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Thomas Woolsey

Question: Did Thomas Woolsey serve in both the Mormon Battalion and Brigham Young’s Vanguard Company in 1847?

Answer: Thomas Woolsey was born November 3, 1805 in Pulaski County, Kentucky, a son of Joseph Woolsey and Abigail Shiffer. Thomas married Mary Burrell, in Brownstown, Jackson County, Indiana, on April 19, 1829.

In 1833 Thomas’s sister, Agatha Ann, was married to John Doyle Lee. It was not long before they accepted the teachings of Joseph Smith, and most of the Woolsey family also joined the Church. Thomas was baptized in 1834 by Cornelius P. Lott.

They all moved to Nauvoo about 1841. Thomas became an “adopted” son of John D. Lee. Lee married three of Thomas’s sisters and also the mother, Abigail Shaeffer, after Joseph Woolsey had died. The families worked together, and Thomas worked on the Nauvoo Temple for seven years. He left Nauvoo with the other Saints in February 1846.

Thomas settled at Mount Pisgah, where, in July 1846, he enlisted in the Mormon Battalion. He marched to Santa Fe in Company E. He was sent with the sick detachment, though he was not ill. He stayed behind the main group to help care for Pvt. Martin Sharp who had accidentally shot himself. Within a few days Sharp died. Woolsey helped to bury him, and he and Sharp’s widow caught up with the rest of the sick detachment. Then he turned back, alone, and traveled toward Santa Fe, where he caught up with the main army. However, Colonel Philip St. George Cooke, in assessing their pitiful condition, ordered 55 more men to be sent back to Pueblo. Thomas was assigned to go along, carrying the paychecks of Battalion members plus a lot of letters to friends and relatives.

Upon reaching Pueblo, Thomas Woolsey and John Tippets were sent to Winter Quarters to carry the mail and paychecks. They left Pueblo in the dead of winter, traveling across Colorado, probably along the Santa Fe Trail. They were captured by Pawnee Indians and sentenced to die. They knew they were in real trouble, and prayed mightily to be spared. In the morning a chief returned to the camp and ordered that the two men be released. They were given seven day’s rations and their mail pouches and continued their journey to Winter Quarters. (Elder Woolsey was afterwards baptized in the Manti Temple for that chief).

In the spring of 1847, Thomas was then asked to be in Brigham Young’s Vanguard Company and left in April, headed to the Salt Lake Valley. Thomas was asked to drive a team in the Pioneer Company. He was a member of the 6th Company of 10, under Captain Charles Shumway. He was assigned to help with the small cannon, which was taken on that journey. He helped to build a raft used to ferry wagons across the Loup River.

On June 2nd, it was decided to send instructions to the men at Pueblo, Colorado, so Thomas Woolsey, Amasa Lyman, John Tippets, and Roswell Stevens were set apart for this journey. After a special blessing from Brigham Young, they set off, carrying a letter to the Presiding Elder at Pueblo and 349 letters to the Mormons there. Thomas was appointed Deputy Postmaster and told to bring back any letters he could not deliver. The men arrived safely at Pueblo, gathered up all the men there, and set out toward Fort Bridger, hoping to catch up with the pioneer party. However, they did not arrive in Salt Lake Valley until about July 27, 1847. Thomas helped build the Old Fort, and began plowing the ground, bringing the plow from the Pawnee Indian Agency.

Brigham Young sent some of the Battalion members to California, under Captain James Brown, to bring back seed and stock, and the account says Thomas Woolsey went with this group. He finally returned to Winter Quarters to find his families. He joined David Woods Company in June 1852 along with his wives and children, and they arrived in the Salt Lake Valley in late September 1852.

Thomas was sent to various places throughout Utah to help settled those areas. He lived in Mt. Pleasant, Ephraim, Kanosh, and Fort Harmony. Thomas’ four wives gave him 27 children. Thomas died on January 5, 1897, in Wales, Sanpete, Utah, and was buried in the Wales Cemetery.

Source: Latter-day Saint Biographical Encyclopedia, Volume 4,; “History of Thomas Woolsey,’;

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