Sunday, May 24, 2015

Absalom Wamsley Smith and Amy Emily Downs


Absalom Wamsley Smith Autobiography

Absalom Wamsley Smith autobiography excerpted from People of Draper 1849-1924 History of Draper, Utah, Vol. I, pages 555-557.

"I was born in Harrison County, West Virginia, on June 22, 1819. My father, Jacob Smith, was born on December 17, 1780. My mother, Anna Wamsley, was born on December 7, 1798. They were married on March 16, 1818, Harrison County, West Virginia. Soon after Father was married he commenced his labors on his new homestead. It all was heavy timber and the progress was very slow. The oldest child being a daughter made it so Father had no help until I grew old enough to work. I was the second child and, by the time I was 12 years old, old enough to help much, Father had about half his ground under cultivation. He brought another small farm adjoining his.

Virginia was a new country and chances for an education were very limited. Our schoolhouse was a small log cabin with a few rough benches without any backs. No maps, charts, or blackboards were available then. I only had a chance to go three months a year. I was about 12 years old when I started. I went until I was about 17 years old. The books I used were the old Webster spelling book, the English and National Reader, and Pike's Arithmetic with a slate and pencil with paper. Goose quills for pens completed my school outfit.

In 1836 my older sister got married. Her name was Delilah. She married a man by the name of Solomon Shinn. He was from Illinois. The following spring they went to Illinois to make their home. She promised Father to visit again in two years. In the fall of 1838 my sister and her husband came back home to visit. They had a child. They stayed until spring. I persuaded Father to let me go to Illinois with them. It was hard to leave your relatives and lifelong friends and go into a strange country. The preparation for starting on a journey of 700 miles was very different to what it is at present, with no railroads to travel on. Wagons and carriages were very scarce and the roads very rough, consequently most of the travel was done on horseback.

We left on April 11, 1838. I was 18 years old then. Father gave Mr. Shinn and my sister particular charge over me and gave them money to pay expenses. We reached a small town called Middleborrow, county seat of Tyler County. It was about ten miles from the Ohio River. We left there on April 15, 1838 and arrived at the Ohio River about noon. After getting our dinners and bidding farewell to my brother, Elisha, who came with us to take back father's horses, we hailed the first steamboat that came down the river. Then our course lay down the Ohio River and up the Mississippi River. We went to Mr. Shinn's father's place and stopped overnight.

We procured a team and went to Payson, 16 miles south of Quincy. I worked for Mr. Shinn that summer. In the fall I leased 20 acres of land from David Shinn (a brother to my brother-in-law) for three years. Early in the spring of 1839 many of my old acquaintances who had joined the Church in Virginia had moved to Missouri in 1838 and 1839. Joseph Smith and the rest of the pioneers came later in the spring. The people of Illinois were very kind to them. They gave them work and they proved very industrious. The elders soon commenced preaching through the state. The people began to investigate the doctrines that they preached and many joined the Church in the spring of 1839.


I went to work breaking prairie land until harvest. I had a fine crop of wheat, about 400 bushels. After harvest and threshing was over I went to work plowing land for corn in the spring. Had a good crop, disposed of part of it. That was the last year of my lease. I was now 21 years old and began to feel I might need a companion. I had met a young lady by the name of Amy Downs and was married on November 5, 1840. Came to Utah in 1852, and took up land on the state road west of Draper. I served in the Draper bishopric as a counselor to Bishop Isaac Stewart. I also served as a member of the first school boards in Draper. I went on two missions for the LDS Church." 

A PAPER GIVEN TO SEAGULL CAMP D.U.P. [Daughters of Utah Pioneers] by MABEL S. MURRAY [Mabel Smith Shipley Murray] JANUARY 18, 1979

This is basically on the life of my grandfather Absolom W. Smith and his ancestors. But since so many of his descendants are members of D. U. P. and have already sent in their histories this will be [the] more interesting incidents in his life and that of his ancestors who originally came from Ireland. His wife's family came from England. Both [families] came to America in its early days even before the Revolutionary War. In fact, some of their ancestors fought under Washington in the Revolutionary War so they date back to early, early America. Absolom's grandfather, Aaron Smith, who was born 1751, while yet a young man, like Daniel Boone set out alone on horseback to find the ideal spot for his future home. He crossed over several mountain ranges and finally came to an open valley covered with beautiful trees. He was entranced by what he saw and decided this was where he would like to make his home. He took out tomahawk rights on the land, began to clear some of it and built him a cabin. He did not know at the time that he had become the first settler of West Virginia and his name would go down in history as such.

This done, he traveled all the way back home, married his sweetheart and the next spring the two of them mounted the same horse and set out again for their new home with only the few things the one horse could carry. While he was out working on the land and his wife was cooking meat for dinner she heard scratching on the chimney. She knew it was a bear so took the gun, went out and shot it. The next spring eight other couples followed them and Clarksburg, West Virginia had its beginning and that is where Absolom Smith began his life. The land was heavily wooded so clearing it for cultivation was a slow process but it was very productive when it was cleared.

