William Howells

First Missionary to France

Ronald D. Dennis

Dennis, Ronald D., “William Howells: First Missionary to France,” in Supporting Saints: Life Stories of Nineteenth-Century Mormons (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1985), 43–81.

Ronald D. Dennis was an associate professor of Spanish and Portuguese at Brigham Young University when this was published. He received his BA from Brigham Young University and his MA and PhD from the University of Wisconsin. He has published in language journals and has done research in LDS history, particularly in Wales. His interest in William Howells relates to his skill in the Welsh language, as well as his study of the history of the Church in Wales.

“I sincerely beseech everyone not to give the name of ‘Saints’ to this foul mob; rather let them be given their proper names, that is, ‘Nineteenth-century Satanists.’” This exhortation appeared in March 1846 in the preface of a twenty-page Welsh pamphlet aimed at bringing the “deceit of the creatures who call themselves ‘Latter-day Saints’” to the attention of the public. [1]

This epithet, coined by W. R. Davies, was immediately adopted by other Mormon-haters throughout the principality of Wales. W. R. Davies, a well-known Baptist minister in the Dowlais-Merthyr Tydfil area of south Wales, ranked as Mormonism’s greatest antagonist in Wales from about 1844 to his death in 1849. He was joined in his lecturing and writing campaign against the Mormons by many of his fellow nonconformist ministers. [2]

William Howells, a fellow Baptist in a neighboring parish, took great interest in the raging controversy surrounding the Latter-day Saints. He was a draper and operated a dry goods store in Aberdare. [3] Characterizing himself as “too bashful” to approach any of the Mormons directly for information concerning their sect, he later wrote: “But a poor widow, supported with her family by the poor fare of the parish, found means to get a tract, which she gave me; which, like the little captive maid of Israel, in the house of Naaman the leper, convinced me of the poverty of my religion.” [4] To certain ministers the tract Williams Howells referred to was “an odious patchwork,” “dull and idiotic,” “blasphemous to the common sense of the Welsh,” and “presumptious rubbish” which had been printed on a “prostitute press” at Rhydybont. [5] But to Howells the pamphlet was the catalyst which prompted him to seek out its author, Dan Jones, and request baptism at his hands.

A year and a half after casting his lot with the unpopular Mormons, William Howells, by writing a 2,100-word letter in his eloquent and flawless Welsh, answered a question posed by John Davis, editor of Udgorn Seion (Zion’s Trumpet), as to how much good the Reverend W. R. Davies and others had done in speaking against the Saints. Stating that he had known very little about the Saints until the Reverend W. R. Davies came to Aberdare to expose their deceit, Howells wrote:

And to my surprise the more he shouted while pounding his Bible on the pulpit, “Great fraud, devilish hypocrisy, and miserable darkness of the Satanists of the Latter Days” all the more the principles of the Saints, like rays of divine truth were shining to the point of making me begin to believe that if these men were Satanic, that his “Satanic Majesty” had more of the divine truth of the Bible than did the religion which I professed. [6]

Howells revealed that his love for the ministers had cooled over the years as he observed their lust for money and their swollen, boastful spirits, so full of self-love. He had tolerated these imperfections, blaming them on human weakness, because of his love for the Baptist religion, but upon reading a forty-page pamphlet written by Dan Jones in defense of Mormonism, Howells was completely won over.

Elder Dan Jones was understandably excited at the conversion of William Howells:

Last evening, I baptized a gentleman who is now, and has been, a Baptist minister for the last eighteen years: he preached to his flock last Sunday, and has an appointment for the successive Sunday. He came four miles purposely to be baptized, though he had never heard a sermon, only reading my publications; especially my last reply . . . finished him entirely, and he came in as good a spirit as anyone that I ever saw, and has just returned on his way rejoicing. He is a wealthy man of great influence, and, as he said, he feared that he was not a servant of God, because he heard every person universally praising him, whereas the scripture says, “Wo unto you when all men shall speak well of you.” [7]

Since Howells was only thirty-one years old at the time of his conversion to Mormonism, it is rather doubtful that he had been a Baptist minister “for the last eighteen years.” Furthermore, there is no evidence whatsoever that he had ever been ordained a minister. [8] But he had spent nearly twenty years with the Baptists [9] and was a “wealthy man of great influence,” wealthy, at least, according to the prevailing standards of the day in Wales.

Prior to Howells’s Conversion to Mormonism

Because his journals apparently have not survived and because much of what he wrote is in Welsh, the short life of William Howells is not widely known; nevertheless, it is one that deserves greater attention and one that furnishes the historian with insightful information concerning the early days of Mormonism in Wales and of the taking of the gospel into France.

William Howells was christened 18 September 1816 at St. Donat’s, Glamorganshire. St. Donat’s, in the extreme southern portion of Wales, was at one time of considerable importance as the site where the Normans staged their conquest of the county of Glamorgan. The ancient castle which they erected overlooks the Bristol Channel. In 1816 there were fewer than two hundred inhabitants. Although at the time of William’s birth his parents resided at Penmark, about six miles east of St. Donat’s, both Lewis Howells and Anne Priest had been born at St. Donat’s and would later rear their family there.

Because Lewis Howells’s occupation was a carpenter, one would expect his son, William, to become something similar. Normally the children of Welsh laborers did not go very far from home and became laborers themselves. In William’s case, however, either there was some money in the family or perhaps a relative resided in London, because as a young man he went to London and worked in a dry goods store. [10] Whether this was an official apprenticeship is not clear from family records, but it was in London that he learned the trade of keeping shop. Later he would have his own shop at Aberdare. In Aberdare he met Martha Williams, three years his senior and the daughter of the well-to-do Reese Williams. They were married 26 September 1839.

Mid-Nineteenth-Century Wales

At this time the industrial revolution in Britain was in full swing, and the massive migratory movement from the rural area to the mining centers in the Rhondda Valley was gaining momentum. Tenant farmers learned that they could earn four or five times as much money in mining as they did on their farms. The rocky soil of Wales had never been very productive, and this factor combined with the attraction of providing a better living for themselves and their families, tempting the country folk to break with tradition and cast their fortunes with the underground operations in the growing population centers. Wales would never be the same; gaping holes were made in her once luxuriant, green surface, and the mining refuse was piled in large, unsightly, cone-shaped heaps or “tips.”

After making their first break with tradition by moving to an urban setting, the newcomers were prepared to make a second and equally momentous break—changing their religious preference. In 1800 only about 10 percent of the population of Wales practiced nonconformity. The religious census of 1851 reveals, however, that Merthyr Tydfil’s population was composed of 60 percent religious worshippers of which 90 percent were nonconformists. [11]

Between 1801 and 1851 Great Britain almost doubled in population, [12] and in Merthyr Tydfil the growth rate was even more spectacular as the population of 7,705 in 1801 increased to 46,378 by 1851. [13] Such rapid growth was not without its problems. Crowded conditions were made worse by lack of proper drainage, sanitation, and lighting. One of the biggest problems, however, according to the nonconformist ministers during the second half of the 1840s, was the menace of Mormonism.

The Mormon missionary effort began in south Wales in late 1840. The first missionaries spoke no Welsh; nevertheless, there were converts from both the English- and the Welsh-speaking Welshmen. By January 1846 there were about five hundred members of the Church, most of them in south Wales. As five hundred more were converted during the year of 1846, the ministers became increasingly annoyed. And many of them became nearly frantic as they witnessed almost one thousand more Welshmen join ranks with the Mormons during 1847. [14] Their impassioned lectures and publications failed to keep many of their most stalwart parishioners from abandoning their pews in favor of the hated “Latter-day Satanists.”

