Monthly Archives: May 2011
The following are excerpts of a story from Charles Dickens in which he met a group of Mormons who were traveling from England to New York on June 4th, 1863.
“I go aboard my emigrant ship…. Nobody is in ill temper, nobody is the worse for drink, nobody swears an oath or uses a coarse word, nobody appears depressed, nobody is weeping, and down upon the deck in every corner where it is possible to find a few spare feet to kneel, crouch, or lie in, people, in every unsuitable attitude for writing, are writing letters.
“Now, I have seen emigrant ships before this day in June. And these people are so strikingly different from all other people in like circumstances whom I have ever seen, that I wonder aloud, ‘What would a stranger suppose these emigrants to be!’
“The vigilant bright face of the weather-browned captain of the Amazon is at my shoulder, and he says, “What, indeed! The most of these came aboard yesterday evening. They care from various parts of England in small parties that had never seen one another before. Yet they had not been a couple of hours on board when they established their own police, made their own regulations, and set their own watches at all the hatchways. Before nine o’clock the ship was as orderly and as quiet as a man-of-war….
“‘A stranger would be puzzled to guess the right name for the people, Mr. Uncommercial,’ says the captain.
“‘Indeed, he would!’
“‘If you hadn’t known, could you ever have supposed–?’
“‘How could I! I should have said they were in their degree, the pick and flower of England.’
“‘So should I’, says the captain.
“‘How many are they?’
“‘Eight hundrend in round numbers….’
“‘Eight hundrend what? Geese, villain?’ ‘EIGHT HUNDRED MORMONS.’ I, Uncommercial Traveler for the firm of Human Interest Brothers, had come aboard this emigrant ship to see what eight hundred Latter-day Saints were like, and I found them (to the route and overthrow of all my expectations) like what I now describe with scrupulous exactness.
“The Mormon agent who had been active in getting them together, and in making the contract with my friends the owners of the ship to take them as far as New York on their way to Great Salt Lake, was pointed out to me. A compactly-made, handsome man in black, rather short, with rich brown hair and beard, and clear bright eyes. From his speech, I would set him down as American. Probably, a man who had ‘knocked around the world’ pretty much. A man with a frank open manner and unshrinking look; withal a man of great quickness. I believe he was wholly ignorant of my Uncommercial individuality, and consequently of my Uncommercial importance.
“Uncommercial. These are a very fine set of people you have brought together here.’
“Mormon Agent. ‘Yes, sir, they are a very fine set of people.’
“Uncommercial (looking about). ‘Indeed, I think it would be difficult to find eight hundred people together anywhere else, and find so much beauty and so much strength and capacity for work among them.’
“Mormon agent (not looking about, but looking steadily at Uncommercial). ‘I think so. We sent out about a thousand more yesterday, from Liverpool….’
“…Among all the fine handsome children, I observed but two with marks upon their necks that were probably scrofulous. Out fo the whole number of emigrants, but one old woman was temporarily set aside by the doctor, on suspicion of fever; but even she afterwards obtained a clean bill of health….
“I afterwards learned that a dispatch was sent home by the captain before he struck out into the wide Atlantic, highly extolling behavior of these emigrants, and the perfect order and propriety of all their social arrangements. What is in sotre for the poor people on the shore of the Great Salt Lake, what happy delusions they are laboring under now, on what miserable blindness their eyes may be open then, I do not pretend to say. But I went on board their ship to bear testimony against them if they deserved it, as I fully believed they would; to my great astonishment they did not deserve it; and my predispositions and tendencies must not affect me as an honest witness. I went over the Amazon’s side, feeling it impossible to deny that, so far, some remarkable influence had produced a remarkable result, which better known influences have often missed.
(Charles Dickens, The Uncommercial Traveler and Reprinted Pieces, 1958, pp 222-232. Copied from a book called Stories from Mormon History edited by Alma P. Burton and Clea M. Burton)