How Scottish Converts Impacted the Utah Territory

This article originally appeared in Vol.65, No.4 (2018) of Pioneer Magazine.

by Charles E. Maw, Professor of Chemistry, Emeritus, Brigham Young University

After centuries of conflict, the kingdoms of Scotland and England were politically combined in 1707 as the of Great Britain (UK). This was a propitious alliance for both nations, coming as it did on the eve of enormous cultural and economic changes in the United Kingdom and the world. During the next one hundred fifty years, the Enlightenment and the ensuing Romantic Era would shape western culture and governments, the Industrial Revolution would utterly transform manufacturing and production, and the vital modernist field of economics would be established.

Many Scots played central roles in these historical dramas, including Adam Smith, the father of economics; David Hume, the noted empiricist philosopher; James Watt, inventor of the steam engine; Robert Burns, the tenant farmer who pioneered Romantic poetry; James Clerk Maxwell, the researcher in electricity and kinetics who laid the foundations of quantum physics; Sir Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson, world-renowned nineteenth-century novelists; and Elsie Inglis, pioneering gynecologist and founder of the Scottish Women’s Hospitals. First-generation American immigrants Alexander Graham Bell and Andrew Carnegie were bom and reared in Scotland. Some historians have argued that Scottish contributions to these events and the development of new technologies were disproportionately significant.1

As was the case elsewhere in the West, however, Scotland’s nineteenth-century economic rise came at the expense of its working classes. Central Scotland’s rich coal deposits supplied energy to the UK’s burgeoning industrial enterprises, but miners endured crowded, unsafe, and unhealthy living conditions above ground and dangerous working conditions below. Tens of thousands of tenant formers and their families were displaced to urban manufacturing centers as landowners (known as lairds in Scotland) transformed their huge holdings into grazing pastures for sheep to produce wool for the burgeoning textile mills around Glasgow. Air, water, and ground pollution were essentially uncontrolled in Scotland’s cities. While life expectancy in urban centers like Glasgow was low throughout the eighteenth century, it fell by five years during the opening decade of the nineteenth—to 37 years for men and 40 for women. Killer diseases tied to unsanitary environments, such as typhus, cholera, diphtheria, and influenza, were rampant.2

These facts are important to understanding early missionary work in Scotland by representatives of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and to appreciating the character of early Scottish converts to the Church. They were intelligent people representative of their time and place, people hungry for truth and opportunity, people who asked hard questions. Missionary work for the Church began in Scotland when two newly baptized Canadian members, Alexander Wright and , arrived in Glasgow on December 29,1839, with authorization to preach the gospel there. Wright and Mullinger were Scots by birth and had returned to their homeland to teach family and friends about the restored Church of Jesus Christ Their teachings resonated with many Scots who were convinced that existing churches had gone astray of Christ’s original doctrine.’

Elder Orson Pratt, representing the Quorum of the Twelve, arrived in Scotland a few months after the Canadian missionaries and preached his first public sermon on May 24, 1840. Shortly, he organized a branch of the Church in Paisley—about twelve miles west of Glasgow—and then traveled with Mullinger to , the home of Mullinger’s parents. Orson resided in Edinburgh for a time where he wrote An Interesting Account of Several Remarkable Visions (1841), an important early pamphlet about the origins of the Church: it contained one of the earliest published accounts of the First Vision, summaries of appearances of the angel Moroni to the Prophet Joseph, and a brief history of Josephs reception and translation of the Book of Mormon plates.4 By the time Pratt left Edinburgh in late March 1841 he had taught and baptized more than 200 of its residents. He assigned George D. Watt, an English convert of Scottish parentage, responsibility for directing missionary work in Scotland.

The message of hope and love projected in Pratts An Interesting Account resonated with working-class Scots accustomed to poverty, short lifespans, and hopelessness. Spiritual promises associated with restored priesthood authority and gospel principles were made even sweeter by invitations to accept a new life in Zion. Brigham Young needed skilled workmen to carry out the vast colonizing work he envisioned. On December 23, 1847, “A General Epistle to all Saints in England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales and adjacent islands and countries” invited members of its audience “to emigrate as speedily as possible,” to “come immediately and prepare to go West—bringing with you all kinds of choice seeds, of grain, vegetables, fruit, shrubbery, trees,” together with “the best tools of every description” and every other “implement and article … that shall tend to promote the comfort, health, happiness and prosperity of any people.”5 Converts in Scotland welcomed the opportunity to gather to Zion, and there were apparently few regrets about leaving mines and mills behind.