The Mormons proselyted more aggressively as their numbers grew. A monthly publication, Prophwyd y Jubili (Prophet of the Jubilee), was begun in July of 1846; numerous pamphlets appeared in large editions from the press in Rhydybont, owned by Dan Jones’s brother, John, who at the time was a nonconformist minister himself. [15] Lectures were given and polemics were engaged in. The most significant polemic as far as William Howells was concerned was the one between Dan Jones and Edward Roberts, a Baptist minister at Rhymni, which began in September 1847. After a couple of lectures by each, Dan Jones produced a forty-page pamphlet entitled “A review of the lectures of the Rev. E. Roberts (a Baptist minister in Rhymni), against Mormonism which were delivered in Caersalem, September the 2nd, and in Bethania (a chapel of the Independents), September the 3rd, in Dowlais.” In it he treated the numerous objections and accusations made by Reverend Roberts and used over one-third of the text to shed light on the Spaulding manuscript story, a story which Roberts had used to discount the validity of the Book of Mormon. Dan Jones concluded the pamphlet by stating that he would much rather argue principles than “answer the fool according to his foolishness.” [16]

Conversion to Mormonism

It was a copy of this pamphlet that William Howells obtained from the poor widow of his congregation. After reading it with intense interest, he threw his allegiance to Dan Jones, sought him, and received baptism at his hands. The two immediately became the truest of friends. Even though Jones was but seven years older than Howells, the latter often referred to the former as his “adored father,” no doubt because through Jones he was figuratively born into the truth of the restored gospel.

Membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for William Howells was not without its price. Many of his customers took their business to other shops. No longer could the Howellses afford to send their seven-year-old daughter, Ann, to boarding school in Swansea. William’s father-in-law became so irate at their conversion to Mormonism that he threatened to cut off the monthly allowance he had been giving them since their marriage.

Although his wealth and prestige were dwindling rapidly, Howells apparently still wielded some influence; he immediately began proselyting friends, family, and former parishioners. On 19 March 1849 he reported to Orson Spencer [17] his success in bringing others into the Church, writing, “I have in the course of the last twelve months, baptized about one hundred, which I consider a fair commencement.” [18] It was typical for all new converts to set about warning their friends and neighbors of the urgency of becoming affiliated with the restored gospel, but for one individual to bring in over one hundred converts in only a year was truly extraordinary.

One of Howells’s great tools in convincing others of the truth which he fervently believed he now possessed in Mormonism was undoubtedly his power of articulation in English as well as in Welsh. His flowery style and skillful use of imagery are typical of the nineteenth century, and his letters to the Millennial Star and to the Udgorn Seion were woven from the same cloth as those of his brethren. His description of his reaction to first hearing Mormon doctrine serves as a brief example:

But what astonished me, was, that the armour I then wore, was nought but the traditional perplexing doctrines of the learned, which were blown like chaff before the Euroclydon of truth, that proceeded from the Mormon missionary [Dan Jones]. [19]

Dan Jones became a center of controversy not only among his foes from among the nonconformists but among Church members and former members as well. Statistics printed in the Udgorn Seion and the Millennial Star reveal that there were many excommunications during this period. And occasionally, as in the days of Joseph Smith, these disaffected persons would turn on those who had caused (as they supposed) their troubles. As the mission president (his actual title was President of the Church of Wales), Dan Jones was often the target of scorn and threats of personal injury. These threats became so heated just prior to his departure with the first Welsh Mormon emigrants in February 1849 that President Jones required round-the-clock protection for his safety. His residence had to be guarded for weeks before he left. And finally he had to flee in secret before the scheduled time without being able to bid farewell to his wife and baby. [20]

Amidst all these difficulties one of Jones’s most ardent defenders was William Howells. Evidence of this loyalty is a two-thousand-word letter to Orson Spencer dated 19 March 1849. Because of the calumny which had been heaped on Dan Jones, Howells proceeded “to describe the impression his holy conduct has made upon my heart; and . . . thousands in Wales, besides.” The words of praise and the superlatives which follow would cause the most flowery of funeral eulogies to pale by comparison:

In truth, it can be said of him, that he was a man of observation and reflection; with soberness, righteousness, and godliness, continually assimilating his mind with ardent love and ambitious zeal to fulfil the solemn duties of his exalted station, so that he might be approved by his master, as a good and faithful servant. His sublime, generous, diligent spirit, applied itself with new exertion continually, as circumstances and experience opened an enlarged field for duty. [21]

One further example:

Our beloved brother’s affection and humility on one hand, his resolution and courage on the other; bearing the contempt of the world with dignity and appulse with decency; had gained the affection of the members of the church of Jesus Christ; particularly those holding the priesthood, to such a degree, that the thought of parting for a short time, would cause a sensation, not to be described by words. [22]

Such was the expression of fierce allegiance William Howells held toward the messenger who had brought him into Mormonism.

At Dan Jones’s last conference prior to departing for Utah with the first group of Welsh emigrants, Howells stated:

The Welsh Saints wish to bear sincere witness to the faithful fulfillment of their dear brother, Capt. D. Jones, by laboring day and night in their midst; and they are unable to express in words the reverence they have toward him and his priceless service in the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ in Wales. [23]

He then proposed that a suit of clothes be presented to Dan Jones and Brigham Young and that Welsh woolen dresses be presented to their wives. His proposal received unanimous support, and the clothes were made and given as suggested.

First Journey to France (Le Havre)

The fervor for gathering to Zion was so great among the Welsh during the late 1840s that it was no doubt painful for William Howells to have to defer emigrating. Certainly he could have made arrangements to be among the 350 who constituted the first group of Welsh Mormons to leave Wales for their new “homeland.” His faith was not shaken by the prediction that the emigrants would be sold into slavery as they passed Cuba, [24] nor was he deterred at the prospect of having to engage in physical labor upon arriving in Utah, even though he had a frail constitution. But a mission call to France caused him to sail east instead of west.

Prior to his conversion to Mormonism, Howells had served for the Baptists as a missionary in Brittany, that part of France which had been settled centuries earlier by fugitive Britons. [25] Details of his first experience in Brittany are not known; however, it was no doubt a sizable challenge, inasmuch as he did not speak Breton, and his French was very limited. Nevertheless, the fact that he had had this experience and his great missionary zeal resulted in a call to return to Brittany, this time as a Mormon missionary. Within six months following his conversion, the thirty-two-year-old Howells was asked to prepare to serve, the call made official on 14 August 1848. [26] Earlier, however, Howells had made mention of rejoicing “in the honour of being sent as an ambassador of the gospel to France and Brittany.” [27] The necessary preparations for such an undertaking must have posed considerable difficulty to him, for it was nearly a year before he crossed the Channel.

Although the distance to his assigned field of labor was but two hundred miles, bidding farewell to his wife, Martha, his nine-year-old daughter, Ann, his six-year-old son, William, and his ten-month-old son, Reese, was a most difficult task for William Howells. In a report to Brother Davis, Howells inserted his journal entry for 2 July 1849:

Last day before starting on a mission to France; oh, how hard to part with a beloved wife and little children, and leave them in the midst of persecuting enemies—leave her and her young family to be provided for from a business that calls for the presence of a person who understands the nature of such an occupation—leave them in the midst of the plague that is reigning with deadly arrows next door on the right and left, etc. . . . But God commands me to go! his servants command me to! [28]

The “plague” Howells mentioned was cholera morbus, and his fears were well founded, because, as he reported to Dan Jones, in Aberdare alone in the space of just one month there were nearly one hundred deaths. [29] Not much was known about the disease then except that it struck fast and was highly contagious. Within a matter of days its victims were either improved or dead. Clothes were systematically burned to prevent further spread, and those who had not contracted the disease were terrified to be around those who had. It is little wonder, then, that William Howells was reluctant to leave his wife and children in the midst of such an epidemic, not knowing whether or not he would see them alive again. [30]

Howells’s travels took him first to Swansea, where he slept in the same house in which his “dear father in the gospel,” Dan Jones, had slept just five months earlier on his way to Zion. [31] Howells’s deep desire was to follow him; duty, however, called him the opposite way. On the morning of 4 July 1849 he boarded the same steamer (the Troubador) that the first Welsh Mormon emigrants had used under the leadership of Captain Jones to make their way to Liverpool prior to sailing west.

Howells’s purpose for going to Liverpool was to confer with President Orson Pratt, recently called as president of the Church in England. Orson Pratt, in size and appearance, was very similar to William Phillips, successor to Captain Dan Jones in Wales. Howells’s excitement ran high: “My heart is leaping with joy now, upon thinking that such a pair who are younger than Jesus, are leading the brave hosts which are in Wales and England.” [32] Upon conferring with Orson Pratt, William Howells was ordained a high priest in the High Priesthood, an honor reserved for only a select few in the early days of the Church. The ordination was deemed necessary, in all likelihood, because he was to be the sole representative of the Church in France.

