Mary’s Alter

This article originally appeared in the Spring 2000 issue of Pioneer Magazine
By Jay Greaves Burrup

In 1842, at the age of 23, Mary Twinberrow Wattis Bennett converted to Mormonism near Cradley, Herefordshire, England.1 Two years earlier Apostle had baptized her father and stepmother, Edmund and Hannah Compton Wattis, during his “,” a herculean proselytizing effort among a localized Primitive Methodist sect known as the “.”2

Several years prior to Woodruff’s arrival amid the rolling green hills of the West Midlands, Mary had married Thomas Bennett, a farmer and leather seller of Cradley, Herefordshire. At the time, Mary was only 16 years old; Thomas was 20 years older. He was well established in Cradley and farmed several acres. Because Mary was so young, her marriage required parental approval and a special license.3  Thomas and Mary’s union soon produced two children: Mary Ann, born in 1837, and James Thomas, born in 1838.4

WATTIS, Mary Twinberrow
Pond at , today

Apostle Woodruff introduced Mormonism to the West Midlanders in early March 1840 at John Benbow’s farm, situated a few miles west of the Bennett’s home. The response was so gratifying that Woodruff quickly appealed to Church leaders in northern England to send more missionaries to assist him. Apostles Brigham Young and Willard Richards joined him in April.5 Two early Lancashire converts, Elders Thomas Richardson and , along with David Wilding and James Morgan, also volunteered at a Conference held in Manchester in July.6

Elder Kay proved to be a determined and successful missionary. Among his many converts was Mary Bennett, whom he baptized in 1842. According to family tradition, even though Thomas Bennett was not interested in Mormonism, he didn’t forbid Mary from listening to the missionaries and uniting with the new religion.


Yearning to gather with the Saints in America, Mary’s father, stepmother and siblings immigrated to Nauvoo about the time of her baptism. For nearly two years, Mary longed to join them. Her desire to immigrate, however, portended a severance of her marriage, Because of England’s restrictive laws at the time (the procedure required Parliamentary approval), only the wealthy and elite were able to obtain divorces.7 While Mary and Thomas’s relationship grew increasingly distant, they could not afford to legally terminate their vows.

Finally, as a resolution to the impasse, Thomas composed and signed a document in the fall of 1843 in which he granted Mary permission to leave England with their two children and join her father and family in Nauvoo. In the informal “separation agreement” or “settlement,” Thomas promised to give Mary £400 upon demand to establish her and the children in their new home in America. Interestingly, Thomas also signed Mary’s membership recommend issued by William Kay, Herefordshire Conference president.8

With her marriage effectively dissolved and “settlement” money in hand, Mary and her two small children bade farewell to family and friends and traveled to Liverpool to embark on their trans-Atlantic voyage aboard the Boston bark, Fanny.9

Elder Kay immigrated at the.same time as Mary. He was appointed by Church officials to superintend the Mormon immigrants aboard the Fanny and was assisted by two counselors, Thomas Hall and Henry Cuerden. The Fanny left Liverpool on January 23, 1844.10


Sketchy details of the Fanny’s voyage are available. One “of the immigrants, Priscilla Mogridge, kept a diary, in which she wrote:

It was a dreary winter day on which I went to Liverpool. The company with which I was to sail were all strangers to me. When I arrived in Liverpool and saw the ocean that would soon roll between me and all I loved, my heart almost failed me. But I had laid my idols all upon the alter. There was no turning back.11

Additional details were recorded by Elder Kay in a letter he penned to LDS emigration agent Reuben Hedlock on March 9, two days after arriving in New Orleans.  Kay remarked that during the voyage, the Saints had held “regular meetings for prayer morning and evening, and three times each Lord’s day, administering the sacrament in the afternoon.” He also expressed gratitude that the journey had been prosperous and that Captain Patterson and crew had paid especially kind attention to the Saints’ needs.12

Although the voyage had been relatively comfortable, grief struck twice at the immigrants’ hearts upon the deaths of Sister Jones {wife of James Jones) and Mary Greenhalgh, an 18-month-old daughter of William and Mary Clough Greenhalgh.13

As Kay concluded his letter to Hedlock, he eagerly anticipated the prospect of traveling to Nauvoo aboard Joseph Smith’s steamboat, Maid of Iowa, which was commanded by Captain Dan Jones, a spirited Welsh Mormon convert.14 Little did Kay realize that the journey aboard the scruffy little Maid would prove to be more harrowing than the ocean voyage just completed. An omen of ensuing difficulties followed Kay’s sighting of the Mormon-owned steamboat.


