Thursday, July 17, 2008

Maria Brooks DeGrey (1805-1876)

Maria Brooks, a pretty, black-eyed lass, sat on the green grass in the warm sunshine, day dreaming. Her thoughts trailed back over the ages. As with many a young woman, questions tumbled over each other in her mind. Who is he? Where did he come from? And who are his people ...?

It was long ago ... 970 A.D., in fact, in Oxford Shire, England, that a Saxton chief named Arnolph enjoyed life on this earth. He was lord and master of the Grai, a fine manor, complete with castle, lands, knights, and serfs. The manor consisted of several squalid villages of a hundred or more people each and the castle with its lord, ladies, and lesser nobles.

The knights and warriors were born to their position. They enjoyed more commodious dwellings than those of the serfs, more finery in dress and were looked upon with dignity and pride by the serfs. Their positions called for protection to the manor from wild animals, marauding thieves, and neighboring manors.

The serf led a much less exciting life. They were the swine herders and tillers of the soil. They were born to a life of hard labor in ignorance and wretched living. Their chances for freedom were extremely negative, and few there were who ever rose above the role of a slave. They furnished subsistence to their chief and his warriors for which they in return, received a kind of protection.

The chief was supreme in authority and social position. He had plenty of knights to oversee the problems concerning the property, and efficient tax collectors to gather in the profits. Of course, the lord of the manor was subject to the king who ruled more or less loosely at that time, and in a weak way tried to justify his existence by attempting to keep peace internally and ward off such outside enemies as the Vikings from the north, who were at that time causing Christian nations considerable discomfort.

Such was the condition at the time of Arnolph. It is quite certain Arnolph was a Christian as that religion had been brought to and accepted by England during the Roman conquest in the 4th century.

After Arnolph, the Grai was passed successively to Nigel, Turstin, Turgis, and Anschetil (also spelled Anschillus, Anskittillus, and Ansquital). Anschetil was a very agressive fellow. It was his aim to gain wealth and power and leave a great estate to his sons, William, Richard, and Cokembanus. To aid his cause, fate took a hand, for it was during his life time, 1066, that the Normans, under William the Conquerer, began taking possession of England. Anschetil saw that his unorganized neighbors were falling under the Norman raiders, and knew that for him to oppose meant an end to his glory. So he joined forces with the Normans and went out to win more territory.

He was successful in gaining land and wealth for his sons, but as each took over his own castle, the sons followed the custom of the Normans and took the surname of their father, instead of taking the name of their own place. Anschetil was known as Anschetil of the Grai. In French it was de Grai, later changed to DeGrey, and in some cases the "De" was omitted. Thus Anschetil became the ancestor of all the Greys and DeGreys of England.

After Anschetil, the boys coasted along until Henry, grandson of Robert, son of Anschetil and heir to the Rothfield property, found favor with King Richard the Lion-Hearted and received as a grant the manor of Thurroc in Essex Shire. Thus he is known as Henry DeGrey of Thurroc. However, Henry was not satisfied with Rothfield and Thurroc. He gained additional castles, including one in Northumberland, which his second wife, Isolda Bardolf, inherited from her uncle Robert. It was through this Henry that the DeGreys became a great and powerful family. His second son, John of Wilton was first of a line of fiteen Barons DeGrey, who served in the House of Lords, from about 1240 to 1604. Robert, fourth son of Henry, heir to the Rothfield property, was the ancestor of eight nobles who served in Parliament. His descendants also spread their holdings to include, among others, a manor in Kent Shire.

Here the shades of obscurity darken the path for a time. Then in the latter part of the 18th century the curtain goes up on John DeGrey, a poor laborer in Stafford-Shire. His immediate ancestry is not known but there is a story in the family that he had a brother who was a nobleman in Kent County. At any rate, John, who wasnot called DeGrey, but Diggory, to denote his fall, socially and financially, married Anne Bowater of whom little is known to the writer. To this couple was born a son, John. When this John met and married Maria Brooks, who was born on April 10, 1805, at Tipton Staffordshire, England, she was disowned by her father and mother, Daniel Brooks and Elizabeth Walters for marrying such trash ...

... Poof! The bubble was gone! Maria scrambled to her feet, swished her skirts, and hurried toward the little cottage, where John would be anxiously awaiting for his dinner. Maria knew he would scold her for day-dreaming, but she loved her young husband and took pleasure in thoughts of him.

Maria's marriage to John DeGrey at the Vicarage, Dudley, Worcestershire, England, was a happy occasion for her even though she was saddened by the fact that her parents strongly objected. Their home was a humble dwelling but brightened by their young and serene love.

As the years rolled by, children were born to them to fill their home with laughter and song. To them were born the following children: Sophia, born 1829; Alfred, born on March 12, 1831; Selina, born August 1, 1833; Ann, born 1835; Kezia, born on January 21, 1837; Elizabeth, born on 21 January, 1839; Maria, born on March 21, 1840; Charlotte, born June 10, 1842; Sarah, born on 4 February 1844; and John, Jr., born 17 December 1845.

