The arrival of immigrants was a persistent aspect of Nauvoo life during the time the Latter-day Saints made the City Beautiful their headquarters. From its beginning with an influx of exiled Missouri Saints, Nauvoo was a city constantly adjusting to newcomers. Its rapid growth burgeoned when English converts joined the gathering to Nauvoo. The first converts departed Liverpool in June 1840 on the Britannia bound for New York City.New Orleans soon became the ocean port of favor, and the Saints completed the journey on Mississippi steamers. Meanwhile, Latter-day Saints in Kentucky, Tennessee, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Upper Canada, and many other places headed overland and along river routes in response to Joseph Smith’s call to gather to Nauvoo. The process was never ending. Even as Brigham Young and the Twelve led an exodus into the western wilderness, members continued to gather to Nauvoo, transforming it from a destination point to a staging center for the trek west.
The thousands of immigrants drawn to Nauvoo arrived with expectations and concerns. For many, settling there would afford the first opportunity to meet the Prophet and hear his discourses—a spiritual highlight of their lives.The Saints also looked forward to the promised temple blessings. They gathered to help build the temple and to receive their endowments and sealings. But sacrifices for religious benefits were accompanied by economic concerns. Many Saints, especially those from the British Isles, left their homelands expecting financial betterment. Even relocating Americans expressed hopes that Nauvoo’s prosperity would benefit their own families. Some Latter-day Saints hesitated to respond to the spirit of the gathering because of the unknowns of the Mississippi frontier. Could they recover losses from selling their established farms or businesses? Was the cost of moving across an ocean or half a continent worthwhile? They sought reliable information on such questions. While they found some advice in Church publications, they turned mostly to friends and relatives who had already made the trip.
Letters home from Nauvoo typically followed a pattern. For the recent arrival, the first letter written to kinfolk who had been left behind contained news of family members and friends, details on the ordeals of the trip, and reports on conditions in the new Zion. The messages generally encouraged others to follow. Two such letters from new immigrants to Nauvoo are reproduced below. Both were written to relatives, responding to the typical questions a newcomer might be expected to answer for curious relatives. Both letters reveal much of what first caught the attention of those who relocated to Nauvoo. The first letter was penned in May 1841 by Edward Hunter and sent to his uncle, Edward Hunter (Presiding Bishop from 1851 to 1883) who was still living in his native Pennsylvania. The second, from James Jones, an English immigrant, was written in June 1844 to his married son Henry (age twenty-nine) and other relatives in England.
In a succinct letter to his “respected uncle” in Chester County, Pennsylvania (just outside Philadelphia), twenty-year-old Edward Huntercaptures the essence of Nauvoo’s public life. In short sentences that move quickly from one subject to another, Hunter touches almost every topic of conversation of the day. A skilled observer, he is precise and accurate in detail. Although most immigrants writing home expanded on their subjects, Hunter merely outlines a dozen or so topics, an index to activities of the time: Nauvoo’s site, her growth, her people, the purposes of the militia, the size of the immigration, progress on the temple and the Nauvoo House, living costs, health, his own plans and feelings, and advice to immigrants. He concludes with his testimony and a report on the new practice of proxy baptism. Although he does not elaborate on his observations, Edward Hunter’s notes from Nauvoo provide a worthy overview of the city in the spring of 1841.
The letter is reproduced, with one minor correction, from a typescript prepared by donors of the Edward Hunter Collection at Brigham Young University and with permission of the BYU Archives and Manuscripts Section.
City of Nauvoo, May 6, 1841
I arrived here last Saturday [May 1] after a tedious journey of three weeks from the time I left Philadelphia.I am well at present and I hope that these lines will find you enjoying the same blessings. Nauvoo is situated in a very pleasant place. The soil is of the first quality and improvements are going on at a rapid rate.
I should suppose that there is something like 400 houses here and the chief has been created in the short space of two years.
The brethren seem very kind.
They have a battalion of men here called the Nauvoo Legion. They are determined that they will no more submit to mobs. They can raise 700 men, efficient for military duty already.
