Friday, September 2, 2011

The Emigration of Richard Litson, Part 1 of 2

This is a history of Richard Litson, Sr., born September 18, 1819 in North Molton, Devonshire, England. It tells of his journey to Utah with his wife Frances Ann Mathews Litson, and their sons Richard and Joseph Young. Their journey started on April 30, 1866. He died October 29, 1872. [Much of this information was taken from the diary of Richard Litson, Jr. I am trying to locate a copy of it.]

Richard Litson, Senior, having received the Gospel and being converted to it, hungered for the blessings and advantages that Zion offered and longed for the day when he could come to Utah, the beautiful valley of the mountains where God’s true Church was established and men could live and worship in peace with their fellow Saints. But it took money, time, and many sacrifices to get there. This Richard Litson knew but he was undaunted. Working very hard and sacrificing many pleasures and comforts, he saved enough money to send his two daughters, Joan Jeanetta Litson and Eliza Mary Litson, in the year of 1863.

Three years after the journey of the two girls, enough money had been saved for the rest of the family to start on their way to Zion and reunite their family. They started from Porth Station, lodging that night at Merthye and traveling by special train to Liverpool where they had to walk three miles to Bramley Moore Dock. They sailed on the John Bright, occupying berths numbers 417 and 418, or the 8th Ward. Brigham Young, Junior, came on board the ship and held an excellent council meeting, giving the people encouragement and advice and answering questions. After the meeting was over, he left and went back to the ship Royal Alfred on which he sailed.

[Two of the other emigrants on the ship John Bright were B.H. Roberts and John H. Gibbs. You can read an interesting story about them at Amateur Mormon Historian. There is more information about the ship John Bright at the website of the National Maritime Museum.]

The passengers were all examined by the doctor before sailing on their journey on April 30, 1866. The weather was fair and good progress was made. The Saints broke the monotony of sailing by singing hymns, reading and helping the sailors turn the sails. Sometimes a ship would go by and they waved to those aboard. Often they saw sea pigs [dolphins or porpoises] jump out of the water which amused them. On days that the sea was rough, huge waves dashed at the front of the ship and as they lashed at each other they looked like huge mountains. Many people would get seasick on such days, and would have to remain in their berths. Mrs. Richard Litson was among those and felt pretty bad for a few days. However, she soon got used to the sailing and enjoyed herself on sunny, smooth days, but felt rocky and kept to her bed on rough ones.

After a rough night the sails had to be fixed and the Litsons and other Saints helped the sailors in this task. One good day the passengers were obliged to go on the top deck while the sailors fumigated the lower decks to purify them so as not to spread disease. The passengers had to leave without their dinners and as some of them “lived to eat” instead of “eating to live,” Richard Litson was posted to keep order at the door of the cooking gallery as some of the weak-willed would not run riot until the sailors had finished with their task. On one occasion the Saints had started a concert and many beautiful hymns and selections were rendered, but because of a heavy rain, it had to be finished another day, but there was no grumbling, the Saints took it as they did every other discouragement, in good spirit.

As they neared New York, they saw several ships, some going in the same direction, and one, the screw Plackett, was headed for Liverpool. When the weather was foggy the sailors took turns standing at the front of the ship blowing on a trumpet four times every few minutes as a signal to other ships.

The passengers saw several fishing boats out to make their catch even though the sea was rough and it was rainy weather. However, the ship plunged on through calm or rough seas and the Saints praised God his mercy on them in their crossing. As they saw the ships passing at a distance, and because distance was hard to determine on the ocean, the younger Litsons amused themselves by likening the shapes of ships to objects such as a ball, a post, etc., as they sailed on the glimmering water.

The pilot came with the pilot boat Edward Williams, No. 14, and stayed by them. The steamer the Charles Chamberlain came out to take them into the harbor. As they came near the harbor they were pleased with the beautiful scenery, the large houses and the many cottages. There were many steamers, the names of which were: Northfield, Middletown, Thomas, Hunt, America and others. They sailed in the boat Ontario and the tug Peter Cary pulled them to the Castle Garden Emigration Landing Depot.