As William Howells made his way from Liverpool to Le Havre, his first city in France, a drama was unfolding in Aberdare. Reese Williams, his seventy-four-year-old father-in-law, was becoming more and more antagonistic toward the Church and especially toward the involvement of his daughter, Martha, and her family. The call for his son-in-law, William Howells, to leave Wales to serve a mission in France was more than he could stand. On 9 July 1849, just a few days after Howells had left Wales on his mission, Reese Williams sent his son on a mission of his own—to convince Martha Howells to come to her senses and leave the Church. His express command was that she not only sever all connections with the Mormons but also that she refrain from sending any money to her husband in France. Noncompliance with his wishes would mean disinheritance for Martha and a discontinuance of the monthly allowance she had been receiving for years. When his son returned with the message that Martha felt safer in complying with the will of her Heavenly Father than with that of her earthly father, Reese Williams went into a rage. He struck the table with his cane and vowed that the following day he would send for his lawyer and cut Martha off without a penny.

Following her brother’s visit, Martha attended the Monday night prayer meeting scheduled for the Aberdare Branch and received not only the solace of the meeting but an additional benefit as well. One brother arose and spoke in tongues, and the interpretation was that the sister who was troubled about her financial affairs should take comfort, as all things would work to her good. Later that night Martha’s brother came by once again, this time in great haste to get her back to their father’s home where he lay dying. Old Reese Williams had been taken severely ill after supper and did not recognize his daughter when she arrived sometime around midnight. He died shortly thereafter without having had time to alter his will; consequently, Martha continued to receive the monthly allowance and received her share of her father’s land and his coal mine. Williams’s death on 9 July 1849 ironically coincided with the date his son-in-law first set foot on French soil as Mormonism’s first missionary to that country. [33]

Had anyone checked Howells’s baggage when he landed at Le Havre on that July day of 1849, they would have found it filled with pamphlets in both English and French. Actually, the French publication could be better described as a flier printed on both sides. Entitled “L’Evangile” (“The Gospel”), it contained a series of scriptures in support of the first principles, the necessity for proper authority to act in God’s name, the angel bringing the everlasting gospel prophesied of in Revelation 14:6, and the spiritual gifts mentioned in Mark 16:17–20. Nowhere in the two-page flier is “Mormonism” mentioned; however, the full name of the Church, “L’Eglise de Jesus Christ, aux Saints des Derniers Jours,” is given once. Then an appeal is made to the reader to search the scriptures carefully to determine whether their church has the proper characteristics and then to come and embrace the true gospel. No author is mentioned, although William Howells must have had a hand in producing this small tract, which was printed by John Davis in Merthyr Tydfil.

The established procedure for proselyting at that time was to loan out tracts to whoever would accept them and then to call back for them in a few days. A person could purchase the publications if he or she wished or simply exchange one on loan for another. This was what William Howells did, with one exception—the tract in French he simply gave away. Since he was laboring in a port city and had very little knowledge of the French language, he adopted the custom of visiting the American ships in port and encouraged other missionaries to do likewise where possible. His visits in the city were to English families. His efforts during the first three weeks of his mission produced very few positive results and a sizable amount of discouragement.

His journal entry for 28 July 1849 is indicative of how the work was progressing: [34]

Rather idle in the morning, so low spirited. Had a long conversation again with a fine young Dutchman, whom I hoped to baptize. He refused to obey, and was taken very ill and constrained to go home to Holland immediately. I took him to lodge with me, believing that I should be successful in getting him into the kingdom. He was a zealous professor of the Dutch religion, but after all my kindness to him he left me minus of a shirit [sic], which he took away in mistake perhaps. Distributed about fifty tracts in Rue de Paris. They are desirous of having tracts, but will not give a sou for a dozen. [35]

But 30 July was a much more successful day—Howells performed his first baptism as a missionary to France. The new member was Augustus Saint d’Anna, thirty years old, single, and a foreigner by birth. [36] He was fluent in English, French, Italian, Spanish, and Creole languages and agreed to meet Howells in St. Malo at the end of August after the latter had made a brief trip back to Wales to check on his family. Whatever happened to Augustus Saint d’Anna is not recorded in any further writings of William Howells. [37]

Two days later Howells’s spirits got another lift as he conversed with Monsieur Piclard, a French Protestant minister who questioned Howells through an interpreter minutely for eleven hours. Piclard sought out the missionary the next day and took him by the arm to the interpreter where he questioned him further about mesmerism, a topic of great interest throughout Great Britain and on the Continent in those days. He was apparently very happy with the responses he was receiving, for he bought a copy of all the tracts Howells had with him and even put his hand in his pocket and offered a handful of money, an offer declined by the missionary, as he was not then in want. Howells later referred to Piclard as the person “who first believed the gospel in France.” [38] Belief, however, was never translated into action as far as the records show. Curtis Bolton recorded in his journal that Piclard had committed to be baptized on one occasion but backed out at the last minute. [39] Certain members of Piclard’s congregation in Le Havre, however, did join ranks with the Mormons. [40]

On 3 August 1849, exactly one month from the time Howells had left Aberdare on his way to France, and just under four weeks from the time he had first begun his labors at Le Havre, he left for Wales to visit his family.

Back in Wales

A tragedy that served to strengthen the faith of the Saints and to frighten their enemies took place during Howells’s sixteen-day stay in Aberdare. An explosion of foul air in the coal pit at Cwembach, three miles from Aberdare, killed several people and brought grief to the widows, children, and friends of the victims. Knowing there were many Latter-day Saints living in that branch, Howells accompanied some of his brother officers down into the mine. There “in the midst of the slaughter [they] found that the only Saint that worked in the pit had escaped without losing a hair off his head.” Surrounding him were fifty-five corpses who “to a man” had been persecutors of the Saints. [41]

Another experience Howells had in connection with a mining accident was related in his daughter Ann’s biography decades later:

One day Ann saw a multitude of people surrounding the house of a collier, who had just been carried home on a stretcher, apparently dying. A great lump of coal had fallen on his back and broken his spine. . . . He had lately joined the Church but his wife had not. Great sympathy was felt for the man, and several doctors were sent for by various people. They held a consultation and came to the conclusion that the man would only be able to live a couple of hours at the most. But the injured man whispered to his wife to send for the “Mormon” elders. Brother Howell, who was President of the branch, came with his counselors and they administered to the sick man and Brother Howell commanded him in the name of Jesus Christ to arise from his bed. And those who stood around the bed heard the bones of the sick man’s body crack as they slid back into their places and the man arose from his bed and gave thanks to God for his mercy. [42]

Martha’s brother, who had been sent to persuade Martha to abandon the Mormons, was in a real quandary as William Howells returned from his first journey to France. A few days after Reese Williams’s death the wife of Martha’s brother had accepted baptism. Then her family almost caused her to withdraw from Mormonism and return to the Baptists. Her father had nearly convinced her that all the Mormons wanted from people was their money. William Howells arrived back in Aberdare just in time to steady her before she fell, and to give her added strength, he baptized her husband, Martha’s brother, who no doubt had given much thought to what Mormonism was doing to his life. The baptism took place on the property which had belonged to Reese Williams. Set for 5:00 A.M. Sunday, 19 August 1849, it represented the last item of business that Howells had to take care of before departing a second time for France. [43]

William Howells had been in the Church by this time just under two years. One of his biggest disappointments had been his failure to bring his parents and his brothers and sisters into the gospel also. During this brief interim in Wales, he visited all of them and extracted a promise from each that he or she would be baptized on William’s next visit to Wales. [44] His father he described as “a worthy man, a millenarian, having many interesting ideas in conneion [sic] with the restoration of the Jews, the millennial reign of Jesus, the restoration of all things, etc.” [45]

Second Journey to France (St. Malo)

Soon after baptizing his brother-in-law, Howells departed once again to continue his mission in France, this time accompanied by a junior companion, his nine-year-old daughter, Ann. Thinking perhaps that she would be able to learn the French language more readily than he and also hoping that she might soften some hearts because of her age, William Howells had Ann by his side for the next three months. [46]

