Mormon Emigration

Hear, oh, ye undipt wretches, hear,
If ye in glory would appear -
If ye be saved, ye must revere
The saints of the Missouri
scurrilous verse by Tickler from Mona's Herald April 1841


Most family historians will be very familiar with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (the 'of latter day saints' was added to the original title in 1834) or 'Mormons' through their activity is making available microfilms of parish records and other genealogically related material. Fewer of them may be familiar with the early history of the Mormons.

The sect was born during the religious fervour that struck the USA in the 1820's - some hint of which may be found in the various letters of the early Manx settlers referring to nightly religious meetings. The prophet was Joseph Smith, a poor, Vermont born. teenager who claimed to have been visited by the angel Moroni and shown the location of a buried set of gilded plates. When, some four years later at the age of 21, he was 'allowed' to rescue them from their burial place near the family home in upstate New York, he discovered along with the leaves a pair of 'seeing stones' (the so-called crystal spectacles) which allowed him to 'translate' the 'Reformed Egyptian' hieroglyphics into English redolent of the King James Bible. As the angel had initially forbidden him to show the plates to anyone (though some 11 early disciples are on record as witnesses),and in fact later 'reclaimed' the actual plates before any critic could gain sight of them; he dictated the 'translation', from behind a blanket, initially to his young wife, but later to more effective scribes, and published them, in March 1830, as the Book of Mormon and some days later established the church (see my notes to Gunnison for more details etc). A characteristic feature of the future Mormons was then established - a strong, but absolute, theocracy with Joseph as its unquestioned leader. By 1832 he had won over some 1,000 converts; Brigham Young, the charismatic second leader, was converted later in 1832. Smith was also fascinated by the early concepts of Communalism and preached on the commonality of property. Accordingly the early converts made their own communities, originally in Kirtland, Ohio (about 11 miles from Lake Erie) and not that far from the early Manx settlers. This combination of strong religious beliefs, theocratic government (from which many early settlers had fled Europe) and a communal arrangement of society was bound to conflict with the American notion of the individual. The first, of many such attacks, took place in March 1832 when Smith was tarred and feathered. After this many moved on to Missouri, where again in 1838 they were driven out, this time to Illinois where they trekked under the command of Brigham Young. Across the Mississippi they built up the small town of Commerce, renaming it Nauvoo (from the Hebrew for 'beautiful place') until by 1844, with a population of 15,000, it was the largest in Illinois. In 1844 Smith went one step too far when he announced he was standing for President of the United States on a 'Theodemocratic' ticket coupled with the revelation of his polygamy. Reformers in his sect then openly attacked him, in response to which Smith ordered their printing press to be destroyed - this led to the arrest of Smith in June 1844 and his confinement to gaol in Carthage Illinois. Then followed an episode of lynching in which disguised militiamen shot Smith in the gaol and his bother Hyrum as he attempted to escape; John Taylor was also injured in this action. Young managed to hold onto power and kept the sect together. During 1845 plans were made to emigrate to the far west and thus covered wagons were manufactured in great number for the trek to Salt Lake City in Spring 1845. Although from then on the communal nature tended to be less stressed (though seen as an ideal to strive for); the tithing of produce and income by its members, built up this relatively unpromising land into today's state. A full description of early days in Salt Lake City, as well as a more extensive review of Mormon beliefs, can be found in Gunnison's The History of the Mormons of 1852. My introduction to that book gives more information of the much larger British emigration in which the Manx played only a tiny part.

