Mormons of Harkers Island, Chapter 3
Strengthened by the Storm: The Early Mormons of Harkers Island, NC, by Joel G. Hancock.
Casting the Net
Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a net, that was cast into the sea, and gathered of every kind: (Matthew 13:47)
THEIR FIRST CONTACTS
The records of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints indicate that the Church had no official members in Carteret County, North Carolina, before 1899. For that reason it might be assumed that John Telford and William Hansen, who worked in the area in 1897 and 1898, were less than successful. Those Elders, however, were convinced of the significance of their labors while at Diamond City and on Harkers Island. Both returned in later years to witness firsthand the growth of the work they had begun. According to their children, they claimed among their greatest accomplishments that of having been the first missionaries to what eventually became the Harkers Island Ward of the Church.
Local tradition at Harkers Island also speaks with unmistakable clarity of the impact and importance of the early efforts of Telford and Hansen. Their names have been indelibly etched in the consciousness of succeeding generations of Church members. Their story is told with much the same reverence as those of the Bible, the Book of Mormon, and of the Restoration. Many children of Latter-day Saints on and around Harkers Island have been given names in their honor.
In spite of the fact that no one was baptized by either of those first two missionaries, few of the families they had visited were left untouched by the association. Telford and Hansen blazed a trail with dignity and courage, and firmly established the image of the Church they represented among those who came to know them. Many later conversions were directly attributable to their efforts. In each home they visited, they planted seeds, many of which eventually took hold and sprouted. As with the New Testament parable of the sower, arable soil was needed to allow those seeds to flourish. The disruption caused by nature’s furies provided the necessary cultivation to assure that some of them did fall on fertile ground.
After leaving Redford’s Crossroads on Saturday, November 20, 1897, no reference was made by William Hansen to any specific communities he and his companion visited until after they had arrived in Carteret County. Judging from his account, they probably crossed the county line near the site of the present community of Cedar Point. Soon after entering the county in the afternoon of December 11, they sought directions and were told that the town of Newport was some twenty-eight miles away. Only Cedar Point in the west was that far from their stated destination. They had arranged to have all of their mail forwarded there and probably intended to begin their proselyting in that community.1
They were not very successful that first evening in the county of their new assignment. They passed but two houses along the road and at the first were turned away. Darkness came early in the last month of autumn, and evening found the travelers still without shelter. Finally, several hours after nightfall, they were offered “a good warm bed” by the family of Mr. Wesley Smith near the present community of Broad Creek. When the head of the household learned that his visitors were ministers, he made plans to schedule a service at his home for the next afternoon. But upon returning the following morning, after having ventured out to extend invitations to his neighbors, he “… in a loud voice, and with oaths, ordered [the Elders] out of his home as fast as [they] could get out.” Obviously his neighbors entertained the then prevailing misconceptions concerning the Mormons, and had convinced him to withdraw his earlier hospitality.
Telford and Hansen finally arrived at Newport after walking another fourteen miles. Upon inquiring at the post office they were invited by the Postmaster, Joseph Bell, to attend the farewell services for the local Methodist pastor that were to be held that evening. At this meeting they made their first acquaintance with the Reverend Samuel Abernethy. The Reverend gave what Elder Hansen characterized as a “very fine talk,” and explained that the Lord had called him to a new field of labor in Beaufort. Elder Hansen suggested that the extra $250 per year that the Beaufort congregation had offered might well have been “the Lord that was calling him there.” The reason for the young Elder’s cynicism was soon evident as the minister concluded his remarks by stating:
My dear friends and congregation. I have a word of warning I would like to leave with you before I take my departure. We have in our congregation tonight two men who claim they are ministers of the Gospel. But let me tell you, they are dangerous and their doctrine is false and without foundation. In fact, we have no more use for them and their damnable teaching than a dog has for two tails. So when they call on you, you tell them we need no new Bible. The Bible we have is the word of God. It was good enough for Christ and the Apostles and their followers, and its good enough for us.
John Telford was not one to let such a challenge go unanswered and he approached the minister to ask him a few questions as soon as the service had ended. The Reverend Abernethy, however, skillfully avoided an encounter with the young missionary and made away without speaking to those whom he had publicly assailed a few moments before. Still, his sermon had its desired effect and the Elders found the congregation and the people of Newport much colder to them from that moment on.
