30 Death

William Warner Major



Jill C. Major, Author


Sickness - August 1854

Each day William Kimball wrote in his diary:

Aug 13

...went to W. Major sick.

In the Marsden/Kimball History it states, "On August 13th 1854 about three p.m., while crossing the river Thames by the Hungerford Suspension Bridge, he [William W. Major] was suddenly seized with chills and vomiting. Brother and Sister Scott were with him, and they took him to their own house. They sent for Brother Kimball, who was with him all night, and administered to him several times. During the night, he suffered much from cramp in his legs, and was much distressed with chills and fever."1

Aug 14

Left Brother Majors, little better, then returned to Jewin St. Then was sent for again. Went bound in a high fever, but left him soon feeling better.


Daniel Tyler recorded, "August 14, Monday, Returned to London. Found Bro. Kimball rather feeble. Learned that Bro Major was at Bro. Scotts very sick.


Daniel Tyler was assigned to go to Germany in August, so did not mention William in his journal again during this time. William H. Kimball continued to visit William regularly:

August 15

...went with D. Tyler to see Brother Majors

August 18

...went to see Broth Majors then went to Hoburn Branch Church.

August 22

....Staid at Jewin St and wrote letter to Franklin D. Richards and Martin Slack and T.B. Brodrick, then went to see Brother Majors.


Sickness September - 1854

William H. Kimball wrote in his journal:


Wrote to J. Furgenson and D. Tyler then went to see Brother Major's then returned home.


...went and saw W.W. Majors


...went and saw Brother Major with D. Spencer


October - 1854

From the Mardsen/Kimball history of William Warner Major we learn:

In a few days he became better, but soon relapsed into the same state, and so continued to be better and worse, so far as pain and distressing symptoms were concerned, but continually became weaker until Sunday, the 1st instant, [October 1] when he suddenly became worse and continued to linger until the 2nd, about seven p.m. when he quietly died. Elder Major evinced a strong determination to live, and to fulfil his mission. He struggled hard against death; and although he never uttered a murmur, but frequently expressed his gratitude and thankfulness, yet he evidently had no idea of dying, so long as he could speak, or consciousness remained.

Everything that could be done, was done for him. The kind attention of Brother and Sister Scott, Brother and Sister Williams, and Brother and Sister Smith, deserves especial notice.2

Kimball wrote on October 2:

...returned to London, arrived at 10 a.m. then went to see Elder Major, then wrote to J. A. Young then went to Priesthood meeting. There learned that Elder Majors was dead, then orders a case [casket] made for him.


October 2, 1854 in Great Salt Lake Valley

On the day that William Warner Major died, Sarah and Elizabeth and their family went about their daily tasks as usual, never suspecting that the father and husband they prayed for daily had completed his mission. The Journal History records that on 2 Oct. 1854, "The brethren have raised the new endowment room the first story, and many large rocks continue to be rolled down for the foundation of the Temple."

Letter to Heber C. Kimball

Letters from William's friends, companions and leaders were written announcing his death.The next day, in deep mourning, Elder William H. Kimball wrote his father, President Heber C. Kimball:

London, 35 Jewin St. Oct. 3.

On the 2nd inst., I went to see W.W. Major who has been ill for seven weeks, and at 7 o'clock last evening he departed this life, notwithstanding great faith and exertion on his part, as well as by many others. His last words to me were that he was not discouraged and wished me to administer to him. To the last his faith was good and he desired to return to the Valley. I have ordered him to be put into a metallic case to day, so that he can be taken home if it is thought proper.

Through this bereavement I feel as lonely as though there was not a person within a thousand miles of me, but there is one thing more I must say; I never before have thought that there was so much power in the priesthood. One person who has been through the order of the Kingdom of God seems stronger to me than a thousand that have not. Bro. Major's faith was stronger than that of all others in London. While I am writing Bro R. W. Woolcott has come in; this is cheering to me. I have got Elder Major and his things all ready to leave this city, and am waiting for a word from Liverpool to know what to do, as I am subject to the law by keeping him.3


Letter from Franklin D. Richards

The apostle and President of the mission, Franklin D. Richards also wrote to Brigham Young:

15 Wilton St. Liverpool

31 October 1854

President Brigham Young

Dear Bro:--

...During my absence as above indicated, Bro. W. W. Major departed this life. The particulars of his illness and death have been forwarded to you by Elder D. Spencer. His remains are safely encased, and will be forwarded to his family with the approaching emigration, by the liberality of his American brethren, together with his chest of clothing, etc. Both corpse and chest are now in my possession. You will probably receive by the same mail that conveys this my advice of a draft upon you for L40 in favour of his family. It bears date of Oct 27.

