WILLIAM DOUGLASS & AGNES CROSS DOUGLASS
Effie Douglass Townsend, who was born in 1876, was a grandchild of William and Agnes, the daughter of Joseph Smith Douglass. She was sixteen when William died and thirty when Agnes died. She well knew her grandparents and has often described them. She recounts that she had a vivid memory of both their appearances and personalities. Effie describes William as a real aristocrat and Agnes much like Queen Victoria:
“He appeared to be proud, yet underneath was sweet and humble. He did not waiver one instant in any decision for what he thought was right or righteous. Of medium height, possibly about 5 feet 6 inches, and inclined to be portly in his later years, he walked with head up and shoulders erect, carrying a beautiful gold beaded cane. This cane he did not need for any support, but was a customary part, like the heavy gold chain which he wore across his vest with the large gold watch carried in the left-hand pocket of his attire as a dignified gentleman.
Perhaps because of the fact that he had learned the tailoring trade in his early days, he had an innate taste for fine materials in his suits. Always he looked immaculate, so much so, that often he was held up for ridicule by the more careless pioneer types of the community. For the winter season he wore black velvet vests and in summer, white linen vests. I remember hearing this story about Grandfather’s white linen vests—it seems he wore a fresh vest every day and if he accidently got a little spot on the one he was wearing, he changed for a fresh one. Grandmother decided it was foolish of Grandfather to have a fresh vest every day when perhaps the used one looked perfectly clean so they folded the fresher looking ones, given them a quick run over with the flat iron and placed them back in the bureau drawer used for that purpose. The next day they found all the used, reconditioned vests crumpled on the floor. They could not fool Grandfather.”
William Douglass descended from a long line of fiercely independent and religious ancestors who fled Scotland during the persecution of the Covenanters in the early 1600’s and settled in the Six-Mile Water Valley of County Antrim, Ireland in what is known as the Irish plantation period.
William was born 2 February 1819 in Ballybentra Townland in the civil parish of Donegore, County Antrim, Ireland. The Douglass estate home and farm, called Summerdale, where William was born is still in use and in remarkable condition. He was the only known child of his parents, Samuel and Agnes Gamble Douglass. Agnes died before 20 November 1824 when Samuel married Mary Farrell. Samuel and Mary had one daughter and then three sons.
Samuel Douglass was a wealthy farmer who held a lease to one of the six farms in the Townland of Ballybentra, which is about twelve miles northwest of Belfast. The Ballybentra portion of the Douglass farm consisted of 83 acres and an additional 24 contiguous acres in the Townland of Ballysavage. Ballybentra abuts Ballysavage on its northern border. This brought the Douglass holdings to 107 acres, a very impressive property for that day. The Douglass farm was located adjacent to Castle Upton in the Village of Templepatrick.
Samuel, a staunch Presbyterian, gave his children every educational advantage. William attended school continuously from childhood until sixteen years of age. He was then given his choice of careers. Family legend indicates William followed his interests and chose tailoring.
This displeased his father who thought tailoring beneath the dignity of a member of the Douglass family. It is believed that their disagreement may have caused William to leave home. It can be assumed at that time William apprenticed to learn the art of tailoring, either in Ireland or Scotland, because in about 1841, at the age of twenty-two, he established himself as a tailor in the town of Campsie, Stirlingshire, Scotland. He soon built a prosperous business there.
There are different family legends that exist in relation to why William Douglass left his home and went to Scotland. As already reported, William’s father remarried soon after the death of his first wife, Agnes Gamble Douglass. As was then custom, when a man died his oldest son inherited the family property. While William was Samuel’s oldest son by his first wife, Mary also had an “oldest son” by Samuel. It has been passed down through the generations that Mary pushed to have her firstborn son inherit Ballybentra instead of William. Both, or either legend may be true. To date, there is no proof supporting either scenario.
