For the past couple of months I’ve served on the committee for a Family History Fair our church hosted for the community last weekend. There were three planned events.
Friday night we had an “Indexing Party” where folks could bring their own laptop computer and get help logging in to Familysearch.com and getting started on indexing photographed records into a searchable database.
Saturday we had three hours of workshops, presenting several class choices each hour, followed by a catered lunch. Classes covered everything from computer resources and access to scrapbooking and blogging your personal history. There were classes on photographs, both ancestry and descendency on the family tree (roots and branches), international research tips and technology. There were classes presented in English and Spanish. We had a few hundred people, I’m guessing, and everyone I talked to said it was really helpful and inspiring.
Sunday topped the weekend off with a fireside with the temple president and his wife speaking to families about eternal families and other blessings of temple worship.
I wasn’t able to attend any of the Friday or Saturday classes, because my involvement was in the children’s program. We provided nursery for children from 18 months to 3 years, and a rotating schedule of classes for children ages 4 to 11. There were craft projects, games, activities, songs, and stories of inspiring historical figures.
Of course, the children’s program was geared to their level of understanding and interest, but I am so glad I was able to share a little of my passion for family history with them.
During the course of our plans, I delved a little into some of the stories and life histories I have in my possession and learned (or re-learned) a few things about one of my ancestors, John Ellis. This is the grandson of the elusive one I wrote about in a past post. He chose the more difficult path to leave his home and family, to leave his parents’ tradition in favor of following his heart on the subject of religion. Whatever you may think of his choice, it’s undeniable that he left a legacy of unyielding faith and determination to follow the man he believed to be a modern prophet of God. He went to his grave firm in the faith and confident that he had lived his life in such a way that he was prepared to meet his maker unashamed.
John Ellis was born in 1814 in Scarborough, Ontario, Canada; the oldest of twelve children of John Ellis and Hannah Stoner. I love his story, as expressed in his own words beginning with what he considered the pivotal event in his life when he was twenty-two years old:
“The true Church of Jesus Christ has been restored to the earth by a Prophet of God, and we are here to teach you the true principles, as were taught by Jesus Christ, when He was upon the earth! May we come in?” I heard these words and saw the two missionaries at our door in Scarboro, Ontario, Canada. But then I heard my father turn them away. I looked at my mother but she, too, was unresponsive to those words. I couldn’t believe it! Didn’t they have a strange burning within their hearts upon hearing those powerful words, as I had? . . . I was still curious about why I had that “burning feeling” when I heard their words of greeting, so I attended their meetings and I investigated their claims thoroughly by reading their Book of Mormon before I asked for baptism in November, 1836. I had not told my parents . . . I knew their strong “anti” feelings toward the missionaries, and their activities in our community.
So my secret baptism had been a joyous time for me to be able to declare my true feelings to my Father in Heaven and to commit myself, for the rest of my life, to living His laws and commandments. But it was a sad time, when my family found I had gone against their wishes, and had actually given up their professed religion, to join another. Their bitter feelings made me realize that I could no longer be happy in their home, so on that winter night in 1837 I bade good night to my family . . . I knew that I would never see any of them again in this life. I skated around Lake Erie and into the United States, where I eventually made my way to Far West, Missouri, where the Saints were advised a temple would be built. (Note: this was a journey of 1089 miles)
The missionaries had promised that we “would find friends and loved ones” if we had to leave our homes, to follow the dictates of our hearts, so I was most happy to join with other families from the Scarboro area, who were living in Far West when I arrived there.
The Hales Family, Stephen and Mary Ann, were very good to me and took me into their home. It was there, at Far West, that I first saw the “Mormon-hating mobbers” gathered to drive us from our homes. Joseph Smith and five companions were imprisoned in Liberty Jail for six months. Much of the time they were in chains, food not fit to eat, and even poison was given them in food, making them very sick, and only through the blessings of the Lord, they were preserved, and at last freed. With all three of the Presidency in prison, the burden of removing the Saints from Missouri was placed upon Brigham Young. He showed his leadership ability in arranging and devising plans for every soul to be helped in their move to Illinois. I was able to help the Hales in their move and then returned, time after time, to take other Brothers and Sisters to Quincy, Illinois.
We were received there with a friendly welcome and the residents voiced their disapproval of the treatment we had received from Missouri mobs. The Hales purchased a farm, and many other Saints chose to remain in Quincy. The Prophet had purchased land for $14,000, on long-term notes, of a place called Commerce. It was about 50 miles up the River from Quincy, and an excellent site for a city. The Mississippi River made a half-circle around the place, giving three fronts on the River. After draining the swamps, and much hard work, it became “Nauvoo, the Beautiful.”
