Strengthened by the Storm: The Early Mormons of Harkers Island, NC, by Joel G. Hancock.
“Good, Humble, But Poor People”
Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble. (James 4:6)
JANUARY 20, 1898
The densely wooded southern shore of Harkers Island had been clearly visible to John Telford and William Hansen on their excursions between Beaufort, Shackleford Banks, and Cape Lookout. The Island’s broad expanse dominated the north horizon when looking from most points along the Banks. During their stays at the Banks, the missionaries had heard much of Harkers Island and eagerly anticipated visiting there after taking leave of Diamond City.
The boat ride to Harkers Island was judged by William Hansen to have been some eight miles. As the visitors already had learned, travel by open boat along the inland waters of eastern North Carolina in mid-winter is often treacherous and almost always uncomfortable. So the voyage to Harkers Island by sailskiff from Beaufort on January 20, 1898, may have seemed much longer than the few miles it actually involved. After leaving Beaufort Harbor by way of “the Bar,” the young travelers would have headed east along a narrow passageway between numerous and intricate shoals that lie on all sides of “Middle Marsh.” Once beyond the marshes they would have crossed a half-mile stretch of open water. Rushing tides and the northwesterly winds of winter frequently collide along this span to build cresting waves and create a turbulence that is uncommon for the inland sounds. But after negotiating the channel and reaching Harkers Island, their party would have found smooth sailing along the Island’s south shore. They finally made harbor near Academy Field, directly across from the Island’s present elementary school.
William Hansen recorded that in addition to the twenty-eight families who lived on the Island, they found a “large, nice church.” In spite of 1 the presence of a spacious chapel, they soon learned that, as had been the case at Shackleford Banks, no ministers were living on the Island. In fact, they were told, “there had been no preaching in the church for several years.” After having observed that no one seemed to be in charge of the church and that the doors were open, they were told to “go ahead and preach in it!”
The missionaries understandably were delighted at having the opportunity to make use of a real church rather than the school rooms, community halls, and street corners to which they were more accustomed. They called at the home of every family on the Island and announced a service to be held in the church that evening.
Their meeting was well attended and they were encouraged at their reception. Before ending the service, they explained to the people how they traveled “without purse and without scrip,” and that they would appreciate any offer of entertainment.
According to William Hansen, “as soon as the meeting was closed, the crowd scattered like sheep with the exception of one, Willie Nelson, who came forward and said, ‘Minister, if you can put up with our fare, you are sure welcome to come stay with us.”
They thanked him and gladly accepted his gracious offer.
Willie Nelson was the nephew of Armecia Brooks whom the Elders had met while at Diamond City. He lived not far from the church, but the short walk through the woods on a late winter’s evening proved to be quite an adventure. It also was striking evidence of the density of the forest that then covered the Island.
It was very dark. Mr. Nelson had a lantern in order that we might see the road. We had only gone a short distance from the church when a heavy wind came up. It blew out his lantern and neither of us had a match so it was impossible to get it lighted. The road took us through a thick stretch of timber. We lost the road and got lost in the woods. We wandered about until after midnight before Mr. Nelson found the road and led us safely home.
The visitors soon discovered that Mr. Nelson’s home and accommodations indeed were humble. Elder Hansen noted that their bed was made on the floor, but that it was nonetheless comfortable. The next morning they were treated to a fine breakfast and invited by Mr. Nelson to spend the day at his home. Though most of their time was spent in updating their journals and writing letters, the visit of Latter-day Saint missionaries was to leave a lasting impression with Willie Nelson. Like Joseph Willis with whom the Elders had spent their first evening while at Diamond City, Willie Nelson eventually became a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Perhaps even more important was an influence that went beyond the walls of Willie Nelson’s own home. His mother, two brothers, two sisters, and a sister-in-law eventually followed his example in welcoming the Mormon Elders into their homes and accepting the doctrines the missionaries taught. No other family would be more prominent in the establishment of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at Harkers Island than were the Nelsons. In fact, most of the “native”2 residents of the Island who eventually joined with the Latter-day Saints were related in some way to the Nelson family.
THE LOCAL CHURCH
Another meeting was held at the local church that evening, after which the Elders were invited to spend the night with William D. Davis, his wife Ella, and their family. Mr. Davis was a “surfman” with the Life-Saving Service at Cape Lookout and the missionaries probably knew him from their earlier visits there. On Saturday, January 23, they moved farther west on the Island and were welcomed at every home at which they called. Elder Hansen noted that they had three “gospel conversations” and sold two copies of the Book of Mormon. After yet another meeting at the church that night, they were invited to be the evening and dinner guests of the family of Owen Burns Fulford. The Fulford home was near the geographic mid-point of the Island and within a hundred yards of where the present Latter-day Saint chapel stands.
