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Priscilla Merriman Evans, Account of Relief Society in 1856–1870, as Recorded in Autobiography, circa 1907 (Excerpt)

Priscilla Merriman Evans, Autobiography, [ca. 1907], pp. 42, 48, 51–54 (excerpt); Emma Priscilla Evans Little, Papers, 1870–1941, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, UT (MSS 357).

See images of the original document, courtesy of Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, UT.


Priscilla Merriman Evans preserved a record of Relief Society activities in Spanish Fork, Utah, by including in her dictated autobiography excerpts from the no longer extant “old Book” of minutes and accounts she had kept as the organization’s secretary. Priscilla Merriman, born at Mounton, Wales, was baptized in 1852 at the age of seventeen. She married Thomas D. Evans, a Welsh missionary, in 1856—two weeks before the couple set sail from Liverpool for Boston. They traveled by cattle car to Iowa City, where they joined a group of Welsh converts walking with handcarts to the Salt Lake Valley. The Evanses settled in Spanish Fork, where over the next two decades they raised twelve children.1

In 1850 Latter-day Saint settlers began to cultivate land about sixty miles south of Salt Lake City in the river bottoms of the Spanish Fork River. Settlers erected a fort in 1854, and a year later the territorial legislature granted Spanish Fork a city charter.2

Priscilla Evans had lived in the city nearly a year when, in 1857, visiting patriarch John Young met with about forty women to organize a Relief Society, naming Rhoda Snell as president. “Because of the scattered settlement and in order to do more efficient work,” one account explains, the ward was divided into districts (first three and later four) to facilitate women’s visiting in order to assess needs and collect donations. Each district had a Relief Society presidency and kept its own accounts.3

Evans served as secretary in the second district (her account speaks of the Second Ward, but Spanish Fork was not divided into four wards until 1891). Evans served as Relief Society secretary until 1875, when her husband was called on a mission to Europe and she asked for a release. “At that time I already had 10 children,” she wrote. “In all those years since the Organization of the Female Relief Society, of Spanish Fork, in 1857 I had done the secretary work, kept all Books and accounts, for the Society. I always attended my meetings when able.”4

Reading from her old record as her daughter Emma Priscilla Evans Little took down the dictation, Evans noted changes in officers, donations made, and a few of the names of those who contributed goods, time and labor, or money. While most individual ward Relief Societies north of Provo disbanded when the Saints moved south to Provo in 1857, the district Relief Societies farther south in Spanish Fork continued to function. In 1871, as part of the movement to reestablish the Relief Society in every ward, Eliza R. Snow, Margaret T. Smoot, and Elizabeth A. Howard visited Spanish Fork and assisted in reorganizing the city’s four Relief Societies into two, and, as Evans recorded, “encouraged the Officers and members to do their duties and live up to their responsibilities.”5


Priscilla Merriman Evans

Dictated by herself and written by her daughter, Emma P. Evans Little. . . . [p. 42] . . .6

We reached Salt Lake City. Oct 2—1856.7 Tired, sick foot sore and weary Wm R. Jones8 met us at the public Square9 Salt Lake City, and took us down to his home 60 miles distant, to Spanish Fork in Utah Co. We stayed with him about one month then went to live in the family of Stephen Markham. His family consisted of himself, three wives, seven children, when he took in I and my husband. They lived in a “Dug out”—It was a very large room built half under ground, with a fireplace in one end, and a dirt floor. Lumber was very scarce and three bedsteads were constructed from poles, and rawhide, cut in strips and laced back and forth making a nice springy bed. For the children they had “Trundle” beds with little wooden rollers on, and in the day time those little beds could be rolled under, their mothers bedsteads to utelize space. The dear generous big hearted Stephen Markham took us in to his large family and made us feel like one of them. Mr Markham had been one of the Prophet Joseph’s body guard, and went all thru the drivings and persecutions of the Saints, and his great heart was ever open to the wants of those less fortunate than himself.10 . . . [p. 48] . . .

Perhaps this would be an appropriate place to insert some of my Relief Society work.

The very first Organization, of the Four Wards of the relief Society Was Organized by “Uncle John Young” in the “Old Bowery.”11

as I have to deal with what was the Seccond Ward I will begin with my work.

