Life Story of Edson Whipple

Life Story of Edson Whipple

Prepared for the Edson Whipple Family Organization by L. Florence Lunt Fair, February 1973.

Edson Whipple was a descendant of John Whipple, who came from England in about 1632, settling first in Dorchester, Massachusetts, and moving later to Providence, Rhode Island.

Edson's ancestor John is not to be confused with another John Whipple who migrated with his brother Matthew from Bocking, England in 1638 and settled in Ipswich, Massachusetts. Those two brothers were the sons of Matthew Whipple of Bocking, Essex County, England. The parents of Edson's ancestor John have not yet been identified; no connection between Edson's ancestor named John and the two brothers from Bocking, England has yet been established.

Edson was the son of John and Basmoth (Hutchins) Whipple, grandson of Timothy and great-grandson of Samuel. Samuel moved from Providence to Connecticut, where he died. John (Edson's father) migrated from Connecticut and settled in Vermont in 1780. Edson was born 5 February 1805 in the town of Dummerston, Windham County, Vermont. He was the youngest son of a family of twelve children--five boys and seven girls.

Edson farmed with his family in Dummerston. After his father's death in November 1830, he took charge of the farm and managed the affairs of family members still at home.

On February 6, 1832, he married Lavinia Goss.

In 1834 he moved to Boston, Massachusetts, where he ran a grocery store for a year or two. In the summer of 1837 he moved with his family to Philadelphia, where he lived for nine years.

It was while living in Philadelphia that he first heard the gospel as revealed to Joseph Smith. On 16 June 1840, he was baptized and confirmed a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints by Elder Benjamin Winchester. On 17 October 1840 he was ordained a priest by Elders Hyde and Bernes. He was ordained a High Priest 6 April by Pres. Hyrum Smith and was chosen to act as first counselor to Elder Benjamin Winchester to preside over the Philadelphia branch of the church.

On 22 September 1842 Edson and a company with twelve or fifteen others left Philadelphia for Nauvoo, Illinois. They began their journey by train, arriving at Columbia, Pennsylvania, about sunset. They took the old Pennsylvania Canal from Columbia to Pittsburgh. On the first Sabbath of the journey, they were detained because of low water. They held two meetings at a nearby schoolhouse, after which Edson baptized six persons, among them the captain of the boat, Jacob Wetzler, and two of his brothers.

The trip from Philadelphia to Nauvoo lasted 32 days by boat and rail and cost $12.25. In speaking of prices of provisions and other things in Nauvoo about 1842, Edson notes the following:

lumber$10.00 per thousand
wheat30 cents a bushel
corn12 1/2 cents
pork1 1/2 cents
beef2 cents a lb.
butter8 cents
eggs6 cents a dozen
sugar1 dollar for 16 lbs
molasses25 cents a gallon

He said these were the hardest times of his life as far as purchasing commodities, because no money in circulation. On one occasion his wife was sick and wanted some butter; he had no money to get it but started for the store after some, and in crossing the road, found a quarter.

In writing of the prophet Joseph Smith in a letter to a friend, he says:

He is a man whose character stands unimpeached and is respected and considered a good citizen by all classes who have become acquainted with him. I know him to be kind-hearted and charitable, given to hospitality, and he would divide the last meal with the poor.

Nauvoo, at this time, was a city of twelve or fifteen thousand inhabitants and a very peaceful city, not a grog shop in it.

On 1 May 1844 he, in company with David Yearsly, left Nauvoo for a mission to Pennsylvania, to canvas the state and to present to the people the prophet's views on government. While on this trip the prophet Joseph Smith and his brother, the patriarch Hyrum Smith, were murdered. Returning home to Nauvoo, Edson was present at the meeting of the saints where they witnessed the mantle of Joseph rest on Brigham Young as he was preaching to the people.