There have something like 400 brethren arrived here in about a fortnight. Some from England, others from Kentucky, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Philadelphia, etc.
The corner stones of the temple have been laid. The Nauvoo House is to be commenced immediately.
Board here is $2.50 per week.
It is quite sickly here. Several have died within a few weeks with the winter fever and dysentery. Fever and ague is quite prevalent here.
I’m going up the Mississippi River about 600 miles to help get timber for the Nauvoo House.I get $20 per month and board, and take my pay in land as money here is very scarce.
I am very well pleased with the place; it exceeds my expectation. Capitalists is wanted here very bad. I should like you to come out here after the harvest if you can and see the place. Any person bringing $2,000 here could, I think, in a few years double the same.
I do not feel anything like denying the faith, but I hope through my service to increase it. Baptism for the dead is going on here every week, more or less. There was 450 baptized last fast day week, and yesterday I saw Brother [William I.] Appleby from New Jersey baptized 34 times for his departed relatives.
No more at present, but I remain yours, etc.,
The second letter is a more reflective response to Nauvoo from James Jones,an English immigrant of 1844. Jones, age fifty, of Alfrick (about seven miles west of Worcester, Worcestershire), suffered many of the personal sacrifices often required of those gathering with the Saints. Yet for him the effort brought compensating rewards. Long-distance travel by ship and riverboat, friends and possessions left behind, a wife buried at sea—all of these tests of faith faded against what the new land offered in economic and spiritual rewards. Friends, children, abundant land, saving ordinances, a living prophet—these were among the benefits of the gathering for Jones and his family.
Although the trip from England meant the loss of his wife en route, Jones was consoled by the promise of a proxy temple sealing. Although he left many friends behind, he found a kindly reception by the American foreigners. And in his mind Old England offered nothing to compare with the promise of prosperity in a new land of abundance. Jones freely and soberly shares his feelings on these and other subjects in four surviving letters to Henry.
The first letter, written from New Orleans on 8 March 1844, describes the ocean voyage and reports the death of his forty-six-year-old wife, Mary. Jones had left Liverpool 23 January 1844, aboard the Yankee bark Fanny with a company of 210 Latter-day Saints under William Kay. Just south of the east tip of Puerto Rico, Mary died on 19 February 1844 and was buried at sea the next day.The rest of the company reached New Orleans early on the morning of 7 March 1844. At New Orleans, Kay, Jones, and many others in the party transferred to the Mormon riverboat Maid of Iowa commanded by its Welsh half-owner, Captain Daniel Jones.
In the letter reproduced below, dated 10 June 1844, James Jones exudes confidence about the gospel and his new life. Repeatedly he reaffirms his own faith and encourages his son to believe. Four of the children who accompanied him to Nauvoo—John, age twenty-two; Herbert, age twenty; Mary, age seventeen; and Hannah, age twelve—lived with him. Another son, Peter, age twenty-four, worked away. The family lived on a ten-acre farm at the Great Mound, six miles east of Nauvoo;his cultivated property promised abundant crops. Among his neighbors were the John Benbow, William Benbow, and John Kay families, fellow English converts. The Benbows lived near each other and more than two miles south of the Mound, the Kays within a mile of Jones. Some time before October 1845, an ailing Jones moved in with the Kays but was under his daughters’ care.
In his third letter (19 October 1845), Jones picks up a theme introduced in the June 1844 letter, which responds in part to correspondence from his son Henry in England. Henry had joined the Latter-day Saints but then reaffiliated with his former religion. His doubts about “Mormonism” kept him from leaving his native England, and he blamed the Church for separating the family. Henry’s brother, James Jr. (1817–1892), also remained in England as did the brothers and sisters of the senior James. The letters reveal the pain of separation that never fully left the immigrant James Jones, nor as long as he lived did he cease his efforts to encourage his family to gather to Zion.
