Thomas Jefferson Thurston


Thomas Jefferson Thurston

Fletcher, Franklin County, Vermont, USA
Death 3 May 1885 (aged 80)
Saint George, Washington County, Utah, USA
Burial Saint George, Washington County, Utah, USA
Plot A_C_57_6
Memorial ID 78701 View Source
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Son of Peter Thurston and Hannah Butler

Married Rozetta Bull, 28 Mar 1826, Granville, Loching, Ohio

Married Elizabeth Smith, 18 Nov 1855, Salt Lake City, Salt Lake, Utah

Married Helen Maria Davis, 3 May 1862

A Sketch of the Life of Thomas Jefferson Thurston, written by his daughter, Hulda Cordelia Thurston Smith

My father, Thomas Jefferson Thurston, was the son of Peter and Hannah Butler (Wheeler) Thurston. My grandmother, the widow Wheeler, had several Wheeler children of which I know but little, except that Vice President William A Wheeler was her grandson.

My father was seventh in a lineal descent from Daniel Thurston of Newberry, Gloucester, England. There he had a noble line of ancestry traceable by names, coats of arms and sketches, back to 800 A.D. Among them were monks, knights, archbishops and mint masters. One Thurston was Archbishop of York and Chaplain and Secretary to King Henry the Second. In 1100 A.D , he founded Fountain Abbey and upon its ruins still remains his device. In our own country they were heroes - patriots on the roll of honor in the French and Indian Wars, 64 having given their lives. The record shows 80 were sacrifices in the wars of the American Revolution, and 170 gave their lives in support of the Union in the Civil War. The Thurston's were a religious, God-fearing people. I find there are on record 197 ministers.

Twin boys were born to the Thurston family in 1805 in Fletcher, Vermont. They were christened Thomas Jefferson Thurston and George Washington Thurston. While these children were young, the family went to Ohio into what was then called the Western Reserve … father became expert in trapping. He was an expert hunter of deer and used to amuse us children with his hunting and trapping stories. He bought from the Government a large farm which he paid for with money made in this way. Cash at that time was hard to get, for they were so far from a market for their produce. He said they sold their eggs for a dollar a bushel. He had to work very hard to make a start, the land being heavily timbered. They must cut it down, then drag it into piles and burn it before they could even erect a cabin, clearing every foot of soil before they could cultivate between the stumps… Their grain was harvested with a sickle, and all threshed by hand with a flail.

At the age of 23 he met and married my mother, Rosetta Bull, then a girl of 19. My parent's attention was first attracted to Mormonism in the year 1844 by newspaper accounts of the assassination of the Prophet Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum, in Carthage Jail by an armed and blackened mob without trial or process of law. Father was astonished to think such a thing could happen in this land of liberty, especially since it was because of their religious belief. They had heard some rumor of Joseph Smith and his golden Bible, but had taken no particular notice of it till then. He said to Mother, "There must be something in it I will improve the first opportunity to investigate the matter." Ere long, two Mormon elders came to the town and engaged the district schoolhouse to preach in, and Father went to hear them… They were very plain, conclusive and reasonable to him, and best of all they were supported and backed up by the Bible, in which my father was well versed and a great believer. After the services, Father invited them home for the night, where they sat up nearly all night asking and answering questions and explaining the gospel. My mother and older brothers and sisters were also filled with joy and satisfaction in their teachings. They were religiously inclined, great Bible students, and had their worship daily, consisting of the singing of a hymn of praise, the reading of a chapter from the Bible, and prayer… This gospel seemed to satisfy their longing for the true gospel, and all of the family who were old enough were soon baptized, and with baptism came the spirit of the gathering. They advertised their place for sale, and had sold out at a good price within the year. They went to Nauvoo, taking scattered saints with them who had been unable to take part in the gathering. Among them was Phineas Young and family, brother of Brigham Young, and a sister of Brigham Young and husband named Kent.