Numbers within the British Isles

The Manx mission was a small part of a much larger British mission that started in 1837 and continued until the 1850's although once polygamy was fully known and promulgated in 1852 most Mormon missioning was subject to ridicule - a much more potent weapon than doctrinal attack. Probably 1851 (the year of the religious census) was a high point of the Mormon church in Britain; certainly the numbers of meeting places and adherents surprised everyone; Horace Mann included a good summary of the Mormons in his introduction to the report on the census. The census indicated 222 meeting places with, allowing for multiple attendance, an estimated following of some 25,000 to 30,000. By 1850 Mormon statistics indicated that some 17,000 English (presumably this included Scots, Welsh and Manx) converts had already sailed. Many more of these adherents would emigrate in the later push which coincided with the Crimean War of 1853-6 and the final push of 1868 by which time a total of over 30,000 emigrants would had left,. The Utah Encyclopaedia reports that in 1870 some 24% of Utah (then virtually entirely Mormon) were of British birth, which allowing for their American born children probably meant that around 50% of the population were of immediate British descent. Of the non-British, most were Scandinavian - products of a very successful mission in the early 1850's.

Evans gives the reported number of baptisms and emigrants for the British Mission (which included the Island) - as can be seen from the graph below baptismal rate plummeted after 1852 which corresponds to the acknowledgement of plural marriage (which was practiced for the previous decade, including by John Taylor, but though never explicitly denied was never acknowledged even in the light of persistent questioning)

Mormon Statistics

Post 1870 emigrant numbers generally exceeded baptisms (many of which would be children of existing converts) until assisted emigration finally ceased in the 1890's.

Missionary activities in the British and the European homelands of many of the converts, commenced in 1837 with a major push in 1839/40 and again in 1845. It was the second mission, coming in late 1839, that saw many of the senior figures in the church arrive in Britain - Gunnison may have struck a correct chord in suggesting that they were sent by Smith to remove them from the seat of power, as well as to remove them from possible future demands by Governor Boggs of Missouri for their extradition to face criminal trial. This second missioning effort breathed life into what had become a faltering mission, the Millennial Star was first published, from Manchester, in May 1840. Early Mormon missionaries were, as in Preston, initially invited to preach in small independent chapels 'being mistaken for itinerant Christian evangelists' - certainly many converts were from these independent primitivists and Methodist breakaways such as Robert Aitkin's Liverpool group (Aitkin who founded Colby chapel, was put forward as a Wesleyan minister by the IoM conference but was twice rejected by Conference). What is interesting from the maps provided by Day is to see how the Mormon strength was in counties, with the exception of the West Riding, adjacent to, but not overlapping areas of strong Primitive Methodism which also appealed most strongly to the poor.

Links with the Manx

The first missionary was John Taylor who arrived, from Liverpool, in September 1840. Probably a major reason was that his wife, Leonora Cannon (aunt of the famous George Cannon - q.v.), was born on the Island, though had emigrated with her employer to Canada where she encountered the somewhat younger Taylor as her Methodist class-leader; thus Taylor had a ready entrée to many Manx homes. He had spent the previous six months in Liverpool staying with George Cannon's family where he had made contact with a 'Mr Radcliffe, agent for the Bible Society' and with a 'Miss Brannan from the Isle of Man'. This later was almost certainly the extremely well known and redoubtable 'mangle woman', a Wesleyan Methodist, who had done much during the Cholera outbreaks in 1832/3 and was now a well respected figure among evangelical Christians as well as matron of Fort Street Hospital. She apparently gave John Taylor a frosty reception saying that he would only be welcome if his views were as other preachers of her acquaintance. Apparently this early indication of a cool Manx reception did not daunt him!

