Western Maine Saints [Part 4]: The York and Carter Families


Western Maine Saints [Part 4]: The York and Carter Families


Bethel Historical Society


Winter 2007-Fall 2008




Full Text

Western Maine Saints [Part 4]:

The York and Carter Families

by Carole York

Conversion to Mormonism and Western Migration

“I first embraced Mormonism in 1834 in the town of Newry, Oxford County, State of Maine. The first elders I ever heard preach were John F. Boynton and Daniel Bean. They came to my father’s house, and my mother lay very sick. The doctors had given her up. The elders told her they were preaching a new doctrine and they told her that she could be healed if she could have faith, that they would lay hands upon her. They did lay hands upon her and said, ‘In the name of the Lord Jesus be thou made whole.’ And she was made whole and arose and called for her clothes and said I must go to the water. She walked one half mile and was baptized in the river called the Bear River and confirmed. And there was a large branch raised up in that place.”  John Carter did not join the Church. When his wife was healed, he said, “That sure beats doctor bills,” but he never joined the Church.

The above account of the conversion of Hannah Knight Libby Carter to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also known as the Mormon Church, was written by her daughter, Eliza Ann Carter Snow. This essay will describe the conversion experiences and western journey of the closely related York and Carter families and their efforts to help settle Salt Lake and other Mormon towns in Utah and the southwest. The David and Patty Bartlett Sessions family and Mary Ann Frost Stearns Pratt and her family have been featured in previous issues of The Courier. By looking closely at the conversion and western migration of the Latter-day Saints from Bethel and Newry, the history of the early church is enhanced and enlarged. Moreover, this analysis contributes to the history of backcountry Maine during the years following the Revolutionary War. This was a period of religious unrest and revivalism—the Second Great Awakening that had started in New England during the 1790s. Between 1825 and 1832, evangelist Charles Finney aroused great excitement as he preached across what has been called the “Burned Over District” of New York State, so named because it was a flashpoint of religious fervor. By the 1830s the Second Great Awakening had begun to wane.

The York, Carter, Frost and Sessions families illustrate the dedication and devotion that inspired Mormons to persevere in the face of opposition, harassment, and even violence. Mob attacks against the Mormons occurred in Ohio, Missouri, and Illinois, and Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum were murdered in Carthage, Illinois, in 1844. Like thousands of other Saints, these early members of the church endured and transformed a harsh desert environment into fertile farmland and created a major American city.

Joseph Smith, Jr., was born in Vermont in 1805, and his hard working but poor family moved often during his childhood. While living in Palmyra, New York, young Joseph was intensely influenced by this religious conflagration and confused by the sectarian controversies that surrounded him. He stated that he asked God for wisdom and that his prayer was answered in a series of revelations. The first one occurred when he was about fifteen years old, and he reported this to his family. In 1823, by Smith’s account, he received a revelation from an angel, Moroni, who told Smith where to find a set of golden plates. From these plates, engraved in ancient hieroglyphics and compiled by Moroni’s father, Mormon, Smith translated The Book of Mormon. Published in 1830, this scripture told of an ancient history of the Hebrews who had settled in North America and an account of Jesus bringing the Christian message to the new world. Soon after, missionaries spread out across what are now the eastern and mid-Atlantic States.

Missionaries first arrived in Maine in 1832, and in that year they baptized Timothy Smith in Saco, after which a branch of the church was formed. Missionaries Wilford Woodruff and Jonathan Hale converted approximately one hundred persons from the Fox Islands—now Vinalhaven and North Haven—in 1837-1838. Forty-six converted in Bethel/Newry, Maine, between 1833 and 1870 (mostly during the 1830s), among them Aaron and Hannah Carter York and William Furlsbury and Sarah York Carter.

Joseph Smith, in The History of the Church of Latter-day Saints, Period I, wrote that on 21 August 1835, “Seven of the Twelve [LDS apostles] met in conference at Saco, Maine. The church in that place numbered fifty-seven; the Dover branch in New Hampshire, eight.” On 28 August 1835, Smith continued, “This day I preached on the duty of wives. The traveling High Council assembled in conference at Farmington, Maine, and resolved—that this be called ‘The Maine Conference.’ The Church at Farmington numbered thirty-two; in Sitter B., [Letter B] twnyty-two[sic]; in Akwry [although this town cannot be located on current maps, “Newry” may have been intended], twenty-five; in Errol, New Hampshire, twenty; all in good standing.” It is not possible to give the exact number of converts, because members to a new faith come and go. The best estimate is from the Encyclopedia of Latter-day Saint History that states approximately five-hundred Saints left for Utah from Maine between 1832 and 1847. In 1850, Brigham Young ordered the Saints still remaining in Maine to migrate to the west.

Six of the nine children of Hannah Knight Libby and John Carter converted: Dominicus, the oldest; Hannah, who married Aaron Marean (often spelled Mereon) York; William Furlsbury, who married Sarah (Sally) York; John; Richard; and Eliza Ann Carter Snow. John Carter and three children, Almira, Philip Libby and Mary Jane, traveled as far as Nauvoo, Illinois, but did not convert. Dr. William B. Lapham, in the genealogical section of his History of Bethel, Maine, merely states that Aaron and his sister, Sarah, “went to Utah,” and another sister, Martha Eames York, who married Philip Libby Carter, “went to Tioga, Illinois.”

During its early years, the LDS Church was a lightening rod for controversy because of its heretical beliefs about the Bible and Christianity, communal economy, monolithic politics and, until 1890, the practice of polygamy or plural marriage. A chapter in the town history of Saco, “The Mormon Invasion,” describes the reaction to the missionaries by many townspeople: “The Mormon elders were unwearied in their efforts to enlarge the circle of their influence and to drum up recruits for their semi-religious community. Like flaming heralds, they traveled from town to town, and their evident sincerity and unbounded enthusiasm drew thousands to them. But there was determined opposition. The ministers of the gospel stood outside and openly warned their people to keep clear of these missionaries of a strange faith. The culminating effect proved that the spirit of the Mormons was identical to Cochranism [one of the new sects that grew out of the Second Great Awakening]. Both systems produced the same ruinous upheaval in the domestic circle, and the wreckage of blasted homes was scattered all along the coast where the devastating storm held sway.” The writer notes that, at this time, polygamy had not been mentioned and that some of the converts moved west, including James Townsend, who built the first hotel in Utah. Others became preachers, traveling in North America and internationally to gain more converts to their faith.

Mormon Temple at Kirtland, Ohio

On 15 August 1835, Brigham Young came to the Sessions home and encouraged those who had been baptized the previous summer by Daniel Bean and John F. Boynton to move west. In the summer of 1836, the Yorks and Carters, along with others from Bethel and Newry, traveled to Kirtland, Ohio, which was then the church headquarters. In August, David Sessions drove Mary Ann Frost Stearns and her daughter, Mary Ann, to Portland. Here the mother and her three year old met other converts with whom they traveled to Kirtland. It took the Sessions family until June, 1837, to settle their affairs, at which time they left for Kirtland. The Bethel/Newry converts attended the newly built Mormon Temple at Kirtland, Ohio, participated in church meetings and joyfully sang the songs of Zion. Kirtland, between 1831 and 1837, was the home of the church’s first temple, and here is where it first established its organizational structure, leadership hierarchy, church doctrines and rituals, spiritual education programs, and strong missionary movement. However, all was not well when Aaron and Hannah Carter York and their families arrived there.

In 1837, the Kirtland church underwent a turbulent period after incurring a large debt on the building of the temple, buying land, and assisting new members who had settled in Missouri and were in financial need. The failure of the bank, the Kirtland Safety Society, aggravated what was already a desperate situation. The bank had been established by the church after its application for a bank charter had been denied twice, in 1836 and 1837, by the Ohio legislature. Internal opposition arose against Joseph Smith and other church leaders, and many Saints apostatized and left the church. Opposition also arose from the non-Mormon or Gentile community, threatened by the church’s financial and banking practices, land speculation, and communitarian economic practices. Persecution had begun in Ohio at least as early as 1832, where, on March 25, Joseph Smith had been beaten, then tarred and feathered. The Mormon emigration began in January, 1838, and by July most of the Saints had left Kirtland for Far West, Missouri.

Eliza Ann Carter Snow wrote about the family’s experience after arriving in Kirtland: “The next year [1837] an apostate movement arose, and John F. Boynton, the missionary who had brought them the gospel in Maine and had since become one of the first quorum of apostles, became one of the bitterest and most violent leaders against the prophet. So intense was the persecution, that those who remained staunch and faithful were forced to leave for Far West, Missouri.” In February, 1838, William F. Carter and Eliza Ann, who had recently married James C. Snow, began their journey, driving a team of oxen. It was bitter cold, and in Terre Haute, Indiana, one of the oxen died. They had no money and no home, so they took shelter in a horse stable during the worst winter storms. Eventually Hyrum Smith’s company came along, and Eliza and James traveled with them to Jacksonville, Illinois, where her brother, William, and the one ox, left behind, caught up with them. “He had made a harness and tackled him up and the one ox carried his wife and three children to Missouri, and when I saw him, I rejoiced to see him have so much faith, but the Gentiles made all manner of fun of him. They said, ‘there goes a d--- Mormon with one ox,’ but he got out of there just the same; and Father Joseph Smith said it would be in the annals of history. After that the Kirtland Camp [comprised of impoverished saints who could not afford, without church support, to go to Far West] came along and we went to Missouri with them. We went into an old log house that we could poke a cat out between the logs and there my first child [Sarah Jane] was born; it was the 30 day of October in the year 1838.… It was cold and snowed every day and the mob came into Far West the very day of her birth, and we were much excited. I could not keep the midwife long enough to dress my child.… The mob was blowing horns and firing guns all night long. We were without bread or anything to make bread of, but by the help of the Lord we were preserved by the brethren giving up arms and promising to leave Far West.”

