JACOBSEN, Christian Jensen: Frontier Craftsman

Christian Jensen Jacobsen (1826-1898)

The typical pioneer is often thought of as being able bodied and part of a family that pulled together to develop a farm on the frontier. Numerous pioneers, nonetheless, didn’t fit into this mold. Some were handicapped and had to find non-agricultural occupations, including becoming craftsman. Others were not part of a family or were the victims of families that fractured due to divorce or religious disagreements. Christian Jensen Jacobsen is representative of a frontier craftsman who was handicapped and also suffered various marital adventures.

He was born on April 30, 1826 at a place called Grønholt in northern Jutland, . His father was Jens Jakobsen and his mother was Johanne Andersen. Through some combination of bad luck and poor management Jens lost most of the property he inherited and, as a result, bequeathed mostly good wishes to his eight children. Despite his family’s poverty, Christian received a primary education due to an 1814 law making schooling compulsory in Denmark for all children between the ages of 7 and 14. At a young age he began working on the bottom rung of the economic ladder as a common laborer doing construction on a large estate called Haven. A few years later he met his future wife there, Kirsten Anderson, a maid on the estate who was five years his senior. Only a few months after meeting they were married in late 1847.

Like many poor people, Christian and his wife never owned property in Denmark. They were near serfs on the small plots of land they tilled. Laborers such as Christian typically “rented” a parcel of land, sometimes with a house on it, from a nearby land owner. The rent was paid by providing “free” labor to the landlord, and in Christian’s case, helping to building dwellings on the lot. Typically the parcel was large enough for the family to do some farming on their own account. The Jensen family’s initial home was on a small farm called Damgren. Several years later Christian completed a new dwelling on a nearby parcel of land called East Damgren, with the owner of the Vestergard farm providing the building materials. A few years later he built still another dwelling on leased land owned by the Galtrup Estate in Torslev Parish and moved his family there.

Christian was drawn into the Schleswig-Holstein Rebellion (1848-1850), an element of what was called the European Revolution of 1848. At the time, the southern part of Denmark was comprised of three duchies with mostly German speaking inhabitants. Supported by the Prussians, these duchies sought to escape the rule of the Danish King. The first major battle of the war occurred in May through July 1849 around the fortified Danish city of Fredericia. After a bitter battle the Danes prevailed, but a substantial part of the town and its fortifications were damaged in the doing. The pivotal battle of the war took place a year later near the village of Isted (now in Schleswig-Holstein, Germany) where the Danes soundly defeated the Holstein army.

Most able bodied Danish men were called to military service during the war. In Christian’s case, at age 24, he was also called to serve. In early August 1850 he trudged south 150 miles from his home to Fredericia where he helped for three months to rebuild the town’s fortifications. He returned home a couple of days before Christmas to find his wife had recently birthed their second son, Andres (Andrew). Their first son, Jens was born on January 21, 1849.

Before, and immediately after the war, Christian earned a living as a laborer on a farm called Vestergaard, part of the village of Trye. While unloading hay in July 1851 he incurred a serious injury that altered his life. He jumped off a wagon and severely dislocated/sprained an ankle, an injury that never healed properly. (Sixteen years later he had the foot amputee in Salt Lake City). The injury meant he could no longer earn a living as a laborer and, instead, had to develop a career that could be done by someone who was handicapped. His youthful interests in mechanical objects led him to become a self-taught repairer of clocks, a vocation he pursued the rest of his life

Another life altering experience occurred in 1854 when L.D.S. missionaries introduced the Jensens to a new religion. After a short investigation Christen and Kirsten were baptized on a cold day in December and became the first members of the church in their local area. Soon after, Christian was called to be a local missionary and also to preside over two branches of the church. In the fall of 1857 he was assigned to open a mission on LæsØ, an island located midway between Jutland and Sweden. As a missionary he received frosty receptions but soon encountered some inhabitants in need of his clock repairing skills. This led him to adjust his strategy and avoid the topic of religion until he had the family’s clock dismantled. Once the family knew him as a clock repairman, they were more prone to discuss religion with him. Using this strategy, and after visiting the island several times, Christian baptized a dozen or so members and organized the Byrum Branch there.

