Autobiography of Electa Caroline Williams1
[Page 1] My Grandfather was named Gidien Briggs. My Grandmother was Ketrnah Allen Briggs. They lived at Massachusetts at the time of the Revolutionary war. My Grandfather fought in that war. He died soon after peace was declared leaving my Grandmother with eleven children.
My Grandmother was very anxious about her sons fearing they would grow restless and have a desire to go to sea. She decided to emigrate to Vermont with a company in 1804. Her married children came with her also. They settled at Rutland, Castleston County, Vermont.
My Father was Allen Briggs. My mother's name before she was married was Elizabeth Read. She died leaving three daughters, my sister two years older than myself, named Celestina, was born in Massachusetts. My Father gave me to his mother Ketrnah Allen Briggs and a brother by name Gayes who took care of my Grandmother. He [father] gave my youngest [sister], Eliza to his sister Hannah and our friends thought best to send our oldest sister Celestina to my mother's parents, George [page 2] and Elizabeth Read.
Our father then bade us farewell and left for parts unknown to us. He was not heard from for sixteen years, then he visited his sister in New York. She wrote to her mother that he had been there and was soon coming after his children. In about a year he came and wanted us to go with him to New York. He did go after our oldest sister. We felt very lonely not knowing him, he seemed as a stranger to us. Our Grandmother told us that he was our Father and it was our duty and his privilege to take us with him. We were told that he had a wife and five children. Oh the bitter tears we shed to bid farewell to the scenes of our childhood and most of all to leave our dear Grandmother who had done so much for us. Oh those days of happy childhood, but who knows or understands the wisdom of our Father in heaven who doeth all thing well to bring about his noble purposes.
One year after going with my father I became acquainted with a widower, Alanson Hemenway. He was the father of two little girls. He asked me to be his wife, and I felt honored to become the wife of such a noble man for as such he proved to me, his girl wife, as he always called me.
We spent a few short [page 3] years together. We settled in Niagara County, town of Lockport, New York, one mile from Cambry where my father lived. In a short time father went to Michigan to live. We had a new farm in a new country. In two and a half years our eldest daughter, Harriette, was born.
We had our farm under cultivation and been married six years when my husband died. Two months after he died our daughter, Louisa Malvina, was born.
Before he died we would stand and look at the signs in the heavens about the time of Joseph Smith finding or translating the Book of Mormon, it was about one year before my husband died. He died August 29th, 1830. We did not know the principles of Mormonism at that time. We saw in the heavens many things that looked to us like covered wagons moving to the west and at one time like a host of armies coming to meet each other in battle moving from North to South and South to North with streaks of light from East to West and from North to South, that crossed in the horizon and formed a beautiful center brighter than the noon day sun and many signs we see that was a mystery to me until I received the Gospel. They have been plain to my understanding. They are the people of the world, say after the [page 4] plates were found that the Mormons were the Gold Leaf Society. Five years after Joseph Smith was killed, I joined the Mormon Church.
My husband being dead. I had no relatives within five hundred miles. My neighbors advised me to take letters of administration, owing to the circumstances. A man by the name of Bordman Bosworth [was] administrator with me on the estate. He was a Methodist class leader and through him and the lawyer they took all I had but four dollars apiece, for each of us a bed, for each two a cow. The place was sold, I had to take care of my children the best I could.
I stayed in New York, rented a place, worked for people, took in spinning, knitting and sewing. My father came to see me about one year after my husband died. He expected to find some property but finding none he left without me knowing he had gone, not even bidding me goodbye.
Three years after Alanson's death I crossed Lake Erie with my two children leaving my two step-daughters. One was married, the other was expecting to be soon. She stayed in New York with her sister Sally. The youngest was named Hannah.
I landed in Detroit, Michigan, hired [page 5] a carriage went to my half sister Polly's who was living in Thetford, Michigan, a little ways from my father's house. I stayed there a few weeks.