1st Journal of meetings of the Female Relief Society of Spanish Fork City Utah Co, Utah. Sept 16th, 1857.

The sisters met with a few of the Bretheren at the home of Charles A. Davis.

Meeting opend by singing. Prayer by Bishop John L. Butler.

After singing some instructions were given by Bishop John L. Butler. in regard to moving out as a Female Relief Society. (By the way, Bishop John L. Butler was the first bishop of Spanish Fork. Utah.12 [p. 51]

The following Officers, were selected and and unanimously Sustained.

President

Lucretia Gay.

1st Councilor

Armelia Berry

2nd ˝

Letetia Davis

Tressurer

Ruth Davis

Secretary

Priscilla Evans.

Mrs [Hannah] Beck was nominated Secty first, but as she could neither read or write. they Sent for me I was sustained as Sec’ty. altho I had come in with the Hand Cart Co, and had a young babe.13

Priscilla Evans.14

The Teachers were also selected and sustained, and the names of 40 members enrolled. The above is a copy taken from my old book of the First Organization, of the 2nd Ward. Female Relief Society of Spanish Fork City Utah Co Utah Sept. 16th 1857.

Thomas D. Evans and Priscilla Merriman Evans

Thomas D. Evans and Priscilla Merriman Evans. Circa 1901. Handcart pioneers Thomas and Priscilla Evans had lived in Spanish Fork, Utah, for about a year when Priscilla began keeping the minute book for one of the districts in the newly established Spanish Fork Relief Society (1857). Photograph by George Edward Anderson. (Courtesy L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, UT.)

There are pages of donations, For the Poor, for the Emmigration fund,15 Temple donations, Flour and all kinds of food gather’d to pay for work done such as Temple clothing and aprons. Carpenter work &c a Sample of donations in early days are as follows. Mary Thomas 3 nails calico,16 Lydia Markham 1 Pr of wool socks $125. Thirza Thurber, 1/4 yd calico. Adeline Allan [Sarah Adeline Allen] 3 nails calico. Priscilla Evans calico 15 cts Lucy Allen 1 skein of thread 15 cts Wool was 40 cts pr lb. Thread 15 cts skein. Calico 40 cts pr yd. Hickory shirting 40 cts when you could get it.

Here is a little coppied from the “old Book” while Mrs Gay was Pres. Feb 12th 1858. an account of work done to fit out the bretheren who went to Echo Canyon to meet Johnsons Army. in defence of Zion.17

Lucretia Gay worked 10 days carding and spinning wool for shirts. she furnished half lb of wool. worked four days carding & and spinning “hair” for Lariets. for the bretheren18 she worked one day, and donated cloth for one pr of garments $2.40 she also helped to make a pr of Pants and she made, one pr. of mittens. Armelia Berry worked six days knitting. and donated one wool shirt $5.00. Ruth Davis worked five days at sewing and donated 3/4 yard of cloth for sleeves of shirt. Lydia Markham worked 1½ days carding hair. one day quilting, one and half day making garments. She also donated one wool blanket $7.50. Some of the bretheren who were disabled and could not go, sent their clothes [p. 52] Thomas D. Evans let Harrison Beck take his over coat, and another man took his boots. Martha Davis [David] worked two days carding hair, and donated two skeins of wool yarn. Hariet Simmonds [Simmons] donated 1/4 yd calico, and three knots of wool yarn.19 The above is a sample of the workings of the Female relief Society only of course many donations for different purposes. They made quilts, and all kinds of clothing It was all done by hand as there were no sewing machines. Some of the old Nauvoo Sisters20 have sheared the sheep washed, carded, and spun, and wove the cloth, and made it up in to clothing by hand. for their husbands and families This kind of work was done to fit out the bretheren who went to meet Johnsons Army. Sister Gay and her councilers Presided nine years when they <she> wished to be released owing to ill health and old age

The reorganization of the Second Ward Female Relief Society.

The seccond Ward Female Relief Society, met in the little white “School House” Feb 14th 1866.21 Bishop [Albert] Thurber was filling a mission in England and Geo A Wilkins [George Washington Wilkins] Presided.22

The following officers were set apart for their various offices by Pres. Geo A. Wilkins, Pres of Teachers Thomas D. Evans and Teacher Andrew Ferguson. Feb 14th 1866.

