Brigham Young believed slavery was an institution put in place by God as punishment for bad behavior by black descendants of Cain. It was their destiny to live lives of servitude. Young felt it was blasphemous to fight against it. God would remove the curse and end slavery when righteousness prevailed.
Mormons entered Utah with little regard for the indigenous people already living there. It didn’t take them long to begin participating in the purchase of Native people to add to their labor force. Mormons believed it was better to have them live as an enslaved or indentured person among the Mormons rather than a free life of what they perceived was savagery and degradation with their own people.
Although I attended church services every Sunday and seminary religious classes during the week, I never learned about Mormonism and slavery or incredible people like Biddy Mason until recently.
Until that changes and every Mormon knows Biddy Mason’s story and who she was, despite the church, they are not doing nearly enough, and for that, they should feel eternal shame.
All these years later, Mormons are still proud of their rescue stories. Theatrical reenactments, complete with music and costume, pay homage. Youth participating in coming-of-age treks are encouraged to draw upon the strength of the Mormon pioneer.
Daniel Wood mattered to those who planned his memorial, built a monument, and continued the cemetery’s upkeep. As someone who appreciates history, I was giddy with excitement over the details of Daniel’s funeral, including the details such as the lilac-colored lettering on the banner draping his casket. It made it easy to imagine myself there among my people.
Because women’s pioneer stories have not been documented as much as men, their full ocean of thoughts and feelings was lost, stuffed down in the corners of worn apron pockets.
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.
Emma Maria Ellis Wood crossed a continent, turned her back on one God, and embraced another to become my great, great, great-grandmother.
She is wearing a dark-colored dress with a lace collar in the only photo I could find of her. Her hair is pulled back and hidden neatly under a bonnet. To me, she has gentle eyes.
Lucy, Mary, and Thomas’ stories are not unique. Brigham Young encouraged Mormon families to purchase or barter for native children believing they would be better off in Mormon households. Native Americans, called Lamanites, could lighten their skin, becoming white and delightsome through conversion to the Mormon church. The saints saw bringing native children into their homes as an opportunity to save them while increasing the church roster.
Peninah was said to have been proud of her race. What did that look like in her daily life? What parts of her native culture did she pass on to her children? The family who wrote of her consistently referred to her native roots as “her race” rather than “our race.” She was also called a “true Christian colonizer.” Having native racial pride and the heart of a colonizer seem at odds with one another. Did native identity and pride continue with her lineage or end with her?