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Eliza Dana Gibbs, 1813-1900

Autobiography (1813-1857)
Typescript, UHI


An autobiographical sketch written by her during a period immediately following the year 1890 while living in Deseret, Millard County, Utah.

I was born on the 14th of April, 1813, in the township or village of Watertown, Jefferson Co., N.Y. My father's name was Francis Dana, son of Francis Dana of Mass. My mother's name was Huldah Dana, daughter of Abraham and Rachel Root. My grandmother Root's maiden name was Messenger. Both my grandfathers, Dana and Root, were engaged in the mighty struggle between the Colonies and Old England for freedom, to plant the standard of liberty and equal rights on this chosen land. My grandfather Dana was in the first battle among those of God's noblemen who struck the first blow for liberty and my grandfather Root was through the whole contest from beginning to end. Thus, do I claim by inherent right from those noble patriotic fathers, the indisputable privilege of worshipping God according to the dictates of my own conscience, whatever man may say or do to the contrary.

The period of my birth was during the second conflict between the States and England. When two weeks old, the British troops invaded Sackets Harbor about ten miles, I think it was, from the village of Watertown, and all capable of bearing arms were mustered into service for the occasion and marched to the harbor. Only two men were left in the village, my father and one other of the name of Baker. My oldest brother, Leicester, about 18 years of age, was among the members called to the scene of action.

It was a critical and trying time for the lone women and children, left thus unprotected to the mercy of the foe, in case they should prove successful. For had they gained the victory, the village would unquestionably have been sacked and burned. But God, who over-rules the destinies of nations, whose arm was stretched forth in mighty power in defense of the infant colonies, over-ruled the eventful day and gave the victory to those who were contending for their rights, for liberty and their homes. At this period, the time of my birth, the family consisted of seven children, five sons and one daughter, besides myself, Leicester, Francis, George, Charles, a daughter Harriet, and James.

In February, the winter before I was five, another little stranger made her advent into the family. My mother gave birth to a daughter, a lovely child who became the pet and idol of the family. Her name was Mary Ann Charlotte. The same winter my brother, Leicester, married a young lady by the name of Harriet Rice, whose residence was in the town of Lowville. Soon after, my brother, Francis, got married to a young lady by the name of Harriet Mosier, who resided in Prescott, a town near the St. Lawrence River on the Canadian side.

The spring that I was seven, my father, having previously failed in mercantile pursuit, through the rascality and intrigue of an honest old Quaker, in whom he placed implicit confidence, concluded to go to St. Lawrence County, and took up a farm in the town of Hammond, St. Lawrence County, N.Y.

The farm lay along the shore of the Chippawa Bay which set back from the St. Lawrence River, a beautiful, romantic spot with the majestic river in full view where steamers, schooners, and all sorts of crafts were continually and imposingly floating on its broad and magnificent surface. But with all its romantic and sublime grandeur it was too lonely and retired, surrounded by a dense forest, except on the side bounded by water.

In the fall after I was seven years old, my mother took passage in a boat and crossed the Ontario Lake and down the St. Lawrence River and joined my father on the spot he had chosen, and there I spent the remainder of my childhood, and a portion of my youth until I was twenty-six years old. My brother, Leicester, also moved to that country and settled about five miles from father's place. Brother Francis settled in Prescott twenty-four miles down the river where his wife's father lived.

When I was twelve years old my sister, Harriet, married and settled on the opposite side of the bay. Nothing of importance took place after that until I was seventeen years old when brother Charles married and brought his wife home, where he lived something over a year, when he took up a farm half a mile from the bay on the opposite side, it being too retired to suit his wife. But previous to this, brother Leicester had moved to Lowville and brother George had also got him a wife and settled there.

When somewhere about twenty years old, I joined the Methodist Church. My mother was also a Methodist, but I did not remain one long, not more than two or three years. The doctrine of eternal punishment was too horrible to contemplate. Still, I thought the Bible taught it, and thus, like a great many others, that one principle came very near causing me to reject the Bible entirely and turn an infidel. But the idea of an eternal sleep of annihilation filled my mind with despair, and I banished the thought from my heart and prayed almost unceasingly night and day for the Lord to give me a testimony that there was a God and a hereafter.

