The Beginnings of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Wales

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

by Ronald D. Dennis

When Elder Heber C. Kimball and his group of missionaries set foot in England in 1837 they became the first to proclaim the restored gospel in Great Britain. But the proselytizing effort would not be extended to the Principality of for another three years. At a conference in Manchester held October 6, 1840, Elder Henry Royle was called “to go to Cly, in Flintshire.”1 The mistakenly transcribed “Cly” is no doubt “Cloy”—then a small string of farmhouses situated on the outskirts of Overton, a small town located in northeast Wades just across the border with England.

Frederick Cook, a priest assigned to accompany Royle, recorded in his journal that he and his companion arrived in Cloy on October 16 and that, two days later, they “commenced baptizing” in the River Dee. In a letter printed in the Millennial Star, Royle reported that, by October 30, a branch of thirty-two members had been established in Overton,2 certainly an impressive accomplishment in such a short time. Just over a month later, on December 3, Kimball wrote to his wife that, on the evening of October 31, he and Brigham Young had arrived in Hawarden, a Welsh town about twenty miles north of Overton, and that, on November 1, they had preached twice to large crowds.

The first missionary sent to South Wales was , a Cornish man. He and his Welsh-speaking wife, Mary Ann Lewis Henshaw, were called by Lorenzo Snow to leave their Woverhampton home and to travel to . There, the first to hear their message was the family of William Rees Davies, a tailor. The Davies family was baptized February 19, 1843.

Merthyr Tydfil High Street, artist unknown

Soon, other families and individuals became interested in the Henshaws message, and many more baptisms followed. Their success in establishing The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in South Wales was met with great opposition from ministers in the region.5 For example, the Reverend William Robert Davies (apparently no relation of William Rees Davies) of the Baptist church in Dowlais, located two miles from Merthyr Tydfil, became one of the most vociferous opponents of Henshaw and the Welsh Saints. It was Davies who coined the epithet “Latter-day Satanists.”

Just one month after the William Rees Davies family was baptized, a young Welsh immigrant to the United States named received baptism in the icy waters of the Mississippi River near St Louis, Missouri Because the histories of Jones and William Davies would intersect three years later when the two joined forces in proclaiming the restored gospel to the Welsh, it is important to consider some of the experiences of Jones following his baptism.

While Henshaw was trying to nurture the young Merthyr Tydfil branch and fend off religious persecution, Jones was getting acquainted with his newly adopted religion as he captained his 300-passenger steamboat the Maid of Iowa, up and down the Mississippi. In June 1843, three months after his conversion, Jones used his steamboat to transport a large group of English converts from St Louis— where they had wintered—to Nauvoo. After docking his boat at Nauvoo, Jones met Joseph Smith for the first time, and the two men immediately took a liking to one another. The Prophet also took a liking to Captain Jones’s steamboat. Upon learning that Jones’s partner, , was extremely displeased by Jones’s conversion to the Church of Jesus Christ, Joseph purchased Moffat’s half-ownership of the and became Jones’s new partner.

Maid of Iowa

Shortly thereafter Jones was called to serve a mission in his native Wales, but his departure was delayed in order to fulfill various assignments from Joseph and associated with the Maid of Iowa. Additional groups of convert immigrants were transported upriver aboard the Maid, and, for acoustical reasons, Joseph sometimes used her deck to address Saints gathered on the Mississippi’s riverbanks. The Maid was also used to transport building materials for the Nauvoo Temple.