Mormons first arrived in Missouri in 1831, settling in Independence, Jackson County; by 1833 opposition against these pioneers drove them across the Missouri River into Clay and Ray Counties. There, in 1836, facing ongoing enmity and in an attempt to avoid their hostile Gentile neighbors, the Saints agreed to move to Far West, an isolated undesirable area that no one else wanted. The carefully designed city plan was the same model used in developing other cities of Zion, including Salt Lake City. By the fall of 1838, Far West had grown into a thriving community of 5,000 citizens. However, in that same year, the Saints were hounded from Missouri after Governor Lilburn W. Boggs, on 27 October 1838, ordered them out of the state.

In addition to its contentious financial and religious practices, political opposition arose against the church. Missouri had been established as a slave state by the Missouri Compromise of 1820, and many Saints had come from the anti-slavery northeast. Whether they were truly opposed to slavery is not entirely clear. Joseph Smith was strongly opposed to slavery, but most Mormons refused to take an anti-slavery stance, believing it to be established legal precedent in Missouri. However, the perception that the Mormons were against slavery persisted, which added to the opposition against them. Moreover, the efforts of the Saints to convert the Indians aroused alarm among the non-Mormon residents. Forced to abandon their homes and property, the Mormons moved to Commerce, Illinois, which they renamed Nauvoo. This city became the new church headquarters.

In February, 1839, Eliza, her husband James, infant daughter, and two other families were on the move again. They shared one wagon, drawn by several old horses, and took turns walking, this time to Illinois. They had no tent, and slept near their campfire. In this group were Dominicus Carter, and Aaron and Hannah Carter York with their families, and John and Hannah Knight Libby Carter. On 11 August 1839, Sarah Emily, a daughter of Dominicus, age two years and three months, died. In October, the group finally arrived at a location near Lima, Illinois, twenty-five miles south of Nauvoo. It was named Morley’s Settlement for Mormon leader Isaac Morley, also known as Yelrome (Morley spelled backward). In 1842, John and Hannah Knight Libby Carter purchased land there.

Nauvoo prospered initially and was allowed liberal powers of autonomous self-government by a charter from the Illinois legislature. Here, between 1839 and 1844, the church built its second temple and established a militia. Members contributed their efforts toward establishing a hotel, flour mill, foundry, chinaware and tool making factories. Converts from England, who began arriving in 1840 contributed to its growth, and by 1844, the population of Nauvoo was 10,000, the second largest city after Chicago. However, the Saints had settled in swamp land. Mosquitoes caused malaria and unsanitary conditions and tainted water caused many to become ill with typhoid fever. Poverty plagued the community, because the Saints had been forced to leave their previous settlements, including Kirtland and Far West, in haste and many English converts arrived without financial resources.

In June, 1844, Joseph Smith and his brother, Hyrum, were murdered while imprisoned in the Carthage, Illinois, jail on flimsy charges of treason. The accusations against them grew out of charges and counter charges that followed the cessation and destruction of The Expositor, shut down by the City Council because of its inflammatory anti-Mormon articles. The fact that, early in 1844, Joseph Smith had declared himself a candidate for President of the United States no doubt contributed to what was a volatile atmosphere. Elder Perrigrine Sessions, with his unique syntax and spelling, wrote the following about this event: “…Brother Joseph and Hyrum was taken and when in prison under the pretection of Goviner [Governor Thomas Ford] and the plited faith of the State they were Murdered in cold blood in Prison by a gang of black harted reches on the 27 of June 1844…”

In September, 1845, a mob burned one-hundred-twenty-five buildings in Morley’s settlement and Lima. The residents fled to Nauvoo, and when they returned to harvest their crops, vigilantes, who were never put on trial, killed Edmund Durfee. In February, 1846, the Yorks and Carters, along with many faithful compatriots, began to evacuate Nauvoo. They crossed the Mississippi River into Iowa, first by boat and, after the river froze, on foot. By summer only about six-hundred Mormons remained, mainly those too sick or too poor to move on. From the tenth to the twelfth of September, 1846, skirmishes occurred between the Saints and an Illinois renegade militia. On the thirteenth, the Battle of Nauvoo ensued, lasting only one and three-quarter hours. Surrendering to their far stronger adversaries, the remnant Saints agreed to leave the city, and the Illinois troops agreed to protect the helpless residents who were unable to travel, some of whom were non-Mormon newcomers to the settlement. Hubert H. Bancroft wrote in the History of Utah, 1540-1886, that the militia disregarded the treaty. “The mob entered the temple, ordered an inquisition, and regardless of Mormons or new citizens went from house to house, plundering cow-yards, pig-pens, hen roosts and bee-stands indiscriminately; thus turning some of their best friends into enemies, bursting open trunks and chests, searching for arms, keys, etc.... In the temple ringing bells, shouting, and hallooing; they took several to the river and baptized them, swearing, throwing them backward, then on to their faces, saying: ‘The commandments must be fulfilled and God damn you.’” By the end of September, all the Saints had departed, leaving behind their property and any hope of peaceful accommodation with the Gentiles.

In 1847, led by Joseph Smith’s successor, Brigham Young, companies of wagons began the 2,000 mile trek to the western territories, at that time still a part of Mexico. As the day of departure from Nauvoo drew near, John Carter adamantly refused to join the church. He died in 1852 in Illinois. Dominicus, a skilled blacksmith, stayed in Kanesville, now Council Bluffs, Iowa, to help prepare the emigrant trains for the grueling trip ahead. He and his mother crossed the plains in 1851 and arrived at Salt Lake City on the twentieth of June. In 1852, he was elected counselor to George A. Smith, who had married another Bethel/Newry native, Lucy Meserve Smith [no relation], on 24 November 1844 in Nauvoo. George Smith presided over the settlement, and James C. Snow became the first president of the Utah Stake.

The Saints had chosen, as their new home, the remote Great Basin in order to geographically separate themselves from hostile Gentiles. However, the church recognized that it depended on the United States to provide protection, investment capital and consumer goods. In 1849, the church instituted a formal governmental structure with a constitution and elected officers. Brigham Young was elected governor of the proposed state of Deseret, a word from the Book of Mormon that means honey bee. Deseret, as first envisioned by the church, covered approximately 490,000 square miles extending from the Sierra Nevada range on the west to the Rocky Mountains on the east and encompassed an area that included present day Utah, Nevada, parts of California, Arizona, New Mexico, Idaho, Wyoming and Colorado. The State of Deseret ended in 1851, when the United States Congress passed the Compromise of 1850, which made California a state and created the territories of Utah and Nevada.

Conflict continued, however, between the LDS Church and the United States Government, because the Saints continued to practice and strongly defend their unconventional religious and collective business practices that did not include non-Mormons. The church’s involvement in politics and their practice of plural marriage aggravated the situation. War broke out in 1857, when President James Buchanan sent in an army to “reestablish law and order” and replace Brigham Young with Alfred Cumming, from Georgia, as territorial governor. The "Utah War," later considered a gross overreaction by President Buchanan to political pressure and unreliable information, was brought to an end by a truce brokered by Thomas L. Kane. Kane was a Pennsylvania judge, a prominent Democrat and reformer. An advocate of abolition, education for women and prison reform, he became a strong friend and supporter of the Saints. A close bond between Kane and the Mormons developed after he became ill at Winter Quarters, Nebraska, across the Mississippi River from Council Bluffs, Iowa. Here he was nursed back to health by the Saints, and he never forgot their kind treatment. The Saints, in gratitude to him for his efforts on their behalf, named their settlement at present day Council Bluffs, Iowa, Kanesville.

After renouncing polygamy in 1890, Utah entered the Union in 1896. Clashes between the Saints and the United States ended, and greater cooperation between the Mormons and non-Mormons developed. Here in a barren dessert, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints finally found a place where its members could practice their faith in peace. From one of the most persecuted creeds at the beginning of the twentieth century, today the Mormon Church has become the most successful of the nineteenth century utopian groups. In 2006, its membership was 5,599,177 in the United States and in Canada, and almost 13 million worldwide; in 2006, it grew by 1.74%—the second fastest growing denomination among the twenty-five largest churches in the United States.

Hannah Knight Libby Carter bronze marker at Provo, Utah
Courtesy of Gary and Marcia Braithwaite

Hannah Knight Libby Carter died shortly before or on 2 November 1867, age eighty-one, having lived with her son, Dominicus, who had helped settle Provo. “Those who remember her describe her as short in stature, with a round face, impressive blue eyes and refined and dignified bearing. She frequently wore a lace cap and was very prim and neat. She was well educated and industrious, keeping her knitting close by and working even in her advanced years.” Her funeral and burial were at the Grandview Hill Cemetery where three farms converged (this graveyard is no longer in existence), and the day, according to Eliza, was very cold. On Memorial Day, 1941, a commemorative bronze plaque, with the motif of a covered wagon, was placed in the Provo Cemetery; it read, “HANNAH KNIGHT LIBBY CARTER, Oct. 9, 1786 - Nov. 1867, ‘faithful in the day of trial.’”

