Liberty Jail, Brigham Yong headed up an effort to assist the Saints to leave Missouri, as per the extermination order. “On motion of President Brigham Young it was resolved that we this day enter into a covenant to stand by and assist each other to the utmost of our abilities in removing from this state and that we will never desert the poor who are with us.” (Larsen P. 31, quoting History of the Church) 213 Saints signed a covenant with this sentiment.
The Nauvoo Covenant reiterated this philosophy. At the October Conference held at Nauvoo, 1845, Brigham Young proposed “we take all the Saints with us, to the extent of our ability, that is, our influence and property.” After this statement was accepted by the congregation by covenant, Brigham Young then promised “the great God will shower down means upon this people to accomplish it to the very letter.” (Larson p 58 quoting L.D.S. Church History)
After the Saints settled in the Salt Lake Valley, Mormon immigration was hindered by a lack of resources on the part of the Saints. Traveling could be expensive. As early as 1847, Brigham Young and the Quorum of 12 Apostles were looking at this problem. “It is the duty of the rich Saints everywhere, to assist the poor, according to their ability, to gather; and if they choose, with a covenant and promise that the poor thus helped, shall repay as soon as they are able.” (MS X p 86)
As of 1849 nearly 8000 Saints remained in the areas the Church had left, Nebraska and Iowa. The church had not forgotten them, and in the spirit of the Nauvoo Covenant established the Perpetual Emigration Fund. (See Larson p 106)
This was the basic philosophy behind The Perpetual Emigration Fund which was established in 1849:
The first Church plan for large-scale aid to foreign converts appeared in 1849 when the gold rush was adding so nobly to Utah’s resources. A conference at Salt Lake City ratified a proposal for a perpetual emigration fund. (Taylor, P.A.M. p 131)
The Perpetual Emigrating Fund Company, commonly referred to as the Perpetual Emigration Fund (PEF), was a corporation established by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1849. The purpose of the corporation was to provide economic assistance to more than 30,000 individuals who sought to emigrate to Utah and surrounding regions.
The PEF used both church assets and private contributions to aid impoverished converts to the LDS faith when they moved west. As funds were limited, converts seeking aid were ranked by their useful skills and by the duration of their membership in the church. Limits on funds led to innovative preparations and travel methods, including the establishment of handcart companies, to reduce expenses. Once established in their new homes, the converts were expected to repay the funds to the company in cash, commodities, or labor, with minor interest, so others could receive help. (Wikipedia)
In addition to fulfilling the purpose of gathering the Saints, the PEF fulfilled another purpose, that of populating, and providing strength to the Mormon community:
The first great task to which the Mormons devoted themselves in the 1850’s was the build-up of population through the Perpetual Emigrating Company. As the result of the initial operations of that company, the Mormon population in the Great Basin soared from some 6,000 persons in the spring of 1849 to approximately 20,000 persons in 1852. The new task to which it now turned was the emigration of approximately 30,000 Latter-day Saints in England. The primary motive of this emigration, of course, was the theological principle of gathering, but there is no question that economic goals also were important. (Arrington p 97)
Brigham Young said the purpose of the fund was to “deliver the honest poor, the pauper, if you please, from the thraldom of ages, from localities where poverty is a crime… where every avenue to rise in the scale of being to any degree of respectable joyous existence is forever closed.” (MS XVIII p 19) The Incorporating ordinance for the Perpetual Emigrating Fund states: “It shall be the duty of the Company to procure wagons, cattle, mules, horses, etc. as shall be necessary for the purpose of the emigration of the poor; who shall also have the general direction of all matters and things pertaining to the emigration while abroad.” (Deseret News in Larson, pp 117-18)
Initially the PEF was used to help the scattered Saints in the Eastern United States; those who chose to migrate but did not have the means. In 1853, it began to assist those from foreign lands. It shortly became the organizing tool for all Mormon emigration, whether by PEF fund or not.