Just days before his martyrdom, Joseph told Dan,

“I have a check in the house for $1200. As soon as I can get it cashed you shall have $1100 of it, and then start for Wales, not with your fingers in your mouth but prepared to buy a press and do business aright”4

But with the anxiety and confusion surrounding the events at Carthage, Jones never received the promised support Nevertheless, he remained philosophical as he eventually sold his steamboat to finance his mission:

“Thrilled with prospects of my mission I left all, rejoicing in the exchange of a steamboat for an Eldership on the deck of the never-sinking ship of life.5

Only hours before Joseph and Hyrum were killed, Dan Jones was with the Prophet Joseph at Carthage Jail. The night before the martyrdom, Joseph and Dan were lying side by side in the narrow upper room of the jail. As the other men in the room apparently slept, Joseph asked Dan in a whi sper if he was afraid to die. Dan responded, “Has that time come, think you? Engaged in such a cause I do not think that death would have many terrors.” Joseph then whispered back, “You will yet see Wales and fulfill the mission appointed you ere you die.”6

During the following forty-eight hours, Dan Jones was delivered from the hands of enemies three times. And two months later, Dan Jones and his wife Jane were on their way to Wales, traveling in company with Wilford Woodruff and Hiram Clark and their wives. The party arrived in Liverpool in early January 1845. Elder Jones was first assigned to Wrexham in North Wales, a region he knew well, given that he had spent his childhood just a few miles away.

Unable to purchase the press that Joseph Smith had wanted him to have, Jones hired the press of William Bayley in Wrexham to print his first pamphlet, a forty-eight-page work in Welsh entitled The Dead Raised to Life; on the Old Religion Anew.

The date of the preface of Jones’ pamphlet, April 4, 1845, coincides with the date of the first meeting of Jones and Henshaw—the date of a conference in Manchester. Henshaw, who still spoke no Welsh, reported the opening of five new brandies in the Merthyr Tydfil Conference during the previous year and a total of 195 convert baptisms, or about sixteen per month. Jones, fluent in both Welsh and English, had neither baptisms nor branches to report, but he addressed the conference with such eloquence that, after taking down a few lines, the clerk wrote:

“We would here remark that we are utterly incapable of doing anything like justice to the address of Captain Jones, for though delivered while struggling with disease, such was its effect upon ourselves, and we also believe upon others, that we ceased to write, in order to give way to the effect produced upon our feelings”7

Over the next eight months, and under Henshaw’s leadership, there were an average of twenty convert baptisms per month in South Wales. Meanwhile, Jones’s efforts in North Wales, despite his gift for oratory in both Welsh and English and the circulation of his pamphlet, brought only three new members into the fold. His lack of success among his countrymen must certainly have cost him considerable reflection. Having traveled from Nauvoo with Wilford Woodruff, he was no doubt aware of Woodruff’s phenomenal success in Herefordshire some four years earlier. That he had anticipated a similar experience himself is evident in a letter he wrote to Woodruff after about seven weeks in North Wales:

“I have neglected writing until now, expecting to have better news to give you, because I had some forebodings of glorious consequences.”8

Jones’s “glorious consequences” would come, but not until he had spent nearly a year of frustration in North Wales.

In December 1845 another conference of the Church was held at Manchester, and Wilford Woodruff proposed to the assembled leadership that Jones be appointed to preside over the branches in Wales, all of which had been established under Henshaw’s leadership. This proposal received unanimous approval; Henshaw was to continue as president of the Merthyr Tydfil Conference.

When Dan Jones became the president of the Church in Wales (the title used at that time for mission president) there were approximately 500 Welsh members, most of them in the Merthyr Tydfil area. After assuming his new calling, Jones made it a priority to defend the members and their faith against the opposition from the local Protestant clergy. Jones spoke eloquently in defense of his faith and made use of a “Latter-day Saints press”—courtesy of his brother John, a Congregationalist minister in nearby Rhydybont—to ensure that the Church was portrayed accurately to the reading public.

One of his first acts was to publish a rebuttal to a thirty-two-page pamphlet published by David Williams, a lay preacher who employed bitter invective to undermine Jones’ pamphlet, The Dead Raised to Life. Williams’s inflammatory title, The Fraud of the Latter Saints [sic] Exposed, was mild compared to the accusations he made in his text. At one point, for example, Williams asserted that Jones’ Welsh translation of the pamphlet Proclamation of the Twelve Apostles, was “so presumptuous as if it had been written by the fingers of the devil, who had dipped his pen in the venom of dragons or in the fiery furnace itself, and had it printed in the gates of hell.”9 It is difficult to think of Rhydybont, the picturesque little village where Proclamation had been printed—on the Rev. John Jones’s press—as “the gates of hell.”