Their first stop was at Cardiff, the largest city in Wales, where Howells preached at the 11:00 A.M. meeting and then again at 6:00 P.M. They left the following morning headed for the Channel Islands, where they arrived on Tuesday morning, 21 August. There they were met by Brother William C. Dunbar, one of the very early converts in England and a member of the Church for nine years, who was then serving a mission on these out-of-the-way islands. Elder Dunbar was having a great deal of success in baptizing the English as well as the French on the Isle of Jersey. Howells offers a possible answer for such astounding success: “Brother Dunbar seems to suit the place exceedingly well; both himself, brother officers, and the cholera, are exerting themselves, bringing in a fine harvest of souls to the kingdom.” [47] Also a factor was the tracts and pamphlets. Howells had given Dunbar four hundred of his French tracts and proudly reported of one of the converts that “she was convinced, and converted to the truth by reading my little tract.” [48] Memories of Howells’s days as a Baptist missionary came to him during his brief stay at Jersey: “Thursday afternoon I preached to a group of Jerseyites in English. It was very strange to me, for two years ago I preached for the Baptist Church here at the request of the minister, who, I was sorry to hear, has just got out of jail!” [49]

On Friday morning, 24 August, father and daughter left Jersey for St. Malo, three hours distant. Elder Dunbar promised that a French brother officer should follow Howells there in about a month’s time. It would certainly have been a boost to the effort had someone fluent in the French language been assigned to work side-by-side with Howells. But there is no indication that he ever received such assistance; furthermore, his first convert in France, Augustus Saint d’Anna, apparently did not keep his commitment to meet Howells in St. Malo at the end of August.

In St. Malo the newly arrived Mormon missionaries visited a few English families. On Sunday, two days after their arrival, they attended services at an Episcopalian chapel, which was small but “well filled with pride and lukewarm religionists, without even the form of godliness.” [50] Follow-up visits to the clergymen and flocks triggered from them insulting abuse and accusations of blasphemy. One man who was particularly upset was a Mr. Huddlestone, an American. On the morning of 29 August he called at the lodgings of Howells and asked that the Mormon missionary be sent for. Howells describes the ensuing encounter thus:

Trembling with passion, grinding his teeth, and shaking his clenched fist in my face, he said, “You villain. If you bring any more of these accursed tracts to my house . . .” and a volley of threatenings which I do not remember. When he heard that I was going to open a place for preaching not far from his house, he vowed that he should attend, and if I attempted to do so that he would break every bone in my body (he had never tried I suppose, the toughness of a Welshman’s bones). [51]

Howells was then negotiating for the rental of Ebenezer Chapel[52] in St. Servan. The first meeting of the Mormons in France was held there less than one month later on 23 September 1849. Huddlestone, however, was not in attendance. Howells received information which he was unable to substantiate that two of Huddlestone’s children had died in the interim.

Many years later Ann recalled some of their experiences in St. Malo and St. Servan, a very short distance away. She said that many times while distributing tracts they were driven away with threats and that she had to run as fast as she could to escape trouble. On one occasion, had it not been for the intervention of friends, Howells would have been thrown into a pond of water. Their first night at St. Servan mob violence forced them into a grove where they succeeded in eluding the mob until towards morning. Then Ann’s father told her to stay where she was while he went into the city to ascertain how matters stood at their lodgings. He said he would return soon with some breakfast. Shortly after his departure some of the mob returned and found the little girl. They took her with them as they continued their search for her father, but a lady who lived near the entrance to the grove convinced the mob to let her take the girl and care for her. Fortunately, they agreed. Ann kept a close watch for her father to return and had a joyous reunion a short time later. [53]

Howells reported that his landlady and all in the house except the servant joined together in calling him a “false prophet.” But the intrepid father-and-daughter team continued their distribution of French and English tracts in spite of any and all opposition. Said Howells: “Welsh blood is not to be daunted easily, as the devil shall well know before the end comes; he is daily kicking me here, and also taking my halfpence away, but I expect to master him shortly.” [54] The “halfpence” reference has to do with the expense to Howells each time someone returned his tracts by post; to retrieve them he had to pay postage due. Instead of paying the postage due, however, he would use the situation as an excuse to return to the sender to ask them for money to get his tracts from the post! He does not state, however, whether such attempts were successful.

The Howellses did succeed in making a few friends despite all the hostility, and these friends informed them that their enemies were going to arrange for the mayor to prosecute Howells for distributing tracts in St. Servan. Howells went to St. Malo to the English consul for advice, and the advice was to refrain from distributing tracts, even though it was not illegal. Howells seized the opportunity and preached the gospel to the consul, “but he actually refused to be baptized for the remission of his sins.” [55] One sees these occasional specks of humor in Howells’s writings, evidence that the persecution and discouragement were not totally overwhelming.

Having completed all necessary arrangements for the rental of Ebenezer Chapel, Howells scheduled the first meeting for 23 September 1849. The two meetings held there represent the first official meetings of the Mormons in France. The attendance was slight in the morning, but more came for the 6:00 P.M. service, and Howells was elated. Attendance at both meetings was no doubt affected by such things as one brewery master who threatened his workers with immediate dismissal should they venture forth to the Mormon meeting. [56]

Several who went to the meetings were touched by the spirit of conversion. The first one to request baptism was Mademoiselle Ann Browse, “a Lady of Fortune and great learning, member with Mr. Penlee’s Church of England for the last 20 years with great influence with all the great folks of the place, Protestants and Catholics.” [57] After her confirmation, she rose and presented William Howells with a “small cassette” containing a precious gold ring. He was greatly flattered and commented to his friend Dan Jones in a letter, “Really when I put it on my finger I looked like a gentleman, and no mistake.” [58] The Sunday of Ann Browse’s baptism was very cold, and because of a lingering illness she had had for years, her friends warned her that her baptism would cost her her life. Undaunted, she went down into the water of a bay near St. Malo. Howells was ecstatic at the result:

The disease that had preyed upon her constitution for years, and baffled the power of the physician, was completely eradicated. The pallid cheek from that moment showed the healthy bloom of youth, so much so that all congratulated her, and the report circulated that a ducking in the sea on such a cold morning was a sure cure. [59]

While in Wales, Howells had been able to observe the conflict between the established religion and the various nonconformist sects. In France he was able to see yet another dimension of this conflict between the nonconformists and the Catholics. Catholicism was not something he was very familiar with, since it was rare among the Welsh. He noted with some amusement the rivalry between the Catholic and Protestant professors of Christianity in France and was unable to say which hated the other more. The way the Catholics shunned the Bible particularly interested him. After conversing with a learned Catholic priest for some hours, Howells was astonished to hear his views of the Bible: “‘I believe the Bible to be true, because the church gave it me as such, otherwise I should think no more of it than Punch [a humorous British periodical].’” [60] Howells learned of a member of a missionary society who had visited families which he was then visiting. The society was distributing tracts and copies of the Bible. Although received with great politeness, the publications were promptly burned at the departure of the donor according to the general plan the Catholics had adopted. As for Mormon tracts, both Protestants and Catholics took delight in using them to light their fires.

After two months in St. Servan, Howells reported that the persecution was not diminishing. Rather, because of the opening of a place for preaching and the baptism of a Brother William Peddle, the opposition increased to the point of causing Howells and daughter to continue their proselyting elsewhere for a time. So he ordained Brother Peddle to the priesthood, presented him with a number of French tracts, and made his way to Dinan, about twenty miles distant. [61]

At 7:00 P.M. on 23 October 1849 on the steamer for Dinan he met an English clergyman who informed him that should he fail to locate lodgings for himself and daughter that they would have to return to the packet (boat). Howells replied that he had been refused permission to remain on deck. The clergyman made no further comment. Unsuccessful in finding a place to stay, Howells spent the dark, cold night of 23 October with his daughter in his arms at the base of a monument erected in honor of a celebrated person who had conquered the English on the spot five hundred years before. Howells pointed out: “Had the gentleman-clergyman taken us as his guests, ‘forgetting not to entertain strangers,’ we could not have spent the night more happy.” [62]

During the month Howells spent with his daughter in Dinan, apparently no one chose to join the Church. At least no one is mentioned in his lengthy letter about this period of time which was printed in the Millennial Star. In addition to the regular tract distributing, William and Ann also visited a Roman Catholic seminary which contained eleven tutors and one hundred and thirty students. They were received with patience and politeness as Howells presented the “plain truths and hard sayings” of his sermons. The visit must have made a great impression on Howells, for he promised President Orson Pratt a more complete account of a “Latter-day Saint’s visit to a Catholic college” when they both settled in “Zion’s happy land.” [63] This he intended to take from his journal, an item that lamentably has yet to surface.