While in this unhappy state of mind I was taken sick. The doctor and all my friends pronounced me in the consumption. Of course, I thought my days were numbered. One night between sundown and dark I was laying on the bed in the bedroom pondering on my condition, thinking I would soon have to prove the realities of a future existence, when all in a moment I was enshrouded in a clear, white light and was enwrapped in a heavenly vision. A glimpse of the beauties of eternity were presented to my view, and a personage so lovely that description fails to convey an idea of the celestial beauty. The face was so clear and transparent and the features so perfect and angelic. Clothed in a pure white robe such as I have seen in latter days, she appeared quite a little distance from me at first and seemed to glide rather than walk as she approached me. She came within a few steps of me and as she looked at me she smiled such a sweet heavenly smile and passed on.

Immediately the scene vanished but left me so serene and happy that I seemed as though in a new state of existence. Every doubt and fear in regard to God and a hereafter was entirely obliterated and a heavenly calm and peace seemed to pervade my whole system. Still I thought I was surely going to die but death had lost all terrors. I interpreted the vision as a sure premonition of my death and with-all to dispel my fears in regard to the future, but instead of dying I began to recover and when I became sensible that I was really getting well I was quite disappointed, for I had anticipated with a great amount of satisfaction the happy change.

Although so many long years have rolled between and so many sore trials, hardships, and scenes of retrospection of the past, that scene is still clear and vivid as though of recent date. It is so indelibly stamped on the tablets of my memory that neither time nor changes can efface it. And even now at this late period of my existence when life seems trembling on the brink of the grave and the tired spirit seems almost ready to take its flight and bid farewell to the old worn out casket, I look back on that peculiar incident, that token of Divine approbation, and it is like a bright oasis in my dreary existence. I reflect upon it with a great degree of sublime satisfaction. It strengthens and cheers me in my gloomy and desponding moments.

Soon after this event which I have described, the subjects of the Province of Canada became dissatisfied with their rule of government and in 1836 a portion of the populace rebelled and took up arms against the Crown for the purpose of freeing themselves from Monarchy and establishing a republic form of government. But they were not united enough to succeed. Besides they depended on help from the States, and undoubtedly would have obtained it had not the government interfered, for thousands were ready and anxious to go to their aid. But a guard was placed along the river for hundreds of miles to prevent their crossing over to the Canadian side. Thus, their resistance proved of short duration. They were subdued in one year.

In the latter part of the winter of the year 1837, a young man, or boy, rather, for he was not more than seventeen or eighteen years of age, came from Canada to Father's and wanted to hire out. Being in the winter Father had very little for hired help to do, but the Lord opened his heart to hire him and the same evening he let us know he was a Mormon. He was the first Mormon or Latter-Day Saint I had seen. Of course I knew nothing about their faith but as soon a he began to preach his doctrine I perceived it was Bible Doctrine, and as he progressed in explaining his faith I also discovered that the principles he taught were the same I had adopted. I told him it was useless to preach that doctrine to me for I already believed it.

I had always been a great Bible reader from a child, having read the New Testament through seven times by course and the Old Testament once, besides a great amount of casual reading. But for some time previous I had perused the scriptures with a new zeal for knowledge and had prayed earnestly to be directed to the truth. The Lord heard and answered my prayers.

He enlightened my mind and led me to an understanding of those principles which I afterward learned, were taught by the Latter-Day Saints. So between this young Latter-Day Saint and myself there existed no chance for argument. As for Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon, I knew nothing except what he told us, so I had nothing to say about them.

