28 Salt Lake to New York to London

                                William Warner Major


Jill C. Major, Author

                                Third Mission


On Friday, April 8, 1853 the appointed time for general conference arrived. It was only three months after William and Sarah had buried their little son Enoch and two weeks after William's sister, Elizabeth Major Terry, set sail for America with her family. (The Terry family had joined the Church some time after William Warner Major family. They sailed with a large company of emigrating Mormons on board the ship called International.)


This General Conference was different; it changed the lives of the Major family forever. At 10:00 a.m. Brigham Young stood at the pulpit of the Old Tabernacle (large building on left of picture.  It stood on temple square where the Assembly Hall is now located) and called the conference to order. Jedediah M. Grant gave the opening prayer. Two thousand strong, committed voices sang and then President Heber C. Kimball, a counselor to Brigham Young, stood at the pulpit. "We have a number of elders who are chosen to go on missions," he announced. President Kimball exhorted them to do their duty, then he read the list of names: "Israel Barlow, Philemon Merrill, James D. Ross, Wm. W. Major, Daniel Tyler, Albert P. Tyler, Benjamin Ashby, Henry E. Phelps, Lorenzo D. Rudd, Israel Evans, Jesse B. Martin, James Bond, Loren Roundy, Charles A. Foster, John D. T. McAllister, James Carrigan, Willard G. McMullen, Charles R. Dana and Joseph France are called to go to England and be under the direction of the Presidency in that country.1" The entire congregation, including William, his two wives, Sarah and Elizabeth, and Sarah's two children, William Jr and Joseph, raised their hands, showing support by unanimous vote.

Often, when an elder was called, he had no previous warning. The first he and his family ever heard of the decision was from the pulpit. Charles R. Dana, who was called on a mission to England that same day, wrote in his journal, "This call to me was like a hail storm about my ears."2 It is certain, however, that since William W. Major was a member of the Salt Lake High Council and met regularly with Brigham Young, the apostles and other Church leaders, that he approved of this mission beforehand. In fact, in March 1852, he wrote a letter to Benjamin Hudson saying "when I visit my Native Land which I feel I shall if the Lord will with pleasure Visit you and give you a detailed account of My Beloved friend..." (Letter to Benjamin Hudson by William Warner Major, A Forty-niner to Utah, pg 107-108).

Missionary Work

Missionaries were a indispensable part of the gospel from the beginning. In 1833 Canada received the first missionaries outside of the United States. In England the first missionaries arrived in 1837 and the apostles were assigned to go on missions to England in 1839. During the early 1850's missionaries were sent to the Hawaiian Islands, South America, Australia, New Zealand, Hindustan, Siam, Ceylon, South Africa, West Indies, British Guiana, and Malta. The same day that William Warner Major was called, missionaries were also called to missions in the United States, Germany and China. Still the majority of the missionaries that day, nineteen men, were called to England. This field was not only in need of harvesting, but also in need of leadership. The number of Saints in the British Isles far exceeded the number in Utah. For example in 1850, there were 11,380 Saints in Utah and 30,747 in the British Isles.3 Also, there was a mass withdrawal of Saints from the Church in England. In the six month statistical report which ended on 31st December 1852 it was reported that 2,164 members were excommunicated. By June 30, 1853, another 1,776 were excommunicated. This was a time of fiery zeal, impatience and severe discipline in which not even the appearance of evil was tolerated. William, a trusted priesthood leader, and a beloved friend and adopted family member of Brigham Young was sent with the other men to England to calm a gale, guide the flock and teach the gospel.


