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Eunice Fitzgerald McRae

Question: How did Eunice Fitzgerald McRae save a keg of powder from being taken by the mob when they were forced out of Nauvoo?

Answer: Eunice Fitzgerald, daughter of Joseph Hawkins and Catherine Parkhurst Fitzgerald, was born 7 February 1818, at Newcastle, Henry County, Kentucky. She was of Irish descent, and those who knew her remembered her piercing black eyes that seemed to penetrate anyone at whom she was looking. Her father was a soldier under General Anthony Wayne in the War of 1812.

On the second of November 1834, Eunice married Alexander McRae at Newcastle, Henry County, Kentucky. Soon afterward she and her husband accompanied her parents and other relatives to Ripley County, Indiana. Here their oldest son, John, was born.

In 1837, Alexander and Eunice first heard of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She and her husband walked eight miles to hear the Elders preach and made the return journey that same night, carrying their nine-month-old babe in their arms. They were both baptized in June of 1837, and soon moved to Far West, Caldwell County, Missouri, to join the other Saints. Here their second son was born.

      Interior of the Liberty Jail, Liberty, Missouri

Alexander was involved in the Mormon conflict in October 1838 and was subsequently imprisoned with the Prophet Joseph and others in Liberty Jail in Clay County, Missouri from December 1, 1838 to the first part of April 1839. During this time, Eunice was one of their most frequent visitors, and only on one occasion did the guards search her before admitting her to the prison.

Several times she took letters and other messages to and from the place. It is possible that some of the revelations written by the Prophet Joseph Smith while he was in prison were contained in some of the letters she took out with her. She said she would take off her stockings and put the letters next to her feet, then put the stockings back on. She also took letters in that way. Sometimes they were carried in and out in the clothing of her baby. She received many blessings and promises from the Prophet Joseph.

Eunice took her second son, Joseph, into the jail when he was young, and he received his name and a blessing under the hands of the Prophet Joseph Smith. She always bore the strongest testimony to the divine mission of the Prophet. Eunice endured many untold privations and sufferings, for she had to take complete care of her small family at times, seeing that they were fed and clothed, while her husband was away. She was a courageous and determined soul.

Eunice went with the Saints who were driven from Missouri to Quincy, Illinois. Here, upon their escape from prison, the brethren found their families. When the city of Nauvoo was founded, Eunice and Alexander homesteaded 160 acres of land and they helped to build that city. Four more children were born to them while they lived at Nauvoo, three boys and a girl: Kenneth, Alexander, Daniel and Catherine, who died at four months of age and was buried in Nauvoo.

Alexander and Eunice received their endowments in the Nauvoo Temple in 1846.

“The wife of Bishop McRae deserves remembrance in connection with an incident of the battle of Nauvoo. When it was determined to surrender that city, the fugitive saints were anxious to take with them whatever of property they could, that would be necessary for them to have. Nothing could have been of more service to them than their rifles and ammunition.

      Battle of Nauvoo

“Hence, the mobbers would demand the arms and ammunition of all who left the city and would also search their wagons. Mrs. McRae was determined to save a much needed keg of powder. She got in her wagon with the powder keg as a seat, covering it with the folds of her dress. Soon a squad of the mob came to her wagon and asked her to surrender whatever arms and ammunition she might have on hand. She quietly kept her seat, however, and coolly asked them, “How many more times are you going to search this wagon today?’ This question gave them the impression that maybe they had already searched the wagon, so they then moved on, and Mrs. McRae saved the powder.’

They were driven out of Nauvoo with the other Saints in the winter of 1846. They went to Winter Quarters where they spent the winter of 1846-47, and then moved on to Kanesville, Iowa, where they lived for five years. Here two daughters were born, Mary Jane and Martha.

In 1852 Alexander and his family migrated to Utah in the Allen Weeks Company, arriving in October. They located on the corner of Sixth East and Second South at an early date, and were members of the Eleventh Ward. Eunice served as the Relief Society President for several years and her husband was the Bishop until his death. Here four more children were born to them: Charles, Eunice (died eleven months), David Fitzgerald and Sarah, giving them a total of twelve children. Two of their sons, Kenneth (21) and Alexander (18), were accidentally killed in Emigration Canyon, Utah, in 1861. Charles died in 1887 at age 34 in Salt Lake.

Alexander died in Salt Lake City on June 20, 1891 and is buried in the Salt Lake City Cemetery. Eunice spent the last sixteen years of her life as a widow. She died December 3, 1906, at the age of eighty-eight. The Deseret News gave the following account: “Mrs. McRae was a devoted and loving wife and mother, and a faithful Latter-day Saint to the last. Among those who knew her, she was noted for her generosity. Whatever she had, she was always willing to share with the needy, and she was true to her duties through all the trying scenes, even at the risk of her life.

“Her posterity numbers 152, as follows: twelve children, 59 grandchildren, 75 great-grandchildren, and six great-great-grandchildren. At the funeral services, President Joseph F. Smith and others bore testimony of the integrity and faithfulness of the departed and urged her descendants to follow in her footsteps.”

She is buried next to her husband in the Salt Lake City Cemetery in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Source: Edward W. Tullidge, The Women of Mormondom. New York: Tullidge and Crandall, 1877, pp. 425-426,; The Joseph Smith Papers;

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