Taylor was accompanied by Hiram Clark, a 25 year old Blacksmith from Wells according to the Sheffield manifest, and a Liverpool convert William Mitchell; these two proceeded to Ramsey leaving Taylor in Douglas. Late in September 1840 he hired the Wellington Rooms for a series of lecture which provoked much controversy. The first report (cf. section on Manx Newspaper quotes) describes the continuous heckling of Taylor by 'a party of Primitive Methodists and a young man by the name of Gill, who is both an itinerant bookseller and a Wesleyan Methodist local preacher' at the lecture of Friday last Apparently the heckling was sufficient to end the meeting but not before Taylor had grudgeingly accepted an invitation to debate with a Mr Hamilton the following Monday which was duly reported, though in the report Mr Hamilton does not come out well 'However he managed to occupy his hour with the delivery of one of his favourite sermons on the origin, nature and design of the Gospel' but did not actually address the point of the debate. (The meeting was chaired by John Cain who was expelled from the Prims for his role in the affair). The Hamilton referred to was Thomas Hamilton, Primitive Methodist itinerant preacher who spent 1840/41 on the Island, coming there from missionary work in America; possibly the reporter had heard his sermon before!. One of the theological points mentioned in the report - that of the Catholic and Apostolic nature of the Christian church seems at this distance of time to be an extremely strange one to be argued between a Mormon and a Primitive Methodist! A subsequent letter referred to two pamphlets published by My Hays (presumably Robert Heys, Wesleyan Methodist Chair of the District and based in the Douglas/Castletown circuit July 1838/June 1841). Sometime in November the Manx Sun had obtained a copy of an American letter supposedly giving the true origin of the Book of Mormon. As much of the Sun's contents was 'lifted' from English papers no doubt it had first appeared across - there were apparently many such anti-mormon pamphlets etc. (see C. Foster 1989).

Taylor appears to have left the Island during December 1840 but not before J. Blakesly had arrived, from America, in November to continue the mission with Hiram Clarke. On Christmas day the two founded the Isle of Man Branch with John Barnes as presiding elder and John Mills, as teacher and presiding clerk. It was founded at the home of John Cowell, in Douglas, which place appears to have been used as the mission headquarters. In Feb 1841 it reported 70 members. The two American missionaries departed early 1841 leaving one of the Liverpool brethren to continue - this was presumably William Mitchell for he is reported by name in the Manx Sun of 14 May 1841.

Hiram Clarke, is noted as leading a group of 235 converts who left Liverpool on the Sheffield on 3 Feb 1841 which arrived New Orleans 30 March - examination of the manifest for the Sheffield does not indicate any Manx born or resident. Blakeslee is reported as continuing on the Island until Feb 1841; the local press reported the death of an elderly convert in the January of 1841.

Some of the local excitement must have spread across the Atlantic for in June 1841 a letter from J. Quilliam, in New York State, on the supposed Mormon Miracles appeared. An interesting comment in introducing this letter was "the main features of which [i.e. history of the Mormons] are already familiar to most of our readers" thus indicating the depth of coverage in the local press. Indeed Evans states "the stir occasioned by the Gospel introduction to the Isle of Man may well be said to be inversely proportional to the size of that land dot in the Irish Sea".

In 1841 a great conference was held at Manchester - Parley Pratt one of the original founders of the sect came to England to edit the 'Millennial Star' and oversee what by then was a very successful missionary activity. In his autobiography and journal we read

"We went on a short mission to the Isle of Man of late, and after preaching to vast multitudes the plain truth of the scriptures, they would mock and make light of the Bible, and everything quoted from it. The priests too were busy in church and chapel, in lying against and perverting the written Word, and thus inspiring the people with violence, hatred and every cruel work; yet we found the Saints rejoicing in the truth, and the honest in heart disposed to inquire into it."

Samuel Haining, who founded the Athol Street independent chapel wrote an extended pamphlet "Mormonism Weighed in the Balances of the Sanctuary and Found Wanting" in 1841. Another anti-mormon pamphlet was put together by Robert Faragher, editor of Mona's Herald, and a radical Methodist.

Mission work obviously continued for in 1842 we read of an intended 'dipping match' - however after this quiet reigns until early 1844 when reports of 150 converts leaving on the ship 'Glasgow' from Liverpool for St. Louis are carried. Unfortunately the manifest of the Glasgow is missing from the archives and thus cannot be used to construct a list of possible Manx emigrants. The ship with a party led by Hiram Clarke is mentioned in Sonne Saints on the Seas as departing Liverpool 5 Mar 1844 and arriving New Orleans 13 April 1844, from where the party reached Nauvoo on 26 April 1844 (other details lacking). The Glasgow burthen 594 tons built 1837 Master J.L.Lambert (Sonne includes a picture of the ship). It may be possible to build up a list of converts from the list of arrivals at Nauvoo though initial inspection has not proved hopeful.

