John Memmott (1823-1866)

By Guy L. Black.

John Memmott was born February 2, 1823 in Aston Parish, Yorkshire, England.  He was christened on March 2, 1823 by William A. Person, Parish Rector.  His father was Thomas Memmott.  His mother was Sarah Willden. His only known brother, William Memmott, was about ten years older than John.

The southernmost tip of Yorkshire, in central England, also called West-Riding Yorkshire, had been the ancestral home of the Memmott family for many generations.

From old letters and account records brought to the United States by William, it appears likely that John’s parents ran a small market or store.

John was a well-educated young man who was also a good singer and musician.  He wrote music, and played at least three different musical instruments, including the coronet.

Not much is known about John’s early education.  William attended a private school named McCarver.  Perhaps John attended the same school.  However, no record of a school by such name has yet been found in southern Yorkshire, or anywhere else in England.

William worked at the Wesleyan Proprietary Grammar School (changed to WesleyCollege around 1844), although he was not a student at that institution.  Perhaps William’s access to the books, teachers, and students at Wesleyan helped further the brothers’ education.  As Wesleyan is located in nearby Sheffield Parish, it is possible that when William took a job at Wesleyan, John moved with him, and attended school in Sheffield.

If he attended formal schooling in Sheffield, John may have matriculated at one of the two inexpensive grammar schools in the Parish.  The Boys’ Charity School was located in the northeast corner of the Parish Churchyard.  Another school, a stone structure built in St. George’s Square in 1824, was designated a “Free Grammar School” under its original charter; but the school was never completely free, because it was under funded. It was, however, inexpensive by comparison to two other grammar schools in the area, the Collegiate School and Wesleyan Proprietary Grammar School (the school where William worked).  These latter schools were both dedicated to the education of wealthier, upper-class students.

In any event, not later than the 1841 English Census, John left his parent’s home and moved in with his brother, William, and William’s wife, Ann, who were living on Pitt Street in Sheffield.  They lived on the west side of the Parish with William’s children and Ann’s younger sister, Julia.  Although Julia was several years older than John, a romantic relationship developed between them.  They married a few years later, on March 16, 1846.

The 1841 Census lists John as a cutler by trade.  A cutler was a knife maker or grinder.  Because of his young age in 1841, John was probably merely an apprentice, in training to be a master cutler.

Sheffield had a long history of producing fine knives.  The cutlery industry had existed in Sheffield at least since 1272 A.D.  By 1740, ninety different knife mills had been built in Sheffield.  The mills used extensive water power available in the area for knife grinding.  By 1850, there were over one hundred such mills in operation in Sheffield.  The availability of water power and easy access to the coal (required for making steel and forging the utensils) helped build Sheffield’s cutlery industry, and kept the grindstones, forge-hammers, and rolling mills in operation.  Sheffield’s thriving knife industry could also be attributed to a local clockmaker, Benjamin Huntsman, who developed a revolutionary steel-making method in the mid-1750s.  When the local cutlers adopted his method, Sheffield’s knives became some of the best in world.

Despite the long tradition of knife-making in Sheffield, John was not destined to be master cutler.  By the 1851 English Census, John had changed jobs, and was working as a post office letter carrier in Sheffield.  He was appointed to that position on July 13, 1847, when his oldest child, Sarah, was six months old.  We do not know why John abandoned the cutlery trade; but his nephew, Thomas indicated that the cutlery trade had been bad for some time in an 1855 journal entry.

John and Julia would eventually welcome a total of six children into their home.  The children’s names were, in order of birth, Sarah, Martha Ann, Thomas William, John Alma, Anna Laura, and James Ammon.  James Ammon was the only child born in the United States.  The rest of the children were born in England.

About a year after his appointment as letter carrier, while the family was residing at 16 Holborn Street in Sheffield, John was visited by missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  John embraced Mormonism, and was baptized on October 5, 1848 by Charles Hill.  He was confirmed by Elder Leroy Mitchell.  Shortly thereafter, he was ordained a priest, and then an elder.  He was the first Memmott to join the Church.

John introduced his family to the church, and within three months, his brother, William, also joined.  However, the brothers’ wives, Ann and Julia, were somewhat slower to adopt the new Faith.  They waited over a year after John’s baptism before they were baptized.  John’s father also reportedly joined the Church, but his mother never did.  Except for Ann, no one in Julia’s family joined the Church.

