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James Davenport

Question: What was James Davenport’s occupation when he went with Brigham Young’s Vanguard Company to Utah in 1847?

Answer: The family of Squire Davenport Jr. and Susanna Kittridge lived only a few miles from the Joseph Smith family, in Danville, Caledonia County, Vermont. Their son, James, was born on 1 May 1802, just 3 1/2 years before Joseph Smith.

James married Elmira Phelps on 4 September 1922. Elmira was born in Canajoharie, New York to John and Polly Rider Phelps. James was a skilled blacksmith and a farmer. But rather than settle down on a farm, they were a restless family and moved often. Their first four children were each born in a different state: New York, Kentucky, Indianna and Ohio. They were Mary Mariah, born in 1824; John Squire, born in 1826; Almon, born in 1828, but lived only twenty months; and Alfred Phelps born in 1832.

Soon after their fifth child, Martha Ann was born in Ohio in 1834, the family was baptized into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by Parley P. Pratt. After their baptism, the family was still on the move. The next two children, Sarah and Lucind, were born in different cities in Michigan, and the next, James, was born in Walnut Grove, Illinois. Finally, the family arrived in the city of Nauvoo, where their ninth child, Antoinette, was born in 1843. Heber Davenport was born in 1845, but lived only six days. James and Elmira were endowed and sealed in the Nauvoo Temple.

The Prophet Joseph Smith and his brother, Hyrum, were martyred in June, 1844. The beautiful city of Nauvoo, and the Davenport family, were caught up in the turmoil that preceded the expulsion of the saints. It was in during the months at the end of winter in early 1846 that the Davenports joined the trek across Iowa to a temporary refuge on the banks of the Missouri River.

Near the site of modern-day Omaha, on Potawatami Indian lands just beyond the borders of the United States, and in a rough-hewn temporary shelter, the last of their eleven children arrived. Little Elmira was born on 11 March 1847 at the end of the freezing and fatal winter in Winter Quarters, Nebraska. This birth was just days before her father left with Brigham Young’s Vanguard Company. James’ wife, Almira, stayed in Winter Quarters with those of her family still unmarried, and her new baby.

James Davenport was recruited as a blacksmith for the Company to leave for the Great Basin of the West. They would generally follow the Oregon/California Trail along the Platte River. But they deliberately chose the opposite side of the river from the well-traveled side. Part of the mission of that first company was to identify the best route for the trail and the best sources for feed for the livestock, and to improve the road for the thousands that would follow. There were worrisome encounters with Indians, whose intentions were not well-know at the time, but no serious troubles occurred.

By 12 June 1847, the company had arrived at a difficult crossing of the North Platte River, near where Casper, Wyoming was later established. The spring runoff was very high and the crossing dangerous and nearly impossible. Eventually, building an adequate ferry was authorized by Brigham Young and was constructed of 23 foot long logs and cross-timbers. Large ropes stretched from one side of the river to the other, aided by pulleys and guy ropes and adequate manpower, and after some ingenious manipulation of the river current, finally resulted in a successful means of crossing the torrent.

Blacksmith shop – This is the Place State Park

Six days later the company was safely across and on their way. But Brigham Young designated nine men to stay and operate the ferry for other travelers who would follow along the trail. Thomas Grover was named captain; William Empy, Assistant Captain; Appleton Harmon, carpenter and mechanic; Luke Johnson, doctor and hunter; James Davenport, blacksmith; and John Higbee, Edmond Ellsworth and Francis Pomeroy, hunters. Benjamin Stewart was appointed the miner to supply the coal for the blacksmith’s forge. Doctoring, blacksmithing and ox and horse shoeing would also be provided, for a fee. Careful and strict instructions were given by Brigham Young to the group, emphasizing strict obedience to command and the absolute goodwill that must prevail. Fees for travelers using the ferry were established, payable in cash or provisions. The workers would be self-sustaining on the ample fish and game that were available, plus provisions that were paid in return for services. The men all signed their names to the written instructions.

After only a month, the river had subsided sufficiently that it could be forded. The captain divided the assets and some of the men were released to return to Winter Quarters for their families. A few stayed at the crossing. On July 24, 1847, just as the main company was arriving in the Salt Lake Valley, James Davenport joined a company of emigrants returning east from Oregon, and left with them as a guide. During the coming months, James apparently made additional trips back and forth with companies on the way to Zion.

Richmond Fort Marker

In 1851 the family traveled to Utah with the Phileman Merrill Company, and settled in Grantsville. They resided for a year in Wellsville, Cache Valley. After a year, the Davenports moved one last time, with three children still at home, to Richmond, Utah, on the Idaho border. Here James and Elmira lived for the rest of their lives. They found protection from the Indians, with about ninety other families, in the Old Fort there. Twenty years later, on 28 December 1881 at the age of 76, Elmira passed away, followed seventeen months later, on 23 July 1883, by James. He was age 81. Both were buried in the Richmond Cemetery.

The family of these two pioneers was a prolific one. James and Elmira had eleven children. Nine of these grew to maturity and married and there were 91 grandchildren, an average family of ten for each married child. Two of these nine had fourteen children. James’ patriarchal blessing promised “thy posterity shall be numerous,’ and Elmira was promised that her posterity “shall continue to increase so that they cannot be numbered.’

Source: “James Davenport And Elmira Phelps Davenport,’ Pioneer Story, Sons of the Utah Pioneers website,


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