The Perpetual Emigrating Fund Company was introduced into a program already well under way. Thousands of Mormon converts would have continued to find their way to Zion had no emigrating fund been created at all. The special mission of the Fund, was to assist the poor. It added greatly to the total number of those who came out of “Babylon” to participate in the building of the Kingdom. In addition to this direct contribution the company aided the migrating movement generally as those who paid for their own transportation shared in the benefits of its routine work. As its agents went about chartering ships, buying supplies and equipment, and exercising general supervision over routes of travel and the safety of the emigrants, the company became the core of the whole gathering movement for nearly four decades. (Larson p 128)
Organizing the emigration and consolidating it provided the opportunity to save money. The Church had always been very frugal in their emigration plans. Wallace Stegner quoted Bishop Hunter, who was in charge of the emigration in 1849, and then made his conclusion:
‘The poor can live without the luxuries of life on the road and in the valley as well as in Pottawattamie.’ In those instructions was established the pattern of hard frugality that would mark the Mormon emigration for many years to come. Frugality had the double effect of permitting the gathering of more Saints per dollar, and of simultaneously testing and trying them and making them strong in the faith. (Stegner 1, p 208)
The PEF supplied money for the bank account of the British Mission, which in turn improved the credit rating of the mission. In the period before 1856 the credit rating was very good. The biography of Franklin Richards expresses “The credit of the mission was so sound and confidence in it so complete that the great shipping companies dealt with it very much as they would have done with the government of a nation with first class credit.” (Larson p 166m quoting Franklin Richards)
Many outside the church looked with suspicion upon the PEF. They feared it was being used to populate Utah, with the intent of organizing an independent empire. Others thought it was to attract women, and thereby support the polygamous social structure. (See Larson p 276) However it is more likely the Mormons wanted to assist in populating Utah, so as to enter the union as a state, and avoid becoming a minority, which in the past had lead to expulsion from other communities. Larson summarizes, “However the Mormon leaders’ own announcement that they were literally engaged in building the Kingdom of God, spiritually and temporally, and gathering its scattered membership, offers the most satisfactory explanation of the whole movement.” (Larson p 276) The PEF was disincorporated in 1887 as part of the Edmunds Tucker Act dealing with polygamy:
The grand total of Mormon European emigration from 1840 to 1887 exceeded eighty-five thousand. While some of this number were able to finance all or part of their own transportation, all were aided either directly, or indirectly through the services of the Perpetual Emigrating Fund Company. The thousands of dollars expended annually in the services of the Emigrating Fund amounted in their repeated use to well over a million. The fact that its notes, due without interest, amounted to $704,000 in 1880 would indicate that the foregoing is a very modest estimate. (Larson p 234)
In 1853 the book Harp of Zion, was published to support the PEF. This was a collection of poems by John Lyon, and he gave the rights to the Fund. (Lyon, preface) However sales were not such that this helped provide funds until later, when the book was offered for sale in Utah:
The Perpetual Emigration Fund by John Lyon
Come on, ye rich, with all your gifted store;
Give to the poor, and God will give you more!
Your feeling hearts, responsive to His call,
Will find His love and blessing best of all:
Yea, tenfold, int’rest on the things you have,
And more than all your charities e’er gave!
Why should not help the lab’ring poor?
Both are compell’d to knock at mercy’s door!
As well the river scorn the stream and brook
From which it all its swelling greatness took;
Nor give one drop to quench the parched shore;
As wealth withhold accumulated toil,
And say to Poverty,--Starve on the while!
Let richer Saints pour in their glitt’ring gold,
‘Twill pave your way to Zion’s mountain fold!
Ten thousand hearts, with prayerful ardour, seek
The means to live, yet mourn from week to week,
Who could be blest through your beneficence,
To go where labour gains a recompense!
Oh, then! Let love your names in sums record
What you will do for Zion, and the Lord!
Ye poor who labour, learn with pure delight,
How much in value was the widow’s mite!
How farthings multiplied to pence make pounds,
And pounds, to hundreds, thousands—have no bounds!
Till every Saint reliev’d and sinner stunned,
Will shout,--LOOK HERE! At this Perpetual Fund! (Lyon, John)
The PEF was established during the gold rush period, when there was an economic boon in the Intermountain West as a result of travelers going through Salt Lake, and needing to purchase horses, or willing to trade to unload goods. As a result the fund was able to pay traditional means of transport for those who wanted to emigrate, first from the eastern United States, and then from overseas. However, as the fund helped more Saints, it soon became depleted and indebted. Heber Kimball talked at the October 1854 conference about the fund, but also expanding it to help more:
Look at the poor in Old England. …In the last letter that came from my son William, he wrote that, ‘I feel to weep and mourn and lament when I behold the poverty of the people; they are starving to death, and there are scores and hundreds of my brethren in the poorhouses of the country; the husband is put into one poor house, the wife in another, and the children in a another.’