The Scottish emigrants were predominantly skilled workers, the very people Brigham Young needed. Listed in the Liverpool Emigration Records for the years 1850 to 1870 are 588 Scottish males, many of whom were members of the Church. Just under 41% of these identified mining as their primary occupation; nearly 12% were weavers or did other work in the textile industry; about 7% were metal workers, including blacksmiths; and about 5% were tanners and leathercrafters. Most of the remaining 35% were carpenters, stonemasons, gardeners, farmers, bakers, rope makers, tool or implement makers, or general laborers. Just 2% had professional training as surgeons, dentists, druggists, or schoolteachers.6

There are many narratives demonstrating the faith of early Scottish converts and their generous contributions in establishing Utah and the American West. David McKay, an 1855 convert from Thurso, Scotland, was the father of David O. McKay, ninth President of the Church.

joined the Church in 1852 in Paisley, Scotland, and immigrated to Utah a decade later with his family. He is the great-grandfather of Howard W Hunter, fourteenth President of the Church.

, born and raised in Whitridgebog, immigrated to Nauvoo in 1843 and then to Salt Lake City in 1848. In 1849, having received permission from his bishop to do so, he conducted the first Latter-day Saint Sunday School for youth; Sunday School became an official auxiliary organization of the Church in 1867.

Descendants of Thomas McNeil and his cousin , coal miners from Tranent near Edinburgh, include Quorum of the Twelve members Melvin J. Ballard and M. Russell Ballard and the first president of Zions First National Bank, Orval W Adams.

Following are brief accounts of other early Scottish converts who quietly—or dramatically-impacted the nineteenth-century Church of Jesus Christ.

William Budge was born in Lanark, a small town near Glasgow, in 1828. However, because his father was a salesman and moved from town to town, William was familiar with a number of villages in the Scottish Lowlands. In 1844, William first heard the word “Mormon” in connection with the death of the Prophet Joseph Smith. Four years later, out of curiosity, he attended a religious service of the Church in Glasgow. Following his conversion he was baptized in the icy waters of the River Clyde in December 1848.

Called to labor in the British Mission in 1851, Elder Budge was, in 1854, transferred for a short time to the Swiss and Italian Mission. There, he gained a rudimentary understanding of the German language. Following his return to England, Budge was requested by European Mission President Franklin D. Richards to travel to Dresden, Germany, and to answer an inquiry from an investigator named Karl G. Maeser.7

Despite his meager knowledge of the German language, Elder Budge had a firm testimony of the restored gospel and a genuinely humble, warm, and friendly disposition. These attributes made him an ideal missionary for Maeser, who later wrote,

“It was providential that such a man was the first Mormon I ever beheld, for, although scarcely able to make himself understood in German, he, by his winning and yet dignified personality, created an impression upon me and my family which was the keynote to an indispensable influence which hallowed the principles he advocated.”8

Following their conversion and baptisms in October 1855, the Karl Maeser family immigrated to England and then, in 1860, to Utah. As a trained and skilled educator and as a man of unshakeable integrity and faith, Karl Maeser had gifts that were indispensable in frontier Utah. His students became teachers and professors, civic leaders, business leaders, local and national politicians, university presidents, judges, and General Authorities of the Church. Maeser was the architect of Brigham Young University and of the larger Church Educational System.9

William Budge eventually immigrated to Utah with his wife and a group of Saints who left Liverpool in May 1860 and arrived in Salt Lake Valley early that October. Budge and his descendants helped found and govern the Cache Valley and Bear Lake regions. Budge himself served as bishop of the Providence Ward; president of the Bear Lake Stake during construction of the tabernacle in Paris, Idaho; president of the European Mission; and president of the Logan Temple.10

Jane Angus is representative of young single women in mid-nineteenth-century Scotland who acquired testimonies of the restored gospel, joined the Church, and aspired to gather to Zion with the rest of the Saints. Many young single women lacked the money to immigrate to the US; many also lacked the support of family and friends. Often such women married outside the Church and remained in Scotland. But Jane Angus had a different experience.11

Jane grew up in Rutherglen, a small coal mining town on the outskirts of Glasgow. Her father, John Angus, died following a coal mine explosion in May 1858 in Rutherglen. His clothes ignited in the explosion, and although friends extinguished the flames after he exited the mine as a “fiery torch,” he died an excruciating death nine days later. Janes mother, Mary, had endured the death of a seventeen-year-old daughter in 1857, then the tragic loss of her husband, and finally the deaths of three other children in 1859 and 1866.

