When attention was bad: Returning Missionaries in Manhattan, 1858

January 22nd, 2013, by Kent Larsen

LovejoysHotelThe New York Times somehow learned that 25 returning Mormon missionaries had arrived in New York City on March 10th, 1858 and tried to track them down and talk to them. But it is clear that the missionaries didn’t want to talk with the Times’ reporter at all. “The effort to learn any particulars concerning their party; where they had been, how long they had been abroad or even their names, was abortive. They referred the reporter to Mr. HERRIMAN, whom they designated as their chief, who they thought was at LOVEJOY’S Hotel,” the published report says. But at that hotel the reporter found six missionaries registered, not including Harriman. And, curiously, in signing the register those missionaries didn’t list Salt Lake City as their homes, instead listing Philadelphia, St. Louis and Syracuse.

Why were the missionaries so coy?

The lack of candor by the missionaries is not the only confusing part of the story. The Times article says that there were 25 missionaries in the group—three or four times the number that usually accompanied immigrants—and implies that there were no Mormon immigrants with them. Why not?

Here is the text of the article:

Arrival of the Mormon Missionaries

The ship Underwriter, Capt. ROBERTS, from Liverpool Jan. 23, arrived yesterday afternoon, bringing 25 Mormons, all Americans, who have been on a visit to various points of England and the Continent, as missionaries of the Church of Latter Day Saints, and upon business affairs. There is only one lady among them. The party were taken from the ship as she was passing up the river, and landed at Castle Garden, whence they all took their way to various hotels and private houses in the City.

At WALKER’S Hotel, No, 25 Greenwich-street, our reporter found four of the Elders with the only lady. They were seated at a small table in the sitting room, enjoying a game of whist, the lady looking on. The cards had evidently seen service. They were all young, healthy and good looking men, who have not apparently suffered from sea sickness or short rations. The effort to learn any particulars concerning their party; where they had been, how long they had been abroad or even their names, was abortive. They referred the reporter to Mr. HERRIMAN, whom they designated as their chief, who they thought was at LOVEJOY’S Hotel.

The discipline of the camp appears to prevail among them. The lady is young, rotund and not bad looking. In answer to the question if they were going to Salt Lake the chief speaker replied, that they were each going to their respective homes. One to Vermont, another to Illinois, &c.

At Mrs. LAWTON’S, No. 138 Cedar-street, there were six of the same party. At LOVEJOY’S Hotel there six others, whose names stood on the register as follows; David Wilkins and D. Margett, St. Louis; E. H. Price and T. Price, Philadelphia; Thomas R. King and Peter Robison, Syracuse1.

Several of the missionaries who returned on this voyage left accounts of their trip, including Phillip Margetts, Eli H. Peirce, Andrew P. Shumway and John L. Smith. Shumway’s reminiscences makes the reason for so many missionaries returning at once, as well as their lack of candor, clear:

“… I labored here [Glouchester District] till January 16th when I was called to go home in connection with all the Valley brethren in the mission. On account of the U. S. Army being sent to Utah. …”

He goes on to report that 22 missionaries were in the group he met in Liverpool prior to departure2, but skips over the landing in New York to discuss crossing the plains to Utah.

From the article, we can assume that the missionaries were worried that any attention might lead to delays or harassment, so they tried to keep a low profile in New York. None of the other accounts mentions the reporter, although one of those who talked to the reporter, John L. Smith, stayed at Walker’s Hotel and was probably one of the five that the reporter saw there (Smith only indicates that he stayed there. He left on the 12th.)3.

From the Mormon Migration Database it seems clear that the lady staying at Walker’s Hotel was Hannah Bond, the only woman on the passenger list outside of the Loosli family. Also on the list is a William Bond, who is, I assume, her husband. Since this is well before female missionaries were called, her presence is unusual. Did she accompany her husband on his mission, or did he marry while there? (I know that some apostles did this.) The only William Bond I’ve been able to find in my limited search immigrated from England with his family in 1856 and he doesn’t seem to have married anyone named Hannah, so I haven’t been able to find any additional information.

Henry Harriman, the leader that the reporter was referred to, was 54 years old and one of the Seven Presidents of the Seventy. He had accompanied a group of missionaries that went east from Salt Lake City the previous year, and like many of the rest of the missionaries had seen his mission cut short by the war.

The journal of Phillip Margetts (probably the D. Margett mentioned in the article) stops prior to the landing at Castle Garden, and therefore doesn’t mention anything about the stay in New York City. But his fellow traveler, Eli H. Peirce (probably the E. H. Price in the article) does talk about his stay:

“March 10 … We arrived in New York Harbor near to New York City. About 3 o’clock p.m. there then came a steamboat from New York City to our ship after the passengers. We then all got on board & went to shore. Landed at New York about half past 3 p.m. We were all very glad to set our feet upon land once more. My brother Thomas went & took our abode at Mr. Lovejoy’s Hotel in company with Elders Wilkins & Margetts, after eating a very hearty & sumptuous supper, we sat down & spent the evening in reading newspaper stories concerning the Mormons in Salt Lake & the Mormon war &c. & then we retired to bed to take our rest upon land once more4.”