An Irish gentleman who was then in prison in Dinan for debt began circulating anti-Mormon reports as soon as he received word that a Mormon missionary had come to Dinan. French law at that time authorized the creditor to take the body of a debtor without any previous notice; consequently, this Irishman had been put in jail although his coach and horses would have been sufficient to pay his whole debt. Howells spent some time with him and explained the gospel to him and the next day sent him some tracts to convince him to cease from spreading the negative reports. [64]

After having spent one month by himself in Le Havre and three months with his daughter in St. Servan, St. Malo, and Dinan, Howells summed up his efforts: “I have not as yet reaped a rich harvest, but the few that have entered the kingdom by being ‘born of water and of the Spirt’ [sic] have received glorious testimonies of the power of the truth as it is in Jesus.” [65]

Back in Wales Again

After completing the three months of missionary activity with his daughter in St. Malo, St. Servan, and Dinan, William Howells returned to Wales to visit his family, stopping briefly at Jersey Island to visit Brother William C. Dunbar and the Saints, and also at Southampton and Bristol. Father and daughter reached Wales on 27 November 1849 and found that all was well with Martha and the other two children. There is little doubt that Howells rejoiced in being in familiar and somewhat less hostile territory once again. In his 21 December 1849 letter to Orson Pratt, Howells reported having baptized since his arrival in Wales “an intelligent Baptist minister, upwards of 60 years old.” [66]

Just prior to Howells’s departure for France, William Phillips replaced Dan Jones as Church leader in Wales. Upon Howells’s return to Wales, he did not hesitate to throw his allegiance to this new leader. In his 25 January 1850 letter to Orson Pratt Howells expressed great confidence in William Phillips, and in his two counselors, Abel Evans and John Davis. He referred to President Phillips as “another Samson brought up amongst his brethren, flesh of their flesh, bone of their bone, who would fight the Philistines and cause their dagon to fall more perplexed than ever.” President Phillips carried out his new responsibilities with such energy and courage, according to Howells, that “the Saints shouted aloud for joy, for truly the vacuum left by the absence of Brother Captain Dan Jones is amply filled by our young president Brother W. Phillips, in the Church, the families, and the hearts of the Saints of God in Wales.” [67]

From all outward appearances the work of the kingdom seemed to be progressing reasonably well in Wales. Thus, one year after Phillips began his tenure, the appointment of Elder Levi Richards, an American, to be representative of the Church in Wales must have come as somewhat of a surprise. It was not intended that Elder Richards replace Phillips, but rather that he work with him in a supervisory capacity, something to which Dan Jones had not been subjected. Furthermore, the Welsh were requested to offer support, both moral and financial, to Elder Richards and his wife during their time in Wales. Although there may well have been some murmuring among the Welsh at this kind of treatment, Howells wished for the Church leaders in Liverpool to know of his loyalty and undeviating support:

The officers present in council, with few exceptions, were all Welsh, yet they received the intelligence about Brother Richards, with as much pleasure as the English officers themselves; they saw that the appointment was pleasing to Brother Phillips, therefore to themselves also, so Brother Levi Richards will be received, not by the English only, but also with open bosom by the Welsh, and by none more than by Brother Phillips and Davis, and also by your humble servant and Brother. [68]

Third Journey to France (Boulogne-sur-mer)

After ten weeks in Wales over the Christmas of 1849, William Howells once again returned to France. This time he went to Boulogne-sur-mer, another seaside city, and it appears that he went without his daughter, Ann. After meeting with and addressing the brethren in London on 11 February 1850, Howells started toward the steamboat which would take him to a “strange country bound with more snares of the devil than any country under the sun.” His task was “to undo the knots, in spite of the teeth of the roaring lion and all the fiery spears of his faithful servants.” [69]

Upon arriving in Boulogne, he took lodging on the Grande Rue with a Wesleyan family by the name of Gregory. For some reason Howells did not inform the Gregorys concerning his religious persuasion or his purpose for being in France. A couple of days after his arrival, however, Mr. Gregory asked some questions about religion and determined that his lodger was a Mormon missionary. At this point Mrs. Gregory revealed that she had a sister and brother-in-law who had lived at Nauvoo and had gone to Great Salt Lake City. The Gregorys had received letters from their Mormon relatives persuading them to accept baptism; however, there is no indication that they ever did. [70]

On 17 February 1850, a Sunday, just five days after Howells landed at Boulogne, all the Wesleyan churches were called together to hear a sermon concerning the “false prophet” who had just come into their midst and the false doctrine he was distributing throughout the town in the form of scurrilous pamphlets. Howells was there in attendance and called the sermon “one of the most clever and cunning” he had ever heard. Earlier Howells had been to the minister’s home and had offered him tracts and conversation about the gospel. The minister refused him with the answer “that he knew sufficient concerning the matter.” [71]

Upon returning to his lodgings, Howells encountered a group of individuals awaiting him, among them “one of the leading gentlemen of the place, the expert of Boulogne in debate, a perfect enemy of Mormonism.” [72] And although the spirit of this powerful individual influenced Howells “like mesmerism,” the Mormon missionary judged himself to come out victorious on every topic during three evenings of debate. At last his opponent “had a fit of temper, clenched his fist, and shouted with others to see miracles.” [73] At that Howells arose and left them. Having kept with the first principles, he believed that all present had been able to see how easily he had confused his adversary. Undaunted by it all, Howells continued his proselyting activities and soon had copies of “The Kingdom of God” in the hands of fifty families in Boulogne.

On 28 February 1850 a newspaper of Boulogne, the Interpreter, gave in English and French an assessment of Howells’s efforts to that point and a prediction concerning his chances for the future:

It seems we have been lately favoured with the visit of a Mormon prophet here, who has taken up his abode in Grande rue. We fear that the poor fellow’s chance of success is very faint indeed, as, although he has been now resident nearly a fortnight, during the course of which he has had several controversies (in all of which it is needless to say, he has been worsted;) he has not yet succeeded in making a single convert. [74]

Naturally, Howells did not see it that way and reported to Orson Pratt that “Mormon doctrines cannot be worsted” and that there were already families in Boulogne who had believed the gospel. [75]

About this time Howells received the welcome news that other missionaries had been called to France. John Taylor, Curtis E. Bolton, and John Pack were then on their way from Utah to officially open up the proselyting effort among the French. Howells was ecstatic at the knowledge that soon it would no longer be a one-man effort.

Howells secured a room in Capicure, just in the center of the lower town, for the holding of Sunday services. At the first sermon which he preached at Boulogne on 3 March 1850 there were seven persons present from five different places: France, England, Scotland, Germany, and Wales. Some of the English residents warned the owners of the rented room that various curses would follow should they continue to cooperate with the Mormon missionary and that the family would surely be struck blind. Their response to the ominous warning was to accept payment from Howells for five more weeks of use. [76]

In attendance at the first service held in Boulogne was George Viett, a teacher of languages in the public school. Before the month was out Viett, his wife, and son received baptism. He then proceeded to write the first principles in the German tongue. Mrs. Viett’s baptism was held in a river two miles from home, and she had to walk the distance afterwards in wet clothes in cold weather, yet she testified the next day that she had never felt as healthy and happy as she did then. [77]

Some in attendance at Mrs. Viett’s baptism expressed their desire to receive baptism soon. And by 6 April 1850 Howells was able to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of the organization of the Church with a branch organized at Boulogne. [78]

Just before the organization of the small branch in Boulogne, Howells was cheered with letters from Sister Anne Browse in St. Malo, Brother William Peddle in St. Servan, and Mr. Piclard in Le Havre. Sister Browse announced that one gentleman by the name of Mr. de Pau, who had been present when Howells was arguing the principles of Mormonism with the learned Catholic priests, was now ready to accept baptism.