In Nauvoo, the people were very poor and many sick. There was much distress and want among them. Corn was only 25 cents per bushel, yet people couldn't buy it… He (Father) gave the word out publicly in meeting that all in need of bread could come and help themselves, and as necessary he replenished the supply. Thus he fed many, many people. He also gave his means freely to finish the Temple, where he and mother received their endowments before it was destroyed. He also helped to fit out the company of pioneers who started out in the early spring of 1846 with President Young. In fact, he gave until President Young would take no more and told him "Brother Thurston, you have given more than enough, you will need all that you have to get away from here with your family…" Father then took my oldest brother, George, and started for Missouri with a good horse and buggy… He traded his light rig for a heavy one which a traveling salesman had been struggling with - he traded for everything and said it was perfectly marvelous to him how everything turned to his advantage, and surely the Lord blessed them, and in a short time they returned to Nauvoo with an outfit consisting of five good wagons, three good yoke of oxen and cows for each… When about to leave Nauvoo, a man came and bought our place and paid Father fifteen dollars more for it than Father had paid for it; this seemed wonderful, for almost everyone left their homes unsold.

The Government's call upon our camps for 500 able-bodied men to go into the war with Mexico so reduced our company's strength that they decided to stop over in Iowa until the next year, 1847, and our people went to what has since been known as Winter Quarters… My father and brothers cut logs on the river and made cabins which they covered with willows and dirt, chinked the cracks in the walls and daubed them with mud, making them as warm as possible for winter. Father then fitted up a covered wagon with a stove, bed, etc., and took Mother and the two smallest children with him, and they went back to Ohio, to their old home, to get the remainder due him on his farm and visit old neighbors…

Their journey to and from Ohio was a long tedious one of five months but it was taken in safety... As they neared home they began to hear terrible tales of the sickness, distress and deaths among the people at Winter Quarters. Hundreds of them had died of scurvy, dysentery and black canker caused by wet, cold, exposure and their unwholesome food. They felt very anxious about their children and before going home they searched among the graves at the cemetery to see if any of them were there. Not finding any, they went home where they found them all living, but some were mere skeletons and all had suffered greatly and came near dying from want of proper food. Their limited amount of flour had given out and they had had practically nothing but corn meal, to which they had never been accustomed… They killed most of their stock, which was very poor, yet I suppose that was all that saved their lives. The coming of my parents brought a few comforts and, together with the spring weather, soon established a degree of health in the family and they again prepared to start west.

This time it was a long journey before them and they must provide themselves with clothing, seeds, and farming implements, which was heavy freight, and this time our parents took with them six besides our family… Father provided food and clothing for all that he brought with him - enough to last them one year - and when they arrived in Salt Lake, Father weighed all their provisions and divided it pro rata, each individual drawing his share, and they separated, each family going to itself.

I can remember how we got our first start of potatoes. Father brought some seed balls from the potato vines…which he planted the next spring (1848, as we arrived in October 1847)… From those seeds we raised our start of potatoes. The first crop amounted to about two quarts… They were all treasured for seed for the next year. Not until the third crop was harvested did we taste a potato and it was several years before our seed potatoes were selected and sorted…

Hardships were endured during their journey across the plains. Mother drove a horse team all the way. Sometimes they had to lie over for days in a consequence of the immense herds of traveling buffalo with which they were at times amply supplied with meat, and one time caused a stampede among our cattle. My father and brothers had much hard work to do. They built one of the first adobe houses in the Sixth Ward in Salt Lake City, making the adobes themselves. Father was first counselor in the First Ward organization, with Brother Hickenlooper as Bishop. We lived for a short time in the log fort where all endured much privation and suffering from scarcity of the necessities of life and none of the luxuries.