When Absolom was still a young man, like his grandfather he yearned to see more of the world so persuaded his father to allow him to return with his sister and her husband to Quincy, Illinois, when they returned from a visit. The distance was 700 miles. The first 50 miles were traveled on horse back from lack of roads, so they took his younger brother along to take the horses back. It took them 3 ½ days to travel the 50 miles to the Ohio River. From there they traveled by boat down the Ohio River and back up the Mississippi River to Quincey. Arriving at Quincey he took a three year lease on 20 acres of land which he had to fence and break the sod. When he was not busy on his own land he hired out to his neighbors and was always busy.

While here, the Mormons began to come from Missouri having been mistreated and driven from their homes. They were very poor and destitute, but hard working and industrious. The people of Quincey were kind to them and helped them find homes and work. In 1839 Dot Nelson a Sectarian Minister challenged Joseph Smith to a debate on doctrine. That was when he first saw the Prophet. About this time he had finished the lease on the land and since he was 21 years of age he decided it was time for him to buy a farm of his own and settle down. He had been attracted to Amy Emily Downs. They were married November 5, 1840. Grandmother and her family became interested in the church and were baptized but grandfather did not join until about three years later. He was soon ordained a teacher and then was ordained a seventy by Bro. Wells in Nauvoo.

While in Nauvoo Amy's parents were held in the street by the mob and made to watch their new home and all its contents burned to the ground. Amy was anxious to go west with the saints but Absolom wanted to go to Texas that had just become a new state and was holding out great promise to new settlers. Eventually grandmother and the church won and they came to Utah in 1852 in [the] Oscar M. Stewarts Company and settled in Draper. Absolom acquired a large farm on three sides of the Crossroads where the road goes East to Draper and West to Riverton when it crosses the State road that runs and still does North and South from Salt Lake to the Point of the Mountain known as the State Road [I-15 or State Street-US89 ].

 
Drawing of home at the Crossroads

Hand drawn map of early Draper

He was active in all church and community affairs. He was counselor to Isaac Stewart in the bishopric, at that time the bishopric handled most of the community affairs. He followed the advice of the church leaders and married four other wives, one only lived a short time but the four raised large families. Thirty-two children were born to them in all. So he built a long two story adobe house of 17 rooms. Four for each wife and his office. During the polygamy trouble he took one of the younger wives and went to Hanksville until after the manifesto.

Absalom Smith in 1874

He was a small man only 5'8". One of his boys remembers that when he spoke there was no argument and when he said, "Boys it is time to go to work," we went to work, cheerfully. [As] Their home and barn being on the State Road, it became a stopping place for travelers where they replenished their food supplies. Many stayed over night and camped across the road from their house. Mother tells that she and her sisters, all of whom had good singing voices, would sit out on the front steps and sing after the days work was done. Sometimes the campers would join them and sometimes they would take turns. This way they learned many new songs, also taught our hymns to new travelers.

The gold rush was on in California and travelers on their way there were very common. One such traveler a lone man traveling with a group had lost his enthusiasm for the gold fields and ask grandfather if he could find work there. He would like to stay in Utah. Could he teach school? They were much in need of a school teacher. So he was hired and boarded in their home many years. He was none other than Dr. John R. Parks who later was called by the Church President to come to Salt Lake and be President of the University of Utah. Several times they had tried to get him to come to the University to teach and he had refused to leave those who had befriended him when he was in need. Students from all around came to Draper to study under him. Mother and the rest of her family profited by his training especially in math and music. But when the President of the Church put it in the form of a call he felt that he could not refuse. The Parks Building on the University Campus was named in his honor.

 Absolom encouraged education in his family. One of his sons was a lawyer in Salt Lake City and was President of the Board of Education in Salt Lake City for 15 years. Several of his sons became teachers and land owners, a banker, honest community leaders. He would have been proud of his great grandson Cleon Skowson and many others. He was known in his community for his honesty and fair dealings. If his neighbors cows got in his property, the first time he called it an accident if it happened again he expected the owners to pay for the damage as he would expect to do. Always true to his church convictions he was ever ready to give of his time and means when the church made a call. He filled 2 six month missions and made trips East to haul freight back to Utah. How proud his families were when he was made a patriarch of the Church. The last three months of his 84 years were spent in bed and he suffered great pain some of the time. His children took turns sitting with him and caring for him.  He passed away on May 12, 1904.


Amy Emily Downs Smith

Amy Emily Downs was born January 25, 1823 in Crawford County, Indiana, daughter of Ezekiel Downs and Charlotte Rawlings. Her great grandfather Zacharia Downs, emigrated from Scotland to North Carolina before the War of Independence. Being an elderly man, owning a grist mill, he was exempted from service. Her grandfather, Thomas Downs, enlisted in his seventeenth year and served during the war, and marched in the hot sand until his feet bled. He dipped the water in his hat as he marched along to give it to the wounded soldiers. He enlisted under General McDonald and fought under George Washington.