Yet, as fate would have it, the next morning while visiting the post office, the Elders came face to face with their accuser of the night before. This time there was no escaping for the Reverend and he soon found himself in a discussion of religion with Elder Telford. The older minister quickly became ensnared and so brought up the subject of “polygamy.” But even that matter was soon cleared up by the Elder to the apparent satisfaction of some thirty onlookers who quickly gathered to witness the discussion. Reverend Abernethy next launched into a tirade against the Book of Mormon and asked the missionary to explain the meaning of Revelation 22:19.2 This also was skillfully explained by Elder Telford leading the Reverend to resort to accusations involving the “Spaulding Story and Blood Atonement.”3 When these charges also failed to confound the young missionary, the minister concluded by asking, “Well, young man, how many wives did Brigham Young have?”
With this question Elder Telford stepped closer to him and said, “I don’t know, but I think President Young had enough wives that he left other men’s wives alone.” This seemed to floor the minister and he left very suddenly, his face coloring as he walked out of the post office. Among the people gathered was one large rather rough looking man who took off his hat and shouted while looking at Elder Telford, “My Lord, you sure told that man a mouth full!” We learned afterwards that he [the minister] was once found [in a compromised position] with another man’s wife when the man returned home. During the scuffle, the man of the house left several knife cuts on the minister’s face which he still wears.
Immediately following their confrontation with Reverend Abernethy, and feeling they could have little success in Newport, the two missionaries headed toward Beaufort. Beaufort at that time was a bustling seaport and commercial center and the largest community in Carteret County. They arrived there three days later on Thursday, December 16, 1897. According to William Hansen, they entered the city “fasting and very humble.” No sooner had they arrived than they again encountered the Reverend Abernethy. He quickly asserted that the Mormons would be no more welcome in Beaufort than they had been in Newport. This time, however, the two Elders refused to be sidetracked or diverted.
In fact, they found many people in Beaufort to be quite cordial in spite of the best efforts of the new Methodist minister to turn their hearts against them. They eventually made a friend of the town’s mayor, James Congleton, and were extended an open invitation to stay at his home whenever they wished. William Hansen became particularly enamored with the old southern gentleman and described in vivid detail everything about the Mayor and his family. He was once a planter and still retained the services of several of his former slaves. Living around Negroes was among the experiences that Elder Hansen considered the most unique of his mission.
The first Latter-day Saint service ever scheduled for Carteret County was to have occurred at the Beaufort School on the evening of December 16, 1897. Just prior to the meeting, however, the missionaries were notified that the School Board had revoked their earlier consent and that they would not be allowed to use the school building. Not to be denied, the service was rescheduled as an open-air meeting on the main street of town.
Standing on a borrowed dry goods box and holding a lantern, the missionaries opened their meeting by singing “Ye Elders of Israel.” There followed a sermon by John Telford on the “Atonement of the Savior.” The event was deemed successful for soon afterward the Reverend Abernethy, who was in attendance, had a change of heart. He rushed forward to address the crowd and encouraged them to assist the Elders by raising money to pay for a night’s stay at the local hotel. The two young visitors were very touched by the change in sentiments of their former adversary. They were moved still further when Mayor Congleton volunteered to pay for their room and allowed them to keep the money raised in their behalf. Spending that evening at the Hotel Russell, Elder Hansen confided in his journal that the Lord had “… heard and answered our prayers. We spent a very happy day and found friends on all sides.”
The following day, Friday, proved almost as eventful as the previous day had been. They called on sixty-five families and found the people of the community to be kind and respectful. Then, after conducting a meeting of their own in the “Odd Fellows Hall,” they attended a revival service at the local Negro church. William Hansen was somewhat taken by the “Mourners’ Bench” and the loud and rhythmic singing, shouting, and crying of those who claimed to be “holy and sanctified.” He recounted in vivid detail having witnessed the “holy jump,” the “holy laugh,” and the “holy roll.”
He concluded his journal entry of that evening on a more reflective note as he described with touching sentiment his emotions upon returning to the shores of the ocean for the first time since having crossed the Atlantic as the child of immigrants:
I enjoyed the view of the ocean and all the different kinds of ships that passed us during the day. Some were small while others were rather large. I was reminded of the fact that it was some fourteen years since I crossed this mighty pond of water when coming from Denmark to America with my parents when four years old.