While there I received a letter from Jesse Smith in Ann Arbor, Michigan wishing me to come and live with them. His wife had the consumption. I took my children with me. When passing from Pontiac to Ann Arbor we put up at a tavern. In the night about twelve, we heard the cry of stars falling. They looked as though they fell to the ground. They seemed to shoot in every direction. The whole of heaven seemed illuminated. They kept shooting until daylight.
While at my sister Polly's she and her husband had been to the Mormon meetings. I went with them a few times and partly believed. I would often explain to people what I had heard.
The people I lived with were my near neighbors before my husband died. I stayed at Jesse Smith's six months, his wife died. I then went back to Thetford in the fall to my half sister Thankful's. I let Harriett work out in Ann Arbor. Louisa and I left with my half sister Polly at my father's house. I paid Polly out of my wages.
I went to work for Mr. Vanzile and was taken sick with typhoid [page 6] fever. Mr. Vanzile hired a doctor Allen. He becoming acquainted with my circumstances told me to go and live with them. That I was to consider their home my home whenever I was out of work. I worked for Doctor Allen and paid doctor bills. I then went out as nurse to women in child bed. Mrs. Allen kept Louisa and was so kind, if she had been their own, they could not have been more kind. Before that I was obliged to take her with me. I only saw my poor little Harriette once and a while. She stayed at the same place until I took her away.
I was working at Square Whitmores when Mrs. Allen's little girl died. She fell down a flight of stairs and broke her rib, only lived one hour. Mrs. Allen gave all of her little girls clothing to Louisa. They wanted me to give her to them but that was something impossible for me to do, oh no, although I did and could appreciate there kindness yet I could not part with my little baby girl.
Soon after that she was taken very sick, the doctor gave her up to die. Then who could feel as I, to think I may yet have to make a sacrifice and give my baby up forever. I was then working. I was wretched [page 7] and weary at heart. Just at that time I heard that Joseph Smith the Prophet was visiting a cousin of his by name of Whitmore. I sent for him to come and administer to her. Brother Joseph, his father and a Bro. Dart, his councilor came. They knelled down by her and prayed and then laid there hands upon her and promised her that she should recover. She turned over. After she turned over she went off to sleep and awoke well. This was a testimony to me never to be forgotten.
Mr. Williams came to Mr. Davises, the name of the people I was living with. He was a stranger to me, he asked me what was the matter with my little girl. This was the first time I had ever met him. We met quite frequently after that. In a year we were married. When he asked me to be his wife I told him if he would take me with the Mormons I would be his wife. He had told me he was not a Mormon but he wanted to go on a new place and he would take me to the Mormons. They had then gone to Missouri. We did not go immediately.
After we had arranged to get my eldest daughter Harriett, that was living out. I took my two little girls with me. Mr. Williams [page 8] was a widower with one daughter by name Cordelia. Before going with him I went to my father's to get my bedding and other things that was in his care. He refused me my things and was very angry about me marrying Mr. Williams. A long time after, he told me he was angry for he thought I was marrying a man by the name of Ferdinand Williams, that had a very bad name. I then thought he would give me my thing, I wrote to him and said all that I could to get my things, but to no purpose, he obstinately refused.
I did not know what to do, but on my way back to Pontiac I decided to replevy my own property. It was not my fathers, not even had he given it to me. Charles Terry, my half sister's husband, had told my father what I was doing. When I went to replevy them my father had moved them from his house. Mr. Williams paid the cost for me. My father would have paid it if my things had been found in his house.
I went with Mr. Williams to Grand Blanc, Michigan. It was in September and cold weather. As I did not get my things [we] were obliged to hire some bedding. We called on our way to Mr. Suthards. Stayed over night, they gave us clothing to keep us warm. We reached Mr. William's place on Swarty Creek He [page 9] intended to build a mill.
After I had been there two weeks the postmaster, William Terry, wrote to me saying that my things had been found in the Tamarack Swamp a half mile from my father's home. After I tried to replevy my things, father sued me for my board and my children's. The trial was set for three weeks. Then I appeared for trial and gave bail. Postmaster Terrv, was my bail. My father could not get bail. Then it became a non suit. After that my father wanted me to go and see him. I did not go. The neighbors did not wish me to go. The magistrate Squareborns advised me not to go. Soon after my father was smitten down with the smallpox. His dying and last request was to see me.