Between scratching out a living and doing church work, Christian and Kristen set their sights on saving money to finance a move to America. The seeds for the move were planted by L.D.S. missionaries, especially Christian Hansen who baptized the couple. Joining with people of the same faith, having the opportunity to own property, and accessing better economic opportunities for their three boys were major factors in their desires to migrate to Zion. The Second Schleswag War (1864) that resulted in the three German-speaking duchies in southern Denmark being annexed by Prussia and Austria added to the Jensen’s desire to find less troubled surroundings.

Even with help from the L.D.S. Perpetual Immigration Fund the family needed several hundred dollars more to finance their share of the trip. Son Andrew mentioned that the fare, alone, at the time from Copenhagen to Wyoming, Nebraska was $42 for each person. Typically, the PAF lent only enough to cover the costs of transporting the immigrants by wagon teams from Wyoming, Nebraska to the Utah Territory. In his Autobiography, son Andrew reported repaying his debt to the PAF in early 1870 in the amount of $60 principal and $17 interest. Assuming the other three members of the family who migrated to Utah in 1866 incurred the same amount of debt, the family of four originally borrowed about $240 from the PAF. Saving a similar amount to cover their other costs must have looked nearly impossible. The eldest son, Jens, worked on a nearby farm and made barely enough for his own upkeep, and Christian’s income from being an itinerant clock repairman was modest and sporadic. Perhaps the family earned minor amounts from the sale of products from their small farm, but that didn’t amount to much each year.

To boost his income, Christian opened a small clock repair shop in the nearby city of Sæby where he lived alone for a year. In May 1865 he moved his wife and youngest son, Joseph, to Sæby and intensified his effort to save money for the trip to Utah. Meanwhile, middle son Andrew, although barely 15 years old, became an itinerant salesman, going door-to-door selling tin ware and German lithographs. Within a year Christian and Andrew scraped together enough to finance the trip to America for four members of the family. Eldest son Jens agreed to stay behind, save for his trip to Zion, and await some assistance from those who sailed first.

In May 1866 the Jensens made their way to Hamburg Germany and crowded aboard the sailing vessel Kenilworth with nearly 700 other immigrants. They didn’t recognize it at the time, but they were part of a torrent of more than 20 thousand Scandinavian converts who abandoned their homelands during the 19th Century in search of a better life in Zion. As they travelled west, the Jensens’ experiences duplicated those of tens of thousands of other pioneers. They endured sea sickness, mourned the death of companions, celebrated births and marriages, and thrilled when they first saw the green shores of Long Island. They were herded through Castle Gardens (Ellis Island), boarded a steamship, transferred to various trains, boarded another steamship on the Missouri River, and final arrived at Wyoming, Nebraska at the end of July. About a week later they joined a wagon train led by Andrew W. Scott that arrived in Salt Lake Valley on October 7th.

Three aspects of the Jensens’ trip merit highlighting. The first is that they were lucky to have been assigned to the ship Kenilworth, rather than to one of the other two vessels – the Cavour– that left with L.D.S. converts from Hamburg at the same time. Cholera killed hundreds of thousands of Europeans in 1866 and the lethal bacteria infested many of the waterways there, including the Elba River that passed through Hamburg. The disease crept on board the Cavour and later felled dozens of ill fated pioneers on their way west. Had the Jensens, by the luck of the draw, been chosen to travel on the Cavour they likely would have lost family members. They likewise could have been exposed to the disease if a bucket of their drinking water, dipped out of the polluted Elba River, had been contaminated by Cholera.

An interesting question about the Jensens’ trip was how Christian made it on crutches. Encumbered by a bad leg, he could not help much when the family wrestled with about 400 pounds of family luggage at each transit point. His handicap must have especially worried the family when they reached the end of modern transportation modes in Wyoming, Nebraska. From there, able bodied individuals were expected to walk for the nine to ten weeks it took to reach Utah. It must have gnawed at an, otherwise, able body man like Christian to ride most of the way, while others walked.

Another noteworthy aspect of their journey was the time involved. In 1866 the trip consumed the better part of 5 months. Just three years later, when Christian’s oldest son Jens made the same trip he completed the journey in only 5 or 6 weeks, showing the dramatic impact of steamships and an intercontinental railroad on shrinking the world. Jens paid about $75 for his transport, while members of the rest of his family paid more for their earlier and slower passage.