He established a successful tailoring business of Campsey and it was here that he first heard the Gospel. He was baptized on 27 March, 1842, by Elder David Wilkie of Salt Lake City. Another early convert in Scotland was Agnes Cross who was also baptized by Elder Wilkie three days before William. William and Agnes courted and were married the next fall on 14 October 1842, at Belfast, Antrim Co., Ireland. This was the county of their birth and also the area where their first child, Margaret Sarah was born.
On 10 September 1844, they left Liverpool England, on the Ship "Norwalk,” to join the Saints in America. This was two months after the martyrdom of Joseph Smith on June 27, 1844, at Carthage Jail. They reached St. Louis on November 23, 1844 and stayed there over the winter. In the spring of 1845, they traveled up the Mississippi River and joined the Saints in Nauvoo. The question of succession had been settled and the Church was expanding under the leadership of the Twelve, This was a time of growth and development in Nauvoo and the Douglass' purchased a lot and built a home. William was ordained a Seventy in the Nauvoo Temple on 27 October, 1845, This was just after the October Conference in which President Brigham Young expanded the Seventies Quorums and announced plans for the orderly evacuation and journey west. The conference was held in the partially completed Nauvoo Temple and Brigham Young dedicated it as far as it was completed. The first ordinance work began in the temple on 10 December, 1845. This was a time of increasing alarm and persecution by the enemies of the Church.
The Douglass' second daughter Agnes, was born on 28 December, 1845, at Nauvoo. They had put all their resources in building their home in Nauvoo which they soon would be forced to abandon. The first emigrant companies crossed the Mississippi River in February 1846. Most of the Church Leadership left with them. Orson Hyde stayed in Nauvoo to supervise the completion and dedication of the Temple. He advised William and Agnes to go to St. Louis and earn the means to emigrate to the west. The Douglass' followed this council and left for St. Lewis on April 6, 1846. The Nauvoo Temple was completed and dedicated 30 April, 1846. About 1500 impoverished saints were left in Nauvoo and during the following summer were persecuted and driven across the Mississippi to the Iowa shore.
Both William and Agnes heard the principles of the Gospel of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints proclaimed by the missionary David Wilkie in the early spring of 1842. We learn from the diary of Andrew Sprowl that David Wilken preached in Charleston, Paisley Branch, February 17, and on February 28, 1842 he preached at Portland Street, Glasgow. The diary states Elder Wilkie again preached at Charleston on Thursday, May 28, 1842. In the summer of 1842, not long after Agnes and William’s baptisms, Elder Wilkie was sent to labor in Ireland very near the area that William and Agnes had been born and raised. William and Agnes were the only members of their immediate families to join the church. They too were among the early Mormon converts in Scotland.
On 14 October 1842, William Douglass and Agnes Cross were married in Belfast, County Antrim, Ireland. Their first child, Margaret Sarah Douglass who was named after Agnes’ deceased mother, was born on 4 August 1843 at her father’s birthplace in Ballybentra. We know from Agnes’ own hand that her firstborn, Margaret Sarah, was born in the Civil Parish of Templepatick (Ballybentra).
It is less than twenty miles across the channel from Stranraer, Scotland to Larne, County Antrim, Ireland, and throughout time it was common for people to cross back and forth for marriages, christenings, and the like. Stranraer was the closest Scottish port to Ireland. However, the Douglass’ ventured back and forth from Ireland to Scotland traveling by ship from Larne, Ireland to Campsie, Scotland, across the sea and on the Firth of the Clyde Waterway, a distance of approximately a hundred and sixty miles. While Stranraer was closer, the cloth industry center was in and near Paisley and Glasgow.
We are unable to say for a certainty whether they were still residing in Scotland after their conversion and traveling back and forth to Ireland to share their marriage ceremony and the birth of their first child with family still in Ireland, to be with or near Elder Wilkie and the members there, or whether they had returned to Ireland to live. However, the fact that they sailed from Scotland to Liverpool strongly suggests that they had maintained their residence in Campsie.
