Sunday, July 3, 2011

Happy 217th Birthday, Catherine Livesay Cottam (1794-1883)!

Anna Cramer's great-grandmother

A British pioneer who enjoyed drinking tea to the end of her days.
Catherine was a petite, black-haired, fun-loving woman raised in England, the second of eight children.  Coming from a privileged family, Catherine learned to read and write and enjoyed keeping in touch through letters.  She liked to entertain with fine china and wines, and visit friends around the English countryside in her horse and carriage.  She was married to the sweet-natured chairmaker John, and her spendthrift ways resulted in debts and the loss of the family manor some years prior to the family’s conversion and emigration to Utah.  Her son Thomas recalled, “My mother was a good woman, but she nearly ruined my father with her generosity.”

As a mother, Catherine contrasted her two sons: “There is a vast difference between our Thomas and our John.  Our Thomas says to me quietly, ‘Good morning, mother, how are you this morning?’ Our John, gruffly, ‘Hello. What’s news?’” She had to make a tough decision: whether to support John’s happiness in the moment or in the long-run when he was engaged at age eighteen.  The banns (proclamations of intended marriage read for three Sundays in a row at church) had been read twice; on the third cry Catherine objected due to his youth, and John and his fiancĂ©e never saw each other again.  

When news came of preachers with a strange religion in the nearby city of Preston, the Cottam family had friends and relatives who told of the many conversions.   They heard and also believed the gospel.  They wept at Heber C. Kimball’s departure and made plans to emigrate.  Unfortunately, their daughter Jenny did not embrace the new faith, and son William died shortly after their conversion.  Sons John and Thomas preceded the others to America, and arranged for the passage of their elderly parents through the Perpetual Emigration Fund.  Leaving Jenny behind must have been hard for Catherine, who was over sixty years old when she arrived in the Salt Lake Valley.  

The Cottams spoke using “thee” and “thou.” At the end of John’s life, he was quite ill.  One night his wife waited by him until she was weary, and John said, “Thou canst go to bed, old darling,” and then he turned his face to the wall and died.  After John’s death, Catherine lived with her daughter Ellen in Salt Lake.  One day Catherine was not feeling well and went to bed. Ellen brought her a cup of tea, which she took a sip of, and then left it. Ellen asked her what was wrong with the tea, and Catherine answered that it was so weak she thought it needed a rest!

Catherine was noted for her anxiousness to help others, which actually resulted in her own death.  She had gone outside on a cold winter day to help her neighbor look for a lost pig.  She got wet in City Creek, and chilled.  She came in and sat by the fire, and had a stroke and died.

I get the sense that Catherine would have enjoyed watching the royal wedding along with me a couple months back--I would give her a proper tea party for her birthday!


  1. Wow! I have to assume that this is one of my ancestors :) Very cool.