Sunday was the usual day of fast for the Elders, and this day included three well-attended meetings at the church. The people of the Island appeared to have been quite interested in what their visitors were teaching. After one of the meetings the Elders sold two copies of A Voice of Warning, a missionary pamphlet in wide circulation at that time. Also that day they conducted a service at the east end of the Island at the home of John D. Gaskill. Mr. Gaskill was the nephew of William Howard Gaskill, the Captain of the Cape Lookout life-saving station who had been so gracious in his hospitality to the Elders during their earlier stay there. John Gaskill’s wife had been ill and both he and she were anxious that the missionaries hold a meeting at their home so she too could hear them preach. They later were invited to spend the evening with the Gaskill family.
The Elders were out early the next morning to continue proselyting. They traveled back toward the west end of the Island and again were encouraged at the reception they received. During that day, they sold six more copies of A Voice of Warning and had three “good gospel conversations.” William Hansen noted that, “the people all seemed happy to know that we thought enough of them to call and spend some time with them and to preach from the Bible to them.”
That evening was spent at the home of Ephriam Willis whom they first had met while staying at Diamond City. He was a relative of Joseph Willis and they had enjoyed a supper and held a meeting at his Banks home on January 9. It appears that he may have been one of those persons referred to earlier who maintained homes at both Diamond City and at Harkers Island. Yet it also is possible that he had permanently moved his family to the Island in the period between January 9 and January 24.
As described by Elder Hansen, Ephriam Willis appears to have been acknowledged as a leader in the community at Harkers Island. Only a month later he was to be called upon to be a spokesman for many of those who lived there. Such would not have been likely had he been a resident for less than two months. It is more probable that the sixty-year old fisherman, his wife Fannie, and his children John and Mary, were already well established in both communities. One thing is certain, he and his family were gracious hosts for the young visitors to their community. His presence at Harkers Island eventually proved of great consequence for the missionaries, for he was to become their first champion in the face of the opposition that soon arose there.
TAKING LEAVE OF HARKERS ISLAND
The next day, Wednesday, January 25, was to be the missionaries’ last at Harkers Island for almost three weeks. William Hansen noted succinctly in his journal that they had, “. . . decided to leave the good people on this small Island for a short while.” No reason was given for their taking leave so early in spite of their very warm reception. It should be recalled, however, that relatively few families were to be found on what then was still a sparsely settled Island. Each of these families had been visited by the Elders and introduced to their message. Although the missionaries had been encouraged by their reception, they were anxious to explore further north among the more densely populated communities of eastern Carteret County. As noted regarding their efforts at Shackleford Banks, they appear to have been satisfied merely to introduce themselves and their story to the people they visited. They made no mention of having tried to take immediate advantage of the warm reception they were afforded.
Their last day at Harkers Island was spent visiting with four families they had met during the previous week. They also prepared for a final service held at the chapel that evening and sold two more copies of A Voice of Warning and one Book of Mormon. William Hansen offered a touching description of the attitude of the people upon learning that their visitors were leaving. It is remarkably similar to what eventually became the accepted demeanor for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at Harkers Island upon saying goodbye to the Elders:
“Knowing that we were leaving them for a short time, the little chapel was crowded at our evening services. Many
wept at bidding us goodbye after the meeting and surely hoped we would return. We had enjoyed our stay with
these good, humble, but poor people … We had made friends of every family, and could find a home with any one
On Wednesday, January 26, 1898, the missionaries secured boat passage from Harkers Island back to Beaufort. Checking at the post office they found considerable mail, including a package from home for William Hansen. The parcel contained a new pair of trousers, candy, cookies, and a twenty-five cent piece. By mid-afternoon they were again in a boat and headed for their next field of labor, the village of Straits. Straits was directly across a narrow channel to the north of Harkers Island. It was the closest mainland point to the Island and it was while there that the missionaries first had learned of the Straits community.
Upon reaching their destination, they were happy to find a large white church building, but were unsuccessful in an attempt to secure its use for a meeting that evening. They did, however, get permission to use the local school. The turnout for the service was encouraging for the Elders and they sold two of their books. William Hansen observed, however, that generally the people at Straits, like many others he had met since coming to the South, showed more curiosity at learning about their “strange new religion” than genuine interest in understanding its teachings.
One family, that of Captain John Leffers, was especially gracious to the strangers and invited the missionaries to spend the evening at their home. He apparently was unaware that his guests had eaten nothing since very early that morning for he did not offer them a meal. That caused Elder Hansen to note in his journal that, “… we were sent to bed without supper, and sure were hungry.” The next day, Thursday, was a normal fast day and they complied in spite of already having gone more than an entire day without anything to eat. Happily, the Leffers did treat them to a fine meal for supper.