In four weeks after his death I went to see my half brothers and sisters. Their mother came home in the spring. She had been to visit her parents at Cambray, N. Y., before he [my father] was taken sick. Four of their children were then grown. My half brother Joshua brought me a box containing my children's clothing, the most of them spoiled by mildew. He found them under some logs in the Tamarack swamp. Who can imagine my feeling at that time after my father's death.
[page 10] I was married to Daniel Randal Williams after my father's death. He died [my father] January 13th, 1836. Joseph my half brother came and wanted my husband to go and redeem their place that was mortgaged. He sold our place and moved over to Waterford, Oakland County, Michigan. Mr. Williams gave my brother five acres of land and helped to build him a house. We paid the mortgage for them or they would have been turned out of their home.
We lived there awhile then sold out and started together with the church on the 4 of March, 1839.
On account of my poor health and bad roads we stopped near St. Joseph River, Hotaway, St. Joseph County, Michigan, it being so muddy we could not travel three miles a day. Our son Alma A. Williams was born June 27th, 1839. We rented a place not having means enough to go on our journey. We rented the place for a year. Then we decided to go on our journey and settle with the church at Nauvoo. My husband belonged to the Baptist Order. I began [to be] anxious about going and prayed to the Lord to send an Elder belonging to the church that I could hear the principles of the gospel taught once more. A few weeks after came a Mormon Elder Simeon Dunn. He appointed a meeting and preached. He was the first Mormon Mr. Williams had heard [page l1] preach. I arose and bore my testimony to the truth of the Gospel that Bro. Dunn had been saying. Also that I had a testimony of my own in answer to prayer. After that time there was no more peace for me. As there was no one to invite Bro. Dunn home, my husband asked him to go with us. There were some of the men in that meeting planning to do him evil. My husband over heard them, he felt the influence of mob violence, he took Bro. Dunn to Bro. Barney's that was living a few miles from us. The men came to our house to find him, but he had gone on his own way.
My daughter Harriett was married to Daniel S. Williams, my husband's nephew. He came with us when we left Michigan. When we started to go with the church, he took her back to Grand Blanc where he had formerly lived, to visit his family and remained in that place. Before my daughter married she formed an acquaintance with a young lady who visited her often, they had put up a swing to help pass off the time. After my daughter was married and gone, this young lady would often come to see us and swing and visit with us. Her father told her not to come to see us anymore, that we were Mormons. A few [page 12] evenings after, she came to see us, it was after dark. She told us her father had been whipping her for visiting us. She wanted us to protect her, she did not stay, we dared not to help her in that way. I never saw her after that.
My husband had a contract to carry mail. The next morning on his way with the mail he overtook the young lady drabled with mud and water. He asked her to ride, she told him she was gong to live out, that she would not live at home any more. He took her about 10 miles. In a few days they came with writ to serve on my husband, claiming that he had stolen a female heiress. He received word from friends that the officers were coming after him and he left and went to Edson Barneys. The men came that night and told me they had killed my husband.
The sheriff Mr. Jacox asked me if he should stay all night while they were around, meaning the mob. I thanked him and said no that I did not need him. I had a pistol and could defend myself if necessary. After they left my place I began to think I was too hasty talking to the sheriff. I feared they might come in the night and do us harm. Had [page 13] it not been for the protection of the Almighty Father in Heaven I cannot say where we might have been before the dawn of another day. But never the less, they left to start anew in the morning.
They came with a writ and served it on me. They took me to the sheriff Charles Knox's home in Centerville, Michigan. My little boy Alma was two years old, I took him with me and left the two little girls to keep house alone, Cordelia and Louisa.
The sheriff went to Edson Barneys and took him to prison. They gave me privilege to visit Mr. Barney at the prison under the protection of guards. Bro. Barney wished me to come near the Diamond hole he had to look through. He asked me if I knew anything about the girl. They then let him out in the morning.
