Thursday, January 6, 2011

Happy 212th Birthday, Elizabeth Briggs Welch (1799-1867)!

John Welch IV's great-great-grandmother

The original Welch Woman, Elizabeth shared a birthday with her son John.  She was the driving force behind the family's conversion, carried on in Nauvoo once widowed, and journeyed west widowed again.  Our two January Elizabeth pioneer matriarchs on the Welch line led the way and inspire me today.

Yet this one seems shrouded to me—partly because she was known for making beautiful black veils and lacework, and partly due to being widowed three times and burying husbands and children.  Those heartaches must have given her great strength and endurance.

Third of ten children, Elizabeth was a small black-haired woman with striking black eyes.  Before her marriage, she worked as a lace worker: the lace was embroidered on fine bobbins for ladies’ dresses.  After marrying Nicholas Welch, Elizabeth became a lace-making agent and traveled to Chesterfield for patterns and materials to distribute to female workers.  This lace was embroidered and shipped to China.  She also made beautiful black veils.  Her daughter Ann remembered their English home fondly, with its brass candlesticks and paintings.

Three of Elizabeth’s children died as toddlers, perhaps influencing her interest in the gospel message.  One evening after delivering lace, Elizabeth was curious to hear a “mere boy” talking to a crowd on a street corner.  Despite her preacher husband, Elizabeth had not been religiously inclined and had never given serious thought to her husband’s work.  Yet she was impressed deeply by the gospel message, and invited the LDS Elder home to meet her family.  She walked the mile home and said to her husband, “Nick, I’ve heard the Gospel.”  He replied in surprise, “Oh, you have, that’s funny for you.”  “Yes,” she said, “I’ve heard the Gospel and it’s the only Gospel. And it’s true.  I know it and I’ve invited this young Elder to visit us and tell us more about it.”  This story was retold in an Ensign article here.

The family was baptized soon after, meeting with financial loss since this ended Nicholas’s career as a Methodist preacher.  However, the hardships were only beginning.  The Welches left their comfortable home and came to Nauvoo, where the unhealthy swamp conditions and illness soon led to the deaths of Elizabeth’s husband and two sons.  Hyrum Smith moved Elizabeth and her daughter Ann to a little house on his farm, and her son John providentially arrived to help. 

Elizabeth remarried Robert Madison but was quickly widowed again.  She adopted Jane and John Miles, orphaned fellow English converts.  Elizabeth received her endowment in the Nauvoo Temple on February 6, 1846, and traveled west with her son John’s family. Elizabeth had herself sealed to Nicholas only months after arriving in Utah.  She remarried Edmund Ellsworth, and was again quickly widowed.   She spent her remaining years in a little home near son John.

Elizabeth died the day after her 68th birthday.  She was buried in the Willard Pioneer Cemetery, despite having predicted that the area would be again be struck by a flood.  A little iron fence was built around her grave, and when the Willard flood of 1923 covered the land with mud and rocks, her fenced grave was easily located and restored.  She was remembered for her brave, kind, and gentle heart.

I would give this noble woman a bouquet of flowers--to brighten her day, and to put on any number of graves she would have visited if she could.


  1. since i am reading about all those pioneers in The Work and the Glory, i understand about all that swamp stuff. so i would give her bug spray!

  2. some new brass candlesticks, just like the ones she had in her house in england :)

  3. PS i didn't know that this elizabeth ancestor had a daughter named jane!

  4. I'd give her a nice set of the scriptures- Bible, Book of Mormon, D&C, Pearl of Great Price- in the hopes that the words of the gospel would give her some peace.