Western Migration

"I would prefer to deal with the Mormon pioneers, if I can, as human beings of their time and place, the earlier ones westward moving Americans, the latter ones European converts gripped by the double promise of economic betterment and eternal life. Suffering, endurance, discipline, faith, brotherly and sisterly charity—the qualities so celebrated by Mormon writers—were surely distributed among them, but there was also a normal amount of human cussedness, vengefulness, masochism, backbiting, violence, ignorance, selfishness and gullibility. So far as possible I shall take from them their own journals and reminiscences and letters, and I shall try to follow George Bancroft’s rule for historians: I shall try to present them in their terms and judge them in mine. That I do not share the faith that possessed them does not mean I doubt their frequent devotion and heroism in its service. Especially their women. Their women were incredible."

The York and Carter families, in 1850 and 1851, traveled from Kanesville (present-day Council Bluffs, Iowa) to the Great Salt Lake Basin to gather with the Latter-day Saints in Zion, a sacred place, a holy community, a bulwark against evil. The above quote by Wallace Stegner, from The Gathering of Zion: The Story of the Mormon Trail, describes the dedication of Mormon women and men who sacrificed greatly in devotion to their strong religious convictions. Most sold their real property and left kith and kin, in many cases never to see them again. (The concept of “Zion” is from the Book of Mormon. “Gathering” also has special meaning to the Mormons and is related to the biblical reference to the Gathering of Israel. In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, it means to bring together its members in designated places where sacred ceremonies, endowments and ordinances are performed.) This essay will discuss the Mormon migration to Salt Lake that included the Carters and the Yorks. The two closely linked families had already traveled a circuitous route from Bethel/Newry to Kirtland, Ohio, in 1836-1837, to Far West, Missouri, in 1838 and, lastly, to Lima, Illinois (near Nauvoo), in 1839. There they remained until, in February, 1846, hostile Gentiles (non-Mormons) drove them out, forcing the Saints to abandon their farms, homes, and businesses. Aaron York, and Dominicus and William Furlsbury Carter were leaders and missionaries in the early church, and their mothers, wives and sisters unselfishly, heroically and prayerfully stood behind them all the way to God’s Kingdom on earth.

The Yorks and Carters remained strongly connected in later years, as their children and grandchildren intermarried and established joint business ventures in Utah. All were devout members of the LDS Church and dedicated to building the New Jerusalem in the West. William Furlsbury Carter, Dominicus Carter and Aaron Marean York were church leaders on the journey west and in Provo. All served missions: Aaron, in Maine; William, in Maine and India; and Dominicus, in Indiana. Mormon missionaries often proselytized in the regions where they lived before moving to Kirtland and Missouri. This is illustrated by the missions of Perrigrine Sessions, Aaron York and William Furlsbury Carter to Bethel and Newry. Soon after arriving at Salt Lake, many of the first pioneers were sent to colonize other towns in the region; William, Dominicus, and Aaron were prominent in the development of Provo, and the Sessions family helped settle Bountiful.

Between 1847 and 1868, an estimated sixty- to seventy-thousand Latter-day Saints trekked across the plains. Companies left Winter Quarters (present-day Florence), near Omaha, Nebraska, for Salt Lake in 1848. After 1848, Mormon trains left from Kanesville (Council Bluffs), Iowa, because Indian treaties in force at the time did not permit non-Native Americans to develop settlements west of the Missouri River. On 10 May 1869, the Central Pacific Railroad, coming from California, met the Union Pacific at Promontory, Utah, and by 1880 the railroad system had tripled in size, covering more than ninety-thousand miles. Migration by Mormon converts continued by railroad, but it is the saga of the first intrepid trail blazers and their undaunted leaders that so rivets our attention. A few of the better known church leaders were Joseph Smith, Junior, the founder and first prophet; Hyrum Smith, who, in 1844, was murdered with his brother, Joseph, in Carthage, Illinois; William Clayton, musician and inventor; Parley Pratt, indefatigable missionary to the Native Americans and the British; Wilford Woodruff, one of the first missionaries to Maine (especially to the Fox Islands, now North Haven and Vinalhaven), and who, in 1890, wrote the Manifesto disavowing polygamy; and Brigham Young, who assumed the presidency of the church after Joseph Smith’s death, and led the Mormon emigration west to Salt Lake.

Brigham Young (1801-1877) was born in Whitingham, Vermont, on 1 June 1801, the ninth of John and Abigail (Nabby) Young’s eleven children. In a sermon delivered at the Mormon Tabernacle on 8 August 1869, Young said, “In my youthful days, instead of going to school, I had to chop logs, to sow and plant, to plow in the midst of roots barefooted, and if I had a pair of pants to cover me I did pretty well.” Like Joseph Smith’s family, Young's moved frequently and lived a hardscrabble existence. In 1830, after reading and contemplating the Book of Mormon, Young converted to The Church of Christ that, in 1838, Joseph Smith renamed The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Young assumed the presidency of the LDS Church after the murder of Joseph Smith in 1844 and served in that office until his death in Salt Lake City on 29 August 1877.

Brigham Young, as he appeared around 1850.
The Latter-day Saints leader visited Bethel and several neighboring
communities in 1835 and 1836, seeking converts for the Mormon church.

By all accounts a brilliant strategist and leader, Brigham Young was straightforward, without pretense, simply dressed, and self-confident. Plain spoken, his language often salty, he alternately cajoled and scolded his sometimes unruly band all the way to Salt Lake. Unlike the emigrants of the Oregon and California trails, who were comprised of single groups of individuals or families and restless, impetuous adventurers and gold seekers, the Mormons moved as a community, united by a common faith and a passion to reach Zion. In large part, their success in this venture can be attributed to the strong leadership of Young. Leonard J. Arrington, in Brigham Young: American Moses, has written that although Young lacked a formal education, he was skilled at a variety of trades including carpentry and boatbuilding, and had acquired “the necessity of being both practical and economical.”

On Monday 5 April 1847, Brigham Young led an advance party from Winter Quarters to territories outside of the United States that were uninhabited by whites; only Native Americans from diverse tribes, who competed and sometimes battled for land and resources, and Anglo and French trappers and explorers were familiar with the region. Approximately one-hundred-forty-eight Saints were in the group, including three women: Clara Decker, the plural wife of Brigham Young; Harriet Decker, the wife of Lorenzo Young (Brigham’s brother); and Ellen Sanders, Heber Kimball’s plural wife. Kimball’s wife had brought along two children. The trip had been in the planning stages for several years. In December 1845, when it became obvious that the Saints were no longer safe in Nauvoo, President Young and Apostle Heber Kimball pored over maps and trail guides in order to make a decision about where land existed that would be suitable for settlement and safe from the hostile Gentiles. Several places were considered by the LDS leadership, including Vancouver in the Oregon Territory, before deciding upon the Salt Lake Valley.

John C. Frémont’s Report of the Exploring Expeditions of the Rocky Mountains was studied by Young and his colleagues. Frémont was a cartographer and naturalist and member of the U.S. Army’s Corps of Topographical Engineers. On his first expedition to the west in 1842, Frémont mapped the Platte River as far as South Pass and the Wind River Mountains; in 1842-1843 he discovered the valley of the Salt Lake and named it “The Great Basin.” Frémont’s Report and maps were an invaluable contribution to the settlement of the West. However, as Brigham Young was to discover on his trip to the Salt Lake Valley in 1847, because Frémont’s survey was one of the first to plot the regions of the West, it was not always the most reliable guide. The Emigrants’ Guide to Oregon and California, by Lansford Hastings, was also consulted, but it too had limitations. Hastings is best remembered today for "Hastings’ Cutoff," a shortcut that ultimately led to disaster for the Donner Party.

William Clayton, born in England in 1814, is known for writing the words to the well-known Mormon hymn, “Come Come ye Saints.” He was a member of the 1847 vanguard party, and on this journey he made two significant contributions to western trail travel. First, he was the inventor of the “roadometer,” an early type of odometer. For three weeks he counted the revolutions of a wagon wheel and computed the day’s distance by multiplying the count by the wheel’s circumference. Tiring of this monotonous and time consuming task, Clayton, assisted by Apostle Orson Pratt (Parley’s brother), came up with a design consisting of a set of wooden cog wheels attached to the hub of a wagon wheel. This device permitted the advance party to keep track of its exact mileage.