News Reaches Great Salt Lake Valley 

The news moved slowly across the world and even slower to the wild west. The Pony Express could deliver a letter from Missouri to Sacramento, California in ten days, but it didn't begin until April 1860; the transcontinental telegraph wasn't completed in Salt Lake City until 1861. A letter posted carrying the news of William's death on October 2, 1854 had to cross over the ocean by ship, then be transferred to a mail carrier, who delivered it by crossing the plains in a wagon or by horse. The first letter that arrived announcing the death of William came in December, two months after his death.


In the Brigham Young History it is recorded that Elder Daniel Garn gave the report of the death of William W. Major to Brigham Young, quoting from the "Millennial Star" article.  It was probably Brigham Young who knocked on the door of the small log home on Third East and South Temple sometime in early December. One can imagine the picture of William's family gathered around, receiving the news that they would never again see their father, their husband. Sarah lost five children: two died in England and three died because of the suffering, cold, disease, and hunger caused directly by the persecutions of the Saints. Now she grieved over her kind and gentle husband also, away across the ocean. This family had sacrificed their country, homes, and comforts for their Lord and still they loved him and were willing to sacrifice even more.

Death announced in Deseret News

It was President Daniel Spencer's letter which was first published in the Deseret News on December 7, 1854, announcing the death of William Warner Major. He wrote from England to President Young as follows:

Nottingham, England

October 7, 1854

President Brigham Young:

Dear Brother--I drop a few lines in haste as the mail is just about starting, to inform you of the death of Elder William W. Major, which took place at London, on Monday the 2nd of October. Elder Major enjoyed very poor health on his journey to England, and has been afflicted at times more or less since his arrival. His last illness commenced on the 13th August, when he was seized with chill and vomiting and became speechless, by degree he got a little better, and so continued to get alternately better and worse to the last.

I understand the brethren in London have had the body encased and vaulted with a view of transportation if necessary.

My health is good at present. With kindest regards to all, I am as ever yours truly.

Daniel Spencer

Franklin D. Richards


Preparation to send Major's body home

William H. Kimball continued to write in his journal of the preparations made for William:


...wrote to D. Spencer and then went to see about Elder Major's things and R.W. Wolcott with me and Elder Marsden.


Went to see Elder Major Soderd up[original spelling--William was placed in a metal case and it was sodered] in the case then went threw Thames Tunnel then mailed letter to H. C Kimball...


Went to Stepny to take an inventory of Elder Major's things. Completed it at 7: p.m. then wrote to F.D. Richards.

In Daniel Tyler's journal he noted:

October 10

...a letter from Elder W. H. Kimball informing me that Elder W.W. Major died on the second inst and that he had [ordered?] case for sending to the valley if necessary.

Continued from Kimball's journal:


, Went to Elder Marsdens and got the history of Elder Major as near as possible and sent it to Liverpool.

[On November 4, 1854 the "Millennial Star" published the account of William's death and a brief history of his life which was written by William H. Kimball and James Marsden. This account has been quoted extensively in this manuscript.]


wrote to James Furgenson then went and booked Elder Major's remains for Liverpool and saw all off.


Left London at 6 a.m. for Liverpool arrived there at 8 p.m. met D. Spencer, F.D. Richards, James Little, O. W. Whenlock and Riser.


Went with James Little to the railway station to get the case with Elder Majors remains.


On November 11, the Millennial Star printed the following poem in England which was written by John Jaques. Elder Jaques was a native of England who had been appointed to labor in the mission office at Liverpool. Later he crossed the plains in the ill-fated Martin handcart company. Elder Jaques' eldest child, a daughter, died near Green river Nov. 23, 1856. He also wrote "O Say What is Truth," which is still in our Hymn book.

