Tracing my Mormon pioneer roots because my story began with those who came before.
I have spent years doing an archeological dig on my great, great, great grandfather Daniel Wood’s life. Someday, someone may do the same to mine. I want to leave clear clues about what I believe.
Daniel was faithful to the church. At least twice, his loyalty prompted him to leave his wives, children, and homestead to go on a church mission searching for more converts.
Daniel’s first recorded mission was to a small settlement near his hometown in Canada, where his parents still lived. How did Mary feel about Daniel returning to see family while she stayed behind? Did she send a letter to her mother and father or wrap a handstitched quilt or jar of homemade jam as gifts?
He traveled from Ohio to Canada with two other church brethren. Roads in the area were so undeveloped they used a skiff to travel through the waterways. It was lightweight enough for the men to carry when not riding in it.
They were the first Mormon missionaries to the area. The owners of the first home they visited showed interest in hearing more and agreed to invite their neighbors to a meeting at four o’clock that same day.
News spread about these visitors and their odd religion. Some neighbors may have shown up to avoid evening chores, boredom, or genuine curiosity.
At four o’clock sharp, Daniel began preaching. He shared that salvation was possible through obedience, faith, repentance, baptism, and the laying on of hands to receive the Holy Ghost. Daniel explained how an angel helped Joseph Smith find the golden plates, which became the Book of Mormon. He described Zion and the saints’ preparation for the last days before Christ returns. Daniel remembers the audience as thirsty to drink in the gospel principles. He finished with his heartfelt testimony.
While proselytizing, did Daniel share the church’s stance on blackness which had changed since Joseph Smith’s original founding of the church? Did he avoid teaching black people? At times, the church taught missionaries to discern who was black to avoid sharing the gospel with them.
A townsperson, who dreamt about their visit, invited the missionaries to spend the night at his home. The dream was the only proof he needed about the church’s truthfulness.
Just as Brigham Young had baptized Daniel in a Canadian lake, Daniel washed away this man’s sins through baptism and immersion. Gently laying his hands on the new convert’s head, he confirmed him as the first Mormon in the town.
Leaving the settlement and heading towards his hometown, he knew he’d planted seeds that future missionaries would harvest in God’s perfect time.
His reunion with his parents was teary-eyed and emotional. He doesn’t say whether he visited Mary’s parents, but I imagine he did. He hoped they would join the church, enabling them to live together in eternity as a loving family. This trip marked the last time Daniel would see his mother and father. There is no indication his parents converted to Mormonism.
One brother invited him to preach to the locals, which he did for two hours.
At one point, he said, ” All blasphemies and sins against men should be forgiven, but they that shed innocent blood should not be forgiven in this world, nor in the world to come.” Did he consider killing black and brown men, women, and children, which was happening regularly, as the sinful shedding of innocent blood? If so, he never spoke of it.
After the meeting ended, Daniel and his siblings continued talking well into the night.
Winter was settling in at the end of this mission. Navigating rough terrain, dangerous rivers, and frozen lakes made his return to America difficult. Daniel reserved a ticket on a riverboat. He was disappointed when the captain determined that ice made it impossible to cross until the spring thaw. Desperate to return to his family, Daniel paid twice the regular fare for a spot on a stagecoach doing an overland trek. The freezing rain and icy roads caused the stagecoach to slide and topple over. Daniel broke a couple of ribs when the man sitting next to him landed on top of him. The rest of the journey home he spent in pain.
His last mission was decades later when he was almost seventy. He planned to return to Canada with his eighteen-year-old son Peter as his companion. For Peter, it seemed like a grand adventure and a rare time he got his father all to himself.
By this time, Daniel’s parents had died. He knew it would likely be his last trip to Canada. In addition to spreading the gospel, Daniel wanted to record his family’s history. Genealogy has long been important to Mormons. Having been taught by Daniel’s wife, Emma, Peter’s writing skills made him a proficient scribe.
Daniel and Peter left Utah traveling by train in October 1869. Daniel left his oldest son, Daniel Cotton, in charge of the extended family.
Daniel and Peter’s collection of stories and genealogy made telling my own possible. Their freedom as white men to travel, be educated and stay connected to their family of origin benefited me nearly two hundred years later in writing my own story.