Review of “The Mormon Missioning of Man and Manx Emigration to ‘Zion’”

A Review of “The Mormon Missioning of Man and Manx Emigration to ‘Zion’” by Frances Coakley

This is a review of Frances’ on-line article dated 15 September 2005, which is the 4th or 5th version Frances has so far produced and a slightly revised version of the article that was published in the publication “Proceedings of The Isle of Man Natural History And Antiquarian Society” Volume XI number 2. The article can be found here

For anybody interested in the history of the LDS missionary work on the Isle of Man, the article is a must read as Frances gives the best summary so far produced on this topic. However, it should be read with the understanding that it is a one-sided history.

First I would like to mention the strengths of the article. It should be noted that Frances has made a major contribution to Manx history. She deserves recognition for the great work she has done in putting Manx historical documents on the Internet so that they are available to all. Her site is huge and must have taken considerable time. Many of these pages deal with articles relating to a history of Methodism on the Island, but many other aspects of Manx history are also included. One of the sections deals with 19th century Mormonism on the Island and she is probably the first Isle of Man historian to recognise the impact that this largely forgotten mission had on the Island.

Her latest versions of her article on this subject are a lot tighter than previous versions and read a lot better for being so. The notes section has improved dramatically. Virtually everything is now referenced and the number sequence now works. The addition of inputs by Abdy helps to provide some balance in the introduction and her discovery of an article by James Cowin is helpful.

In her understanding of the background to the Manx newspaper reports; in her detailing of the opposition of ministers to Mormon preaching on the Island; and in her ability to find comments by Manxmen such as Hugh Stowell Brown and James Cowin, Frances is at her best and provides information that otherwise could have been missed. Her summaries in the appendixes are also very useful. Appendix 1 lists Manx converts by year and age groups, and under the year of conversion or emigration, and is very well laid out. Appendix 2 is a list of all Manx people listed in Utah on the US 1880 Census.

Having dealt with the strength of this article I need to mention its weaknesses and these derive from Frances’ antipathy to religion and the Mormon Church in particular. Frances disagrees with Mormon teachings and starts on the basis that Joseph Smith couldn’t have had visions and therefore had to be a fraud. This view is reinforced by books like the ‘Refiners Fire’ that she uses as prime sources for insights into the LDS church: books that I would regard as being somewhat selective in their approach to LDS church history. Having said this Frances does want to be unbiased in her approach to Mormon history on the Isle of Man and each version of this article is an improvement on the preceding and is a substantial improvement on her original lecture. Her introductory outline of LDS church history and origins in America, I still find selective but my main concern is with her treatment of LDS church history in the British Isles and the Isle of Man.

In the section dealing with the history of the LDS British Mission, which is of course well documented in Mormon sources, only one third of her reference sources are LDS, and these primarily consist of quotes from Evans whose book was originally published in 1937. Much work has been done by LDS historians in the almost seventy years since then and it is amazing that Frances doesn’t appear to have looked at it. The same is true in the section dealing with the missionary work on the Isle of Man. Here only one fifth of her references derive from Mormon sources. While this is to be somewhat expected, giving the nature of Frances’ expertise in Manx 19th Century publications, the result is a one sided approach. To understand the importance of this it would be comparable to doing a history of the Methodist church in the Isle of Man with 80% of your sources being non-Methodist. Frances deserves to be chided over this lack of balance. While I realise that it’s not always easy to get hold of LDS sources, it should have been a lot easier for Frances who as a Lecturer, had access to inter-library lending facilities. In addition the internet has now made access to LDS, as well as other sources, much easier for non American researchers. In acquiring her list of Manx converts Frances has shown that she is very capable of carrying out such research.

The section on Manx LDS emigrants is far better, but even here the three direct quotes that Frances gives of Manx Mormon emigrants concerning their feelings for the church, are quotes from the only three negative writings that I am aware of by Manx converts. Once again Frances fails to balance this. It should be noted that the letter by John and Catherine Quayle is the only evidence that John Quayle ever had any problems with his faith in the LDS church. All other records including family, show him to be a very firm believer until his death.

After Evans the most popular “Mormon” source is Samuel Taylor. Samuel Taylor unfortunately is a fundamentalist Mormon and his history is extremely unreliable. In fact in her web page on John Taylor, Frances says: -

“Samuel W. Taylor The Kingdom or Nothing Macmillan 1976 reprinted 1999 as The Last Pioneer: John Taylor a Mormon Prophet Salt Lake City: Signature Books (ISBN 1-56085-115-5). Journalistic in style, the admittedly short Manx section indicates no critical research (e.g. still states the Pitchforths were Jewish - a misunderstanding based on name Solomon and a phrase uttered by Anne re 'her Jewish heart' - and from this builds up a false picture of a large mansion presumably based on a stereotype of what rich Jewish families should be like, whereas they were hotel keepers) - if the research in other sections is just as shoddy then it is an untrustworthy book”

Yet Frances, on two occasions, uses Taylor to justify comments that Frances wants to make.

Too often Frances makes comments or assumptions for which there is no evidence. It is important in writing history that we do not impose our own opinions. She states for example that Elder Boscoe (Boscow) and family may have left the Mormons. “No biography appears to be available for them, which often indicates a family that later left.” We cannot make these kinds of assumptions. Not all emigrants left biographies even if they stayed active in the church. Others suffered from untimely deaths, which was one of the hazards of life in the 19th century. We do know that Nicholas Boscow was an active church member up to 1844 as the official history of the church records him as a delegate for the church. In 1846 his death was reported in the Manx Sun newspaper as occurring in December 1845 at Buffalo. This event took place while visiting his non-member daughter. While it is possible that he may not have been an active member at this point, that cannot yet be ascertained.

