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September 1850

Events in George Q. Cannon’s journal for 1850

24 September

Called by apostle Charles C. Rich to serve mission in Sandwich (or Hawaiian) Islands

22 October

Near Sacramento, California, found “a regular apostate nest”

5 November

Saw evidence that peace was being taken from the earth as Joseph Smith had prophesied

22 November

Dream of Joseph Smith’s faith, followed by difficult but successful passing through the Golden Gate for the Sandwich Islands on the bark Imaum of Muscat

12 December

Landed on Oahu in the Sandwich Islands

13 December

Group went up the Nuuanu Valley, Oahu, to a mountain where they built an altar and prayed, feeling the Spirit of the Lord

14 December

Chosen by lot to labor with James Keeler on Maui

17 December

Arrived at Lahaina, the principal town on Maui

20 December ff.

Met governor of Maui

24 September 1850 • Tuesday

This Evening Gen. [Charles C.] Rich arrived at our place [Slap Jack Bar] upon the Middle Fork [American River], to make his final visit, it being his intention to leave for the [Salt Lake] Valley upon the 1st of Oct. ensuing. We were glad to see him for we had not, or at least I had not, seen him, since early in June <Bro. Amasa [Lyman] & him were up>; and we all looked anxiously for his appearance as we were in a little uncertainty as to what his counsel would be; he had hinted to me that I would have to go to the Sandwich Islands for the Winter as well as some others of the brethren among the rest Bro. Hy. [Henry] Bigler & Edgar Gibson, (who died the 5th Inst. [this month])49 This evening he asked if [I] had any objections to going? I told him that I was on hand to do whatever he thought best as Bro. [Brigham] Young had told me upon leaving the Valley to obey the counsel of Bro. Amasa Lyman and Bro. Rich and I should be blessed, this I felt determined to do as far as in me lay.50 He then told me that he should like me to go and he believed I would do good while there and would be blessed. He told me he would make out the necessary papers in the morning.

25 September 1850 • Wednesday

This morning I wrote home a letter to Aunt [Leonora Taylor] to send with Gen. R. After which I went down to our Camp from the store51 Bro. Rich had spoken to Bro. Whit Bigler the brethren about going to the Islands; and he set me to writing out certificates of good standing which he signed. He made out one of them for Bro. [Thomas] Whittle which he had not expected he was making every calculation upon going home but in this he met disappointment. Bro. [Robert] Boyd Stewart was sent to Oregon and Bro’s Whittle, Bigler, [John] Dixon, [James] Keeler, [Thomas] Morris, [James] Hawkins, [William] Farrer, and Bro. [John] Berry if he could not go home or preferred going to the Islands.52 He then blessed us all.53

I wrote a letter to Bro. Joseph Cain telling him about my mission and how things were going on about the Store. Bro. Rich started this afternoon. Bro. Hyrum [Hiram] Clark was expected to go along as President.54

28 September 1850 • Saturday

The brethren thought the water sufficiently low to commence work at building the dam.55

29 September 1850 • Sunday

Occupied in store all day.

30 September 1850 • Monday

The boys are busily employed putting up the dam.


  1. [1]Cannon’s Hawaiian mission has been one of the most studied aspects of his life. The general story, particularly Cannon’s association with Jonathan Napela and his work on the Hawaiian-language Book of Mormon, has been recounted in varying detail in more than half a dozen book-length studies, including Bitton, George Q. Cannon: A Biography; Flake, George Q. Cannon: His Missionary Years; Spurrier, Sandwich Islands Saints; Britsch, Moramona; Britsch, Unto the Islands of the Sea; Bock, “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in the Hawaiian Islands”; Harvey, “Development of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Hawaii”; Kahului Hawai‘i Stake, Stewards of the Promise. A number of articles dealing with Cannon’s mission experiences have also been published. Most of the works regarding Cannon’s Hawaiian mission were written without the benefit of his journals. These works, however, did use an account Cannon wrote of his experiences in Hawai‘i: My First Mission, which was drawn primarily from his journals.