At Quincy, on 31 October, 1839, I was married to the lovely Harriet Hales. I guess I fell in love with her upon first sight. . . It was a double wedding, as her brother Charles Henry and Julia Lockwood were married that day, too.
Our first baby, Mary Ann was born there on 10 December 1840.
Then the trouble began again. . . So we moved to Nauvoo, where our second child, Hannah Isabella, was born 31 December, 1843.
At Nauvoo, I became a body guard for the Prophet Joseph, and also a member of the Nauvoo Legion. The Prophet vowed that “we would never be driven from our farms and homes again.” He organized the Nauvoo Legion, an army of men, who were trained to protect our city, our families and homes, and the farmers of the surrounding countryside, which we were called to do many times. I served as Quartermaster in the Legion. When Joseph was to be arrested, for the so-called attempted murder of Missouri Governor Boggs, he went into hiding, and I helped with his seclusion, but soon he gave himself up and proved he was not guilty of the attempt. He urged the people to work longer and harder to finish the Temple, as he predicted his own fate when he said in Conference, “I shall not be sacrificed until my time comes, then I shall be offered freely. The Kingdom of God was set upon the earth from the days of Adam to the present time. They will never have the power to kill me until my work is done.” Nauvoo had risen from a swamp and wilderness in 1839 to a commonwealth of twenty thousand Saints in 1844. In June, 1844, threats were made to exterminate the Saints and utterly destroy the city, by Missouri and Illinois mobs. The city was placed under martial law and the Legion called out to serve in self defense.
As the Prophet stood before us in the uniform of a commanding General, he said, “It is thought by some that our enemies would be satisfied by my destruction, but these men are moved upon by the adversary of all righteousness, and he is out to destroy every man, woman, and child who believes the doctrine that God gave me to teach to this generation.” On 22 June, Joseph and Hyrum decided to save the people of Nauvoo from the fate of being driven from their homes again. They had been told that the officials wanted only Joseph, but Hyrum refused to leave his side, knowing he also would be killed. Both planned to leave the city to go to the West and seek a place of refuge for them all, at a later date. However, his wife Emma sent a letter to Joseph saying the people thought him a coward in deserting his flock for the wolves to devour again. He returned, saying, “If my life is of no value to my friends, it is of none to myself. . . I go like a lamb to the slaughter.” They were taken to Carthage jail to stand trial, but were murdered on 27 Jun, 1844. We had lost our beloved Prophet!
A meeting was called to determine who was to lead the Church, on 8 August, 1844. Sidney Rigdon gave his revelation as to the Lord appointing him “guardian of the Church”; then in the afternoon Brigham Young spoke, telling us of the power given the Twelve Apostles, and all the Keys of the Kingdom: they stood next to Joseph Smith. We saw his whole being changed as the mantle of Joseph fell upon him, and his stature grew to the form of Joseph, and his voice became that of Joseph’s, even to the slight whistle from a broken tooth that distinguished his speech from any other. No one could doubt his power, through this transformation before our very eyes! We were absolutely convinced that Brigham Young, as the President of the Twelve, was the lawful successor, and we raised our hands to sustain him.
Again we were ordered to prepare to vacate our City and leave our homes for the mobbers to plunder. At a Conference, in Oct. 1845, Elder Parley P. Pratt spoke to us. The Lord has another purpose to bring about and fulfill. We know that the great work of God, must all the while, be on the increase and grow greater. The people must enlarge in numbers and extend their borders. They cannot always live in one city, nor in one country. They cannot always wear the yoke; Israel must be the head and not the tail. The Lord designs to lead us to a wider field of action, where there will be more room for the Saints to grow and increase, and where there will be no one to say “we crowd them”. . . And where we can enjoy the pure principles of liberty and equal rights. One small nursery may produce many thousands of fruit trees while they are small, but as they expand toward maturity, they must needs be transplanted, in order to have room to grow and produce the natural fruit. It is so with us. We want a country where we have room to expand and grow; in short, this people are fast approaching that point which ancient prophets have long since pointed out as the destiny of the Saints of the Last Days.” In January, 1846, it was announced the exploration of California and regions west of the Rockies showed a good valley in the mountains, and that we were to depart in the spring, so water and grass would be available for teams. By February 6, the mobbers struck, and the first wagons, loaded with only the necessary things for life, started crossing the Mississippi River, bound for the unknown. I helped to move my family to Garden Grove and then returned many times to bring those Saints who had no teams or wagons and were destitute from the robbings of the mobs.
Harriet and I went on to Fort Madison, Illinois, where our first son was born, Stephen Hales Ellis on 18 October, 1846. It had just been two weeks before Harriet’s father Stephen had gone out to look for oxen that had strayed and he drank some poisoned water and died. I had loved that man as a father, and mourned his passing.