Clayton’s second contribution was his trail guide based on observations made during the 1847 expedition to Salt Lake. It was titled: The Latter-day Saints Guide, Being a Table of Distances, showing all the Springs, Creeks, Rivers, Hills, Mountains, Camping Places, and all Other Notable Places, From Council Bluffs to the Valley of the Great Salt Lake, also the Latitudes, Longitudes and Altitudes Of the Prominent Points on the Route, Together with Remarks on the Nature of the Land, Timber, Grass &c. The whole route having been carefully measured by a Roadometer, and the distance from point to point, in English Miles, accurately shown. Clayton’s Guide, the title of which speaks for itself, provided detailed information about trail conditions and the weather in a way that Frémont’s and Hastings’ guides did not. For example, 3 ¾ miles from the previous location and 306 ¼ miles from Winter Quarters and 724 ¾ miles from the Great Salt Lake the guide states: “Last timber on north side of the river. You will find no more timber on the north side of the river for two hundred miles except one lone tree. Your only dependence for fuel will be buffalo chips and drift wood”; and later on, “Many small Lizards [are found] on the sandy places but they appear to be perfectly harmless”; and finally, “Mouth of the Kanyon. You now enter the Valley of the Salt Lake. The road at the mouth of the kanyon bad, and rough with stumps. Afterwards, descending and good.” The distance to Salt Lake was five miles, and from Winter Quarters 1,026 miles, with the total number of miles from Winter Quarters being 1,031.

One-hundred-eleven days later, on 21 July 1847, the vanguard group arrived at the Salt Lake Basin. Brigham Young, bringing up the rear after contracting and nearly dying from Rocky Mountain [tick] Fever, arrived on the 23rd. Young’s plan had been to seek out a location west of the Rocky Mountains and establish a camp for later emigrants. Upon arriving, the company immediately set to work planting crops and building a stockade. They prayed for rain, and in an environment where rain was sparse, the Mormons were among the first American groups to irrigate lands in Utah and other western states. Within weeks, Young, with those members of the advance party, including Clayton, who did not remain at the camp, started back to Winter Quarters, passing ten companies from Winter Quarters who were headed west.

Perrigrine Sessions was Captain of the “First Fifty” of the wagons that Young passed. In order to provide safety and improve efficiency on the trail, the Saints were organized into companies of tens, fifties and hundreds, based on the number of wagons in each group or division. Patty (Bartlett) Sessions records in her diary that the group departed Winter Quarters on 5 June 1847, and included, in addition to Perrigrine and Patty, the following family members: David Sessions; sisters Lucina (Call) Sessions and Mary (Call) Sessions; Perrigrine’s plural wives whom he married after the death in January, 1845, in Nauvoo, of Julia Ann, his first wife; and twelve year-old Martha Ann Sessions, and five year-old Carlos Lyon Sessions, daughter and son of Perrigrine and Julia Ann. Patty drove a team for almost the entire distance, and upon the family’s arrival at Salt Lake on the 24th of September, entered in her diary, “PG [Perrigrine] went back to help up his camp[.] they have all got here safe some broken waggons but no broken bones[.] I have drove my waggon all the way [but] part of the last two mts PG drove a little[.] I broke nothing nor turned over had good luck[.] I have cleaned my wagon and myself and visited some old friends.” Perrigrine wrote in his diary, “organized in my company was eighty seven Wagons and over fifty men over fourteen and four hundred souls in all and four hundred head of stock[.] here we had some thirty wagons without a man to drive them but the females volunteered to drive them[.] my Mother was one of them[.] they looked hard as we had no road. there was six hundred and sixty wagons in all."

Also in this company, the second ten, were Parley Pratt and thirteen in his family, some of whom were his plural wives and their children. Mary Ann Frost Stearns Pratt, however, was not among them. In June, 1847, Mary Ann came to Winter Quarters to tell her husband that she was returning to her parent’s home in Maine. Nevertheless, in June, 1852, devoted to her faith, Mary Ann and her children journeyed to Utah with the Harmon Cutler Company; in March, 1853, Brigham Young approved Mary Ann’s divorce from Parley Pratt. Mary Ann had married Pratt before plural marriage was announced as a sacred duty by Joseph Smith. It would seem understandable that Mary Ann had grown weary of having to assist and support Pratt’s other wives and their children, in addition to caring for her own, while Pratt was away for long periods of time on missions. At the age of fifty, Pratt was murdered in Arkansas on 12 May 1857 by the enraged husband of one of his plural wives. Mary Ann died in Utah on 24 August 1891.

Aaron and Hannah Carter York and their children departed from Kanesville (Council Bluffs), Iowa, for Salt Lake in 1850. Their children, born in Newry, were: Asa Bartlett York, 18; Julia Ann Kilgore York, 17; and James Chauncy Snow York, 11. Children born after they left Maine were Aaron Marean York, Jr., 7, born in Lima, Illinois; Levi Sawyer York, 5, born in Nauvoo; and Martha Eliza York, nine months old, born in Mt. Pisgah, Iowa, while the family was enroute from Nauvoo to Winter Quarters. The Yorks had previously lost Zenos Willie York (1835-1837) in Newry and John William York (1841-1842) in Lima. Aaron York was a Captain of the Tens in a company led by Gardner Snow and Joseph Young, the elder brother of Brigham. Undoubtedly in the same party were three orphans, Thatcher Hallett, about 12, Hirum Hallett, about 7, and Mary Hallett, about 4. Their parents, Clark Hallett and Phebe Bray Hallett, died at Mt. Pisgah sometime between 1848 and 1849, as best can be determined from family records. Aaron and Hannah York brought the Hallett children to Salt Lake and raised them as their own. The 1860 Provo Census shows Hirum, then 17, and Mary, then 14, living with the Yorks. Thatcher, who by then was 22, was most likely living on his own. By 1880, Thatcher, then 42, was living in Provo with his wife, Ermina Hayden Hallett, and five children. Clark and Phebe Bray Hallett are memorialized on a monument at Mt. Pisgah. Ann Gould Hallett, Louese Hallett, and “two other children,” listed on the monument, have not been identified.

Monument at Mt. Pisgah, Iowa, memorializing Clark and Phebe Hallett, whose
orphaned children were carried west and raised by Aaron and Hannah Carter York.
The author’s father, Donald J. York, stands on the right.

On 28 August 1850, Gardner Snow and Joseph Young sent a letter from the North Platte Ferry to The First Presidency in the Valley [Brigham Young]. “We are the second fifty of Captain Snow’s hundred; Gardner Snow is captain; Joseph Young, president; Winslow Farr, counsellor, Lucius N. Scovil and Geo. W. Parish, marshals; Aaron York, John Carter [the son of Hannah Knight Libby and John Carter] and Thomas Rich, captains of the tens, and Samuel Pollack, clerk of the fifty.” The letter was written 28 August 1850 from the Upper Platte Ferry and illustrates some of the challenges faced by the Mormon pioneers: “By council of our brethren from the Valley, we, by mutual consent have divided our company for the convenience of traveling . . . We were truly thankful to hear from you and have concluded to send a message forthwith (Brother David Lewis) . . . When we left the Missouri River as a camp, we were short of teams and had no extra ones. We have 42 wagons in our company, besides those with Brothers Leonard and Pearsons [traveling in advance of the Snow Company]. About 20 head of our cattle are crippled, and if any more should give out, we shall be under the necessity of leaving some of our substance by the way-side. But we feel that we need all we have, as we are among the poorest of our people, yet rich in faith. If you could send to our assistance, as soon as possible, from 12 to 16 yokes of oxen and 2 wagons, you will confer on us a lasting favor that we will duly appreciate. With such help we may extricate ourselves, our wives and our little ones from these mountains.”

William Furlsbury Carter and wife Sarah York Carter, and their children, departed with the 1851 migration from Kanesville. Peter York Carter, 19; Abiah Russell Carter, 16; and Lyman Wilman Carter, 14, were born in Newry. Their other children were Hannah Libby Carter, 10, and Martha Carter, 8, born in Lima, Illinois; Sarah Mellissa Carter, 6, born in Nauvoo; and William Aaron Carter, 4, born in Winter Quarters, Iowa. Edward Lavan Carter was born in Provo in 1851, as was Charlotta York Carter in 1856. William Furlsbury Carter served a mission to India in 1852. He and Aaron York would later become partners in developing and managing a corn mill operation in Provo.

Dominicus Carter and his family departed Kanesville for Salt Lake in the same company. Dominicus and his wife, Lydia Smith Carter, had lost their daughter, Sarah Emily, on 11 August 1838 while enroute from Kirtland to Far West with the Kirtland Camp; just two months later, on 23 October, Lydia died, leaving Dominicus with five children aged eighteen months to nine years. It was on this trip that, on 18 July 1838, in Mansfield, Richmond County, Ohio, Dominicus stayed overnight with some members of the company who had been arrested and jailed. The defendants allegedly had been participants in the development of the Kirtland Safety Society, a bank established by the LDS Church that failed in 1837. They were released the following day. (Were these men guilty of criminal conduct or was this an example of Gentile harassment? It is difficult to say with certainty because the Mormons were vulnerable to discrimination and mistreatment by the Gentiles because of their religious beliefs and communitarian culture.) In doing this, Dominicus demonstrated that he was courageous in the face of adversity and loyal to his Latter-day Saint brothers and sisters. His sister, Eliza Ann Carter Snow, in the biography of her mother, wrote that Dominicus did not leave for the West sooner, because as a skilled blacksmith he was able to help prepare other emigrants for the trip west. A grandson later wrote that Dominicus worked night and day getting the wagons ready. Accompanying him to Salt Lake were his sixty-five year old mother, Hannah Knight Libby Carter, and plural wives Sylvia Ameretta Mecham, Mary Durfee, and Polly Miner. His and Lydia’s children no doubt were on the trip (the records are incomplete): Arletia, 22; Lucinda, 19; Barrett, 17; Sidney, 16; and Lydia Ann, 13. Dominicus served as a missionary to Indiana several times while living in Illinois. In Provo, he had a blacksmith shop and ran a hostelry or hotel. A community leader, Dominicus was a city councilor, a clerk of the court, and on a committee to locate a county road from Provo to Pleasant Grove.

