Hofheintz, Sarah Ann Mode

Biography

Sarah Ann Mode Hofheintz

Sarah Ann Mode Hofheintz is the earliest known person of black African ancestry to receive complete temple rituals in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Her father, Jesse Mode, was a black abolitionist and her mother, Mary Shuell, was white. Early census records listed Sarah as a “free colored person” but later public records described her as white, an indication of her racial journey over time. Evidence suggests that by the time Sarah arrived at Nauvoo in 1842 she was passing as white. Even still, DNA studies among Sarah’s descendants in the twenty-first century reveal African ancestry.

Sarah Ann Mode was born in 1811 in Philadelphia on the anniversary of the nation’s birth. Surviving sources offer few clues about Sarah’s early years other than she grew up in a mixed-racial household. The 1820 census indicated that her father Jesse was engaged in commerce and that the entire household was comprised of free people of color except for one white female between the ages of twenty-six and forty-four, presumably, Mary Shuell, Sarah’s mother.[1] By 1830 the family had moved about thirty miles south of Philadelphia to Wilmington, Delaware, where the census taker listed Jesse Mode as head of household in a family that included one adult white female and five free people of color.[2]

By the end of 1830 Sarah had met and married a German born immigrant named Peter Hofheintz and she and Peter formed a household of their own back in Philadelphia where she had grown up.[3] The young couple welcomed their first child into the family in 1835, a son whom they named Alexander. Peter and Sarah took him to the German Reformed Church where he was baptized when he was nine months old.[4] Alexander was no doubt named after Sarah’s oldest brother Alexander, someone with whom she had a special bond.

Meanwhile Sarah’s father, Jesse Mode, became the captain of a freighting ship stationed in Wilmington, Delaware, with a crew of all black sailors. On one occasion in 1848, Mode had contracted to pick up a load of lumber at Swan Creek in Hartford County, Maryland. However, Maryland laws at the time required that at least one white man had to be on board a vessel manned by black sailors. Mode and his crew were subsequently arrested, imprisoned, and fined for violating a law meant to regulate black bodies and thwart the potential smuggling of runaways from slavery. Prominent white abolitionist, Thomas Garrett, who ran a safehouse on the Underground Railroad in Wilmington, caught word of Mode’s plight and mustered his resources to secure the release of Mode and his crew.[5] Mode passed away in Wilmington two years later, at age 77, while residing in the town’s almshouse.[6]

There is no indication that Sarah was aware of the plight of her father in 1848 or even how well she stayed in contact with her family after she joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and moved to Illinois to settle among the main body of Saints at Nauvoo. She and Peter were both baptized into the Philadelphia branch of the church in 1841 (along with her sister Caroline and Caroline’s husband Benjamin Franklin Grouard) and thereafter their lives moved in a decidedly different direction than that of Jesse Mode.[7] The 1840 census taker found the Hoffheintzs in Philadelphia where Peter was the head of household and the census enumerator listed all residents of the household, including Sarah, as white.[8] All subsequent census records, 1850 through 1880, also counted Sarah as white.[9] By the time that Sarah and Peter and their young family arrived in Nauvoo, Illinois, in 1842, it seems that Sarah had already passed as white.[10]

Sara and Peter became immersed in the religious life of Nauvoo and were ardent adherents to their new faith. On August 14, 1843, Sarah was baptized as proxy in the font of the yet unfinished Nauvoo Temple in behalf of her brother Alexander who presumably had died sometime before, although no death record has yet been located to indicate when.[11] Joseph Smith, founding prophet of the Latter-day Saint tradition, introduced the new ritual of proxy baptisms in 1840 and Latter-day Saints embraced the doctrine with enthusiasm because it solved the problem of Christian exclusivity. Now their relatives who had died without hearing the Latter-day Saint message could still have a chance to embrace a Christian path in the next life if they chose.[12]

Early baptisms for the dead were performed in the Mississippi River but Smith later clarified that the ordinances should be performed only in temples. As a result, the Nauvoo Temple font was rushed to completion and then dedicated in 1841 so that proxy baptisms could proceed while the rest of the building remained under construction. Smith would also later clarify that men should be baptized in behalf of male deceased relatives and women in behalf of women.[13] For the time being however, Sarah was baptized for her brother, an indication that she maintained contact with family members in the east and that her relationship with her brother was dear to her.

