Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Happy 180th Birthday, Ebenezer Hunter (1831-1908)!

Gayle Wells' great-great-grandfather

close up of Ebenezer with Elder Cannon

Ebenezer was a musical pioneer poet from Scotland who fathered a large posterity.  We have several photos of him, and his journal is available at the Church History Library if you get special permission to view the microfilm (since he was a bishop, it contains confidential information--that's what they told me, anyway).  Read on to see some great photos from his time in jail! 


Ebenezer was the oldest of five living children raised in Scotland, and he was supporting the family by age ten when his father died.  As a young man, Ebenezer worked hard at night in order to study law at school in the daytime.  Ebenezer’s mother Elsbeth joined the Church in 1844, and teenage Ebenezer and his sister Helen followed in 1845.  However, for unknown reasons all three of them were cut off from the Saints two years later, and then later rebaptized, making Ebenezer twenty years old when he became truly committed to the faith.   Helen emigrated in 1849 but she and her daughter died of cholera and were buried at sea; their mother never left Scotland. 

Ebenezer married fellow convert Agnes, and the newlyweds held Church meetings at their home and were active in local missionary work.  Ebenezer presided over the Bathgate Branch. He was dismayed when his brother-in-law Joseph Murray left the Church and began preaching Methodist doctrine.  Ebenezer told him that the Lord would afflict him for his decision, and was satisfied to note the fulfillment of this prophecy in his journal when the Murray family suffered from the measles and Joseph’s daughter died.  However, Ebenezer’s own family suffered from smallpox and a few years later he lost two children to illness. 

Ebenezer's living children, William in the middle
Ebenezer noted some other trials in his journal: he hurt his foot with a stone at work, which “threw me idle for some time” and a week later, pregnant Agnes was severely burned.  When she gave birth that December, Ebenezer was ill with fever and a swollen knee (which later had to be lanced by a doctor to remove a cup and a half of fluid). The Hunters saved enough money to emigrate, but their ship voyage was trying: 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, Ebenezer and Agnes initially stayed with her mother, Mary Bathgate Shelley, who had emigrated previously.  Sadly, Agnes died only a few years after their arrival.

            Ebenezer was a good musician and the first to teach music in American Fork.  He taught vocal music and had a good bass voice.  He was a choir leader there for thirteen years, as well as school trustee, justice of the peace, and schoolteacher. He was of stocky Scotch descent, 5’7” with kind grey eyes and a very firm mouth.  A grandchild recalled that Ebenezer’s portion had to be removed from the food before seasoning could be added.  He was very strict with his children and they loved and respected him. His plural wives and thirty-six (twenty-nine surviving) children lived in harmony together.

autograph book signature
Ebenezer spent some time in the penitentiary due to polygamy. He autographed fellow inmate Winslow Farr’s book with this inscription:  “Although from home and in the pen among men, both fat, lean, short, and tall, One thing dear Brother you can say, your Farr ahead above them all.”  He recorded his jail experience as follows: “For two long months away from friends/From homes, from wives, and children dear/Oft have I left them there before,/But never saw them shed a tear/Of sorrow, at our parting then/Because ‘twas mutual with us all./But oh, how different with us when/We go obedient to a call/Of men because they have the power/But care not for the sorrow given/Still we can bear to suffer now/Just retribution comes from Heaven.”

            Ebenezer also authored a poem with this concluding stanza: “And if there’s wrong, don’t spread it out to float with every wind, But go, recall the erring one with feelings mild and kind. Remember this to hide a fault and that your brother wins, your own a power to cover up a multitude of sins.”
Ebenezer , hand on George Q. Cannon's shoulder
His daughter Jessie inherited the poetic gift, and this excerpt from her tribute to the polygamous family show what a loving family Ebenezer created:

"My father was a man you’ve all heard about
That Brigham told to go scoutin’ about
And find him some wives one, two, and three
If he could care for conveniently.
They chatted a while and he told her how
She could live with him and his other Frau
She had heard of Brigham and his command
She took the old gentleman by the hand
And said, ‘If it suits you, it surely does me.’
So off they went, the love nest to see.
The women chatted the whole night through
And planned and thought what they could do
Their troubles and joys together they’d share
And their children they’d raise with the tenderest care
My father was joyful when he could see
How well they got along.  Then why not three?
And many a time I’ve seen Santa myself
Dressed just like my dad putting things on the shelf.
You might think it’s funny but I’d give all I own
To be back in those days with 29 in our home."

Ebenezer Hunter, 1907 (year before he died)
I would give Ebenezer a nice family dinner with all his descendants together--but no seasoning in the food!

1 comment:

  1. I'd give him a blog so that he could share his poetry with more people.

    ReplyDelete