Brother Peddle informed Howells that some of their chief enemies in St. Servan were then willing to give nearly everything they had to be baptized and accepted into the Church. [79] Mr. Piclard stated that he still believed in Mormonism. Although it had been seven months since he first met Howells in Le Havre, he had not yet requested baptism.

Fourth and Final Journey to France

Sometime during April or May, William Howells returned to Wales in order to make preparations to return with John Taylor and his party. On 9 June 1850 Howells attended a special general conference held in Merthyr Tydfil to receive the Apostle on his visit to Wales. John Taylor had visited Wales on one previous occasion in January 1847, and he had received an enthusiastic welcome at that time as the first Apostle to be in Wales. There were fewer than one thousand members of the Church then. [80] By the time of his June 1850 visit there were four times that number to hail his presence. [81]

Addressing an audience in which a majority could not understand English was a new experience for John Taylor. There is no evidence that simultaneous interpreting was furnished for the Welsh monoglots. Apparently they were left to rely on understanding by the Spirit. Others, however, were called on to speak in Welsh so that all would be considered. Among those to address the conference in Welsh was William Howells, greatly beloved by his compatriots, who took pride in his being the first missionary to France. John Davis was elated as he reported the proceedings of the conference to Orson Pratt in Liverpool: “We shall never forget such a conference . . . It makes our hearts to burn within us; our first love is kindled anew.” [82]

After the conference sessions on Monday, a group accompanied Brother Taylor to Cardiff, about an hour’s train ride from Merthyr Tydfil, where a large congregation had gathered to hear him. The following evening William Phillips, president of the Welsh Mission, went with Elder Taylor to Bristol. Two days later William Howells met John Taylor in Bristol; together they traveled to London to meet with Curtis Bolton and John Pack prior to crossing the Channel to France. William Howells was thrilled to serve as escort to this little group and filled with awe to spend so much time in the presence of an Apostle.

The three days in London prior to their journey to France were days of meetings, mingling together, and rejoicing. Almost constantly at their side was Monsieur Piclard. Still unbaptized and still unable to understand English, Piclard was fascinated by this strange group of people who called themselves Mormons. He stayed at their side in London and joined with them a few days after their arrival in Boulogne, where he spent time with them every day for about two weeks. Howells was no doubt pleased to have living proof of his initial success in France to show to his colleagues.

The procedures used by John Taylor to get established in new circumstances varied somewhat from those which William Howells had used. It was an advantage to come from America, a credential which carried far more weight than merely coming from across the Channel. Elder Taylor brought with him official letters and papers from the governor of Deseret. When these were presented to the mayor of Boulogne with a request to be allowed to preach the gospel in his city, permission was “granted nobly with the greatest amiability.” [83] A visit to a gentleman by the name of Monsieur Tatar resulted in permission to preach in his Sale de Concerts located at 21 Rue Montseigny. Monsieur Pater, editor of the newspaper Interpreter, gave the group a favorable reception as well as permission to write about Mormonism in his paper. The earlier taunting which had appeared in this same paper concerning the supposed lack of success of William Howells apparently did not constitute an obstacle to the editor’s cooperation.

One week following the missionaries’ arrival in Boulogne they all gathered at the seashore where a prayer was offered by Elder Taylor. Present were John Taylor, Curtis Bolton, and John Pack from America; William Howells from Wales; and Elders Piercy and Stayner from England. Howells was so moved by the prayer that he translated it and sent it to be published in the Udgorn Seion. [84] Among other things, Elder Taylor prayed for “wisdom to lay before this people the principles of eternal truth,” and further to “. . . help us to fulfill the callings that devolve upon us, in a manner that shall bring glory to thy name, do honor to ourselves, and lead many to a knowledge of the truth; that thousands in this land may rejoice in the fulness of the blessings of the Gospel of peace.” [85] He also asked that no legal obstruction would be in their way. Thirteen years before this the gospel had been introduced to England and a short time after that to Wales. The converts came in large numbers in both places. There was no reason to believe that France’s outcome would be any different. But a century would pass before the number of converts would reach into the thousands. Initially, a more modest counting system would have to be used. There were no legal obstructions; the missionaries were experienced and had known great success in other settings, and the French people were no more apathetic than the English. Why, then, had Howells’s success been so small and why were the seats empty at the sermons and the debates?

Certainly the lack of effective communication constituted a major barrier. Curtis Bolton had been to France years before as a student and knew something of the language, but he was far from fluent. William Howells’s knowledge of French was severely limited. Furthermore, the only thing in print for Frenchmen to read about the restored gospel was still the two-page leaflet which Howells had written a year before.

Another factor was the stifling effect which Catholicism had on its members in France. The various Protestant sects were allowed to exist in that country but had experienced only a modicum of success. In America, England, and Wales, the converts came from Protestantism and were consequently accustomed to change. With centuries of tradition in their background, the French Catholics were less inclined to accept any radical changes in their lives.

Before any of this became apparent to the hopeful half-dozen, it was decided to stage a “public discussion” in accepting the challenge thrown out to the Mormons by three Protestant ministers. Placards were posted all over town in the full expectation that scores of people would crowd the hall which had a seating capacity of four to five hundred. But the number on the stage exceeded that in the audience. John Taylor published the proceedings of the “Three Nights’ Public Discussion” in hopes that more people would be reached by the printed than by the spoken word. But because the publication was written in English, it would have little impact on the French.

During the debate William Howells was called on to relate his experience with gifts of the Spirit. He gave the following instance:

A person of the name of John M’Manmouth, from Hindostan, intimately acquainted with Dr. Cary, a Baptist Missionary at Calcutta, and a member in his church, understanding seventeen oriental languages, came to reside in the neighborhood of Merthyr Tydvil. He was induced to attend a Saints’ meeting; in the meeting, he understood seven languages, spoken in by the gift of tongues by the brethren and sisters present. He testified that the young servant girl I had, prayed in the Malabar tongue. The said girl, on another occasion, prayed in the Hebrew tongue. A Jew present stating he understood what she said, but not the whole, she having spoken in the ancient Hebrew and not the modern. [86]

William Howells stayed with Elder Taylor and the others for about two more months. He went with them to Paris and continued to proselyte. John Taylor made the following statement concerning William Howells:

Brother Howell who has been labouring here, is a faithful good man, and has laboured with indefatigable zeal, yet, from want of books, and being but imperfectly acquainted with the language, he has, like ourselves, had many difficulties to contend with. [87]

On 25 September 1850 Howells received a release from his mission to return to Wales and prepare to journey to Zion. [88]

Final Four Months in Wales

Once again in Wales, Howells divided his time between assisting in the proselyting effort there and preparing for the journey to Zion. In December he accompanied William Phillips and a couple of other brethren to a conference held in Brecon, about twenty miles north of Merthyr Tydfil. Missionaries had been sent to Brecon a few months before and had encountered much resistance. The mayor of the town sprang to defend the townspeople against the Mormons. Howells, in a letter to Orson Pratt and F. D. Richards, describes the situation:

On the right he was well supported by the great folks, and also the Protestant parties, with their clergymen, learned tutors, students, and a host of local preachers; and for the left in such emergency, the alliance and help of the Roman Catholic church, “the old Mother,” was not to be despised; besides they had barracks filled with soldiers, and noble officers in reserve in case of necessity; so the mayor with great confidence informed the two little Mormon officers, that they should not preach within the confines of the town! [89]

Then the battle commenced, and the victory went to the Mormon underdogs. Soon they had their headquarters established in the Bull Inn, and a branch was organized. By the time the December conference was held Brecon had a new mayor. He along with the superintendent of police and other distinguished citizens of the town were “acting with Christian kindness and benevolence to the brethren.” [90]