That is the case with our brethren there, and while you are here in the midst of luxuries; while you are enjoying these blessings of the Lord, can you see your own brethren afflicted? It is not only so in England, but in Ireland, in Scotland, in Denmark, and in Sweden, and in all the nations of the earth. Do they enjoy what we enjoy? No.
…Let us go to work now and enlarge this Fund, and let us do it at this Conference, and let those who are indebted to it go to work immediately and pay up.
…My feelings are for us all to concentrate our energies with the head of this Church, and put the wheel in operation, that when another year comes we may see a hundred times more come out by the Perpetual Emigrating Fund than we have ever seen. (MS XVII pp 162-3)
By 1856 many Saints had gathered to the Great Basin, but the PEF was beginning to be overstretched:
A decade of gathering to the mountains closed with much accomplished… [But] thousands more of the “Lord’s poor” awaited deliverance from “Babylon.” The Perpetual Emigrating Fund Company, however, was bogging down in financial difficulties. Not only were repayments to the fund lagging, but the cost of transportation was rising sharply. From 1853-1855 the estimated fare for “P.E. Emigrants” rose from ten to fifteen pounds and the price of teams from forty to fight-five and sixty pounds. As the cost went up the number receiving help from the Fund went down and there threatened a serious decrease in the flow of immigrants to Zion. New plans must be devised either to increase the available funds of the Company or to cut the cost of transportation. (Larson p 194)
By 1856 most of the members who could afford to emigrate had already done so. Many were dependent on the Perpetual Emigration Fund, and this was exhausted. Crop failures in Utah in 1855 had dwindled donations. A grasshopper plague had brought havoc to crops. Millions of the pests had descended upon fields and eaten up every green thing. All efforts to stay their destruction seemed futile. To add to the distress the summer had been hot and dry; the irrigation water supply was diminished. As a result of the grasshoppers and the drouth, the harvest of 1855 was reduced from one-third to two-thirds. (Arrington p 150)
Because of the expense, many thought immigration should be postponed for a season. James Willie expressed the importance of the PE Fund in a letter to Franklin Richards. “…but I am certain the only source the Saints here can look to for deliverance and escape from Babylon is the P.E. Fund…I can truly say the emigration spirit is universal here, and most of the Saints appear to be impressed with the belief that “God helps them that helps themselves.” (MS xviii p 18)
A Millennial Star editorial talks about the special relationship between Jesus and the poor. It then talks about the poor and the Church:
The great object has been continually to gather the poor and provide for them. For this brother Brigham and the faithful in Zion labour and contribute liberally of their substance, for they realize that of such is the kingdom of heaven. It matters not how wealthy a man is when he obeys the Gospel, or how much of the world’s good he may take to the gathering place with him, in common with his brethren he must learn by experience if necessary, to feel for the wants of the poor, before he receive a fullness of the blessings which the Lord has in store for the faithful. (MS xviii p 73)
Brigham Young proposed donating his own property, if there were a buyer, to finance the emigration. “It will be remembered that in 1856 the great yearning and benevolence of our Prophet towards the poor of this Mission were manifested by large appropriations of property for their emigration. In this he was seconded by the liberality of others in Zion towards the same end, while on this side of the Atlantic a similar spirit was manifested, and a hearty co-operation of efforts made for the emigration of the poor.” (MS xxii p 72)
The buyer for a great deal of the property was found in the person of a British land owner, and convert to the Church, Thomas Tennant. “Before leaving England, Thomas Tennant paid $25,000 to buy a home that Brigham Young offered for sale to help replenish the PEF. This purchase provided the greatest single contribution to financing the 1856 emigration. (Olsen pp 227-228)
John Beecroft noted this with regards to “Squire” Tenant who sat next to them on one of the legs of the journey aboard a train:
Before we changed carriages and when we got into the other carriages we had Mr. Tenant for our nearest neighbor. He had his wife, her mother, and his child. What had Mormonism done? Such a spectacle was scarcely ever witnessed as to see one who has been so rich, so high in life, to come to be huddled together with the poorest of the poor and see how patiently he endures all things is truly wonderful. (Beecroft, BYU)
Many people emigrated from England to Utah. The 1860 and 1870 U.S. Censuses show that 25 percent of Utah residents were British born. In 1870 this represented 20,772 British-born immigrants. This does not include those of British descent who were born in the U.S. 55,000 Mormons from Great Britain were part of the western migration. (Taylow, P.A.M. p 96 p 244 and appendix)
The year 1856 saw more Mormon immigrants than any other year, over 3500. The only other year with over 3000 was the year before, 1855. Over 2000 of those emigrating in 1856 did so by handcart, assisted by the Perpetual Emigration Plan.