The name of this young man was Elijah Austin. I don't think he remained with us over a month. He had left home for fear he would be pressed into the Queen's service and as soon as he learned it was safe for him to return, he went home. Although he was with us such a short time, a mutual attachment sprang up between him, and my sister Mary, and myself. He seemed more like a brother than an acquaintance of a few weeks. We did not understand it then, but were quite puzzled as to the cause. In later years we learned it was the spirit of truth, and of God that united and cemented our hearts as one. He came to our house when living in Nauvoo and I have not seen nor heard from him since.

The next winter, in 1837, there was quite a company of Saints came over from Canada and stopped in Hammond until spring, enroute for Elders John E. Page and James Blakesby were among the number. They held meeting in a school house opposite brother Charles. He and his wife and sister Mary and myself attended the meetings. Charles and wife soon believed and were baptized and Mary and I embraced the gospel a few days after. This was about the first of April.

The week before we were baptized brother George and a Mr. Copland, who had taught school the previous winter in the aforesaid school house, came over to Father's. Mr. Copland to bid us goodbye as he was going to start for home. They both exerted all the influence they could to change our minds and induce us to give up the idea. They told us we would be disposed, that all our friends would be ashamed of us, etc. When George saw that such arguments had no weight with us he told us that it would kill Mother, she surely could not survive the disgrace. Mother was then stopping at his house. George had, some years before, moved back from Lowville to Hammond and lived about five miles from Father's. George had got Mother to stop a while at his house because his wife was not well, and George, his wife, and Mother were all bitter opposers. I verily believe that George thought as he said, that it would kill Mother.

I told him if our joining the Mormons would kill her she would have to die, that I was fully convinced that the doctrine of the Latter-Day Saints was the truth and that it was my duty to embrace it, that I should do so and leave Mother in the hands of God. My father did not belong to any church and did not oppose us, neither did brother James. James was a believer but never obeyed. He took his clothes at one time and started for baptism but business prevented him at that time and he never started again.

When the day arrived we had settled upon to obey the gospel we went to meeting, and after meeting to the water, but it was with a heavy heart. I had always implicitly obeyed Mother and it sorely grieved me to cause her pain. Nothing but a sense of duty would have influenced me to have caused her trouble. Both my sister and myself dearly loved our mother and we went forth into the waters of baptism with aching hearts. Close by on the banks of the Chippawa Bay in which we were immersed, stood a large house in which several families of the Saints had taken up a temporary residence until spring. Thither we repaired to change our clothing and receive confirmation. Elder John E. Page officiated in the ordinances. As soon as I was confirmed the Comforter in very truth rested upon me in so much it would not have disturbed me had the whole world been arrayed against me. My trouble and anxiety in regard to mother and all else was swallowed up on a heavenly peace.

Soon after this, Mother returned home and was taken sick. I was somewhat fearful that brother's prediction would be verified. She was confined to her bed for two or three weeks, but the Lord raised her up for a better end. When she began to recover she began searching the Bible for scripture to confound our faith, but instead of that she converted herself to the truth and the ensuing summer she obeyed the gospel herself.

The same spring that we embraced the gospel, brother Charles sold his farm, stock and all except what he needed to go to Missouri, intending to go with the company that started from Hammond that summer, but he did not get the pay for his place in time. Having sold himself out of a home, he moved to Onida County. I went along.

Brother James married a Mormon girl and stayed on the homestead with Father. Mother and sister Mary went to Lowville to brother Leicester's, subsequently they came to Onida County. We remained there about three years and brother Charles moved to Nauvoo.

Sister Mary married a man by the name of Benjamin Hawkins. Two years after, they moved to Lockport, Niagara County. Mother and myself accompanied them thither. After we moved there two or three elders came there and raised up a small branch of the church. Among the number who joined the church was a young man of the name of William Gibbs, son of Josiah and Ruth Gibbs. Josiah Gibbs was a son of Nickoles Gibbs, and Ruth Gibbs was a daughter of William and Acenith Williams, formerly of Vermont. The Gibbs and Williams were among the first settlers of Jamestown, Virginia.