The two missionaries spent the next week proselyting in and around Beaufort. They visited from thirty to fifty families each day and held meetings in the “Odd Fellows Hall” each evening. By December 21, they had begun boarding with Mayor Congleton and his wife and were called affectionately “Our Boys” by the elderly couple.
The highlight of their stay in Beaufort may have been the events of Saturday, December 25, the first Christmas ever celebrated in Carteret County by members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The day began with a visit to the post office and the pleasant surprise of packages from home. Both Elders shed tears of joy as they gazed down upon the humble gifts they had received from their sorely missed families in Utah. Christmas dinner was a special treat consisting of the obligatory roasted goose along with oyster soup, sweet and Irish potatoes, biscuits, cabbage, corn, and two kinds of cake. William Hansen was especially delighted that the meal included cow’s milk rather than the goats’s milk that he had observed to be the standard fare in the South at that time.
After dinner the missionaries conducted a special Christmas service at the request of their hosts. The meeting was held at the Mayor’s home, but because so many guests showed up, many had to remain outside and peer through the doors and windows. Elder Hansen noted that such was not impractical since the weather was unseasonably warm, “like a July day in Utah.” After the service, the young visitors further entertained their hosts by singing a variety of Latter-day Saint hymns and discussing the principles of the Gospel. The hymn singing must have been particularly enjoyable to John Telford. He was a great lover of music and his companion described him as having a “wonderful tenor voice.”
They concluded this special day by joining with Mayor Congleton in attending a “Sanctified Meeting” at the Church of which the Mayor was a member. William Hansen’s account of what he witnessed that evening is quite vivid.
Here we learned something new. These people felt they were obeying the teachings of the Apostle Paul which are found in 2nd Corinthians, Chapter 13, verse 12, “Greet one another with an holy kiss.” After the entire flock had gathered, numbering forty-two, their leader, Mr. Marshall, opened the meeting by prayer. After he finished, they all gathered around him and greeted him with a kiss, and then did the same with each other. The meeting was then turned over to testimony bearing.
As each one would stand up and speak, and when finished, the leader would ask if there were anyone else who would like to “say a word for Jesus.” He asked, “even if you don’t belong to our religion, we would like to have you speak.” With that Elder Telford arose and spoke for a few moments. As soon as he finished, they came toward us and offered to kiss us, but we of course objected. While they were trying to kiss us they also sang the song, “Oh Somebody is Here, I Know it’s King Jesus.” They expressed regret that we were not holy and sanctified… We then retired after an enjoyable day, long to be remembered!
After two more days in Beaufort among newly made friends, the Elders prepared to leave. One can only guess as to whether or not they had any premonition of what would be the eventual results of their next day’s journey. Unlike all their other travels to that point in their respective missions, this day’s excursion would not be entirely on foot. Rather, they would travel some fifteen miles in an open sailskiff. Of far greater consequence would be a difference that at first was less obvious than their mode of transportation. Greeting the missionaries as they next stepped onto dry land would be a special people. Many of those people, and their sons and daughters generations hence, would wholeheartedly embrace what the Elders proclaimed. Still further, after accepting that message, and against great opposition, they eventually would help to establish a bastion of Mormonism on a remote Southern Island.
STARTING AT DIAMOND CITY
“Today we had a new experience.” So began William Hansen’s account of what would be an initial three-month odyssey among the people of eastern Carteret County. Starting at Diamond City and eventually extending as far to the north as Wit (now Sea Level), he and his companion preached the message of their faith in every village and hamlet that bordered on Core Sound. They were excited and intrigued by the unique setting in which they labored and sought to experience and to describe almost every novelty of their new environment. In fact, their journey became a cultural exchange as well as a proselyting experience.
It appears that very few of the people they visited while “downeast” had even so much as heard of “Mormons” before the arrival of Telford and Hansen. Most of their hosts at first assumed that they were just the latest in a long line of itinerant preachers who had come looking for lost souls to save.