  2. [2]In My First Mission, Cannon made note of his work on the translation of the Book of Mormon into Hawaiian: “The Lord plainly manifested that it was his will that this work should be done, and for its accomplishment, he opened the way most marvelously.” He further wrote that while “the publication of the Book was not a part of ‘My First Mission;’ . . . [a] sketch of the translation would not be complete without” an overview of a “few particulars respecting its publication” (Cannon, My First Mission, 64). Additional information about Cannon’s work on publishing the Hawaiian Book of Mormon can be found in Whittaker, “Placing the Keystone.”

  3. [3]For overviews of these gold missionaries and other Latter-day Saints in the gold fields, see Campbell, “Mormon Gold Mining Mission of 1849”; Davies, Mormon Gold; Owens, Gold Rush Saints.

  4. [4]Cannon, “Twenty Years Ago: A Trip to California,” 13.

  5. [5]The Middle Fork of the American River is located about halfway between Sacramento and South Lake Tahoe, California.

  6. [6]“Sacramento Intelligence,” San Francisco Daily Alta California, Aug. 5, 1850.

  7. [7]Farrer to Tibbets and Clawson, Nov. 26, 1855.

  8. [8]Bigler diary, “Book B,” Sept. 25, 1850.

  9. [9]“Sacramento Intelligence,” San Francisco Daily Alta California, Sept. 29, 1850. In July 1850, Amasa Lyman and Charles C. Rich wrote Brigham Young that the Latter-day Saint gold missionaries “have little money at present but are anxiously waiting for the waters to fall and are in hopes of better luck” (Lyman and Rich to Young and “Councell,” July 23, 1850, BYOF).

  10. [10]See Cannon to Joseph Cain, Sept. 26, 1850, in Deseret News, Nov. 16, 1850.

  11. [11]Bigler diary, “Book B,” Sept. 23, 1850.

  12. [12]Lyman and Rich to Young and “Councell,” July 23, 1850.

  13. [13]Evans and Cannon, Cannon Family Historical Treasury, 90.

  14. [14]Bigler noted of Rich’s arrival, “We were glad to see him for he seems to us like a father among his sons, advising us what to do for the best etc” (Bigler autobiography, “Book A,” Sept. 24, 1850).

  15. [15]Berry would start with the company but would later drop out to return to Utah.

  16. [16]Bigler diary, “Book B,” Sept. 25, 1850; C. C. Rich to Brigham Young, July 19, 1850, BYOF.

  17. [17]Cannon, My First Mission, 1. John Taylor was president of the Church from 1880 to 1887.

  18. [18]See Ellsworth and Perrin, Seasons of Faith and Courage, 3.

  19. [19]See Hansen, “Voyage of the Brooklyn,” 61; Bullock, Ship Brooklyn Saints, 66–73.

  20. [20]Cannon to [Leonora Cannon Taylor], Mar. 1, 1852, in “Elder’s Correspondence,” Deseret News, July 24, 1852.

  21. [21]Cannon, My First Mission, 9.

  22. [22]Kuykendall, Hawaiian Kingdom, 1:336.

  23. [23]Cannon, My First Mission, 14.

  24. [24]Cannon, My First Mission, 19.

  25. [25]Cannon journal, Dec. 27, 1900; spelling standardized.

  26. [26]Reddick Allred journal, Apr. 14, 1853.

  27. [27]One New York newspaper reported the first few months of work on the islands this way: “The Mormons are laboring on the Sandwich Islands, in companies of two, to convert the population, natives, foreigners, missionaries, and all, to their faith. It is not a little worthy of note, that, while in England and Scotland they have made converts by thousands, in Hawaii they have met with no success whatever” (Semi-Weekly Courier and New York Enquirer, in Journal History of the Church, Nov. 26, 1851).

  28. [28]Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, and Willard Richards to Parley P. Pratt, Oct. 23, 1851, BYOF.

  29. [29]Cannon, My First Mission, 35.

  30. [30]Cannon, My First Mission, 35, 44.