We remained at Lockport about eighteen months until the spring of 1844. Sister Mary had a little daughter named Eliza Ann when we went to Lockport, and the first of April, 1844, she gave birth to another daughter which she named Juldah Maria. Soon after this event, April 18, William Gibbs and myself were united in matrimony, and a few days after we all started for Nauvoo.

When we got within one hundred and eighty miles of Nauvoo the roads were so fearfully bad we stopped four weeks for them to improve. While there we received news of the death of the prophet Joseph. Notwithstanding we had none of us ever seen him, it cast such a gloom over our minds that it seemed to blight all our future prospects.

In a few days, however, we journeyed on, but when we arrived at Nauvoo it was not the Nauvoo we had anticipated. All was gloom and madness, and as time passed, sorrow and distress seemed to mark us for their particular victims. It was not long before I was stricken down with the fever that prevailed there, but was soon raised up through the administration of Apostle Orson Pratt. I was in excruciating agony with the fever in my head. It felt as though it lay near a scorching hot fire, and before Brother Pratt lifted his hands from my head the pain and fever were all gone, and returned no more.

Soon after sister Mary was laid low by the fell destroyer and after two weeks of severe suffering she bade farewell to this sphere of sin and sorrow. While she was sick, William was also stricken down and confined to his bed for three weeks. After Mary's death, the care of her family devolved on me, but the care of the babe was of short duration for it died in about a month after her mother, a sweet little angel too beautiful for this wicked world. The other one, Eliza Ann we kept and raised. After William got well he went to work on the temple and continued there through the winter.

In the spring he went to work in Mr. Knight's flour mill. He was a carpenter by trade but very little of that work was done in Nauvoo at that time as the people were preparing to leave. He continued to work in the mill until the forepart of August when he was taken down again with the prevailing scourge of the place, the fever, and while he was sick and senseless, not seeming to know any one or anything, the period arrived, August 27th, when I gave birth to a son. Those were days long to be remembered, as indeed were all the days of Nauvoo, filled up with the bitter trials and deep sorrow and mourning, but the Lord strengthened us to struggle through as He did many others. We named our son after his two grandfathers, Josiah Francis. In the fall, the mob commenced to drive the Saints from their settlements in the country, burning their houses and grain and shooting down their cattle and stock of all kinds. They fled to Nauvoo for refuge and shelter until every house was filled to over-flowing.

The house we lived in was owned by a man who lived in the country and wanted the house. There was not a house or room worthy the name to be rented for any price and we had to take shelter in a place that was little more than a shelter. It was clapboarded on the outside but not plastered inside, and the clapboards were so old and warped that we could stick our hands through between the boards all around the sides of the house. Mother was quite aged and she had to sit in the big arm chair, wrapped in a bedquilt and hold Josiah close to the fire to keep from freezing. Still our situation was better than those poor wanderers on the bleak prairies who left their comfortable homes in the tempestuous and stormy month of February and crossed the Mississippi on the ice to seek new homes amid the savages of the Rocky Deserts, with no shelter save tents and wagon covers.

My brother Charles and family were in that company of brave and valiant pioneers. Spring came in time with all its loveliness and with it also came the mobocrats. The city was soon flooded with them, cursing the Mormons and threatening them with extermination. In May, William went to Bonepart and hired to work in a flour mill. He then returned for his family, the same night he got home, about midnight, we were informed by a friend who lived close by us, but was an outsider, that he would be arrested in the morning if he did not leave. We knew he was entirely innocent of any charge that could be brought against him and that nothing whatever could be proved to convict him, but proof was an ingredient not necessary in those days to convict a man, the will of our enemies was sufficient. Therefore, we thought best he should leave before morning. I did not dare to have him go alone to the ferry of the Mississippi River, so I went the distance of a block to where a man lived that he could depend upon, and got him to accompany him to the ferry.

I then had to get out of Nauvoo the best way I could without any assistance. How I managed, I hardly know, but I was prosperous in my undertakings and succeeded in getting away and joining my husband in Montrose.

