I’d originally intended for these to be two separate posts, but so much of what I admire of Mary Ann Mellor and her daughter Louisa were too connected for me to split apart.
The Mellor family’s emigration to join the saints was difficult from the start. On the day their ship was set to depart from Liverpool, Mary Ann went into premature labor and gave birth to conjoined twins that died after a few hours. The doctors were unsure if Mary Ann would survive. But because this was the last ship available in the season, the future of perpetual emigration funding was tenuous, and the family had already sold their land in Leicester, Mary Ann told her family to board the boat without her. Her sixteen year old daughter, Louisa, and her two year old daughter chose to stay behind with her, and her husband took the other five children with him. Louisa did this knowing full well that she might be left alone with a two year old to care for in an unfamiliar city, possibly never seeing the rest of her family again, but she made the choice to help her mother in her time of need. By a twist of fate, Mary Ann's husband came back two days later for them, as the ship was anchored for a time in a nearby river after its departure. Against doctors’ wishes, they carried Mary Ann on a stretcher to the boat, and the whole family journeyed across the ocean together.
As part of the Martin handcart company, they faced many difficulties on the trail. Mary Ann had regained some of her strength, but was still weak enough she nearly gave up on many occasions. On one occasion, she did. She told her family she would go no further, kissed her children goodbye, and “sat down on a boulder and wept.” Again, Louisa chose to come to her mother’s aid. She told the family to go on without her, prayed that she and her mother would be able to catch up with the company without harm, and got off her knees and went to work. As she returned to her mother’s boulder, she found a pie in the road, which she gave to her mother to eat. They rested for a time, and then succeeded in rejoining the group. Louisa recounts that “many times after that, Mother felt like giving up and quitting, but then she would remember how wonderful the Lord had been to spare her so many times, and offered a prayer of gratitude instead.”
Mary Ann, her husband, and her seven children all arrived safely in Utah. They were eventually called to settle Fayette (building the first brick home there), and in 1875, James was called to serve a mission to England. He returned in 1877, arriving on the doorstep with a woman named Mary (Polly) Knowles that he introduced to Mary Ann as a woman he’d brought back from England to be his plural wife. Stunned, Mary Ann stared at them for a few minutes, then showered them with a pan of fermenting milk and slammed the door. Eventually Mary Ann and Polly would have a cordial relationship. Louisa became the second wife of Edwin Clark, had nine children, and became active in temple work.
My attention was initially drawn to Louisa as I read this account. I love her bravery, devotion, and faith, choosing on two separate occasions to risk her life to support her mother. But I think Mary Ann is also worthy of praise. Despite discouragement and loss, she always made the choice to keep trying, and managed to maintain her spunk. I think their story is a beautiful account of the difference a brave teenager can make, and the power that comes through a strong mother/daughter bond.
Olsen, Andrew D. (2006). The Price We Paid: The Extraordinary Story of the Willie and Martin Handcart Pioneers.