BURT, Ann Howells

This article originally appeared in the Jan/Feb 2010 issue of Pioneer Magazine.

by Sophy Valentine

One day Ann Howells was sitting with her mama sewing.  There came to their house some strange men from America. One of them was the apostle John Taylor. Ann wondered considerably at these men, for they were not like the ordinary businessmen who used to come and visit her father, and of whom she took little notice. These men talked about God, about a new prophet like those that used to live in olden days, that Ann had often read and heard about. And they spoke about the gospel of peace, which had again been brought to earth. Mr. and Mrs. William Howells listened and their hearts were touched.

Persecutions began at once, and the once happy, peaceful home was now no longer the same. Ann Howells was no longer the well-to-do merchant’s daughter; she was only a “Mormon” girl, one of those despised, misled and foolish people, at whom all the world was pointing the finger of scorn.

Ann was baptized when she was twelve years old, and soon after her father was called to go on a mission to France. William Howells was the first Mormon missionary to go to that country. After opening the mission there, he returned to visit his family in Aberdare, Wales. He decided to take his little daughter Ann back to France with him, as she was apt, and he thought after learning the French language, she might be a great help to him and might soften the anger of the persecuting mobs.

Before she left, little Ann was requested to go on the stand one Sunday at meeting and sing “Home, Sweet Home.” Brother Taylor was so delighted with her singing that he had the song printed on pink silk and gave it to her as a keepsake.

Life, for a Mormon girl, young as she was, among strangers, in a strange city, was not all pleasure. Mormons were of course persecuted there as they had been in their homeland, and the language was quite an obstacle to be surmounted; however, Ann soon learned to speak French fairly well.

Ann helped distribute tracts from house to house. After three days or more, they would generally call for the tracts and if the people had read them, Ann would give them some more and invite them to their meetings. Many times the little girl was driven away with threats and she had to run as fast as she could to escape trouble.

They were located at a place called St. Mallow. It was among the poor, where the Saints have generally had to locate. The feeling of opposition was strong against them and at one time had it not been for the intervention of friends, Elder Howells would have been thrown into a pond of water.

Elder Howells decided that it was best to leave the place and they immediately embarked for St. Servin to begin work there. At their arrival, it being late in the day, they were unable to find lodgings and were obliged to spend the night in the suburbs of the city, outdoors and without shelter. After finding lodgings and beginning work again, Elder Howells and his daughter soon found that persecution followed them wherever they went, and it was not long until mob violence forced them out in[to] the grove where they had spent their first night at St. Servin. The mob followed them, however, but Elder Howells succeeded in eluding them until towards morning, when he left his little daughter in the grove while he went into the city to ascertain how matters stood at their lodgings. He told Ann to stay where she was and he would soon return with some breakfast. But soon after his departure some of the mob returned and finding the girl alone took her with them. Ann had no idea what they were going to do with her and was of course badly frightened.

Near the entrance to the grove, they met a kindly disposed woman, who succeeded in inducing the mob to let her take the little girl in her charge. The men were probably not sorry to get rid of the child, since she would not and could not tell anything about her father, and he was the one they wanted.

The kind lady, who lived near the entrance to the grove, took Ann to her home and gave her something to eat, for the child was nearly famished and worn out with fatigue and excitement. Ann kept a sharp look out from the window for her father, and when she saw the bottle green penwiper coat, the tall hat and her kind father’s anxious face beneath it, she ran as fast as she could to get to him. She overtook him as he reached the place where he had left her and where he stood much distressed at not finding her. Their joy at finding each other was great, and they thankfully returned to their lodgings. Meanwhile Sister Howells, who was an energetic woman, staunch in the faith and anxious to do all she could for the gospel’s sake, had been left to manage and carry on the business at home in Wales. But she soon found to her sorrow that with embracing the truth their financial interests suffered. The business went down fast, for their patrons had turned against them and very few now came to buy from them, so that Sister Howells now had very little else than the allowance from her father, which she had received ever since she was married. But her father, being angry with her for the disgrace, as he termed it, she had brought on him by joining the despised Mormons, now also threatened to withdraw this much-needed money, unless she would promise to withdraw from the objectionable people. Her father was also much displeased with Sister Howells because she was contributing largely of her means to help the cause along in France.

