Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Happy 181st Birthday, Hans Christian Sorensen Hegsted (1830-1914)!

Gawain Wells' great-grandfather

Just five feet tall, this Danish pioneer was a powerful missionary.  
Hans Christian Sorensen Hegsted was third of four children raised in Denmark. His father was a coachman, and his parents taught him to read before entering public school. The patronymic system meant that in Denmark, Hans’ last name was Sorensen, “son of Soren.” The Hegsted surname was adopted in America, since Hans came from the Danish hometown of Hegsted/Hogsted (name is also spelled Hegstead).  He was a farmer and bricklayer.  

Hans joined the Church and served as a missionary in his native land for several years before emigrating.  He said that the missionary who first taught him spoke for just an hour initially, but “every word that left his mouth was a torch of truth like the source of life itself.”  His sister and mother also joined the Church, although his mother passed away shortly thereafter.  Hans used a small inheritance to fund his missionary work for several years. He was the president of the Copenhagen conference (equivalent of stake), and had the distinction of being the only local mission president the Church ever had at that time.  He was set apart for the duration of the Schleswig war between Denmark and Germany.  

He shared his overwhelmed feelings about his calling in his journal: “I have now begun to lead things in the Copenhagen Conference.  Oh!  Heavenly Father, help me, thy servant, that I may be of some benefit to this mission, that when I am released again I may be faithful and leave this mission with gladness and good feelings, with a sincere conviction that I have done the best I could.  O my God!  Deliver me from all evil, and preserve me in this trial together with my family. Merciful Father, wilt thou know thy servant’s sincerest desires; I feel my weakness as a guide for so many Saints and know how easy it is to offend them and to become their enemy.  Father, preserve me from sin against them, or against any.  O wilt thou bless me where I am wanting, both earthly and spiritually, and I will praise thy name eternally.”  He frequently traveled by boat and train, and was once imprisoned overnight for proclaiming gospel with three other elders.  His wife Maren, a fellow convert, labored with him in his missionary efforts. 

As the war concluded, they made plans to go to Utah. Leaving for Zion also meant facing opposition and leaving loved ones behind. The Hegsteds had taken in a foster daughter Cathrine Vilhemine, known as Mine, born illegitimately in 1853 to a Church member they knew. Police took her away from them, and the Hegsteds were petitioning the king for her return shortly before emigrating to Zion. Their toddler son Victor August was killed in an accident (one account says by a runaway horse wagon, another that he fell from a second story window) just a month before emigrating. Mary gave birth to another boy five days after his death, since the shock sent her into early labor, and they named the new son Victor Charles

Sanitation on board the ship was so poor that every child but Victor Charles and one other died. They learned of the Civil War victory from another vessel and celebrated on deck, but arrived in America to find the country in turmoil with the Union Amy being disbanded and Lincoln dead. The Army warned their group that the Indians were on the warpath, but the Saints proceeded west anyway. They encountered much trouble with Indians on the plains: several brethren were wounded and two women kidnapped and never recovered. Hans served as the camp doctor and distributed medicine, administered to the sick, including the extraction of Indian arrows with blacksmith pincers, and buried the dead.  There were so many lice in camp they had to change their clothes twice daily. Their group had to be rescued on the plains of Wyoming by provisions from Utah, and upon seeing their sorry state, Brigham Young commented, “This bunch of emigrants may not amount to much, but their children and children’s children will.”
Hegsted family
The first winter in Utah, the Hegsted family rented a room from a widow, and the only fruit they had was what clung to the peach pits she gave them (and they returned the pits for fuel). Hans brought a sack of potatoes home for Mary’s birthday present, which were the first they had tasted for months. Hans and Mary were rebaptized in City Creek in January, and then sealed in the Endowment House.  In the spring they moved north to Huntsville, and while crossing the river the wagon was upset and all nearly drowned.  Hans traded a telescope/spyglass for a cow and an overcoat for farm tools. The family lived the summer in a dugout, and every minute that could be spared was spent making adobes for the house.  They traded Mary’s dress for ten acres of land, and Hans traded a pistol to get an ox for spring plowing. Hans entered into polygamy with two of Mary’s dressmaker friends. One, Nielsina, had emigrated with the Hegsteds and been widowed en route. She subsequently gave birth to triplets, who died at birth, and then died in childbirth leaving Mary to raise her five children. Hans spent six months in jail for cohabitation in 1887, where he worked in the bakery department and said the worst pest was the bed-bugs in jail. 

In 1892 the Hegsteds settled on a farm by Victor’s family in Salem, Idaho. The cold affected Hans’ health and he suffered with rheumatism and arthritis for the remainder of his life. Mary nursed him well, but then he outlived her by a dozen years. His wife Ane cared for him in his later years, and she used her dressmaking skills to support the family, creating and selling temple aprons and also sewing the wedding dress for George Albert Smith’s bride.  

I would give him For the Strength of Youth pamphlets to pass out during his missionary labors--Hans frequently mentioned in his journal the various morality problems the members were struggling with.


  1. As with his wife, I'd give him another photo shoot with his family. That, and some bug killer for the lice and bed-bugs.

  2. This fine man was my 3rd Great Grandfather!