This evening we had a program at the Stake Center focused on what it was like to live in Nauvoo when the Bushmans were here. I was asked to give a presentation about every day life in Nauvoo. Here’s what I shared:
Jacob Bushman was my 2nd great-grandpa. He married Charlotte Turley, who was born in Nauvoo in 1840. For many years, I’ve been doing research for Rick Turley, former Church Historian. Years ago he asked me to read every Nauvoo-era journal I could get my hands on to find mention of our families. I spent 100s of hours in libraries, archives, special collections and reading accounts that have been digitized online. I love the Nauvoo Era and I have loved finding my ancestors there.
As I’ve read these personal journals, I’ve tried to keep in mind the words of 2 historians:
David McCullough, speaking once at BYU said:
Nobody ever lived in the past. Jefferson, Adams, George Washington—they didn’t walk around saying, “Isn’t this fascinating living in the past? Aren’t we picturesque in our funny clothes?” They were living in the present, just as we do. The great difference is that it was their present, not ours. And just as we don’t know how things are going to turn out, they didn’t either.
Erik Larsen (preface to In the Garden of the Beast, a book about Hitler’s world):
The trouble with nonfiction [is] One has to put aside what we all know–now –to be true, and try instead to accompany [our people] my two innocents through the world as they experienced it. These were complicated people moving through a complicated time,
I think that’s also the challenge of doing FH work–we must accompany our ancestors through the world as they experienced it in their present. They were complicated people moving through a complicated time. That’s what I discovered in Nauvoo.
These are things I learned about Nauvoo:
Small homes, hewn logs, some framed, some brick, with one, two or three rooms.
Hand dug wells, cisterns
Privies or outhouses
Little or no privacy
Most furnishings had been left behind
Fireplaces for warmth and cooking (no matches)
Limited bathing (cold water) or washing in the river
White-washed walls, dirt or plank floors
Candle light at night
Bed bugs, rats
Joseph Lee Robinson Journal:
“When we arrived in the city of Nauvoo [Aug 1841], I soon found my brother Ebenezer. He had a house for us to go to. It was a big log house near his printing office. Ebenezer was the printer for the church. He was writing the Church Organ, so had built a large two-story house. The top floor was used for his home and the bottom for the printing press. It was near the river, not far from the Prophet Joseph’s home. The worst enemy we found here was the long-tailed rat, that would bite the lips and nose of our little children while they slept.” (Page 6)
Straw or feather tick beds
Nights were cold, no insulation in the homes
Some had cast iron stoves
It was an animal-dominated society
Lots of flies
Women made soap, sewed clothing
Spinning wheels, looms
Cloth by the yard
Men’s trades: Farmers, Laborers, Carpenters, Lumbermen, Sawyers, Blacksmiths, Joiners, Tailors, Tanners, Coopers, Millwrights,
Fences enclosed gardens
100s of fruit trees were planted
Men hunted, no game laws –prairie chickens, quail, rabbits,
No refrigeration for food
Root cellars, lowered food into cool wells
Spring houses near cool water
Salting or smoking meat
Drying or storing in root cellars
Pickling in brines or vinegar
7-10 per small home
Midwives (In Old Nauvoo, p. 123)
In Old Nauvoo by George W. Givens, p. 123
Little is recorded of midwifery in the Mormon city other than that there were several. In the vacated homes of two of them, after the exodus, were found pills, ointment, salves, cough and worm medicine, scalpels, needles, scissors, tweezers, and a few obstetrical instruments. Also found was a package of scorched cloths, the result of over-sterilizing.
Farm labor, animal care, planting & harvesting
Milking & butchering
Illness, limited medical care
Games, races, parties, balls, picnics
Strolling through town Childhood diseases, especially malaria
Make-do games and toys, rag dolls
One-room schools, many met in homes
Show the book: In Old Nauvoo – Everyday Life in the City of Joseph by George W. Givens
A few years ago I spent a couple of days at the Church History Library in Salt Lake City. I was on a quest to find records of my great great great grandfathers in the Nauvoo Tithing Books.
