Editor's note: This week Mormon Times shares stories from staffers' and contributors' family history — whether one from an ancestor or their search to fill out their family tree — that educate, entertain, inspire or uplift.
When John Toone, my third great-grandfather, set sail for America with his young family in the winter of 1851, he likely had no clue as to the adventures awaiting him, or that more than 160 years later, one of his numerous descendants would be sharing parts of his life in a newspaper article.
For me, John's colorful story is a source of inspiration.
John was born in Birmingham, England, in 1813. He received an education in music, law, carpentry and medicine. He married Emma Prosser in a town called Leamington in 1836.
His love of music secured him a position in the Queen of England’s band, according to family records. When her majesty learned that John and his family had joined a new religion — The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — she wished him well and said if he ever returned, he could play in the band.
John was the only member of his large family to join the church. He and Emma were baptized in 1849 and arrived in America in March 1851. Their youngest daughter, Ann, only a few months old, died during the voyage and was buried at sea.
The family was part of Capt. Thomas Howell’s pioneer company and they reached the Salt Lake Valley in September 1852. Journal accounts reveal that John played his cello in the evenings during the trek. John once used his musical talents to appease a group of Indians that confronted the company in war paint. John later played his cello with the first orchestra of the Salt Lake Theater and performed with several bands and groups. His cello was preserved after his death, refurbished and still played by his descendants today.
John was called on a mission to England in 1854. Among his travels, he shared the gospel with his family, but they respectfully declined to join the church.
John’s missionary journal concludes in May 1856 as he prepared to return home, but records indicate he joined the Martin Handcart Company, a group of converts aboard the ship “Horizon.” John is listed as clerk to one of the groups on board. He is also mentioned in the journal of at least one other member of the company. Descendants like Liz Thomas believe John kept a journal of his experiences with the ill-fated Martin Company, but no record has been found.
“Some think it may have been destroyed in the painful aftermath of the trek,” Thomas said. “But others like me continue to hope it is out there somewhere.”
While on his mission, John met an English schoolteacher named Hannah Wardle. He helped her cross the plains and married her in 1857. Hannah died a year later while delivering twins, both of whom died in the delivery.
Another British convert, Jemima Cook, had joined the church against her family’s wishes and traveled with the Martin Company. When the company reached Devil’s Gate, Wyo., John carried Jemima across the frigid river full of floating ice chunks. He also helped push her handcart. He married her in 1857.
Thomas recently discovered that John served a second mission in 1869 and remains hopeful there is another journal somewhere containing an account of those experiences.
In 1873, John was called to settle in Morgan County. In Croydon, John was the schoolmaster, the music teacher, the doctor and lawyer for the town for many years. He was also a correspondent for the Deseret News and served in various church callings.
John Toone died Aug. 31, 1893, at the age of 80. His obituary reads, “He died a firm believer in the gospel.”
Almost 120 years later, I am proud to be his great-great-great-grandson.
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