He assisted in building the Nauvoo Temple and was present at the laying of the capstone, and when it was completed, he received his endowments there. He also helped to build the Nauvoo House during the months of August and September 1845. He assisted in defending the city of Nauvoo against the mob that threatened to destroy the city and the temple. He was on guard some three or four miles down the river from Nauvoo when General Harden and some thirty men passed him on their way to Nauvoo to take Brigham Young into custody. (That time they took William Miller instead, supposing him to be Brigham Young). After they had passed, Edson hurried to Nauvoo to give the alarm, going by way of Golden Point and around the Temple, arriving three-quarters of an hour before the General and his party. Conference was in session at the time, so he sent in for General Rich, who made the arrangements to receive General Harden. (At this time Edson belonged to the "new police" under Captain Jesse Hunt.)

When the saints were building wagons in preparation for leaving Nauvoo, Edson was appointed captain over ten in General Rich's company. On 15 May 1846, in company with Hugh McKinley and their families and teams, Edson crossed the Mississippi River on their way to Garden Grove. Travel was slow because of the swampy ground.

After staying in Garden Grove for about two weeks, Edson left for Council Bluffs, arriving about mid-July 1846--at about the same time as the song, "Come, Come, Ye Saints," was composed. While on this journey he met Brigham Young going from Council Bluffs to Phisgy[?]. Brigham told them that the government had requested 500 men to go to the Mexican War.

After arriving at the Bluffs they were counseled to prepare for winter. Edson and twelve or fifteen families located themselves at Pony Creek, about twelve miles from Winter Quarters. Pony Creek was an unhealthy place. Fourteen of the party died there, including Edson's entire family--his mother, wife and child; he narrowly escaped death himself. Only two members of the camp were well at that time. After his family was buried, Edson lay helpless for a day and a night before someone came to him. Franklin Stewart told Edson his family was not well and invited him to their camp where he could be helped. John Miles moved Edson to the Stewarts' camp, where he stayed until well.

Edson was in the first party of pioneers to travel from Winter Quarters to the Salt Lake Valley. In Edson's own words:

In the spring of 1847 I was called in company with 142 others to form a company of pioneers to lead the way into the wilderness. I left Winter Quarters 9 April and traveled among the first ten of the second division under Capt. Harmon in the same company with Pres. Heber C. Kimball. I was one of the guards and stood duty half the night every third night. About half our company arrived in Salt Lake City 22 July 1847, followed by Brigham Young and the remainder of the company on July 24. I had remained to take charge of the property and Brother Kimball's family and effects, having buried all my family on the road ...

Edson farmed in Salt Lake City before returning eastward to help others travel west. Edson's journal describes his activities 3 1/2 months after arriving in Salt Lake City:

8 December 1847: This day, after completing the sowing of wheat, all that I intend to sow until Elias Pierson returns from California, I have weighed all the bread-stuff we have on hand, which consists of 1078 lbs. of wheat, 150# of buckwheat, 360# of corn, 651# of beans, coffee for Ellen (Kimball's wife) 7#; rice for Ellen 14 1/2#; sugar for Ellen 20#.

December 10, the family came together in Brother Smith's house and I laid before them the quantity of provisions on hand and requested them to take into consideration what disposition we should make of it. It was agreed on by all that each should draw every week 3# wheat, 2 1/2# beans, 1# buckwheat, and 9 3/4# beef, and by so doing it would last until the 1st of July next.

He was a member of the first High Council in Salt Lake City, also the first watermaster. On the 13 October 1848 he started back to "the states" on business for himself and soldiers who had been discharged from the Mormon Battalion. On this trip he took with him a small vial of California gold dust--probably the first gold dust ever exhibited in the East; people came by the thousands to see it. While Edson was in the East, Wilford Woodruff was sent on a mission to the states with an epistle from the twelve apostles and Elder Whipple was called to assist him.

Note: When the pioneers first arrived in Salt Lake City in July 1847, that area was still considered a part of Mexico by many. The signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo on 2 February 1848 resulted in Mexico's ceding of present-day Utah, Nevada, California, and parts of Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Wyoming to the United States. After the end of the Mexican-American War, Edson continued to refer to the parts of the U.S. that had been granted statehood as "the states."