They tracted at Straits for three more days before leaving on Monday, January 31. While there, they made several good friends, especially Dr. Richard Leffers and the family of Bedford B. Chadwick. Altogether they visited twenty-four families and either sold or gave away ten copies of A Voice of Warning. They held a total of seven more meetings at the schoolhouse, including three on Sunday. When the people there learned that they were leaving to go on to Marshallberg they collected $2.60 and presented it to their guests to show their appreciation for the visit.
Their friends at Straits also cautioned the Elders that the Northern Methodist minister at Marshallberg, the Reverend Graham, had heard of their presence at Straits and had sent them a warning. If any Mormon missionaries came to his neighborhood, he cautioned, he would “welcome [them] with a load of shot from his gun.” Ignoring the threat, Telford and Hansen, set out for Marshallberg on Tuesday, February 1. This village was just to the east of Straits and fronted on Core Sound. It was just as close to Harkers Island as was Straits, but the view of the Island from Marshallberg was obstructed by Browns Island, an uninhabited Island directly between the two communities. Upon reaching Marshallberg early that morning, they first sought out the home of Reverend Graham.
The Reverend Dr. William Graham had been pastor of the Northern Methodist congregation at Marshallberg since 1887. He had founded a small academy and had become the Presiding Elder of the entire district.3 He was away when the missionaries called at his home, but they left some of their literature with his wife. During their stay at Marshallberg they did not hear again from the minister. Nevertheless, they found several very friendly families, while some others seemed to be profoundly frightened at their coming. Elder Hansen later wrote that, “[some of the people there] would lock their door when they saw us come, and then hide. Others would take their children and flee to the timber. They had been told by minister Graham that all we were coming there for was to induce the womenfolk to go with us to Utah.”
In spite of the ill-will created by the minister’s slander, they were able to secure the use of the school for a meeting that first evening. They were pleasantly surprised when a large crowd showed up for their scheduled service. Yet the misgivings of the congregation were hardly concealed. No one consented to sit any nearer to the front than the fourth bench and others, according to William Hansen, were unwilling even to enter the building. Yet, “the people soon began to warm up,” as the Elders sang two hymns and Elder Telford spoke for over an hour.
The missionaries had great difficulty during their first days at Marshallberg finding food or shelter. But by Friday they could report that the situation had improved considerably. Elder Hansen observed that there were thirty-five families in the community and that, “before we had been there many days every family’s home was opened to us.” He added that at every meeting money was collected on their behalf and they were offered free transportation to Beaufort or any other point they might choose. He also observed that he found all of eastern Carteret County to be rather unique in at least one aspect. “Nearly every house in the county could be reached by water,” he wrote, “and each family had a boat!”
The missionaries remained in and around Marshallberg for more than two weeks. While staying there they visited the settlements at Smyrna and Springfield. Smyrna was three miles to the north while Springfield was another six miles in the same direction. William Hansen noted that the people of Springfield, now called Williston, were especially hard-hearted and bitter toward them. In fact, they were unable to find even one family to offer them food or lodging and were obliged to walk the six miles back to Smyrna to find shelter.
CAPTAIN WILLIAM ANDERSON SCOTT
It was during their stay at Marshallberg, on Friday, February, 4, 1898, that the Telford and Hansen first made the acquaintance of Captain William Anderson Scott. Captain Scott was an old fishing captain who owned several boats. He also had a large family of 4 ten children. He obviously became quite enamored with the young visitors from Utah as they spent a total of nine evenings as guests in his home. The friendship forged during those visits proved to be both significant and enduring. For years to come the Scotts would continue to provide safe haven for Latter-day Saint missionaries. When, many years later, both Elders returned on separate occasions to the Harkers Island area, each eagerly sought out the family of Captain Scott and paid special tribute for the hospitality of half a century earlier.
The appreciation of the Scott family was no less noteworthy. One of Captain Scott’s daughters, Annie Midgett Scott Rose, named her first two sons after John Telford and William Hansen. She later moved with her husband George and their children to Harkers Island and in 1922, she was baptized into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Soon afterward her husband did the same and their descendants have remained among the most dedicated members of the Church in the area.
It would be difficult to overestimate the influence of those days the missionaries spent with the families who were their hosts. Many of the very families with whom they boarded eventually joined their Church. In exchange for shelter and nourishment, the Elders returned thanks and prayers and the lessons of their examples.
Maria Lewis, a neighbor of the Scott family, later wrote to a friend of what she had observed while John Telford and William Hansen were staying at the home of her friends. The letter was given to Elder Hansen and was included in the memorabilia he carried home from his mission. Her observations give an indication of how the example set by the young missionaries influenced those they met. It also gives a vivid picture of their daily routine and of their love for the homes and families left behind in the west. She wrote:
I am not a Latter-day Saint, but I do believe Elder Telford and Hansen are true servants of the Lord… What first caused me to have faith in these two Elders was when they first started calling at the home of my neighbor, Captain William A. Scott. They taught them family prayer every morning and every night. They also fasted every Sunday and every Thursday as well as other times.