The rigors and challenges of the large migration by Mormons and non-Mormon pioneers have been described many times. Historian Wallace Stegner wrote that most of the hazards and accidents were almost routine: people run over by wagons, straying cattle, encounters with Indians who stole the cattle, stampeding oxen, poisoned water, and skunks hiding under the wagons that even the “chief of police,” Hosea Stout, had to “deal mildly with.” Despite Brigham Young’s injunction to keep order during travel and in camp, given the diverse make-up of the Saints and the length of the journey, this was not always possible. Grumblers and jokers existed in all the companies, a fact confirmed by Stegner, who wrote, “On a night after Brother Gates’ wagon tipped over, and he blamed his women, a horsey guard went around crying, ‘Eleven o’clock and all’s well and Gates is quarreling with his wife like hell.’” It is amazing that, despite the dangers on the trail (some known and others unknown), at least ninety-four percent of the Mormon emigrants pulled through. Most members of the York and Carter families survived the arduous journey with the following exceptions: Sarah Emily, the two-year-old daughter of Dominicus and his wife, Lydia, age twenty-nine, while enroute from Kirtland to Far West; and nine-month-old John William York, Aaron and Hannah’s son, in Lima, Illinois. The contributions of these early Mormon settlers to Provo, Utah, will be described in the next article in the “Western Maine Saints” series.

The York and Carter Families in Utah

On 2 October 1846, Aaron York, from Mt. Pisgah, Iowa, wrote to Brigham Young at Council Bluffs, Iowa, “Sickness rather abating in this place but there are a great many sick now [and] there were two died last night.” The lengthy and detailed letter, signed by his own hand, sought Young’s advice on the care of the Hallett orphans. Aaron continued, “Pres’t Brigham Young, by request of Sister Phebe Hallett I now write a few lines to you which I should have done before but on account of my health I have omitted until the present morning, after the death of Brother Clark Hallet . . . and Sister Phebe was brought to my house for to be made comfortable . . . where she remained until her death. I, on the afternoon before she died being out of the house she sent for me to come in I did so and she said . . . she had given up all hope of getting well and must die. I asked if she was not willing to Die she said yes but should like to live on account of the children . . . she said she wanted the children all kept together.” Aaron told Phebe that he would do the best he could for the children. He also consulted with Brother C. C. Rich, who advised him to continue to care for the children, “which are at my house which are and have been sick but we are getting better.”

President Young responded on the 15th of October: “. . . Let a committee of three appointed by the council to appraise every article of property belonging to the heirs and see that it is properly [proved] & kept only such as is necessary for their support. Let this committee be C. C. Rich, Aaron M. York with one of the councils nomination and let Pres. York take charge of the children till further instructions.” Ermina Hallett Casto Carney, a daughter of Thatcher Hallett, later wrote, “Pa Hallett was born January [17th] 1837 in Missouri. His folks had come from Cape Cod, Massachusetts. . . . After their death old Grandma [Hannah Carter York] and Grandpa [Aaron York] . . . took care of the three Hallett children, father, Aunt May [Mary Hallett] and Uncle Hyrum but did not adopt them. However, we called her Grandma York and she came often and stayed for long visits. Grandpa York had died earlier.”

Mt. Pisgah and Garden Grove, Iowa, were temporary settlements that were established as way-stations between Sugar Creek, Iowa, and Council Bluffs (Kanesville), Iowa, where the Mormon emigrants could rest and outfit themselves for the arduous journey ahead. Sugar Creek was the staging area for the Saints who fled Nauvoo in February, 1846; Council Bluffs was the point of departure for the Mormon emigration to the Salt Lake Basin. Apostle Parley Pratt wrote about the founding of Garden Grove: “All things being harmonized and put in order, the camps moved on. Arriving at a place on a branch of the Grand River we encamped for a while having traveled much in the midst of great and continuing rains, mud and mire. . . . Here we enclosed and planted a public farm of many hundred acres and commenced settlement, for the good of some who were to tarry and of those who should follow us from Nauvoo. We called the place ‘Garden Grove.’”

One month later, in May, 1846, Parley Pratt led an exploratory party west and came to a place that Pratt named Mt. Pisgah after the biblical Mt. Pisgah (Deuteronomy 3:27), where Moses viewed the Promised Land. Despite the valiant efforts of the emigrants to set up safe havens along the trail, living conditions were crude; many were sick and some died. This was a transient community comprised mostly of those who were traveling through to Utah. Therefore, it is impossible to state with any certainty the number who died there. The York family left Mt. Pisgah and arrived in Salt Lake City in 1850.

Previous articles in this series have described the conversion to Mormonism and emigration of the Carter and York families from Bethel/Newry to the Great Salt Lake Basin. This essay will focus on the contributions of the two conjoined families in settling Salt Lake City after its founding in 1847, and Provo, Utah, in 1849; encounters with the Native Americans; colonization of Mormon settlements outside of Salt Lake City; Mormon missions; and the nationwide controversy over the LDS practice of plural marriage.

Aaron and Hannah Carter York, Mary Trueworthy Carter York, and Asa Bartlett York

Mormon historian Wallace Stegner has written, “Attics and archives are crammed with its records, for in addition to church journals authorized by a history conscious church, it seems that every second Mormon kept a diary, and every Mormon family that has such a diary, cherishes it as part of the lares and penates [treasured household possessions]. Great-granddaughters edit the jottings of their pioneer ancestors as piously as they go to temple to be baptized for the dead, and if grandfather was too preoccupied to keep notes, his recollective yarns will be gathered up and published as reminiscences, with a genealogical chart to show all the branches and twigs that have sprung from the pioneer root.”

One such reminiscence was written by Almira T. (Tiffany) Bethers, a daughter of George Mason and Sarah Jane York Tiffany, and granddaughter of Aaron and Hannah Carter York. After arriving in Utah in the fall of 1850, the Aaron and Hannah Carter York family lived in the First Ward of Salt Lake City. (A “ward” is the local ecclesiastical unit of the church, similar to a Protestant congregation or Roman Catholic parish.) “Aaron and his wife Hannah were very industrious people as well as educated, he a music teacher and Hannah a school teacher and both were very beautiful singers. They always had as good a home as was available wherever they lived. Their first home in Salt Lake was made of poles and skins of other animals.” Upon arriving in the Salt Lake Valley, Aaron, his son, Asa Bartlett York, and Dominicus Carter and his son, Sidney Carter, established a blacksmith shop. “Aaron and Hannah were very hard working people and so good to the poor and to the orphans, in fact they raised several children who were left orphans, also my mother Sadie [Sarah Jane York Tiffany] after her mother and three brothers died.”

In 1852, Aaron and Asa and their families moved to Provo and subsequently to Santaquin, Utah, approximately thirty miles south of Provo. Richard, a son and youngest child of Aaron and his plural wife Mary Trueworthy Carter York, later wrote, “After helping to settle Santaquin my father went out south about three miles and settled a place that bears his name, York. He was a very good blacksmith and wheelright, helping to make the first plow made in Santaquin and Utah.” Almira T. Bethers wrote, “Perry Green (Perrigrine) Sessions bought the first plows they made to break sod in Sessions Settlement [probably Bountiful, Utah].”

On 18 March 1856, in Provo, Aaron York married Mary Trueworthy Carter in a plural marriage. Born on 23 September 1841, Mary was fifteen years old, while Aaron was forty-nine. Mary was the daughter of Richard and Hannah Parker Carter. Hannah was born in 1823, perhaps in England. Richard, born in Newry, Maine, on 8 August 1820, was a brother of Hannah Carter York, and thus Mary was Hannah’s niece. A son, Samuel Parker Carter, was born to Richard and Hannah in 1843, in Lima, Illinois. After the exodus of the Saints from Nauvoo in 1846, and while living at Council Bluffs (Kanesville), Iowa, Richard volunteered to serve in the Mormon Battalion. (The Mormon Battalion was recruited to fight the Mexican War, and on 21 July 1846, an estimated five-hundred men left Council Bluffs to fight on the side of the United States.) While serving in the Mormon Battalion, Richard died of illness on 28 November 1846; he is buried near Santa Fe, New Mexico. His widow, Hannah Parker, bore the couple’s last child, Franklin Fitzfield Carter, on 4 February 1847. She died of smallpox on 12 April 1848. Carter family members brought Richard and Hannah’s children—Mary, Sam and Franklin—with them to Utah; very possibly Mary traveled with Aaron and Hannah.

