Stephen Forsdick (b. 1835): Emigration and Migration (Part 1)

… my ideas today are about summed up in that verse which reads, “show me thy faith without works and I will show you my faith by my works.”

The emigration of Mormon converts in the 1840s and 1850s is a particularly interesting part of British history that remains somewhat in the shadows compared to other aspects of 19th century history. However, Stephen Forsdick’s memoirs shine a very bright light upon this as he himself underwent this journey.

During the autumn of 1852, at age 17 Stephen decided to leave his current occupation in the Silk Mills, his first job since leaving school, to emigrate to America with the Latter–day Saints, or the Mormons. After becoming ‘thoroughly infatuated with their preaching’ (p, 6), Stephen was baptised by Immersion in a church named Henry Nibbell in 1849. Stephen regards this time in his life as a major turning point, ‘… my parents should have prevented me from joining the church. Had they done so, the entire course of my life would have been different.’ (p, 6) During the summer of 1850, Stephen was ordained a Teacher which entailed visiting members of the church and praying with them. The following year he then progressed and was ordained a Priest, ‘I was now a regular preacher.’ (p, 6)

He reminisces on how the Mormon Elders of the church preached that ‘all the Saints should be gathered together in one place’ (p, 6) and this was the beginning of the plans to emigrate to the Great Salt Lake City Valley, where they could learn and preach their religion in more depth together.

As pages 7–34 of Stephen’s memoirs are difficult to transcribe due to a printing issue from the original copy, we cannot consider how Stephen perceived his travels to America. However, an article by Fred E. Woods analyses the journey that the Mormon emigrants had undertaken, which Stephen would have experienced himself. This article, entitled The Tide of Mormon Migration Flowing Through the Port of Liverpool, England, illustrates the importance of Liverpool’s role within Mormon emigration: ‘Before setting sail, most British converts made their way to the port of Liverpool by rail’ (Woods, p63). Stephen would have had to travel to Liverpool by train before boarding a ship bound for Nauvoo, Illinois via New York.

Mormons gathered at Liverpool’s ports awaiting to board a ship bound for the US.

Many British converts from across Europe gathered in Liverpool awaiting their journey to America, showed in the picture above. Wood’s article explains that a lot of the converts were often quite young, including Stephen, which created quite an emotional scene at Liverpool’s ports: ‘Such farewells often created heightened emotions’ (Woods, p68). However, as Stephen recognised, this was an important journey for Mormon converts as they believed this was an essential step in ensuring they reached their full potential as committed members of the church: ‘Many sincere Saints longed to set sail for America, where they could consecrate their talents and labour towards the building of a Mormon temple’ (Woods, p68).

When the British converts arrived in America, they began to pioneer and travel across the Great Plains of the US. The original settlement had established a community within Illinois in the 1830s, as leader of the church Joseph Smith led the Mormons in multiple areas of building their new life: ‘Quickly they built a town, which they named Nauvoo… Not only did the Mormons organise farms and workshops, and build houses, but they also began another temple’ (Taylor, p41). When Stephen arrived in America, this was to become his new life.

Mormon trail of expansion in the 19th century.

However, Stephen’s life as a Mormon convert in America was not plain sailing, as he experienced conflict with superior members of the church, encountered danger involving the Native Americans as they travelled across the Plains and battled to rescue his wife from her Mormon father in a neighbouring camp. These issues shaped Stephen’s impressions of the Mormon community which he reflects on in his memoirs: ‘I consider the Mormon people a kind hearted and generous class of people.’ (p, 35) I will address these issues in more detail in Part 2 of Emigration and Migration.

Stephen’s journey to America will have been one that involved huge changes but exciting possibilities that awaited him in the US. Travelling to Liverpool by rail, most likely experiencing a train for the first time, then boarding a ship to cross the Atlantic to America, was a massive step for a 17-year-old boy who had left school at 14 and 3 years later left his family to commit to his beliefs. Nevertheless, once again Stephen’s nature of bravery and boldness shows again through this part of his life.

  • Forsdick, Stephen. ‘Untitled’, Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies, University of Brunel Library, Special Collection, 1.242a
  • Taylor, P. A. M. Expectations Westward: The Mormons and the Emigration of their British Converts in the Nineteenth Century. (New York: Cornell University Press, 1966)
  • Woods, Fred E. The Tide of Mormon Migration Flowing Through the Port of Liverpool, England. International Journal of Mormon Studies, Vol. 1 (2008) [60 – 86]
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