Gather to Zion

Ronald D. Dennis, The Call of Zion: The Story of the First Welsh Mormon Emigration (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1987), 1–6.

The first Mormon missionaries assigned to Wales were Henry Royle and Frederick Cook, who began to proselyte in North Wales in October 1840. Some months earlier others had been preaching in the English counties which border Wales. These missionaries could well have gone into some of the Welsh villages for a street meeting or two.

The first missionary assigned to the heartland of Wales was William Henshaw. He went directly to cosmopolitan Merthyr Tydfil, a burgeoning town which had recently become the industrial center of Wales. With no knowledge of the Welsh language, Henshaw had to proclaim his message in English and hope some would understand. On 19 February 1843 he baptized his first converts, the William Davis family. During the following three years, Henshaw established several branches in Glamorgan and Monmouth, branches with a membership totaling nearly five hundred members.

In December 1845 Captain Dan Jones was called to preside over all Welsh Mormons. He went down to Merthyr Tydfil after having spent the previous year in an unproductive North Wales. For the next decade this feisty and somewhat flamboyant mariner, having exchanged a ship’s deck for a preacher’s pulpit, would be the central figure of Welsh Mormondom.

Born in North Wales in 1810, Dan Jones went to sea at age seventeen and for the following ten years spent most of his life away from Wales. Shortly after he married Jane Melling in 1837 he took her to America, where he became an American citizen and operated a steamboat on the Mississippi River. It was while he was captain of the little steamer Maid of Iowa that he first heard of the Mormons. Incredulous at the scurrilous stories then being printed in the Warsaw (Illinois) Signal and elsewhere, Jones sought out the missionaries to obtain firsthand information. The result was his conversion, and in January of 1843 he accepted baptism in the icy waters of the Mississippi. He had not as yet met the Prophet Joseph Smith but did so just a few months later in April after transporting a group of British immigrants from St. Louis to Nauvoo. The friendship that resulted between the Prophet and the Captain continued right up to Joseph’s martyrdom at the Carthage Jail in Illinois. Jones was the recipient of Joseph’s last prophecy, which was that the Welshman would return to his native land and fulfill the mission to which he had been called some months earlier. After three narrow escapes from death during the next thirty-six hours, Jones proceeded to make preparations to journey back to Britain.

Jones and his wife, Jane, traveling in company with Wilford Woodruff and Hiram Clark, reached Liverpool in January of 1845. First assigned to North Wales, Jones labored nearly all of 1845 but baptized only two or three converts. He was amazed at William Henshaw’s success in South Wales and was no doubt disappointed at the lack of his own. His reassignment to South Wales, however, would bring forth more encouraging results. During 1846 there were nearly five hundred Welsh converts; in 1847 just under one thousand; and an astounding 1,700 during 1848, the last year of Jones’s first mission.

One of Jones’s principal tools in proselyting the Welsh nation was the printing press. Numerous pamphlets in support of Mormonism, together with a monthly periodical called Prophwydy Jubili (Prophet of the Jubilee) and a 288-page scriptural commentary—all in Welsh—were published between 1845 and 1848 by this energetic Welshman.

Converting his compatriots, however, represented only one of his objectives. Getting them “home to Zion” was the ultimate goal. The location of “Zion” shifted from Nauvoo, Illinois, to the Rocky Mountains during Jones’s first mission, but enthusiasm for emigrating continued undiminished.

The Perpetual Emigrating Fund, which would assist many British converts to emigrate, had not as yet been established, and the cost of the voyage was out of reach for most Welsh converts, inasmuch as most of them clung to the lowest rungs of the economic ladder. They were encouraged, however, to rely on faith and save what they could; and the Lord would provide.

A ray of hope shone through the clouds of British Mormon poverty when the Joint Stock Company was established. From its inception in 1845, Jones was an ardent supporter and encouraged his flock to purchase all the shares they could afford. Hope was extinguished about a year later when Reuben Hedlock absconded with over £400 of the company’s funds, £70 of which had been invested by Welsh Saints. To what extent this fiasco caused investors to abandon Mormonism is difficult to assess, since the Millennial Star printed very little about it and the Prophwyd y Jubili was totally silent. But William Henshaw, William Phillips, and Dan Jones, the three persons whose names are seen most often as contributors, continued firm in the faith after the loss. Also in the fall of 1846 when the company was terminated by the Church, there were fewer than nine hundred Welsh Mormons. That conversions increased and that the other religious periodicals did not make an issue of the company’s failure suggest that repercussions were comparatively small.

The official organ of the Welsh Mormons, Prophwyd y Jubili, appeared monthly between July 1846 and December 1848. In nearly every one of the thirty issues there was something about emigrating: such articles as “The Landing of Sam Brannan in California,” “Description of California,” [1] “News from the Saints in the Wilderness,” “Who Is Ready to Start Homeward?,” a letter from Wilford Woodruff while crossing the plains—all these fanned the flames of emigrating fever. A three-page article entitled “Twenty-nine Welshmen Lose Their Jobs in Cwmbychan Because They Are Mormons” added fuel.

In the February 1848 Prophwydy Jubili (29–31), Jones announced that official approval had been given for the Welsh to begin making definite plans for emigrating in a year’s time. All were encouraged to pay off their debts, and the wealthy were asked to be generous in assisting the poor to leave “Babylon” for the promised land.