Her father had an even temper, rather on the extreme both ways. Her mother was even tempered, kind, and affectionate. They were well respected by their neighbors. They labored hard and made a good living. Her family emigrated to Illinois in the fall of 1828. They located twelve miles below Quincy, a very beautiful country. The land was very rich, the prairies interspersed with beautiful groves of timber, with singing birds, and the country abounded with wild game, fish and wild fruit and honey. Her father bought calves and raised them for the market. He bought land and fenced 160 acres. He broke 100 acres and raised large crops of corn, wheat, oats and beans, potatoes, pumpkin, melons, and raised hogs for the market.

In the spring of 1839, the members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints were driven from Missouri and the main body crossed at Quincy and some at Hannibal. Five came to their place with one old wagon and a poor span of horses, and they looked upon them as poor persecuted people, and they took them in and gave them work and helped to feed and clothe them. The family began to predict that her oldest brother James would be a Mormon, and he laughed at the idea. But when he heard the Elders set forth the first principles of the Gospel, he received it with joy and he was the first one of the family to be baptized on October of 1840 by Bishop David Evans. He had manifestations of the truth to what he received from time to time. Elder Hyde was sent from Nauvoo to counsel her family to trade farms with the anti-Mormans in Hancock County and they moved and settled in Knowltons Settlement, 13 miles below Nauvoo. Soon after her brother joined the church, her father, mother, and two sisters were baptized. She was a member of the church when on November 5, 1840 she married Absolom W. Smith, who was born June 22, 1819 at Clarksburg, Harrison County, West Virginia.

In the month of June 1844, her brother James had been down to his father’s. As he was returning home, he saw a body of armed men in a little town called Loina, and he supposed it was training day, but was soon informed that it was a mob gathered to make an attack on Father Morley’s settlement that night. The settlement was about three miles distant. But before he reached the settlement that night, he saw a black cloud rising in the northwest. He increased his speed and reached a house just as the storm set in. It blew down fences, uprooted trees, and the rain fell in torrents. The next morning the roads were so filled with timber he had to pick his way through the woods. Her brother mentions this to show that the Lord chose the storm to save his people, for the mob had laid plans to make an attack on all the settlements, as well as Nauvoo.

Her family was living near Nauvoo at the time of the martyrdom of the Prophet Joseph Smith, her brother said he could not describe the scene that followed the slaughter at Carthage. He said the heavens seemed to weep over the horrible deed as it rained so much, and all Nauvoo seemed to wear a gloom. In the spring of 1845 her father traded farms with Eli Walker four miles east of Nauvoo. He went up and put in a crop and in the summer, the mob began to howl and wagon load of armed men passed her father’s door and fired their guns and yelled like demons.

Early in the fall old Col. Williams, a Baptist preacher, raised sixty men and camped in the woods two miles from her father’s place, and commenced burning houses. He sent twelve well armed men with orders to the Mormons to take their sick folks and leave. They did so and let them burn their homes. My father’s was a frame building, painted and done up in good shape with four good rooms and cost about $800.00. Her father sold his farm for $1153.00 which was less than half it was worth, and was glad to get that to get an outfit to leave for the west.

Her husband was baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ in August of 1843, by Elder Isaac M. Stewart in Adams County, Illinois. The fall she was married she and her husband went to West Virginia and spent the winter. This was her husband’s home as a boy. Her husband left West Virginia when he was a boy of seventeen with his sister and husband, a Mr. Shinn. They came to Quincy, Illinois April 22, 1838. He went to Mr. Shinn’s father’s home, stayed over night and then went to Payson 16 miles south of Quincy where he expected to make his future home. Here he leased 50 acres of land from David Shinn, and in the winter and spring of 1838 and 1839 he had it fenced and commenced breaking the ground. By June he had it ready for corn and in the spring of 1840 he put in a good crop and harvested about four hundred bushels of wheat and a good crop of corn. He was then about twenty-one and that was the last year of his lease. He thought for some time he should have a companion, and he had become acquainted with Amy Emily Downs, so that fall they were married.

In the spring of 1846, she with her husband, father, mother, two brothers, and two sisters started with the main body of the church and all stopped at Council Bluffs for the winter. Here she and her husband remained until the spring of 1852 when they started for Utah. They crossed the plains in Isaac M. Stewart Company and settled at Willow Creek, now Draper. She drove a span of oxen all the way across the plains. They had two children born in Illinois and two after they left Nauvoo. She had six more in Utah, which made ten in all.

 Melissa Ann Smith was a middle child born in Draper.  She later married Manassah Fitzgerald and had a daughter whom she named Melissa Ann (wearing the hat) who became my husband Glen's maternal great grandmother.

She was a very devoted mother. She told her children she had crossed the plains and gave up her home in the east that they may enjoy the blessings of the true Gospel. She was a talented woman and very accomplished in sewing, and her talent was handed down to her daughters, and many of her granddaughters. One of the daughters of the second wife tells that when times were hard and there was no money to buy things, she always had gifts made to surprise the children for Christmas. The family lived on the main highway, seventeen miles south of Salt Lake City, so they entertained many of the leaders of the Church as they traveled from Salt Lake City. She washed, corded, and spun many pounds of wool to provide clothes for the family. She was an active member in the Relief Society for many years. She died August 26, 1896 in Draper, Utah.


Amy and Absalom are both buried in the Draper City Cemetery.


1 comment:

bryon mathena said...

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