Dan Jones’s reaction to Williams’s vitriol was simply to put his own pen to paper and print a rebuttal.10 Many attacks against the Church appeared in the periodicals of sponsoring religious bodies. Initially Dan Jones responded to such attacks by sending letters of rebuttal to the editors, but his letters were refused publication. Jones determined to publish a Latter-day Saint periodical, , again using his brother’s press. In the first issue (July 1846) Jones declared to his compatriots:

You know how we have been accused of every evil, fraud, yes, and of every foolishness.

To the periodicals which have accused us we have sent in the kindest manner convincing letters in defense of our innocence. But have they been printed? No! Have we been accused in the Amserau [Times], Seren Gomer [Star of Gomer], Dysgedydd [Instructor], Bedyddiwr [Baptist], etc.? Yes, indeed…. Can everyone else raise up his magazine except us? Is the press closed to us? Is that the freedom of Wales in the 19th century? Have the periodicals been locked up? We shall open our own periodical, then. Has the press been defiled by slandering us? We shall cleanse it through defending ourselves, then.11

Prophet of the Jubilee appeared regularly for the next thirty months, all but the last two issues being printed on John Jones’s “prostitute press.”12 Much yet untold history of the Welsh Saints is nestled in the nearly 600 pages of this remarkable defender of the faith—hidden behind the formidable barrier of the Welsh language, today spoken by only twenty percent of Wales’s three million inhabitants.

Evidence of the power of the press is the conversion of , a merchant and Baptist lay minister living in Aberdare, about seven miles from Merthyr Tydfil. Howells had often heard the Reverend Davies and other ministers pounding their pulpits and shouting about the “great fraud, devilish hypocrisy, and miserable darkness of the Latter-day Satanists.”13 He had also read the pamphlets of such ministers but had decided to suspend judgment until he could obtain better information than the invective of Davies.

Howells’s grandson later wrote that, since Howells was too bashful and proud to go to any Latter-day Saint meetings or speak with the missionaries, his first positive contact with the Church came when a widow who was supported by the poor fund of his parish presented him with a pamphlet written by Elder Dan Jones.14 The pamphlet was Jones’s reply to the opposition of yet another Baptist minister, Edward Roberts of Rhymni, who had thunderously promised to “kill Mormonism in Rhymni on Christmas Day and bury it the next.”15 Howells later described the impact that Jones’s pamphlet had on him:

“In a few hours [it] proved the religion I professed to be no other than a sandy foundation—all my false hopes fled, all human traditions that I had cleaved to appeared folly. I was convinced that the Saints were the only true church of God.”16

Jones was exultant as he wrote to President Orson Spencer about Howells:

“He came four miles purposely to be baptized, though he had never heard a sermon, only [read] my publications, especially my last reply…. [It] finished him entirely, and he came in as good a spirit as anyone that I ever saw, and has just returned on his way rejoicing.”17

And Wiliam Howells himself declared:

“The first few hours I spent after having been baptized for the remission of my sins, by a servant who knew that he was sent by God to administer the ordinance, gave me more pleasure and knowledge of spiritual things, than during the twenty years with the Baptist connection.”18

Before his conversion, Howells had served a short mission to France as a Baptist lay minister, and Latter-day Saint leaders in Liverpool soon called him to go back to France, this time as a missionary of the restored gospel. During the eighteen months before he began his mission on the Continent, he managed to baptize nearly one hundred of his Welsh compatriots. And when he stepped onto French soil on July 9, 1849, he also stepped into Latter-day Saint history as the first missionary in France to represent the Church of Jesus Christ.