My cousin, James McCumber, came four miles to see me. They would not let him in. He demanded them to let him see the prisoner. He told them he would spend all he was worth but what he would see me. He was a wealthy farmer. They finely let him come in. He whispered to me that my husband was safe, he then demanded them to let me go. He told them they had no right to keep me [page 14] prisoner so long. And if they did not do so he would put them through. They let me go away with him.
The mob had our horses, using them to search for Mr. Williams. During the time they were keeping me, they went to our house took my pistol and some other articles. My cousin hired two lawyers and put the case before the court, but they done no more about it. I went with my cousin to his home, my husband had been secreted in a sugar bush for three weeks. The mob had been there to find him but was wisely foiled in their wicked pursuit. We then were free to go on our way, providing we left the place.
We started from our cousins for Nauvoo, we over took some of the Saints on the way and Edson Barney and family who we traveled with, through a beautiful country Garden Grove and Hickory Grove. They were two or three miles apart. I was driving our light wagon, my husband the other wagon, in crossing a ravine I was thrown out over the wheel, it went over my stomach. They put me in the wagon and took me to the settlement. We called in the Elders to administer to me. In three days I was able to go on my [page 15] journey.
When we arrived at Nauvoo, Bro. Barney and family stayed there. We went across the Mississippi River to a nice little town called Montrose. We went a mile from this town to Iowa. A great many saints had settled there. We homesteaded there, it was Iowa, Lee County, Zarahemla. We put up a shanty to live in, soon after our daughter Emily E. was born on the 23 of September, 1841.
Mr. Williams was baptized in the Mississippi River and I was rebaptized. All of die people were rebaptized after they came off their journey. Uncle John Smith, as he was called by the people, baptized us.
While living there my daughter Harriett and husband came to see us. Her little son Kury [?] Seth was born, her husband worked in the shop with his uncle. Our little Emily was a weakly child sometimes we would nearly give her up but I would continually appeal to the Father to spare her to us. At one time she lay at the point of death, we called in Uncle John Smith to administer to her, he said although it might seem dark many times, she shall live to take care of her parents in their old age.
My husband built a shop as soon as he could and made furniture and spinning wheels. We lived comfortable for awhile. Then the Saints were all called to leave Iowa and go to Nauvoo. Before we moved to Nauvoo, I used [page 16] go over there in a steamer named the Maid of Iowa, to attend the Relief Society that I was member of. Captain Jones built the boat, and my husband helped to build it.
Soon after we went to Nauvoo, Mr. Williams finished a brick house for Milo Anderson Senior and Isaac Nelson. We were furnished a frame house to live in. While there Emily fell in a deep hole that had been dug to get dirt to use for building purpose. Sister Milo Anderson found her, she thought it was a duck at first then thought it could not be and went back to the hole and it was little Emily. In a few moments she would have been no more.
Harriett moved back to Nauvoo also. She was baptized by Phinehas Richards, her husband was not baptized. I was baptized in the baptismal font in the [Nauvoo] temple for some of my dead friends.
When Joseph and Hyrum were killed, Bro. Andrus' family were frightened. They went to their friends at a place called Big Neck. Milo Andrus was on a mission in Ohio. They wished us to move in their brick house, they did not want it left alone. The night after Joseph and Hyrum were killed the mob went to Golden Point to set fire to the city of Nauvoo and to burn the bodies of those martyred that [page 17] were in the mansion.
Bro. Andrus returned home he was taken sick while away. When he returned he found his family away. All of the men were out on guard, my husband with the rest. The bass drums were to be beat as a signal should there be anything alarming occur. Before midnight we heard from the men saying run, the mobs are upon us. The drum was beating violently, the dogs began barking and the cattle lowing in every direction. What a dreadful night. With flashing and vivid lightening and distant thunder in the heaven above us, we discovered a small cloud. It followed the Mississippi, kept spreading as if to gather the whole waters of that noble river. The mob were marching onward to there destined point of slaughter when the rain began pouring, destroying there ammunition, drenching them to the skin and killing some of them. The mob were glad to retreat. Thus the Lord fought the Battle of the Saints at that day, never to be forgotten by those that were an eye witness to such a scene, and the Lord has promised to fight the battles of his people.
