Friday, July 22, 2011

Happy 215th Birthday, Mary Bathgate (1796-1884)!

Gayle Wells' third-great-grandmother

Everyone seems to know Scottish pioneer Mary Bathgate's rattlesnake story, now popularized in Gerald Lund's Fire of the Covenant book and two different Ensign articles.  However, her mysterious marital history continues to elude researchers--which is why I'm calling her by her maiden name, instead of "Mary Bathgate Hutcheson Murray Martin Wark Logan Shelley" as other family historians prefer.


Third of nine children and a twin, Mary was the daughter of a man she eulogized poetically as a sea captain who sailed his own ship in the North Sea.  She was orphaned by age seven and sent to work in the local Scottish coal mines, where the imprint of the bag’s strap carried on her forehead could still be seen in her old age.  Her unstable and unsubstantiated marital relationships confuse descendants.  

Mary saw several of her children precede her in death.  One of her sons died in a mining accident and the resulting company compensation paid for the family’s emigration to Utah.  His death was the catalyst for her interest in the gospel message, as Mary and her family were seeking solace in their grief. 

Crossing the plains with her youngest daughter, sixty-year-old Mary was with a group of young children and stepped out into the grass to see a bird, which she wanted to capture for food.  She didn’t see a rattlesnake nearby, which bit her on the foot.  Mary was miraculously healed by a priesthood blessing, and she celebrated the incident in poetry: “The trials of this journey great, Which I did undertake, Not one of them cost me a thought, Till I met this rattlesnake.  In me it fixed its poisonous dart; It stung my ankle bone.  My little child cried out, ‘My mother’s gone.’  ‘Oh no,’ said I, ‘My little child, The Priesthood is restored; Go bring to me the Elders quick, I’ve faith in Israel’s God.’  The Elders they were sent for, And quickly came with speed, And Brother Lenard tenderly Did cause the wound to bleed.  They anointed me with holy oil, On me their hands they laid; And I the blessings have received, Just as the Lord had said.  So praise the Lord, oh every one, For His power is restored again; I praise his name forever more So Amen and Amen.” 

In Utah, Mary became the housekeeper and then wife of British convert James Shelley, whose first wife had drowned while crossing the Mississippi.  Mary was able to receive her endowment in 1856, shortly after arriving.  Her  daughter Agnes and her family stayed with Mary when they first came to Utah, and Mary bequeathed her poems to grandson William Hunter

After James died, Mary lived her final years with her daughter Mary Adams, and each of her Shelley stepsons continued to send her a monthly five-dollar allowance so she would have some spending money.  Living with the Adams family, Mary became especially close with her granddaughter Beulah, who remembers sitting on a chair and listening to her grandmother recite her poetry.  At age 88 in 1879, Mary attended an Old Folks’ gathering and was honored with a framed portrait of President John Taylor after she spoke of her experience working forty years in the coal mines, crossing the plains by handcart, and being healed from the rattlesnake bite.

I would give her an Ace bandage and a poison antidote!  Then again, she didn't need that...  Perhaps one of those lockets that opens to hold a half-dozen pictures, and she could put photos of her various husbands in that.

1 comment:

  1. I'd give her another photo shoot: I think this one may be an example of postmortem photography.

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