One day Sister Howell’s brother came as a messenger from their father to persuade his sister to leave the Mormon church. Furthermore [her father] sent word that if she did not comply with his wishes she would be disinherited and her allowance cut off. She told her brother that she was unable to comply with her father’s wishes. Finding that all his pleadings were vain, her brother returned to their father with this message, and when the old gentleman heard it he became so enraged he swore that she would be cut off without a penny. Her brother pled for her to no purpose.

About midnight not long after she was awakened by a loud ringing of the doorbell and springing up in alarm she ran to the door and there found her brother once more. He was in great haste and told her to hurry, put something on, as he had a carriage waiting to take her back to their father who was dying, and he wanted to see her before his death. How anxious was the daughter to see her father once more and say a few words of comfort to him before they should part for all time! But when they arrived at her father’s house he had gone beyond the pale of understanding the things of this world and died soon after.

Sister Howells then was left in possession of her monthly allowance and also received her share of interest from a coal mine in which her father had been a part owner. She was also able to help carry on the missionary work in France.

When Ann Howells had been in France a year and a half she returned with her father to good old Aberdare. About the year 1850 Brother Howells was advised by the brethren to emigrate; so, accordingly, he sold out, and with his family started for the new Zion, the land of promise to those who love God.

The work of the Lord went on, also, during the journey. There were no less than fifty added to the Church during the fifty days sojourn on board ship. Twenty-one were baptized in the open sea on a platform let down into the water from the ship’s side.

Brother Howells and his family took up their abode at Council Bluffs, where he started a store for the purpose of maintaining his family till the next year, when they intended to continue their travels to Salt Lake. But God had decreed it otherwise. Brother Howells died at Kanesville that same fall.

In 1852 Sister Howells prepared to begin the journey westward. Brother Howells had brought with him quite a collection of books, which he had intended to add to a proposed public library in Salt Lake City. But to obtain means Sister Howells was obliged to sell them at a sacrifice. So the journey began by ox team.

It was a happy day, when they arrived in the valley. Salt Lake City wasn’t much of a place in 1852, but the weary travelers thought it a heavenly rest, for they were free from the persecutions they had been subject to in their old home.

After a year and a half of struggling Sister Howells removed to Brigham City with her family, thinking she could do better there. Two years later Ann was married.

Ann married Ricy Jones July 1, 1854. Their first child, Ricy Howell Jones, was born May 6, 1856. William H. Jones was born October 7, 1858, in Brigham City, Utah. The family suffered in extreme poverty.

“October, 1854. My husband has gone to California to get some work if possible, as we are quite destitute. He wanted me to accompany him, but I could not think of it. It may be better there in a way; but we have come here for the Gospel’s sake, and here I intend to stay and weather it out with the rest of the Saints” (Biography, 20).

Shortly after Ann’s husband Ricy returned (1856), he bought a farm in “Stringtown” north of Brigham, and they took up the battle of life in a dugout while he was building a Rock House some few miles from where Ann’s mother lived. Their first four children were born there, and life went on with many trials and tribulations:

May, ’63 We are living in a dugout up here on the North Spring. The neighbors call it the Castle of Spiders and it is well named, for I never saw so many reptiles and bugs of all kinds” (Biography, 24).

When William was nine years old, Ann divorced Ricy and later married John Davidson Burt, August 9, 1875.

Leaves from Ann’s journal:

July, 1883. Both my eldest sons and my husband are on missions. It is a great joy to know and to feel that they are doing something for the great cause; and that God has blessed us with means so that we are able to help roll the work along.

December, 1884. A great sorrow came to me some months ago. My next eldest son William Howell Jones, who was laboring in the Southern States mission, came near losing his life in terrible mob violence in Tennessee,
where he was working together with Elders Berry and Gibbs, who lost their lives for Christ’s sake.