From there we journeyed to Bonepart, about twenty-five miles from Nauvoo, on the opposite side of the river. We obtained a couple of rooms in a house where several other families of Saints resided. William worked in the mill until the first of January, and until that time we got along without any serious trouble except that Josiah was very poorly all the time.

But about the setting in of winter mobocracy, which had been gradually increasing after the settling of the Mormons in that part of the country, gained a fearful climax, in so much that it was really unsafe to be known as such. In Farmington, a place five miles from Bonepart, they would take a man if they knew he was a Mormon and hang him up to a tree or anything that would answer their purpose in the street in open daylight. They would hang him until nearly dead before taking him down. One old man by the name of McBride, an old revolutionary soldier, died in consequence of the hanging. They would also cut holes in the ice in the river and hold them in the water until nearly dead. These outrages were perpetrated without preferring any charge. But these outrages, although of frequent occurrence, did not satisfy their diabolical thirst for malice and unprovoked spite. The spirit which raged with violence and savage cruelty in Illinois and Missouri was exhibited in Farmington in the vindictive spirit in which they sought to harass and persecute the Saints.

They commenced to arrest them on the pretense of theft, without a shadow of proof, unless, perhaps, they bribed someone to perjure himself, which was common. The Justice of the Peace in Farmington told the people he would commit every Mormon they would bring before him, and he kept his word sacredly, not one escaped commitment. Some gave bail to await the sitting of the grand jury. Those who did not were sent to Koosawqua jail, a log building with large cracks between the logs. They were sent there the first of January and a very severe winter. They were also put in irons in that open cold place and no chance for a fire. William was one of those unfortunates whom these malicious demons had selected on whom to vent their hellish rage, notwithstanding he had been steady all the time at the mill and had not lost a day.

He was arrested on the first day of January and was held in confinement eight weeks. I visited him twice the forepart of his confinement. I was then taken sick and brought to the verge of the grave. Nature gave way under the severe trial. The strain on my naturally nervous system was unendurable and I sank beneath its direful influence. But my end was not yet.

While sick, two gentlemen came to see me. They informed me that they were lawyers, that they had been to the jail to see the prisoners, and that they were going to take them out on a writ of the Habeas corpus to Iowa City where they would get a fair trial before the chief Judge of the Territory, who was a very impartial and just man. They told me that they had investigated the case and that there was nothing against my husband to hold him. They told me to cheer up for I would soon see him again, and they spoke the truth.

They were all set at liberty at Iowa City and the justice of the peace from Farmington received a severe lecture from the Judge. I speedily recovered after receiving this pleasing intelligence. After William returned home they wanted to hire him to work in the mill again, but we had got all we wanted of that place and made arrangements to start for Pisgah where Saints who left in February had made a temporary stopping place on their journey to Council Bluffs.

There we found brother Charles' family, he having gone on a mission to the States. His family was well but very destitute of the comforts of life. We divided our supplies with them and when they were all consumed we had to share the same fate as others in the settlement, live on corn bread and cold water. There was no produce in the place to be sold but corn. Again we suffered much privation and sickness.

The first winter mother had a spell of sickness and I had the chills and fever. In the spring Josiah had a very severe attack of sickness. For several days he was hardly expected to live from one hour to another. When in Nauvoo, William and I had our patriarchal blessings under the hands of Patriarch John Smith. In my blessing he told me I should have power to preserve the lives of my children until they were old. I had implicit faith in that promise, and I verily believe it was through that promise I saved my son from the fell destroyer, for I claimed him at the hands of the Lord through that promise, and to God by all the glory for He spared him and raised him up to manhood to obey the gospel in its fullness, even the celestial law of marriage, for which he may have to pay the penalty of imprisonment. If so, the will of God be done.

The next winter, January 18, 1848, heaven blessed me with a daughter. We named her Mary Amanda. In the spring we moved to a place on Coon River, forty miles from Pisgah and William went in the purpose of getting an outfit for the Rocky Mountains to join the Saints in the Valley of the Great Salt Lake.