Millen Atwood, who was in the Willie Company, and second-in-command, was a missionary in England when the handcart plan was announced. “But when Br. Brigham offered his property so liberally, and the word came that they should gather from England, it ran like fire in dry stubble and the hearts of the poor Saints leapt for joy and gladness; they could hardly contain themselves. (Atwood)
75 percent of those who would take the voyage aboard the Horizon with Isaac were traveling with the PEF. (Handcart) As beneficial as these additional donations were, it still wasn’t enough to allow all those who wanted to travel by conventional means. Resources where still spread too thin.
The “Divine” Plan
A member of the Manchester Branch in England summed up the immigration problem thusly:
A great many people joined the church. The question was how to get them to Utah. There were hardly enough teams to carry all the emigrants. Finally, however, it was decided to form handcart companies to cross the plains from the end of the railroad in Iowa to the valleys of the mountains. The plan looked hard, but not impossible, and the people were so eager to get to Zion with the Saints that nothing seemed too difficult. (Harrison, BYU)
Leroy and Ann Hafen described the Handcart plan as “the most remarkable travel experiment of Western America. Nearly three thousand men, women and children, pulling their worldly possessions in hand-made, two-wheeled cars, trudged some thirteen hundred miles to the Zion of their hopes. Across prairies and mountains, rivers and deserts, creaked their fragile vehicles, motored by muscle and fueled with blood.” (Hafen and Hafen p 11) Writing about women pioneers, the handcart plan was further described:
Most of the home seeking families who set out for Oregon, California, or Utah in the 1840s traveled by wagon, but between 1856 and 1860, when Mormon funds for bringing new converts to Utah Territory grew short, hundreds of families walked all the way to the promised land, drawing behind them handcarts that held all their belongings. Unlike the majority of emigrants who had chosen to go west, these were not hearty frontier families used to rural living but were mostly immigrants from factory towns in England. In these “handcart companies” women generally outnumbered men, and many people of both sexes were elderly.” (Peavy and Smith)
“According to the Mormon Church’s ‘divine plan’ European Saints were to sail to America and proceed by train to Iowa City, Iowa, the starting point for the long trek to Utah. From there they would walk, pushing or pulling all their possessions in handcarts. Hundreds of European families responded to the plan.” (Kimball)
This idea was not new to Brigham Young. He had pondered on it since seeing Forty-niners travel through Salt Lake with their possessions on their back, or in a wheelbarrow. (Roberts, p 89) In the 1851 general epistle to the church he had said, “Some of the children of the world have crossed the mountains and plains from Missouri to California with a pack on their back to worship their God—Gold. …Yes start from the Missouri River with Cows, handcart, wheelbarrows, with little flour, and no unnecessaries and come to this place quicker, and with less fatigue, than by following the heavy trains with their cumbrous herds which they are often obliged to drive miles to feed.” (MS 1852 xiv p 23) This plan was set aside at that time, but in 1856 the circumstance was different.
The Millennial Star of December 22, 1855 announced the plan in a published letter from Brigham Young to Franklin Richards:
I have been thinking how we should operate another year. We cannot afford to purchase wagons and teams as in times past, I am consequently thrown back upon my old plan—to make hand-carts, and let the emigration foot it, and draw upon them the necessary supplies, having a cow or two for every ten. They can come just as quick, if not quicker, and much cheaper—can start earlier and escape the prevailing sickness which annually lays so many of our brethren in the dust, …The carts can be made without a particle of iron, with wheels hooped, made strong and light, and one, or if the family be large, two of them will bring all that they will need upon the plains.
