The NYC Mayor Who Tried to Help the Mormons

July 3rd, 2012, by Kent Larsen

While LDS Church members are usually very familiar with the travails of those who took part in the pioneer trek, starting in 1846, few are familiar with the attempts to get non-Mormon help to alleviate the suffering of those on the trek. Seeing the need, many LDS leaders and missionaries spread across the U.S. seeking donations to help the destitute cross the plains starting in the winter of 1846-47. But their efforts found significant success only when they found an important and influential friend: Thomas L. Kane. And it is clearly through Kane’s efforts that then New York City Mayor William V. Brady.

By March of 1848, Kane had already assisted Jesse C. Little and William I. Appleby and others to hold major fundraising events in both Washington D.C. and Philadelphia. As a member of a very influential Democratic family, Kane knew how to influence the powerful and well-connected and obtain their help. The result in Washington and Philadelphia was a series of well-attended events whose organizers and backers included the leading lights of their communities.

After Washington and Philadelphia, the fundraisers turned their attention to New York City. With Kane’s contacts, they soon got the support of many of the best known names in the city. The 25 names that appeared under the call for the organizing meeting were headed by Mayor Brady, but also included:

  • Theodore Frelinghuysen, former U.S. Senator from New Jersey and Whig candidate for Vice President (running mate to Henry Clay),
  • Legal theorist and later U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Theodore Sedgwick,
  • Benjamin F. Butler, former Attorney General of the U.S., current U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York and a founder of New York University,
  • Mordecai Manuel Noah, owner of the New York Enquirer and the most important lay Jewish leader in New York,
  • Lewis Tappan, abolitionist leader and founder of the Journal of Commerce, best known for his coverage of the proceedings of the Amistad case,
  • Gregory Thurston Bedell, Episcopal priest in New York City and later Episcopal Bishop of Ohio.

But despite the celebrity behind those calling for this meeting, attendance was apparently sparse, perhaps because many places in the U.S. had responded less than a year earlier to the Irish Potatoe Famine, donating millions of dollars for the relief of the starving there. Many donors in the U.S., and especially in New York City, felt they had already given a lot. As a result, the report in the New York Tribune of the meeting, held 3 March 1848 in the New York University Chapel, reported that attendance was “limited.”

Nevertheless, the meeting resolved to

… commend to the favorable consideration of our fellow citizens the application about to be made to them by Messrs. Benson, Appleby, Little, and Snow, the Committee now in this City, for donations to relieve the emigrant Mormons in their present necessities.

Unfortunately, this left the work of canvasing the city for donations to the four Mormons. As a result, relatively little was collected.

Still, in the history of Mormonism in New York City, this is the earliest, and perhaps one of the most significant, attempts to assist Mormons. While the donations collected in New York City were relatively small, in total the hundreds of Mormons who spread across the country soliciting donations raised many thousands of dollars for relief.

By the following year, the crisis was over, aided substantially by the 1849 gold rush, which brought both goods to Utah and travelers who would purchase basic supplies at high prices. As a body, Mormons wold never again be in such need, and instead are known today for their generosity and organization in the face of disaster and destitution.


One Response to “The NYC Mayor Who Tried to Help the Mormons”

  1. Tod Robbins Says:

    Very cool! Did this particular fundraising effort tie into the voyage of the Brooklyn, or more generally to the emigrant needs? I have some family histories about this period, converts of Appleby when he was in New Jersey (Isaac Rogers Robbins, John Rodgers Robbins).

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