Treasures: A Pioneer Letter

Today is a very loved holiday in the state of Utah – the 24th of July.  It’s the day we celebrate the first Mormon Pioneers arriving in the Salt Lake Valley on 24 July 1847.  After years of persecution and being driven from place to place, those pioneers finally fled Nauvoo and began the difficult journey to Utah.  Some traveled by ox cart, many walked alongside the wagons, others traveled by handcart which meant a lot of walking, and a very small group of Saints traveled on the Ship Brooklyn sailing from New York, around Cape Horn, and arriving in Yerba Buena, California six months later.  My own ancestors were among each of those groups.

In honor of my pioneer ancestors, on this 24th of July, I have a special treasure to share.  I just discovered this gem last week while going through some more of my Grandma’s collection.

Pictured above you can see my 4th great-grandfather, Julius Augustus Caesar Austin, then the headstone for his wife, my 4th great-grandmother Octavia Ann Lane, and then their daughter, Louise Maria Austin, my 3rd great-grandmother.  In my searching, so far I have not found any photos of Octavia.

In 1846, Julius, Octavia, and their three surviving children, Louise – age 7, Edwin – age 5, and Newton – age 2, all began their journey to Utah on the Ship Brooklyn.  I’ve known that was the case for many years, but discovering this transcription of a letter written by Octavia during that journey was such a cool find.  The transcription was completed by Julius and Octavia’s granddaughter, Louise Delina Cheney in 1934.  What a treasure!

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“Copy of

Photostat of a letter written by grand mother Austin to her parents while on Ship Brooklyn.

Honolula, Oahu

June 29 – 1846

Dear Parents and Brothers & Sisters

I take this time to write a few lines, but one sheet of paper to communicate one’s thots  If you knew my feelings for your eternal happiness.  I want you to come where we are to live – and die with the Saints of God.

Give my love to Sister King and enquering friends.  One thing more we met some. relatives on board Brother Nathan Burr married Chloe Clarke, grandchild of Thomas Pratt grandmother’s brother; she was acquainted with Aunt Stocking, has been to Uncle Stannard’s house   they are first rate folks, she looks some like your mother

Julius sends love

Octavia A. Austin.

To you all.


Copied at Genealogical Office From Mss.  Oct 15 – 1934 by Delina Willis.  There is also copy of another letter written by grandmother dated 29 Sept 1846″


The details about Chloe Clarke, Thomas Pratt, and Aunt Stocking have got me curious.  This is a line I haven’t spent any time on.  I’ve got to see where these clues lead me!  Also, Aunt Stocking?  I love that name.

I was also curious to see if the original letter was viewable on the LDS Church History Library website.  The image is not, but I discovered that this note from Octavia was a postscript to a letter written by her sister, Emeline Lane, as seen here.  Emeline wrote an additional letter that is also held there, as seen here.  I can’t see any trace of the letter Delina mentions from 29 September 1846.  That letter must be in a private collection, or in another department.  I have some digging to do!  AND, I think a trip to Salt Lake is in order to view the two Emeline letters.  I can’t wait to see Octavia’s handwriting!!  I better make a list of other treasures in the Church History Library about my family.  I found that at least one letter written by Emeline is included in the book Scoundrel’s Tale: The Samuel Brannan Papers by, Will Bagley.  I ordered a copy.


Happy 24th of July!  It’s a day that honors Mormon Pioneers and their sacrifices so that LDS church members would be able to live what they believed in peace and safety.  I am thankful for them, so many of whom reside in my very own tree.


13 thoughts on “Treasures: A Pioneer Letter”

  1. I thought that handwriting was surprisingly clear—and then realized it had been copied! Great letter. Do people still refer to each other as Brother and Sister in the LDS community?

    1. Yes, it is a copy. I’m hoping to see the original in Salt Lake soon. There may not be a photo of Octavia, but seeing her handwriting will be just as awesome!

      Yes we do, it used as a sign of respect and a reminder that we believe we are all spirit children of God and as such, literal brothers and sisters in spirit.

  2. A very moving letter and I especially like the final line “she looks some like your mother.”

  3. Great find! Such beautiful handwriting too. Some of the small LDS-settled towns here in AZ celebrate Pioneer Day too. One of these days we are going to have to go and check out the parade and celebrations! I don’t have any pioneer ancestors myself but my husband has many and I’m so grateful for the sacrifices they made.

    1. Thank you, Sue! Our little town has a very big celebration every year. There is a parade with floats (simple ones) for each Primary. They also hold a 5k, pancake breakfast, flag ceremony, games – food – entertainment in the city park, more food and entertainment in the other city park, a ping-pong ball drop for free bikes and scooters for children (balls dropped from a helicopter). Then it all ends with the biggest fireworks show you have ever seen. It literally goes all day long. It’s quite a day. 😉

  4. I hope you will be able to get a photo or digital copy of the original when you look it up. It must be amazing still to have a copy of the letter in the handwriting of her granddaughter. While reading it I could image those genealogy cogs were working as you read the names of “some relatives.”

    1. Yes, exactly!! It was driving me crazy that I didn’t have time to look after I transcribed it. But I got to it later that day. I found all of the connections except for Aunt Stocking – that one is still eluding me. 😉

  5. What a cool find!! I think the Spirit guides you because of your dogged determination & your faith. I am sure there are some things for me, too. And you give me hope. Thank you for that.

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