Ronald Dennis, whose academic training is in Portuguese, undertook some years ago the challenging task of mastering the Welsh language, spoken more than a century earlier by his immigrant ancestors. Since that time, Dennis has done much to promote contact with Welsh language and culture. One of his most valuable endeavors has been his involvement with a treasure trove of mid-nineteenth century Welsh Latter-day Saint writings, most of them published but all now virtually inaccessible because of the language barrier. Among these materials is a substantial amount of information about the first collective Welsh Latter-day Saint emigration to America, in 1849.
The Call of Zion consists of three kinds of material. First is Dennis’s historical narrative of the emigration experience of this particular group. Initial plans called for the entire Welsh contingent of 326 to travel as one party, but they were divided in two when the ship they obtained was unable to accommodate all of them. Dennis describes the voyage of the 249-member Welsh company on the Buena Vista in frank detail, including the challenges posed by seasickness, interpersonal conflicts, and the apostasy of a small faction of the group. He outlines more briefly the experience of the seventy-seven Welsh emigrants who sailed soon after on the Hartley, along with English, Scottish, and Irish coreligionists, and who were instrumental in the conversion of four of the ship’s crew. On the way up the Mississippi and Missouri rivers to Council Bluffs in riverboats, both groups were engulfed in the cholera epidemic that raged up and down the river that year. The survivors were reunited at Council Bluffs for two months, then divided by the differences in their ability to undertake the overland journey to Utah. Eighty-four proceeded onward that year with the George A. Smith company; 113 became the nucleus of a Welsh-language branch of the Church in the Council Bluffs area; others remained in the vicinity of St. Louis until 1852, when William Morgan led a mostly Welsh company from Council Bluffs to Salt Lake City. Dennis’s eighty-page narrative is informative and well-organized.