If it is once tried you will find that it will become the favourite mode of crossing the plains. …I want to see it fairly tried and tested, and I think we might as well begin….and save this enormous expense of purchasing wagons and teams—indeed we will be obliged to pursue this course, or suspend operations, for aught that I can see at the present. (MS 1855 xvii p 813)
Brigham Young may have been overly optimistic in his appraisal theorizing “They will only need 90 days’ rations from the time of their leaving the Missouri River. …A company of this kind should make the trip in sixty or seventy days.” (ibid)
In the same Millennial Star Franklin Richards, Apostle and President of the European Mission editorialized:
…The plan about to be adopted by the P.E. Fund Company, of substituting hand-carts for ox-teams in crossing the plains, has been under consideration for several years. The plan proposed is novel, and, when we allow our imaginations to wander into the future and paint the scenes that will transpire on the prairies next summer, they partake largely of the romantic. The plan is the device of inspiration, and the Lord will own and bless it. Those who are ready to adopt it in faith and confidence will find that many supposed obstacles will disappear, and real ones be readily overcome.
…We do not but that a multitude of the faithful are ready to do anything, or gather to the Mountains in any way that may be opened before them, and that will best subserve the interests of the work. The sacrifices and exertions they are willing to make are the constant measure of their faith and appreciation of the blessings of salvation. Those who are willing to do anything required of them to get to Zion are the very ones most likely to obey counsel after they arrive there. And every difficulty which the increase of the work and the perils of the times throws in the path of the emigrating Saints, is another guarantee that fewer hypocrites and apostate spirits will be mixed up with the Saints in Utah, to work iniquity and prove enemies in the day of trouble.
…It would be much more economical both in time, labour, and expense, if, instead of spending several weeks to obtain, and accustom to the yoke, a lot of wild, ungovernable cattle, impairing the health of many of the brethren by excessive labour and fatigue, and bringing disease and death into the camps by long delays… [if] on the arrival of a company of Saints on the frontier they could have the necessary hand-carts ready, and load them, and be 200 or 300 miles on their journey, with the same labour that would otherwise be expended in getting started. (MS 1855 xvii pp 809-10)
Brother Richards pointed out other advantages to traveling by hand-cart. Not having to yoke the oxen every morning which could take two hours to get ready, not having to look for lost oxen, not being a temptation for Indians as there would be less livestock, having more time for sleep and refreshment and less for guarding, and being able to make the trip more quickly. He also mentions that the cost for the trip will be decreased by two-thirds, which would decrease the indebtedness of the emigrating Saints. (ibid) He continued:
Now the time has arrived when the funds of the Company can be applied to their legitimate object, and the faithful, long suffering poor are the special objects of regard. Plans are being devised to effect the deliverance of the greatest possible number of these with the means at the disposal of the Company. This is the great object to be attained, and for which hand-carts are to take the place of ox-teams. (ibid p 811)
He lastly comments that making such a trip can be compared to other religious pilgrimages, The Mahomedan to Mecca, The Roman Catholic enduring severe penance, the Hindoo and self-inflicted tortures. “Then shall not the Saints,… be ready to prove by their works that their faith is worth more than the life of the body…” (ibid)
The “handcart plan” became official with the publication of the annual Church epistle in October, 1855 and printed in the Millennial Star January, 1856:
The P.E. Fund is designed to deliver the honest poor, the pauper, if you please, from the thralldom of the ages, from localities where poverty is a crime and beggary an offense against the law, where every avenue to rise in the scale of being to any degree of respectable joyous existence is forever closed, and place them in a land where honest labor and industry meet a suitable reward. Where the higher walks of life are open to the humblest and poorest.
…Let all things be done in order, and let all the Saints who can, gather up for Zion an come while the way is open before them; let the poor also come, whether they receive aid or not from the Fund, let them come on foot, with handcarts or wheelbarrows; let them gird up their loins and walk through, and nothing shall hinder or stay them.