I had noticed them every morning, noon and night go out in the woods together for a little while and return. I wondered why they did this, so one day I followed them, they not knowing it. When they reached a nice, clean, and quiet spot they knelt down with their arms around each other, both facing the west. There they would have their prayers. One time one would pray, the next time the other. Then they would separate a little ways and again kneel in prayer, again facing the west.
One day I told them how I had watched them and asked why they always faced the west. Their answer to me was, “In the west is where the House of the Lord [the temple] is built. It is also where our loved ones live. And in the west is where the tops of the mountains are to be found where all nations shall flow to; and scattered Israel will be gathered; and where the Lord will someday, with his Son, Jesus Christ, make His appearance, and the New Jerusalem shall be built.”
Unfortunately, while at Marshallberg John Telford contracted what developed into a chronic bout with chills and fever. The illness became so severe on occasion that he was bedridden for days at a time. His condition was closely monitored by his companion and he was fortunate to have other friends, especially the Scott family, to attend him while he was incapacitated.
One such occasion occurred on Sunday, February 13. As the missionaries were about to leave for a scheduled service at the school, Elder Telford suddenly became very ill. Elder Hansen gave him a Priesthood blessing, but the younger missionary was unsure as to whether he should leave his companion to keep the appointment at the school. Not only was he concerned for Elder Telford’s well-being, but he also was unsure of his ability to conduct such a service on his own.
Elder Telford counseled his junior companion to go ahead with the meeting as scheduled and promised him that, “all would be well.” The youthful Elder recorded that on his way to the school that morning he retired to the woods and prayed that he would be equal to the challenge that awaited him. He added:
When I arrived at the schoolhouse I found it filled with people. I trembled as I walked toward the front of the building. I could see that people wondered where Elder Telford was, and no doubt knew, judging from my past efforts, that I was not much of a speaker. However, I told them my companion was sick and that with the help of the Lord I would do my best.
I sang alone “Guide Us O Thou Great Jehovah.” Then I offered a prayer, in fact, two prayers; one with my heart, the other with my lips. I then sang “How Great the Wisdom and the Love.” I took my text from Matthew 6:33 [But seek ye first the Kingdom of God …]
Surely the Lord was kind to me. I could see the mouths open wider and wider as I spoke and you could have heard a pin fall anywhere in the house. I then sang “How Firm a Foundation,” and offered the benediction. People flocked around me, and to my surprise I had spoken forty minutes.
John Telford began to feel some better the next day, Monday, but he continued to lapse into periods of high fever until after he and his companion had left Carteret County.
BACK AT HARKERS ISLAND
The Elders remained at Marshallberg until the next Thursday, February 17, when they left for an evening service scheduled back at Harkers Island. William Hansen noted that, “the weather was wonderful… [and] the people were all glad to see us.” Following the meeting they were again the guests of the family of Ephriam Willis.
Friday proved to be a day of adventure and excitement for the visitors from the Rocky Mountains. While at Harkers Island that morning, it was learned that the whaling crew of Captain Thomas Lewis had sighted a big whale close to the shore off Shackleford Banks. The people were very excited and wanted the missionaries to see what was happening. William Hansen’s account of what they found details what may have been one of the last whale catches ever made off of Diamond City.
We soon found ourselves in a boat and shortly were landed on what was called “The Banks” where we beheld the whale. It was lying partly in the water and partly out of the water; seven feet were in the water, and eight feet above water, making the whale fifteen feet through. The whale was sixty feet long and weighed about fifty tons. The crew anticipated securing from its body about 4,800 gallons of oil. The bone in the whale’s mouth, which is the most expensive part of the whale, was eleven feet long, three feet wide, and thirty inches thick. With the oil from the bone the crew expected realizing about $1,800.00.
There is something very peculiar about a whale. It has fifty-two joints in its back bone, the same number as the weeks in a year. And it has three hundred and sixty-five bones in its mouth, the same number as the days in a year. When on top of this fish it seemed as though we were on a small island.
The Elders spent the rest of that day among their friends at Diamond City. They held a meeting at the school and spent the night with Tom Styron. They used the next day, Saturday, to write letters home and to make entries in their journals. They were entertained that evening at the home of Joseph Willis. Three meetings were held at the schoolhouse on Sunday and they stayed that night again with the Styrons.
On Monday morning they received word that there was considerable mail awaiting them at Beaufort, and so they secured a ride there where they spent the remainder of that day and the next with the Congletons. On Wednesday morning, February 23, they were offered a free ride back to Harkers Island and “took advantage of it.”
