On the 18th of December I was married to Rachel Thompson who was born March 31, 1835, at Barrowden, Rutland, England. She joined the Church of Jesus Christ in April 1849 and we made all preparations to go to America with the view of gathering with the saints and the branch where we lived got up a farewell party and I composed the following:
Oh England is my native land
Where I was bred and born,
And friends they now begin to weep
To think that we are going.
Here's a memory of all kind friends
Whom we shall leave behind,
And we are far in the West
We'll bear them in our mind.
Where is it that you are going?
And what is your intent?
How can you go and leave us
While we towards you are bent?
It is my full intention
To do the will of God,
And go away to Zion
Beyond the swelling flood.
There is a place for ain the West
Where we hope soon to be,
And there's a people in the place
With whom we wish to be. [p.13]
The time it now is drawing nigh
When we must bid adieu
To this our native country
And those we love so true.
And now we are quite ready
To leave this land of woe,
For the vessel is preparing
In which we're bound to go.
Now to all that would be happy
We say true Mormons be,
And for yourselves you'll surely gain
A heavenly jubilee. [p.14]
And we bid our fathers, mothers, relations and friends farewell and started out from Liverpool about the 15th February, 1855. Calling on, and spending one night each with my wife's sister and aunt, and arrived in Liverpool about the 20th, and arriving there later in the evening, we went direct to the emigrants home, where we found a large number of Saints who were to sail with us had already arrived. The ship on which we were to sail was not yet loaded and those who had money stayed on land and those who had none had to go on the ship and live until it was loaded and ready to sail, and we were among the latter. When we were ready to sail, Franklin D. Richards, who was presiding over the saints in the European Mission, came on board and bid us God speed on our voyage and said, "Although we might be dismasted or our ship loose its rudder, we would land safely at our destination." As the steamer came in to tow us out to sea many of us went on deck and joined in singing the hymn on page 241 of the Latter-day Saints hymn book:
"Yes, my native land I love thee,
All thy scenes I love them well;
Friends, connections, happy country,
Can I bid you all farewell?
Can I leave three [thee],
Far in distant lands to dwell?" [p.15]
Then as we were being towed along by the steamer, many of us looking back on the land of our birth for the last time, we sang the hymn on page 239 in the same book:
"The gallant ship is underway
To bear us off to sea,
And yonder floats the steamer gay
That says she waits for me. &c."
We were now on a old American packet ship Siddons bound for Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and we set sail on the last day of February, 1855. It was a lovely day with a fair wind. In the afternoon we saw in the distance that beautiful "Emerald Isle," the home of the shamrock and ivy so green. As night came on the wind rose and the old ship pitched and surged and a good many were seasick before morning. Among them was my wife who was very sick and she continued very sick. We were overtaken by a very heavy south wind and was driven out of our course to the north, and storm raged but when the wind did cease it was a dead calm, not enough wind to steady a sail and the sea rolled mountains high. My wife had been very sick all the time we had been sailing and for the first time I took her on deck alone. All the time till then two of us had to assist her up, and as soon as we got on deck the old ship shipped a very heavy sea and about filling the decks with water and swam both of us bumping back and fore till a young man named Hector McQuarrie rushed to our assistance. Whether the salt water was cause or not I cannot tell, but she continued to improve from that time on until she was nearly well when we landed. One night when the wind was blowing we were all aroused by the guard between decks giving the alarm that water was in the ship and it was thought that the ship had sprung a leak below water mark. So, [p.16] sufficient male passengers were placed on deck to man the pumps and all the others were ordered below and the hatchways fastened down and there was great excitement among the passengers. When all was in commotion the second mate, who was very rough man both in language and action, opened the hatchway and at the top of his voice shouted, "The ship is sinking and we are all going to hell together."
Thursday, April 23, 1896. [ATKIN'S AUTOBIOGRAPHY WAS FIRST PUBLISHED IN ST. GEORGE IN 1896, THIS MAY ACCOUNT FOR THE DATE DISCREPANCY AS THE CORRECT DATE IS 1855] Apostle John Taylor met us at the dock as also quite a number of Latter-day Saints who took us to their homes and made us welcome. But we will have to go back to the dock where we took off our luggage. While we were on the dock, a long line of us, a man came along inquiring for a young man and his wife that would like to hire out on a farm and as I had heard so many of our brethren answer "yes" I came to the conclusion that he did not want anyone, but he finally came to me and asked the same question and I also answered "yes."