The first death they witnessed was Sarah Evans, wife of John Evans, who died at the Castle Garden Emigration Landing Depot.

They boarded the train and were very pleased with the good cushioned seats and the accommodations which were better than in England. They saw lovely scenery of trees, meadows, birds, animals, and many little things they had not seen before. The train they were riding contained twenty cars besides those the Saints were riding in. The engines of the trains were different and had different names than the English trains, and the people were interested in this. They traveled 400 miles, seeing scarcely anything but trees. They changed trains at a small train shed and traveled in cattle cars that stopped several times and were rougher riding. They changed trains at Kingston Station and had better luck in securing a better riding train. They passed Napanese [Napanee] Station, Shanneville [Shannonville], Belleville, Coleburg [Cobourg], Newcastle, Fort Union [probably in Toronto], and Stations Berlin [now Kitchener, since 1916], Lucan, Ailsa Craig, Enirge [?], and Iova [?]. On the road they saw horses, cows, nanny goats, and billy goats, geese and goslings in the various fields.

They stopped at Camlachie Station [perhaps in Windsor] and got off the train, and stood on the side of the [St. Clair ?] river waiting their turn to be taken across on the steamer W. J. Spicer. While waiting they sat on the platform to rest watching the fish and birds flying over the water.

They boarded the train Dorchester and traveled about 217 miles from Detroit. They saw many other engines and many new scenes. They stopped at Chicago, Illinois, and spent the night in a train shed, sleeping on the floor, but the night was spent in peace and safety. A Brother Clark and granddaughter died that day, bringing the deaths of their party to a total of four since starting on their journey. They boarded the Illinois Central train the next morning but because seats were unavailable, they sat on the floor. On arriving at Quincy, they went into the Rosa Taylor steamer and crossed the river, boarding the [Hannibal] and St. Joseph railroad train. They managed to get two seats after much hurrying and crowding. After eight days of train travel, they reached St. Joseph, put their luggage in the steamer to sail to Wyoming, and slept in the train shed that night.

The steamer traveled quite fast, and they saw several other steamers on the river. The most thrilling sight was when they saw their first Indians who were standing on the banks of the river watching the boats going up and down stream. They were filled with awe and wonder at the copper-skinned natives but could not form clear ideas as they had to leave their positions for men who had to fire up the steamer. After eleven stops, the party at last landed at the place where they could secure their teams and wagons to start over the plains. After several days of preparation, they started on their way. The first day they traveled 2-1/2 hours and then stopped and camped for the night by a beautiful house where there was water and wood. The next stop was made by water, but there was not much wood to be had. They passed several teams going east and passed two other trains going west. The passing of several graves, which marked the trail and bore a testimony of those who had passed ahead, dampened their spirits. They camped by the Platte River South, and as they followed the river they saw many Indians who were friendly and made no trouble. The party followed near the river, getting their water from it, but had scarcely any wood for four or five days. They passed through Kearney City which had a post office and bakery. They had spasms of rainy weather for a few days with lightning and thunder but made good progress considering these circumstances.

To be continued on Monday...

Photo of porpoise swimming in the ocean off Australia in 1909 from


  1. First, I really enjoy your blog.

    These posts on Richard Litson were especially interesting to me as some of my ancestors were also passengers on the "John Bright" (John, Caroline and Meshach Pitt). The Pitts were originally from Willenhall in Staffordshire.

    Your posts fill in a lot of the blanks for me regarding that company's passage from Liverpool and emigration. Thanks!

  2. Thanks! Have you looked at the Mormon Migration website for additional information? Do you know if the Pitts followed the same route north through Canada and then back south through Chicago, or did they travel straight across the country?

    It looks like they're listed on the Overland Travel database as crossing the country in either 1866 or 1867, so they could have been one of many families that took more than a single calendar year to travel from Europe to Utah. It was a long hard trip!

  3. Amy, yes the Pioneer Database is frustratingly vague about my Pitts. Whatever route they actually traveled, and however long it took them to arrive, your account of Richard Litson has at least provided me a window to better understand the journey. Thanks.