They had a large turnout at the church for their service that evening, and “were treated with love and respect.” After the service they spent the night at the home of Isaac and Angeline Willis and their five children. The next day they had a similar turnout and response for their meeting and were again the guests of the Ephriam Willis’ family. The following morning William Hansen confided in his journal that, “. . . being with a very friendly family, and knowing we were welcome, we spent the day writing letters and also in our journals. The people here were very kind to us, and always delighted in doing our washing and other things they could for us.”
REVEREND EDWARD MOODY
The missionaries remained at the home of Ephriam Willis for two more days and had a meeting at his home on Saturday afternoon. Upon arriving at the church the next morning they observed the inception of a movement that eventually was to have significant, and even dramatic, consequences. As earlier noted, there had been no ministers of other faiths at Diamond City nor at the Island when the missionaries arrived. It was in large part for this reason that they had been allowed to proceed unhindered. On this Sunday, February 27, 1898, that brief period of freedom from the opposition of other faiths came to an end.
William Hansen described what the Elders and their friends encountered as they reached the church that morning:
Upon arriving at the church at 10:00 A. M. to fill our first appointment, we were met by a [Northern] Methodist minister, Reverend Edward Moody. He said he had been sent there by the head Elder of his Church [Reverend Graham at Marshallberg] to take possession of the church, to forbid us from using it, and for him to go ahead and hold meetings there. We assured him we had no desire to step in and occupy the church if he had first right and if it belonged to him. So we gave in and let him go along with his service at 10:30, which was the time he had set. We attended the service but could see that the people were not so well satisfied with his service as they had been with ours. After the services he announced that the church would be locked until two weeks from this day when he would return.
With that Ephriam Willis spoke up and said, “Reverend Moody, this church was built by us as a people living on this Island and we feel it is up to us to say who should preach in it. We are glad to have these Mormon Elders with us. They have preached the word of God. You, minister, haven’t called on us for years, and now that these men (pointing to us) have come, you are here to run them out. So far as I am concerned, they are going to use this church as much as they wish.”
With that nearly everyone present spoke up and said, “You’re right Mr. Willis.”
With that, the minister took his books and left. However, he showed the spirit of madness and remarked to us in passing, “I shall give you a lot of trouble for this!”
We held forth at 3:00 P. M. and again at 7:30 P. M. and were well treated and had nice turnouts at each meeting. We were invited home by Mr. Ephriam Willis after the evening session. Quite a number also came to the Willis home. We spent two hours there singing for them and explaining the Gospel. It looked very much like the seed we had, and were sowing, were beginning to take root.
It was not to be long before the minister’s promise of trouble would become a reality. Elders Telford and Hansen had witnessed the beginning of what eventually became a storm tide of opposition to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Harkers Island.
Although their friends had risen in their defense, they may have sensed that among some of the people of Harkers Island, they already had stayed beyond their welcome. On the following morning, Monday, February 28, 1898, they left Harkers Island for Straits. They would remain together in eastern Carteret County for almost another month, but John Telford and William Hansen were never again to return to Harkers Island together as missionary companions. Elder Hansen revisited the Island on two later occasions while on his mission. But Elder Telford would not see the Island or its people again until many years later when he was welcomed as a returning hero by the children and grandchildren of those he had introduced to “Mormonism” a generation earlier.
DAVIS AND WIT
The missionaries passed the next few days at Straits and Marshallberg among the friends they had made in previous weeks. On Wednesday they were off again to “a new field of labor,” communities known as Davis Shore and Sea Level. They remained at Davis Shore for five days, finding the people there to be both gracious and receptive. On the next Saturday, March 5, they were invited to speak at the “White Church.” This description suggests that the community that is now called Davis must have had a Black population large enough that the whites maintained a separate church. William Hansen described the “White Church” as having been very nice and having had a “real pulpit.” He also observed that, “… Elder Telford was right at home, and though he did not have on the black collar as ministers mostly do, he certainly looked and took the part of a real minister, and delivered a wonderful
On Tuesday, March 8, 1898, the Elders made their way to Wit, the area now known as Sea Level. At Wit they were, “treated like Kings.” In fact, William Hansen seemed almost overwhelmed by the warmth of their reception.
The people seemed over happy to see us. They secured the use of the schoolhouse for us to preach in, and to this end we gave out an announcement that we would hold preaching there that night. During the day we called on twenty-three families and when we reached the schoolhouse, we found it filled to overflowing. By such a warm reception we had never been received before. After the meeting was over everyone came up and took us by the hand and the compliments we received were wonderful. We had several invitations to go home with them …
The missionaries stayed at Wit for an entire week. On Thursday they were invited to move their meetings from the school to a new chapel that was under construction. By the following Monday, March 14, as they prepared to leave, their congregations had grown to as many as 160 people and they received over a dozen invitations for entertainment and lodging. While staying at Wit, William Hansen made an interesting observation concerning the people there. “It did not take much for these people to live on”; he concluded, “hence none of them worked very long nor hard. Most of them earned their living by setting nets and catching fish and oysters which was easy work.”