On the Death of Elder William Warner Major,

who departed this life Oct. 2, 1854

Again relentless death has hurl'd

His fatal dart,

Another brother from this world

Is call'd to part.

Not in the midst of kindred near--

No wife nor child

Sooth'd his last moments in this vale--

This Bab'lon wild.

Whilst roaming far away from home,

The truth to tell

To thousands perishing in sin,

The victim fell.

On all occasions he was found

A genial friend,

The kind regard he's thereby won

Will never end.

Faithful in all his labours here,

His works remain,

And henceforth ever will increase

To his great gain.

We mourn not without hope, for well

we know his claim

To hold among the Priesthood still

An honour'd name.

And though he's left this lower


We're certain how

He labours in the spirit world

For Zion now.

And by the resurrection's power,

When Saints have rest,

He'll come again and reign with us,

Among earth's best.4

Major's body travels from Liverpool to St. Louis

According to the Journal History, William Major's body was placed in a "metallic case"5 which was later placed on the "Clara Wheeler". This ship set sail from Liverpool on the 7th of December 1854. After the ship landed in New Orleans Elder E.C. Broud, Clerk of the Company on board of the "Clara Wheeler" wrote a letter dated January 25, 1855: "Bro. Parsons and I have had bad health all the way. We have brought with us the mortal remains of Elder W.W. Major who died while fulfilling a mission in the London Conference with a feeling of gratitude for our wonderful preservation and safe arrival at this Stake of Zion. Pres. of the Mission was Henry E. Phelps." William W. Phelps submitted the following letter to the Deseret News, which he received from his son, Henry E. Phelps:

New Orleans, January 10, 1855

Dear Father,

I left Liverpool on the 7th of December, in charge of a company of 422 Saints on board the "Clara Wheeler," Capt. Nelsen. All in good health and spirits. During the passage, we had one birth, seven marriages, and twenty-three deaths, all children, with the exception of two; all owing to the measles having been brought on board.

We have made the quickest passage of any of our ships, having only been 34 days from Liverpool to New Orleans. During the voyage we enjoyed the Spirit of the Lord and every blessing that could be asked for or required on ship board. When we arrived at New Orleans, we met Elder James McGraw, the agent for our emigration, and we made arrangements for all to go to St. Louis on the steamer "Oceans."

Sunday, Jan 14

Since writing the above we have embarked, and got up the river as far as Natchez, and as usual, the Lord has blessed us in every thing. We have with us the mortal remains and effects of the late Elder W. W. Major, who died in London of which you doubtless have been informed... E.C. Brand, [or Broud] as clerk, desires to be remembered to you and Brother S.W. Richards, and all the rest of the brethren. Please hand this to the Editor of the Deseret News, if you think proper. H.E.P [Henry E. Phelps]


(Henry E. Phelps was the son of William W. Phelps who wrote the texts to such wonderful songs as "The Spirit of God like Fire is Burning," "Now Let Us Rejoice," "Redeemer of Israel," "Praise to the Man," "Gently Raise the Sacred Strain," "O God, the Eternal Father" and others. Henry E. Phelps had traveled a full circle with William W. Major. They were called on the mission to England on the same day, traveled together, preached together, and returned home together.)


 Major's body travels from St. Louis to Mormon Grove, Kansas

W.W. Major's body was stored for six months from January to June.  That year the new jump off place for the migration to Salt Lake City was moved to Mormon Grove, Kansas, (near present day Atchison).  Seth M. Blair, who was returning from a mission to Texas, was placed in charge of a pioneer company headed to Great Salt Lake City.  On June 1rst he left St. Louis and traveled up the Missouri River in company with Daniel Spencer who was in the presidency of the European Mission and visited Major during his sickness.   Seth M Blair's Journal tells about the precious cargo his company carried:

With feelings of grattitude beyond Expression I record the fact that I have fullfilled my mission & have this day left St. Louis on the Lt. Boat! 'Alma' for Home... I have the privelege of the Company of Elder Daniel Spencer[,] Earl Riser[,] gm Barton & Several of the Saints & in deed we are free & Easey haveing The Controle allmost of Every thing aboard—

And amongst the precious po[r]tion of Our Cargo we have the remains of our beloved & worthy Saint & Martyred Servant of The Lord Elder W[illia]m W Majors who died in London, Eng[land], & who was a High priest & one of the Quorum of the Circle of High Priests who mett weekley in The Temple to offer up & invoke agreeable to the order of that House the blessings of God on his people[.] he was as a Saint[.] he died a martyr & a friend & Bro[ther] whom I loved & I hope get to mingle with his Spirit in the Paradise of God.

