A Day in the Life of Charleston Ward, 1901
Contributor: IAquilter Created: 7 months ago Updated: 7 months ago
The date was May 5, 1901.
It was an ordinary fast and testimony meeting in the Charleston Ward, captured through the haphazardly-spelled minutes scribbled down in pencil on the pages of a slender leather-bound ledger kept by the ward clerk, 24-year-old Ernest T. Bate.
Bate noted that the meeting began at 2:10--ten minutes late—as people sauntered in to Charleston Hall and took their seats.
Bishop William Daybell, 43, called the meeting to order.
The congregation sang “Earth with her Ten thousand Flowers,” after which Rudolph Korth, a German emigrant, opened the meeting with prayer.
The congregation then sang another hymn, “Come Oh Thou King of Kings.”
The Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper was then administered by John Fowers, 58, and his oldest son, 25-yr-old John B. Fowers. In those days, the prayers on the bread and water (and, on occasion, wine) were not always offered by young men 16- to 18-years old as they would later be. During Church President Joseph F. Smith’s administration, the duties of priests would be regularized, and the pattern of younger men offering the prayers became customary.
Bate did not record attendance, but the congregation seems to have been rather small on this particular day. Larger congregations usually asked 4 or more deacons to pass the sacrament. Only 2 deacons passed the emblems in Charleston that day: "Finity" Price, 14, the nephew of Bishop Daybell; and Frankin Webster, 12.
Price and Webster would have passed a common cup down the rows, for it would be another decade before individual cups—in some cases paper, in others glass—made their appearance in Mormon meetings.
While the bread and water was being passed around, the congregation sang a hymn, as was the custom then. By the 1920s, the custom of singing a hymn was replaced by congregations listening to music during the passing of the sacrament: an organ solo, vocal solo, or if the congregation was fortunate, a skilled violin solo. Eventually, under the administration of David O. McKay, this practice was replaced with silence. McKay felt that the sacrament ought to be reserved for mediation; silence, not music, was the way to accomplish this.
After the sacrament portion of the meeting was over, Bishop Daybell stood and relayed some of the instructions he had received at the Wasatch Stake priesthood meeting held the day before in Heber. The stake took in the entire county, and all the leaders from the principal towns were usually in attendance at these monthly meetings to give a report of the doings of their respective wards.
Daybell, a dairy farmer who had lived in Charleston from the age of six, when his family emigrated from England, had been bishop less than three months. He spoke as a man who wanted to do everything right.
Daybell announced a conference of Wasatch Stake scheduled for the following Saturday and Sunday in Heber City. Stake conferences were more frequent--held quarterly--and more involved than they would be in later years. Typically stakes held five sessions: two two-hour sessions held on Saturday and Sunday at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., and a Saturday evening session for the young men's and young women's organizations (which then took in people into their 20s). Bishop Daybell announced that the ward's teachers and priests "had been chosen to notify all the people" of the conference and "explain why they should attend." He then read the names of those who had been selected for this duty. This way of getting the message out suggested a low attendance at sacrament meeting: not everyone who might attend stake conference was a regular meeting goer, and they had to be notified.
Providing motivation to young men who might be resistant, Daybell mentioned “the nesisiaty [necessity] of liveing our Religin so we could be advanced in the lines of the Priesthood.” Priesthood reform was just getting under way, and there was now more emphasis being placed on young men holding the priesthood and moving through its ranks, from deacon to teacher to priest, like advances in the military office. But advancement was not guaranteed; just as soldiers in the army must do commendable acts to advance, so a priesthood office must be worthy and serviceable to advance from one office to another.
Daybell “also [spoke] of those that wished to get married and go through the Temple. Should make it known longer before hand than usual.” Church leaders had learned from sad experience that some couples who wanted to be sealed for eternity in Mormon temples had consummated their union before their wedding day, a violation of Church teaching. If the couple intended on marrying in the temple, they should let the bishop know well in advance, so that he give them firm guidelines and meet with them periodically during their engagement.
After Daybell finished speaking, four bottles of olive oil were consecrated in the presence of the congregation. Often the bishop said the prayer, but on occasion a counselor did the duty; Bates’ minutes do not say who did it on this day. The practice of consecrating oil during sacrament meeting would continue in the Church past the mid-twentieth century, before the act of consecrating oil was confined to priesthood meetings or individual homes. At the end of the sacrament meeting in Charleston, the oil consecrated would be disseminated to men and women who wished to anoint others for the blessing and healing of the sick.
After the oil was consecrated, John McAffee Ritchie, first counselor to Bishop Daybell, brought his infant daughter to the front of the congregation. Ritchie, 33, was a married father of three young daughters. (His only son died as an infant.) The youngest daughter had been born six weeks earlier in Charleston. Ritchie laid his hands on her head and gave her the name of Vera Josephine Daybell. In keeping with the tradition of the church laid down from its earliest days, Ritchie then would have pronounced a blessing upon her head, following the example of the Old Testament patriarchs, by uttering the promises that lay in store for her life as he felt so inspired.
Joseph R. Murdock, a counselor in the Stake Presidency and also a member of the ward, then said a few words. As the local dignitary, he frequently spoke in meetings even when he was unassigned. A cofounder of the Charleston Creamery and the Charleston Co-op, he was in his early 40s and was already one of the town’s most successful businessmen. His words carried great weight. “We must be Humble and Prayerful,” he told the congregation, “and not Depend upon our own strength but seek for the Spirit and Guidence of our Heavenly Father.”
