Thursday, January 6, 2011

Happy 188th Birthday, John Welch 1 (1823-1910)!

John Welch IV's great-grandfather 

The original John Welch, our patriarch pioneer, began a legacy that continues today with John Welch IV, V, VI, and VII.  John 1 shared a birthday with his mother.  (All these Welches to start out the year--indicative of their over-acheiving, competitive, scheduled nature to be first?  Not that I inherited any of that...)  Teenage John sailed across the ocean due to a nightmare about his family, met his bride on board ship, and later ran a moonshine whiskey still which Brigham Young disapproved of.  That story isn't one that gets told at reunions, so keep reading.

John had curly black hair and was the third of seven but the oldest surviving child the Welches raised in England. Son of a Methodist preacher and a lace worker, John was apprenticed at age fourteen to learn the cutlery trade.  The Welch family learned of the gospel and converted to the Church, but John stayed behind to finish his apprenticeship when the family sailed to America in the spring of 1842.  A few months later, he began having the same dream every night where his father looked at him with a troubled expression.  John felt that his family needed help, and one night he left through the dormitory window to join some missionaries sailing to America.

Due to ice on the Mississippi, the group was stranded in St. Louis all winter and arrived in Nauvoo in the spring.  All this time together must have facilitated a shipboard romance: John became friends with fellow convert Eliza Billington, and they married two years later.  When John arrived in Nauvoo, he found that his father and two brothers had died, and his mother and sister were destitute.  He showed his cutlery samples up and down the river, taking orders and making Bowie knives.  He also carved two beautiful pen knives (pocket knives used to sharpen quills) for Joseph and Hyrum Smith.  Their names were engraved on plates under tortoise shell handles, but current whereabouts of the knives are unknown.

John and Eliza  received their endowments in the Nauvoo Temple.  John served on the Nauvoo Legion and stood guard over the Smith bodies as they lay in state.  John and Eliza witnessed the mantle fall on Brigham Young and John left a deposition with his testimony of this experience. Together they suffered through Winter Quarters, and shared their oxen to feed many in camp.  Without oxen, they were unable to travel in spring.  Their toddler son died and they moved to Missouri to dig wells to earn enough money to travel west.  John also made money during the Gold Rush selling knives to men headed to California and “ironed wagons” (put iron tires on wooden wheels) for fellow pioneers.  John and Eliza had two daughters born in Missouri, and another one crossing the plains.  En route the wagon was upset in a creek but all were safe. 

John & Eliza
In Utah, John was known for giving milled flour generously to neighbors, and he became a prosperous farmer. There is an account that he and Wells ancestor Thomas Grover plowed a field together, and John was discouraged at the unsuccessful effort but Thomas encouraged him to continue.  John was one of the directors of the United Order Council.  He made knives and scissors and razors in Centerville.  John also made some good moonshine whiskey, but only for a short duration, because when Brother Brigham heard of it, “all at once John Welch and the old still parted company forever.”

 Lorenzo Snow called John to St. George to establish the grape industry and to clerk on the cotton farms, so he took a young second wife to accompany him. They attended the dedication of the St. George Temple.  As his cutlery apprenticeship no doubt taught him, John took great pride in having all his tools and implements clean and bright, with everything in its place.  Leaving dirt on a plow or putting a dirty shovel away was a serious offense.  He was a lifelong student, enjoying the study of science and philosophy in his last days, and was blunt and decisive.  He was also careful, frugal, practical, and full of service.
love the inscription: "The Lord is my strength and my shield"

John served as a bishop and had a good solo voice.  He was forced to shave his beard during the two months of 1889 he spent in the penitentiary for polygamy, which he thought contributed to illness there.  The beard regrew afterwards, to be remembered by a grandson as a flowing beard nearly to the waist.  To his grandson, John said, “Never forget, my lad, that I gave you my testimony that this is God’s Church and his work.  It is all true.  Be loyal to the principles and ideals of this Church and hang to the Iron Rod and you will be happy here and hereafter.”  John was trusted and revered, and served as a patriarch in his final years, saying to his posterity on his deathbed, “Prove faithful! Oh, prove faithful!”

I would give John 1 the ability to Skype--to see what was happening to his family in Nauvoo while he was in England.  His name and legacy have certainly lived on through the generations!


  1. Some nice cutlery, a hose, and a dishwasher!

  2. This is a really cute blog, Anita! Great idea!

  3. Great post and an adorable blog design. What a neat idea!