This is the last mention of W.W. Major's body. 


Where was W.W. Major buried?

 For 150 years the Major family asked the question, "Where was W.W. Major buried?"  Henry Vincent Major, son of William Warner Major Jr. asked me to try to solve this mystery in the 1970's.  Later, when I met the descendents of the second son of W.W. Major , Joseph Smith Major, they were also trying to find the resting place of W.W. Major.  He obviously never arrived in Salt Lake City. At first I thought he was buried in St. Louis, because he had a brother and sister who were members of the Church and who lived there.  Then I realized that if they had buried him, they would have communicated that fact to the Church and the Major family in Great Salt Lake City. 

As I researched further I discovered that the body of W. W. Major was most likely carried by the Seth Blair Pioneer Company which was partially made up of 30 saints from England. Included in this company was Henry E. Phelps who accompanied Major's body from England.   This group's tragedy was described by Captain Seth Blair:

Sunday June 23rd 10 AM[.] Today I taake pen in hand to record mellancholy facts as well as other more pleasing ones. I arrived At Aitchison [Atchison] on the 21st and found my little company awaiting me & was truly glad to again behold my face. We Speed[i]ly prepared for the plains & was organized by Bro E. Snow of the Twel[v]e-appostles my Self being appointed Capt. of & presiding Elder of the Company being the 3rd fifty organized this Season—for particulars of organization See report of Company 1[.] We left on the 15 & haveing travelled Some 20 mi[les] the Cholera made its appearance in Our Camp on the night of Monday the 17th & in the first 24 hours we lost 12 or 13 & up to this time I presume we have lost not less than 20 & at least the 5th of our whole Strength. The Camp presenting for the last 4 days a Cholera hospital! Such a Scene as neither pen can portray or tongue describe father & mother taken—& both buried in one grave or Side by Side leaving crying children Scattered over the Camp while the Shrieking crys [cries] & hollow groans of men & women wear [were] heard on Every Side with the Cry for help from the grave—diggers Whose toil was incessant Seemi[ng]ly night & day while the Stout heart & hale man or woman was seen to reel under their ardious [arduous] duty until a guard can hardly be had or a watch kept through the night of men who may be called well[.] True oh God dreadfull Seems our fate or providence & all I can add is I feel that Thee dotheth all things well

Their is not a family but what has to mourn the loss of Some One & in deed the very hands that administer to you are Cramped. in hand[,] leg—Stomach or are vomiting or purgeing [purging] more or less truly... 


In the end, one-third of the company, about 29 peopled, died of Cholera and were buried 20 miles outside of Mormon Grove.  It is probable that W.W. Major was buried there as well.  Seth Blair was so sick, he wouldn't have stopped the grave-diggers from digging one more hole.  Another returned missionary, Edward Stevenson,  was called upon to to take Seth Blair's place and Blair was sent on to the Great Salt Lake City.  It took months for his health to return, by then the body of W.W. Major was completely forgotten about by everyone but his family.    

It seems rather strange that so many of the Saints were buried at sea, or left in shallow graves crossing the plains, but William's body was transported across the ocean, up the Mississippi River, stored for 6 months, then placed on the boat called "Alma" on the Missouri River and sent to Mormon Grove, Kansas.  This demonstrates the great love and respect the pioneers had for their leader and friend, William Warner Major.

Closing Eulogy

The Kimball/Marsden history of William concludes with this eulogy:

Such is a brief outline of the career of this faithful messenger of Truth. It seems hard that he should die so far from home and friends, but this will serve to enhance his fame and brighten his crown. He fell while fighting the battle of truth. He fell honourably, nobly. He fell to rise again, for his title is divine, and he maintained it inviolate to the last.

It is hoped that Sarah received the chest and other personal effects of her husband, William.