The Prophet Joseph Smith’s call for members of The Church of Jesus Christ Latter-day Saints to gather to Nauvoo, Illinois, had a wide effect once the settlement acquired the trappings of civilization. What had been the obscure riverside village of Commerce soon evidenced expansion and progress: new inhabitants and bustling construction. Among those who gathered to Nauvoo were Washington and Susannah Taggart, who converted to Mormonism in 1841 or 1842 in Peterborough, Hillsborough County, New Hampshire.Taught the gospel by Elder Eli P. Maginn, the Taggarts soon planned their departure for the Mormon capital. Their eldest son, George Washington Taggart (age 25), and a younger son, Oliver (18), also embraced Elder Maginn’s teachings of the Restoration. But three sons—Albert (23), Samuel (21), and Henry (16)—revolted at what they saw as the family’s credulity. The converted Taggarts moved to Nauvoo in mid-1843, while the other three sons remained behind.
The document reproduced here is Susannah and George’s letter to those three young men, describing the experiences the converted Taggarts had in Nauvoo. Included in the letter are comments on the unfortunate deaths of father Washington and son Oliver in September 1843, just months after settling in Nauvoo; an appraisal of the city; and, perhaps most significantly, a contemporary description of Joseph Smith. A discussion of the Taggart family and the brief but remarkable missionary career of Eli P. Maginn, the elder who raised a base of Mormon strength in southern New Hampshire, introduces the Susannah and George Taggart letter.
Elder Maginn in New Hampshire
Latter-day Saint missionaries initiated their search for “the elect” in New Hampshire in 1832, when Elders Orson Pratt and Lyman E. Johnson, both twenty-one years old, began their ministry in the Granite State. New Hampshire already had a connection to the Saints that made it important in the collective memory of Church members. The Prophet Joseph Smith’s mother, Lucy Mack Smith, hailed from Gilsum in southwestern New Hampshire. Her extended family and her husband’s paternal grandfather, Asael Smith, also once lived in the area. The restoration message that spread in this region was embraced by such converts as Amasa Lyman and Hazen Aldrich, who would become important Church leaders. A branch of the Church was raised in New Hampshire by mid-1833. Two more were organized by 1835. However, the migration of Mormon converts to central gathering places during the 1830s drained the New Hampshire branches of vital strength.Then, in 1841, a spark of regeneration in the person of Eli P. Maginn, an Englishman and missionary sent from Nauvoo, touched the south-central village of Peterborough, revitalizing New Hampshire’s Mormon presence.
Elder Maginn made a significant impression upon many of the nearly nine hundred villagers when he walked into Peterborough in 1841, heralding the truth of Mormonism.Standing “six feet in height, and of rather a commanding appearance,” the young missionary with “an honest, happy smile” was described by one of his hearers as “truly astonishing,” quoting “the scriptures from memory, giving chapter and verse, with the greatest ease and correctness.” This young missionary with a “magnetic personality attracted people from far and near to his meetings.” In time, the Latter-day Saint meetings in Peterborough provoked interest among the local residents and often were “so crowded that the speakers were accustomed to stand at the windows and address the larger overflow crowds waiting outside as much as they did the people who filled the hall to capacity.” Maginn served in Peterborough on and off for at least two years while simultaneously spreading the message in other parts of New England.
Elder Maginn’s commitment was remarkable. Writing to Joseph Smith on March 22, 1842, Maginn described his proselyting endeavors. In the three years since leaving Nauvoo, he had “travelled through eighteen States and British [Canadian] Provinces.” Soliciting donations for the Nauvoo Temple and gathering subscriptions to the Times and Seasons, he “preached from one to three times almost every day,” though he was unable to satisfy all of the “one to twenty of the calls for preaching.” And his message was compelling. His letter stated that several dozen people had joined the Church in New Salem, Massachusetts, and Gilsum, New Hampshire, and another thirty-six had embraced the gospel in Peterborough since the previous fall.Most of these converts resulted from Maginn’s tireless efforts. Within six months of Maginn’s letter to the Prophet, the number of members in Peterborough tripled to one hundred souls, “all in good standing.” More than a dozen came into the Church over the next few months.
