This week’s topic is “good deeds”. To be honest, I got a bit distracted climbing through the branches and veered off onto another topic that has been nagging at me. There is a family story that we have a photo floating around with great-grandparents and Joseph Smith – yes, that Joseph Smith of Mormon fame. Which is unusual since none of our current relatives (at least the ones I know) are of that faith. Clever thinker that I am, I decided to connect that story with the one of the Mormon tenants of “salvation by good deeds”, and proceed on topic!
Warren Ford, my 4th great grandfather was born in 1798 in Eastern New York and would have been a young family man (marrying Sophia Towne in 1820) when Joseph Smith’s Book of Mormon came onto the scene in the late 1820s – Smith having found the tablets somewhere in the hills of that same region of Eastern New York. It is possible that the excitement and charisma of the new religion attracted the young Warren Ford, as he moved his young family to Parkman, Geauga County, Ohio coincidentally near the time that the Mormon prophet moved the religious headquarters to Kirtland, Ohio (also in Geauga County). We can narrow the move using the birthdates of his two youngest children – Matilda Semela (born 1835 in NY), and Warren Jr. (born 1838 in OH).
By that time, the Mormon community at Kirtland was under fire from the surrounding citizenry for their “strange practices” and “smugness in their beliefs”. Smith had already been tarred and feathered in 1832, was forming a militia to defend his believers, and had made plans to establish another Zion community further west. My Fords did not make the move to Nauvoo, Illinois with the Joseph Smith contingency in 1839, but remained in Geauga County until 1849, when they moved the family to Eaton Rapids, Michigan. My 3rd great grandmother Martha Angeline Ford had married David Fuller the year before and did not join them in Michigan.
I always thought it was a bit extreme to move from Ohio to Michigan, especially in the times when agriculture was difficult, and land was valuable. I did a bit more digging into Eaton Rapids and found that there was another Mormon settlement nearby! When Joseph Smith was murdered in 1844, there were many arguments and rifts on who would take over as head of the Mormon faith. James Jesse Strang led a dissident group up to Michigan and formed a Mormon colony on Beaver Island. His first plural wife was from the town of Eaton Rapids, and he kept close ties within the community. More coincidences!
Strang was murdered in 1856, the colony destroyed by the locals, and the followers were scattered. My Fords stayed on in Eaton Rapids until moving once more to Shabonna Grove, DeKalb County, Illinois in 1865, apparently following another Mormon leader who set up a community there. William Marks was a childhood friend of Emma Smith, widow of Joseph, and an Elder in the Reorganized church. Marks had followed the Strang movement to Michigan, then returned to Shabonna a few years later, setting up a group with a few other church leaders. The Ford family farmed in DeKalb County for a number of years, and the youngest children married and set up families nearby.
Warren and Sophia Ford retired to Liberty, Hamilton County, Iowa to live out their golden years with the families of their two youngest children, John Ford and Altheda Ford Sherwood. I haven’t found any reference to a Mormon settlement in that county and evidence shows that the John was a member of the Congregational Church in Blairsburg, IA (from the Biographical Record of Hamilton County, Iowa – 1902). Warren passed in 1877 followed by Sophia in 1885.
Another clue as to the connections of this branch with Mormons surfaced when I started looking into the aunts, uncles, siblings, spousal families, and cousins. For example, Warren’s sister, Martha Ford, came to Geauga County, Ohio in the 1830s after marrying Daniel Parks Young (who may or may not be a relation to Brigham???). They had 12 children, 6 in Kirtland, Ohio (headquarters of Joseph Smith’s Mormons), 5 in Council Bluffs, Iowa (part of Brigham Young’s Mormon Trail), and their last daughter was born in Utah in 1853. I found the whole family listed under the LDS membership rosters.
The more digging I do, the more I find that these families did settle near Mormon outposts and seemed to follow them from state to state. Even though I cannot find any official records of my direct ancestors being members of the Mormon church, I believe that it is plausible that they were affiliated and that the rumors of a picture with Joseph Smith could be true. I will definitely flesh out more of these outlying connections to see if that photograph is floating around somewhere!
Note: I don’t claim to be an authority on the history of the Mormon religion, so apologize if I have misrepresented any facts or dates.
Newell, L. K., Avery, V. T., & Utah State University. (1984). Mormon enigma: Emma Hale Smith.
Signature Books » Reviews – “God Has Made Us A Kingdom”: James Strang and the Midwest Mormons. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://signaturebooks.com/2010/06/reviews-god-has-made-us-a-kingdom-james-strang-and-the-midwest-mormons/
Marks, William – Details. Retrieved from http://josephsmithpapers.org/person/william-marks
Council Bluffs (Kanesville), Iowa – The Encyclopedia of Mormonism. Retrieved from http://eom.byu.edu/index.php/Council_Bluffs_%28Kanesville%29,_Iowa