Between 1857 and 1862, Church leaders sent approximately five-hundred families to colonize “Utah’s Dixie,” in southern Utah. This was known as the Southern Utah Mission or Cotton Mission. After the outbreak of the Civil War, cotton from the Confederacy was not available in Utah. Leonard Arrington, in Great Basin Kingdom: An Economic History of the Latter-day Saints, 1830-1900, has described this period of colonization during the 1860s: “Self-sufficiency for the Saints was the ultimate goal. . . . [the settlers] represented a variety of occupations and were instructed to go in an organized group and ‘cheerfully contribute their efforts to supply the Territory with cotton, sugar, grapes, tobacco, figs, almonds, olive oil, and such other useful items as the Lord has given us, the places for garden spots in the south to produce.’ Brigham Young specifically desired them to produce the territorial supply of tobacco so as to eliminate ‘paying to outsiders from sixty to eighty thousand dollars annually for that one article’—and also wine for the Holy Sacrament, for medicine and for sale to ‘outsiders.’”

Not all the ambitious plans formulated in Salt Lake came to fruition. In 1865, after the end of the Civil War and the coming of the railroad, the Utah cotton industry floundered, and by 1910 it no longer existed. Likewise, growing tobacco was not a successful endeavor, at least in part, because of the LDS prohibition against using it. Grapes became an important crop, but like tobacco, did not succeed because of the Mormon dictate against drinking alcohol. On 10 April 1876, Levi Mathers Savage, a school teacher, wrote in his diary, “A great deal of wine is manufactured here, and I am grieved to see some elders abuse this blessing, by becoming dissipated with the beverage. Some of the youth in Zion are following diligently in the example of thoughtless and foolish fathers . . .”

The production of grain-sorghum molasses which was used locally and exported to Nevada, Idaho and Montana was successful. Mining was another successful venture. The Church also established an improvement program intended to construct canals in order to make maximum use of available water sources. Mormons became well known for their skills in developing irrigation works and were among the first Euro-Americans to irrigate lands in Utah, Nevada, Wyoming, and Alberta, Canada. Irrigation opened large areas to settlement in California, Arizona, New Mexico, Idaho and northern Mexico.

Aaron York and Mary Trueworthy Carter and their daughter, Mary Angelia, born 10 September 1860, in Provo, joined the mission to Dixie in 1862, settling in Grafton, Washington County—now a ghost town near Zion National Park. Aaron and his family returned to Central Utah in 1867, and Aaron bought property in Juab County. Sometime later, Aaron and his family moved to Santaquin, where, on 13 November 1881, Aaron died leaving Mary with eight children, ages three to twenty-one. In 1886, Mary married George B. Higginson in the Logan Temple. Not much is known about Mr. Higginson from family records, and the 1890 census that might have provided information is incomplete as the result of a fire at the Commerce Department in 1921. The 1900 census indicates that Mary C. Higginson was living in Santaquin, age 58 and widowed. Richard York wrote this about his mother: “After raising eight children my mother became an efficient midwife for Santaquin, York, and Warm Creek. She was also an expert in making medicines from the herbs she gathered in fields and lots. She made a liniment called York’s liniment and one called Old Bob of which she gave freely, always helping the sick and giving of her time and talents.” Mary died in Santaquin on 1 August 1932, at the age of ninety-one.

Aaron York gravestone in Santaquin Cemetery, Santaquin, Utah
Courtesy of Gary and Marcia Braithwaite

Asa Bartlett York, the oldest child of Aaron and Hannah Carter York, was born 23 September 1832, in “Reedsville" (possibly a location in Grafton), Maine. On 28 September 1853, he married Mary Jane Bethers who was born on 28 February 1835, in Quincy, Illinois. The couple had four children who were born in Provo: John William, born in 1855; Sarah Jane (who later married George Tiffany) in 1859; James Jasper, in 1860, and Asa Uriah, in 1862. Asa’s story illustrates the hardships and heartbreak that the earliest Mormon settlers who journeyed to Utah experienced.

Almira T. Bethers, a daughter of George and Sarah Jane York Tiffany, wrote about the family’s mission to Dixie. When Asa’s family, along with Aaron’s, was called to Dixie, they settled in Rockville, near Grafton, Utah. Asa’s wife had consumption and because of her illness Asa was hesitant to go on the mission. However, she insisted, saying, “Asa you have been called to fill this mission. Go and I will go with you. What difference does it make where I die?” In Rockville, Asa built a dugout for his wife and children. Mary Jane grew steadily worse, and after a dam broke, flooding the dugout, Aaron told Asa to come and stay with his family in Grafton. Asa “. . . had to wade in knee deep [water] to get all their possessions out and dry them. Asa loaded their belongings, his wife and family on his wagon and went to Grafton to live with his father and wife, Mary Trueworthy Carter York. Aaron and Mary gave their bed to Asa and his wife Mary Jane, and they set a wagon box just outside by the front door and made their bed in it, and they slept in one end of the box and their children [Mary, 3 and William, 1] in the other end, and Asa’s children slept on the slate floor.” One morning after the men had gone to work, Mary Carter York, who by herself was caring for Mary Jane, became alarmed as Asa’s wife slipped away. Mary Jane was reassuring, saying, “‘Mary don’t be afraid, my brother Jabeys has come for me and I am going,’ He had been dead many years. . . . Mary [Carter York] sit [sic] her baby on the floor and ran for sister Woodbury, she came and turned her over but she was dead. These were very sad and trying times those days.” Asa was left with four children, and with them he moved to Provo to be near his mother.

In 1864, Asa married Ellen Arelia Williams, born in Whittinsville, Maine, on 16 June 1849. He, along with Ellen and his four children, returned to Grafton. Subsequently, Asa and Ellen had three sons of their own, all of whom lived to adulthood. However, tragedy struck again in January 1866, when his three sons, children of Asa and Mary Jane Bethers York, became ill and died. Their sister, Sarah Jane, age seven, went to Provo, where his mother took Sarah under her wings. Then, on 30 January 1870, Asa’s second wife Ellen died suddenly and without warning. Asa had lost Mary Jane and their three sons, with only daughter Sarah Jane surviving, and now he was left with his and Ellen’s sons, ages five, four and two. Asa once again moved back to Provo, where in 1873 he married Emma Smith Haws.

Emma was born 6 August 1843 in Wayne County, Illinois, the eleventh child of Gilberth (1801-1877) and Hannah Whitcomb Haws (1806-1880), prominent early settlers of Provo. In 1858, Emma married Lyman White Carter, a son of William Furlsbury and Sarah York Carter, and they had six children. Lyman died on 16 February 1873, after he was injured in an explosion at the gold and silver mines in Eureka, southwest of Santaquin. After Lyman died, Emma married Asa, and the couple lived in the Carterville section of Provo. The couple had four children, two of whom died young. Emma Haws Carter York died on 9 August 1917, and Asa died 12 March 1920, both in Provo.

William Furlsbury and Sarah York Carter, Dominicus Carter, John “H” Carter, and Eliza Ann Carter

By now it should be obvious that the Carter and York families were intertwined in a tangle of twigs and branches. They also stayed connected through their occupations. On 14 September 1855, the Deseret News noted that “. . . Messrs. A. M. York and Wm. F. Carter are erecting a grist mill especially for the grinding of corn.” On 24 October 1855, the Deseret News included the following notice: “Mssrs. Wm. F. Carter and Aaron M. York have their corn mill in successful operation, and judging from the splendid samples of New Hampshire bread and hasty pudding (mush) which I encountered on my table, I must give them the credit of doing ample justice to their customers.”

William Furlsbury Carter was born in Newry, Maine, on 1 May 1811, and on 28 February 1832, his “intention to marry” Sarah York of Bethel—Aaron’s younger sister—was filed in Newry. Their marriage would have occurred sometime soon after that date. Sarah was born on 25 August 1812. William, an experienced blacksmith, and his family stayed in Council Bluffs to help outfit the emigrant trains, and he and Sarah arrived in the Great Salt Lake Basin in 1850. Meanwhile, William had taken two plural wives. In January, 1847, in Council Bluffs, he married Cordelia Hannah Mecham. She died three months later, on 3 April 1847. On 13 March 1847, William married Roxena Mecham, a cousin of Cordelia. Roxena was born in Pennsylvania on 2 December 1830. The couple had ten children. William married two other wives in plural marriages: Elizabeth Howard (1827-1903), on 9 October 1854, and Sally Ann Mecham (1842-1910), Roxena’s sister, on 2 December 1857. According to family records, William had thirty-six children and two-hundred-sixty grandchildren.

On 28 August 1852, the Church called one-hundred-six missionaries to many parts of the globe. William and five others were called to serve in India, and he left on 22 October of that year. In January, 1853, William arrived in San Francisco. On Sunday, 9 January 1853, William wrote in his journal, “San Francisco is literally alive with people. They pay no regard to the Sabbath—trading, drinking, gambling and all manner of wickedness is carried on, that can be thought of or named.” On 28 January 1853, William recorded that he boarded the ship Montsoon [Monsoon] bound for Calcutta, where it anchored on 25 April 1853, “six months and three days” after leaving home.