My father, with William W. Potter, Joseph Mount and Stephen Spaulding, built the first boat and were the first of our people to navigate the lake. It was accomplished in the spring of 1848, and they took with them as guests Jedediah M. Grant and Parley P. Pratt. There was a little pleasantry connected with the event which I will relate. The boat was built in our yard and when they decided to go they all met at our house and it was a merry party. They lengthened out the coupling of the running gear of a wagon and loaded their boat onto it with bedding, guns, ammunition and provisions to last two days. They organized their crew and finally remembered that the ship had not been christened. They attempted to name it, one proposing one name and another another, but they could not agree. Finally one of the party proposed that they name it for the first game they killed, and all agreed. Then they drove down to the Jordan River, placed their boat with equipment and provisions in the stream, and started with smooth sailing down the river. They hadn't gone very far until one of the party spied a mud hen on the bend of the river a short distance ahead, which he immediately shot. This gave the boat the name of Mud Hen. They all laughed at this, but the funny part of it came after, for when they came to the delta where the river empties into the lake, the water was not deep enough to float the boat and the men had to take off their shoes, hose, and some other clothing and get out and attached ropes to the boat and wade in mud knee deep, dragging their boat through mud before it would float - this they did for a mile, making the boat a veritable "mud hen."

Then they set sail and arrived at the island in due time without other incident… Their object in going was to explore the lake and island to see if either could be depended upon by our people for food, as provisions of all kinds were scarce. Several were poisoned while testing roots and herbs. Looking at the lake, my father and others had felt nothing could live in it - but during storms some people had been sure they saw large fish and sea animals. So Father and his party had gone to investigate - they stopped on the island one night. They hadn't gone far out in the morning when one of those terrible rain and wind storms came up suddenly… None of them knew anything about managing the boat but William W. Potter, and but for him all would surely have been lost. He had spent several years on Lake Erie and understood lake navigation. He finally got them to the island shore. They, with their bedding, guns, and ammunition, were soaked, and their provisions were gone. They ate some eggs when they got hungry enough, and finally got home after three days. These men were the closest of friends and, as long as they lived, whenever they met they saluted each other according to their rank in the ship's crew. After their cruise was over there seemed to be no further use for the boat, and Father bought the interests of the others. He enlarged a water ditch near our house and put the boat into it so it did not dry up and we children used it for a playhouse, spending many happy hours.

In the fall of 1848, news of the discovery of gold in California reached the East and created great excitement. Thousand of emigrants were on their way. Many were wealthy people with splendid teams and outfits of groceries and provisions and dry good sufficient to last them for a long time… In their eagerness to get to the gold fields, and partly for lack of properly organized companies, many rushed hurriedly across the plains, and, being heavily loaded, on reaching Salt Lake their teams were exhausted and could go no farther. They were obliged to unload and sell their goods for what they could get. Many sold their horses that were poor and worn out for two or three fat ponies. Then they would ride one and pack the others and start on for the gold fields. Many went by the northern route and when they reached Bear River, they found it a deep turbid stream which they could not ford. They remembered seeing our boat, the Mud Hen, and, in Salt Lake City, they sent back to see if Father would come out and ferry them over. He did and ferried all over without accident. Some who had money paid him in cash, others found themselves still overloaded and paid him in things they had to spare, others were taken over free. When the season was over he came home with supplies of everything for the family. My oldest sister, Sarah A. Grant, says it was then for first time that she had enough to eat of good wholesome food and white bread… Thus it was that Thomas Jefferson Thurston established the first ferry over Bear River, although the History of Utah says that Wm. Empy did it. Parley P. Pratt is given credit for being the first to navigate Salt Lake in modern times, but actually he went along as an invited guest of the men who built the Mud Hen.