We received a telegram from Tennessee that three “Mormon” missionaries had been murdered, and my son was one of them. When this terrible news reached me I, being already in a weakened condition after a paralytic stroke, collapsed. I took to my bed and grieved my heart out, almost, the whole day; but toward evening I grew calmer and I reasoned with myself that my son was a martyr for the Gospel’s sake, and instead of being cast down should I not rejoice that he died doing his duty? And the words of the old hymn came to my mind, “Why should we mourn and think our lot is hard, ’Tis not so, all is well.” I immediately arose, feeling comforted. My first thought was of my family, who had had nothing to eat all day on account of this great shock. So I went into the garden to get some potatoes, and while there, my husband came shouting and waving his handkerchief. I knew then that some good news concerning my boy had come, which proved true.

He was unhurt, but was coming home with the bodies of the other two brethren. But oh ! while my soul was rejoicing, the hearts of others were breaking in sorrow.

Sandwich Islands Mission, 1891

Brother Lorenzo Snow came to my house this afternoon. He was the president of the stake and one of the twelve apostles. He was quite jolly and he said, “Sister Ann, I have a mission for you to perform. I want you to go to the Sandwich Islands for five years.” For you must know that my husband had been there for several years already on a mission. He had to stay to escape persecution for polygamy. Now, he had been writing me for some time to go there, but I had lost my daughter some time before that and she had left two children for me to raise, one two years old and one nine months old. Shortly after this my son buried his wife who left a child nine months old, so you see with my family I had another young family to raise. Of course when my husband wrote for me to go there I asked the grandmothers of the children if they would take the children, but they both refused. So I told Brother Snow that I thought it was my duty to take care of these children and he told me he would counsel with President Woodruff to see if I could take them with me

Finally, a short time after that I got word I was to go and I could take the children with me. There were eleven missionaries went the same time I did, and the president was Captain Brown from Ogden. We all stayed in the same hotel in San Francisco. I wanted to take a walk and look around San Francisco and take the three children with me. I took the precaution to provide myself, on a card, with the name of this hotel. We roamed around looking at the sights until it was nearly dusk, thinking sure I was safe, but coming back I lost my way. I met a fine dressed man and I inquired of him if he could show me where this hotel was, which was a very unwise thing in me to do. He told me “Certainly, madam,” and he took hold of the youngest child’s hand to take us on the street car, saying it was about nine blocks from there. “I will take you to the very place,” said he.

My suspicions were aroused at once. I told him, “I think not. The hotel is somewhere around here,” and taking the children, I left him and went into a millinery shop to inquire the way. They told me that the hotel was the very next door. When I reached my destination I was very thankful to be safe in the hotel and felt that I had had a narrow escape.

Two days later we set sail for Honolulu on the steamship “Monohowohe.” I was sick from the time I got aboard. The smell of the vessel made me deathly sick and I couldn’t eat a thing. On the third day we had a terrible storm. Oh, it was a fright, and they had to pump water from the ship all night long. The boiler burst and finally they thought sure we were going under, so they brought the life-belts around and put them on our pillows. I began to think that I had brought these three children with me and that if the ship were to sink then the children would be lost and that worried me terribly. So I thought, “I know that I shall not be lost because I had a blessing before I left that I should return home safe.” So I got the children up from their beds and tried to tie us all together in my life belt so we could not get separated, but it could not be done. I became desperate and I thought I would go to the eleven missionaries. I left the children in bed and went, ankle-deep in water, to find the missionaries. But the lunging of the vessel made it very difficult and I was tossed from one side to another. Finally I reached my destination and I asked the brethren if they would come and take charge of the children for me as I was afraid we were going to sink. I told them I thought that if the children were with them they would be safer than if with me. They said yes, that they would go and get the children. All of a sudden the ship gave such a lurch we thought sure we were going down. The water came all over the ship with a heavy sea, just like a mountain. Then I got brave; all of a sudden I got strength, and I said to the eleven missionaries, “Brethren, where is your faith? Get up and command this storm to cease.” And said they, “Well, we are praying all night long, Sister Burt,” and they came with me then to get the children to take into their berths. But the second mate came and said that was not allowed, that the children would have to go back to their own berths that were assigned them. After we got into bed I heard one of the sailors holler out to another sailor: “By Jove, boys, we are safe! There are eleven or twelve Mormon missionaries on this ship and I have heard it reported that there never was a ship lost with Mormon missionaries on, so I think we are safe.” Oh, how my heart bounded with joy to think that a man of the world should say this of us.

In a short time the storm subsided, and we reached our destination safe. The ship had to stay in Honolulu for repairs on account of the havoc of the storm.