At this time, growing industrialism had broken down the old feudal system and wages were low and working hours long. Jobs were plentiful and workers were free to come and go. This condition had its effect on Maria and John.

John was a tailor by trade and his income was insufficient to support a wife and a fast-growing family. Maria was a hard-working wife and mother and was naturally desirous to give her family the best possible under the prevailing conditions and circumstances. So she suggested to her husband that he teach her the trade of a tailor. She planned that she would take over his business and thus allow her husband time to pursue another work which would bring additional funds for the family.

John secured work in a brewery which was located in a basement. Because of the dampness of the basement, John developed a lung ailment and died shortly after taking the position. The family had just seemed to be getting along better, financially, when the burden of supporting and rearing the family by herself befell Maria at the unexpected death of her comparatively young husband. Momentarily, the sunshine went out of her life. She just could not imagine going on without her John. Grief-stricken as she was, Maria was a very courageous woman and undertook her task without complaint. With her family gathered around her, Maria knew she had work to do and she resolved to do it well, to the best of her abilities.

Maria was compelled to take in washings to take care of her family. The daughters who were old enough assisted their mother to make her work as light as possible.

The washings Maria took in were cumbersome and sometimes expensive to the family. Because of the coal dust in the air, the clothes often had to be dried indoors. Unless her children were able to gather up extra coal from the coal refuse dump, Maria had additional expense in drying the clothes.

During the 18th and 19th centuries, England underwent phenomenal internal changes. In addition to the political and financial freedom which the masses were gaining, there were great religious upheavals. Consequently, all eyes were on America and the West where tradition meant little, hardships nothing, and personal liberty everything.

Then out of America in 1837 came the first missionaries of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, bringing the religion which answered doubts and gave promise of eternal freedom of the soul to all who heeded. It is a matter of history that whole communities joined the new faith. Out of those early English coverts came, today as then, many of the stalwart members and great leaders of the church. Among those early converts were Maria Brooks DeGrey and her family.

One day shortly after the death of her husband, Maria's cousin came to their home and asked Maria and her family if they would be interested in joining others of the family and neighborhood in hearing some young "Mormons" explain their strange, new religion. Because of her recent bereavement, Maria consented, needing consolment to her sorrow. She was very much impressed with the young men and their teachings after listening to them the first evening. The message of Mormonism soon found root and to Maria it had a familiar voice that left an impression upon her soul, which remained with her throughout her life. The Elders returned to her home many times and always found welcome there. The DeGrey family, in return, found guidance and enlightenment to many of the questions in their minds.

John Charles Hall was one of the young missionaries and was the presiding Elder in the district in and around Dudley. Elder Hall was very sincere and persistent in his visits to the DeGrey home and in about 1853, Maria and her children were baptized one moonlit night in a small pond near their home. Their spirits must have been far from broken by the privations in their home and their recent bereavement, for they embraced the new faith with a zeal that never faltered.

The persistence of Elder Hall found favor in another respect. Selina began to see him in a new light; love bloomed and soon they planned to marry. Excitement filled the DeGrey home as plans for the coming wedding took form. Then on April 26, 1853, the young couple were married, and began to plan a home of their own.

Even though some opposition and a certain degree of resentment from friends and neighbors came to Maria and her children because they had joined the "Mormon" Church, she remained undaunted and more determined in her decision to go to Utah. She longed to be with the body of the Church where she could more fully attend to her religious duties and where her children would be permitted to take part also with the young people of the church in the social functions. Consequently, each act of each day held in purpose the long trip to Utah. The Church became a means of transplanting the family to a land of greater opportunity in practically every field of activity related to both the material and spiritual realms. It brought a joy and comfort to Maria and her family which they had never before known.

In June, 1856, the DeGrey family sold their household goods and collected what savings and clothing had been set aside for the future journey and booked passage on the sailing vessel, "Well Fleet." Maria's daughter, Selina, her husband, and their two small children had yet some time before John's mission would be completed and they, too, could sail for America. Alfred, Maria's oldest child, also remained in England and came to America at a later date.

The family, after its arrival in July, 1856, remained in Boston and those who could, found employment. They worked and saved, awaiting the time when Selina and John would join them and then they could again be on their way. Maria had deeply felt her responsibility as she stepped ashore; more so because now they were in a new, strange land. This was no time for regrets; she had a job to do and she determined to do it well.

During the nine months they were working in Boston, Maria lived and worked in the home of a family by the name of Colburn, who was a shoe merchant. Maria had been very kindly treated by the family. One day the man of the house was reading the paper at the dinner table. Maria was serving dinner and she heard Mr. Colburn remark about a certain ship which had just completed the voyage from England in twenty-one days instead of the usual six weeks. The ship was the "George Washington" and Maria knew that her daughter, Selina, and her husband John were returning to America on that boat.