“The Officers were chosen as follows.

President

Letetia Ann Davis

1st Coun.

Hariet Simmons.

2nd ˝

Sarah Brockbank.

Treasurer.

Thirza Thurber.

Secretary

Priscilla Evans.

Eight Teachers more were nominated and sustained and the names of more members enrolled. The history of the next four yrs. is about like the past nine yrs. There are pages and pages in the old book of meetings, with a record of work done and credit, for scraps for quilts, wool, thread, yarn, flour, food, and evry thing that could be used. They paid $10.65 to get a box made for scraps and records. they donated and bought silk worm Eggs. and set out Mulbery trees, as counciled by the presiding sisters, The silk industry was a failure here.23 They made a great many quilts and they ranged in price from $8.00 to $15. cradle quilts four dollars. [p. 53]

When the Militia was organized in Spanish Fork, the R. S. made their tents for them by hand.24 On training days, they looked like an Army. They would take turns meeting in diferent places, from the settlements around. In Spanish Fork when the Visitors would come, they would pitch their Tents, South of town across the river and camp. They would train and have sham battles, and all kinds of interesting skirmishing. There would be hundreds of people there to view them. Government put a stop to the Training in Utah.25 I suppose they were affraid they would get to be too efficient. in fighting. Letetia A Davis Presided four years. when she was released on account of failing health. She died Jan 26th 1872. . . . [p. 54] . . .

Footnotes

  1. [1]Priscilla Merriman Evans, Autobiography, ca. 1907, Emma Priscilla Evans Little, Papers, 1870–1941, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, UT, 42, 44–46, 58.

  2. [2]“Descriptive,” and “History,” entries for 1854 and 1855, in Spanish Fork Ward, Utah Stake, Manuscript History and Historical Reports, 1851–1900, CHL.

  3. [3]“Relief Society,” in Spanish Fork Ward, Utah Stake, Manuscript History and Historical Reports, 1851–1900, CHL.

  4. [4]Evans, Autobiography, 57.

  5. [5]Evans, Autobiography, 54; see also Part 3 herein.

  6. [6]text: The ellipsis points in this excerpt have been supplied by the editors of this volume to indicate omissions from the original document.

  7. [7]Evans and her husband were members of the third handcart company of 1856, captained by Edward Bunker. It numbered 320 immigrants, nearly all Welsh. The journey to Salt Lake City from Iowa City lasted from June to October. (“Immigration to Utah,” Deseret News, Oct. 15, 1856, 254; “Foreign Correspondence: Iowa,” Latter-day Saints’ Millennial Star, Aug. 2, 1856, 18:489; Edward Bunker, Autobiography, 1894, CHL, 22–23.)

  8. [8]Jones was an 1854 immigrant from Wales. Evans’s husband likely knew Jones from the branch in Merthyr Tydfil. (Emigration Book C, 1854–1855, Manifest for Ship Golconda, 15, European Mission, Emigration Records, 1849–1925, CHL; Evans, Autobiography, 44–45.)

  9. [9]The public square was known at the time as Union Square. The site, located between present-day 200 and 300 North Streets and 300 and 400 West Streets in Salt Lake City, was occupied by the University of Deseret (now the University of Utah) in 1884 and by West High School beginning in 1901.

  10. [10]Markham traveled to Utah in the original pioneer company of 1847. He served as bishop of the Palmyra Ward, seven miles south of Provo, from 1853 until 1856, when the settlement was abandoned and Spanish Fork was established on higher ground. (Andrew Jenson, Latter-day Saint Biographical Encyclopedia: A Compilation of Biographical Sketches of Prominent Men and Women in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 4 vols. [Salt Lake City: Andrew Jenson History Co., 1901–1936], 3:676–677.)

  11. [11]The Spanish Fork Relief Society was organized September 14, 1857, by Patriarch John Young, brother of Brigham Young, widely known as “Uncle John.” The bowery was located in the city’s public square. (“Relief Society,” in Spanish Fork Ward, Utah Stake, Spanish Fork Ward Manuscript History and Historical Reports, 1851–1900, CHL; Elisha Warner, The History of Spanish Fork [Spanish Fork, UT: Press Publishing, 1930], 75.)

