Friday, December 16, 2011

Happy 186th Birthday, Eliza Billington Welch (1825-1907)!

John Welch's great-grandmother


The oldest of three children born to a lockkeeper on an English canal, Eliza was an apt scholar and proficient with her needle. (That line from her history, which I've read since I was young, has always sounded like the beginning of a novel to me.)
Eliza was a teenager when her family readily accepted the gospel, gave up their work and property, and sailed to America.  Due to ice on the Mississippi, the group was stranded in St. Louis and arrived in Nauvoo April 1, 1843. On board ship, Eliza became friends with fellow convert John Welch. They later married in Nauvoo. 

Eliza and her parents were among the three thousand Saints who signed the Scroll Petition for Mormon redress from mob violence in 1843. She stood in line for the funeral of the Prophet Joseph and Hyrum Smith, and greatly mourned their deaths.  

The Welches suffered through Winter Quarters, and shared their oxen to feed many in camp. Without oxen, this left them unable to travel in spring. Their toddler son died while John was away working, and he did not learn of the baby’s death for three months. The Welches moved to Missouri to earn enough money to travel west. Two daughters were born in Missouri, and another one while crossing the plains, just in sight of Chimney Rock. The wagon train laid over Saturday, observed the Sabbath, and the postpartum mother moved on Monday morning. En route the wagon was upset in a creek, but all were safe.  

In Utah, Eliza produced and marketed butter and cheese, and worked early and late during fruit season drying and selling peaches from their orchard. She also turned the sheeps' wool into socks and stockings, and refused to get a sewing machine until all of her daughters learned to sew by hand. Eliza served in the ward Relief Society presidency and was involved in the wheat project and raised silkworms. Once she was unhappy to find a snake helping himself to cream in her clean milk pans.  

Eliza struggled in her later years: her father left for the RLDS Church in Iowa, and John took a young second wife and was imprisoned for polygamy. Then John and Eliza’s daughter Flora died of diphtheria at age nine, followed shortly by toddler half-sister and playmate Olive, but both mothers were comforted when dying Olive held out her arms and cried, “Florrie, Florrie!” At one point, Eliza suffered from a leg condition that turned her skin as black as a stovepipe.  
John & Eliza Welch
Eliza sewed a beautiful temple robe by hand that was treasured by a grandchild many years later. She delighted in telling stories to her grandchildren of the joys and trials in Nauvoo, the early days of the Church, and she frequently quoted Joseph Smith. The children were so impressed by these stories that they would often perform them in their playtime. Her son John said that if ever mortal measured up fully to Paul’s definition of charity in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, his sainted mother Eliza did, and her granddaughter recalled that Eliza’s teachings and experiences enriched the lives of all who knew her.

I gave her a descendant named in her honor.

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