In the year 1848, Father took up a good farm of 80 acres in Centerville, 12 miles from Salt Lake, which he improved and built upon and in 1850 moved our family there. Father was a good farmer and solved the problem of dry farming. We had not enough water to raise a garden and none for grain. Father was careful to plough his land when in proper condition, and sowed but 3/4 of a bushel to the acre, and then that was harrowed into the ground… Our neighbors sowed two bushels to the acre and it looked beautiful early in the season, but was crowded and did not have enough room for root growth and when the hot sun of summer came it would turn yellow and finally die. We had many years of almost crop failure caused by grasshoppers - yet during all these times we always raised fairly good crops of wheat, which Father never sold but kept for the poor. I have seen him refuse gold for grain in hard times, saying "If you have money you will find someone who will sell to you, but mine is for the poor who have not money." He visited the camps of the incoming emigration in the fall and brought home from one to three families and kept them over winter and furnished employment for them.

Father went to the tops of the mountains in Utah above Centerville to get timber, and from the mountain top he went over far enough to see the beautiful little Weber Valley. It was early summer and that little well-watered and wooded valley was in strong contrast with the hot, dry and then almost barren Salt Lake Valley. He was greatly charmed, as it reminded him of his old home in Ohio. He talked about it a lot until he got two friends to go over and explore the valley with him. They camped three days, explored the valley and found it well-watered, with lots of timber, fish, grass, deer and fowl in abundance… It looked like a paradise to him and he was enthused with its natural advantages and opportunities. However, one serious obstacle seemed insurmountable. The valley was surrounded with high mountains - the narrow canyon through which the Weber River flowed seemed the only opening, and none but the Indians had traveled it… No difficulty seemed too great for Father, and finally Charles S. Peterson with two sons and his son-in-law Roswell Stevens, said they would like to go but it was grasshopper times and they were without bread. Father told them if they would go with him and work on the canyon road, he would give flour for their families and also furnish seed wheat to plant when they got to the valley. So they joined him in the enterprise. In the winter of 1855-56, they went to the canyon and camped, working constantly until they could get through with their wagons… Later in the spring Brother J. M. Grant sent three men with two teams to assist in putting the road through, and his teams remained to help put in twelve acres of wheat and make water ditches. It was truly a great undertaking with their primitive way of road making. In some narrow passes they had to go up the side of the canyon and loosen large rocks and boulders and roll them down into the river to make a foundation on which to build a road through the narrow passes. At other places they constructed long dugways and had to ford the river many times. Finally they got through and Brothers Peterson and Stevens settled at the place now called Peterson… Their child was the first born in Weber Valley - she was Sarah Ann Peterson and she married David Tribe of Ogden.

My father took his wife Elizabeth, and me for company for her, six miles farther up the valley where he, with the help of Brother Grant's men and teams, ploughed and sowed about ten or twelve acres to wheat which failed to mature for lack of water. They built a dam in Deep Creek which was a large stream in the spring of the year. They took the water out in ditches but the stream soon failed.

Then they went about two miles to Canyon Creek, put in a dam, surveyed a canal and dug it, and brought the water to Deep Creek. There was not enough water to fill the creek bed and they then put in a levee and made a canal across the creek; by that time there was not enough water to wet up the canal, which was about two miles long, so their crop was total failure. Father had injured himself with the heavy work, and came near dying. Brother Grant came up with his carriage and took him home to Centerville where he could be under the care of a doctor. He got better, but not well. The next spring, 1857, he took his wife, Elizabeth, and baby and again went into the valley, ploughed the same land and a little more and again sowed it to grain which did not mature because of early frost. He harvested it and put in a corral, thinking it would be useful for horse feed the next spring when putting in his crops, but our Mormon boys who were out in the canyons watching Johnston's Army at the time of the "Mormon War" found it very convenient for horse feed, and our cabin also made them quite comfortable in the cold winter weather.

In the spring of 1858 we moved at the time of the great Mormon exodus. We went to Spanish Fork bottoms… At that time all the people living north of Utah Valley moved south, leaving their homes with furniture, farming implements, their all - not knowing where they were going nor what their destiny. They piled their furniture in their houses with plenty of straw and combustibles and men left behind ready to apply the torch should orders be sent them at any time. Orchards and vineyards would have also been destroyed, leaving desolation behind us, had not peace been made with the United States Government.