So, after nine months of working and saving since their arrival in Boston, Maria anxiously awaited the arrival of Elder Hall and his family. Maria told the Colburn family, "If the 'George Washington' has docked, I must prepare to leave you. My eldest daughter and her husband are on that ship and we are leaving for the West."

Mr. Colburn asked, "How far west are you going?"

When Maria replied that Utah was their destination, Mr. Colburn gasped in amazement and returned, "Please, Mrs. DeGrey, don't go out there. The government is now sending the Johnson's Army to Utah to wipe out the Mormons. You have been with us so long we have learned to love you and your little daughter, Sarah. we would like to keep her as a companion for our little girl. We would educate her and do for her as we would our own."

Maria DeGrey thanked him for all he had done for her and her family and faithfully rejoined, "If the Mormons are to be wiped out, I will be one of them."

Even though the DeGrey family had managed to save only $112.00 during their sojourn in Boston, they were still faithful and undaunted by any discouraging words from their newly found friends in America. So in April, 1857, after the purchase of equipment and provisions, the small group started on their way. They traveled by train as far as Iowa City and from there they traveled in their wagon over the rugged and uncharted frontier.

Everything was new and so different to Maria. One thought kept finding its way into her mind: "If only John were here with me to see the desert at eventide, the excitement of the children as they play along the way and most of all, the peace and contentment of the company as we camp for the night because of our religion." Such thoughts lingered only a fleeting moment, then Maria was busy mending, looking after the children, and watching the pot of precious butter. The two cows became a vital part of the family because of the milk and butter they furnished during the long westward trek. To make the butter, Maria would put some cream in a container with a lid covering it. By the close of the day when the company would make camp, there would be little balls of butter, churned by the jolting of the wagon.

To Maria, the worst part of the journey was the nagging fear of Indians. So many horrible tales reached her ears and the children were her constant concern. Even so, the company of saints traveling at that time experienced no real trouble with the Indians. Maria always felt the Lord was guiding and protecting her little brood as they wend their way across the prairies. The evening prayers and songs which came after camp had been established were always a joy and comfort to her.

At last the long trek was nearly ended and the wear travelers made their way down winding Emigration Canyon into the beautiful valley overlooking the great inland sea.

As the company neared the Salt Lake Valley, Maria led one of the cows along the road ahead of the wagon. When she reached a point where she could view the valley, she said she felt much the same way Brigham Young had when he had uttered those memorable words, "This is the place." Maria was happy and contented, yet very tired now that she and her family had reached their destination. The cow she was leading must have felt the same way, for it lay down at her feet and went to sleep.

The following weeks and months were busy, yet happy ones for Maria. There was much to be done in the preparations for the coming winter. Since they had arrived in September, 1857, there was little time to do the necessary work before winter.

Maria's daughter, Kezia, married John Charles Hall in the Endowment House on September 17, 1857, just five days after their arrival in the Salt Lake Valley. She was happy to know her daughters were married to a fine young man such as John.

The family built Maria a small log cabin on 7th East between South Temple and First South streets. Here she lived quite comfortably with her girls who were yet unmarried. She was supremely happy to be in Zion, however, her life was a strenuous life, for not only did she have to battle with the untoward conditions common to all on the frontiers, but also, added to these hardships, she was without companion to join her in her sadnesses and joys and she was still largely left to herself to continue the rearing of her children.

Much of the life of this good woman was devoted to practical things. She was a good and faithful woman. She was full of vitality and energy and always kept herself busy in her home or in helping others.

As time went by, Maria found herself more and more alone as her daughters married and moved into their own homes. Maria's oldest daughter, Selina, returned from Southern Utah to Salt Lake city, and gave added comfort and companionship to her. During the last years of her life, Maria lived with Selina. It was at the home of her daughter, Selina, that Maria died on April 2, 1876. She was mourned by fine sons and daughters and many descendants who were proud of a pioneer mother who had been faithful even unto the end.

The following words spoken by Dr. Charles W. Eliot, president of Harvard University in 1892 from the speakers platform in the great Salt Lake Tabernacle in which he paid an eloquent and well-deserved tribute to pioneer women, are so befitting of Maria Brooks DeGrey. Among other things, he said: "Did it ever occur to you what is the most heroic part of founding a colony of people which moves into a wilderness to established a civilized community? You think, perhaps it is the soldier, the armed men, or the laboring man. Not so; it is the women who are the most heroic part of any new colony. Their labors are less because their strength is less. Their anxieties are greater; the risks they run are heavier. We read that story in the history of the Pilgrims and Puritan colonies of Massachusetts. The women died faster than the men; they suffered more. Perhaps their reward was greater, too. They bore children to the colony. Let us bear in our hearts veneration for the women of any Christian folk going out in the wilderness to plant a new community."

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