In January 1845 a letter to the Manx Liberal reports a visit to the old Club Rooms, Society Lane where some 150, excluding Sunday School children, were sitting down to tea. This meeting place was still in use in 1852 but was not mentioned in Thwaites 1863 directory.

Taylor quotes a figure of some 46 Manx emigrants during the period 1850-1862 with a further 14 in 1863-70 - however it is not clear if these are complete (eg some may be counted under the much larger Lancashire figures or if the earlier figures include those who emigrated during the 1840's of whom there would appear to be quite a number)

There was no mention of any Mormon service in the 1851 religious census, however a pamphlet by Rev J H Gray of St Barnabas based on lectures given in 1852 states

A branch of this sect, consisting of about one hundred and twenty members, exists in this Island nearly one hundred Mormons live in the town of Douglas they have a place of assembly in Society lane, and on a sign-board attached to it, these word's painted--" Latter-Day Saints' Meeting House."

It is reported that several intend, at an early period, to leave their native Mona, to brave the dangers of the Atlantic and Mississippi, and the still greater dangers of a two thousand miles march across the interior of America, on their way to the Great Salt Lake, westward of the Rocky Mountains, where, at present, the Mormons have their chief settlement and their city of Zion


Manx Numbers post 1852

In 1852 Quiggin's Guide and Directory reports John Kelly as in charge (he is also named by Rev Gray) - this is John 'Bookbinder' Kelly who emigrated in 1853.

Joseph Lawson was reported as returning to the Island for a year from 1854 to 1855 and ministering to the Douglas church. That there was still a small group in the Island in 1866 is clear from the account of his later brief mission to his native land - some remnant of these would appear to be still present in 1889 when Lawson made another short visit. After this time nothing is reported until the 1960's.

Manx Converts

A paper of mine looks in more detail at the Manx Mormon Mission and Emigration - the following are the main points.

Perhaps the best known 'Manx' convert was George Quayle Cannon(1827-1901), nephew of John Taylor's wife Leonora, who emigrated with his parents and later became a counsellor in the First Presidency to John Taylor and Wilford Woodruff and US congressman - Moore gives a brief, and confused, biography in his Manx Worthies though here he is referred to as John Quayle Cannon. A detailed family history of the early years of the Cannon family is given in FHS Journal vol. 3 #4 pp66-74. George, his two brothers and a sister were all highly influential in the church.

Mathias and son Matthew Cowley were also influential in the Mormon church - another page gives biographies etc of these and other Manx Converts. One emigrant was Thomas Callister, a tailor, (b. 1821) who was converted during this mission and left for America in 1842 [fhsj1991] (the date of 1842 is that given in the article). Another recognised Manx emigrant was Joseph Cain

Four converts are named by Taylor : Charles and Ann Cowley (nee Quilliam ?) who had already left the Methodists - if the quoted letter is correct then it would seem that a number of other converts were drawn from this source; two others were John and Catherine Quayle.

See separate page for extended quotes from Manx Press




BS Labours of Love. A Manx Story (orig. Douglas 1859) reprinted with commentary by G. Pantin 1988 Douglas:Hospice Care - covers story of Eleanor (Nellie) Brennan


[note the number of books/articles published on Mormonism must by now run into the hundreds of thousands if not more (see Arrington & Bitton for a guide) - the following are those referenced or which have provided background for my paper]

General/J Smith

John L. Brooke The Refiner's Fire The Making of Mormon Cosmology, 1644-1844 Cambridge: University Press 1994 (ISBN 0-521-34545-6)

Fawn M. Brodie No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph Smith, the Mormon Prophet 2nd Ed New York 1985

L.J. Arrington & Davis Bitton The Mormon Experience: A History of the Latter-day Saints London: George Allan & Unwin 1979 (ISBN 0-04-289003-9)

John D. Gay The Geography of Religion in England London: Duckworth 1971, (ISBN 0-7156-0557-7)

Salt Lake City

J.W. Gunnison The Mormons or Latter Day Saints in the Valley of the Great Salt Lake London 1852.