GOODBYE TO DOWNEAST
Since their first stay at Marshallberg, John Telford had continued to be bothered by intermittent bouts with chills and fever. On Tuesday, March 15, he was bedridden again and unable to travel and so the Elders remained at Wit another day. They set out for Beaufort the following morning. After two days of traveling by foot they were offered passage by boat from Davis by Captain S. E. Murphy. Elder Hansen seemed particularly to enjoy the boat rides of that day to Beaufort and later back to Marshallberg. “Oh it was wonderful to be out on the ocean,” he noted, “away from land we could see nothing but water no matter which way we went.” Yet at the same time he was increasingly concerned that his companion remained sick and had not enjoyed the voyage so much as he.
The main purpose of their trip to Beaufort had been to check on their mail. Among the letters they received was one from Conference President Robinson asking them to return to Redford’s Crossroads in Johnston County by April 8. They decided to spend their final week at Marshallberg among the friends they already had made there. The omission of a farewell trip to Harkers Island is understandable in view of the unhappy confrontation of their previous visit. In addition, John Telford remained quite ill and it was thought that a week of rest might help restore his strength. Ahead of them lay a 225 mile walk before reaching Johnston County.
Once back at Marshallberg they spent most of their time at the home of Captain Scott; for, when the Captain learned of their transfer, he demanded that they spend, “as much of [their] time with his family as possible.” They held their final service at Marshallberg on Sunday, March 27, 1898. That evening Elder Hansen described the meeting in his journal. In it, he made an observation which he probably intended for all whom he had come to know in the preceding three months.
The sun was shining warm. The birds were singing and all nature seemed to smile down on us… We were fasting, hoping and praying that the Lord would greatly bless this day; it being the last we would spend with these good people … Many of them seemed very interested in the message we had brought to them. And we felt it would only be a matter of a short time before they would accept the Gospel. At the afternoon meeting, there were over two hundred people out. The schoolhouse would seat only about one hundred, so they crowded in as best they could. Some stood along the walls, others sat in windows, and many stood on the outside looking through the windows…
At the close of the meeting Mr. Scott stepped forward and handed us a purse with $4.15 in it that the good people had gathered for us. It took us over one hour to shake hands with them and to get away from the meetinghouse. Surely the Lord had heard and answered our prayers. I am sure, never have two humble missionaries, preaching the Gospel, received a greater welcome and been more friendly treated than we had been treated and received by these wonderful people.
Elders John Telford and William Hansen said their goodbyes to the people of eastern Carteret County and set sail from Marshallberg on Monday, March 28, 1898. Elder Hansen noted that:
… no mother can weep more at the death of her son than did Mrs. Scott as she was bidding us goodbye. Also, Mr. Scott, though a man in years, and a hard working man, yet he too said goodbye to us with tears in his eyes. These people, together with some fifty others, followed us down to the shore, and stood there and saw us off, and watched us for several minutes as the boat pulled out. Tears were in the eyes of every one of them, as well as ours. It was a sad parting, for indeed they had treated us wonderfully, and … we did not know that we would ever see them again.
The Elders spent that night at Beaufort with the Congletons and began their long journey to Redford’s Crossroads the following morning. Before taking their final leave, they knelt together in prayer and dedicated their labors and the people among whom they had served to the Lord. John Telford remained so weak from his illness that he could not walk for any distance and thus they secured a ride on a train from Morehead City to Newport.
From that point forward they walked the remaining two hundred miles to their destination and arrived there eight days later on April 6, 1898.
ANOTHER MISSIONARY CONFERENCE
John Telford continued to suffer from chills and fever during their long walk back to Johnston County. Upon arriving, the returning missionaries joined with President Robinson and three other Elders in a special service. Many years later John Telford described what transpired there in vivid detail.
Quite early in the morning we … retired to a little log cabin in the woods and there spent the day in prayer, testimony bearing, and fasting. As President Robinson was bearing his testimony he stopped talking and turned toward me and said, “Brother Telford, I prophesy in the name of the Lord that you shall not have another chill!” From that day until this, I have not had another chill.5
During the conference that week Elder John Telford was reassigned to Lenoir County where he remained throughout the remainder of his mission. The following evening, April 7, 1898, Elder William Hansen noted in his journal that, “it was a sad parting when Elder Telford and I bid farewell to each other. I am sure no two Elders ever labored together, who learned to love each other more than we did. I shall never forget this wonderful companion. For truly, he was a companion.”