He makes it sound like they were unaware of the reporter’s inquiry at Lovejoy’s Hotel (located at 34 Park Row, on the corner of Beakman St.). The letterhead of the hotel in 1861 said that guests could dine in a private restaurant adjoining the “Ladies’ Parlors,” so it is possible that the missionaries dined and read in the hotel’s private restaurant and parlors, as well as their rooms, where they were unaware of the reporter’s visit.

Peirce’s diary also suggests that the missionaries’ reason for listing homes outside of Utah wasn’t entirely incorrect. On leaving New York City the next day the Peirce brothers did go to Philadelphia, their home before they joined Mormonism:

“March 11 – Thursday. Beautiful morning. Rested very well through the night. After breakfast we went down to 117 John Street to see President Samuel W. Richards, as we understood that he was there along with President Appleby & Sternhouse. When we arrived at the place we was very happy to find them all enjoying very good health with the exceptions of President Appleby who was not very well in body but well in spirits. We tarried here with them for about 3 hours with several more of our elders, President Richards gave us our orders & instructions &c. We all then departed & went our way, my brother Thomas & myself took train & went to Philadelphia, 150 miles, among our relations to raise means if possible to assist us on our way home to the valley. We arrived at Uncle Caleb Peirce’s (my Father’s brother) in Philadelphia about 9 o’clock p.m. Found them all well. Uncle Caleb had just gone to bed. Aunt Mary was up. She was very glad to see us both thus far safe on our return home. We spent about an hour in talking about our travels, voyages over the sea &c. & then we retired to rest for the night5.”

In the end the curiosity of reporters and the public was largely unsatisfied. And as far as I can tell, the missionaries all arrived in Utah safely and without harassment. And by the end of the U.S. Civil War, the Utah War was long forgotten in New York City.

  1. “Arrival of the Mormon Missionaries.” New York Times, 11 March 1858, p. 1 column 6. I have divided the text into paragraphs to ease reading.
  2. I’m not sure why there are discrepancies in the number on this voyage. Shumway reports 22, the Times says 25 as does the “General Voyage Notes” in the Church records. But the Mormon Migration database at BYU lists 32 passengers, including the Loosli family (5 members), which may have been traveling independently.
  3. Smith, John Lyman, 1828-1898. Autobiography and diaries 1846-1895. (LDS Church Archives, Ms 2072, vol. 2, pp. 189-203, 216; Acc. #27179
  4. Peirce, Eli Harvey. Diaries, (1857-1858). Vol. 1 pp. 140-81, vol. 2 pp. 1-4, 59. (CHL)
  5. Peirce, Eli Harvey. Diaries, (1857-1858). Vol. 1 pp. 140-81, vol. 2 pp. 1-4, 59. (CHL)

3 Responses to “When attention was bad: Returning Missionaries in Manhattan, 1858”

  1. Bill MacKinnon Says:

    Thanks for running this interesting essay, to which Ardis Parshall alerted me this morning. I thought that I had pretty well combed the New York newspapers (including the “Times”) for this period, but I had missed this story. This essay (and your entire blog) strengthen my conviction that the Utah War story was an event with a far broader sweep than just Washington and Salt Lake City. Thanks for doing what you do.

  2. Kent Larsen Says:

    Bill, thanks for your kind words. They mean a lot coming from someone with your reputation and skill.

  3. Jonathan Felt Says:

    Kent, nice job on this website. My ancestor, Nathaniel Henry Felt, visited and worked in NY and Brooklyn during his life a number of times on record. I have often wondered about the details of his work in NY when he assisted John Taylor with The Mormon and at other times. His nephew Aaron Kemp Larrabee lived at 92 Lawrence Street in Brooklyn which became one of the places John Taylor, George Taylor, Wilford Woodruff etc stayed when NH Felt was in town. That was pre Brooklyn bridge so how did they get back and forth to work? I have not yet found any kind of a photo of Lawrence Street yet, but I am looking for one. BTW…you were right, it’s fun when someone like Bill MacKinnon pays attention. I have high regard for his work. It’s too bad we can’t just go back and ask our questions to these men we want to know. My interest is kindled anew because I am currently in Brooklyn for a short period working on a website with my friends of the Chabad Lubavitch sect of Judaism. I have been a privileged fly on the wall watching another faith while I have been here. Orthodox Jews and Mormons have much in common.

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