On Tuesday, December 29, 1897, they secured a ride in an open boat across “a small neck of water to what was known as the Banks.” William Hansen’s initial description of where they first landed on Shackleford Banks indicates that he was unsure of their exact whereabouts. He noted that there were but fourteen families on the “little island.” In subsequent days he would find many more homes and families and discover that there was much more to be seen and learned on the Banks than he initially supposed.
One of the first families called upon was that of Tyre Moore. This reference indicates that the missionaries had found their way to the area known as “Whale Creek Bay.” Tyre Moore lived there with his family and his descendants continued to maintain summer camps in the area for many years. According to Hansen’s account, the people “… all seemed very happy to see us, as it had been years since any ministers had called on them, and they seemed unconcerned as to what denomination we represented.”
William Hansen was overstating the point in reporting that “years” had elapsed since any preachers had come to the Banks. As earlier noted, there was a small church that housed a congregation of Southern Methodists not far from Tyre Moore’s home. However, 4 there was no resident pastor for the small group and visiting ministers came no more than once each month. Especially during the winter, there may have been periods of more than a month between such visits.
The absence of resident ministers of other denominations proved to be of vital importance at Shackleford Banks and later at Harkers Island. Having gone months without preachers, the people of these communities were hungry to listen to anyone bearing a religious message. Even more importantly, the lack of other ministers allowed Telford and Hansen to preach free of the resistance and prejudice that generally came from other clergymen. When such ministers did arrive, the missionaries had enjoyed sufficient time to share their message and earn the friendship of many of their listeners. By that time, all the opposition that could be mustered would prove inadequate to shake the faith and trust of those who were poised to accept what they had heard.
The Moore family entertained their visitors with dinner and invited them to spend the evening as their guests. Mr. Moore also requested that they hold a meeting, “or preaching, as they call it,” at his home. After canvassing the neighborhood later that afternoon and calling on several other families, they had a nice turn-out for the evening meeting and “spent considerable time, … visiting and singing our hymns.”
The next day the Elders made their way farther east and found the main settlement on the Island at Diamond City. There they counted another thirty-seven homes and families. Calling on the trustees of the local school, they sought and received permission to use the schoolhouse for a service that evening. They were quite successful in finding willing listeners while visiting in the community. The turnout for their meeting was large, and according to Elder Hansen, “very interested in our message.” Following the service they received several invitations for dinner and accommodations. They eventually accepted the offer of thirty-year-old Joseph Willis and his wife Lucy. Few, if any, of the contacts made by these first Latter-day Saint missionaries would prove to be of greater significance than that of Joseph Willis, his children, and his extended family.
The following day, New Year’s Eve, was one of particular excitement for the young visitors from Utah. Continuing their trek eastward on the Island, they eventually made their way to Cape Lookout. They were plainly fascinated with what they found there. They spent the entire day exploring the Lighthouse and Life-Saving Station that were focal points of the village.
Upon making the acquaintance of Mr. John Davis, the keeper of the Lighthouse, they were taken on a guided tour of the structure that still overlooks Lookout Point. William Hansen, ever the avid listener, vividly detailed what he learned.
The Lighthouse was 156 feet high. The walls at the bottom were eighteen feet through, and at the top were four feet wide. The large lamp burned seven gallons and one quart of oil each night. When the nights were clear and no fog, this light could be seen forty miles out in the ocean. When the day was gloomy and foggy, this light was burning all the time. We climbed the long winding iron steps from the bottom to the top.
When we went on the outside we found a porch, or walk, all around the tower about three feet wide. A heavy iron rail was around it too, which one could hold. The wind was blowing hard up on top of the Lighthouse but there was no wind below. We could see for miles and miles, and could also see small and large ships out on the ocean.
Leaving the Lighthouse and heading toward the Life-Saving Station, the travelers encountered what they described as a sandstorm. In the course of their two-mile walk, the wind blowing in off of the ocean began to hurl the light, dry beach sand into their faces. By the time they reached the station their faces were sore, “… so much so that when [they] would wipe them with [their] handkerchiefs, blood would show on them.”
At the Life-Saving Station they found eight men including the Captain and cook. All seemed happy to meet the visitors and the Captain, William Howard Gaskill, was particularly gracious and courteous. The Elders were impressed by the orderly nature of both the personnel and facilities at the station. “Everything was in its proper place. The men [were] all dressed in white, neat and clean, as was also the building, both inside and out.”
