I was so thrilled to find a typewritten copy of James' journal on microfilm at the Church History Library a year ago! Reading it made him come alive for me.
James was raised in New England. He was a carpenter and painter by trade, and also did some blacksmith work. He and his wife Clarissa had three living children. The Eastmans were devout Christians but had not united with a church until James met the LDS missionaries while in Boston on a business trip, and his family soon converted. They left their comfortable home in Vermont for Nauvoo, via the steamboat Robert Fulton from Troy to Albany, New York, then railway and canal to Pittsburg, then steamboat on the Ohio.
James and Clarissa were among the three thousand Saints who signed the Scroll Petition for Mormon redress due to mob violence. He served in the first company of the Nauvoo Legion, and James and Clarissa received their blessings in the Nauvoo Temple. Once they left Nauvoo, the family traveled in rainstorms nearly daily for months.
James began keeping a diary on the exodus, and felt keenly the pain of religious and societal rejection. He wrote, “We are on the bleak West Prairie, water standing all around our wagon. O ye Gentiles, think of our situation.” He then recorded the following in his journal:
“Now our journey we pursue
Until our freedom we can view
And what the Twelve say, that we’ll do,
Now in the land of freedom.
And if the Mobs do follow us,
I think they will receive their curse
Their course will lead them into hell
Then with the Devil for to dwell,
And they can have no freedom.
Ye Saints can then sing indeed
For from the mobs you will be freed.
You’ll hear no more their dismal yell,
Upon the Land of Freedom.”
James faithfully tracked the weather in his diary, and he was intrigued to notice passing “Lamanites.” Once he fixed a spear for an Indian. But James and his family suffered with increasing ill health. One day in June he sat with his cloak on all day. Another night he had no sleep due to the mosquitoes. James made coffins for the dead, and also fitted out a wagon for his teenage son Ozro, anxious to have him join Brigham Young’s company and go west. In early December, James noted that his best ox was stolen—two weeks later, “Old Tom came home” but sadly, the next day’s entry said, “Butchered old Tom.”
Months of chills, fever, and ague, combined with scurvy, due to the poor diet and lack of vegetables, at last resulted in James’ death in Winter Quarters. The last entry in his journal, two days before he died, shows concern for his family. He implored, “I ask Thee, O Lord, to keep them, and not let them need.” He had made a rocking chair for his wife Clarissa that she brought across the plains after his death.
Son-in-law Lorenzo Hill Hatch never met James, but said of him to his own son, James’ grandson, “The Eastmans moved to Nauvoo while I was in Vermont, so I never saw him. I thought him to be one of the best men I had ever heard of because of his integrity to the truth, and perhaps because of the great regard and love I had for mother [Clarissa] Eastman and your mother, Sylvia Eastman [Hatch]."
I would give him some insect repellent!