During 1846, Dan Jones’s first year as de facto mission president in Wales, Church membership there increased by about 500 converts. In 1847 the number of new converts neared 1,000, and during 1848 more than 1,700 received baptism. At the end of 1848 Dan Jones was released from his position, and Wiliam Phillips, a convert during the Henshaw presidency, succeeded Jones as president. Another convert from that same time period, Abel Evans, was set apart as Phillips’s first counselor, while John S. Davis, whose testimony was initiated by his setting type for some of Dan Jones’s pamphlets, became Phillips’s second counselor and was assigned to oversee Church publications in Welsh. During his five years of service (1849-53) Davis published six volumes of Zion’s Trumpet, the name given to Prophet of the Jubilee as Church leadership in Wales changed.

Welsh nonconformists were disturbed by claims of the Welsh Saints that miracles were being performed through priesthood power and that theirs was the only true church of God. Because nonconformists believed such claims to be blasphemous, they felt obliged to oppose and denounce “the Mormons.” In July 1846 Dan Jones recorded the experience of a young man who had an injured leg from which twenty pieces of bone had been removed. During the six months before he met the missionaries, the young man had been unable to walk without a crutch: infection had apparently set in, and his leg was not healing. Jones later reported:

When he believed the gospel, I told him he would be healed if he would obey: he walked about a mile with crutches. By the river side we prayed that he might be enabled to dispense with his crutch, and he walked into the water [to be baptized] without it—out again, and home—and so far as I have heard has never used it since.  

I carried his crutch home through the town on my back, the man telling them that he was healed, but strange to say they would neither believe him nor their own eyes, but cried out impostors, etc, and that he might have walked before!! Although they knew better: but however, the man got a blessing, and when I left, the wounds in his leg were closing finely, and free from pain.19

The first large group of emigrants from among the converts to the Church in Wales gathered in Liverpool, England, in late February 1849 with Dan Jones as their leader. Of this first group, 249 became passengers aboard the Buena Vista and departed for the southern US on February 26; the other 82 remained in Liverpool for about a week before departing on the Hartley with some English converts. As the Buena Vista passed Cuba on its way to New Orleans, its passengers had a good laugh about a prophecy printed in Star of Gomer shortly before their departure:

“After receiving enough money to get a ship or ships to voyage to California, [the Mormons’] Chief-President [Dan Jones] will sail them to Cuba, or some place like it, and will sell them as slaves, every jack one of them. It would serve them right for having such little respect for the book of Christ and giving it up for the books of Mormon.”20

Shortly after the group landed in New Orleans they boarded the Constitution, a steamer that would take them up the Mississippi River to St Louis. When they docked at St. Louis, all gave thanks for having escaped the cholera epidemic that was raging up and down the shores of the Mississippi. But their voyage from St. Louis to Council Bluffs aboard the Highland Mary was not so fortunate: cholera invaded the boat and more than fifty of the Saints died.

Those who had crossed on the Hartley also faced the cholera epidemic after arriving in St. Louis; seventeen died. Grief and mourning engulfed the survivors as they gathered at Council Bluffs, and only eighty-two of these were able to continue to the Salt Lake Valley that same year. Dan Jones worried that the great loss of life from among this first group of Welsh converts would discourage others back in Wales from emigrating. His fears were unfounded, however, and over five thousand more of the Welsh Saints eventually left their native land and made their way to Zion.

The Welsh people were known throughout Great Britain and the world as natural singers. Among the Welsh immigrants to Utah in 1849 were many with well-trained voices including John Parry Sr. of Newmarket in Flintshire County. He and his wife, Mary were among the most prominent early converts in Wales, Unfortunately, Mary died in Council Bluffs before she could make her way to Utah, but John continued to the Salt Lake Valley. Only months after his arrival in Utah, he led a choir of eighty-five Welsh singers at General Conference.