After enjoying a fish dinner, “and all that went with it,” Captain Gaskill showed his guests around the station. William Hansen’s delight in that experience is readily evident in his description of what they saw and heard.
The building had a tower on it that was sixty feet high. Here was a small room with windows all around it so that one could see in all directions. One man was stationed there night and day. The purpose of this man was to discover when a shipwreck took place. Then he would give the alarm to the entire crew and he with all the others would set out to give help to those in distress.
They had a long wagon on which was a large long-boat. This boat was so built that it was waterproof, with a door on top which could be closed and would keep the water out. Then they had a large pair of mules already to jump under the harness… and was hitched to a wagon in a very few moments. Then it was up to the mules to take this wagon down to the shore in the direction where the wreck could be seen. To this wagon was also fastened a small cannon. In this cannon was loaded a heavy weight in the shape of a bullet with a rope attached to it. When shot out over the water it would go for miles. This would reach the boat or ship in distress and the life savers would be placed or fastened on this rope and drawn into shore. They had a practice every Tuesday and Friday afternoon at three o’clock.
When night set in two men from the life-saving station would go to the shore and patrol from six to nine. Then two other men would take their places until midnight. Hence four changes were made each night. These men, when reaching the shore, had a distance of two miles to walk. At the end of each was a post with a clock fastened to the post. This clock would be adjusted by the man, thereby letting the Captain know that they had done their duty
… During the day time, if a ship passed … and wished to commune with the station they would raise a flag on the highest mast. In turn, the man in the tower would raise his flag, and in this manner a conversation would be carried on. While we were there, a ship passed and the man in the tower informed the crew on board the ship that “two Mormon Elders” were at the station, giving our names and where we were from.5
THE CLOSE OF 1897
After a full and memorable day at Cape Lookout, the two made their way back to Diamond City that evening and filled a scheduled appointment for services at the schoolhouse. Following the meeting, they spent the night with the family of Tom Styron. Writing in his journal that evening at the close of the year 1897, William Hansen summarized the efforts of his five months in the mission field that had begun on August 1. Included in his synopsis are such facts as having walked 1,148 miles, holding 523 Gospel conversations, observing fifty-one fast days, baptizing five converts, and blessing one child. He also noted that from the time he entered the mission field until that day he had spent a total of $2.75. He concluded by observing that the end of the year found him “… in the vineyard of the Lord as his humble servant preaching the only true Gospel to be found on the Earth.”
Elders Telford and Hansen passed New Year’s Day back at “Whale Creek Bay” at the home of Tyre Moore. Like Christmas Day a week earlier, the day was bright and sunny. It must have been not quite so warm, for it was characterized as a “May day in Utah,” while Christmas had been compared to “July.” After some tracting6 during the morning, they held a meeting in the home of their host and then spent that and the following night with Mr. Moore and his family.
By Monday, January 3, 1898, they felt it necessary to return to Beaufort to check for their mail. There they spent the night at the home of Mayor Congleton but were off again the next morning and returned to the Banks. Elder Hansen noted that in spite of having walked over four miles during that day, they had found only four families, leaving “tracts and dodgers,” and had generated only two gospel conversations. They spent the evening with Mr. Luther S. Guthrie and family. The scarcity of homes and the surname of their host suggests that this day’s journey had been at the extreme western end of the Banks.
Wednesday, January 5, found the companions back again at the Life-Saving Station among their friends of the previous week. The men at the station were very happy at their return and made them feel most welcome. “We had a fine dinner and in the evening held a meeting. When we got ready to leave, the Captain asked us if we would spend the night with them, which invitation we gladly accepted.”
By Thursday the missionaries had returned to Diamond City. William Hansen noted that the people there were very happy to see them and that some even greeted them by asserting, “We hope you will never leave us again!” In fact, their reception in Diamond City was a vivid indication that their presence and their message had begun to have an impact upon the people of the Banks. So happy were the people to have the visitors back in their community that they made special arrangements to provide for their needs.