…Let the Saints, therefore, who intend to immigrate the ensuing year, understand that they are expected to walk and draw their luggage across the plains, and that they will be assisted by the Fund in no other way. (MS xviii 1856 p 52, 54)
In a later editorial, Elder Franklin Richards called it the Lord’s plan. “The gathering poor, if they are faithful, have a right to feel that the favour of God, angels, and holy men is enlisted in their behalf. The present plan is peculiarly the Lord’s, and it will have our special prayers and most untiring efforts for its success.” (MS xviii 1856, p 125)
Josiah Rogerson, who later wrote a series of articles on the handcarts explained the dilemma this way:
There are several reasons why the emigration of 1856 was augmented in numbers above that of many years previous …, but the main reason in memory now was, that hundreds of the first converts to Mormonism, in 1837, 1840 and till 1850, had been so whole-souled in their importunities to President Young, Heber C. Kimball, Orson Hyde, Orson Pratt, Willard Richards and other prominent elders that first went to England, Scotland, and Wales, with the gospel for “deliverance form the British Isles,” that President Young became determined to meet the emergency with the handcart experiment. (Rogerson, Church History)
One of the reasons for the church to promote the handcart plan was cost. It could cost 600 dollars to outfit a family of three for the plains by the traditional methods. (Kimball) Benjamin Platt and his wife were hampered by the cost, and the handcart plan was suited to them:
...In the latter part of the year 1855 President Brigham Young wrote to Franklin D. Richards then presiding over the British Mission that First Presidency had decided to have company of handcarts organized to cross the plains the coming season and that he, Brigham Young, would sell a house and barn and stables if anyone in England would buy them and he would turn the proceeds into the Emigration fund for the benefit of the gathering Saints. It was thought this would be a little cheaper way of gathering the Saints. I wrote to Brother Richards at Liverpool that I would like to go by this way by handcarts as my money was limited and there was two of us and I had £ 12.10 S or about $60, sixty dollars and if I could not go to Utah I would go to the states. [-] the cost by hand carts was £ 9 or, $45 dollars each so he arranged for us to go by hand carts that is me and my wife. (Platt, BYU)
The cost per person, without the handcart plan would have been double. “The cost of transportation under the new plan for that year, was placed at nine pounds for each adult… This practically cut the per capita cost of the previous year in half.” (Larson p 199)
The Church had considered alternatives; including having families immigrate to the Eastern United States, where they could get jobs and earn money for the final part of the journey. However the risk of losing these members was too great:
Even the emigration journey proved an ordeal too severe for many; and while no precise calculation can be made, it seems that although most of the emigrants who went straight through to Utah arrived as loyal Church members, most of those who for any reason broke their journey in the eastern United States found the attractions of local American life too strong to ever face that last thousand miles. (Taylor, P.A.M. p 74)
Another policy which had to be kept in mind was emigration by stages. It was plausible to argue on economic grounds that, with emigration to Utah so costly, families should go to the eastern States, take advantage of the higher wages there, and save for the final stage of the journey. But Mormon emigration was not a purely economic enterprise. It was useless for a convert to reach America if, under the influence of Gentile society, he lapsed form the Church. (ibid p 128)
The mode of travel became official with the announcement of rules for immigration for the year. “The P.E.F. Emigrants will use hand-carts in crossing the Plains, in which they will convey their provisions, tent, and necessary luggage. …There will of course be means provided for the conveyance of the aged, infirm, and those unable from any cause to walk.” (MS xviii 1856, p 122)
Reaction to the Handcart Plan
The positive reaction to this plan is demonstrated by the numbers willing to emigrate in this fashion. 1856 saw more Mormon immigrants than any other year, 4400, and of those 1900 traveled by handcart. “The President’s enthusiasm for the new plan was more than matched by the impatience of European converts who begged for the privilege of coming to ‘Zion’ under almost any conditions.” (Larson p 197)
The Millennial Star published several letters from missionaries, talking of the immediate reaction. From Worcestershire Conference N.T. Porter wrote, “As the season of emigration draws near, the appeal of the Saints become more incessant for deliverance, and many are begotten unto a lively hope, by the introduction of handcarts.” (MS xviii 1856, p 92) From Belfast John D.T. McAllister wrote, “The Priesthood and members feel alive in ‘Mormonism,’ and, from the oldest to the youngest, all feel Zionward, and are…rejoicing in the anticipation of pulling or pushing a hand-cart to their home in the west.” (ibid, p 47) Dan Jones from Wales reported, “Respecting emigration, I beg to assure you that I would not wish to see a greater desire for that than is evidently pervading every class, in every locality. …I have now on my books about 550 names of applicants for passage in the ship which sails next, with a fair prospect of timely making up an even 600. Of these 350 intend going through to Utah by the swift-sure Handcart Train, and about 100 by the old ‘slow and sure’ ox-trains.” (ibid p 242-4)