In his last letter home from Nauvoo written on 19 May 1846 while he prepared to depart for the West, Jones repeats his conviction in his conversion and attempts once more to reconcile Henry to the faith. By this time, Jones had remarried. He identifies his new wife only as the widow of John Cole, an old neighbor from Froomes Hill. Countering this happy family news was a sobering report. Two of three sons who had accompanied Jones to America, John and Herbert, had sought work in St. Louis contrary to their father’s advice and had died in 1844 from illnesses contracted there. Jones himself died before reaching Utah.
For Jones, the restored gospel offered personal blessings, and in the following letter he shares his heartfelt testimony with his son, Henry, who had promised to join his father in Nauvoo. James reminds him of the promise. To build trust in his skeptical son, Jones offers a frank profile of the residents of the new land. He speaks openly about his and other English immigrants’ spiritual and economic progress. He offers practical advice on what to bring and what to buy in America. Although he wrote on the day of the destruction of the Nauvoo Expositor, Jones was too far removed from Nauvoo to have heard of it yet. Nor was he much interested in reporting such things. Unlike the newsy brief of young Edward Hunter, Jones’s correspondence home is deeply personal, yet meaningful in a broader scope as well. The letter is a prime example of the importance of eternal family ties to the Saints and of the optimism retained by many immigrants amidst personal sacrifice.
The letter is published by permission of the Church Archives, Historical Department of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, from an original manuscript. For ease of reading, punctuation (almost totally absent in the original) and paragraphing have been added and capitalization standardized. The original spelling is preserved. Jones writes like his speech must have sounded, with the absence of an occasional h where his American neighbors would expect one. Jones also consistently writes here or even hear when he apparently means there. To avoid a misreading, these are corrected by added punctuation(as, meaning has, becomes ’as) or bracketed insertions(been [i.e., being]).
Near Nauvoo, June 10, 1844
My Dear Henry:
I take the oppertunity of writing a few lines to give you such information as you requested me to do when you wrote to me while I was stopping at Liverpool. Respecting our journey over the sea, as I said before, the voyage was as prosperous as any people ever had, I beli[e]ve, that crossed the great Atlantic,but still my sorrows and troubles was very great, I mean in the severe and unrepairable loss of loosing her that was dearer to me than my own life. But still it chears and makes me happy in my great bereavment, knowing as I do that she died in the faith and that the glorious time is nigh when I shall, if I prove faithfull, receive her not as a mortal creature but immortal and enjoy her society forever.
Hear [there] ’as been a glorious principle taught that have [sic] been revealed from the Lord to the Prophet of been [being] sealed for eternity to those that have lost their partners, and without this sealing power no one can claim their bosom friends in another world, as the law by wich myself and most [?] beside me was only bound together for the term of our natural life, consequently we could have no claim on them in a future state. I have been with some of the heads of the Church respecting attending to this ordinance, but it ’as not been done as yet. Wether it can be done before the Temple of the Lord is finished I cannot tell as yet, but I assure you I am very anxious about it.
Hear [there] are many glorious truths taught here which makes my very heart rejoice, things that we never heard of in England.[T]here are such men here that their fellows are not to be found in the known world, men taught by the Lord and [who] teach and preach with power and in the demonstration of the Spirit as patriarchs, prophets, and apostles did of old, and these things are manifest to every honest-hearted man or woman that will enquire after truth. I know that this is the work of the Lord. I know that it is the will of the Lord that every honest-hearted person must be to come here, for there is no other place of salvation for the human family.
I sincerely hope, dear Henry, you will come very soon and bring James with you as you promised you would. You would find that this place would suit you well, both for your temporal welfare and spiritual instruction, as this is a place of freedom. Indeed, it is a free country, and this do very much please and delight me to live as a free man amongst a free people. I am very pleased with the customs and manners of the Americans. I mean those not only in the Church, but those out of the same, generally speaking, are a generous and inteligent people. You will find them a[n] open-hearted kind [people], not possessing that proud, haughty, and mean spirit that you find so prevalent among the English. The rich here do not look down with a frown upon those that are poorer than themselves but treat them with familiarity and kindness. Indeed I find myself already at home at America and would not come back to spend by life in England, not for all its boasted pomp and fals[e] show.