The homes in this little city were all small. However, one couple, Mr. and Mrs. Tom Styron, had a two-room house with a bed in each room. So the good people of the neighborhood made arrangements that these two people let us stay with them, and the others would feed us. This was very satisfactory with all. We at once gave notice that we would hold meeting in the school that night… . We had a fine turn-out and spent the evening with Mr. and Mrs. Styron.
Continuing to take advantage of the offer of hospitality, the visitors spent the next day, Friday, with the Styrons, writing letters and updating their journals. Events of the previous week had moved so rapidly and their days had been so full, that until that day they had not had sufficient time to make a detailed record of their activities.
A SPECIAL HEALING
On Saturday, January 8, they were out once more visiting among the friends they had made earlier in the week. John Telford’s log book for the day records only that they “revisited” three families and held two meetings.7 William Hansen’s journal includes little more than that they had “performed a healing at the home of Joseph Willis.” However, the Willis family’s account of the events of that day is much more detailed. It has been told to each succeeding generation of the family with both clarity and reverence.
The family of Joe Wallace Willis was in most ways a typical Diamond City family. Joe Wallace, who was quite short and wore a long gray beard, was forty-three when the first Latter-day Saint missionaries arrived at Shackleford Banks. His wife, the former Margaret Meekins, was thirty-six. The husband worked the inland waters as a “progger” and tended a large garden in the spring and fall. His wife maintained the family’s small home and served as a mid-wife and the village nursemaid. Tradition has it that “Aunt Marg,” as she was called, also specialized in growing “mullen” plants and using their ointment to make a special medicine.8 The family included two young daughters, Bertha and Mary.
The years just prior to 1898 had been difficult ones for the family of Joe Wallace and Margaret Willis. In June of 1895, their infant daughter, Penny Dee, had died only one week after her first birthday. A year later a son, John Clifford, was born but passed away after only nine days on May 23, 1896. On May 8, 1897, Margaret gave birth again, but this time the child was still-born. Then in the fall of that year, twelve-year-old Bertha fell gravely ill with what appears to have been a form of rheumatoid arthritis.
Because of the severity of her illness, Bertha often was bedridden for days at a time. Such was the case on the morning of January 8, 1898. Her only diversion at these times of paralysis was reading from the large family Bible. Because her hands had been swollen shut by the crippling disease, she would resort to opening the book with her elbows and reading at whatever point that it might fall open. On this day it lay open at the Epistle of James in the New Testament. As she began to read she was deeply impressed by a passage in the fifth chapter, verses fourteen and fifteen: “Is there any sick among you? Let him call on the elders of the Church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him.”
In the preceding days Bertha had watched from her window as the distinctive new visitors to her community had passed her home. On one occasion they had stopped and introduced themselves to her parents. She recalled that both of the young men were called “Elders,” the same title referred to in the passage she had just read. In fact, they were the only ones she ever had heard referred to by such a title.
She called her mother to her room and asked her to read the passage again, this time aloud. When her mother had finished, Bertha remarked, “Mama, I believe those Mormon Elders could heal me!”
Margaret’s response was only partially reassuring. Perhaps reflecting on the tragedies of the past three years and feeling some measure of uncertainty, she responded, “I guess they could, if you have the faith.”
It was agreed that both would keep watch for the Elders so they could be invited in should they venture by again. Bertha awaited their appearance with eager anticipation. As the morning hours passed and they failed to show, she grew impatient. Shortly before noon her closest friend, Letha Brooks, stopped by her home to visit. Letha was the daughter of Oscar and Armecia Brooks. She and her parents had heard the sermons and songs of the Elders and she encouraged Bertha to seek them out and ask for the blessing mentioned in the Scripture. In fact, she gladly volunteered to run to the schoolhouse where they were holding a Saturday morning service and tell them what her friend desired.
As soon as their meeting was finished, the missionaries followed Letha to Bertha’s home. There they were happy to grant what she and her family requested. The power to heal the faithful sick was one of the gifts with which the Elders had been specifically endowed as holders of the Melchizedek Priesthood.
With Elder John Telford serving as mouthpiece, the two missionaries anointed Bertha’s head with oil and with their hands upon her head gave her a priesthood blessing just as had been described in the Book of James. It appears from Elder Hansen’s account that they administered a similar blessing upon Joe Wallace as well, this time with the junior companion offering the prayer.