Again with Joseph Cain in explaining his membership of the church Frances says, “There may have been some family problems as his father had remarried” and with Joseph Lawson “His mother was reported as later running the family quite strictly, so again there is a hint of possible family strife”. These are all conjecture for which there really is no evidence and it is wrong to simplify conversion as being a result primarily of family problems. Indeed Frances fails to explain why the church was so attractive to a significant number of Manx people. The only reasons she suggests apart from family difficulties are an over-literal interpretation of the Bible (did not most Christians in the early 1800’s interpret the Bible very literally?) and that missionaries made America sound an attractive place to emigrate to.

These suggestions fail to account for the large number of conversions. It is true for example that Mormon missionaries encouraged emigration and made America appear very attractive. They were shocked at the low standards of living in Britain. Their concern for British members meant that the Mormon emigration system was far better than alternatives during this period. They were fully aware that a small number of people would join the church simply to emigrate and for this reason they expected to lose a number of emigrants from each party on reaching America. The church was not able to force people to continue with them. If people were using the church for emigration purposes they would normally leave the emigration party on reaching the first US city. The Archibald family, who emigrated from Castletown in 1852, may have joined the Mormon Church for such reasons. After arriving at New Orleans they next appear in Carroll County, Missouri. Their emigration was paid for by the church but family descendants report that they emigrated from the Isle of Man because of a friend, Dr Richard Corrin, who previously emigrated and settled in Carroll County in 1850. If the attractiveness of life in the US were the church’s main conversion point then more converts would have followed the Archibald’s example. They appear though, to be very much in the minority amongst Manx converts.

Frances also states that most Mormons were poor, but offers no evidence for this. At this point in time it is probably not possible to answer the question as to what social classes Manx converts were drawn from. Several certainly were not poor – Titus Barlow, Nicholas Boscow, John Kelly, William G Mills, Joseph Lawson, and the Robinson sisters, to name a few. In addition Catherine Clarke, a Manx convert from Manchester is described as emigrating with many household belongings, two servants, a gardener, a fine-blooded mare, and a buggy and team.

As I stated earlier the most useful part of this article is the appendixes, which provide information on Manx converts. Appendix 2 provides a very useful listing of those in Utah in the 1880 census who gave their place of birth as the Isle of Man. It should be noted that some Manx immigrants gave England as their place of birth and are thus not included in the list. Frances’ notes ably support this listing. I can provide only few further details: -

  • Anna M Calders is nee Mackay. She married David Calder in 1854.
  • Isabella McGuffie is nee Halsatt ( Halsall).
  • Ann Midgley is nee Killip. She married Jonathan Midgley 20 January 1856.
  • Kate Sanders is Catherine Creer who married Thomas Sanders 30 December 1865.
  • Isabella Udy is Isabelle Ann Cowley who married James Udy in 1849 or 1850.
  • Mary Watson is Mary Watterson who was born April 1803.
  • Christian Moore is nee Cannell and her parents were Thomas Cannel and Jane Corlett.
  • In the section of her article on emigrants, Frances is unclear as to the relationship of Ann Rodgers Mackay, nee Cowley, with the other Cowleys who joined the church. In fact her mother Elinore Cowley was the sister of Matthias Cowley, their parents being Thomas Cowley and Ann Killey.
In her final draft before publication Frances stated “Some 158 (emigrants) have been identified…I would be surprised if more than 158 emigrants in total were to be found”. At this point I had a listing of 210 Manx converts, which I then published on the Internet. Frances then included all the ones that she could confirm by census records in her list with no reference to original source. She also included some of the others with the reference “on the basis of Martin Holden’s data though no definite entry found in Manx census”.

The basic difference between her list in Appendix 1 and my list is that hers is a list of known emigrants, while mine is a list of known converts and includes some converts who never emigrated. It should be noted that here the term converts is used loosely. When converts emigrated they would normally take their children with them and not all of these family members may have regarded themselves as members of the church. Thomas Quayle, whose record Frances quotes from, never appears to have regarded himself as a Latter-day Saint and there is no record of him ever being baptised. Though it is impossible to differentiate in most cases as to whether people regarded themselves as LDS or not. What it is possible to say is that they were either converts or emigrated as a result of the Mormon missionary effort. My list also includes all known Manx converts regardless of where they joined the church, and children of converts who died after their parents’ conversion but before emigration. Frances’ list only includes emigrants baptised on the Isle of Man with the exception of “Cannon” family converts who joined in Liverpool and Canada because of their importance to John Taylor (first Mormon missionary to the Island and later third President of the Church) and for no obvious reason Thomas Karren who joined the church in Liverpool. Her latest version of this paper states that it would be surprising if more than 220 emigrant converts in total were to be found. I think this estimate is closer to the truth though I suspect that we may find over 250. I currently have information on 280 converts including 230 emigrants (this includes 10 Manx converts who joined the church off the Island).

In conclusion then, Frances’ article, while the best so far produced on this topic, is a somewhat one-sided account. A more accurate title for her article would be “The Manx response to Mormon Missionary Work on the Isle of Man in the Nineteenth Century and a Review of the Manx Emigration that Resulted”.

Martin Holden

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