Strengthened by the Storm: The Early Mormons of Harkers Island, NC, by Joel G. Hancock.
The Harvest Begins
Put ye in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe: come, get you down; for the press is full … (Joel 3:13)
THE NEXT STAGE OF DEVELOPMENT
With the departure of both John Telford and William Hansen, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Carteret County entered into a second and more formative stage of development. At Harkers Island, four converts joined the Church in 1899 and fourteen more followed in 1900. By the beginning of 1906, Church records would show a total of fifty-seven members that included baptized adults and their children under eight years old.
Missionaries that followed Telford and Hansen maintained most of the friendships and contacts in eastern Carteret County that their predecessors had nurtured. Yet the attention that at first had been divided among Shackleford Banks, Harkers Island, and communities farther north, eventually focused on Harkers Island alone. There is no documented evidence from the period to explain definitively why such occurred.
At Diamond City, the dearth of future missionary activity and the resulting baptisms is understandable. Within several months of the final farewell of William Hansen, Shackleford Banks was racked by a gigantic storm that eventually displaced every family living there. Many from those same families eventually became members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Yet all but a very few of those baptisms came only after they had left the Banks and relocated to Harkers Island.
At Marshallberg and the other “downeast” communities, the reasons for the absence of any significant progress by later missionaries is not so obvious. Perhaps ministers of other denominations had grown more open and determined in their efforts to forestall the growth of the Latter-day Saints in their area. They initially might have supposed that the “Mormon menace” would disappear as soon as the first Elders went on their way. But as new and different missionaries arrived, it aroused an ever increasing hostility.1
The Reverend Graham, who earlier had warned the missionaries not to venture to Marshallberg, eventually became a leader of the opposition to the Latter-day Saints at Harkers Island. It is possible that he had been encouraged by earlier success in similar efforts at Marshallberg and elsewhere. For in spite of the warm welcome that had been extended to John Telford and William Hansen upon their first arrival, missionary work in the communities to the north of Harkers Island along Core Sound soon diminished.
Some families did remain as friends to the Elders, most notably that of Captain William A. Scott at Marshallberg. As late as 1901, missionaries recorded having been entertained and received lodging at his home.
Several other families who were relatives of Latter-day Saints from the Island also remained close to the Elders. But within less than a decade, Latter-day Saint missionaries had all but abandoned proselyting activity everywhere but at Harkers Island.
It was almost exclusively at the Island that the missionaries who followed Telford and Hansen soon began to harvest the seed planted by their forerunners. Either by extraordinary coincidence, or in response to Divine direction, those first Elders had been guided to the very families that later would embrace the message the brought.
Especially remarkable is that after almost a century, virtually every member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at Harkers Island traces his or her lineage to one or more of those selfsame families.
Elder John Henry Wall had been left alone at Beaufort with William Hansen’s abrupt departure of December 3, 1898. He originally had been scheduled to be released in January but was asked to remain a while longer after Elder Hansen was called home. John Wall was born December 31, 1862 at Spring, Utah, the son of Frederick and Elizabeth Robinson Wall, both of whom were immigrants from England. The couple was among the early converts in their native country and came to America in 1841.
Elizabeth Wall later had been seamstress for Emma Smith, wife of the Prophet Joseph Smith. With her husband, she had pulled a handcart to Salt Lake City after the Saints were forced to flee from Nauvoo, Illinois, in 1846. Foremost among Frederick and Elizabeth’s concerns had been that their children share their testimony that Joseph Smith was the Prophet he claimed to be. “Don’t ever let anyone tell you that Joseph Smith was not a Prophet,” Elizabeth often repeated to her son, “for I knew him to be what he said he was, a Prophet of the Living God!”
John Wall was set apart to serve as a missionary in the Southern States Mission on April 14, 1897, though he earlier had married Junietta Carter and they already had begun to raise a family. In fact, John and Junietta Wall had lost seven children at various stages of pregnancy, but finally were blessed with four healthy children, two sons and two daughters, by the time John was called to serve on his mission. They later were to have two more sons.
A letter written from Junietta to her husband in February of 1899 gave a stirring example of the hardships that sometimes had to be endured by the families the missionaries were obliged to leave behind. Yet it evidenced no bitterness, but rather a profound appreciation for the faithful devotion that ultimately made their long separation tolerable. “George is playing the harmonica and Don is fixing some flowers to send to you,” she reported to her husband after almost two full years of their being apart. She continued, “Leah and Ruth are dancing and Don says to tell Papa they have got three little kittens … Take good care of yourself and when you come home I will give you the sweetest kiss you ever had. I will close by praying to God to bless you my dear one. This is the earnest prayer of your loving wife and children.”2
After returning from his mission, John moved his family to Raymond, Alberta, Canada. He and his wife remained devoted members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints throughout their lives. Each of their children followed them in that tradition, and their combined example remains until today as a guiding influence in the lives of all their descendants.3
Elder Wall had been with William Hansen long enough to have been introduced by him to most of the families that Hansen and Telford had befriended during that first visit of a year earlier. But if the first missionaries had been “sowers,” John Wall was determined that he was to be a “reaper.” It would not be an exaggeration to maintain that both the significance and the influence of his tenure were critical in the establishment of a Latter-day Saint community at Harkers Island. Perhaps more than anyone else, he was responsible for making certain that the efforts of the Mormon Elders resulted in “members” and not just “friends.” Due to his success, missionaries that followed were able to challenge others to follow the example he had helped to set. Among people who were, and are, so innately conservative and restrained, establishing such a precedent was no small affair.