John was an active member of the Church.  He served as a choir director and band leader for the Sheffield Branch.  In 1854 he was called to be President of the Number Three District of the Sheffield Branch.  He also served as a conference clerk and conference book agent.  John baptized many people and performed many marriages during his years of Church service in England.  William was also active in the Church, serving as a missionary, and then presiding as President of two different branches of the Church in the Sheffield area.

John and his family wanted to immigrate to America and join the Saints in Utah.  Fortunately, because they borrowed from the Church’s Perpetual Emigration Fund, they were able to travel to America without waiting for years to save enough capital.  William and his family stayed behind and saved their money for six long years before they were able to pay their own way to America.

On April 9, 1855, John attended a final band practice at the Sheffield Branch.  A few days later, on April 16, 1885, he, Julia and their children, ranging in age from eight months to eight years, left their home and traveled to Liverpool.  There, on April 21, 1855, they and 574 other persons boarded the Samuel Curling passenger ship, destined for New York City.  About a month later, on May 23, 1855, they arrived in New York.

On the voyage, the ship was filled with Mormon passengers.  A president and two counselors presided over the ship.  Under this presidency were subdivisions, called wards or branches, each directed by an elder or priest and his assistants.

The ward or branch leaders assured that the Mormons under their authority arose early in the morning and attended to prayers and breakfast, and cleaned their portion of the deck.  They held school for the children.  Church services were conducted several times each week.  Many people were converted to Mormonism as they participated with the Latter-day Saints in activities and church services aboard the ship.

Each passenger was given a meager allotment of food when he boarded.  The Passengers Act of June, 1852 specified what the ship’s agent was required to supply to each passenger.  The list of required provisions was minimal, consisting only of water, bread, flour, oatmeal, rice, sugar, tea, and salt.  The passengers cooked their own meals and had to make the allotment last for the entire voyage.

On the ship’s manifest, John listed his occupation as cutler.  Apparently he still viewed his prior occupation with fondness or pride.  Or perhaps he worked as a cutler in Sheffield while also working as a mail carrier.  He took a cutlery box with him to the United States with the intention of resuming the trade.  Unfortunately, he left the box with his uncle, Charles Willden, in St. Louis, Missouri, and never got it back.

When the family arrived in New York, they took a steam ship to Philadelphia, and then continued by train to Pittsburg, Pennsylvania.  From Pittsburg, they were scheduled to take the steamship, Amazon, down the Ohio River and then up the Mississippi to St. LouisMissouri, where Uncle Willden lived.  John was unintentionally separated from his family for a time when he missed the boat to St. Louis.  He was busy in town attending to business and didn’t finish before the boat and his family left without him.  He later caught up with his family in St. Louis.  We can only imagine the joy at that reunion, after the worry of accidental separation.

After visiting with Charles Willden in St. Louis, the family pushed forward.  They traveled up the Missouri River on the Ben Bolt steamship, and then gathered at Mormon Grove, Kansas (just outside Atchison) with the Charles A. Harper Company, a group of 305 like-minded pioneers, determined to walk to Utah under the direction of their captain, Charles A. Harper.  His group was designated as the “Sixth Company,” just one of seven companies traveling along the trail to Utah at the same time.

The Charles A. Harper Company contained two types of members, the “Independents,” who were paying their own way, and the “PEFs,” who had borrowed from the Perpetual Emigration Fund to afford the journey.  Between both groups there were 39 wagons, 440 oxen, 30 cows, 1 horse, and 1 mule.

At Mormon Grove, John and his family waited over a month for the trek to begin.  During the wait, tragedy struck.  A cholera epidemic hit the camp.  Their tender young son, John Alma, who was almost three, contracted the disease and died on June 26, 1855.  To add to the grieving parent’s despair, their baby, Anna Laura, not even a year old, also contracted cholera and died less than a month later, on July 23, 1855.  Both children were buried and left behind in Kansas.

A kind friend and fellow English traveler, Matthew Rowan (who later lived in South Cottonwood, Utah), composed a poem to commemorate the death of the Memmott’s two small children.  He presented John and Julia with the following lines:

“Away from this land,” said the voice of God,
“Far away with my people to dwell.
Thy fate’s in my hand, here and abroad,
So fear thee not, my son, all is well.”