In 1868, when Jane first learned of the Church of Jesus Christ, she was the second of three surviving daughters. Her mother and her two sisters were adamantly opposed to her joining the Church. Nevertheless, she was baptized and began making preparations to emigrate. When Mary received word that Jane would be leaving for the US on a ship out of Glasgow on a certain evening in early 1869, she enlisted a policeman to help her search several ships scheduled for departure that evening. The search was unsuccessful, and Jane departed as planned. In later years, Jane corresponded faithfully with her mother and sisters, and positive family relationships were restored.12

While still in Scotland, Jane had grown close to a missionary couple from Providence, Utah, and determined she would settle there. Not long after her arrival, she married a widower in Logan, Alexander S. Izatt, a native of Scotland like herself. He had two small children, and he and Jane became parents of eight additional children. Following Alexander’s untimely death in 1890, Jane became a skilled nurse and worked as a physicians assistant for many years. She returned to Scotland for a visit in 1913 and was reunited with her sister, Mary.13

DAVID ECCLES

David Eccles was born in Glasgow in 1849 to a nearly-blind wood-turner, William Eccles, and his Irish wife, Sarah Hutchinson. Impoverished slum dwellers, the Eccles family had almost no resources except their love for each other, their ambition, and their willingness to work. They also had the gospel of Jesus Christ: William had been taught and baptized by Latter-day Saint missionaries in 1842 and had subsequently baptized Sarah. They dreamed of the day when they would be able to immigrate to Zion.14

A recent issue of Pioneer Magazine related how, as a child on the streets of Glasgow, David Eccles had become adept at peddling resin sticks made by his father, and how, in 1863, the family secured a loan through the Perpetual Immigration Fund enabling them to make the journey to Utah, They arrived with nothing but themselves and their hopes, but that was enough,15

The remarkable rise of David Eccles from a poverty- stricken Scottish immigrant boy to a pioneering western industrialist is captivatingly told by Leonard Arrington.16  Enterprises that Eccles nurtured in the American West included lumber companies, railroads, sugar beet refineries and other food processing establishments, construction companies, insurance companies, and banks. His son, , became a noted US banker and economist and served as chairman of the US Federal Reserve Board. The contributions of the Ecdes family to Utah are legendary.

CHARLES W. NIBLEY

Charles W. Nibley was bom in 1849 in Hunterfield, Midlothian, Scotland, to James Nibley and Jean Wilson, both of whom were coal miners. Jean spent her childhood in the mines carrying coal—in a large basket on her back—from the mining face to the collection point. She learned to work before she learned to play, and she was determined to make a better life for her children. Yet oatmeal porridge with a little sour milk was their main source of nourishment. On Sundays they would occasionally get a little meat.17

In the spring of 1844, Jean heard the message of the restored gospel preached by missionaries of the Church. She said later that she “drank it all in as though it were living water which was springing up unto everlasting life.” James was noted as being stubborn, but each evening after supper Jean read to him from the tracts she had received from the Elders. And one evening, she was surprised and pleased when she asked him what he thought about the message, and he responded, “Aye, but it is true.” The fallowing Saturday, both were baptized.18

The Nibley family emigrated from Scotland in the spring of 1855 and worked for five years at a woolen mill in Rhode Island, saving every penny possible. In 1860 they traveled by train to Florence, Nebraska, where they joined a wagon train bound for Salt Lake City. Following their arrival in Utah, they settled in Wellsville in Cache County where there were many other Scots. Charles attended schools in Wellsville, and then, as a young adult, tested his capacities in a variety of enterprises—railroads, sugar processing, lumber. He eventually gave his attention—along with David Ecdes and John Kerr Stoddard—to lumber production in eastern Oregon.19 A lifelong devoted member of the Church, Charles served as a missionary in the British Isles and as second counselor to Heber J. Grant in the First Presidency.

JOHN STODDARD

John Stoddard and his wife, Janet Kerr, managed to support ten children on the few pence per day that family members received toiling together in the coal mines of East Lothian, near Edinburgh. Death tolls from accidents and disease were high.