I was excited when they brought the actual books to me– Nauvoo Tithing Day Books B and C. Book B started 21 Dec 1842 and went until Aug 1844, 350+ pages. The books are about 9 inches tall, about 6 inches wide and about 1.5 inches thick. They are Leather bound, thick pages, beautiful entries in slightly faded ink, clear handwriting, daily entries. For the next 5+ hours I stepped back into Old Nauvoo.
In my journal that day, I wrote:
It was amazing. Sobering. I feel like I’ve looked into the lives and homes of those Saints in a way no book about Nauvoo could capture or express. I felt grit and desperation and sacrifice. And service and selflessness extordinaire. I was humbled and enthralled and the hours on the clock flew by. Every time I looked up, I had to go move the car so I wasn’t ticketed. I could hardly bare to leave that world and step out into downtown Salt Lake City to walk up the street to my luxury liner suburban. I felt embarrassed at the thought of how MUCH we have and how seldom we consider our abundance. I wanted to crawl into a cabin somewhere and strip it all away from me and be like they were.
As I read through the entries, day by day, page by page, I looked first for names. Turleys, Bushmans, and dozens of others who’s journals I’ve read. I felt like I was among friends, at least people I know (although they have no idea who I am). I recognized so many of them. It was like walking through streets of a place I’ve once been, but not. Here was Jane Manning, there was Wm. Huntington, Wm. Clayton, Isaac Haight, Nathan C. Tenney, Smith family members, John Murdock, John D. Lee, Heber C Kimball, Patty Sessions, Eli Kelsey, Lydia Partridge and so many more. I knew so many of them from my studies. As I read the lists, mostly very short, of what they had to give. I started taking some notes of the interesting things, the household items, the garden crops, the tools, the dry goods. It was amazing to see their belongings being so freely given. When they could they gave cash, when they had no cash, they gave services and labor.
I returned the next day and recorded this in my journal:
Yesterday I started jotting down interesting items that were donated, and I filled several pages with notes. Today I added prices to many of those items, filling columns and columns with things and services and items from their daily lives. I can’t think of anything I’ve read that has given me a better feel for what day-to-day life was like for my family members in Nauvoo. Today I found Theodore Turley in 4 more entries, Martin Bushman in 3 entries, James Holt in one entry, and the Barker family–Frederick, George, Ann, Mary Ann and James, each in an entry. All are my 3rd great grandparents. It was thrilling to see them all there. It’s hard to describe how it felt to read that one of Martin Bushman’s tithing offerings was 3 pecks of carrots, for which he was credited 25 cents. In other entries he gave 4 bushels of buckwheat for $1.25, 2 bushels of rye for 80 cents and 2 bushels of wheat for $1.00. I smiled when I read that on 26 Nov 1844 Theodore gave 2 Hogs with a value of $1.25 each, totaling $2.50.
I worked today until they asked me to go home at their 5:00 closing, I barely finished the 2nd book. Again, I felt odd as I walked out into my present day world, filled with high rise buildings and traffic and beautiful landscaping with a river running along a busy city street. It struck me that they probably had little time or means to beautify their lives–their efforts were directed towards the temple and sustaining life. It made me happy, however to occasionally read about small donations like a lace collar or even some extravagant ones like a silk shawl. I am going to type up all my notes and will include them here as soon as I do. I don’t want to forget what I’ve seen and felt here this week.
Here is another interesting look at Nauvoo:
The Empty Streets of Nauvoo
By Thomas L. Kane [1822–1883]
A non-member discovers the “glittering city” deserted and the retreating Saints destitute.
Although he never became a member of the Church, Thomas Leiper Kane was a great friend of the Latter-day Saints in their struggles against religious persecution. Many times he helped find solutions to misunderstandings between the government and the Mormon pioneers. He served honorably in the United States Civil War and later directed the development of mines and the construction of a railroad in Pennsylvania, where he had been born in 1822. In a March 26, 1850 lecture to the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, he described a 1846 visit to Nauvoo, Illinois—just after the mob had expelled the remnant of the Saints and captured the city. This article is extracted from that lecture.
Before reaching Nauvoo, Kane described the area of Iowa through which he traveled by boat and horse drawn carriage as being a sanctuary for “horse thieves, and other outlaws.” He said he grew tired of seeing “everywhere sordid, vagabond and idle settlers; and a country marred, without being improved, by their careless hands.”