[page 18] Soon after this time, my son-in-law took my daughter back to their home in Michigan. While at our house, their little boy died. My daughter did not wish to go back with her husband. She desired to stay with her parents and live in the midst of the Saints. Her husband promised to bring her back to the dedication of the Temple if she would go with him, but did not do so.
We bought a piece of land and got die deed 14th day of February, 1844. We built a frame house upon our land, we lived in our own home when Elizabeth was born December 19th, 1845. She was one month old when her father and I received our Endowments in 1846.
The Governor of Illinois ordered the Saints out of the country. Some of the people went in February but my husband went to Michigan to get his daughter by his first wife. He was gone six weeks. He brought his daughter Cordelia home with him. While at his father's home his father offered him his farm and other property if he would stay and take care of him in his old age. He told his father if I were willing he would do so, but of course not, I did not put my hand to the plow to look backward. In June we took a one horse buggy or rather a small wagon and in company with others, we [page 19] went on the other side of the Mississippi to a little town called Montrose in Iowa. Those of the Saints that stayed in Nauvoo were mobbed after we came from there. We left our home and all we had but just what we could take in our little wagon. There was one hundred acres of land on Runnel's Prairie, Mr. Rennels wanted our men to harvest his wheat and by so doing we obtained our bread stuff. When the harvest was over we went to a town in Iowa called Farmington. We followed the Des Moines River, crossing it we came unto the borders of Missouri. Bro. Barney came with us at the same time. A man living there, by the name of Howes, got my husband to put in locks in the Des Moines River by the mill. There we put up a shelter for the summer.
After the Nauvoo fight all of the Saints came out. A few [had been] killed, houses battered down. Among those that came out was a wealthy widower by the name of Rufus Beach, he brought his goods and settled on the opposite side of Des Moines River. We became acquainted, soon he came quite often. We soon see that more than friendship was his as he soon asked us for our [page 20] daughter Cordelia. They were married by Royal Barney. Soon after Mr. Beach started for Winter Quarters. The main part of the church were settled there at that time. He started from Winter Quarters in President Young's company for the Rocky Mountains, since named Salt Lake.
Cordelia's son was born in three weeks after they reached the valley. We heard from her once only, and that was she had left her husband and was in California.
We traveled in Missouri until November, it was very cold weather. We took a house from Adamson and a job, it was such a sickly place that we decided that it would be best for me to come on with the main body of the church and he would stay and finish his work.
We started in company with Riley Howard a young man who had come to Missouri to buy cows and was going to Council Bluffs to his home. When we got about half way there we camped 20 miles from a place called Keg Creek. He found his team but we could not find our horse, he went on his way and left us on the prairie. We found our horse at 4 o'clock, also found an acquaintance named Hoyet. Started for Council Bluffs next morning reached there at night. Found Mr. Howard without [page 21] making any inquiries.
Mr. Williams soon finished his job and came to us. My daughter Louisa was then a young lady. At home, I was taken very sick. Elder Hyde came from Winter Quarters. As he was passing by Louisa asked him if he would come in and administer to me. He advised some of the brethren to build a shade over our wagon. They came and made me very comfortable, this happened before my husband came home.
We bought us a place at Council Bluffs with a comfortable log house on it. The place was settled with mostly Mormons. It was a beautiful town, opposite Winter Quarters, under the bluff about two miles from the Missouri.
We lived at Council Bluffs five years, we saved means enough during that time to take us to Salt Lake. In the mean time my daughter Louisa was married to Albert H. Bawin [or Bourn] on the 1st of April. Soon after they were married her husband hired out to drive a team across the plains to Salt Lake for a Mister Jones, a Welshman from Wales. He was captain over a large company of Welsh people that were going to Salt Lake.
Albert left Louisa with me, his mother was a [page 22] widow, he had built her a home one block from us. He had the care of his mother and four or five younger children. Louisa's first child Harriet Electa was born before he returned from Salt Lake. He was away one year. When he came home, they moved to a place across the Missouri River, Bellview was the name. It was in Indian territory.