Toward the end of December John Taylor paid his third and final visit to Wales. He honored his predecessor in the French Mission with a visit to his home in Aberdare. While there, Elder Taylor took ten-year-old Ann Howells aside with her parents and gave her a special blessing. At a Sunday meeting Ann was requested to sing, “Home, Sweet Home.” Elder Taylor was so delighted with her singing that he had the song printed on pink silk and gave it to her as a keepsake. Many decades later Ann, who at age nine had also served in France as a missionary, still treasured the blessing and the keepsake. [91]

From Wales to Liverpool to America

Just a few weeks later William Howells, his wife, Martha, then four months pregnant, their daughter, Ann, their seven-year-old son, William, and their two-year-old son, Reese, plus two servant girls, began their journey to Liverpool on their way to Zion. In spite of his longing to join the main body of Saints in Salt Lake City, William Howells waxed poetic at the prospect of turning his back on his beloved Wales:

The mountains and vallies [sic], towns and villages, of his [the Welshman’s] native land, enchanted as it were by the various romantic elegies of the Welsh Bards, cause his heart to cleave to the home of his fathers, shuddering at the thought of having his death bed surrounded by strangers, and his grave in a foreign land. [92]

But he received encouragement from a song which had become very popular among the emigrating Saints:

The Upper California, Oh! That’s the land for me;

It lays between the mountains, and great Pacific Sea;

The Saints can be supported there, and taste the sweets of liberty;

In Upper California, Oh! that’s the land for me. [93]

Martha Howells did not record her feelings as she left Wales, but they were doubtless mixed. With her family members begging her to stay, her share of her father’s estate having to be put in court of Chancery, and the awesome uncertainty of several weeks on the sea followed by several months of journeying to some remote spot in a foreign country during which time she would be required to give birth to the child then growing in her womb, she faced enough to give pause to even the most stalwart of women. Had she known of some other hardships that would be required of her—the loss of her husband before the year was out followed by the loss of her eight-year-old son—one can only conjecture what her response would have been.

William Howells was appointed president of the emigrating company on the Olympus. On board were two hundred fifty Saints, and fifty-two non-Mormons and members of the crew. On board also was a large supply of books—Howells’s personal library, which he intended to contribute to the library in Zion. They set sail from Liverpool on 4 March 1851.

In his account of the crossing, Howells paints a blissful picture: religious services on Sunday, daily prayer meetings morning and evening, daily school classes for the study of English and French and other topics, evening lectures, and the like. All these involvements, according to Howells, left no time for faultfinding, backbiting or quarrelling. Certainly, there must have been some moments when total harmony did not prevail, but they were apparently rare, for nearly every one of the fifty-two non-Mormons were impressed with their strange fellow passengers, especially with the Saints’ singing songs of joy, praise, and thanksgiving during rough weather. [94] Their admiration, combined with the proselyting efforts of William Howells and others, was such that twenty-one of them accepted baptism during the crossing. These baptisms were performed on a platform thrown overboard and lowered to the water. The captain was kind enough to devise this unique way of baptizing on the high seas. As they reached New Orleans, twenty-nine more received the ordinance and joined forces with their new brothers and sisters. [95]

And the success did not end once the emigrants reached their new land. It was reported in the Millennial Star:

And no less singular [than the fifty baptisms on board the Olympus] is a circumstance that occurred on the “Statesman” after her arrival here [at Kanesville]; her cooks and deck hands left her, preferring rather to be teamsters across the plains for the Mormons, and have their society in fair Utah, than remain any longer cooks and deck hands on the muddy waters of the Missouri. [96]

William Howells and Orson Pratt were both on board the Statesman and most likely had something to do with the decision of the cooks and deckhands.

In Council Bluffs

After such a pleasant crossing, there was no reason to expect anything other than continued good fortune. Once in Council Bluffs, William Howells set up a store. Martha gave birth to a son, Lewis, on 20 June 1851. Plans and preparations were being made for the trek across the plains the following year. A few short months later, however, William Howells was stricken with sickness. His frail constitution was not able to throw off the illness, and he died 21 November 1851 just barely thirty-five years of age. [97]

Those Left Behind

Howells’s untimely demise left Martha with the enormous challenge of getting herself, her babe-in-arms and her three other children 1,500 miles across the plains to Salt Lake City. She was forced to sell the large supply of books at a sacrifice. The money was needed, and the books constituted too heavy a cargo to transport such a great distance. During the wagon journey toward Utah, Martha suffered yet another personal tragedy—the death of nine-year-old William. He had fallen asleep beneath a wagon wheel and did not hear anything when the wagon started in motion. [98]

Martha, a true stalwart in every sense of the word, continued faithful to her conviction of the truthfulness of Mormonism right up to her death nearly thirty years later in 1879. After ten years of a harsh existence in Utah she made a one-year visit to Wales, where she finally received her share of her father’s estate. [99]

Martha and William’s son Reese later became a wealthy merchant in Ogden. Their daughter, Ann Howells, also continued faithful until her death in 1916. Her life was filled with the many hardships of a pioneer existence. And, in addition to her brief mission to France as a nine-year-old in 1849, she later served two years in the Sandwich Islands as a missionary with her husband. [100]

In the four years from his conversion to Mormonism to his death, William Howells brought in nearly two hundred other converts, opened up the missionary effort in France, had miracles performed through him, and presided over a company of Mormon emigrants across the ocean. What other accomplishments he might have been responsible for had he been permitted to live another two or three decades one can only imagine. One would suppose that the name of William Howells would have become well known in Mormondom if an early death had not claimed him first.


I wish to thank the Religious Studies Center for their assistance in making it possible for me to do research in Wales in person.

[1] W. R. Davies, Y Sentiau Diweddaf Sylwedd Pregeth a Draddodwyd ar y Gwyrthiau, er mwyn Goleuo y Cyffredin, a Dangos Twyll y Creaduriaid a Alwant eu Hunain yn “Seintiau y Dyddiau Diweddaf” (Merthyr Tydfil: David Jones, 1846), iv. Translated title: “The Latter Saints [sic]: Substance of a Sermon Which Was Delivered on the Miracles, in order to Enlighten the Public and Show the Deceit of the Creatures Who Call Themselves ‘Latter-day Saints.’” All translations from Welsh into English are mine.

[2] The term nonconformist has reference to any of the Protestant sects which did not conform to the practice of being members of the Church of England.

[3] Aberdare is about seven miles from Merthyr Tydfil. According to his marriage certificate, William Howells resided at “Penpound,” that part of Aberdare town where the Baptist chapel “Carmel” stood. In all likelihood Howells frequented this chapel. I am indebted and grateful to Mr. D. L. Davies of Aberdare for this information.

[4] “Extract from a Work by Elder John Taylor about to be Published in France,” 15 March 1851, Millennial Star 13:80.

[5] Seren Gomer 30:374–75. Translated title: Star of Gomer. This was a periodical published by the Baptists at the town of Carmarthen.

[6] William Howells to John Davis, Udgorn Seion 1 (May 1849): 94. Translated title: Zion’s Trumpet. This periodical was the sequel to Prophwyd u Jubili (Prophet of the Jubilee) and was published by several editors from January 1849 to April 1862.

[7] “Extracts from Elder Dan Jones’s Letters to Orson Spencer,” 3 November 1847, Millennial Star 9:364.

[8] Neither the denominational journals nor the chapel histories of the period contain any reference to a “Reverend William Howells, of Aberdare.” It is far more likely that Howells became, as many others did, a recognized Baptist lay preacher. Furthermore, in the 1841 census for Aberdare, he gives as his “condition” (i.e., occupation) that of “Draper.” Had he trained for the ministry or been ordained, Howells would no doubt have stated his theological role. Thanks again to D.L. Davies for this clarification.

[9] William Howells to the Editor, 11 May 1848, Millennial Star 10:175.

[10] William Louis Howell, “Life of William Howell” 1. An eighteen-page typewritten nonpublished manuscript. A copy is in Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah. William Howells’s name appears frequently without the final s, a form currently used by his descendants. I have chosen to spell his name with the final s, however, inasmuch as he himself signed it that way in his 27 September 1849 letter to Dan Jones, the original of which is housed in Salt Lake City at the Library-Archives, Historical Department, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (hereafter cited as LDS Church Archives).

[11] E.T. Davies, Religion in the Industrial Revolution of South Wales (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1965), 33-38.