Sarah lived through the Saints turbulent sojourn in Nauvoo and was there when Joseph Smith was murdered in June 1844. As her obituary later recalled, she passed “through many troublesome times in the early history of the Church.”[14] In December 1844, she received her patriarchal blessing at the hands of John Smith, the slain prophet’s uncle. Such blessings typically included pronouncements of spiritual promises and Israelite heritage. She was told that her lineage came through the biblical prophet Joseph who was sold into Egypt, an indication that Nauvoo leaders likely did not know about her mixed racial parentage.[15]

Joseph Smith had introduced new temple rituals before his death in 1844 and under Brigham Young’s leadership Latter-day Saints pushed the Nauvoo temple to completion so that those rituals could be presented to the main body of believers before what seemed an inevitable abandonment of the city. Sarah and Peter received their Washing and Anointing and Endowment rituals on Christmas Eve in 1845. However they were not sealed to each other until 1855, after they arrived in Salt Lake City.[16]

After the Latter-day Saints abandoned Nauvoo in 1846, Sarah and Peter and their three young children moved to Winter Quarters in what was then Indian Territory (now Nebraska) where they remained until 1850. That year they migrated to Utah Territory in the Warren Foote Company, a large migrant group of over five hundred people and at least 104 wagons.[17] By that point the family consisted of Sarah, Peter, and their three surviving children, Alexander, Sarah, and Mary Jane. Sarah gave birth to a total of eleven children, only five of whom survived to adulthood. After arriving in Utah she delivered three more children, Peter, Julia, and Charlotta, but Peter died when he was three.[18]

Once in Utah, Sarah and her family settled into life in the Salt Lake LDS 12th Ward. In 1879 she and Peter and their daughter Julia were all rebaptized as symbols of their ongoing commitment to the Latter-day Saint cause.[19] Sarah contributed on occasion to the 12th Ward Relief Society (LDS women’s charitable organization) as well. In May of 1870, for example, she donated $9.00 worth of calico for a quilt and the following year she gave twenty-five cents, this time to an emigration fund designed to help poor church members move from Europe to Utah. In 1872, when the Relief Society raised funds to purchase a sewing machine for a Sister Fowler who would use it to become self-reliant, Sarah added twenty-five cents and on another occasion she again donated twenty-five cents to help a fellow sister in need.[20]

It is no wonder that Sarah’s obituary described her as “a kind and affectionate mother, a true wife and a faithful Latter-day Saint.” It noted that she left “a numerous posterity, and a host of friends to mourn her loss.” Sarah died on September 22, 1882 of “dropsy of the heart,” a nineteenth-century description for swelling likely caused by congestive heart failure. Her funeral was held in the 12th Ward building where Sarah had worshipped since arriving in Utah over thirty years earlier.[21] She was buried in the Salt Lake City Cemetery.[22]

By W. Paul Reeve

Primary Sources

Baptism for the Dead, vol. d, 30 June 1843 – 9 January 1845. Microfilm 183,379. Family History Library. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Salt Lake City, Utah.

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Record of Members Collection. Salt Lake 12th Ward. Microfilm 26,723. Family History Library. Salt Lake City, Utah.

Delaware, Wilmington. Vital Record, 1847-1954. Microfilm 2,188,029. Family History Library. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Salt Lake City, Utah.

“Died.” Deseret Evening News. 23 September 1882, 2.

German Reformed Church. Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Church and Town Records, 1669-2013. Reel 166. Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Nauvoo Endowments of the Living, 1845-1846. Microfilm 183,372. Family History Library. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Salt Lake City, Utah.

Nauvoo Record of Members, 1841-1845. Microfilm 581,219. Family History Library. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Salt Lake City, Utah.

Philadelphia Branch Record Book. MS 8457. Church History Library. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Salt Lake City, Utah.

Twelfth Ward Relief Society Record Book, 1868-1877. LR 12908 24, images 73, 107, 138, 155. Church History Library. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Salt Lake City, Utah.

United States. 1820 Census. Pennsylvania, Philadelphia County, Philadelphia.

United States. 1830 Census. Delaware, New Castle County, Wilmington.

United States. 1840 Census. Pennsylvania, Philadelphia County, Philadelphia.

United States. 1850 Census. Utah Territory, Salt Lake County, Salt Lake City.

United States. 1860 Census. Utah Territory, Salt Lake County, Salt Lake City, 12th Ward.

United States. 1870 Census. Utah Territory, Salt Lake County, Salt Lake City, 12th Ward.

United States. 1880 Census. Utah Territory, Salt Lake County, Salt Lake City, 12th Ward.

Secondary Sources

Burton, H. David. “Baptism for the Dead: LDS Practice.” In Encyclopedia of Mormonism, ed. Daniel H. Ludlow. Macmillan, 1992, 95-96.

Dalleo, Peter T. “The Growth of Delaware’s Antebellum Free African American Community.” In A History of African Americans of Delaware and Maryland’s Eastern Shore, ed. Carole Marks. University of Delaware, 1997.

Hofheintz, Sarah Ann. In Warren Foote Company (1850). Pioneer Database. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Hofheintz, Sarah Ann Mode. FindAGrave.com.

McGowan, James A. Station Master on the Underground Railroad: The Life and Letters of Thomas Garrett. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc., 2005.

Mode, Sarah Ann. (KWVS-77X) at FamilySearch.org.