The Taggarts, Divided over Mormonism
Drawing many Peterborough residents into the gospel net, Maginn was countered by local religious rivals who had been jousting for converts for decades.The town’s religious community refused to acknowledge the Church’s place. One Peterborough resident, George Bryant Gardner, a Mormon convert and blacksmith, was warned that his affiliation with the Saints would cause the loss of customers and his business. But he would not be constrained. “I burst those bands and was baptized by Elder Eli P. Maginn, on Monday, November 20, 1841, in the Cantacook [Contoocook] River,” Gardner rejoiced.
Maginn’s message divided the villagers and polarized families. One unconverted Taggart son, Samuel, wrote to another, Albert, who was living in nearby Wilton. Samuel expressed his disgust with Elder Maginn’s influence among the Peterborough townspeople. He closed his letter in verse:
let mormonism be forgotton
and never brought to mind
let mormonism be forgotton
in the days of old magin.
Several weeks later, an impetuous Henry complained to Albert that their family was “full of Mormonism.” George had been baptized in December 1841, and now the Taggart parents appeared on the verge of joining him.Asking that Albert “excuse the writing for it is bad and i am Mad,” Henry demurred, “I have got a little some thing to tell you that will make you Swear[,] i guess[,] for it did me[.] the old Man [Washington Taggart] is a going into the Drink [waters of baptism] next friday.” It galled him that his parents and brothers had, in his eyes, been duped, but he assured his brother that “by God i don’t work out to get Money to give to Joe Smith no how.” The resistance of their children did not deter Washington and Susannah from baptism. They continued to associate with other Church members in Peterborough and eventually gathered with the body of the Saints in Nauvoo.
The Taggarts in Nauvoo and in the West
Washington, Susannah, and Oliver moved to Nauvoo a short time prior to George and his wife Harriet Bruce Taggart, who arrived there in June 1843, three months before the Taggarts wrote their letter. Fortunately, communication between the divided family members continued after the move. Despite the initial hostility manifested by Samuel and Henry, Albert seems to have remained cordial if not warm. Although he never converted to the Church, Albert visited family members in Nauvoo in 1845 and continued to receive letters from George as late as 1860.
The Taggarts were of Nauvoo’s rank and file. George served as a seventy, worked on the Nauvoo Temple, and joined the Nauvoo Legion band. Life for the family was not easy during their short stay. Washington and Oliver died from “bilious fever” in September 1843. Susannah married Henry Jolley twenty months later, but she died in Nauvoo on October 31, 1845, just six months afterward.George’s wife, Harriet, also died that year, expiring in February “after a lingering illness of 6 Months.” She left behind a thirteen-month-old daughter. George’s commitment to and understanding of his faith, despite reversal and hardship, is evidenced by his resolve soon after his wife’s death: “I think My lot has been one of Sorrow and tribulation since I come to Nauvoo but I do not feel like complaining for sorrow and perplexity is the com[m]on lot of mankind here in this life.” With an infant to care for, George married Fanny Parks within five months of Harriet’s passing.
Among the first wave of exiles from Nauvoo in February 1846, George left his wife and daughter in Nauvoo and crossed Iowa with the body of the Saints. He later joined the Mormon Battalion. Serving as a musician in Company B, he and his battalion comrades mustered out in July 1847 in Los Angeles. Returning to Winter Quarters via Salt Lake City, George was reunited with his family that December. They settled in Harris Grove in northern Pottawattamie County, Iowa, along with other Peterborough Saints converted through Maginn’s influence. George and Fanny had three children together prior to their 1852 journey to Utah with other Saints who had evacuated the Missouri River Valley. After arriving in Utah, George entered plural marriage with Clarissa Marina Rogers, with whom he had twelve children. Settling in Salt Lake City, he became a carpenter and millwright. Later he moved his family to Morgan County, Utah, where George (fig. 1) died on June 3, 1893, at the age of seventy-eight.
