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Abigail 'Nabby' Howe Young: In the words and life of my mother

Published: Tuesday, June 28 2011 5:30 a.m. MDT

On June 11, 1815, Nabby Howe Young died of consumption, the disease which had been torturing her flesh and her spirit for many years. Ten days before, her ninth child and fourth son, Brigham, observed his 14th birthday.

Abigail "Nabby" Howe was one of five sisters, all pretty, vivacious girls, all possessing sweet, kindly personalities and musical talent, and who often performed duets of the simple folk songs enjoyed so much in that day. According to the description left by Brigham’s daughter, Susa, Abigail "Nabby" Howe “had blue eyes, with yellowish brown hair, folded in natural waves and ringlets across her shapely brow.”

Nabby married John Young when she was only 19 years old — on All-Hallows Eve, Oct. 31, 1785. He was a handsome, promising Revolutionary soldier, and times were hopeful, with the colonies having just won their independence, land available for farming and the commercial center of Boston nearby. Nabby entered marriage with a devout religious nature and a delightful sense of humor, which balance helped her to endure the many trials of her shortened life.

By 1799, John and Nabby had lived in Hopkinton for more than 10 years, and now had eight children to feed, clothe and raise. Why did John Young pick up and leave in the middle of the winter of 1800-1801, taking his pregnant wife and his children through the bitter New England weather to settle in Whitingham, Vt.?

Here, as summer greened and the weather softened, Brigham was born on the first day of June 1801. Because of Nabby’s physical weakness, the daughters took the little one under their wing, and Fanny, not quite 14, carried him around on her hip while she did her household chores.

Life was harsh, but there was love and unity in the Young home. Brigham learned to cooperate, he learned to obey his strict Methodist father: “It was a word and a blow with my father, but the blow came first,” he later expressed. But, it was remarkable that Nabby quietly went forward being herself, realizing the importance of her influence in the home. As Susa said, “Her sympathies were so broad, her vision so clear, her grasp of human values so perfect that friends would come for her when their children were married and take her in wagon or sleigh to spend a few days in counsel and assistance to young couples who were starting out life.”

After only three years in Whitingham, John moved his family to Sherburne, N.Y., again, with high hopes and hard labor, clearing land for a farm. Here, 14-year-old Nabby, a daughter who was named for her mother, died of consumption.

In this household Brigham learned the beauty of suffering with faith, dignity and even humor. He learned the power of example. He learned the importance of godliness. His brother, Lorenzo, described their mother in the following vivid words:

"She was a praying, fervent woman. She frequently called me to her bedside and counseled me to be a good man that the Lord might bless my life. On one occasion she told me that if I would not neglect to pray to my Heavenly Father, he would send a guardian angel to protect me in the dangers to which I might be exposed."

Nabby softened her husband’s strict ways, and from her Brigham learned how to be a tender, nurturing parent, as the shape of his character began to be formed. His daughter, Susa, wrote: “The Lion House was the loved home of as healthy and happy a family . . . as ever dwelt beneath a roof. Of this I speak with knowledge in this intimate revelation of Brigham Young’s home life, for I was the first child born under its unique roof. ... In all my life in that beloved home I never heard my father speak an unkind or irritable word to one of his wives."

Brigham, following the teachings of the Prophet Joseph, instructed men that women should be treated with deference and respect. “The man who treats a woman disrespectfully,” he taught, “does not know that his mother and sisters were women.”

Brigham held women in the highest, most tender regard and labored to promote their well-being and secure opportunities for them. He believed in women and their God-given capacity to lift, support and inspire men. He paid a reverent tribute to his mother:

"Of my mother — she that bore me — I can say, no better woman ever lived in the world than she was ... my mother taught her children all the time to honor the name of the Father and the Son, and to reverence the Holy Book. She said, 'Read it, observe its precepts and apply them to your lives as far as you can. Do everything that is good; do nothing that is evil; and if you see any persons in distress, administer to their wants; never suffer anger to arise in your bosoms, for if you do, you may be over-come by evil.'"

These were the great truths Brigham lived by, picking up the threads of his mother’s sacred faith and weaving them into his life — acting “the part of a father to all,” and bringing the children of Israel safely home to the valleys of Deseret.

It is the light of the mother that shines in the souls of her children. All of Abigail’s family joined the LDS Church, and lived lives of faithful, devoted service, blessing others, as their mother had taught them to do.

This, of course, was the consummate tribute to a woman who took what little life gave her without complaint — magnifying her gifts, magnifying the truth she cherished — raising up a son to become a Prophet of God.

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