Pologamy was also an central issue of talks from the Tabernacle pulpit on the day William was called on a mission. Brigham Young spoke about the great abuse that was being wielded on the woman of the Church: "You may see hundreds of elders who say to the sisters, 'come, and be sealed to me' crawling round to make the holy ordinances of God a matter of speculation...to their avaricious dispositions. They will tell you, that you will go into eternity, and find yourselves without husband, and cannot get an exaltation, that you cannot have this, that, or the other, unless you are sealed to them. I am free and so are you. My advice to the sisters is, never be sealed to any man, unless you wish to be. I say to you High Priests and Elders, never, from this time, ask a woman to be sealed to you, unless she wants to be, but let the widows and children alone."4 No doubt, William and the other missionaries were also instructed to see to it that the law of "Celestial Marriage," which had only been publicly announced eight months previous to William's mission call, was not abused in the British Isles.

Art work sold in New York

There were eventually 26 missionaries who left the Salt Lake Valley on June 22, 1853. Counting William, there were four high priests in the group; the rest were seventies. Twenty-one of the men were bound for England, one for Ireland, four for missions in the states and also one man was traveling to England on business.

The Elders cooperated with eachother, several sharing the expense of purchasing and outfitting a wagon. William packed a small chest. There are examples in the Daughter's of the Utah Pioneer Museum of these hand hewn wooden trunks which were carried across the plains and back again to foreign lands. Family tradition says that William took some of his drawings and paintings with him. We know that he took portraits of Indians with him, because two were later found in a New York book store, which are now housed in the Spingville Museum of Art. Four more are housed in the Peabody Museum of Natural History at Yale University in Connecticut.6



Paintings sold in New York to finance Major's mission.

Springville Art Museum

Goodbyes to family

Each member of the family knew that it would be at least three years before they would see each other again. For those who have sent off a missionary, it is easy to imagine the emotional farewell. Tears rolled down weather-worn, sun-dried cheeks. William hugged and kissed his dear wife, Sarah. She had married him in London, was baptized the same day as her husband, stood by his side while crossing the ocean, through the persecutions of Nauvoo, the storms of Winter Quarters, and finally, walking and riding the dusty, dangerous trail 1050 miles to the Great Salt Lake. William was forty-nine years old and Sarah forty-two. Perhaps next he embraced Elizabeth, his second wife, given in marriage to him by President Brigham Young. Elizabeth too, was an incredibly courageous English woman (although she was born in Scotland, both of her parents were born in England) who had crossed the plains without her family in 1849 and married William thirty-nine days after she arrived in the valley. She was 24 years old when William left on his mission. Then there was was little nine year old Joseph, quietly wiping away tears with the back of his hand. William tried to comfort him, but finally unwrapped the small arms and gave the boy to his mother. Finally he admonished William Jr., who at 18 was a man, to take care of the family. With heavy heart, William climbed on his horse, then with one final wave of his hand, headed East, up Emigration Canyon to join the others. Salt Lake had been home to the Major family for almost five years and it must have been painful to leave it, especially knowing that this time he would go all the way across the land to New York City.

Missionary Journals record Major's Sickness and trials

Mormon train in camp (George Simmons, Council Bluff Public Library).

W.W. Major's group consisted of "28 men, 7 wagons, and 23 animals" so it was much smaller than shown here (Carter, Our Pioneer Heritage, 16:519).


The group of Elders traveled back on the same route they took into the valley. Most of the Elders were much younger than William and apparently in much better condition. Almost from the beginning of the trip, William Warner Major was ill. Jesse Bigler Martin,7 who was 28 years old and Daniel Tyler,8 age 37, were missionary companions of William. They both wrote faithfully in their journals. From them and other companions we obtain this account of the journey:



June 22--traveled 11 miles and camped on the east side of the first mountains.


: Wednesday June 22, 1853...very cold night, ice 1/8 inch thick in morning.



June 23--

We laid still. In the evening the camp was called together and organized. F.G. Merrill was appointed Captain, John D.T. McAllister was assistant, Charles B. Dana, Chaplain, James Bond, Clerk.

June 24

: We started in the morning and traveled over second mountain and camped on Canyon creek.

June 25

: We crossed the Weber and camped in Echo Canyon.