He obeyed, embarked; sea and tempest roared.
With fearsome hearts, I trow did well.
Oh!  But one calm heart was still found on board.
It relied on the words, “All is well.”

Seas, rivers, and railroads were safely traveled.
Faith could numerous triumphs tell.
For in early hardship the word of God would say
“Bear up, my son, all is well.”

Next sickness and death of hardships, the worst,
Came wreckful, as though sent from hell,
On youth and aged, their fury they burst,
Oh! ‘twas hard then to say, “All is well.”

As the blooming flowers ‘neath the torrent’s rage,
Are crushed and washed away,
So two hopeful bees in their tender years,
Fell to the demon death, a prey.

Yes, the sweet John Alma sickened and died.
Next, darling Anna Laura fell.
A kind voice was needed then, from the skies,
To proclaim, “Even yet, all is well.”

For the dead shall live, and those mourned for two,
Shall on earth with their parents dwell.
God’s wisdom and power shall be brought to view,
And all tongues shall confess, “All is well.”

Their tears had not yet dried from Anna Laura’s death; but John and Julia buried their baby on July 24th, and began the trek west the following day.

When the Company reached Big Blue River, Captain Harper decided that he would save some money by fording the stream instead of paying for ferry service.  But because of the steep riverbanks, the depth of the water, and the strong current, Harper’s wagon and oxen were swept away when he tried to cross first.  Men on the riverbank were able to salvage Harper’s rig.  Other travelers were not so lucky.  One wagon overturned, putting its occupants’ lives at risk, spilling the contents of the wagon, and dumping twenty-two sacks of precious floor into the river.  A Frenchmen then tried to swim the river, but nearly drowned.

After some of the Company had safely crossed, the river began to rise, leaving the remainder of the wagon train on the other side, unable to cross.  Captain Harper kept the group waiting for eight days (presumably hoping the water depth would diminish).  Only then did he swap a wagon for the services of the ferryman to allow the rest of the Company to cross the river.

The Company faced many other adventures along the trail to Utah.  They had their cattle stampeded by a great herd of buffalo.  Outside FortKearney they saw Sioux Indians, who traded with them.  Shortly thereafter they learned that a General Harney had destroyed an entire Sioux community, killed one hundred Indians, and burned the Sioux village.  They saw the smoke of the burning village from their camp.

They faced rough weather, including a time at Cedar Creek, Nebraska, near Chimney Rock, when a thunderstorm blew down their tents.  Near Scotts Bluff, Nebraska, they saw abandoned trading posts, and suffered through a hail storm.

On September 13th they reached Fort Laramie, Wyoming.  The next day, Indians stole 150 horses from the Laramie herd.  They met friendly Crow Indians at Deer Creek (also in modern-day Wyoming).  On September 24th they traded with the Indians.

Near Independence Rock, Wyoming, Sioux Indians tried to get the pioneer train to pay tribute.  The Indians placed a man seated on a buffalo robe in the middle of the trail, to collect payment.  Because the settlers would not pay, the Indians followed along-side the group all day, loading their guns and making war demonstrations.  The Company was nervous and very alert.

Because they were short on supplies, the pioneers had sent word to Salt Lake City, asking for assistance.  When relief wagons arrived, the Company camped along SweetwaterRiver for ten days to allow themselves and their cattle to recover their strength.  While at Sweetwater, some of the men converted a tent for use as a fishing net, and caught “a great number of fish.”

On October 2, two women wandered away, causing alarm; but they returned that evening.  That same day, three men went to borrow shoes and nails for their oxen from another Company.  The men got lost.  Two of them eventually borrowed the supplies and found their way back, but the third man was still missing.  A search party was formed to locate him.  It had been snowing and was cold, and the missing man had left without a coat or food.  Eventually he was found “more dead than alive.”

After a difficult trek up the mountains, the Company finally camped at Big Canyon Grove on October 26th.  That evening they danced and sang, gave speeches, and honored Captain Harper.  The following day they crossed Big Mountain and arrived in the Salt Lake Valley on October 29th, the last family train of the year.

Elliot Willden, John’s cousin, lived in Cedar City.  John and Julia decided to make that city their home.  They traveled another 250 miles from Salt Lake City to Cedar City to set up housekeeping.  While in CedarCity, John’s last child, James Ammon Memmott, was born on October 22, 1856.