In the June 1848 Prophwyd y Jubili (92–95), Jones printed Thomas Bullock’s account of the trek from Council Bluffs to Utah so future emigrants would have a better idea of what lay in store for them. And in October Jones announced that he, himself, had been granted permission to go with the first shipload of Welsh Saints. Thus he would “get the pleasant company and heavenly teaching of the sons of Zion instead of defending the truth against the malicious tales, false assertions, and the poison and slime of this perverse and obstinate nation” (Prophwydy Jubili, October 1848, 153, trans.).

Also in the October issue appeared a new song, “Hail to California,” to be sung by the Welsh as they sailed away (no credit is given to the composer of the song; consequently, one would suppose that the editor, Dan Jones, had written it):

When pestilence is harvesting the countries—

Harvesting man like the grass of the field;

When its foul breeze blows

Laying waste the green earth, California,

Yonder across the distant seas, for me.

When the sharp shining sword

Is bathed in blood;

Yes, blood—the warm blood of men,

In the worst battles ever fought, California—

Yonder to the Rocky Mountains I shall go.

(Prophwyd y Jubili, October 1848, 158. Appendix E, Translated Documents, item 1. hereafter translated documents will be indicated by TD.)

Two months later in Seren Gomer (Star of Gomer), a Baptist periodical, appeared a lengthy parody of “Hail to California” entitled “An Invitation to California.” The following two verses are typical of the scornful tone throughout:

We can get corn without sowing or harrowing,

Everyone believe, everyone believe.

And bread without baking it,

Everyone believe,

Houses will grow for us from the earth,

Lovely and attractive palaces,

Oh, this is an alluring place,

Everyone believe, everyone believe,

A place where pain or sorrow will not come,

Everyone believe.

There are fat oxen there,

This is heaven, this is heaven,

And thousands of fat pigs,

This is heaven,

Are waiting by the doors,

With the knives in their throats,

Ready, morning and night,

This is heaven, this is heaven,

There is no one with a sparse table,

This is heaven.

(Seren Gomer, December 1848, 373–74, TD4;

the parody is signed “A Small Seer.”)

The song that was sung, however, as the Welsh left Liverpool was yet another one, entitled “The Saints’ Farewell”:

Farewell now to everyone;

We shall sail the great ocean,

In complete longing for God’s Zion,

For it is better to go to the land

Given to us by our Father;

We have lived captive far too long.

Freedom has come to us in the wake of adversity,

We have been called out of Babel;

At the call, our intention is to go—

To go in spite of the cruel enemy:

Our God, through His great grace,

Will bring us safely to His seemly Zion.

(Prophwydy Jubili, December 1848, 186, TD3; the

song was signed “J. D . , “ a pseudonym for John

Davis, successor to Dan Jones in the printing office.)

The Reverend H. W.Jones, publisher of Seren Gomer and former employer of John Davis, was not enthusiastic at the prospect of so many Welsh men and women—many former Baptists—turning their backs on their homeland. In his periodical he warned the Welsh Mormons with an ominous prophecy:

After receiving enough money to get a ship or ships to voyage to California, their Chief-President [Dan Jones] will sail them to Cuba, or some place like it, and will sell them as slaves, every jack one of them. It would serve them right for having such little respect for the book of Christ and giving it up for the books of Mormon. (Seren Gomer, October 1848, 305, trans.; the article was signed “Anti-Humbug,” identified by John Davis as H. W. Jones.)

Through Prophwd y Jubili a call was made for the names and ages of all who intended to emigrate. A deposit of one pound sterling per person had to be paid no later than 31 December to secure passage. Detailed instructions concerning essentials such as food, clothing, trunks, and tools were printed in the November 1848 Prophwyd y Jubili (165–69, TD2). The itinerary was described and final counsel concerning indebtedness was given. Over three hundred Welsh Saints declared themselves candidates for the first emigrating party.

The opponents of Mormonism in Wales were incensed at these enticements and claimed that their compatriots were victims of a grand and wicked scheme. Anti-Mormon publications, articles, lectures, and campaigns grew in number and intensity. Over a year before the emigration, Dan Jones assessed the situation in the Merthyr area in a 29 September 1847 letter to Orson Spencer, president of the missionary effort in Great Britain:

They have exhausted all their ammunition at poor Joseph, and have of late beset poor Captain Jones, “his imp,” and “arch impostor of Wales;” and it is truly amusing to witness the exertions of these Nothingarians, in ransacking the vocabulary of Billingsgate itself for titles with which to crown me! Some say, they have proven me even worse than Joe Smith! Others say, “He is not quite so bad, but soon will be!” The scenes here are very like the continental rabbles of Missouri, etc., and still raging worse and hotter daily. You need not be surprised should you hear of Carthage tragedies in Wales, ere long. The whole towns and works hereabouts, containing over 60,000 people, are actually drunken with infatuation, and rage for or against Mormonism. (Millennial Star, 15 October 1847, 318–19)

Some of Jones’s fellow emigrants also wrote of the severe opposition just prior to their departure from Merthyr Tydfil to Swansea en route to Liverpool:

The life of our dear Brother Captain Jones was in such danger that his house was attacked almost every night for weeks before his leaving Merthyr, so that his godly life was not safe in sleeping except between guards from among his brethren; and there were scoundrels so inhuman who had been paid to kill him as he left, so that he had to leave secretly the day before. (Ugdorn Seion [Zion’s Trumpet], March 1849, 57, TD5)


[1] “California” was the name applied to all Western America, including the region now known as Utah.