With the announcement of the handcart plan, those who were able to travel by wagon were asked to make even more sacrifice. They were asked to consider going by handcart, and using the difference to help other Saints gather. Francis Webster was one brother who chose to do this. He had been a gold prospector in California, and then returned to England and eventually became a branch president in London. He set an example by using the money saved to pay the way for other Saints. With the money that would have supplied a wagon for he and his wife, they were able to go by handcart, as well as nine other Saints. (See Olsen p 1)
Not everyone was enthusiastic about traveling by hand cart. The sister-in-law of John Jaques, Patience Loader, wrote a letter expressing their reservations, which was published in the Millennial Star with a rebuke from John Jaques:
Father and mother think this cannot be done, and I am sure I think the same, for mother cannot walk day after day, and I do not think that any of us will ever be able to continue walking every day. …Mother says that she must have a revelation before she can see this right. Why, we shall have to sell nearly all our clothes! And what shall we do for things to wear when we get to the Valley? Seventeen pounds weight is but very little. MS xviii 1856, p 369)
We can only assume Isaac’s reaction by the fact that he was willing, and did travel in this way. Isaac would have been hampered in his efforts to travel to Utah by his own illiteracy. There were applications to complete, and forms to sign. However he wasn’t the only member to have this problem. “The authorities in Conferences and Districts were expected to ensure that members understood the instructions, since many were illiterate as well as inexperienced.” (Taylor, P.A.M. p 161)
Missionaries Were Expected to Help with the Immigration
The American missionaries serving in England played a major role in recruiting Saints for the emigration, and in preparing them:
Missionaries often had a more precise responsibility for organizing the emigration. They had to explain instructions to people who might be unable to read them. They had to decide who was eligible for financial aid. They might often give practical advice when the converts needed to sell off their possessions before starting their journey. After perhaps two years of such labours, missionaries received letters of release, permitting them to return to America… But release did not mean that all the work was done. Again and again, the American missionaries were appointed to command companies of emigrants some or all of the way to Utah. (Taylor, P.A.M. pp 29-30)
The returning missionaries would play a major role in the handcart plan. Franklin Richards reminded the Elders of their duty to the immigrants:
The poor have particular demands on you. On your journey home 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…
On our arrival in the United States, instead of feeling as though you had nothing to do but to get home yourselves, be in readiness to render any assistance or assume any responsibilities which those having charge of the immigration may see fit to place upon you. Make the interest of the gathering poor your interests, and be as anxious to see them safely home as yourselves.
Traveling across the plains with teams has always been trying to the patience and perseverance of the inexperienced, and traveling with handcarts cannot be expected to be any less so. You cannot crown your mission with a labour more befitting your calling, or more consonant with the spirit of the Gospel you have been preaching, than to consider it your duty and privilege to assist the poor in gathering home. (MS XVIII pp 73-4)
Elder Richards concluded this article with the following statement. “It is our constant desire not to mislead the Saints concerning the difficulties of the journey to Utah. We wish them calmly to make up their minds that it is not an easy trek...” (ibid. p 75) There was some warning that the trek would be difficult.
Complexities of the immigration
There were several things which made logistics of the emigration difficult--especially the distances between people, and poor communication:
Spread as it was over five thousand miles of ocean, plain and mountain, the Mormon emigration system could not be fully centralized. …In 1855 a message normally took two and a half months to pass from Utah to Britain… Some decisions of considerable importance were therefore left to the British Mission. …Such decisions, of course, were taken by leaders who were missionaries from the Church’s American headquarters; and with Mission presidents enjoying an average tenure of less than two years, they had Brigham Young’s major policies very clear in their minds. Even so, many examples of more centralized planning can be found. Broad policy was laid down in General Epistles rather regularly issued. More frequently, letters, which were not so solemn, communicated the details of the central authorities’ plans. (Taylor, P.A.M. pp 113-114)
The immigration was a large, complicated undertaking. It was spread out over 5000 miles and there were emigrants from 14 nations. (See Olsen p 50.) There were large numbers immigrating in 1856, 4400, and almost half of them were using the Perpetual Emigration Fund. Scheduling was complex and involved coordinating on both sides of the ocean when mails were slow.