He asked me if I had a wife and I said I had, and introduced her to him. He then asked if I had any recommend from any parties I had worked for. I told him I had not. He then said my wife was a very good recommend and I believed him. He then asked us to go to a certain address as his sister was staying there and she wanted to hire a man and woman to go out thirty miles on a farm, and as we had no money to enable us to continue any farther westward we were thankful for this opportunity, and accordingly went to the place appointed and we made a bargain to go and work for $15.00 a month and they furnish us bed and board. Apostle Taylor called a meeting of all the Saints who were going to stay around there, as also the Saints who were living there, and gave us a hearty welcome to the [p.17] land of our choice and gave us some excellent council and asked us each and all if we would be willing, if we were able to get work or were sick, to help each other. We all agreed that we would and he blessed us in the name of the Lord and then myself and wife started for our new home by railroad to West Chester, Chester County, Pennsylvania, thirty miles distance from where we landed.
Thursday, April 30, 1855. On our first railroad drive in America, the engine broke down and we were hindered some time but we arrived at our destination that evening. The next morning we started to work. My wife in the house to cook and do housework, myself on the farm, and although some of the work was entirely new to us we gave good satisfaction as we were determined to do if it was in our power. At our first dinner there was meat and vegetables, fruit, butter, and everything necessary to make a good common everyday dinner, and to this was added what looked to me like a very nice yellow cake and this I noticed some were eating with meat and vegetables and putting butter on it. And I had heard in the old country how extravagant the American people were in some things and I certainly thought this was the height of American extravagances in very deed. When they of course passed it to me, I said nothing but thought in my own mind a piece of it would be very nice indeed for to finish a good meal. Accordingly when I had eaten all I needed, except as I supposed a small piece of thin cake, I then took a piece of it. But lo my surprise! For what I supposed was a beautiful cake, when I tasted it, it was rough and coarse enough to be made out of sawdust, and when I saw at a glance it needed [p.18] both butter and meat and all the good things you could get to help it on its downward road. But on inquiring afterwards of my wife what they called that sawdust affair, she informed me it was corn dodger, of yellow corn and you can rest assured that I certainly dodged it for a long while after that. But as time rolled by I found that I could eat a little of it but I'm not a lover of it to this day.
Before our first month was up we received a letter from Philadelphia stating that some of our brethren and sisters were unable to get work and a few were sick asking us to assist them. We drew what money we had already earned and cheerfully sent it to them for the assistance of those in need. We continued to work on till 2 months was up and we became quite anxious to see some of our own faith and meet with them. We therefore obtained permission to go to Philadelphia on Saturday evening and back on Monday morning and we met with the Saints in a sacrament meeting and had a feast in very deed and gave most of our wages to assist those in need and returned to our labors being well paid for our trouble and means.
We stayed there till harvest. I then went to harvesting for other parties and received good wages and stayed in that part until August and having saved $80 we concluded to go to St. Louis and get that much nearer to the land of Zion. But on arriving at Philadelphia it was considered best to stay there till spring as it was understood that at that time there was considerable sickness in and around St. Louis. Not being able to obtain employment there we went down to Delaware and there found work, but soon took sick with the chills and fever and we returned to Philadelphia. We were both very sick. We rented a room in a house where some of the saints were living, and we both being [p.19] sick and not able to wait on each other, our money soon went and we suffered a good deal that winter. When my wife could hardly move around and I could not get out of bed she would bind shoes and anything else she could get to do and thus earned our scanty living as she was at that suffering with the chills and fever. At one time she was in bed with very a heavy chill, shaking the very room we were in, and Elder John Newton came into the room and she asked him to administer to her which he did, and the chills stopped immediately and she started to gain strength but was very weak, and I was gaining a little so that I was soon so far recovered that I could walk around. At this time we were very short of the comforts of life and endured many hardships as a good many of the Saints around there were in similar circumstances. When I was able to work I obtained employment in a gas pipe works which was all new to me. In my weak condition it went very hard with me. In June we went to Sunbury in Northumberland county on the banks of the Susquehanna River, and there we worked both us as before for $15.00 a month for a year, and on the 23rd of July, 1857 our first child was born at Sunbury whom we called Esther Ann.