  12. [12]Butler served as bishop of the Spanish Fork Ward from 1856 until his death in 1860. Priscilla Evans incorrectly identified him as the “first bishop of Spanish Fork.” The first bishop was William Pace, who served from 1851 to 1856. Butler succeeded Pace when the latter was appointed to serve a mission in England. (“Diagram of the Bishopric of the Spanish Fork Ward,” and “History,” entry for 1856, in Spanish Fork Ward, Utah Stake, Manuscript History and Historical Reports, 1851–1900, CHL.)

  13. [13]The “young babe” is daughter Emma Priscilla Evans, born December 31, 1856. (Evans, Autobiography, 48.)

  14. [14]text: This note appears next to the list of officers and is inscribed sideways running up the page.

  15. [15]The Perpetual Emigrating Fund.

  16. [16]“Nails” refers to a measurement of fabric. One nail equaled one-sixteenth of a yard or two and a quarter inches. (“Nail,” in An American Dictionary of the English Language, ed. Noah Webster [New York: S. Converse, 1828].)

  17. [17]In 1857 President James Buchanan sent a federal army to Utah in response to reports of a Mormon rebellion and to accompany a new governor who had been appointed to replace Brigham Young in that office. Led by Albert Sidney Johnston, the expedition was often referred to by Latter-day Saints as “Johnston’s Army.” On the Utah War, see William P. MacKinnon, ed., At Sword’s Point, Part 1: A Documentary History of the Utah War to 1858, Kingdom in the West: The Mormons and the American Frontier 10 (Norman, OK: Arthur H. Clark, 2008).

  18. [18]The women likely spun animal fibers into strands to be woven into ropes. These ropes were then used as lariats to lasso horses or cattle.

  19. [19]A “knot” of yarn measured 2,960 inches (82.222 yards), and ten knots made a skein. (Nancy Dick Bogdonoff, Handwoven Textiles of Early New England: The Legacy of a Rural People, 1640–1880 [Harrisburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 1975], 36.)

  20. [20]Lucretia Gay (mentioned earlier in this paragraph) may be the “Mrs. Gay” listed as affiliating with the Female Relief Society of Nauvoo on June 9, 1842. (Document 1.2, entry for June 9, 1842.)

  21. [21]Schoolhouses were often the first buildings built in a new community and served multiple uses. The “little white school house” was built in 1865 near the public square. (Warner, History of Spanish Fork, 91.)

  22. [22]Thurber was bishop of the Spanish Fork Ward beginning in 1863, but he served a mission to Britain in 1865–1866. After returning, he again served as bishop until 1874. Wilkins served as a counselor to Bishop Thurber and presided over the ward in Thurber’s absence. (“History,” entries for 1863, 1865, 1867, 1874, in Spanish Fork Ward, Utah Stake, Manuscript History and Historical Reports, 1851–1900, CHL; William G. Hartley, Another Kind of Gold: The Life of Albert King Thurber, a Utah Pioneer, Explorer and Community Builder [Troy, ID: C. L. Dalton, 2011], 477.)

  23. [23]Latter-day Saint attempts at sericulture in early Utah date to the late 1850s. Brigham Young, who planted his own mulberry trees in 1866, invited women in an April 8, 1868, conference to pursue silk-raising as part of the Saints’ movement for economic self-sufficiency. Relief Society leaders supported the venture, which persisted into the 1890s but ultimately did not succeed. (Document 3.4; Chris Rigby Arrington, “The Finest of Fabrics: Mormon Women and the Silk Industry in Early Utah,” Utah Historical Quarterly 46, no. 4 [Fall 1978]: 376–396.)

  24. [24]The militia’s Second Division was organized in May 1866 in response to the Black Hawk War, a series of conflicts in central Utah between Indian tribes and settlers. Bishop Albert K. Thurber was elected commander of the Second Brigade. (Hamilton Gardner, “The Utah Territorial Militia,” unpublished typescript, [not after 1959], copy at CHL, 545–546.)

  25. [25]In September 1870 Utah governor J. Wilson Shaffer issued a proclamation forbidding all musters, drills, and similar activities. (Gardner, “Utah Territorial Militia,” 597–598.)