I was descending the last hillside upon my journey, when a landscape in delightful contrast broke upon my view. Half encircled by a bend of the river, a beautiful city lay glittering in the fresh morning sun; its bright new dwellings, set in cool green gardens, ranging up around a stately dome-shaped hill, which was crowned by a noble marble edifice, whose tapering spire was radiant with white and gold. The city appeared to cover several miles; and beyond it, in the back ground, there [were well-tended fields]. The unmistakable marks of industry, enterprise and educated wealth, everywhere, made the scene one of singular and most striking beauty.
Kane obtained a small boat and rowed across the river to the city’s shore.
No one met me there. I looked, and saw no one. I could hear no one move; though the quiet everywhere was such that I heard the flies buzz, and the water ripples breaking against the shallow of the beach. I walked through the solitary streets. The town lay as in a dream, under some deadening spell of loneliness, from which I almost feared to wake it. For plainly it had not slept long. There was no grass growing up in the paved ways. Rains had not entirely washed away the prints of dusty footsteps.
Kane walked through workshops where materials of wood, leather, and iron were stacked ready for use, and equipment and tools lay where they had been left by the craftsmen. He then walked into well-cared-for gardens; examined fruits, vegetables and flowers; and helped himself to a drink from a well.
No one called out to me from any opened window, or any dog sprang forward to bark an alarm. I could have supposed the people hidden in the houses, but the doors were unfastened; and when I timidly entered them, I found [cold] ashes white upon the hearths, and had to tread tiptoe, … to avoid rousing irreverent echoes from the naked floors.
On the outskirts of the city was the graveyard. But there was no record of the Plague there, nor did it in anywise differ much from other Protestant American cemeteries. Some of the mounds were not long sodded; some of the stones were newly set, their dates recent, …
Kane said that beyond the houses fields upon fields of grain lay rotting on the ground with no one to harvest it. As he walked around the suburbs at the southern edge of the city, he made two important discoveries.
Houses looking out upon the country showed, by their splintered woodwork and walls battered to the foundation, that they had lately been the mark of a destructive cannonade. And in and around the splendid Temple, which had been the chief object of my admiration, armed men were barracked, surrounded by their stacks of musketry and pieces of heavy ordnance. These [men] challenged me to render an account of myself, and why I had the temerity to cross the water without written permission from a leader of their band.
Though these men were generally more or less under the influence of ardent spirits [alcohol]; after I had explained myself as a passing stranger, they seemed anxious to gain my good opinion. They told me the story of the Dead City: that it had been a notable manufacturing and commercial [center], with 20,000 population; that they had waged war with its inhabitants for several years, and had been finally successful only a few days before my visit, in an action fought in front of the ruined suburb; after which, they had driven them forth at the point of the sword. The defence, they said, had been obstinate, but gave way on the third day’s bombardment. They boasted greatly of their prowess, especially in this Battle, as they called it; but I discovered they [could not agree on the details]; one of which, as I remember, was that they had slain a father and his son, a boy of fifteen, not long residents of the fated city, whom they admitted to have borne a character without reproach.
Kane was then shown around the “massive sculptured walls of the curious Temple,” which the invaders had vandalized. He was shown various features of the building including the baptismal font, “a large and deep chiselled marble vase or basin, supported upon twelve (life-size) oxen, also of marble.”
They permitted me also to ascend into the steeple, to see where it had been lightning-struck on the Sabbath before; and to look out, East and South, on wasted farms like those I had seen near the City, extending till they were lost in the distance. Here, … close to the scar of the Divine wrath left by the thunderbolt, were fragments of food, cruses of liquor and broken drinking vessels, …
It was after nightfall, when I was ready to cross the river on my return. The wind had freshened since the sunset; and the water beating roughly into my little boat, I headed higher up the stream than the point I had left in the morning, and landed where a faint glimmering light invited me to steer.
Here, … sheltered only by the darkness, without roof between them and the sky, I came upon a crowd of several hundred human creatures, whom my movements roused from an uneasy slumber on the ground.
The “faint glimmering light” that had guided him came from a candle that provided poor illumination for a woman tending a man dying of fever. Two little girls, sobbing, sat in the darkness nearby. Kane was to discover that this was a typical scene.
