Ellen Briggs Douglas Parker: Where Her Treasure Was

November 17, 2006 | 11 comments
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Nauvoo, June 12, 1842

Dear father and mother, I am at a loss what I can say to you. I feel so thankful for what the Lord has done for me and my family, for truly all things have worked together for our good. …

There is now in this city a female charity society of which I am a member. We are in number eight or nine hundred. Jos. Smith wife is the head of our Society and we meet on a Thursday at ten o’clock, where we receive instructions both temporally and spiritually.

I must say something about the Prophet the Lord has raised up in these last days. I feel to rejoice that I have been permitted to hear his voice, for I know that this is the work of the Lord, and all the powers of earth or hell can not gainsay it. … I pray that the Lord may remove all darkness from your minds so that you may see clearly the way which you should go, so that at last you may enter in through the gate …

Your affectionate daughter,

Ellen Douglas

So Ellen Briggs Douglas wrote to her family in England, reporting on her arrival with her husband and seven children at Nauvoo. This was only the first of several major moves Ellen would make in response to her testimony of the gospel.

Ellen was born in 1806, and married George Douglas in 1823. They and their oldest sons were baptized in 1838 by Heber C. Kimball. None of her parents’ family ever joined the Church, despite Ellen’s repeated efforts to share her faith.

George was a hard worker and taught his sons to work, but there is evidence that it was Ellen’s careful management that set the family’s standard of living. Soon after their baptism, Ellen’s goals changed from raising her family’s temporal status to saving money for emigration to Zion. Reaching Nauvoo in March 1842, Ellen set about rebuilding the family fortunes. While her husband went to work building Joseph Smith’s Nauvoo house and her sons and oldest daughter hired out to work for neighbors, Ellen worked at home. She planted her half-acre garden with vegetables; she bought chickens and built a healthy flock. When her teenage son received a young pig as payment for one day’s work clearing land, she gleefully described for her parents how valuable the pig was and how it would contribute to the family’s welfare.

But only three months after the Douglas family arrived in Nauvoo, George Douglas died. Ellen and her children stayed together, pooling their wages for the good of the family and feeding themselves as much as possible from their own garden.

Early in 1846, as the Saints were having to flee from Nauvoo, Ellen married widower John Parker, adding his three small children to her own. As many of the Saints did, the Parkers moved to Saint Louis to earn money for the outfit they would need to take them west. There John’s skills and Ellen’s management eventually led them to open a soda water and rootbeer bottling factory, which proved to be extremely profitable. The Parkers could have stayed in Saint Louis and become very wealthy, but they wanted to join the Church in Utah. In 1852 they sold their business.

The family bought eleven wagons with teams to pull them, and a threshing machine, and filled the wagons with family supplies and goods that were badly needed in Utah. Ellen sewed vests for her husband and sons, with false linings concealing pouches filled with twenty dollar gold pieces. Along with the Douglas and Parker families, John’s extended family were members of the Church. The family was so large that John needed to hire only one teamster besides his own relatives to drive the wagons west. The family traveled as an independent company, and arrived without accident in the Salt Lake Valley on 28 August 1852.

Following ten years in Salt Lake City, the Parkers again pulled up stakes in response to the call for families to settle in Dixie. They began all over again in Virgin, near Saint George; Ellen lived there until her death in 1886.

Ellen’s management skills, added to the willingness of her family to work hard and work together, enabled her to provide well for her family’s temporal needs. Yet she cheerfully – and repeatedly – put a higher value on her family’s membership in the Kingdom than on earthly wealth. “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”

(originally published April 2006)

11 Responses to Ellen Briggs Douglas Parker: Where Her Treasure Was

  1. Aaron on November 17, 2006 at 11:17 pm

    What a wonderful woman of faith, determination and integrity. This is an example that we can all learn from. If we are called by the Lord to do something we should do it, no matter what the cost and as the Lord has stated in D&C 82:10, “I, the Lord, am bound when ye do what I say; but when ye do not what I say, ye have no promise.” He will bless us for our obedience.

  2. Wilfried on November 18, 2006 at 6:13 pm

    Thank you, Ardis. Please continue to give us those inspiring examples.

  3. Stephen M (Ethesis) on November 18, 2006 at 9:06 pm

    It is good to remember these examples.

  4. Last Lemming on November 18, 2006 at 11:14 pm

    It’s a good thing I started paying attention to my genealogy a few months ago, or I might not have recognized the name. She is my g-g-g-grandmother. Thanks for posting this.

  5. Ardis Parshall on November 18, 2006 at 11:59 pm

    Last Lemming, it’s great to hear this, from two directions: both that you are looking back and remembering your grandmother, and also that Ellen can look forward and see that she has descendants still connected to the Church.

    I spent most of the past week on a Utah history project with no relevance to Church history. After quite a few years I have finally been able to trace the origins of a non-Mormon who came to Utah in the 1890s. I knew he didn’t have Utah roots, and I knew he was a non-Mormon … so imagine my surprise when I discovered that his father was named Moroni and his uncle was named Mahonri! It’s very much on my mind right now that the families of some early converts broke from the Church, and that their descendants have little idea of their heritage — I’ll probably do a post on this soon. I’m glad that this is NOT true of Ellen’s family.

    Aaron, Wilfried, Stephen M — thanks for taking the time to comment. I know that there isn’t a lot to say now that these stories are becoming regular things on T&S, but of course it pleases me that you care enough to check in.

  6. ukann on November 19, 2006 at 4:09 am

    Ardis – I am very much enjoying these stories. Many saints in England are apt to think that ‘pioneer’ stories belong to an American heritage. I have to keep reminding them that they are part of our English LDS heritage too – the ‘pick and flower’ of England.

  7. Last Lemming on November 19, 2006 at 11:56 am

    Ardis,

    If you were not aware of it, Ellen’s daughter, Vilate, married into the Romney family (George, son of Miles). The most famous Romneys are not direct descendent of hers, but rather of her son-in-law’s brother (Miles, son of Miles). Still, there is no shortage of faithful Mormons descended from Ellen through the Romney line, if not others.

  8. Remembrancer on November 19, 2006 at 7:51 pm

    Thank you again for these wonderful biographical sketches. Today in RS
    Society I used the Bio of Sister Zippro as an example combined with several
    women from the bible, bom, and church history. While W. Woodruff was
    quoted, my focus was on our bygone faithful sisters. My sisters were so
    engaged with the lesson. The hour flew by. ( of course I gave you full credit)
    I will be happy to buy the anthology of these bios when you are able to publish.
    Did I say thanks yet???

  9. maria on November 19, 2006 at 8:28 pm

    I love these posts! Thank you so much again!

  10. John Taber on November 19, 2006 at 10:35 pm

    One of John Parker’s children from his first marriage was my third great-grandmother, Elizabeth Parker Winder.

    John and Ellen resusitated their soda business in Utah – and sold to Johnston’s Army among others. (Their trek west had been in relative comfort and style.)

  11. Karen on November 20, 2006 at 1:54 pm

    I was a little surprised to see the letter that opened this post. I have read this letter many times and have a copy of this and other letters Ellen Douglas wrote. I am pleased to say I am a decendent of the Douglas family. Ellen is my 4th great grandmother.