Four years earlier, in August 1851, an exploring party discovered rich deposits of iron ore in CedarCity.  In response to the discovery, Brigham Young sent a letter to the English mission requesting that experienced iron workers be sent to Utah.  As Sheffield, England was at the epicenter of cutting-edge steel manufacturing and iron production, and because John had experience in that industry, we may suppose it possible that John’s emigration to the Utah and move to Cedar City, were motivated, at least in part, by Brigham Young’s request.

The Mountain Meadows Massacre occurred while John lived in the Cedar City area.  Isaac C. Haight, the Mormon Stake President of Cedar City, met with John D. Lee, an area Bishop, on September 4, 1857.  At that meeting the Stake President told Bishop Lee to assemble Piute Indians for a planned attack on a wagon train of Arkansas pioneers traveling to California through Southern Utah.  The Stake President also sent a messenger to Brigham Young for instruction on the matter.

The Arkansas pioneers had reportedly threatened to destroy “every damned Mormon.”  Some of them claimed they had helped kill Joseph Smith.  At the time, the leaders in Cedar City also were under the belief that Utah was about to be attacked by U.S. armies approaching from the north and south.  The Arkansas settlers said they were going to wait for the armies and then join the soldiers in an attack on the Mormons.

After a few days of deliberation with the Stake High Council, President Haight had not received word back from Brigham Young.  Haight gave instructions for Lee to lead the priesthood brethren of the Stake, disguised as Native Americans, along with a contingent of Paiute tribesmen, in an attack on the Arkansas wagon train.  Together, the Mormons and the Indians murdered every man, woman, and child eight years of age or older.

Luckily, John Memmott was working with George Monroe in the mountains near Beaver during the Massacre.  He escaped the call to participate in the murders.

John’s daughter, Martha, was working for the woman whose husband had been sent to inquire of Brigham Young.  Martha recounted that when the husband returned from SaltLake, his wife asked what President Young had said.  The husband replied that President Young’s advice was to let the emigrants go unmolested.  Then his wife exclaimed, “I am afraid it is too late, the deed is done!”

John and Julia stayed in Cedar City for only a few years, and then moved on to Beaver, Utah, where they lived in the river bottoms below Beaver.

John continued to be active in church and community affairs in Beaver.  He helped with music, kept records, served as a school trustee, and helped build the old fort once located at modern-day Paragonah, Utah.

At times while in Beaver the family suffered deprivation from lack of food.  During one winter and the following spring, they had only bran bread to eat, which Julia disliked.  Then a kind neighbor, a Brother Polyicks, learning of her troubles, provided Julia with some wheat flour.

In about March, 1860, the family left Beaver in the company of other Beaver residents and settled close to modern-day Scipio.  At that time the area was called Robinsville, later renamed RoundValley, and also sometimes called Graball (because the original settlement was about two and one-half miles southwest of the current town of Scipio along a natural water course named Graball).

In 1860, John and the other settlers built a makeshift dam for irrigation on a stream about ten miles from town.  By March 14, 1861, they finished the foundation for a permanent reservoir using only sod and brush.

Due to a shortage of readily-available lumber, initially John built a dugout house, where he lived with his family until 1862.  When his brother, William, arrived from England in the fall of 1861, William’s family and John’s family all shared the dugout house.  The following spring, William helped John build a proper log home.

On March 4,1861, a branch of the Church was organized at Graball, initially under the supervision of the Fillmore Ward.  John and William actively served in the Church.  John was a ward clerk, and kept records of all the early Church affairs in Graball and Scipio up to the time of his death.  John also taught school.

John and Julia received their endowments and were sealed in the endowment house in Salt Lake City on November 14, 1862.  On their trip to the temple they stopped at the residence of their nephew, Thomas Memmott, in Payson, Utah.  On their return trip they again stopped at Thomas’ home, and Thomas and his mother traveled with John and Julia back to Round Valley/Scipio.  On the evening of the group’s arrival in Scipio, Thomas had an interesting discussion with John and a Brother George Monroe.  Thomas argued that Brigham Young was a prophet, but John and Brother Monroe believed and argued that Brigham Young was not a prophet.  Thomas was shocked by his brother’s view of Brigham Young.

William became the first Sunday School Superintendent.  William was commissioned as Postmaster of Scipio in 1864, a post he held for over thirty years, until 1895.  William was also an amateur dentist and doctor of sorts.  He and Henry McArthur were known for extracting teeth and setting broken bones.