“Utah, FamilySearch, Early Church Information File, 1830-1900.” FamilySearch.org.

Ward, Maurine C. “Philadelphia Branch Membership, 1840-1854.” Mormon Historical Studies vol. 6, no. 1 (Spring 2005): 67-98.

Whittaker, David J. “The Philadelphia Pennsylvania Branch: Its Early History and Records.” Mormon Historical Studies vol. 6, no. 1 (Spring 2005): 53-66.

Wilson, W. Emerson. “The Law Has Not Always Been Fair.” The Morning News (Wilmington, Delaware). 6 May 1978, 16.


[1] United States, 1820 Census, Pennsylvania, Philadelphia County, Philadelphia. In 1820 the Jesse Mode household included one white female (presumably Mary Shuel), one free black male between the ages of twenty-six and forty-four (presumably Jesse); one free black male between the ages of fourteen and twenty-six (presumably  Sarah’s brother Alexander), and three black females under age fourteen (likely Sarah and her two sisters Catherine and Mary).

[2] United States, 1830 Census, Delaware, New Castle County, Wilmington. The 1830 census listed one white female between the ages of forty and fifty (Mary Shuel); one free black male ages 55 to 100 (Jesse Mode); one free black female between 10 and 24 (Sarah, who would have been 19 at the time); one black female under ten (presumably Sarah’s sister Caroline, born in 1821).

[3] United States, 1840 Census, Pennsylvania, Philadelphia County, Philadelphia.

[4] Alexander Hoffeinz, German Reformed Church, Pennsylvania and New Jersey, Church and Town Records, 1669-2013, reel 166, Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

[5] Peter T. Dalleo, “The Growth of Delaware’s Antebellum Free African American Community,” in A History of African Americans of Delaware and Maryland’s Eastern Shore, ed. Carole Marks (University of Delaware, 1997), accessed 22 May 2020; James A. McGowan, Station Master on the Underground Railroad: The Life and Letters of Thomas Garrett (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc., 2005), 121; W. Emerson Wilson, “The Law Has Not Always Been Fair,” The Morning News (Wilmington, Delaware), 6 May 1978, 16.

[6] Delaware, Wilmington, Vital Record, 1847-1954, Microfilm 2,188,029, Family History Library, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

[7] Philadelphia Branch Record Book, MS 8457, Church History Library, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah. See also, David J. Whittaker, “The Philadelphia Pennsylvania Branch: Its Early History and Records,” Mormon Historical Studies vol. 6, no. 1 (Spring 2005): 53-66; Maurine C. Ward, “Philadelphia Branch Membership, 1840-1854,” Mormon Historical Studies vol. 6, no. 1 (Spring 2005): 67-98.

[8] United States, 1840 Census, Pennsylvania, Philadelphia County, Philadelphia.

[9] United States, 1850 Census, Utah Territory, Salt Lake County, Salt Lake City; United States, 1860 Census, Utah Territory, Salt Lake County, Salt Lake City, 12th Ward; United States, 1870 Census, Utah Territory, Salt Lake County, Salt Lake City, 12th Ward; United States, 1880 Census, Utah Territory, Salt Lake County, Salt Lake City, 12th Ward.

[10] Nauvoo Record of Members, 1841-1845, Microfilm 581,219, Family History Library, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah.

[11] Sally Ann Hofinse, Baptism for Alexander Mode, 13 August 1843, Baptism for the Dead, vol. d, 30 June 1843 – 9 January 1845, Microfilm 183,379, Family History Library, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah.

[12] H. David Burton, “Baptism for the Dead: LDS Practice,” in Encyclopedia of Mormonism, ed. Daniel H. Ludlow (Macmillan, 1992), 95-96.

[13] Burton, “Baptism for the Dead: LDS Practice,” 95-96.

[14] “Died,” Deseret Evening News, 23 September 1882, 2.

[15] Sarah Ann Hofheins, “Utah, FamilySearch, Early Church Information File, 1830-1900,” FamilySearch.org.

[16] Sarah Ann Hopkins, 24 December 1845, Nauvoo Endowments of the Living, 1845-1846, Microfilm 183,372, Family History Library, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah; Sarah Ann Mode (KWVS-77X) at FamilySearch.org, accessed 22 May 2020.

[17] Sarah Ann Hofheintz, in Warren Foote Company (1850), Pioneer Database, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

[18] Sarah Ann Mode (KWVS-77X) at FamilySearch.org, accessed 22 May 2020.

[19] Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Record of Members Collection, Salt Lake 12th Ward, Microfilm 26,723, Family History Library, Salt Lake City, Utah.

[20] Twelfth Ward Relief Society Record Book, 1868-1877, LR 12908 24, images 73, 107, 138, 155, Church History Library, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah.

[21] “Died,” Deseret Evening News, 23 September 1882, 2.

[22] Sarah Ann Mode Hofheintz, FindaAGrave.com.

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