Richard F Burton The City of the saints, and across the Rocky Mountains to California London: 1861

H. Howe Bancroft History of Utah 1540-1886 (vol XXVI of The Works of Hubert Howe Bancroft) San Francisco: 1889 (contains useful biographies of leading players)

M.R. Werner Brigham Young London: Jonathan Cape 1925

H. Horn (+ editors of Time-Life Books) The Old West: The Pioneers 1974 New York Time-Life Books - Chap 5 'The odyssey of the Saints' tells (with many illustrations) of the trek to Salt Lake City and the early days there.

AntiMormon Texts

J. Hyde Mormonism: Its Leaders and Designs 2nd Ed New York: Petridge & Co 1857 [an anti-Mormon text written by an apostate - contains much useful material]

Fanny Stenhouse The Tyranny of Mormonism or An Englishwoman in Utah London: 1888 (her husband also left the church and published much antiMormon material)

Terry L. Givens The Viper on the Hearth: Mormons, Myths and the Construction of Heresy Oxford Univ Press 1997 (ISBN 0-19-510183-9) - surveys the antiMormon literature - well recommended

C.L. Foster Anti-Mormon pamphleteering in Great Britain, 1837-1860 ,1989 Utah:Dept of History Brigham Young University

AntiMormon Texts (from Fundamentalist Protestant viewpoint)

Kurt Van Gorden Mormonism Michigan:Zondervan 1995 (ISBN 1-85078-165-6)

M & A. Thomas Mormonism: A gold plated Religion Alpha Books:Aylesbury 1997(ISBN 1-898938-32-6) [written by an ex-Mormon couple fills in much more of the social binding that gives Mormonism such a hold over its members; it also sketches the British history of the cult.]

Mormon Emigration

P.A.M. Taylor Expectations Westward: the Mormons and the emigration of their British converts in the nineteenth century 1965 Edinburgh

C.B. Sonne Saints on the seas A maritime History of Mormon Migration 1830-1890 ,1983, Salt Lake City: Univ. of Utah Press

John Taylor

B.H.Roberts Life of John Taylor 1893 - Salt Lake City Bookcraft ed 1963 reprinted 1994 (ISBN 0-88494-106-0)

Francis M. Gibbons John Taylor, Mormon Philosopher, Prophet of God 1985

Samuel W. Taylor The Kingdom or Nothing 1976

Manx Missioning

R.L. Evans A Century of Mormonism in Great Britain 1984 Publishers Press , (ISBN 0-916095-07-X) (especially chap 18 'Gospel Tidings to the Isle of Man')

J H. Gray Principles And Practices of Mormons, Tested in Two Lectures Douglas M.P. Backwell 1853 (a later edition is in Manx Museum Library)

Manx Converts

L. Callister The Callister Family IoM Family History Soc. Journal vol. 13 #2 pp60/63 1991

N. Crowe The Cannon Family of Eary ne Gowin, Kirk Michael IoMFam Hist Soc Journal vol 3 #4 pp66/74 1981

N. Crowe The Kellys of Ballabrew, Braddan IoMFam Hist Soc Journal vol 2 #1 pp12/15 1980

Letter from a Manx Emigrant in America [John & Catherine Quayle] Manx Liberal 21 Aug 1841


 [Genealogy Index]


Any comments, errors or omissions gratefully received The Editor
© F.Coakley , 2001