The Jensens tarried in Salt Lake for a couple of weeks, during which time son Andrew earned a small amount working and improving his English. The family joined the next wagon train headed south, led by Abner Lowrey, that came to be known by historians as the Cholera Company. Two days later the Jensens over-nighted at a campsite just west of Pleasant Grove, met some Danish friends there, and Christian decided to leave his family with them while he arranged for housing in Ephraim. The family joined Christian in December and spent the winter in Sanpete County in a rented home, but conflicts with Indians and Christian’s worsening leg problems led them to return to Pleasant Grove. While their father was having his foot removed in Salt Lake City, the rest of the family laid the foundation for a small adobe 12 x 18 foot home that Christian helped to complete, hopping around on one leg, as his amputation healed. Humble though it was, the family moved into their new dwelling, the first property owned by Christian, in late November 1867.

Grandfather clock built by Christian Jensen Jacobsen

Although he had property in Pleasant Grove, Christian was still drawn to Ephraim as a place to live. In late 1868 he moved to Ephraim, built a small home near the center of town, and moved his family there early the next year. Kirsten, however, wasn’t happy in Ephraim and soon returned to her humble home in Pleasant Grove. Over the next couple of years Kirsten spent short periods of time in Ephraim, Christian shuttled between Pleasant Grove and Ephraim, and their oldest son, Jens, finally assembled enough money to pay for his journey to Utah in mid-1869. During all this, it became apparent to Jens and Andrew that their parents’ marriage was fraying. On at least two occasions the pair walked from Pleasant Grove to Ephraim to mediate the conflict between their parents. Perhaps to assuage his conscience, Christian returned to Pleasant Grove for a time in 1870 and helped the boys complete a larger adobe home for Kirsten.

The reasons for their parent’s difficulties were never fully described by any of their sons. An abbreviated courtship, the differences in their ages, the stresses and strains of moving to a new country, or simply personality differences may have contributed to the rift. Whatever the reason, Christian proceeded to get on with his life mostly in Ephraim. Around the time white settlers were driving out of Sevier County by the Indians, he acquired several pieces of property in Richfield that he traded to his son Andrew in 1872. For a time Andrew planned to move to Richfield but didn’t. His brother Jens lived in Richfield for several years but moved back to Pleasant Grove in 1876. The trading of the property in Richfield to Andrew signaled Christian’s decision to make his home in Ephraim. He reinforced this choice by marrying Jensine (Sena) Madsen on July 29, 1872. She was a Danish divorcee who had two children from a previous union. On December 25, 1872 a Manti judge granted Christian a divorce from Kirsten.

His marital adventures didn’t end there. In a curious twist, he remarried Kirsten in 1875, most likely to re-fulfill spiritual obligations rather than for any earthly purpose. Four or five years later he divorced Jensine and soon after moved to Richfield where he established a clock repair business. A year later his youngest son, Joseph, also moved to Richfield and began to work with his father in a small jewelry and watch shop on Main Street. In addition to repairing and building clocks, the pair also constructed spinning wheels. In still more matrimonial excursions, on October 5, 1881 Christian married Johanne Marie Petersen and was also sealed to Hanne (or Hanna) Brinkhuset.

Christian’s forays into polygamy contributed to a religious schism in the family. Sons Jens and Joseph left the L.D.S. Church and joined the Josephites who opposed polygamy. Years later, Joseph would rejoin the L.D.S. Church, but Jens remained a staunch supporter of the R.L.D.S. Church until his death. At the same time, son Andrew spent most of his adult laboring for the L.D.S. Church.

For nearly two decades Christian and Johanne lived a quiet life in Richfield. In addition to his small business with son Joseph, Christian spent most of his spare time doing temple and genealogical work. With little fanfare, he also financially assisted about a dozen poor friends and relatives to migrate to Utah from Denmark. He was remembered for being a good and honest man after he passed away on August 12, 1898.

While living in Ephraim, Christian built a modest grandfather clock. Much later, toward the end of his life, he built a much more complex clock that was about eight feet tall. A unique feature of the clock was a string that, when pulled, would repeat the chime of the last hour, thus allowing the owner to tell the time in the dark. The clock was completed by Joseph after his father died, and was exhibited at the Utah State Fair in 1899 where it received a prize for its originality, a belated tribute to a frontier craftsman.

Wife Johanne joined Christian in death on July 12, 1908 and wife Kirsten followed on December 16, 1917. Eldest son Jens would spend most of his life as a farmer in Pleasant Grove, while youngest son Joseph would continue as the proprietor of a small business in Richfield. Middle son, Andrew, left a larger mark on history as Assistant L.D.S. Church History and collector of a trove of material on the history of the L.D.S. Church.

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