Albert was a blacksmith and was hired by the Government. While living there, their little boy was born they named him Albert Orlando, his father's name. They lived there until 1852, then came back to Bluff City expecting to go with us to Utah.
We started the 4 of July 1852. They did not come with us. They decided to stay over another year. Albert owned a Ferry boat and he took us across the river. We traveled one half mile after we crossed the river. We came to a steep hill, our team could not draw our load up the hill. We camped there for the night. Winter Quarters was 10 miles from where we camped. Mr. Williams went [on] horseback to Winter Quarters to get a team to help us up the hill. He expected to be back that night, but he could not get back. That night we were compelled to stay where we were. During the night there came up a terrible storm. It thundered and lightening and the rain came [page 23] in torrents down the hill. Our cows were tied behind our wagon. During the night they broke loose. It was so dark and stormy that we did not think they would leave our wagons, but in the morning they were no where to be found. As soon as daylight came I went to the wagon and turned loose a pair of lovely doves that we were going to take with us. After breakfast I took the children and started for Winter Quarters, we met him coming with a yoke of oxen, he got them from Henry Miller. We reached Winter Quarters that night before dark.
The company had been organized previous to our leaving Kanesville. Henry Miller was the captain of our company of 50 wagons. In 4 weeks after we bid our darling daughter goodbye, she was taken with the cholera and died on the fourth of August, 1852. (Little did we know while crossing those wild and dreary plains the sad tiding that was awaiting us on our arrival in the valley. The death of my dear child. Gone, yes gone, from me forever in this life.)
We had started on our long and tedious journey, my husband driving the ox team and I the horse team, with our children and [a] young lady by the name of Barbry Morgan. She done the cooking and other work to be done to pay [page 24] her expenses over the plains. In our company were 4 women that drove teams over the plains, a Mrs. Miller, Mrs. Chaffin and Mrs. Marry Ann Hyde, better known at that time as Miss. Price, and myself.
We crossed the Platt River 13 times. More times than would have been necessary if it had not been for the purpose of finding feed for our animals. Herds of buffalo were running over the plains. At one time there were a large herd together, they were going for drink to the river, they passed between our wagons. At another time there were two lying down with our stock. In the morning, one of the men in camp shot them, it supplied our company with meat for a few meals. Only one death in our company, Mary Jane Moss. We were two months and 20 days crossing the plains, arrived in Salt Lake City September 25, 1852.
We received the sad tidings of our dear daughter Louisa's death soon after we reached the city. She left her husband and two little ones, a girl and boy baby.
As soon as we could get word to Ogden that we were in Salt Lake, our nephew Benjamin Alvord came and took us up there to live with him. He was a single young man, was keeping house alone, it was very fortunate for us, also for him. There were seven of us in family including himself and L. T. Williams, a nephew of my husband that came with us to Utah, [page 25] who is now living at North Ogden.
Early, early in the spring Mr. Williams put in a crop. Soon after they, the people, were called to move in a fort close together, on account of the Indians. We left our homes and built temporary homes. We stayed together that winter. We lived [there] during the winter and in the summer moved to Farmington in 1853. There were but a few families there at the time. E. T. Clark, Daniel Miller and brother, and some others.
My husband and son Alma built our house. I have lived here 32 years this 1885. Our son died, September 1, 1871. He is buried at Farmington cemetery. My daughter Elizabeth was my only one left at home to comfort and and me in my old age. We were left alone to toil for our support, for in 9 years after Alma died, his Father died, leaving us lonely indeed.
In the first part of this writing I mentioned my step-daughter Cordelia and now after forty years she came to see us. We have met again. She came here from the place where she has been living, Burlington, Iowa. She has lived there 40 years. She came here to find her son Aaron and her father's family at the same time. She expects to go to California before returning to her home in Burlington. She was born November 10, 1829.
'Autobiography of Elects Caroline Briggs Williams, holograph, LDS Church Archives. Grammar has been standardized.