On Sunday, August 21, 1898, at a missionary conference held at Eureka (Wayne County), John Telford was extended an honorable release from his missionary duties and allowed to return home to his family in Utah. His mission had lasted for almost three years.
William Hansen also was present at this conference and saw his beloved companion for the first time since their departure from Carteret County almost five months previously. They had retained a deep affection for each other beyond that which they may have felt for their other companions. Perhaps they sensed even then that together they had served in a special place and among a special people, and that great things eventually would result from the work they had begun. They asked and received permission to spend the last night of John Telford’s mission together. During that evening they reminisced aloud about their happy times at Carteret County on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean.
John Telford and William Hansen remained close personal friends throughout their lives. Milton Hansen, Elder Hansen’s son, later wrote to Dr. Ira Telford, the son of Elder Telford, and made reference to the close association of their fathers. He observed, “Father always spoke so highly of your father and their many experiences while they were on their mission to Harkers Island around 1898 … I know they visited together many times… [and] Dad had your father make remarks at my mother’s funeral services in 1941.”6
In 1957, John Telford passed away at the age of eighty-five. Not surprisingly, William Hansen, his missionary companion of sixty years previous, was the featured speaker at his funeral. His remarks on that occasion focused on their united efforts as missionaries before the turn of the century and what eventually had resulted from their labors at Harkers Island, North Carolina. William Hansen’s great respect for his beloved colleague also was evidenced by a more tangible tribute. After he later settled and became a civic leader in the town of Idaho Falls, Idaho, he had the name of one of the streets of the city renamed to “Telford Lane.”7
A RETURN TO CARTERET COUNTY
William Hansen had been reassigned to serve with Elder James Hansen in Jones County at the April 1898 Missionary Conference. While serving there they decided to cross over into adjoining Carteret County. On June 2, they reached Beaufort and spent the evening at the Hotel Russell. The following morning, Friday, they traveled to Marshallberg where they found everyone happily surprised to see them. They held a meeting at the school and afterward, “… many told [William Hansen] that [he] sure had improved a lot as a speaker.” He concluded that this was because his new companion was not so good a speaker as had been John Telford, thus giving him more practice. They remained at Marshallberg through Sunday and then headed west once again for another missionary conference to be held in Franklin County.
Later that summer, on August 22, 1898, Elder Hansen was reassigned to labor with a new companion, Elder John Henry Wall of Santaquin, Utah. Elder Wall was thirty-six years old and was the oldest missionary in the conference, as well as the shortest, being only five feet and one inch tall. Though they initially were directed to labor in Lenoir County, they received notice on October 27 that their assignment had been changed to Carteret County. They reached Beaufort on Thursday, November 3, 1898.
At Beaufort, the Elders found their reception not nearly so warm as they had expected. Obviously the same influence of opposition that William Hansen had first witnessed at Harkers Island the previous February also had begun to surface at Beaufort. He noted that, “… many of our warm friends had turned against us and the religion we were preaching.” The conspicuous absence of any reference to having visited or boarded with the Congletons suggests that perhaps even they had come under that influence. Conditions for missionaries who attempted to labor in Beaufort became increasingly difficult from that point onward and were to remain so for many years to come.
They traveled to Marshallberg the following morning and remained there the next five days. The people at Marshallberg were still very friendly and meetings were held there each evening. On Wednesday, November 16, they secured passage to Harkers Island as William Hansen was eager to introduce his new companion to all of the friends he and John Telford had made nine months earlier. They remained at the Island for five days and Elder Hansen noted that there, too, they were warmly received and had no difficulty in finding offers of entertainment. During this visit to the Island, William Hansen made reference to having stayed at the home of Elizabeth Hamilton Nelson on the night of November 20, 1898. Betty Nelson, who by then was a widow, was the mother of Willie Nelson with whom Hansen and Telford had stayed their first night at Harkers Island. She also was the sister of Armecia Brooks whose family the missionaries had first met while at Diamond City the past January.
While at Harkers Island they held meetings each evening and three more on Sunday. These meetings were held at the church which suggests that Ephriam Willis and other friends had prevailed, at least temporarily, in efforts to retain the use of that building for the missionaries.
On November 16, the Elders had received a letter from William Hansen’s former companion, Elder Harvey Carlisle. He and Elder Clarence Carlston had been called as assistants to the Conference President and wanted to meet with Elders Hansen and Wall at Diamond City on November 21. They were offered a boat ride to Shackleford Banks on that morning. After waiting all that day for their guests to arrive, they held a meeting at the home of Joe Wallace Willis and spent the night with his family as well.