Several hours later, after the visitors had said their goodbyes and things had returned to normal at the home, Bertha called to her mother in the adjoining room in a voice so loud that Margaret was startled. “Mama, Mama, come look,” she screamed, “My fingers, they are limber! I can open and shut my hands!” Her parents again were surprised as they awakened the next morning to the sound of their daughter preparing breakfast in the kitchen of their home. It was the first time she had walked unassisted for months.
The mere loosening of Bertha’s hands had been sufficient to cause her father to attend a service conducted by the missionaries at the school that Saturday evening. Elder Hansen recorded that Joe Wallace proclaimed to those in attendance that, “… he knew we [the missionaries] were servants of the Lord and that he had faith in the words of the Savior when he said, ‘Lay hands on the sick and they shall recover.”
The entire family of Joe Wallace Willis eventually became active members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Indicative of their appreciation of the “miracle” they had received is the name given to a healthy son born into the family eight months later: John Telford Willis. The remarkable long-term influence of that simple healing was clearly evidenced when, on July 5, 1986, a reunion of the posterity of Joe Wallace Willis was held at Harkers Island. On that occasion over 250 of his direct descendants were counted as members of the Church that had sent two young missionaries to his family’s door almost a century earlier.9
A VISIT FROM THE CONFERENCE PRESIDENT
John Telford and William Hansen conducted three more services at the school in Diamond City the next day, Sunday, and yet another was held later that evening at the home of Ephriam Willis. After the final gathering of the day they went again to the home of Joseph Willis and entertained their hosts with a rendition of Latter-day Saint hymns.
Two more meetings were held the following afternoon. In their mail of that day, they received a letter from Conference President Ezra C. Robinson. The President wrote the Elders that he and his assistant, Elder Henry Stahle, would arrive shortly and that Telford and Hansen should make immediate plans to meet them at Beaufort. The missionaries seemed delighted to receive the news, “… for it had been some time since [they] had shaken a Mormon’s hand, and especially an Elder’s.”
Arrangements were made to travel to Beaufort the following morning, Tuesday, January 11. They were offered passage in a small boat by a “colored man.” This “colored man” was almost certainly Sam Windsor, as tradition holds that his was the only Black family to live on the Banks. The two companions were a little uncomfortable during the boat ride because of high winds and because the boat was so small, but by mid-afternoon, they were safely in Beaufort with the Congletons. The elderly couple was pleased to have the missionaries as their guests once more and readily invited them to take up residence in their home while they awaited President Robinson.
They were again entertained in royal fashion by the Mayor and his family. After three days, however, they grew quite concerned that President Robinson and Elder Stahle still had not arrived. They previously had made appointments back at the Banks and were anxious to return and build upon what they felt had been a promising start. On Saturday, January 15, they decided to return to Diamond City. By 4:00 that afternoon they were on the Banks at the home of Tom Styron. The boat trip of that day had been one that neither John Telford nor William Hansen would ever forget. “This was the worst boat ride I have ever had,” wrote William Hansen in his journal:
Mr. Davis [the boats’s Captain] said that in his twelve years of experience on this piece of water, this was the worst day he had ever had. When we boarded the boat at Beaufort the weather was beautiful and there was no wind. After getting out about two or three miles the wind came up and Mr. Davis sure had his hands full in trying to control the boat. We helped him the best we could [by] dipping out water. When we reached the shore at Diamond City we were wet from head to foot; not a dry rag on us. I am sure the Lord was with us and indeed I was grateful to him for his watchcare (sic) over us.
The Styrons built a fire to help dry the Elders’ clothes and they were able to keep their appointment for a meeting that evening. They spent that night and Sunday at the Styron home, but planned to return to Beaufort the following morning in anticipation that their expected visitors might finally have arrived. While they waited by the shore at Joseph Willis’ store, President Robinson and Elder Stahle suddenly appeared. They had arrived in Beaufort in the Elders’ absence and had been directed, probably by the Congletons, to Diamond City.
After calling on a few families and dinner with Joseph Willis, Elders Telford and Hansen were anxious to introduce their guests to the things they had discovered in their new field of labor. Specifically, they wanted the President to see the Life-Saving Station at Cape Lookout and they traveled there soon after dinner. The crew at the station were delighted to see the missionaries once more and to meet the new arrivals. President Robinson and Elder Stahle were given the same guided tour that Telford and Hansen had enjoyed two weeks earlier. A meeting was held at the station in the late afternoon with President Robinson serving as the main speaker. According to William Hansen, the sermon visibly impressed the life-saving crewmen.
