Tuesday, July 6, 2010
MY FAVORITE PIONEER STORY
Ann Everington Roberts was born in Norfolk England. Her parents were dead and she supported herself working in a shop trimming hats and sewing fine dresses for the ladies of the countryside. In 1848 when she was 21 she married a young blacksmith, Ben Roberts. One night in the streets she heard the Mormon missionaries speaking. That night she sat up reading the bible passages they had talked about. The next day she went to find them again. She was eventually baptized. Her husband wasn’t interested and they separated.
Ben sent Ann some money and she decided to use it to come to the Zion of Utah. Mary, her 12-year-old, was left with some distant relatives to work in a china factory. The girl would work in the factory for her keep. 5 year old Henry was left with some recent converts to the church, The Toveys.
Henry's memory: As she stopped from dining table to pantry door weeping, I, with childish sympathy, plucked her gown and in my broad Lancashire dialect said, “Muther, what op?” And “Why art crying?” Mother knelt on the floor beside me and with her arms around my shoulders told me of the intended journey to America—Zion, and how I would have to be left behind with a Brother and Sister Tovey, and Sister Mary was with some distant relatives by the name of Pie. And it was only now a day or two when this separation would take place. As she held on to me telling the story, sobs and tears became more profuse; at last, folding me in her arms, she sought of me brokenly a promise that when I grew up to be a man I would come to her in “Zion.” Freeing myself from the embrace, I stood erect in the middle of the floor, and with childish solemnity promised her, “I will come.” (Truman G. Madsen, Defender of the Faith , p.8)
Ann took with her Annie and a baby boy Thomas. The baby contracted ship fever on the way over. He was sick and wasted to a skeleton by the time they started across the planes in a covered wagon. He died before she reached Utah. She could not bare to bury the baby in the dirt. The captain of the wagon train brought his breadbox and buried the little boy.
Ann moved to Bountiful after arriving in the valley. She opened a shop where she made hats and did sewing and tailoring. She needed to support herself but also save enough money to send for her children still in England. This took her three years often sewing into the night. But when she sent for the children Ben could not be found. The Toveys became tired of restrictions placed on them by the church and disappeared shortly after Ann left taking Ben with them.They wandered through the English countryside with a Bible, a violin and a little clothing. They slept in doorways and hedges and begged. Mr. Tovey was a stonecutter and he would work a little. Henry was employed carrying large buckets of mortar and stones. His bones were permanently damaged because of it.
Mr. Tovey would often play his violin in Taverns and they taught Henry to sing some old English ballads and they would entertain and pass the hat for pennies. One evening some soldiers heard their little show and suggested that Henry would make a good drummer boy for the army. Henry was 7 when the Toveys quarreled and decided to split up. They remembered the comment of the soldiers and decided to enlist Henry in the army as a drummer boy.
He was accepted and measurements were taken. He was to return the following day but that night Ben had a dream remembering the promise he had made to his mother about going to Zion. He knew if he joined the army he would never see his mother again. He climbed out the window and ran away.
He decided to try to find the Mormon Elders that had known his mother. For many weeks he wandered about eating when he could find food and sleeping with other street urchins in empty boxes in doorways. He couldn’t find the Elders but eventually found the Toveys again.
One experience was spiritually profound and prophetic. Henry and Mrs. Tovey were traveling through the green lanes of England, going to see about some work. As they sat down to rest a breeze wafted two or three pages of newspaper close by. Henry rushed to gather them up and begged Mrs. Tovey to read them as he loved to be read to. She went to sleep in the middle of the reading. He said of this experience:
I sat alone with the paper and my thoughts, marveling at the miracle, that a paper could speak to one only if he had the power to read it. On this thought my mind dwelled and after some time elapsed I spoke out loud: “Will the time ever come when books and papers will speak to me? Will I ever read books?” Then a peculiar silence, and the soul-voice said, “Aye, and you’ll write them too.” Then all things seemed to be swallowed up in an immense and wonderful silence. I had no inclination to move or disturb the silence. It seemed as if the whole universe had become an ear, and a voice, and a slight trembling shook my frame as I listened to what might be called the very vibrations of silence. So I sat entranced a long time. How long I did not remember. But I was immersed in that silence until my old lady companion groaned, and awoke, and the journey was resumed. (Ibid. p.21)
Ann had been in America 4 years and Henry had passed his 9th birthday when they found him. He could neither read nor write. But he was a keen observer. Ann had sent supplies and bedding for the wagon train ride west for the children but it had been lost. Henry slept with the men under the wagon but with only his sister’s petticoat for a covering.
During the day he wandered far afield from the wagon train in exploration. Once he was left behind and forced to swim the Missouri River before he could catch the wagons. He lost his coat and shoes. This made him sad as he remembered his mother as neat and well groomed and he hated the thoughts of seeing her in this disheveled condition, especially without shoes.
Along the trail they came upon some burning cabins. Henry stayed to investigate. Sticking out between two burned longs were the legs of a dead man with a pair of practically new pair of shoes. He pulled them off and ran to catch the wagon train. He did not wear this precious find but hid them until the time when he would meet his mother.
The wagons rolled into the city streets, and at last the great moment had come. The lad rushed to the provision wagon where his treasure was hidden. They were a man’s shoes, much too large for him—but they were shoes, and slipping his bruised and swollen feet into them, he marched at the head of the procession up Main Street to the Tithing Office, where his mother awaited him.
BH Roberts would become a great writer and church historian, quite amazing when you know his beginnings. I have often questioned the sanity of his mother in leaving 5 year old Ben with people she hardly knew but I have come to have great admiration for her faith.