Five shiploads of Mormon emigrants sailed from Scotland to Liverpool, England in the year 1844. William, Agnes and baby Margaret sailed from Scotland to Liverpool on 10 September 1844. On Thursday the 19th they boarded the ship the “Norfolk” along with 140 other Mormon converts and at 3:15 p.m. sailed from Liverpool for New Orleans, Louisiana, landing on 11 November 1844. The “Norfolk” held the twenty-eighth company of Saints to sail for Zion in America, and was the first shipload of converts to sail after the Prophet Joseph Smith was martyred. They arrived in St. Louis, upriver, on 23 November 1844. Several printed family histories state the Douglass’ wintered in St. Louis until the spring of 1845 then resumed their travels to Nauvoo, Illinois. However, in her autobiography Agnes states, “…. in September 1844 and went to Nauvoo, Illinois, where we purchased land and built a brick house, which we were obliged to leave in the spring of 1846 on account of the great mobbings and persecutions from the ungodly.”
William was ordained a Seventy by Jedediah M. Grant in the Nauvoo Temple, 27 October 1845. He was a member of the 31st Quorum of the Seventies in the “City of Joseph”. There were a total of 33 Seventies Quorums in Nauvoo. The Seventies’ Hall was so busy that each Quorum could schedule a meeting only once every three weeks. On 17 January 1846 William Douglass’ name appeared on a list of the sixty-five members paying sixteen cents each for the purchase of consecrated oil for the Endowment and other purposes, and also for the assistance of Joseph Young, Senior President of the Seventies Quorums and the brother of Brigham Young.
William and Agnes’ second child, a daughter that they named Agnes, was born at Nauvoo on 28 December 1845, during the height of the persecutions.
Agnes continued her story with, “At that time the mob burned the property of the Saints and mobbed and murdered those who were unable to leave Nauvoo. We left Nauvoo on the sixth day of April 1846, my second child being then three months old.” This of course, was Agnes’ thirtieth birthday.
We feel great appreciation and affection for William and Agnes and their young family when we read her firsthand account of the persecutions and exodus of the Saints. “ We went down the Mississippi River as far as Keokuk on a flatboat and were one day and night out in a very severe rain storm without any shelter. At Keokuk we got on board a steamer and went on down to St. Louis, Missouri. We remained there until the spring of 1848. During that time my husband and I worked hard almost night and day, and accumulated a fitout (sic) of provisions, clothing, etc. for to last us 18 months and a team and wagon.”
It seems surprising that in Agnes’ autobiography she did not mention the fact that their baby daughter and her namesake, Agnes, died while they were in St. Louis earning the necessary funds to finance their trek westward. Agnes, born 28 December 1845 at Nauvoo, died fourteen months later on 24 February 1847. She is buried in the Old Methodist Burying Ground in St. Louis.
We gain insight to William’s character and personality from Orson F. Whitney. He reports, “In April, 1846, the exodus to the West having begun, he (William Douglass) left Nauvoo and went to St. Louis, where he worked at his trade for a time, and then engaged in the mercantile business. He would take goods into the country, sell them and solicit orders for more. He prospered in this line of work. He had a genial, lively nature, and was popular both with the people and with the merchants, who when he made known his intention of moving West, expressed much regret, and desired that he should take a stock of goods and continue business with them after he had reached his journey’s end. Having settled his affairs, and provided himself with a good supply of clothing, farm implements and provisions, he and his family set out for the Rocky Mountains.”
Agnes stated, “We left St. Louis on the 10th day of March with an ox team and arrived at Winter Quarters about the middle of April. We left Winter Quarters on the 17th day of May and on the 18th my oldest son, William John, was born in Potawatomy (sic) County.”
Additional details of their travels and the following account in Agnes’ autobiography are found in History of Utah. “They left St. Louis on the 10th of March 1848, traveling by team to Winter Quarters, where they arrived in time to join the first companies that emigrated to Salt lake Valley that season. They were comfortably outfitted with a new wagon, two yoke of oxen and two cows, and were organized in President Brigham Young’s company, first division, Erastus (sic) Snow, captain. They left Winter Quarters for the Elkhorn, where the companies were organized, on the 17th of May, and the next day, while still en route, Mrs. Douglass gave birth to a child, her eldest son, who was named William John. On May 21st they resumed their journey to the Elkhorn, and on the 2nd of June a general start was made for the mountains. The Douglass family arrived in Salt Lake Valley on the 23rd of September.”