President Robinson and Elder Telford rested at the station following the service while Elders Hansen and Stahle walked a mile farther south of the station to the site known as “Cape Lookout Point.” There they knelt in prayer where “the large breakers come together.” This reference is to the southernmost point of Core Banks where ocean waves propelled by the southwest winds collide against the westerly moving breakers that roll incessantly off the wide Atlantic. This spot is almost perpetually turbulent and stormy. The roaring sea and raging winds offer a sense of primeval nearness to nature that helped and inspired the young missionaries to seek communion with their Lord.
Rejoining their companions at the station, the four visitors hurriedly returned to Diamond City for a scheduled meeting at the schoolhouse. The newcomers were the featured speakers at the service and afterwards President Robinson and Elder Telford spent the night with the Styrons while the others stayed again at the home of Joseph Willis.
RETURN TO BEAUFORT
The following morning, January 18, 1898, Elders Telford and Hansen, together with Robinson and Stahle, left Diamond City, not to return until a full month later. They would spend most of the next two and a half months working in other communities to the north along Core Sound. The friends they had made during their three-week odyssey at Shackleford Banks would prove to be enduring. Later events would bear unmistakable evidence of the lasting imprint made during those first three weeks of proselyting in a community that within a few years would all but disappear.
When Joseph Willis learned that his visitors were anxious to return to Beaufort the next morning, he offered to carry them across the channel in his boat. Telford and Hansen were somewhat apprehensive at making the crossing as their most recent boat ride had been so frightening. However, the weather was calm and sunny and the party had a very pleasant trip. This circumstance in itself may have been fortuitous. Had the weather and the resulting journey been as traumatic as that of the previous week, the missionaries might well have decided against any further excursions among the maritime communities of eastern Carteret County.
They arrived at Beaufort at 1:00 in the afternoon and in time to schedule a service at the “Odd Fellows Hall” for the evening. The Elders were disappointed at the results of the meeting as they “received a very cold reception, not many coming out.” Much opposition to their message had begun to arise in Beaufort while the Elders were away and would continue to grow in the ensuing weeks and months. Still, John Telford and William Hansen were happy to have the chance to introduce their visitors to the Congletons and to spend another day in the presence of other Latter-day Saints. The following morning, Wednesday, January 19, President Robinson and Elder Stahle said goodbye and headed back westward. Telford and Hansen spent the remainder of the day with the Congletons, and were again entertained lavishly by their hosts. The “colored lady” of the Congleton home washed and ironed all of their clothes and Mr. Congleton returned from his store with candy and nuts for his guests.
The Elders took the opportunity to write letters to friends and loved ones at home and to others they had met while in the mission field. Events of the past few weeks had moved so swiftly that they enjoyed little time for anything other than proselyting and traveling between Beaufort and the Banks communities. The very hectic nature of their recent weeks is evidenced by the brevity of William Hansen’s journal entries of the period. Each entry was brief and sometimes contains little more than a reference to where he had visited and with whom he had spent the evening.
The only evidence of any success in his proselyting were his observations that some days had been “rewarding,” that a meeting had been “well attended,” or that they had been “blessed in their efforts.” No reference was ever made to any “baptismal invitations” having been extended, and either accepted or rejected.
Even when they had participated in something so notable as the healing of Bertha Willis, there is no record or other evidence that any immediate efforts were made to proceed from that point on to baptism and official membership in their Church. At Diamond City, and later at Harkers Island and the other “downeast” communities, William Hansen and John Telford sought to introduce as many as possible to the message they taught. It may be assumed that they were satisfied that their task was to plant the seed that future missionaries would be able to nurture and harvest.
Again reconciled to traveling on water, the missionaries made plans to continue their mission to eastern Carteret County. After a peaceful and restful day with the Congletons it was agreed that they would visit a community they had heard of frequently during the preceding weeks. Early the next morning, Thursday, January 20, 1898, they were in an open boat and headed toward Harkers Island.