After filling this mission, Edson returned to Salt Lake City. On 7 November 1850 he married the two sisters Mary Ann and Harriet Yeager. He had brought them across the plains with him from Philadelphia, where he had made their acquaintance.

Edson's diary describes subsequent activities:

After returning to Utah in 1850 I was called to help settle Iron County. We left 4 December with 101 wagons in our company. C.A. Smith was appointed judge of the county court and I was his first associate. We submitted plans for towns and Parowan, Utah was built according to my plan. George Brimhall and myself built the first thresher and used water power from the creek to thrash the first crop of grain.

In May 1851, Pres. Brigham Young made a visit and he and Pres. Heber C. Kimball said, "The mission is established and you can return to Provo whenever you choose."

Edson's first wife (Lavinia Goss) had died before he came to Salt Lake City. He married four other wives and had families by all of them. He had a total of 33 children.

Note: The above statement ignores Lydia Flint, who appears in some records as a sixth wife of Edson, married 9 December 1851 in Salt Lake City.

The following is a tribute paid by Albert Jones, who lived in Provo at the time of Whipple's residence there:

He was one of the pioneer lime burners of our country, opening a large kiln across the lake at Pelican Point, and the first to open up the commerce of Utah Lake by shipping his lime in a flat-bottomed sailboat.

The love and devotion of his large plural family in the early days is emphasized when one of his children contracted the dread disease, small-pox. A consultation was held between his first wife, Mary Ann, and Edson, in regard to the case. The child was not one of Mary Ann's nor of her sisters, but a well-grown boy of his third wife, Amelia, named Heber. The discussion concluded with Mary Ann's argument, as if in foreboding of her death, that if anything happened, she could be spared better than Edson; therefore she would go in and nurse the boy, and she did. The boy died and so did she. The case produced quite an excitement at the time. The street was fenced off by order of the City Council; fires were built near the premises, and the two victims of the dread disease were burned in the darkness of the night. The coffins were wrapped in cloths dipped in tar; no funeral service, no sympathetic accompaniment of friends, but the dead hour of the night, Edson consigned to the flames the remains of his loved ones.

In 1871 he was sent on a mission to the Eastern States.

When the laws of the land no longer permitted plural marriage, or the living together of plural families, Edson Whipple moved with two of his wives, Harriet and Amelia and their children, to Arizona. Stopping at Holbrook in early 1881, he worked on the A. & P. Railroad, now the Santa Fe. In May of the same year, they moved to Showlow, where they located and bought a couple of claims, one from William Wolf on the Showlow Creek, which had a small two-room house on it; and the other two miles west which had about 20 acres of cleared land and some crop planted on it. Here he built a pumping plant run by water power, and pumped the water 150 feet up the cliff for domestic purposes. At this place he built a block house 22 by 32 feet, with port holes in it for protection against the Apache Indians who were not friendly at that time. This building was also used for public meetings and dances, and it was known later as the Whipple Hall.

He lived in Showlow until the fall of 1885, when he took his wife Amelia and the unmarried children and started for Old Mexico. They went only as far as the Gila Valley that year, stopping for the winter, then continuing in the spring finally reaching Colonia Juarez in Mexico. The next fall he returned for his other wife, Harriet, and her unmarried children. He also took his cattle on this trip.

He built two houses in Mexico,residing there until his death, on 11 May 1894. He was buried in Colonia Juarez.

The following is a poem honoring Edson Whipple:

He was one of the brave men, the first who came
When greatness lies in deeds, and not in name,
Who paved the way to that which now appears,
That gladden all our hearts; A Brave Pioneer.

Our thanks receive, our gratitude you gain,
Our voices and our hearts ring out again.
All hail; All hail; Down to the latest years
All honor to thy deeds, O Brave Pioneer.