After disembarking from the Fanny, the immigrants were stunned to discover that the Maid had been embargoed and lashed to the wharf The immigrants could not complete their journey to Nauvoo until the steamboat’s deep financial woes were resolved and the embargo lifted. The converts’ zeal to gather to Zion had encountered a serious and frustrating roadblock.

At the peak of the disheartening crisis, however, the immigrants discovered that a solution to their problem was close at hand. Priscilla Mogridge remembered the scenario dearly and recorded her thoughts in her journal:

A lady of fortune was in the company—a Mrs. Bennett—and out of her private purse she not only lifted the embargo, but also fitted out the steamer with all necessary provisions, fuel, etc., and soon the company were again on their way.”15

Mary Bennett had saved the day. She came forward and pledged her “settlement” money to clear the Prophet’s debt and help her fellow converts fulfill their dream of gathering to Zion. Mary’s donation totaled $1,091.25.16 Having just severed her marriage, Mary probably would have rejected Priscilla’s label of “a lady of fortune,” but she was indeed generously endowed with money at the crucial moment.

Realizing that Mary’s sacrifice had seriously jeopardized her financial future, Captain Jones directed the steamboats clerk, David S. Hollister, to draw up three promissory notes that would mature over the succeeding three months.17 Undoubtedly, Mary was grateful for the hope of reimbursement.


Once Mary’s money had lifted the embargo and purchased supplies, the immigrants loaded the boat with provisions. Their rejoicing at readying the Maid for departure was soon overshadowed, however, by sudden tragedy when Robert Burston, carrying a load of cordwood onto the boat, stumbled in the darkness and drowned in the murky Mississippi. His body was never recovered.18

Persecution from antagonistic anti-Mormons persistently vexed the British converts during their tedious, five-week journey up the Mississippi River. At one point, someone intentionally started a fire. Thankfully, it was detected and extinguished before any major damage was sustained.19

Later in the journey, the pilot lashed the steamer to a landing to wait out a “furious gale.” Anticipating that the Maid would lie idle until morning, the captain let off the boat’s steam. Despite the foul weather, a mob gathered and cut the steamboat loose during the height of the storm. Once again, providence intervened, and the captain was able to raise enough steam to bring the boat under control.20

At another landing, a mob assembled and swarmed to harass the boat’s passengers who were sneeringly dubbed “Joe’s rats.”21 The mob threw stones, smashed windows and sashes and shouted vile threats. Captain Jones, whose excitable Welsh blood was stoked to boiling point by the assault, would take no more.

“Mustering the brethren, with determined wrath he ordered them to parade with loaded muskets on the side of the boat assailed. Then he informed the mob that if they did not instantly desist, he would shoot them down like so many dogs; and like so many dogs they slunk away.”22


When the Maid finally docked at the Nauvoo House wharf late in the afternoon on Saturday, April 13, 1844, a large crowd, including the Prophet Joseph Smith, gathered to greet the newly arrived British converts.23 Priscilla vividly recollected the occasion and recorded a fascinating exchange between Joseph Smith and Mary Bennett:

I had never before seen any of those assembled, yet I felt certain . . . that I should be able to pick out the prophet Joseph at first sight. This belief I communicated to Mrs. Bennett, whose acquaintance I had made on the voyage. She wondered at it; but I felt impressed by the spirit that I should know him. As we neared the pier the prophet was standing among the crowd. At the moment, however, I recognized him according to the impression, and pointed him out to Mrs. Bennett, with whom I was standing alone on the hurricane deck.

Scarcely had the boat touched the pier when, singularly enough, Joseph sprang on board, and, without speaking with anyone, made his way direct to where we were standing, and addressing Mrs. Bennett by name, thanked her kindly for so materially aiding the saints.24

Apparently, the three promissory notes issued to Mary aboard the Maid were never redeemed in cash. Before he was murdered a couple of months after Mary’s arrival in Nauvoo, the financially beleaguered Prophet signed a bond promising to repay Mary’s financial favor by granting her a deed to 120 acres of farmland located a few miles east of Nauvoo near what is known locally as “Davis Mound.” The land’s value as stated in the document was $1,091.25, the precise amount that Mary donated to clear the steamboat’s embargo and stock it with supplies.25


