Question: What experiences did Benjamin Ashby have while he lived in Nauvoo, Illinois with his family in the 1840’s?
Answer: Benjamin Ashby was born on December 19, 1828 in the town of Salem, Essex County, Massachusett to Nathaniel Ashby and Susan Hammond.
About 1840 Erastus Snow came to Salem preaching the gospel. Benjamin wrote that one Sunday afternoon, his father came home saying he had been to hear a new religion preached by a Mormon. Benjamin decided to attend a meeting with his father and liked what he heard. A copy of the Book of Mormon had been loaned to his father by Brother Snow. Benjamin read it and soon firmly believed in the divinity and sacred character of that book. He was baptized a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, at age 13, in December 1841. The Ashby family all soon joined the church and moved to Nauvoo, Illinois. Nathaniel Ashby and Erastus Snow shared a duplex [the Ashby/Snow duplex] when they both resided in Nauvoo, Illinois.
Ben frequently wrote about his experiences with the Prophet Joseph while living in Nauvoo. He wrote that because his family lived so close to the prophet, “I was enabled to see him in his daily life as well as in his public administrations, although at this time, his life was sought, and considerable of his time was spent in seclusion to avoid his enemies.’
Ben wrote of the time when he and his mother visited Joseph’s home. Though the Prophet wasn’t there, the two had a chat with Joseph’s mother who showed them the mummies and the original papers from which the Book of Abraham was taken. Ben and his family were also in Nauvoo when Joseph left for Carthage jail. Of this experience Ben wrote that he was in his father’s garden in June 1844 when Joseph rode past on his way to Carthage, “never shall I forget the look of deep sorrow that covered his noble countenance. That was the last time I saw him alive.’
A few days later the Saints heard the news of the Prophet’s martyrdom and Ben wrote, “the grief and sorrow of a whole people cannot be pictured in language; for days a man, woman or child could not be met but they were in tears for the loss of their beloved leader.’
After Joseph and Hyrum were killed, Sidney Rigdon asserted that he should be appointed “guardian’ of the Church. Ben was among those present on that memorable occasion on August 8, 1844, when the mantle of leadership fell on Brigham Young. Ben wrote, “I solemnly assert and testify that the last time I saw the features, the gestures and heard the sound of the voice of Joseph Smith was when the form, voice, and countenance of Brigham Young was transfigured before the congregation so that he appeared like Joseph Smith in every particular.’
At this time, Benjamin’s father, Nathaniel, was on a mission in the eastern states, and Ben continued with his trade of shoemaking. Ben was ordained and registered with the Seventeenth Quorum of the Seventies in June of 1845. At this time a call came for laborers to dig a trench around the temple block to build a stone wall. Ben worked in company with George Q. Cannon, and also helped with the Nauvoo House assisting the mason with brick making. Ben received his endowments in February 1846 in the Nauvoo Temple before they were forced to leave.
Ben wrote of his concern of journeying into the “Great American Desert,’ as the maps of the period read. During the initial stages of the trek west, Ben wrote about losing oxen and praying for inspiration, and was able to locate them. He also wrote of obtaining water from pools of stagnant water in low places, a struggle for his life with malaria, and losing his father in Bonaparte, Iowa. Ben wrote: “The last to leave the camp ground was President Brigham Young, whose fatherly care was always manifested.’
At Winter Quarters, in March 1847, Susan, Ben’s mother, married Joseph Bates Noble. The Ashby family traveled to the Salt Lake Valley with the Brigham Young Company in the summer of 1848. Ben’s sister, Rebecca Ashby, had married Erastus Snow at Winter Quarters and journeyed with them.
Of his journey across the plains, nineteen-year-old Ben, wrote, “Our journey across the plains was very pleasant though laborious, but the company generally enjoyed good health.’ The group arrived in Salt Lake on September 20, 1848. In 1851 Ben’s mother, Susan died, and in 1853, Ben was called on a mission to England. In June he left with twenty-two elders for his field of labor. Ben wrote that, during his four-year mission, he traveled on foot 2497 miles, by conveyances of different kinds 4899 miles, making 7396 miles of travel while serving his mission. At the end of his mission to England, Benjamin returned home with the Israel Evans Company in 1857. He served as assistant Captain.
On October 25, 1857, Ben married two wives, Ann Chester that he had helped convert in England, and Mary Jane Collins Dyer. Ann and Ben had fourteen children together. Mary Jane and Ben had one daughter and later separated. About 1870, Ben moved his family from Salt Lake City, to Bountiful, Davis County, Utah, where he spent the rest of his life.
In concluding his remarks Ben wrote that his purpose in writing his memoirs was to “record the manifestations of the goodness of our Father to his children.’ During the last fifteen years of his life, Ben did extensive work in the temples and was ordained to the office of a patriarch on March 20, 1904. He was always ready to help the sick and needy. Ben died at age 78, on November 19, 1907 and was buried in the Bountiful Memorial Park in Bountiful, Utah.