  31. [31]Cannon later commented that if circumstances had been different their success might have been even greater: “Had there been no priestcraft among them, misleading them and poisoning their minds against the truth, and tempting them with worldly advantages and popularity, the entire nation, I am convinced, could have been readily brought to receive and believe in the principles of the gospel. But everything was done to have them shun us, to inspire them with suspicion, to make us unpopular” (Cannon, My First Mission, 44–45).

  32. [32]Concerning his early public speaking efforts, Cannon noted: “The writer will probably never forget his first attempts at speaking in public. . . . He constantly suffered from this feeling of fear wherever he attempted to speak at [Seventies] quorum meetings, or testimony meetings, and, in fact, for some time after starting on a preaching mission” (Cannon, My First Mission, 1).

  33. [33]Cannon, My First Mission, 55–56.

  34. [34]Kuykendall, Hawaiian Kingdom, 1:7–9.

  35. [35]Kuykendall, Hawaiian Kingdom, 1:65–70.

  36. [36]A fictional version of these first missionaries’ experience is told in James Michener’s Hawaii. For scholarly treatments, see Kuykendall, Hawaiian Kingdom, 1:448; Phillips, Protestant America and the Pagan World, 88–113; Grimshaw, Paths of Duty. Along with additional companies of ABCFM missionaries, other religious groups also established themselves in the islands before 1850. These included Catholic priests, who first arrived in 1829, and missionaries with the American Seamen’s Friend Society, who began work in the 1830s with the sailors and haole who frequented the ports of Lahaina and Honolulu.

  37. [37]Sandwich Island Notes, 63.

  38. [38]Kuykendall, Hawaiian Kingdom, 1:269–98.

  39. [39]See Clement, “From Cook to the 1840 Constitution.”

  40. [40]Karren journal, Feb. 3, 1854.

  41. [41]Cannon, My First Mission, 36.

  42. [42]Cannon, My First Mission, 18.

  43. [43]Hammond journal, Feb. 8, 1854.

  44. [44]Cannon, My First Mission, 58–59.

  45. [45]A branch is a small local congregation of the Church. Larger congregations are called wards.

  46. [46]Cannon, My First Mission, 60–61.

  47. [47]Schmitt, Demographic Statistics of Hawaii, 10.

  48. [48]Cannon journal, Dec. 13, 1900; spelling standardized.

  49. [49]On July 19, 1850, Rich had written to Brigham Young of his intentions to call missionaries to Hawai‘i: “The Brethren who came out last fall and this spring as a general thing wish themselves back in the Valley again. I think there will be a general disposition to return home this fall which I shall incourage with the exception of those I intend to send on missions. . . . I intend sending some Elders to the Sandwich Islands and as many other places as I can, for I think they would be better imployed preaching the Gospel than spending their time in the Citys through the rainey season” (Rich to Young and “Councill,” July 19, 1850, BYOF). Bigler provided additional insight into Rich’s thinking: “His opinion was . . . it would cost us more to stay here and make nothing than it would if we went to the islands and preach[ed], in his opinion it would be the best thing we could do and the best Council he could give, it would be like killing 2 birds with one stone for we would live thare as cheap and perform a mission at the same time” (Bigler diary, “Book B,” Sept. 25, 1850).

  50. [50]On October 11, 1849, Cannon met Young on a Salt Lake City street: “He stopped his carriage to speak to me. I got off my horse & Shook hands with him; he blessed me & told me that I should be blessed & he would remember me & pray for me; this was a gratification to me having met him & received his blessing” (Landon, To California in ’49, 13).

  51. [51]Howard Egan envisioned a network of stores throughout the California gold fields that would be operated by fellow Latter-day Saints and called the Salt Lake Trading Company (Davies, Mormon Gold, 106, 158, 201–10, 228, 231). A well-documented store was located on the Merced River at Mariposa (near present-day Yosemite National Park); Cannon’s journal entry for October 20, 1850, suggests that the store he was associated with at Slap Jack Bar was a second establishment. Cannon became involved with the Trading Company because he had previous bookkeeping experience (Cannon, George Cannon, the Immigrant, 148). While the exact nature of the store Cannon ran is not known, Peter Decker, a non-Mormon miner on the Yuba River, left a description of stores in his area: “Our Bar is now honored with a store[,] which establishments on Bars are honored with that name when they keep flour, pork & liquors thrown on a pile under an arbor” (Giffen, Diaries of Peter Decker, 208).