In India, William and his fellow missionaries met with resistance from the British who governed India and a culture so foreign to the Mormons that it was virtually impossible to gain any converts. Upon arriving in Calcutta, William wrote, “The most of the church have apostatized, especially the natives. . . . We find the church here in bad condition, but we hope the condition of things changes for the better. The heat here is oppressive; the coldest place that I can find in the shade, I sweat like a man over a furnace.” On 29 April 1853, William wrote, “Brother Fathringham [Fotheringham] and myself were appointed to go to Dinapore [probably Dinajpur], up the River Ganges, 600 miles from Calcutta. Brothers Miek and Saxon made a report of situation in the country and church. There were only seven or eight in fellowship in Calcutta.” William and his missionary companion sold their watches to get money to travel to Dinajpur. Upon arriving there, he and Brother Fotheringham went to visit General Young [a British military officer], and William wrote, “He gave us little encouragement [and said he] believed in the tradition of his father and he presumed that he never would change his mind, and he presumed that the rest of the people were like him: did not want to change their religion.” General Young refused to let the missionaries preach in any of the British meeting houses (churches) and discouraged them about success converting the soldiers, stating, “They are fond of their plays and recreation.” William wrote, “The prejudices against us here are strongly fettered.”

Cultural differences between the Mormon missionaries and the Indians were profound. “We passed one native town today where as many as 100 men and women and children that run after us as far as they have strength, holding out their hands and begging for something to eat. The captain [of the steam ship that was taking William and a fellow missionary from Calcutta to Dinajpur] informed us that they had lost their caste and their friends would not give them work or anything to eat, and they have to live on grass or whatever they can get.” William repeatedly described scenes of death and bodies floating in the river. “It is ridiculous to see dead bodies floating on the water. I counted 40 skulls with other bones in traveling five or six miles. You can see them laying all over the sand bars.” Deterred by the British, William and his missionary colleagues encountered suspicion and hostility from the Indian population. While traveling from Calcutta to Dinajpur, William wrote about a side excursion to “Chunar” [the author could not locate Chunar on a current map] in an attempt to gain converts. “We saw no possible chance of doing anything in this country at present; the prejudice is so great. The officers and priests rule the people without one exception and the wicked rule, the people mourn. We were obliged to turn back” [on the trip to Dinajpur]. Upon arriving in Dinajpur, the conditions for proselyting did not improve, and William’s health deteriorated. On 26 June 1853, he wrote, “My health was tolerably good until I arrived in Chunar. By being under a tree in the hot wind and sun for about four hours, where the thermometer stood between 110-120 degrees in the shade, which overheated my blood to such a degree I have not had good health since.” In addition to the tropical heat, diseases were endemic, as illustrated by the number of dead and dying that William encountered.

In ill health, William boarded the John Gilpin on 9 July 1853, and one-hundred-twenty-six days later he arrived in Boston. From Boston he traveled to Newry, Maine, to visit relatives. After he left Newry, William traveled by train, steamboat, and stage coach, arriving at the home of Alvin Tripp (who was married to his sister, Almira) in Lima, Illinois, on 20 December 1853. Here he learned that his father, John Carter, had died the year before. He was overjoyed to hear that Roxena had borne their third child, Edward Mecham Carter (named for her father) on 5 July 1853. William’s journal ends here. The Deseret News of 9 November 1854 reported that he had been appointed leader of a large wagon train traveling to Utah. William arrived home around September, 1854, two years after leaving Utah.

In 1882, when Sarah York Carter was seventy-one years old, she drove a wagon from Santaquin to Pima, Arizona, a trip that took about six weeks. Sarah was traveling with her sons, William Aaron Carter and Edwin Levan Carter, and her son-in-law and daughter, Alexander Jr., and Charlotte York Carter Wilkins. The family was traveling from Santaquin, Utah, to Pima to help settle a Mormon village, part of the colonization effort by the Church. William Aaron, Edwin Levan and Charlotte were the three youngest children of William Furlsbury and Sarah York Carter.

Christa Lillis Wilkins, a daughter of Alexander and Charlotte York Wilkins wrote about this trip: “. . . Grandmother Sarah York Carter was driving the wagon all alone. Grandmother had made the trip because it was time for mother’s fifth child to be born. Grandmother had left her home in Utah to be with and help mother who was her youngest child. The Indians came rifing [rifling] down on them. . . . at the time it was the custom for the Indians to hold out their hand and shake the white man’s hand saying, ‘Hello John” if they were friendly. Mother was so frightened she did not know what to do, but Grandmother Carter held out her hand when they said ‘Hello John’ and shook hands and said right back, ‘Hello John.’ She seemed not frightened at all. The Indians were friendly and did not molest the family.” However, the travelers had reason to be wary. Although it rarely occurred, Indians did kill some settlers, one of whom, in Pima, was Brother Thurston. “His death surely cast a gloom over the community and all the valley as this good man was well and favorably known to all the pioneers.”

Initially, the settlers—thirty-three in all, including several other families—lived in their wagons, after which they began homesteading the land. Pima had been settled for only three or four years, and living conditions were primitive, many of the houses being made of cottonwood logs with dirt floors and sod roofs. Alexander, 38, died of typhoid fever on 8 September 1893, leaving Charlotte with seven children still at home (the youngest was 16 months old; Stella, the oldest, was married with one child). All the children survived to adulthood. According to Christa, her mother never got over the sorrow from the death of her husband; Charlotte died on 24 January 1943, age 87. Sarah York Carter died in Pima, Arizona, on 8 September 1888, and William Furlsbury Carter in Santaquin a month later, on 11 October 1888.

Sarah York Carter
Courtesy of Robert E. Givens

Dominicus, the first child of John and Hannah Libby Knight, was born in Scarborough, Maine, on 21 June 1806. He served three missions in 1843, 1844 and 1845, during the time the Saints were at Nauvoo. The first two missions were to Indiana, and the third to Ohio. In Provo, like his brothers (William and John “H”), Dominicus was a blacksmith.  Among his other accomplishments were the following: heran a hotel called the Lion House; he was a member of the Provo Manufacturing Company that was organized in 1853 to use the Provo River for operating machinery and irrigation; after 1851, he was a member of the city council, and an administrative assistant to the clerk of the Utah County Court; he was active in church business and served in different capacities, including counselor from 1852-1854 to stake president George A. Smith, counselor to James C. Snow (who married to Dominicus’ sister Eliza Ann), and president of the stake in 1860-1861.

During the time that Dominicus was a leader in Provo and his church stake, the Utah War took place. The War grew out of national disapproval of the Latter-day Saints’ practice of polygamy. In April, 1857, President Buchanan mobilized an army to force the Mormons to comply with United States law and replace Brigham Young with Alfred Cumming as governor. In September, Brigham Young declared martial law and called up the militia to fend off the United States forces. Thirty-thousand Mormons evacuated Salt Lake City, and when the United States army arrived there on 26 June 1858, the city was deserted, church records buried and the temple foundation covered over. Thomas L. Kane, a non-Mormon friend of the Church who was prominent in United States political circles, negotiated a truce. Cumming was accepted as governor and the Saints were given amnesty. The United States army was allowed to camp forty miles south of Salt Lake City at Camp Floyd, where troops remained until the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861.

“Not to spite his accomplishments that were many and varied . . . Dominicus Carter’s greatest and longest lasting achievement was in the bearing and nurturing of his children and the befriending and cherishing of his wives,” Barton Carter, a descendant wrote. Dominicus had eight wives in all. In Newry on 28 April 1828, he married Lydia Smith, also of Newry. She died near Far West, Missouri, on 23 October 1838, only two months after the couple lost their daughter, Sarah Emily, aged two, on 11 August 1838. In November 1838, Dominicus married Sophronia Babcock, who was born on 14 July 1822. Sophronia died during childbirth, as did her infant, on 26 August 1847 near Council Bluffs, Iowa.

In 1860, five of Dominicus’ wives remained. Lydia and Sophronia had died, and a third “had separated herself from him and married a man she would not have to share with anyone.” This was Sylvia Amaretta Mecham Carter who married John Snyder in 1867. Thus it was that at least one of Dominicus’ wives, Sylvia Mecham, was not content with the polygamous arrangement. Sylvia’s discontent was perhaps exacerbated by the fact that of her five children by Dominicus, only Erastus survived. Moreover, like Mary Ann Frost Stearns Pratt, who divorced Parley Pratt, Sylvia was the only wife of Dominicus Carter until he married his other plural wives. The title of Todd Compton’s book, In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith, reflects the cost of plural marriage to the couples who practiced it. Patty Bartlett Sessions also struggled with the doctrine, but accepted it as a sacred duty. After his marriage to Sylvia, Dominicus took the following five women as plural wives: Mary Durfee (1830-1885) in 1844; Polly Miner (1832-1896) in 1852; Elizabeth Brown (1833-1914) in 1852; Caroline Hubbard (1831-?) in 1854; and Frances “Fannie” Nash (1837-?) in 1857. The LDS Church renounced polygamy in 1890, although a minority continued to practice it. In 1904 a second manifesto threatened excommunication from the Church for any polygamists. Gradually, except for a splinter group (The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) that still exists, plural marriage in the LDS Church died out.

Two laws were passed as a result of strong anti-polygamy sentiment in the United States: the Edmunds Act of 1882 and the Edmunds-Tucker Act of 1887. Sometime after 1882, Dominicus, now seventy-eight years old, was forced to choose one of his wives and one house. Many Mormon men went into hiding, but Dominicus, now over eighty, stood his ground. Along with Church leaders Lorenzo Snow, the fifth president of the Church, and George Q. Cannon, Dominicus went to prison for several months. On 2 February 1884, Dominicus died, surrounded by four wives at his bedside. There is some disagreement about how many children Dominicus had, but a close approximation (based on family records) would be forty-six children, seventeen of whom had predeceased him; he also had eighty-seven grandchildren and forty-one great-grandchildren.