George Price, Bishop Daybell’s brother-in-law and second counselor, bore a brief testimony and the asked members of the congregation who felt similarly inspired to stand and say a few words. “We should occipy [occupy] the time in Testomonys,” Price said, according to the minutes kept by Bate.
At that point, members of the congregation walked to the pulpit, one by one. Older members may have stood where they were sitting and turned around to speak to the audience. There was, of course, no microphone. Neither were there hearing aids. Those who spoke were encouraged to speak loud enough for all to hear.
Brother Moroni Moulton, 24, was the first to the stand. A newlywed of just five months, his quick appearance at the pulpit suggested premeditation on his part—and the exuberance of a young person whose life was beginning to take flight. He “bore his testomony to the truthfullness of this Gospel in which we are engaged.”
Bishop Daybell must have been pleased to see the young married people express faith in the Church and its teachings. They represented the hope of the future.
Elsie Kerby Simmons, 22, stood up next. She was the wife of Joseph, who happened to be the same age. After their first child died the year before (after just one day), Elsie now had a four-month-old baby girl named Fern. The cold so dangerous to her infant had now passed. Spring was here, and feeling optimistic, Elsie “expressed her Desire of helpeing to Roll on this work.”
Sister Esther M. Davies, 63, stood next. Born in Canada, she was one of the few members of the ward who had lived in Nauvoo. She subsequently came west with her birth family in 1851. On the way, while camped on the Platte River, her mother caught cholera and died. They had to cut tree bark for a casket and wrap her in linen before saying goodbye and turning their face toward Zion. In Utah, Esther married Nymphas Murdock in 1857, the same year the president of the United States dispatched a federal army to crush supposed Mormon "rebellion." Together the Murdocks had nine children. Esther was the second wife, and Nymphas favored the first. His union with Esther did not work out, and the two divorced in 1877, three years after the last child was born. (Whereupon Esther returned to her father’s surname, “Davies.”) The divorce settlement included a nice home in Charleston, where Esther lived out her days near her children. The single line the ward clerk in Charleston wrote summarizing her testimony spoke volumes: despite all her trials, she nonetheless "bore her Testomony to the truth of this Gospel.”
John Fowers, who had blessed the sacrament with his son, stood next. The minutes say he “bore his Testomony and felt well he said he was trying to keep the Word of Wisdom and that he wished to go foward in the work.”
Fowers was a man whose life appears to have been on the upswing. He had been set apart as a High Priest just a few months before, and his frank confession about his failures to live up to the Word of Wisdom in every particular would not have shocked the congregation. For much of Mormon history, members had taken a moderate view of most of the Word of Wisdom’s prohibitions against alcohol, tobacco, tea, and coffee. Many in Charleston Ward, especially among the old timers, probably still did. A strict prohibition of these items was then becoming an expectation of all active members.
Leah D. North, who turned 55 the day before, came next. A native of Wales, she was said to have walked all the way to Utah from Florence, Nebraska, while crossing the plains in 1861. She married Hyrum North, an Iowa native, and they had 13 children together. She must have suffered much heartache in her lifetime, for only six of these children lived to adulthood. Leah had a much different experience in plural marriage than Esther Davies did. Early in their married lives, Leah gave her consent for Hyrum to marry a second wife. Priscilla Jane Blair, seven years Leah’s junior, was his choice. Priscilla bore Hyrum 11 children. The two wives must have gotten along. At the Charleston fast and testimony meeting, Leah “bore her testomony to the Gospel in which we are engaged she also said that she had never seen aday that she felt sorry for entering into Plural Marrage.”
That line must have brought sorrow to the heart of Esther Davies.
His heart swelling with pride after blessing his infant daughter, counselor John Ritchie stood next. As a bishopric member, he had to be concerned by the slim attendance. He told the congregation “that he did not feel well when he did not attend meeting and Bore his testomony and that we should Fast from Supper on Saturday untill Supper on Sunday and that we should Pay our Fast Offerings on Fast Days.” Small fast offering returns were a perpetual problem at this time, and Ritchie was in a position to know how sorely the poor in the ward needed these funds. Utah was still digging out of a decade-long depression, and low commodity prices meant that farmers were especially hard hit.
Toward the end of the meeting, Ernest Bate appears to have wearied of taking notes. Sister Lucy Jacobs bore testimony, as did sister Sophia Noakes, who was over 80. Nothing was written about what they said.
Sister Rose Louisa Korth (sister-in-law of Rudolph Korth, who gave the opening prayer) also bore her testimony, as did Sister Annie Wilson Ritchie, the 22-year-old sister-in-law of the first counselor John M. Ritchie. Brother Bate recorded their names but that was all.
Nineteenth-century Saints were not much concerned with time. Bate didn't note when the meeting closed, but it could have gone on for an hour and a half or two--or more. Whenever it became apparent that everyone who wanted to speak, had spoken, that was when the meeting ended.
The meeting closed by the congregation singing “Beautiful Home.” A German- accented prayer began the meeting. An English-accented prayer ended it. James Price, the father of the second counselor and an English emigrant, offered a benediction on the meeting.
Source: Minutes, May 5, 1901, Charleston Ward, Wasatch Stake, Historical Record, 1884-1901, LR 1615 11, v. 1, pp. 121-22, Church History Library, Salt Lake City.