During that exodus I shall never forget the distress of the people. Men wore trousers made of carpet, their feet wrapped in rags. The women sewed cloth together and made moccasins for their feet. Many were barefooted. The people were nearly all poor for we had had several years of great scarcity of crops because of the grasshoppers. This with our large incoming emigration, mostly from Europe, which we must provide for as best we could, made life a hard struggle, and besides all this we must fit out trains of wagons and teams to go out on the eastern frontiers to meet and bring to Zion the poor saints who could manage to cross the ocean and get that far on their way, depending on us for the completion of their journey. It was hard for the people to do this and they often made great sacrifices. They would cooperate in this way: one Brother would say to his neighbor, "I have a good wagon which I think will stand the trip, now if you will share with me the use of your old wagon, I will send mine." Many a family gave their last ham, side of bacon, or shoulder of pork, which had for weeks been saved to cook with greens when they were doing their spring work… These provisions were cached at various places while going out to be taken up as required on the return trip. It wasn't unusual for people to boil a ham bone, piece of bacon, or bacon rind for two or three successive dinners of mid-day meals and they considered it a real treat. Money was scarce yet everything was high and hard to get. Twenty-five cents letter postage from the states; sugar we had none; calico was 85 cents per yard; cotton yam five dollars a bunch; books, slates and pencils were heavy freight, and very few were brought so far.

But oh! What a sudden and complete change came to our people at this critical period. The Army and a new governor came into Utah, also many wagon trains loaded with dry goods and army supplies, with fine teams and wagons, in fact everything that our people needed. The army must have feed for themselves and teams, also have houses built, which furnished employment for all our men at good wages. They furnished us a market for everything we could spare such as eggs, cheese, chickens, in fact everything; and when we came back to our homes we could get twenty yards of calico for a dollar and everything in proportion. Thus we were fed and clothed by those who had plotted our destruction. In July, 1858, after an absence of three months, we returned to our home in Centerville, where we found a good crop of wheat where none had been sown. Father called it volunteer wheat - about 300 bushels were harvested.

The next spring, 1859, Father sold our property to President Brigham Young for forty seven thousand dollars, taking his pay principally in cattle, sheep and horses, which he took into the Valley on the Weber where the Territorial Legislature had granted to my brother-in-law, Jedediah M. Grant, my father, and my oldest brother, George W. Thurston, a large section of land for herd grounds. In the fall of 1859, he moved our family there…
I believe it was in the year 1855, when my brother George was on a mission in England, that Brother Jedediah M. Grant placed before the Territorial Legislature a bill which became a law, granting to him, my father and George Thurston all of the south end of the Weber Valley from Line Creek, following the east fork of the river about 2 miles, then across eastward to the mountains, encompassing Round Valley. I do not remember the other boundaries. This scope of country was granted to them for a herd ground. This law can be found in the first volume of the Compiled Laws of Utah. My father had nothing to do with the petition, and was surprised when the law was passed. When Brother Grant came to our house he said he thought for all Father had done he deserved that much recognition… He said, "I don't want this for myself, but I put my name at the head of it because I thought it would then pass without controversy." There never was any contract between my father and Brother Grant which in any way implied a partnership in the settlement or improvements made in the Weber Valley, but Brother Grant did a good deal to help my father and the most perfect faith and confidence existed between them. Up to the time of Brother Grant's death they were very close. Much labor had been done in getting into the valley. Two years they had planted crops without any returns, because of drought and frost. But Father has continued to make improvement, had built cabins, corrals and sheds, and also a stockade for protection in case of Indian attacks. Father had always intended that Brother Grant should be a full partner with himself in all things, but in the providence of God and to the great sorrow of the whole community, Brother Grant was taken from us.