When Eli Maginn’s preaching soaked through George Taggart’s skin, the dye ran deep. Contrary to his younger brother’s hope in 1842, Mormonism was not forgotten. George’s last known communication to his brother Albert, written in 1860, reads:
I wil[l] suppose in in [sic] the first place that about two and a half years ago you probably expected if you ever heard any thing concerning Me it would be that My Name was blotted from the Earth, with all the rest of the community to which I belong, but this is not the case neither wil[l] it ever happen, for Mormonism so called or the Kingdom of God is in the ascendant and wil[l] continue to be so.
The September 1843 Letter
The document reproduced on the following five pages is one of nine letters found in the Albert Taggart Correspondence collection in the Church Archives. The letters were preserved by Bob Close, Albert Taggart’s great-great-grandson, who contacted Glen L. Taggart, then president of Utah State University and a descendant of George Washington Taggart. The Church obtained the letters through Glen Taggart in 1983. The document is one sheet of lined paper, folded in half to make four pages for writing. Penned in black ink, the letter measures 1213⁄16″ × 17⅜” (33 cm × 44.1 cm). Spelling and capitalization in the letter reproduced below are the same as that found in the holographic letter. Common to other writing in antebellum America, the Taggart letter is mostly bereft of punctuation, particularly Susannah’s portion. To make the document more readable, I have added punctuation and some paragraph breaks. Angle brackets < > signify textual insertions. Square brackets [ ] include my own editorial clarifications. Erasures are indicated as
Susannah Taggart and George W. Taggart’s
Letter of September 6th and 10th, 1843
Nauvoo September 6th 1843
dear Children, I now take my pen in hand to write you a line to inform you of my hea[l]th which is pretty good. But the subject upon which I must write makes the task a painful one for I must tell you, my Children, you are fatherless. your Father was taken with the bowel Complaint before we got here and he never was well of it while he lived, although he kept about till about a week Before he died.I dont think he felt able to do any work and
Iif he Could have got along without, it would have been better for his health, but he could not.
Oliver was taken with the fever and ague about the twenty fifth of July and we thought was geting better but the bowel complaint set in which caused his death.Oliver died the first day of September five oclock in the afternoon and your father about the same time the next day. you may judge what my feelings must be situated as I am in a Land of strangers, though the neighbors are very kind and the people as far as I have any acquaintance are good.
George and Hariet come before Oliver died to help me take care of
himyour father and him and they are here yet. how long they will Stay I don’t know.
your father had bought a house Lot and dug a celler and got it mostly stoned and made calculations for building this fall but sickness and death has frustrated
theirhis designs and whether George will come on and put up a house and live with me, I don’t know.
but I would say to you all, I want to see you very much and I hope you will in consiquence of this dispensation of providence be led to consider of the uncertainty of life, the certainty of death, and the uncertainty as to the time when and be prepared for the same. and now my children I must conclud[e] by wishing you health and prosperity and by saying my hearts desire and prayer to god is that you may be saved.
Albert Taggart[P.S.] give my respects to all inquiring friends and the old neighbours and tell them I like the place very well and I dont know but but [sic] my health is as good as when I left peterborough. write and let us know how you do. Samuel W Taggart Henry C Taggart
Belovd Brothers.As Mother has not filled out this sheet and conciddering that you would have to pay as much for one page as you would fore four, I therefore sit down to employ My pen for a few moments thinkeing that it will be for your satisfaction. and it is with peculiar feelings that I sit down to the task. it is hardly nesecary for Me to Make any remar<ks> uppon what Mother has written for what she has written is even so. Our Father and Our Brother Oliver is dead. Our Mother is as well as common. My Wife and Myself are as well as usual. it has been rather sickly here through the Month of August, not more so however than would be expected conciddering the number of inhabitants and the great emigration which has been going on this season. Our Father bought an acre lot within the precincts of the citty and paid twenty dollars. He also had got a cellar dug and stoned and the most of the lumber for a house the walls of which He was agoing to build of brick. the brick he had not bought. He has left, after paying out all expences, something like ten dollars as near as I can guess. He also made his will by which He gave each of us one dollar and the rest to Mother with the request that I should be His executor. how we shall get along I do not know but I am afraid that We shall not be able to go on and build the house. but I shall do what is in My power to get up a house for Mother this fall. but I expect it will be rather a hard case for it is almost imposible for a man here to get a dollar in money for work, for money is scarce and there is but little confidence to be placed in many of the people and those that have money will not put it in circulation. this perhaps you will wonder at seeing. this is called the land of Saints, but let Me tell you that the people are not all Saints that profess to be.