Mines opened, prospered for a period, then closed. Moving about as work conditions changed brought the Stoddard family into contact with the Nibley family. When the Stoddards joined the Church in 1844, their prospects brightened considerably. They made lasting friends, among them the Nibleys. They had a new faith in prayer, the scriptures, and God’s love. And in late 1848, the family sailed from Liverpool bound for the US. Perhaps as a symbol of their new life, they changed the spelling of their surname from Stoddart to Stoddard.

In October 1851, when the family arrived in Salt Lake City, Brigham Young was quick to learn of their coal mining experience and expertise. He called them to journey to Cedar City to serve in the where they would help develop the coal and iron deposits recently discovered in Iron County. They accepted the call, and despite many hardships they and their neighbors faced, the first iron manufactured west of the Mississippi was produced on September 30, 1852. For a variety of reasons, the Iron Mission was closed within a few years, and the senior John Stoddard died at Cedar City in the spring of 1854.21

Young John Kerr Stoddard married Esther Emily Kershaw, and they moved to Wellsville, Utah in 1859. During the 1880s John established a close relationship with David Eccles that would influence him for the remainder of his life. Their similar Scottish backgrounds and parallel lumbering interests brought the two men together.22 They, together with Charles Nibley and two of Johns sons, were pioneers of lumber production in eastern Oregon, harvesting abundant timber resources located there.

Beginning in 1840, many Scots were enabled to make significant life changes—not possible previously—as they embraced the restored gospel, discovered genuine reasons to hope and to change, served one another, and sacrificed to follow President Young’s counsel to immigrate to Zion. Latter-day Saint missionaries taught revealed truths that made sense to the converts. In turn, Scottish converts enthusiastically embraced the call to emigrate to the American Zion and committed themselves to establish and build colonies through their desperately needed “working-class skills.”

Collectively, the Scottish Saints were men and women of character and devotion. They possessed wide-ranging abilities and talents and were intensely loyal to family and friends, to the Kingdom, and to God. They helped establish enduring economic and cultural enterprises in Utah and throughout the West; they provided crucial political and civic leadership; and they became pillars of the Church. Their heritage is enduring and extensive, and many contemporary Latter-day Saints revere the wonderful Scots in their respective family lines.


  1.  The information here is gleaned in part from A. Arthur Hermann, How the Scots Invented the Modern World (2001), 320-44.
  2. T. Christopher Smout, A History of the Scottish People, 1560-1830 (1969), 403-12; Frederick S. Buchanan, “The Ebb and Flow of Mormonism in Scotland, 1840-1900,” BYU Studies, 27.2 (1987): 27-52.
  3. Buchanan 29.
  4. David J. Whittaker,”Orson Pratt’s [An] Interesting Account of Several Remarkable Visions: A Seminal Scottish Imprint in Early Mormon History,'”Mormon Historical Studies, 5 (Fall 2004): 79-100; see 82-89.
  5. Quoted in LeRoy R. Hafen and Ann W. Hafen, Handcarts to Zion: The Story of a Unique Migration 1856-1860 (1960), 21 -2.
  6. Buchanan 39.
  7. Preston Nibley,”William Budge—Dedicated Faith in Jesus Ch rist,”Stalwarts of Mormonism (1954), 10-4.
  8. Nibley 10-4; A. LeGrand Richards,”Moritz Busch’s DieMormonen and the Conversion of Karl G. Maeser,” BYU Studies, 45.4 (2006): 45-67.
  9. Richards 64.
  10. Nibley 10-4.
  11. “Jane Angus lzatt”in Pioneer Women of Faith and Fortitude, vol. 2 (1998), 1492.
  12. Reed M. lzatt,”My Family History: My Eight Great-Grand parents,” ms. (2012), online.
  13. “Jane Angus lzatt”1492.
  14. Smout 412; Leonard J. Arrington, David Eccles: Pioneer Western Industrialist (1975), 1 -26.
  15. Arrington 24-6.
  16. See Arrington, David Eccles.
  17. Boyd J. Petersen, Hugh Nibley: A Consecrated Life (2002), 1-3.
  18. Ibid.
  19. Arrington 84; Peterson 19; Richard D. Poll, Howard! Stoddard: Founder, Michigan National Bank (1980), 9-10.
  20. Poll 4-9.
  21. Ibid.
  22. Poll 10,88.

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