Sunday, January 23, 2011

Happy 158th Birthday, William Hunter (1853-1926)!

Gayle Wells' great-grandfather

     As a child, William sailed from Scotland through icebergs, crossed the plains, and then as a teenager helped build the St. George Temple.  These early adventures transformed into a life of staid respectability, leaving a paucity of records and photos of William and his family.

     William was born in Scotland to recent LDS converts, the oldest of six children.  Several of his siblings died young.  The family emigrated to America when he was ten years old, and the perilous journey may have just been an adventure in his eyes: there were fierce storms, a fire on board where it looked as if all might perish, they narrowly missed being wrecked by running into a large iceberg, and they arrived at New York in the middle of a Civil War battle and the passengers had to be routed inland out of danger.  In Utah, the Hunters initially stayed with William’s maternal grandma, Mary Bathgate Shelley, who had emigrated previously.  William remained close to her throughout his life and inherited her poems.

Williams’s mother Agnes died when he was a teenager, although he gained many new half-siblings and stepmothers through polygamy.  Given his father Ebenezer's musical teaching career, William was probably raised with some musical instruction.  William became a mason and an excellent carpenter.  He was studious and acquired a good education, becoming a good writer (although why we don't have his writings is a mystery).  

At age eighteen, he was chosen to help build the St. George Temple.  He and some other boys went south and stayed in the homes of local ward members.  He lived in St. George for the next six years, and was endowed in St. George Temple on February 18, 1877, six weeks before its official dedication.  William fell in love with Amy Calkin, a local schoolteacher, and married her in the temple he’d helped build.  They came from similar backgrounds:  second-generation LDS members in polygamous families who were child pioneers from the British Isles, and as teenagers both lost a parent.

Amy & William (fuzzy photo)
William was called to take charge of the Indian Post at Duchesne/Emery County, and then the family lived in Huntington for sixteen years.  In 1905, they settled in American Fork and built a home in the Third Ward there.  William and Amy had eleven children, and mourned the loss of two daughters who died young and another who died as a young mother.  His other daughter and seven sons outlived him.  He was undoubtedly concerned when his third child, our teenage ancestor Henry, went off to the Philippines in the Spanish-American War.   William was a government carpenter and served as justice of the peace for ten years before his death.  He held responsible Church positions and it was said that he “lived the life of a True Latter-Day Saint.”

I would give William a blog, complete with journal and camera abilities--a way to preserve his writings and family photos for the future!  


  1. Fascinating! I didn't know we had St. George roots on Gayle's side too! See, it was fitting that Jed and I made you all travel to St. George to be married and then home in time for a reception that night! At least it wasn't December--now that would've been terribly rude. :)

  2. Such interesting information about William. And how wonderful to have such a good picture. Studying his face I can see the family resemblance through the generations. I like the thought that they were married in the temple he helped build. I wish we had known the Hunter family as we were growing up. Association with a grandfather and Hunter aunts, uncles, and cousins would have enriched our lives.