  52. [52]The mission call also came as a surprise to James Keeler: “Brother Rich . . . apointed Several of the Boys to go to the Sandwic Islands on a mision which was rather unexpec[te]d to me but i told him that i was on hand to do as he should direct” (Keeler journal, Sept. 24, 1850). For Bigler, the call was neither unexpected nor entirely welcomed. While traveling to California in October 1849, he wrote, “Last night I dreamed I was not going for goal [gold] but was going to the Islands on a mission to preach the gospel” (Bigler diary, “Book B,” Oct. 16, 1849). He later noted that he “felt much disappointed in my calculations about going home soon, but as the Lord’s ways are different from man’s, all felt it was for our best good” (Bigler, “Personal Experience,” Mar. 12, 1896). A number of Latter-day Saints did accompany Rich back to the Salt Lake Valley later in the year (Journal History, Nov. 12, 1850). William Farrer explained that Berry was given “discretionary power to go or not, as his circumstances would permit” (Farrer diary, Sept. 25, 1850).

  53. [53]This blessing refers to setting them apart as missionaries. Bigler reported that Rich also instructed them “to act as the Spirit dictated after we got there” (Bigler diary, “Book B,” Sept. 25, 1850). Bigler later expanded Rich’s instructions to read that “when we arrived at the Islands [we were] to act as the Spirit dictated in regard to our duties saying that we would know better what to do or what course to pursue better than he could tell us” (Bigler autobiography, “Book A,” Sept. 25, 1850).

  54. [54]Bigler noted that they had not seen Clark, “neither do we know where he is . . . and should anything turn up that br. Clark did not go then the presidency of the mission would fall upon br. Whittle” (Bigler autobiography, “Book A,” Sept. 25, 1850). In addition to the missionaries Cannon mentioned, Hiram Blackwell, who had previously labored on the Middle Fork, was also appointed to the mission (Farrer diary, Sept. 25, 1850).

  55. [55]A common practice among gold miners was to build a “wing dam” by which water was diverted from a river by means of a side ditch to expose the river bed (Holliday, World Rushed In, 331, 373–74). Wing dams regularly failed because of poor construction or because of increased river flow. According to Bigler, the Mormons at Slap Jack Bar had experienced both: “We had the dam nearly completed at one time when there came a freshet [a sudden rise of water] and swepted it all away and another time it gave way” (Bigler autobiography, “Book A,” Oct. 6, 1850). On September 24, the day Rich arrived at Slap Jack Bar, the missionaries’ dam gave out because of heavy rains. Cannon provided an account of what transpired: “Saturday last [September 21] it commenced raining, and we were not able to do anything in the claim; Sunday was fine, and Monday the river had so raised that work could not be done; but this night it descended in torrents without intermission all night; Tuesday evening the stream rose several feet in a few minutes, it carried everything before it with irresistable force;—rockers, pumps, boards, etc., etc.” (Cannon to Joseph Cain, Sept. 26, 1850, in “Latest from California,” Deseret News, Nov. 16, 1850). The Daily Alta reported concerning the flood: “The water had just fallen sufficiently to test the beds of the streams. . . . The dams all along have been more or less injured, whilst a number have been entirely swept away—thus destroying every prospect, and blasting every hope [this fall], so far as the river bed diggings are concerned” (“Sacramento Intelligence,” San Francisco Daily Alta, Sept. 29, 1850). Although prospects for immediate success appeared dim, Bigler related that the missionaries planned to finish working their “claim in a few days and then leave for our field of labour” (Bigler diary, “Book B,” Sept. 25, 1850). Farrer spent September 26 and 27, two days Cannon did not write in his journal, waiting for the water level to drop so that work could begin again on the dam (Farrer diary, Sept. 26–27, 1850).