At first, while the country was new, only one family was living in the whole valley - Charles S. Peterson's. Then came Johnson's Army and the move south and back again. We were living in Centerville. Brother J. M. Grant's wives all were married to his brother, G. D. Grant. Thus time passed on, but as stated above, in the spring of 1859 Father sold his farm in Centerville, and we moved to the valley, living there all during the winter without a neighbor. The Petersons were six miles away. We did not see anyone until spring. Then Brother George D. Grant came up to put cattle on the summer range. Father did not know just how to arrange matters so that Brother Jeddy's family should all be benefited alike, for the interest he had show in assisting him in making the road and developing the county. He would not show any partiality to his daughter, Sarah Ann, who was one of Brother Grant's wives. He finally thought the proper thing to do was to divide this holding with Brother George D. Grant who had taken the responsibility of the care of his brother's family. Father then measured the distance between the two creeks and drew a line in the center and took Brother George D. Grant out and showed him the land and the division and told him how he felt towards Brother Jeddie and family and said "Now, Brother Grant, I wish you to take your choice of the divisions of land." Brother Grant chose the half on which we were living with all our improvements, such a ploughed land with water ditches all made, our cabins, corrals, cattle shed, and the stockade. In fact, all the improvements that had been made in four or five years. When Father came to the house, he smiled and said "Well, I was a little surprised at Brother Grant today. He chose this half of the land where all my improvements are, but I don't care. I would rather have the other end of the land, but he didn't know it." G. D. Grant had never done a day's work nor spent a dollar there. It wasn't long before there was a separation between George D. Grant and his brother's families and I don't suppose that Brother Jeddie's family received any benefit from this property. Brother George divided this land, letting his son George and William Benjamin Hampton and his step-son John Lamb have the farms which came from that which my father gave in good faith for the benefit of Jedediah's family. Brother G. D. Grant kept a farm himself with the improvements.

… He (Father) was a great benefactor to the poor. I believe no one who ever asked him for assistance was turned away without help. In times of famine, he fed many who came to him from near and far. He was so blessed of the Lord that he always, even in the greatest scarcity of food, had some food for the hungry. Yet he was not perfect. I believe his greatest failing was in the treatment of his own family. His personal wants were few. He was satisfied with meager fare and if his clothes were clean and mended they were good enough for him. Consequently, he thought the same kind was good enough for his family. He could never realize any want of necessity in his own family. We were also sadly neglected educationally. Although Father always had plenty of means with which we might have had many more of the comforts of life, and enjoyed the privileges and advantages of the time, we surely were deprived of very many things which were essential to our comfort and development.

When the home in Centerville was sold, Father had intended taking his wife, Elizabeth, to the Valley, and buying a home for Mother in Salt Lake, which would have given us the social and educational advantages we needed. But when he talked with President Young, he advised Father to take both families with him into the wilderness… It was years before people moved in and schools were established…

Father was a good man and Mother loved him dearly. He was intellectual, well versed in the Bible. He was a beautiful penman. He was the father of 24 children, yet Father had peculiarities of which I have written with love and the best of feelings toward him. His farm was one of the best in Morgan County, and he was the first bishop there. When he became old, he turned his farm over to some of his children, took his wife, Elizabeth, and some of the younger children to St. George, where his life's labor was brought to a close working in the Temple. He died and was buried there in 1886, at 81 years of age. When he died, his record showed that he had been baptized for 6,822 persons, and had done more temple work than any other one person in that Temple. He had been endowed for 2,108 - of course, much of this was done by proxy, but he paid one dollar a name for the endowment work that was done by proxy.

The old log cabin Father first built in Centerville was moved on to property owned by the Chase family, and they reconstructed it and use it for a family relic hall. In 1915 they invited me to see it, and I stayed all night in this old cabin my father had built. I gave the Chase girl a history of the cabin, telling her how it had furnished a home temporarily for many of our incoming emigrants. Among these had been her aunt and uncle, Desdimony and John C. Gleeson, and John Cousins who went to Bear Lake and become Sheriff there. The cabin can still be seen at the Chase property in Centerville.


In their memory
Plant Memorial Trees