We moved across the river to Appanoose, Hancock County, Illinois, where our second son John Henry was born, on 19 March, 1849. Shortly after that event, we went to Garden Grove to live until the following spring. Homes had been built there and gardens planted for those families who were unable to go to the Salt Lake Valley in one season. We started for that place in 1850.
At the end of the long and arduous Journey we finally arrived at our destination. At last we would be able to choose where we were to live and not fear that we would again be driven from our homes. We could enjoy family life and the association of our fellow Saints in worshiping and living the Gospel, as it had been given us. Daniel Woods had made a settlement in 1849, just north of Salt Lake and just south of Sessions’ Settlement. We decided to settle there. I had land to clear and farm, and good neighbors who needed my trade as cooper. I made barrels, churns, buckets and wash tubs. The large one I made for Perrigrine Sessions became a “traveling tub”; neighbors from miles around borrowed it for their laundry and baths. Many stories were told of this tub. I built a small home for our family and there acquired two sites for molasses mills. I purchased from Heber C. Kimball his grist mill on Millcreek and ran it for many years. The molasses mills were the first in the community and my sons, as soon as they were old enough, helped with their operations. I also raised cattle and sheep.
As I look back over my life, I have many memories. Some of the sad ones were of being forced to leave the home of my parents and family yin Scarboro, Ontario, Canada. I never obtained forgiveness for listening to the Missionaries and being baptized. My testimony of its truthfulness was never listened to nor understood by them, but I am ever thankful for being led to the Hales family, who gave me the love and family life I needed. I was sad to see them both succumb to the ravages and harassments of the mobs, and to be buried on the plains, en route to the “Promised Land” they’d looked forward to. I am thankful for my lovely wife, who has always been at my side, through all our hardships and persecutions. She bore twelve children, ten of whom we reared and saw married to fine mates.
I am thankful for those many trials and tribulations that we had to endure, as they served to strengthen my testimony and bring me closer to the Lord and Master. I am most grateful for having known and been a personal, close friend to the Prophet Joseph, and to his brother Hyrum, who blessed and ordained me an Elder, at the time of trouble in Nauvoo. I was ordained a Seventy and hold that office today. After our arrival in the Valley I was called to again be in the Militia (which was organized from the old Nauvoo Legion) in Salt Lake City. We were called to check Johnson’s army in 1857. Because of false reports from conspirators in Salt Lake City to the U.S. Government, an army was sent to Utah, “to put down the rebellion.” The command was given to General Johnson, who was from the South, proud and haughty. He looked upon the Mormons as “rebels” and his troops, while on the march, boasted of what they would do when they arrived in Salt Lake City. They planned to pick out the houses they would inhabit, and farms and property, and women were to be distributed among them. “Beauty and body” were their watch words. President Young ordered out the Militia to maintain the pass, by force of arms, against any attempted invasion. He sent a letter to the army, then camped at Green River, Wyoming, forbidding them to enter Utah Territory. We were instructed to annoy the troops, stampede their cattle, set fire to their trains, burn the countryside before them so there would be no feed, keep them from sleeping by night attacks, blockade the roads, but strictly avoiding the taking of life. These troops were forced to face the snow and sleet of the most severe winter weather. Colonel Kane, an old friend to the Mormons, interceded, and the new Governor Cummings sent word back to Washington of the true circumstances, and that there was no rebellion. The army was to enter the Valley, but refrain from stopping in the city. However, President Brigham Young took no chances, and ordered us to fill our homes with straw and place straw in our gardens and fields, so that everything could be burned if Johnson’s army did not keep their word to leave our houses and fields alone. We were ready to be driven from our homes again, but this time it was to be on our terms. We would leave the desert as barren as when we found it. We would not leave them our homes and crops another time! With the knowledge of our decision, Johnson proceeded on to the Fort, and our homes were saved. The United States appointed governors and judges, who gave us much opposition and trouble, but the Lord pulled us through it all, with our religious freedom intact.
I shall miss my loved ones, for they have all brought me much Joy. I journeyed to Salt Lake yesterday, by freight train, to see a doctor there. He examined me and then said I had cancer of the face, and there was not anything he could do to help me. So I know my days are numbered. My 57 years on earth will not be in vain, if I can leave my fervent testimony with my posterity. I know that we have the only true Church of Jesus Christ on the earth, and that it is led by a chosen Prophet of the Lord, and will continue to be so led, until He comes again in the flesh. I am ready now to meet my Lord and Savior, with love in my heart for Him. I leave my testimony upon you all in His name.