This book appears as volume 4 in the University of Utah Press Utah Centennial Series. The letters printed in the present volume, edited by Professor Fred S. Buchanan of the University of Utah, are a substantial portion (140 out of 180) of a collection discovered in the home of James MacNeil in Ayr, Scotland, in 1964, and are now available at the University of St. Andrews. They represent letters written to the MacNeil family from friends and relatives in England, Scotland, the United States, Australia, Canada, and Burma. Professor Buchanan has carefully edited those letters that were written by Mormon emigrants in America from 1853 to 1904.
As we learn from Buchanan’s helpful introduction, the MacNeil family that appear in these letters resulted from the marriage in 1847 of David MacNeil, a young miner, to Ann Beaton Boggie Thompson, a widow eighteen years his senior. Shortly after their marriage, the couple joined the LDS church at Airdrie, Lanarkshire. In addition to five step-children (John Thompson, the eldest, is the most important here, as he was to emigrate to America in 1856), the family soon expanded with the births of five children (John, born in 1847, and James, born 1855, were to become Utah settlers in the early 1870s). David MacNeil had started life in prosperous circumstances, only to see his prospects disappear following the deaths of his parents. Forced by pecuniary want into the iron mines, David and his large family appear to have led a marginal existence. Thus, the sons followed their father into the mines at early ages (John Thompson was at least fourteen).