Within just a short time after beginning to settle the Graball area, Indians became troublesome.  Brigham Young suggested that the settlers move away from the mountains, toward the center of the valley, so they could see the Indians coming.  In 1863, the settlers relocated to a new town site, as suggested by President Young.  John Memmott’s property was directly north of the town square, across from the church house.

On one of his annual visits to the area, Brigham Young and many members of the new town were gathered in the town square.  A Mr. Carmen raised the question of naming the town, and suggested it be called “Scipio.”  Scipio A. Kenner was present, standing near the southeast corner of the square.  Brigham turned to Mr. Kenner and said, “Yes, Scipio, we will name it after you.”  With that pronouncement, the name was decided.

In the spring of 1865, a conflict at Manti, Utah, between Mormon settlers and a young Ute Indian Chief named Black Hawk, started the longest and most destructive war between the Pioneers and Indians in Utah’s history.  A handful of Utes and frontiersmen were discussing the killing of pioneer cattle by the hungry Indians.  An angry, drunk Mormon settler pulled the young Indian chief from his horse.  The Indian, embarrassed, left with his pride wounded, promising to retaliate.

Black Hawk kept his word.  He began a series of raids on the Mormons, stealing their cattle and killing settlers.  Other Indians hailed Black Hawk as a hero, and flocked to his side, including neighboring Navajo Indians.

The Black Hawk War found its way to Scipio in 1866, when the Indians began to conduct raids on cattle and horses belonging to the townspeople.  An Indian raid on June 10, 1866 resulted in the death of James Russell Ivie (another of Glenda’s ancestors) and Henry Wright.  The following day, one of James Russell Ivie’s sons, James Alexander Ivie, sought revenge for his father’s death.  He succeeded in killing a friendly, old Indian named Panicari, who was believed to be a spy.

Because of their fear of the Indians, John and the other settlers tore down their homes in Scipio and used the logs to build a fort in the south central part of town.  The fort consisted of a group of one-room log houses built together in a square, with openings on the north and east sides of the square.  The town’s residents whitewashed the exterior of the cabin-fort and moved in together for protection.  They took turns guarding the fort and their animals (which were placed in corrals just outside the fort).

Unexpectedly, during the fall of 1866, on October 29, John died suddenly at age forty-three, leaving behind his wife and four children at the height of the Indian conflict.  John’s body was laid to rest on November 1, 1866 in the Old Pioneer Cemetery in Scipio.

Son James Ammon speculated that John’s death may have been caused by his work in Deseret, Utah, thrashing hay seed, where the hay seed dust caused breathing difficulties. However, John’s obituary reports that he died from Lung Fever, an earlier medical term for Pneumonia.[i]

[i] Vital Records, Cemetery, and Obituary Sources:  Birth Certificate:  No primary source of birth found, but primary source of christening on March 2, 1823 located at Bishop’s Transcripts for Aston-with-Aughton, 1602-1864, p. 23, entry 179 for March 2, 1823, LDS Family History Library British Microfilm Roll No. 919215, Item 1.  Marriage Record:  John Memmott-Julia Wilson marriage, 16 March, 1846, Brunswick Chapel (Wesleyan Methodist denomination) (Ecclesall Bierlow, Counties of York and Derbyshire), England.  Certificate supplied September 30, 2007 by General Register Office, England, Entry 36 for 1846.  Copy in the possession of Guy L. Black.  Note that Ecclesall Bierlow was not an actual town.  Instead it encompassed a large area for civil registration purposes (formerly a poor law union).  The actual location of the Brunswick Chapel was in Sheffield, York, England.  John Taylor, The Illustrated Guide to Sheffield (Pawson and Brailsford, Sheffield: 1879) p. 91.  Death Record: Headstone located in Scipio, Utah, Old Pioneer Cemetery, lists date of death as October 29, 1866.  All other known secondary sources agree with this death date, including all books by Clayton E. Memmott.  Grave Location and Cemetery Directions:  Located in Scipio, Utah, Old Pioneer Cemetery—Southeast corner of 200 South and 200 East, Scipio, Utah.  Obituary:  Salt Lake Daily Telegraph (Salt Lake City, Utah), 22 December 1866, page 3, column 1