As the Civil War raged in America, thousands of Latter-day Saints hazarded the trip west through this war-torn land.1 For a variety of reasons, however, some Saints did not reach their desired haven in the Salt Lake Valley, which lay safely within the borders of Utah Territory.2 One was a Scottish sister named Agnes, who, at age thirty, embarked from her native town of Paisley. Accompanied by her husband, Hugh Campbell, and their three sons, Agnes crossed the Atlantic in the fall of 1845, bound for Zion.3
At that time the gathering place for the Latter-day Saints was Nauvoo, Illinois, but the Campbell family never reached Nauvoo; they were delayed for years in St. Louis. Following Hugh’s untimely death, Agnes remarried and eventually migrated further east to Virginia with her new husband, Henry O’Neal.4 There, in a region riddled by war, Agnes wrote an emotional epistle to Church President Brigham Young pleading for fellowship with the desert Saints. Sadly, evidence strongly suggests that Agnes never joined her covenant people who had gathered to a new western Zion. Instead, it appears she remained alone in her faith alongside her Irish husband, left with only dreams of a future land of promise.5
The following letter was written to President Brigham Young in 1863. It serves as a heartfelt example of a godly woman who longed to be with the Saints but was kept from her righteous desires by circumstances that prevented her from obtaining the Zion she longed for. Brigham Young’s outgoing correspondence for 1863, preserved in Church Archives, does not include an answer to Agnes O’Neal or her son.
Agnes pled in her letter, “I beg . . . for this to be read out in the Church in my behalf.” In publishing this letter, however belated, Agnes’s petition is at last made public. Agnes’s spelling, punctuation, capitalization, and grammar have been maintained. Her strikeouts are interlined
like this; her insertions are in angle brackets <like these>. Editorial insertions are in brackets [like these].
Agnes O’Neal’s Letter to Brigham Young
Rathbone Wirt County Virginia6
Feb. 4, 1863
Rev. Brigham Young D. D.
President of church of Latter Day Saints Great Salt Lake City Utah Ter.
Dear Brothers & Sisters.
I take the present oppertunity addressing you an epistle. It is fifteen years since, I have had any communication with any of the Saints & I have had a great deal of trouble one way another, but in the midst of all my troubles I have always looke[d] with an eye of glory to the promised land of Zion. I come from Paisley Scotland7 some sixteen years ago, along with some more of the Saints. We came on board <ship> Orogon [Oregon].8 Among
with withus were Elder Huston & Leavy. I have forgotton a great many of their mames [names], I cant think of,9 We had some plesent times on board the ship. But one death.10 It is more than eighteen years since, I was babtised. I brought my certificates with me of the chirch. I was babtised by brother Sprowel.11 I consider myself a member of the chirch of Latter Day Saints. Dear Brother Young, I do not know, whither you consider me a member of the chirch of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints or not, I submit to your wisdom as you are an instrument in the hands of God I trust to your dictation. I desire your prayrs & the rest of the Saints. Although far from each other in body. yet present in spirit, By our supplications. Dear Brother it is my Desire that you should not cut my name out of the books, I plead with you as Moses did for the children of Israel not to be cut off from you & the good church12
As, I said to you before, I say to you again, In the name of the father Son & Holy ghost do not cut me off.13 Oh symphathize with my weakness. I know it is the church of christ of Latter Day Saints
of the asin these the last days I have relized the power of the spirit. What I have received, I can never give it up. I have been blessed with the healing power. But yet, I am weak in faith, My desire is to be in the midst of the Saints, & if it is not the will of God for us to meet in this world, I hope we will meet in the day of the resurrection. & enjoy a thousand years again on the earth. Oh what a blessed time it will be for those whom trusts in the Lord. My Son was up as far as St. Joseph,14 & he brought me a Millennial Star all bound up nice. he got it from one of the sisters who was on her way to Zion. It gives me great pleasure to read it.15 Some time I get down hearted because, I am not with the people that it belongs to, But I am glad, I have heard the sound of the everlasting Gosple Oh Brothers & Sisters consider my weakness, I was acquainted with Mrs. Hay of St. Louis, her hosband was sun struck, I was at his funeral, I have the book of Doctern & covenents that she gave me. I enjoy my self very well sometime reading over them. My husband was a priest & was in good standing when we left Scotland.16 But when he came to St. Louis he got acquainted with some that left the church & he turned aside with them.17 He took up with company that was not very profitable to him. He did not do any good for his body or soul. he went away the time of the Mexican war. & I heard in a very short <time> that he had been shot.18 My children & I are alltogether. one of my sons is in College. he is at home now. But expect to leave in a short time to return to college. I got married the second time, & have a young family,19 I dont feel so very well some times, I am troubled with my side, I often wish, I was near the elders so that they could lay their hands on me & anoint me with oil. I believe in the healing power. Dear Brothers & Sisters, I crave for your prayrs both for Soul & body as I am here alone20 & I neve[r] have had the oppertunity of conversing with any of the members of our church for fifteen years, But, I feel thankful to God that, I am a spared monument yet over my family. I thank God for his kindness to me. It is my desire that with the help of God to be with the Saints on this earth yet. I should like to meet you at the lord’s sacrarment. & receive the blood & body of the son of God, this is my mind & will. if not I hope we will take it a new in our fathers kingdom when he shall come to meet the Saints Dear Brothr I want to know if there is any way we can break breat [bread] in <rememberance> of the lord’s suppe[r]. I want to be counciled in these things. I want to know if I could not relize the power of the healing power, oh please advise me on those things.21
I long to breath[e] the mountain air, of Zion’s peacful home,
where free from sorrow strife & care the Saints
ofmay God, rome [the Saints of God may roam.]
Oh Salt Lake City when I think of thee, I long for pinions like the dove.
that I should be so for [far] from thee & distant from that place I love.
In hopes to join you soon I say adieu. May Israel’s God my path with blessing strew
guide me in safety for to gain. & bring me to Zion there to reign.
I Beg the prayrs of Sisters & brothers & for this to be read out in the church in my behalf. I pray God my eternal father to bless the church & all the branches of the Latter Day Saints, & may he bless me an unworthy daughter. Formaly [formerly] my name was Agnes Campbell. But my second husbands name is O’Neal, which changes it. We are living in a place where there have been a great deal of trouble. where man has ben slaughtered down like beasts.22 We are living in that part of Virginia where they get so much oil out of the earth. one well had produced in two years 30,000 barrels & I suppose that there are 500, well[s] in the area of four miles, some well produces 200 barrels of oil per day.23 It is a great pitty that inhuman war is, or we would have good times here, Direct your answer24 to my son William Campbell Marietta College Ohio.
I remain your affectionet sister in Christ. Agnes O’Neal