The visiting missionaries finally arrived on Wednesday, November 23. As John Telford and William Hansen had done with earlier emissaries from Mission Headquarters, the welcoming Elders first carried the newcomers to Cape Lookout to see the Lighthouse and Life-Saving Station. There they were warmly received and treated to a dinner at the station. They also held a meeting for the crewmen. Following their visit they returned to Diamond City where Elders Carlisle and Wall stayed with the Styrons while Elders Carlston and Hansen spent the night at the home of Charles Willis.
The following day, Thursday, November 24, 1898, was Thanksgiving. After being treated to a large breakfast by their hosts, they asked for some sweet potatoes and set out to hold a “mini-missionary conference” at a secluded spot on the Island. It was, “like a summer’s day in Utah …” when the four found their way to a spot leading into the Sound known as “Jack’s Point.” William Hansen described their activities with fond recollection:
Here was a large oyster bed. We gathered some oysters and then made a fire placing the oysters around it as well as the potatoes, and fried the oysters in the shell. When finished they pop open and they sure taste good. The potatoes were baked in their jacket and likewise they were good. We had a great feast and then we had a council meeting where Elder Carlisle gave us instructions and some fine advice.
When we got ready to go back to the neighborhood we discovered that the tide from the ocean had come in. This meant that the water had raised about two feet and it was impossible to get to the mainland from “Jack’s Point” without going through water. At the suggestion of Elder Carlisle we drew lots to see which of us would carry the others across the strip of water about two rods wide. It fell my lot to carry the other three. I took off my shoes and socks and rolled up my trousers. I took Elder Wall across first, he riding on my back.
This was not too bad. Elder Carlston was next. He weighed about 165 pounds, fifteen pounds more than Elder Wall. I also got Elder Carlston across alright. Now came the rub. Elder Carlisle was larger and weighed about 180 lbs. I managed to get half way across when I could get no further. So I had to set Elder Carlisle down in the middle of the stream. This I will admit was a “dirty,” or rather a “wet” trick, but I could do nothing else. Anyway, we sure enjoyed the day and all went off fine.
For their final evening at Diamond City, Elder Carlisle and Elder Hansen stayed with the family of Joe Wallace Willis while the others spent the night at the home of John Tyler Johnson. Mr. Johnson’s wife, Annie Laurie, was the daughter of Oscar and Armecia Brooks. The entire Johnson family was impressed with their visitors and he, his wife, and several of their children eventually joined the Church.
The next morning the missionaries said goodbye again to their friends at Diamond City and headed to Beaufort. Within a few days, William Hansen had received an urgent letter from home telling him that his mother was gravely ill. He was advised by the new Mission President, Ben E. Rich, to make immediate plans to return home to be by her side. On Saturday, December 3, 1898, Elder William Hansen left Elder Wall at Beaufort and boarded a train headed westward. He arrived in Utah on Friday, December 23, and rushed to the bedside of his mother. Her condition had grown worse in the interim such that the doctor advised that she could not last another day. Drawing upon the faith and the talents he had nurtured while on his mission, William Hansen bestowed a Priesthood blessing upon his mother and commanded her to become well. In answer to his fervent prayer she began to improve from that very moment to the point that she sat up and had supper with the family.
MOSES TODD’S REAPPRAISAL
Earlier that summer, on August 5, Elder Hansen had the occasion to visit again at the home of Moses Green Todd while traveling through Wayne County. As had happened almost a year earlier, several missionaries had gathered at this home in preparation for a missionary conference scheduled later that week. Just as before, a special meeting was arranged, and once again Elder William Hansen was called upon to speak. The young missionary from Utah was no longer the inexperienced newcomer of a year earlier. Rather, he had been seasoned and matured during more than a year of service in the mission field. His performance as a speaker was hardly recognizable by those in the group of more than a hundred who had been present on August 25, 1897. According to Elder Hansen’s own account:
I forgot about my notes and for an hour and twenty minutes spoke as I had never spoken before. I spoke of the mission of the Prophet Joseph Smith and of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon. I had not talked long before Brother Todd, who was sitting in back of me, arose and sat down on the porch in front of me with his eyes focused right on me. Tears were running down his cheeks …
When I had finished Brother Todd jumped to his feet, and with tears in his eyes, he apologized to me and to the Lord for what he had said to me a year ago. He said, “My friends, if I had never had a testimony of the Gospel before, hearing Elder Hansen’s talk would surely have given it to me. I know now that … Elder Hansen is a servant of the Lord and that God’s servants here on Earth made no mistake when Elder Hansen was sent into the mission field.”8
Those whom he influenced while he served his mission, and many more since, are ongoing evidence that William Hansen, the “Baby Preacher,” did indeed grow into a worthy and capable servant of the Lord while fulfilling his “call to serve.” By the close of 1898, he and his companions had planted many seeds. Some of those seeds would begin to bear fruit even before the first flowers of spring had ripened into bloom.