On Friday, 31 March 1854, a large company of emigrating Latter-day Saints was allowed to board the American ship Marshfield, lying at anchor in Liverpool. They had expected to sail almost two weeks earlier, but the difficulty in securing ships for the Mormon emigration had postponed several hoped-for sailing dates.
One of those boarding the ship that day was Jane Hunter, a 40-year-old single woman from the LDS branch at Camden Town, in the northern part of London. Jane had paid her £8 deposit to the Church’s emigration agent, as she had been instructed to do by a notice in the Church’s newspaper, the Millennial Star, the previous November, and she had brought with her the remaining £2 due on her share of the passage across the ocean and then on across the plains to Utah with a Mormon wagon company. The balance of the cost would be paid by the Perpetual Emigrating Fund (PEF). 1
These facts suggest some background that is not explicit in the records themselves: Although Jane’s baptism record has not yet been found, she must have been a member for some time, perhaps several years; the PEF was dedicated to “those poor who are most worthy,” those “well calculated to assist in building up a thriving community, who would be an honour in the midst of Zion, who have been long in the Church, and have faithfully maintained an honourble standing.” 2 That Jane was able to raise £10 toward her passage also suggests that she was not among the very poorest of London’s poor; Jane was described as a laundress on the 1851 census. 3
The fact that Jane was a black woman seems not to have been any handicap as far as her Church membership was concerned: She worshiped with the London Saints; she traveled with them to Liverpool; the PEF was open to her; she boarded the Marshfield with hundreds of other Saints on that Friday in March, 1854.
Jane had plenty of time to arrange her berth aboard ship and to listen to the instructions of Elder William Taylor, the returning missionary who served as the company’s president, organizing the passengers into shipboard wards and assigning them their tasks for cooking and otherwise ordering themselves for the ocean passage.
On Tuesday, 4 April, the Marshfield was finally hauled out of her dock and into the River Mersey.
On Wednesday, 5 April, the ship’s doctor examined all passengers. He was looking for signs of illness that could result in disastrous contagion in the close quarters of a ship during the crossing.
When he reached Jane Hunter, he foresaw a problem that apparently had not yet occurred either to the Mormon leaders or to the ship’s officers. Probably he consulted with them all before he rejected Jane, refusing to allow her to continue with the rest of the company. His reasoning: The Marshfield was headed toward the American port of New Orleans, chief city of the slave state of Louisiana. A black woman such as Jane, he said, was apt to be kidnapped on the pretext of being a runaway slave, and sold into slavery. 4
It has been suggested that this fear was simply an excuse to avoid carrying a black woman among the ship’s company. There seems to be no basis for this speculation: Jane’s race had proven no barrier to her participation in the Church and her travel to Liverpool with the rest of the Saints. The year before, a Mormon company aboard the International, sailing from Liverpool to New Orleans, had conducted 48 baptisms in a large vat on the ship’s deck – three of those baptisms had been of black crew members, with no recorded murmuring by any white member aboard. English Latter-day Saints seemingly did not bear the racial animosity of some American Latter-day Saints.
Jane Hunter and her belongings were removed from the Marshfield. At first, the Mormon emigration agent simply transferred her to the company intending to sail aboard the Germanicus, leaving Liverpool at the same time as the Marshfield. But that ship, too, was headed to New Orleans and the same objections were no doubt raised; Jane did not sail with the Germanicus company. 5
Jane stayed in Liverpool as elders in the Liverpool mission office debated what should be done with her. At last, they decided to refund to her the £10 she had paid (without, evidently, giving her any of the expected assistance from the PEF), and put her aboard the Anglo-Saxon, sailing on 17 April for the port of Montreal, safely out of the reaches of American slavery. A recapitulation of the season’s emigration published later in the Millennial Star tallies the numbers of Saints who emigrated by the various ships used by the Church that year. A lone “1,” in a line for “Miscellaneous Ships,” for a passenger whose passage was paid “otherwise” than by the PEF, represents Jane Hunter. 6
So Jane sailed from Liverpool, heading toward a country where she knew no one, without the leadership of a returning elder who understood ships and trains and wagon companies, aboard a ship with no other Latter-day Saints. When she reached Quebec, she was on her own to support herself, without family, without friends, until she could continue her travels. She was on her own to find her way west, or to reconnect with the Saints on the frontier. The next phase of research into her life will be to search for some trace of her presence in Canada.
There is no indication that Jane Hunter ever reached Utah, or that she was ever again in contact with the Church.
By Ardis E. Parshall
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. European Mission. Emigration Record. CR 271 25, vol. 2, folios 71, 82, 86.
“Emigration Report,” Millennial Star, 13 May 1854, 297.
England. 1841 census. Middlesex, Tower Hamlets, Shoreditch.
England. 1851 census. Middlesex, St. Pancras, Camden Town.
Fisher, Thomas F. Journal, entries for 31 March - 5 April 1854. MS 12,594, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Church History Library, Salt Lake City, Utah.
Campey, Lucille H., Seeking a Better Future: The English Pioneers of Ontario and Quebec . Toronto: Dundurn, 2012.
Lamoreaux, A.L., Letter to Samuel W. Richards, dated 8 April 1854. “The French Emigration,” Millennial Star, 29 April 1854, 270-271.
“Over the Waves: SS Anglo Saxon,” Original Shipster [blog], 29 November 2015.
“Emigration,” Millennial Star, 26 November 1853.
“The Perpetual Emigrating Fund,” Millennial Star, 26 November 1853.
1 “Emigration,” Millennial Star, 26 November 1853, 776-777. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. European Mission. Emigration Record. CR 271/25, vol. 2, folios 67, 82, 86.
2 “The Perpetual Emigrating Fund,” Millennial Star, 26 November 1853, 777-779.
3 England. 1851 census. Middlesex, St. Pancras, Camden Town. Jane’s address in this census, and her address on the European Mission emigration records, are literally around the corner from each other; even though the English census does not indicate race, the age and residence of this woman in the census match Church records, and nothing on the census contradicts anything known about Jane in Church records. It seems highly probable that this census record does pertain to the same woman who appears in Church records.
4 Thomas F. Fisher. Journal, entries for 31 March - 5 April 1854. MS 12,594, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Church History Library, Salt Lake City, Utah.
5 Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. European Mission. Emigration Record. CR 271/25, vol. 2, folios 67, 82, 86. The dating here is somewhat problematical. An eyewitness, Thomas F. Fisher, places Jane aboard the Marshfield for the medical examination on 5 April; other records say the Germanicus sailed on 4 April. The accounting records of the European Mission record an entry for Jane on the Marshfield, with a notation that the record had been transferred to a page for the Germanicus in the ledger book, with a further note that her record had been transferred back to the Marshfield’s pages. It may be that the emigration clerk expected the Germanicus to be delayed, as the Marshfield had repeatedly been.
6 Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. European Mission. Emigration Record. CR 271/25, vol. 2, folios 67, 82, 86. “Emigration Report,” Millennial Star, 13 May 1854, 297. The Anglo-Saxon was a brand-new sailing vessel; it is likely that Jane sailed on that ship’s maiden voyage. “Over the Waves: SS Anglo Saxon,” Original Shipster [blog], 29 November 2015.
Click the index tab in the viewer above to view all primary source documents available for this person.