The general plan of emigration to Zion included two major divisions. First there was the shipping agency in England, charged with the task of assembling the emigrants and providing for their safe passage overseas. The President of the British Mission usually served as shipping agent. Second, there was the receiving agency on the American frontier whose responsibility was to account for the newly arrived immigrants and provide for their continued journey overland to Utah. This agency included a representative at the port of entry and another at the outfitting place on the frontier. (Larson p 128)
The organization required coordinating sea, train, river, and overland travel for thousands of emigrants took masterful planning, especially in the days before the telegraph. LDS emigration agents …carried a tremendous responsibility for chartering ships, purchasing railroad tickets, preparing schedules, meeting emigrants at arrival and departure points, buying and distributing equipment and supplies, and keeping financial records in order. (Madsen, 590-1)
Andrew Olsen outlines some of the obstacles:
The handcart plan had four key venues: Liverpool; New York City (or Boston); Iowa City; and Florence, Nebraska. Liverpool was well established as the point of departure… New York City [Boston] was the point of arrival, and the affairs there were well organized… But before the Spring of 1856 the Church had virtually no presence in Iowa City or Florence which were to be the key outfitting sites. …Florence… had not been used for outfitting large companies for many years. Therein lay the biggest challenge: Iowa City and Florence were probably the most important of the emigration venues, yet the Church had no infrastructure or resources in either place for outfitting emigrant companies.
…Agents had to do the following:
Arrange for camping grounds and other property to be used for outfitting.
Build handcarts (or contract to have them built) for each company.
Obtain supply wagons and oxen for each company.
Obtain cattle to provide beef and milk for the companies.
Obtain tons of flour and other provisions, as well as tents and other equipment. (Olsen p 52)
John Southwell gave an idea of how the migration was organized. “In the Spring .…the annual call was made for a number of the oldest members of the church to emigrate to the land of Zion. …Those who could pay their fare and those who needed help were instructed to forward their names with a recommend to the president of the European Mission in Liverpool. The presidents of the different branches of the church having this part of the business to attend to.” (Southwell, BYU)
For the emigration of 1856 the decision was made to abandon the route through St. Louis because of disease and frequent deaths. Also “the Church authorities tried in 1856 to lay down 1 August as the latest date for leaving the Missouri, and in 1857 very properly changed this to 1 July. (Taylor, P.A.M. p 121)
The change, which took place in 1856, from the river route to Florence, verses an overland train route to Iowa City, and then overland to Florence, added 300 miles to the trek. “Iowa City, the capitol of the State of Iowa, has been selected as the Point of Outfit on the Plains.” (MS xviii 1856 p 122) Brigham Young requested this change in a letter to the British Mission president. “You are aware of the sickness liable to assail our unacclimated brethren on the Mississippi River; hence I wish you to ship no more to New Orleans, but ship to Philadelphia, Boston, and New York, giving preference in the order named.” (Larson p 144,)
The change to the northern route was announced with the handcart plan. “In regard to the foreign emigration another year, let them pursue the northern route from Boston, New York, or Philadelphia, and land at Iowa City or the then terminus of the railroad; there let them be provided with hand carts on which to draw their provisions and clothing, then walk and draw them, thereby saving the immense expense every year for teams and outfit for crossing the plains.” (M.S. xviii 1856, p 54)
The Elders who were making arrangements for the migration felt good about the arrangements that were being made. “Our hearts are filled with gratitude to our Heavenly Father, for the manner, in which He is opening the way for His Saints to journey to Zion this season, and blessing His servants, both in this country and the United States, in carrying out the designs of the First Presidency. …We believe that nothing will be wanting to make the handcart operation a successful one.” (M.S. xviii 1856, p 281)
Isaac traveled with the PEF Fund. The Millennial Star included a sample of the papers he would have signed. (See appendix.) Later, aboard the Horizon the PEF passengers would sign papers for their passage. This was documented on June 18. “P.E. Fund passengers signed receipts for their passage to Boston.” (Jaques, Bell p 98)