As the fall of 1844 approached, Mary’s father, , fell ill with a fever and died in early September, just five months after her arrival in Nauvoo. This unexpected blow left her without husband or father to assist in establishing her and the children in their new and unfamiliar surroundings. The solution to her predicament soon came by way of a second marriage, and on February 10, 1845, Mary and William Kay were united in a civil ceremony performed by their close friend, Apostle Willard Richards, to whom the Kays were adopted and sealed a year later.26

The Kays moved onto the property that had been ceded from Joseph Smith’s estate, but they were not destined to prosper long on their new farm. Because of the hostile anti-Mormon attitudes and incendiary attacks that began in Nauvoo’s outskirting agricultural settlements during the fall of 1845, the Kays reluctantly sold parcels of their land to Daniel H. Wells, then a non-Mormon land dealer, and Bryan Gilbride, a young Irish immigrant. The property was sold in February 1846 for $370—about one-third of its original value.27

Although disheartened by the low selling price, William and Mary outfitted their wagon and, with their young family, began their journey to Iowa to join the main body of expelled Saints. Before leaving Nauvoo, Mary gave birth to the couple’s first child, Jeannetta, on April 26, 1846. The baby was named in honor of Willard Richards’ recently deceased wife, a dear friend of the Kays.

With their three children, Mary and William lived in the LDS settlements of Iowa for two years and then trekked to Utah in 1848 with the Willard Richards Company. Mary was enduring the third trimester of pregnancy as she inched her way toward Zion. She gave birth that year in Salt Lake City to another daughter, Sarah Elizabeth, on a snowy mid-December day.28


Leaving the city behind in the spring of 1850, the Kays moved north to what is now Kaysville, Utah, and settled with their interrelated friends who were former United Brethren adherents in Worcestershire*. Because William Kay was chosen by Brigham Young to serve as the locale’s first bishop, he became its founding namesake.29

The Kays resided in Kaysville until 1856 when they, along with numerous other families, were called by Church authorities to serve a colonizing mission in Carson Valley, Nevada, then one of the westernmost reaches of Utah Territory. By this time, Mary’s oldest daughter, Mary Ann (Bennett), had married James Burrup, and the couple was expecting their first child.

The baby, which would be Mary’s first grandchild, was born in June 1856 at the Sink of the Humboldt River while the colonizing missionaries were en route to Carson Valley. (Mary’s son, James Thomas Bennett, had died of unknown causes at age 13 in 1851). The rest of Mary’s family was then comprised of five young daughters between the ages of one and eleven. She had plenty of concerns to occupy her mind and time as she again pulled up her roots and headed farther west in search of a permanent home.

After serving a strenuous mission of one and a half years, the Kays and fellow settlers were recalled to Utah by Church authorities because of the threatening advance of Johnson’s Army. Mary gave birth in Ogden to the couple’s sixth daughter in November 1857, just a few days after returning from Carson Valley. Uprooting themselves again a few months later to join the rest of the Saints abandoning northern Utah because of the anticipated invasion of Johnson’s Army, the Kays found themselves living temporarily in Utah Valley. After the impending crisis was resolved peacefully, the Kays moved to West Weber where William became the LDS presiding elder of the fledgling community.

Tragedy struck hard at Mary’s family while they lived in West Weber. Mary’s daughter, Mary Ann Bennett Burrup, then only 26 years old, died of childbirth complications shortly before Christmas 1863. She left behind a grieving husband and five small children aged one week to seven years. Two months later, Mary gave birth to her eighth and final daughter, who died the same day. Mary assumed some of the responsibility of helping rear her Burrup grandchildren, but with such a young family of her own, she had to relinquish much of the grandchildren’s care to James Burrup’s aunts and uncles in Kaysville.


In 1864 the Kays and Burrups moved to Ogden where they resided in the Second Ward. William Kay died there at age 65 on March 25, 1875, and was buried in the City Cemetery. 30

Mary lived another 21 years surrounded by her numerous daughters and sons-in-law, grandchildren and great grandchildren.She died peacefully at age 75 on September 15, 1896, and was buried beside her husband and daughter Mary Ann.31

At Mary’s funeral, Apostle Franklin D. Richards, Bishop Robert McQuarrie and others paid glowing tributes to her memory. In a newspaper obituary, her summed up in these words:

In all relations of life, as wife, mother, friend, she was noted for her affection and kindness. In her character were blended the elements of strength and of beauty, which made her honored and loved by all who knew her She died in the full of a glorious resurrection with the just.32

Mary probably would have blushed at this effusive summation of her life and character. Family tradition suggests that she was so shy and self-effacing that she refused to ever be photographed because she considered herself “too homely.”