Not that I should dread the journey in the least in crossing the sea. We arived here on the 13th day of April.We had a very tedious journey in coming up the river. The boat was a great deal to[o] small for the company, and luggage been [being] over loaded, the shaft of the water weel broke 3 times, which hindered us very much, but, although it was so, we arrived here in health and safety and continue to enjoy better health than what we did in England. We found friends to take us in in the city where we stayed about a fortnight. Peter whent up or down the country to look [for] work from Nauvoo and we have not heard from him since. He was well then. John, Herbert, Mary, and Hannah are all living with me and seem to enjoy themselves very much. We have been very busy since we came here.
Brother Ingram, late of Worcester, when he came over last spring, built him a small house on what they call a patent quarter, been [being] land owned by someone at a distant, and people build upon it, and should the owner come, it is customary to pay for the improvements or the person give something for the land and have a title to it. He had not inclosed any land to it in consequence of haveing presented unto him a better chance of doing. He hearing of my being come, sent to me, and I gave him a triffle for his house and have inclosed, since I came, about 2 acres of land and have got most of it planted with potatoes, beans, peas, corn, melons, cucumbers, etc., and the crop is looking very promising, which is a great deal more than I anticipated, been [being] so late when we came here, but the land in this country is so very rich that is [it] forces the crop astonishingly.
I believe that the land in this country is the pleasantest and richest in the whole world, and not only so but the prospect is beautifull and will soon be the joy of the whole world. I have bought 10 acres of land at the Great Mound and I intend to build [a] shanty. Likewise the water is excelent. It is very easey to find good springs with very little expence by diging about 12 or 14 feet, but we have a beautifull runing spring on the premises where we live, as good, I think, as any I ever drank. We have got a cow and calf. John and Herbert bought it. A[n] Englishman told if she was in England, [she] would be worth £14. It is a first rate one and she is very usefull to us and costs us nothing in the keep, as [t]here is grass plenty, and it would astonish you to see the quantities that are keept here. It is about 6 miles from the city where we live, but [t]here are a great quantities of inhabitants here. It is not lonely at all.
I think the best for you would be to have some land and bring with you what things are usefull, and bring some lasts, hemp, saloon silk, wide cloth, cotton thread, pins, needles, etc., as these thing[s] will be very usefull, not that they are near so dear as they have been. You had best please yourself about bringing your gun. Riffles [rifles] are mostly used in this country, as people do not think what can be shot with a gun of any account. You can get a good riffle peice for £2. Things are to be got a great deal better than I could have thought, only been [being] a new country, money is very scarce hear. Here [there?] are abundance of stores where anything can be got, more suited to the country generally than what is made in England. There is plenty of houses and land in the city on high ground. The place is of more extent and importance than any one can conceive unless they have seen it.
I hope the day will soon dawn that I may have the pleasure of seeing you, James, your wife, and my dear little Henry, and Emma, [grandchildren] whom I love dearly. Give them a kiss apiece for me. I have many things to write but I must conclude. John, Herbert, Mary, and Hannah join with me in kind love and best wishes to you all and to John, Samuel, my brothers and sisters in the flesh.
And believe me to be ever your affectionate father,
[The following notes appear along the edges of the first and second pages of the letter.]
Pleast to give our kind love to our brothers and sisters in the Covenant and all old acquaintances and enquiring friends.
I have now been told that Peter is at Warsaw.
I have seen Mr. and Mrs. [John] Benbow. They are believing firmly in the work and doing nobly, and enjoy themselves much. Please to write very soon. Direct [it] for me, near Nauvoo, and I shall have it, because the letters are advertised in the publick papers.
A peach tree will grow up in 3 years so as to bear fruit and from the stone.
When you write lett me know every particular and when you intend [to] start from England. January would be the best time.
Bring husbandry tools, and what seeds you please. Fruit tree[s] grow up very soon here, but you can get them in the woods wild.