Following their impressive performance, Brigham Young asked Parry to organize a choir to sing at future General Conference sessions, John Parry’s new choir would eventually become the Tabernacle Choir, now known as The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square, and Parry is acknowledged as the Choir’s first conductor, serving until 1854. The early Welsh pioneers and their descendants have continued to make important contributions to the music of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

During the five years of William Phillips’ presidency the Welsh membership peaked at 5,244 in December 1851. Although there were about eighty-eight convert baptisms per month during this period, the branches in Wales, as in other parts of Britain, were very much affected by the large numbers of Saints who continued to emigrate to America. When Phillips was released at the end of 1853 he was replaced by Dan Jones who was back in Wales on his second mission. Proselytizing and the publication of periodicals and pamphlets by the Saints played a major role in the growth of the Church in Wales during the 1850s, and emigration continued to be a major part of the gospel message to new converts. The Welsh pioneers who crossed the plains to Utah were important contributors to the founding and settling of many Utah and Idaho communities. These pioneers were energetic, hard-working, and well-suited for the agrarian economy that Brigham Young first envisioned for Utah.

The Welsh settled in , Iron County, Sanpete County, Salt Lake County, and many other Utah locales, and in , Idaho, where a Welsh music festival is still held in the city of Malad.

The last great emigration of Welsh Saints was in April 1856: 560 traveled together on the Samuel Curling with Dan Jones, newly released from his second mission in Wales. After this point, numbers of convert baptisms dwindled, although the publication of Udgom Seion continued for another six years. In April 1862 its last editor, William Ajax,

was forced to cease publication for personal health reasons. No one took his place. The demise of Udgom Seion is somewhat symbolic of the decline of Church missionary activity in Wales during the nineteenth century. Although missionaries would continue to be assigned to Wales, they would not re-experience the success and excitement of the 1840s and 1850s.

From the mid-1860s until the middle of the twentieth century comparatively few Welsh converts would come into the Church. Yet, because of the extraordinary success of the Church’s early proselytizing efforts in Wales, there are today hundreds of thousands of Latter-day Saints who can point with pride to a Jones, Thomas, Davis, or Williams line on their pedigree charts and thank the Lord for the courage of their ancestors who accepted the restored gospel somewhere in the hills of Wales.

  1. Reported in Millennial Star 1:168.
  2. Millennial Star 1:192,
  3. Having given way to Nonconformity—to the Baptists, Methodists, and Congregationalists—Anglicanism was then in decline in Wales.
  4. Dan Jones, letter to Thomas Bullock, 20 Jan 1855,23.
  5. Dan Jones, letter to Thomas Bullock, 24.
  6. Dan Jones, letter to Thomas Bullock, 10; Ronald D. Dennis,’The Martyrdom of Joseph Smith and His Brother Hyrum by Dan Jones,’ BYU Studies 24.1 (Winter 1984): 78-109.
  7. Quoted in Millennial Star 5:170; the disease referenced was probably Jones’s chronic lung ailment.
  8. Dan Jones, letter to Wilford Woodruff, 24 Feb 1845.
  9. David Williams, TwyllySeintiau Diweddafyn caeleiddynoethi (1846),29.
  10. It had this lengthy title: The scales, in which are seen David weighing Williams, and Williams weighing David: or David Williams, from Abercanaid, contradicting himself, caught in his deceit, and proved deistic.
  11. Dan Jones, editorial, Prophwyd 1.1 (Jul 1846): ii.
  12. SerenGomer (Dec 1847):375.
  13. Ugdorn Seion 1.1:93.
  14. William Howells, [Title], ed. Howells (pub date), 3.
  15. Quoted in ProphwydyJubili (March 1848): 40.
  16. Quoted in Millennial Star 10:175.
  17. Quoted in Millennial Star9:364.
  18. Quoted in Millennial Star 10:175.
  19. Quoted in Millennial Star 8:40.
  20. Quoted in Seren Gomer (Oct 1848): 305.

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