[12] Report of the Population Panel (London: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, March 1973), 29.

[13] E.T. Davies, Religion in the Industrial Revolution of South Wales, 8.

[14] Millennial Star 9:107; 10:121, 253.

[15] Rhydybont is located about fifty miles to the northwest of Merthyr Tydfil. There is evidence that John Jones joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but not until several years later in 1854.

[16] Capt. D. Jones, Adolygiad ar Ddarlithoedd y Parch. E. Roberts (Merthyr Tydfil: D. Jones, 1847), 40. Translated title: “A Review of the Lectures of the Rev. E. Roberts.”

[17] Orson Spencer’s title was then “President of the Church in the British Isles.”

[18] W. Howells to Editor, 19 March 1849, Millennial Star 11:121.

[19] W. Howells to Editor.

[20] Dan Jones to John Davis, 18 April 1849, printed in Hanes Ymfudiad y Saint i Galifornia (Merthyr Tydfil: J. Davis, 1849), 8. Translated title: “An Account of the Saints’ Emigration to California.”

[21] Howells to Editor, 19 March 1849, Millennial Star 11:119.

[22] Howells to Editor, 120. The word applause is misspelled appulse in the Millennial Star.

[23] “Glamorganshire Conference,” Merthyr-Tydfil, Udgorn Seion 1:21.

[24] “A Review of Mormonism and the Reverend T. Williams,” signed “Anti Humbug,” Seren Comer 31:305.

[25] Dan Jones to the Editor of the Deseret News, 22 October 1850. Original is at LDS Church Archives. No details of Howells’s mission for the Baptists to Brittany have survived among his descendants.

[26] “Conference Minutes,” Manchester, England, 13 August 1848, Millennial Star 10:254.

[27] Howells to Editor, 11 May 1848, “Conference Minutes,” 175.

[28] Howells to Davis, 10 September 1849, Udgorn Seion 1:171–72.

[29] William Howells to Dan Jones, 27 September 1849. The original is at LDS Church Archives.

[30] One of the fatalities which caused very little sorrow among the Mormons was the death of the infamous W. R. Davies, who fell ill at 9:00 on the morning of 1 September 1849. By 7:00 the same evening the cholera had claimed another victim (see J. Ronald Williams and Gwyneth Williams, History oj Caersalem, Dowlais, Welsh Baptist Church [Llandysul: Gomerian Press, 1967], 35).

[31] Howells to Davis, 10 September 1849, Udgorn Seion 1:172.

[32] Howells to Davis.

[33] Howell, “Life of William Howell,” 13.

[34] The “journal entry” is actually part of his 9 August 1849 letter to Orson Pratt. It has the appearance of a journal entry and was probably transcribed from his journal.

[35] Howells to Editor, 9 August 1849, Millennial Star 11:263.

[36] Howells does not specify his nationality.

[37] Curtis E. Bolton does not make mention of Augustus Saint d’Anna in his journals either.

[38] William Howells to William Phillips and John Davis, 8 August 1850, Udgorn Seion 2:235.

[39] Curtis Edwin Bolton, Pioneer, Missionary: History, Descendants and Ancestors, comp. Cleo H. Evans (Fairfax, Va.: n.p., 1968), 45. Entry for 1 December 1850.

[40] Curtis Edwin Bolton, pp. 68–70. Entries for 27 October and 1 November 1851.

[41] Howells to Editor, 11 August 1849, Millennial Star 11:267.

[42] Howell, “Life of William Howell,” 13, 14.

[43] Howells to Editor, 26 August 1849, Millennial Star 11:295.

[44] Howells to Editor, 26 August 1849.

[45] Howells to Editor, 26 August 1849.

[46] Howells made two subsequent journeys to France of three months each. There is no indication that Ann accompanied him on either of these.

[47] Howells to Editor, 26 August 1849, Millennial Star 11:296.

[48] Howells to Editor, 26 August 1849.

[49] Howells to Davis, 10 September 1849, Udgorn Seion 1:174.

[50] Howells to Editor, 26 August 1849, Millennial Star 11:296.

[51] Howells to Jones, 27 September 1849.

[52] It is not clear from Howells’s letter, but this appears to be a Protestant chapel.

[53] Sophy Valentine, Biography of Ann Howell Burt (Brigham City, Utah: n.p. 1916), 10. The only time William Howells mentions in his writings about spending a night out-of-doors was their first night in Dinan where they arrived late and were unable to find lodging. Perhaps Ann confused her experience there with the one which she attributed to St. Servan.

[54] Howells to Editor, 26 August 1849, Millennial Star 11:296.

[55] Howells to Editor, 26 August 1849.

[56] William Howells to William Phillips and John Davis 23 September 1849, Udgorn Seion 1:217.

[57] Howells to Jones, 27 September 1849.

[58] Howells to Jones.

[59] William Howells to Orson Pratt, 21 December 1849, Millennial Star 12: 12.

[60] Howells to Orson Pratt, 11.

[61] Howells to Orson Pratt, 11–12.

[62] Howells to Orson Pratt, 12. The monument is most likely the equestrian statue of the fourteenth-century hero, Bertrand Du Guesclein. Unlike many statues in France which were melted down for ammunition by the Germans during World War II, this one still stands. It was allowed to remain because it symbolized supremacy over the British.

[63] Howells to Oliver Pratt, 13.

[64] Howells to Oliver Pratt, 13.

[65] Howells to Oliver Pratt, 14.

[66] Howells to Oliver Pratt, 14.

[67] Howells to Editor, 25 January 1850, William Howells to Oliver Pratt, 90.

[68] Howells to Oliver Pratt, 91.

[69] Howells to Phillips and Davis, 23 February 1850, Udgorn Seion 2:83.

[70] Howells to Orson Pratt, 7 April 1850, Millennial Star 12:158.

[71] Howells to Phillips and Davis, 23 February 1850, Udgorn Seion 2:83.

[72] Howells to Phillips and Davis.

[73] Howells to Phillips and Davis, 84.

[74] Interpreter, 28 February 1850, cited in Millennial Star 12:158.

[75] Howells to Orson Pratt, 7 April 1850, Interpreter, 28 February 1850, cited in Millennial Star 12:158.

[76] Howells to Orson Pratt, 7 April 1880.

[77] William Howells to William Phillips and John Davis, 11 April 1850, Udgorn Seion 2:94.

[78] Howells to Phillips and Davis, 11 April 1880.

[79] The number, if any, of these “chief enemies” to actually receive baptism is not a matter of record.

[80] “Merthyr Tydfil Conference,” 3 January 1847, Prophwyd y Jubili 2:16,17.

[81] Udgorn Seion 2:202.

[82] John Davis to Orson Pratt, 13 June 1850, Millennial Star 12:219–20.

[83] Howells to Phillips and Davis, 8 August 1850, Udgorn Seion 2:233.

[84] Howells to Phillips and Davis, 233–35.

[85] John Taylor to the Editor, 21 July 1850, Millennial Star 12:269.

[86] “Three Nights' Public Discussion between the Revds., C. W. Cleeve, James Robertson, and Philip Cater, and Elder John Taylor of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at Boulogne-sur-mer, France” (Liverpool: Published by John Taylor, 1850), 32.

[87] Taylor to the Editor, 21 July 1850, Millennial Star 12:270.

[88] Curtis Edwin Bolton, 43. Entry for 25 September 1850.

[89] William Howells to Orson Pratt and F. D. Richards, 11 December 1850, Millennial Star 13:11.

[90] Howells to Pratt and Richards.

[91] Valentine, Biography of Ann Howell Burt, 9.

[92] William Howells to F. D. Richards, 15 February 1851, Millennial Star 13:78.

[93] Howells to Richards, Incidentally, “The Upper California, Oh! That’s the Land for Me” was written by John Taylor.

[94] Letter of William Howells, 27 April 1851, Howells to Richards, 189.

[95] Howells to Richards, 190–191.

[96] “Arrivals” quoted from Frontier Guardian, Howells to Richards, 255.

[97] Howell, “Life of William Howell,” 18.

[98] Valentine, Biography of Ann Howell Burt, 16–17.

[99] Valentine, Biography, 19.

[100] Valentine, Biography, 27.