Sunday Sept 10th. I now sit down to finish this letter not haveing an oportunity since the 6th. I still find Myself in good health and My Wife and Mother the same. I like the place very much but there is Many inconveniences which we will have to undergo in concequence of not haveing money. but those that have money can live here just as easy as they please. there is a great deal of building a going on here this Summer and the place is groing fast.the most of the people are industrious and honest but poor. but there is manny as might be suposed that are
enot honest, and manny that belong to the Church which are not to be depended upon. this I expected before I came here. therefore I am not disapointed.
Now something concerning Old Jo, so called [fig. 2].He is a young looking Man of His age, which is near 38 years and one of the finest looking men there is in the country and He does not pretend to be a man without failings and follies. He is a Man that you could not help likeing as a man, setting a side the religious prejudice which the world has raised against him. He is one of the warmest patriots and friends to his country and laws that you ever heard speak on the subject. neither is He puffed up with His greatness as manny suppose but on the contrary is familiar with anny decent man and is ready to talk upon anny subject that any one wishes. and I asure you it would make you wonder to hear Him talk and see the information which comes out of His mouth and it is not in big words either but that which any one can understand. no more of the Prophet at this time.
since the 6th I have been looking over the situation of things as Father has left them and I find that there is not more than from 3 to 6 dollars in money that Father has left besides Clothes and what has been done ont the house. one thing more and I mus[t] close.
We are now expecting trouble from Misoury and that before long, in consequence of Gov Ford refusing to send out a Military force for the purpos<e> of takeing Joseph Smith again which our Gov has refused to do. for particulars concerning Fords answer to the Gov of Misoury in relation to this matter you will find Fords letter in the Nauvoo Neighbour of wednsday Aug 30th 1843,which I think Livingstone & Pevey takes.
Now concerning public reports and stories <that are abroad in the world> concerning Joseph Smith and the Mormons, so called; as a people <they> [that is, the “public reports and stories”] are as <false> as the Devil or those that make such stories. I say this as a fact knowing it to be so. therefore if you ever beleived Me to be one of truth is am still the same.
I wish to hear from each one of you and would like to see you but the latter I shall not expect this fall but I am in hopes that I shall see all of you here <some> day. I wish you to write, all of you, and when you do fill up a <w>hole sheet and, if you cant, each of you fill a sheet, take a good big one and all write in it, and it will not cost but 25 cts whereas if you send 3 by mail it will cost 75 cts. and I could raise 5 dollars in the east quicker from My work easier than I can raise 75 cts here. Luther Read & his Wife are sick with the chills and fever.Milton How has been atacked with the fever but I have not heard form him for 3 or 4 days and do not know how he now is. the rest of the peterboro folks I think are all well. This from your Friend & Brother G W Taggart
A[lbert] T[aggart]=S[amuel] W. T[aggart]=H[enry] C[urtis] Taggart [—][P.S.] Brother Henry, Father told Me since We came here that cousin James Taggart owed him
foone bushel of rye which he came away and forgot. also the [grain] hoks [hooks] were left at Nichols old house. this account you may look to if you choose and the hooks you may get if you can & if you come out here throw them into a chest for they will be very handy here as such things cost 8 times as much here as it would cost to bring or send them here. give My respects to all enquiring. please tell Father Bruces folks that Harriet and Myself are in good health. good bye Henry. My respects to [—] . G[eorge] W[ashington] T[aggart]
Mr Samuel W. or Henry C. Taggart Peterborough N H
[postmarked Nauvoo, September 1843]