June 26

: Sunday, camped on Bear River.

June 27

: Camped on Little Muddy.

June 28

: Traveled that day to Green River.

June 29

: Laid still at Green River.

June 30

: Traveled up the river ten miles.

Benjamin Asby

, a fellow missionary, wrote "The first 10 days our progress was much impeded by meeting large herds of cattle which blocked the road for miles making our progress slow...We lost one animal on the trip. He was crowded by a narrow bridge by his mate."9  (This was probably W.W. Major's horse.)



: July 1: We had some trouble with the Ferry man...

From Charles R. Dana's autobiography we read about the almost tragic conflict: "We crossed the Green River and drove 16 miles up to a ferry that some Mountaineers had established contrary to the laws of Utah. We went there by the request of B[righam] Young to aid the Sheriff (Lewis Robinson) in abolishing that ferry which was undertaken by the Sheriff but was resisted and obliged to abandon it because of a superior force, until he could return to SLC and obtain sufficient force to disperse the intruders. I am certain that if the Sheriff had persisted that blood would have been shed."10 Dana was 51 years old.



July 2: We traveled on and crossed South Pass.


July 6th, Wednesday traveled about 34 miles, passed Devil's Gate, Independence Rock and Salaratus Lake and camped on a small stream called Greasewood. Sandy road. Water, bad.


: Friday 8th Traveled about 33 miles. Crossed the river on a bridge and went down on the north side. We are now about 400 miles from our homes in the valley. Brother Wm W. Major sick.

Martin: July 8: We traveled from day to day down the Sweetwater and came to the upper crossing of the Platte. We crossed on the bridge and camped 19 miles below, then traveled on down to Laramie and crossed on the ferry and went down on the north side the river. We traveled 60 miles and met Wilkin's camp.


: July 16: ...David Roberts was drowned in the Platte. He went in to wash himself, but could not swim...We traveled on, meeting the camps of the Saints and found the most of them in good spirits and enjoying good health.

"Poor Major is still alive"

In a letter written to Thomas Bullock by Robert Williams, William Major’s mess partner, explained the importance of meeting other groups along the way. 

"Brother Major was very sick with the Flux*; I tho’t he would have died.  I waited on him; he was as helpless as a child.  As soon as we met the camps of Saints, we got milk of them:  I boiled it, burnt some flour, and thickened the boiled milk with it, and made him eat it; I got some brandy and set him to sleep and kept him well warm; so the next morning he felt better; we laid our hand on him, as well you know, br. Bullock, we must use means as well as faith; so poor Major is still alive" (Journal History, 4 October 1853).  

*The Flux is descibed as "an extraordinary issue or evacuation from the bowels or other parts, as bloody flux, or dysentery..."  (An American Dictionary of the English Language).




Saturday 23

. Traveled 31 miles, met Atchison's family. Buffalo plenty.

Sunday, 24

. Traveled 28 miles. Here we were met by Br. Claudins and Spencer with a camp of Saints bound for Zion zealous of good works who fed us and gave us provisions to aid us on our journey.

Wednesday 27

...on the opposite side was brother John Forsgreen with a company of Saints from Denmark. [This company arrived in Salt Lake on September 30 with 297 Scandinavians. William Warner Major's son, William Jr. later married Anna Marsiena Christensen who traveled to the valley with this group.]

Saturday 30

All well except Br. W.W. Major.


Monday, Aug. 1rst

929 miles from home.

Tuesday, 2

left the old track across the bottom. Left Br. Major's horse. [This may be the one animal spoke of by Benjamin Asby who said a horse died on the trip.] Camped on a creek near bluffs.



: Aug. 4: We arrived at Kanesville and stayed there 14 days.