Eliza Ann Carter Snow was born on 28 September 1818 in Newry, Maine, and, “like her sister, Hannah, and brothers Dominicus, William F., and John ‘H,’ accepted the gospel teachings of the Latter-day Saints in their entirety including the doctrine of plural marriage. Enroute west with her family, Eliza married James C.[Chauncy] Snow in Kirtland, Ohio, 1838. James was born in Chesterfield, New Hampshire, on 11 January 1817, and the couple had ten children, nine of whom lived to adulthood. Eliza Ann consented to her husband’s [plural] marriages to Lydia Chadwick on 20 February 1856; to Jane Cecelia Roberts on 2 Dec 1856, and Ann Clark on 13 March 1857.”

James Snow was a community and church leader and, like Dominicus Carter, he went to prison for practicing polygamy. While he was there, Eliza wrote him a letter. The letter is undated, but must have been written after the two anti-polygamy laws were passed in 1882 and 1887. Excerpts from it illustrate the sacrifices that the Saints made for practicing their beliefs: “My dear companion . . . to think of your lonesome hours—your sorrow and sighing torn from friends and home—deprived of liberty—it destroys all my happiness. . . . If it was in my power I would decree all the [United States] soldiers so far back to hell that they would never find their way out. . . . I feel like standing up and defending Mormonism all the day long.” Eliza Ann was the author of “A Heroine of the West,” a biography of her mother, Hannah Knight Libby Carter, that described the westward trek of the Carter and York families from Bethel/Newry to Salt Lake between 1836 and 1850-1851. James Snow died on 30 April 1884, age 67; Eliza died 9 March 1897, age 79.

John “H” Carter was born on 6 October 1816 in Newry, Maine. (A brother, John Harrison Carter, had been born the year previous but died soon after, and the “H” was most likely a way to distinguish between him and his namesake.) On 11 April 1838 John married Elizabeth Runnells Sweat, born 1 July 1818 in Andover, Maine, approximately thirty miles by road from the Carter home in Newry. The couple had ten children, two of whom died in 1852. In 1844, John took Sophia Eldora Sweat, Elizabeth’s younger sister, as a plural wife. Sophia was born in Plantation B, near Andover and Newry, on 31 January 1828; she and John had nine children; two died in 1850 while the family was traveling to Utah. Sophia, who had given birth on 30 October 1849, suffered from small pox on that journey. Her infant, Amos Libby Carter, did not develop the dreaded disease. Family records indicate that John “H” and his wives and children arrived in Provo on 3 October 1850. Not long after that, John was called to help settle the Manti-Nephi area, and by 1852 his family were living in Nephi, where he was elected to the town council. In 1856, John’s wives and children returned to Provo where John built an adobe house and blacksmith shop. Initially, the two families lived together, Elizabeth doing the weaving and clothes-making and Sophia doing the housework and cooking. In the early 1870s, John traded his house and shop and moved north to a location that came to be known as Carterville, located in a section of present-day Provo. Here John set up a blacksmith shop, and he and his sons dug an irrigation canal. By 1879, a flourishing small settlement stood where there had been nothing but wilderness only a few years earlier. Elizabeth died on 17 September 1881; John “H” died on 21 April 1896; and Sophia on 5 September 1924, aged ninety-six.

Today there are untold thousands of descendants of Aaron and Hannah Carter York and the Carter siblings who, with their mother, Hannah Knight Libby Carter, converted to Mormonism in 1834 (these were Dominicus Carter; Hannah Carter York; William Furlsbury Carter, who married Sarah York; John “H” Carter; Eliza Ann Carter Snow; and Richard Carter). Their stories illustrate the devotion, discipline and dedication of the early converts to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. After being driven from place to place, the Mormons embarked upon a perilous journey to the barren desert lands of what was then an unorganized territory. (Utah became a “territory” in 1850—after the Saints had begun settlement—and a state in 1896.) There the Saints pioneered new communities, dug irrigation canals, and worked to establish sustainable, self-sufficient agricultural commodities that could be manufactured and sold. Although most of the Indians they met along the way were friendly, friction between the Natives and the Mormon settlers inevitably arose over competition for land and scarce resources, resulting in conflict that affected the pioneers. From its beginning in Palmyra, New York, in 1830, the LDS Church had sent missionaries to many places in the United States, and, as William Furlsbury Carter’s diary illustrates, around the globe. The Church’s political and economic power threatened non-Mormons all the way from Kirtland to Far West to Nauvoo to Utah, and the practice of plural marriage, officially announced by Orson Pratt in 1852 in Salt Lake City, further antagonized non-Mormons.

The Carter and York families were pioneers in Utah. In this way they were like their New England progenitors, who were some of the earliest settlers in parts of Maine: Colonel John and Abigail Bean York, and Abraham and Sarah Swan Russell (related to the Yorks) were among the first people of European descent to permanently inhabit Sudbury Canada, now Bethel, Maine. On the Carter side were Richard and Jane McKenney Carter, and Captain Zebulon and Lydia Andrews Carter, colonists in Scarborough, Maine, in the early 1700s. Across the miles and generations, these families, like many other early American pioneers, contributed to the growth and prosperity of the United States.

Route from Bethel, Maine, to the Great Salt Lake Basin, and Towns Settled by the Carter and York Families 1836-1900


Note on Sources

This essay is based, in large part, upon personal recollections, letters, diaries and genealogies of the York and Carter families, as well as original church records.  From its beginning, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has encouraged its members to keep genealogies, diaries and family histories. This record keeping is an integral part of Mormon doctrine and practice, and these sources provide a wealth of information unavailable elsewhere.  However, in many cases, these records were written after the fact, often years later, by persons who did not directly observe or participate in the events described. Grammatical and spelling errors, not unusual for that period of emigration and settlement, characterize many of the documents. Names of persons and places are often spelled differently; accuracy in this regard was not considered as important as it is today.  Discrepancies, therefore, are inevitable.   Patronymics or the practice of naming children for their parents, grandparents, and other family members, ancestors, and respected personages creates confusion for the historical researcher attempting to sort out who, when, what, where and why.  Given these limitations, this writer has made every effort to present a factual account of the York and Carter families as they traveled from Bethel/Newry, Maine, westward to help settle the Great Salt Lake Basin.

Secondary Sources

Arrington, Leonard J. Great Basin Kingdom: An Economic History of the Latter-day Saints, 1830-1900, with an introduction by Ronald W. Walker. Urbana and Chicago, University of Illinois Press (1958, 2005).

Arrington, Leonard J. Brigham Young: American Moses. Urbana and Chicago, University of Illinois Press (1989).

Arrington, Leonard J. and Davis Bitton. The Mormon Experience: A History of the Latter-day Saints, Second Edition. Urbana and Chicago (1992).

Bancroft, Hubert Howe. History of Utah. Salt Lake City, Bookcraft (originally published in San Francisco in 1889, 1964).

Carter, Barton L. Dominicus Carter: Latter-Day Pioneer. Sandy, Utah, self-published (1997).

Carter, D. Robert (no relation to the Carter family line discussed in this essay). Founding Fort Utah: Provo’s Native Inhabitants, Early Explorers, and First Year of Settlement. Provo, Provo City Corporation (2003).

Coleman, Arthur D. Carter Pioneers. Provo, Utah, J. Grant Stevenson (1996).

Compton, Todd. In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith. Salt Lake City, Signature Books (1997).

Lapham, William B. History of Bethel, Maine, with an Introduction by Stanley Russell Howe. Somersworth, New Hampshire, New England History Press (facsimile of the 1891 edition, 1981).

Roberts, Brigham H. A Comprehensive History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 6 vols. Salt Lake City, Utah, Deseret News (1930).

Smart, Donna Toland (Editor). Mormon Midwife: The 1846-1888 Diaries of Patty Bartlett Sessions. Logan, Utah, Utah State University Press (1997).

Smart, Donna Toland (Editor). Exemplary Elder: The Life and Missionary Diaries of Perrigrine Sessions, 1814-1893. Provo, Utah, BYU Studies and Joseph Fielding Smith Institute for Latter-day Saint History (2002).

Smith, Joseph, Jr. History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Edited by B. H. Roberts. 6 vols. published 1902-1912, Vol. 7 published in 1932, revised reprint editions, Salt Lake City, Utah, Deseret Book Company. This series is also known as the “Documentary History of the Church.”

Stegner, Wallace. The Gathering of Zion: The Story of the Mormon Trail. Lincoln and London, University of Nebraska Press (1964, 1981).

Whall, Les. "Genealogy of Aaron Mereon York." Typescript in the collection of the Bethel Historical Society.

Primary Sources

Letters from Aaron M. York to Brigham Young, and Young’s response regarding the Hallett orphans, LDS Family History Library and Archives

Documents from the DJY collection (genealogy and documents compiled by the writer’s father, Donald J. York, between 1970 and 1993), in the author's collection; includes Edna Holdaway Bentwet, “Gilberth Haws Family: Pioneer of 1848.” Provo, Utah (1966)