Thursday, May 7, 1896. At this time those who professed to be Latter-day Saints were wisely counseled to be still about it as this was the time the Buchanan army came to Utah to wipe out the Mormons and a bitter feeling against the Latter-day saints existed all over the country. The few meetings we held were held privately among ourselves and nothing was now being done in proselyting on that account. Also at the same time a panic was all over the nation and [p.20] business of every kind was very dull and it was hard to get employment, it being sometimes months that we have little or nothing to do. We moved to Ashland in Schuylkill County, where a few Latter-day Saints lived, to see if we could not better our condition.
This was a coal mining district and the kind of labor usual at such business was new to me so at last I concluded to start a butcher shop. Generally I purchased my meat ready dressed and it was not long before I had a nice trade established which assisted me considerably. During the Utah War the few families of Latter-day Saints who lived here held sacrament and testimony meetings and we always had good times in each others society. But of course we dare not let it be known that we held any meetings. On March 23, 1859, there was a son born in the town of Ashland and he was christened William. About the middle of May we sold out our effects and went to Florence where the Saints were preparing to cross the plains and go to the Salt Lake Valley, the gathering place of the saints. We arrived at Florence with about three hundred pounds of clothing and other property but with very little money.
Thursday, May 14, 1896 . The latter end of May 1859 we were in Florence, a place situated on the banks of the Missouri River. In connection with the number of Latter-day Saints we planned to cross the plains with the handcart company. We often sang the handcart song. A young man by the name of Frank Pitman took great pleasure in singing that song. We would sit around our campfire and he would sing it for anyone who would ask him to, and it being new to most [p.21] people he was asked to sing it quite often. We were finally provided with our carts and on a lovely afternoon in June we started out with our little haul in our carts and traveled out four miles where we were to stop one day to be organized for our journey over the plains. In leaving Florence we had a little steep hill to pull up and this gave a little insight as to what we might be expecting when we came to the mountains. We arrived in camp and even four miles had its effect on some of our company as quite a number were from the English factories and knew nothing of the hardships they were now starting out to undergo. When we arrived I asked for little Frank, as he was by far the smallest man in the company, to sing the handcart song which he did. Were quite a number joined in the chorus. We stayed one day and was organized with George Rowley as our captain. We had one wagon and two yoke of oxen for the use of the captain's family, five wagons and ten yoke of cattle to haul part of our provisions, as also to accommodate those who might be sick, and some freight, 60 carts, 235 souls, about 75 of them were men, the others were women and children. On the 10th of June, 1859, having rested one day, we made a regular start for the plains and traveled 16 miles and most of us were tired when we camped at night and some were already getting foot sore. Again we asked our little brother Frank to sing the handcart song but he very reluctantly complied and I think this was the last time he ever sang it and there were less who joined in the chorus than before. . . .[p.22]
. . . Saturday Nov. 14, 1896. Myself and family stopped at Green River for ten weeks, and for two weeks some member of our Handcart company kept coming along, and we helped them as we could. During our sojourn at Green River we procured provisions and a gentle ox. I made shafts to our cart, hitched up our ox and started on our way for the land of our choice, with plenty to eat and our hearts cheerful. We traveled but two days when our ox took sick and we were obliged to stop, we then being but a few miles east of Fort Bridger. We had only stayed a few hours some teamsters came along and their wagons were empty and they were going to Salt Lake and so loaded all but our ox on their wagon and went on our way rejoicing , after we landed in Salt Lake City on the 10th day of November, 1859, after a hard and tedious journey of one thousand miles, having suffered many hardships, hunger and privations, to reach the place that God had designed for a gathering place for his people. . . . [p.47]
BIB: Atkin, William. [Auto]biography (Ms 8620 reel 1 #8), pp. 13-22,47. (CHL).