When we go to Honolulu it was a happy meeting as my husband was there to meet me and he took us to the Mission house where the natives were already there with their banjos to serenade us. I was pale and delicate looking on account of the hardships I had had, and, says the president of the Mission, Brother Pack his name was, said he to my husband: “Your wife will never be able to take her part in this mission.” Now,there were seven of us lady missionaries there and we each were supposed to cook for twenty menfolks in our turns. But in two weeks from then I was up at five o’clock in the morning, ready to take my part with the native girls. I did all the cooking and they did the dishwashing and other work. I got along equally as well as the other sisters for a year and a half.

While there I used to teach a Sunday School class of boys and girls, and how eager those boys and girls were to learn. I had taken with me a book, the story of the Bible, and I would read and explain to them from that, and they were so anxious to hear, that sometimes when they did not see the book they would come up to me and say excitedly: “You forget you book Anni?” And when I would hold it up and show them they seemed greatly pleased. We taught them in English.

While on the Islands I had the honor and pleasure of meeting and explaining the Gospel to the Queen Lili`uokalani. She sent word one day to the president of our mission, that she was coming to visit her subjects at Laie, and that she would stop over a day with us. Well, the sisters (there were seven of us), got busy immediately to prepare dinner for her and her attendants. There were sixty of them when they came. We had arranged the tables in the big meeting room and it was quite a grand affair.

The queen, a dark, lady-like woman, was splendidly dressed. She conversed well in English and was very pleased. Her appearance was refined and she spoke in low tones. I had the honor of entertaining her while the other sisters, got the dinner ready and on the table.

We spoke about the Book of Mormon and the ancestors of her people and she was much pleased to have me tell of the Book of Mormon incidents. She expressed a great desire to possess that book and I afterwards bought the best copy of the Book of Mormon that I could procure there and presented her with it, for which she seemed much pleased.

She told me that she did not doubt that what she had heard was true, but it would be impossible for her to embrace it, as she feared that that would cost her her throne. Poor thing, how uncertain are the things of this world! Her throne she may lose anyway; how much better to possess the favor of the Lord. But I shall always remember her with pleasure.

Then I was taken very poorly and lost my health. I think I worked too hard while I was there. At the end of two years, the president of the mission counseled my husband to let me go home, that the change would do me good and that I had better go home. It was with a feeling of sadness that I left many dear friends in the Hawaiian country.

The morning before we left, my husband called me and the children into a room and told me he was going to give me a blessing before I left for home. Now he laid his hands on my head and told me that I should not be sick one minute from the time I left there until I arrived safe in Utah, and that the waves of the sea should be calm for my sake. Now, in my mind I doubted this blessing for I had already crossed the sea four times and was deathly sick every time I went near the ship. But, lo and behold, I got on the ship and I was not sick one minute from the time I left the islands until I arrived in Utah.

One day the children were sitting on the deck, and they heard some people, who had traveled between Honolulu and San Francisco for twenty years, say that they had never seen the sea so calm and beautiful as it was on that voyage. The children came down and told me, “Ma, do you remember the blessing that Brother Burt gave you? Don’t you think it has been literally fulfilled?” I told them, “Yes, indeed. I think so, too.”

I went home and reported myself to Brother Snow and he thought we ought to send one of the other women out there to stay with Brother Burt and asked me which I thought was the best one to send. I told him I thought that Aunt Lizzie was the best because she was the youngest and could stand the journey the best, so he asked me if I would go down there in the buggy and bring her up so that he could have a talk with her. I did so and he gave her a three-years’ mission so that the mission was filled with both of us.

Some time after that, a year or two after, I went down to conference and Brother Captain Brown, the man that was president over the eleven missionaries, came to me on the train and said, “Aren’t you the little woman who traveled to Honolulu with us?” And he said he could never forget how I came to them that night and told the brethren that they should get up in faith and command the storm to cease. I told him I was the one and we had quite a laugh over it.

Excerpts from Sophy Valentine, Biography of Ann Howell Burt (Brigham City, Utah [N.p.]); courtesy The Bancroft Library, Univ. of California, Berkeley.

Note: In some sources the family is referred to as Howell and in others sources as Howells.

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