Agnes provides us with personal details of that time with these words, “On the 19th my husband had to return to Winter Quarters to procure some articles that we were in need of and during the time he was gone a very severe storm came on and the sisters who were in attendance being weary had retired, leaving some of my clothing out on the line to dry and not wanting them to get wet I stepped out of our wagon in the strength of Israel’s God and gathered my clothes piece by piece until I had them all tucked in the front of our wagon and I was not one whit the worse for God had given me strength sufficient to my day.”
“On the 20th we resumed our journey, and crossed the Horn River (also called the Elkhorn) on the 22nd, on a raft of our <Latter-day Saint’s> construction, where we remained until the 22nd (sic) when we were organized into companies of one hundred teams each, and started on our way to the Rocky Mountains.”
“We were in the first company, Brother Lorenzo Snow, the Apostle our captain. We traveled over trackless prairies, made bridges and made our wagon roads, except some few times when we could find and follow the pioneer’s track, who had traveled the same road in 1847.”
“We arrived in Salt Lake Valley on the 23rd of September 1848, having stopped two days at Green River so that President Brigham Young and company might get in head of us. At the time when we arrived, there was not a street, house nor a fence where Salt Lake City now stands. All there was barren waste.”
William, Agnes, Margaret Sarah and William John Douglass were just four of the 4,000 Mormon pioneers who crossed the plains and arrived in Great Salt Lake City during the year 1848. Although they celebrated their safe arrival, they never forgot baby Agnes, born during the height of the persecutions in Nauvoo, who at the age of fourteen months they had buried in St. Louis.
We learn additional specific details pertaining to our pioneer’s trek across the plains from The Church Emigration Book, Volume 1, 1830-1848. The following chronological items give additional insight to the contributions they made and the challenges the Douglass’ and their fellow travelers faced:
1 May 1848 Brigham Young held a 10:30 a.m. meeting at the store in Winter Quarters. He said that those going west to meet at the Elkhorn. William’s company built a bridge over the Papillion River, as it shortened the trek over three miles
2 Jun 1848 (Friday) Lorenzo Snow’s Hundred started yesterday (Thursday, June 1st)
12 Jun 1848 Lorenzo Snow’s Company crossed the loup Fork on the banks of the Platte River
5 Jun 1848 They were on the banks of the Platte River and had traveled 21 days averaging 14 2/3 miles per day and they laid by for nine days (rested)
9 Jul 1848 W. W. Phelps composed the hymn, “The Saints Upon the Prairie” while with the first company, including the Douglass’, who were all in Ash Hollow area (The Second Division, under the command of Heber C. Kimball, was seventeen miles behind them)
12 Jul 1848 First Company in sight of Chimney Rock, Wyoming
13 Jul 1848 Camped at ancient bluff ruins, 419 miles from Winter Quarters, eighteen broken down wagons and six without cover who came from Salt Lake; on traveling days started about 7:30 a.m. and stopped for each day and unloosed the cattle at about 3:30 p.m.
19 Jul 1848 Laramie Peak in sight
20 Jul 1848 Porter Rockwell arrived in their camp and brought mail from Salt Lake City; stopped at Green River for two days
11 Aug 1848 Wolves mauled our stock in great number; passed under Independence Rock
16 Aug 1848 More cattle died; “bad water”
20 Aug 1848 Last crossing of the Sweetwater; Lorenzo Snow’s Company started across first
24 Aug 1848 frost in buckets, ¾“ of ice
30 Aug 1848 Wednesday On the Sweetwater, 764 ½ miles from Winter Quarters
16 Sep 1848 Ice freezes in buckets; frosty mornings
23 Sep 1848 Saturday First Company arrived at Great Salt lake City