But the next spring, 1850, raged the California gold fever and the roads for hundreds of miles were thronged with emigrants to California, insomuch that provisions of all kinds, especially breadstuff, was sold out of the country. It was impossible for us to obtain supplies for the journey, therefore, we were almost compelled to take the back track or suffer for the necessities of life. Consequently we concluded to go to Illinois, Alden, McHenry County where my brother George and sister Harriet had moved, and where also William's folks contemplated moving. We thought we would go back and have a visit with our folks, get an outfit, and start from there for Utah. But it took us seven years to accomplish our purpose. When we arrived at our place of destination we found our friends all well that were alive.

Brother George had buried the wife of his youth and had married again to a woman I had never seen before, which made his home seem strange, so unlike his home of former days. But she was a good woman and I soon loved her dearly. Only a short time before our arrival sister Harriet had buried her husband, Samuel Miller.

In September 1850, another daughter was added to our number. We named her Imogene Josephine. When she was only three or four weeks old, William's father, mother, brother Otis, and three sisters, Jane, Malitis Sophia, and Hester, came to town and stopped with us two weeks, then they got a house and moved into it. The fall and winter following, William and Otis worked together at the carpenters trade.

In the spring William took brother George's farm to work on shares. The next spring he took a farm of another man, Cutter. Most of the time after that, while there, he worked at his trade.

Thus time rolled on without anything worthy of note until November 21, 1854, except on February 28, 1851, my mother departed this life at the ripe old age of eighty-six. Her exit was peaceful, seemingly without pain. She had no real sickness but gradually grew weaker and sank into a state of unconsciousness and passed away as though going to sleep. After we went to Illinois she made here home with brother George.

November 21, 1854, I gave birth to another daughter. We named her Medora Victoria. Year after year we struggled on striving to get an outfit for Utah, but it proved to be slow and difficult for William had sold our team and wagon the first fall after we got to Illinois so we had everything to buy over again. However, in 1857 we succeeded in obtaining the requisite expenditure for our long anticipated journey.

One circumstance I omitted in its time and place.

In the year 1853 my brother, Charles, was appointed a missionary to England and in passing through the states he made us a visit. It was a joyful meeting. He stayed with us a week and held two meetings. We kept up a correspondence while he was in England so he knew when we were ready to start. He therefore wrote us that he was released to return in 1857 and when he expected to be in Iowa City and wanted us to meet him there so we could cross the plains in company. But we did not get started in time. When we arrived at Iowa City the company he was in was gone. It was a great disappointment to all, more especially to us as we were left to travel alone or join a Danish company who could not speak a word of English.

The captain of the company, however, was not Danish and he was very anxious for us to go along with him, so we traveled with them to Council Bluffs. There we found a company getting ready to start across the plains. William Young, nephew of President Brigham Young, was appointed captain. In the company was Phineas Young, brother of the President, and a sister. We waited until they got ready and joined the company.

This was the year 1857 that the government sent out troops to Utah. We had just a little the start of them and we kept it. Our journey across the plains was a very pleasant one for the kind. The company was nice and agreeable. There was no sickness to speak of and nothing to annoy us, except meeting some Indians and numerous herds of buffalo. Both were somewhat annoying, especially one company of Indians appeared quite hostile. However, to the great relief of the company, they passed on after giving us a good scare. When we got nearly to Blackfork, President Young sent us some fresh teams as ours were getting footsore which made it slow traveling, and it was feared the troops would overtake us before we got into Salt Lake City.

We arrived there on the 25th of September, 1857. We rented a house and made ourselves quite comfortable until spring, with the exception of Josiah having a pretty severe attack of inflammatory rheumatism. In the spring the counsel from President Young was for all the settlements north of Provo to move south. Accordingly we moved to Summit Creek, now called Santaquin. We remained there until negotiations were ratified between the troops and the people of Utah.

We then moved back to Salt Lake City, rented a large house of Mrs. Taylor, mother of Apostle John Taylor, and started a boarding house. We remained there ______ years.