: Thursday 4th, arose early, eat the last morsel of food we had. Left and after prayer as usual traveled on. Reached the Missouri River, a distance of 18 miles about noon. The company had left, but boats still remained on the east side of the river. Capt Merrill wife's brother and Wm. Allen happening down, came over and gave us liberty to use the boats. We obtained flour and bacon of Mr. Allen for our dinners. Reached Kanesville about 7 o'clock in the evening. Got supper at the tavern.

John D.T. McAllister briefly talked about this part of the trip, remarking, "On the way we met several companies of emigrating Saints who treated us very kindly and administered to our severest wants and needs and after a travel of 44 days reached the town of Kanesville where we spent a few days selling our teams and wagons."

Kanesville (now Council Bluffs) 1849 to 1851 looking North from corner of Main St. and 1st Ave. (George Simmons, Council Bluffs Public Library)


St Louis

Most the missionary company then took the steamer, "Robert Campbell" down the Missouri River to St. Louis which cost $15.00. "Arrived in St. Louis on August 21 well and in excellent spirits," wrote McAllister. "We attended meeting in afternoon. Brother Horace S. Eldridge, President of St. Louis Conference was very glad to see us and presented us in a very affectionate manner to the Saints assembled..."11

Sister, Elizabeth Terry in St. Louis

Before William began his journey East from the Salt Lake Valley, his sister had already settled in America. The ship "International" arrived in New Orleans on the 25 April 1853 with the Terry family aboard. With the rest of the Saints, the Terry family took a steamboat up the Mississippi River to St. Louis. Elizabeth could easily have corresponded with her brother, letting him know where the family was living, before he left for his mission. William's sister, and her family were still in St. Louis when William visited there and he probably stayed with her for a short time. (Jesse Martin's missionary journal notes that he visited with his father from August 23 to September 1rst.) It would have been a happy reunion after nine years of separation.

Maybe the fact that William was leaving the states influenced his sister's decision not to make the long trek west. Most of the other Mormons in the company that the Terry family sailed with were met by a representative of the Church. They traveled about 500 miles up the Missouri River to the outfitting post and purchased supplies and a wagon for the trip to Salt Lake, where they arrived on September 30, 1853. The Terry family stayed in St. Louis, never making the trip west. At first John Terry worked in the city as an upholsterer. Later John and Elizabeth Terry moved their family to a town outside of St. Louis, called Meramec where they purchased a farm. Their children married in Protestant churches and there is no evidence of any further contact with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.


From New York to Liverpool

 In spite of illiness William didn't give up, turn around and go back home which was certainly an option since there were frequent companies of Saints leaving for the Valley during the summer months. He made his way from St. Louis to New York.  The Millennial Star, the British Church newspaper reported: "Sunday, October 16. Elders W.W. Major and Charles A. Foster, from Great Salt Lake Valley sailed from New York on the 21st September, on board the "Andrew Foster" and Elders J.D. Ross, James Bond, and Matthias Cowley on board the "Constitution" September 24th and all arrived in Liverpool on the 16th inst. [October] on missions to these lands."13

Three weeks later, on Saturday, November 5, The Millennial Star reported, "Elder Wm W. Major is appointed to labour under the direction of Elder Benjamin Brown, Pastor of the London, Reading, Kent and Essex Conference."

When William set foot in his homeland, the illness still plagued him. "When he arrived he was suffering from a severe cold and a cough, from which he was never entirely free..." stated the Kimball/Marsden History of William Warner Major.14

 Liverpool to London

 The trip from Liverpool to London by train took about eleven hours. After arriving in London William spent some time with his Brother Richard Major, Jr. and his family. It is easy to imagine William spinning stories of Pioneers, giant buffalo, riding horses, shooting guns, Indians and a wild, but free land where everyone could worship in peace. He probably told them about Brother Brigham and the twelve apostles, a circle of men with whom he was intimately acquainted. Richard Major Jr. was actually the first person in the Major family to join the Church. He was baptized a week before William and Sarah on April 3, 1842. At Richard's home, William slowly discovered that things were not well. This must have created an additional hardship for William.