Dreadful, indeed, was the suffering of these forsaken beings. Cowed and cramped by cold and sunburn, alternating as each weary day and night dragged on, they were, most of them, the crippled victims of disease. They were there because they had no homes, nor hospital nor poor-house nor friends to offer them any. They could not satisfy the feeble cravings of their sick; they had not bread to quiet … hunger cries of their children. Mothers and babes, daughters and grandparents, all of them alike, were [camped] in tatters, wanting even covering to comfort those whom the sick shiver of fever was searching to the marrow.
These were Mormons, famishing, in Lee county, Iowa, in the fourth week of the month of September, in the year of our Lord 1846. The city—it was Nauvoo, Illinois. The Mormons were the owners of that city, and the smiling country round. And those who had stopped their ploughs, who had silenced their hammers, their axes, their shuttles and their workshop wheels; those who had put out their fires, who had eaten their food, spoiled their orchards, and trampled under foot their thousands of acres of unharvested bread; were [now] the keepers of their dwellings, the carousers in their Temple, whose drunken riot insulted the ears of their dying.
The party encountered by me at the river shore were the last of the Mormons that left the city. They had all of them engaged the year before that they would vacate their homes, and seek some other place of refuge. It had been a condition of a truce between them and their assailants; and as an earnest of their good faith, the chief elders … , with their families, were to set out for the West in the Spring of 1846. It had been stipulated in return, that the rest of the Mormons might remain behind in their peaceful enjoyment of their Illinois abode, until their leaders, with their exploring party, could with all diligence select for them a new place of settlement beyond the Rocky Mountains, in California, or elsewhere, and until they had opportunity to dispose to the best advantage of the property which they were then to leave.
[But] the enemy had only waited till the emigrants were supposed to be gone on their road too far to return to interfere with them, and then renewed their aggressions [against the Saints remaining in Nauvoo].
Kane said that during the truce while the Saints were still allowed to remain in Nauvoo, they worked on the temple.
Strange to say, the chief part of their respite was devoted to completing the structure of their … beautiful Temple. Since the dispersion of Jewry, probably, history affords us no parallel to the attachment of the Mormons for this edifice. Its erection had been enjoined upon them as a most sacred duty: they were proud of the honor it conferred upon their city, when it grew up in its splendour to become the chief object of the admiration of strangers upon the Upper Mississippi. Beside, they had built it as a labor of love; they could count up to a half-million [dollars] the value of their tithings and free-will offerings laid upon it. Hardly a Mormon woman had not given up to it some trinket or [money saved]: the poorest Mormon man had at least served a tenth part of his year upon its walls; … Therefore, though their enemies drove on them ruthlessly, they succeeded in parrying the last sword-thrust, till they had completed even the gilding of the angel and trumpet on the summit of its lofty spire.
The completed temple was dedicated in May 1846. With the sacred rites of consecration ended, the Saints emptied the structure of anything of value, and anything that could be desecrated by the mobs.
[The work] went on through the night; and when the morning of the next day dawned, all the ornaments and furniture, everything that could provoke a sneer, had been carried off; and except some fixtures that would not bear removal, the building was dismantled to the bare walls.
It was this day that saw the departure of the last elders, and the largest band that moved in one company together. The people of Iowa have told me, that from morning to night they [the Saints] passed westward like an endless procession. They did not seem greatly out of heart, they said; but, at the top of every hill before they disappeared, were to be seen looking back on their abandoned homes, and the far-seen Temple and its glittering spire.
Prior to his visit to Nauvoo, Kane had observed the westward-bound Saints at work and at play in the Camps of Israel. He was impressed that they were honest and sincere in their testimonies of the gospel. He expressed amazement at the sacrifices many of them made and at the love that existed in the camps in spite of the hunger and hardships the Saints suffered. In later years, he made three visits to the Saints in Utah, where he was very welcome. His last visit, in 1877, was at the death of Brigham Young to whose “masterly guidance,” he said, the Saints were indebted for their prosperity. Hours before his own death in 1883 in Pennsylvania, he asked his wife to send “The sweetest message you can make up to my Mormon friends—to all, my dear Mormon friends.”