Gathering the Tribes: Mormons from England

This little BBC piece about Mitt Romney’s Mormon ancestors captures some of the zeitgeist of the lives of many Mormon immigrants from England.

Mitt Romney’s English Mormon Roots

The Mormons “believed that Jesus had visited America, and that he would return there soon.” Their message was, “Jesus is coming – he’s coming to America. We’ll help you get there.” Not only did Jesus visit America, but certain privileged Europeans were actually members of the Ten Lost Tribes, being called to re-gather in the New Zion.

Like the Romneys, my Quarmby ancestors also converted to Mormonism at Preston near Manchester in the 1830s. John Quarmby was a cloth dresser, a common occupation in this part of England where the main industry was textile mills. The workers struggled to eke out a living. The factory owners became rich. John was also a music instructor, supplementing his meager income. He and his wife Ann had eight children, but lost five of them.  It doesn’t surprise me they looked to religion for comfort.

The Quarmbys converted to Mormonism, but it didn’t turn into the same dream for them that it did for the Romneys. 

John and Ann brought their three surviving children to America in 1845, through the port of New Orleans, then up the Mississippi River to Nauvoo, the Mormon capital. Unfortunately for them, Nauvoo was built on swamp land. John died a few months later of “swamp fever” — malaria. The two older children also died, but their deaths were unrecorded. No one is sure, but according to one family tradition, Ann survived long enough to be expelled from Nauvoo by Gentile mobs, then died of starvation and fever during the winter of 1846/47 at Winter Quarters, outside Omaha, Nebraska.

The only surviving member of the family, little Annie, age 5, was taken in by Bishop Joseph Bates Noble. She made the long trek to the new Zion in Salt Lake City to become one of the Valley’s first pioneers (1847). She told her children and grandchildren that she walked every step of the way alongside the handcart. (I hope that’s an exaggeration, but it might be true.) 

As an adult, Annie didn’t know her parent’s names, or even her birthday. Her whole history was lost. The Nobles couldn’t help; she was just an orphan they picked up in all the confusion. How could they be expected to know who she was or where she came from? Her mother had been a member of the Bishop’s Ward, so they got stuck with her. They raised her, and at 15, when she was so ungrateful that she refused to marry her foster father, they made life hell for her until she ran away. 

When I read the story about Mitt Romney and his English roots, I’m happy for him that his family succeeded in America. I just wish we could spend more time celebrating the people for whom a new life in America was a genuine struggle.

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