A study of Mary’s life reveals a common theme with many other Mormon converts both in the past and now—a sincere and determined desire to lay on one’s personal altar the sacrifices necessary to become truly committed to the Lord’s cause. Mary consistently offered all she had. Unlike a fleeting photograph that blanches over time, her faithful legacy will never fade.

Jay Greaves Burrup, a fifth-generation descendant of Mary, lives in West Valley City, Utah, and is a certified archivist working for the LDS Church Historical Department.


  1. LDS Church, Ogden 2nd Ward, Record of Members (Library Number 10841), p. 28. Microfilm copy at LDS Church Family History Library (hereafter designated FHL), Salt Lake City Utah. FHL film #26,249.
  2. Scott G. Kenney, ed., Wilford Woodruff’s journal (Midvale, Utah: Signature Books, 1983), 1:384.
  3. Church of England, Alfrick Parish Register. FHL film #374,932. Marriage license dated 25 June 1836.
  4. Church of England, Cradley (Herefordshire) Parish Register. FHL film #994,229. Christening entries dated 16 May 1837 and 18 October 1838, respectively.
  5. Kenney, Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 1:439-441.
  6. Latter-Day Saints’ Millennial Star, 1:3 (July 1840): 70-71.
  7. Colin R. Chapman, Marriage Laws, Rites, Records and Customs: Was Your Ancestor Really Married? (Dursley, Gloucestershire, England: Lochin Publishing, 1996), 89-94.
  8. “An agreement made and entered into between Thomas Bennett of the Parish of Cradley . . . and Mary his Wife . . . September 18, 1843.” Original document in family possession; photocopy supplied to author by Mrs. Lori Blackham, Santa Rosa, California.
  9. Jane Jennings Eldredge, comp., “Records and Historical Sketches of Residents of Davis County, Utah,”(compiled ca. 1916), 8:106. FHL film #1,059,485.
  10. “Manuscript History of the British Mission,” Historical Department of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (hereafter designated HDC), Salt Lake City, Utah, 10 January 1840, 16.
  11. Edward W Tullidge, The Women of Mormondom (New York, 1877; photo lithographic reprint edition, Salt Lake City, 1957), 288.
  12. “Barque Fanny, Extract of a Letter from Elder William Kay,” Millennial Star, IV (April 1844): 202.
  13. Ibid.
  14. Ibid.
  15. Tullidge, Women of Mormondom, 289.
  16. “Bill of Expenses of Credited to J[oseph] S[mith] May [18]44 [pertinent entry dated 22 April 1844],” Newel K. Whitney Collection, Harold B. Lee Library Special Collections, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah.
  17. Promissory notes of $121.25, payable on 19 April 1844; $485.00, payable on 10 May 1844; and $485.00, payable on 10 June 1844 in family possession; photocopies supplied to author by Mrs. Lori Wirrick Blackham, Santa Rosa, California.
  18. Thomas Steed, The Life of Thomas Steed from his own Diary,1826-1910 (privately published, ca. 1910), 8. See also “Journal History of the Church” HDC, 13 April 1844, 1.
  19. Tullidge, Women of Mormondom, 289.
  20. Ibid., 290.
  21. “Extract from William Adams’ History” in Kate B. Carter, comp., Heart Throbs of the West (Salt Lake City: Daughters of Utah Pioneers, 1943), 4:152.
  22. Tullidge, Women of Mormondom, 290-291.
  23. “Journal History,” 13 April 1844, 1.
  24. Tullidge, Women of Mormondom, 291.
  25. Hancock County, Illinois. Deeds, Book P, entry #8639. FHL film #954,602.
  26. Noall, Claire. Intimate Disciple: a Portrait of Willard Richards, Apostle to Joseph Smith, Cousin of Brigham Young (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1957), 480 and 483.
  27. Hancock County, Illinois. Deeds, Book Q, entry #9000. FHL film #954,603.
  28. “Journal History,” 20 December 1848, 1 and 1848 Supplement, 6 and 17.
  29. “Manuscript History of Kaysville Ward,” HDC.
  30. “Obituary,”Ogden Daily Junction (Ogden, Utah), 31 March 1875, 6.
  31. “The Last Rites,” The Standard (Ogden, Utah), 20 September 1896, 5.
  32. “Mary T. Kay,” The Standard (Ogden, Utah), 27 September 1896, 7.
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