John Wall waited at Beaufort for the arrival of his new companion, Robert S. Houtz of Rockland, Idaho. Elder Houtz had just arrived in the mission field, and Carteret County was his first field of labor. After he joined Elder Wall, the new missionary pair probably backtracked to Shackleford Banks, Harkers Island, Marshallberg, and elsewhere. In each community they would have renewed acquaintances with any family already known to be sympathetic.
As earlier noted, friendly contacts at places other than at Harkers Island and Diamond City had begun to dwindle. Yet at the same time, and especially at Harkers Island, the new missionaries were able to convince some of their friends to accept the baptismal challenges they extended. On March 26, 1899, Reuben Wade and John H. Hamilton of Harkers Island were baptized by Elder John Wall.4 They thereby became the first members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Carteret County.
Reuben Wade lived at the east end of Harkers Island, not far from the church where Telford and Hansen had held their meetings a year earlier. Though he is not mentioned specifically in the available records of those first missionary visits, it is likely that he would have been among their earliest contacts.
Reuben Wade was recognized by his friends as a student of the scriptures and would have been an interested observer as Telford and Hansen began conducting services at the community chapel in January of 1898. He wore a long gray beard and had a drawn face that made him appear even older than his fifty-two years. Within a year of his baptism, he was called as Superintendent of the Sunday School organized in 1900. Until his death in 1915, he would be acknowledged as the leader of the Latter-day Saint community at Harkers Island.
As with Reuben Wade, fifty-three-year old John Hamilton is not mentioned in William Hansen’s journal, or in the daily log book maintained by John Telford. Again, it is most likely that he would have known these Elders as he was closely related to several of their important contacts. Elizabeth Nelson and Armecia Brooks were his sisters. He lived at the east end of the Island in close proximity to the “Academy Field” church. He had a checkered past for which he was quite apologetic. He claimed to be thoroughly repentant for the mistakes of his younger years as he entered the waters of baptism.
The sounds and bays that surround Harkers Island are still cold enough in March to be uncomfortable. But the significance of the occasion must have caused those waters to feel warm and inviting to Elder John Wall as he walked out into the Sound beside Reuben Wade and John Hamilton. Perhaps it was appropriate for those first two members to have been just as they were, the one a devoted student of the scriptures who had patiently waited to hear the truth, and the other a repentant and transformed sinner earnestly seeking forgiveness for his prior transgressions. In succeeding months and years, Latter-day Saint missionaries would find many more who would cleave to their message for much the same reasons.
THE GREAT HURRICANE OF 1899
Within three months after the baptisms of Reuben Wade and John Hamilton, John Wall was released from his missionary responsibilities and returned to his family in Utah. Robert Houtz was reassigned elsewhere and there is no record of missionaries in Carteret County until early December. It was during that six month respite in proselyting activity that the area was racked by the great August hurricane of 1899.
Few events would prove more important in preparing the way for the expanded growth of the Latter-day Saint Church on Harkers Island than was the storm itself. As noted earlier, a direct result was that Diamond City and all of Shackleford Banks soon were abandoned and left a ghost town. Most of the families leaving the Banks, including those whom the missionaries already had taught, relocated across Back Sound at Harkers Island.
When Latter-day Saint missionaries returned to Harkers Island in late November of 1899, they found the community experiencing a rapid and sweeping transition. By then there had begun the mass influx of exiles from the Banks that was to quadruple the Island’s population in a matter of months. As ties to the past were strained and broken, some of the friends of the Elders became increasingly willing to sever the bonds that had bound them to whatever religious affiliations their parents had known. Within six months, more than a dozen of both the old and new residents of Harkers Island were baptized into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
CHILLY WATERS OF BACK SOUND
On November 30, 1899, Elders Jesse Richins and James Godfrey arrived at Harkers Island. Jesse Wilmott Richins was from Colonia Diaz, a Latter-day Saint settlement in northwestern Mexico. He was the oldest of ten children born to his mother, Agnes Wilmott Richins, the third plural wife of Charles W. Richins. Charles was a cattle rancher and had moved his family to Mexico from Pleasant Grove, Utah, in 1888 when Jesse was only nine years old. He had done so in order to escape prosecution for polygamy under United States law.5
Elder James Matthew Godfrey was from Clarkston, Utah. His father, Thomas Pettaway Godfrey, was an immigrant from England while his mother, Karen Maria Jensen, had joined the Church in her native Denmark. Like that of Elder Richins, Elder Godfrey’s family had included ten children. He was the fourth of those children and had helped his father to tend the family farm before he was called to serve as a missionary in April of 1899.6 He first labored at and around Goldsboro, North Carolina, until he and Elder Richins received their transfer to Carteret County on November 5, 1899.
The new Elders arrived at Morehead City on November 21, and spent the next nine days there and at Marshallberg. While at Marshallberg, they spent most of their time at the home of Captain William A. Scott. But in the afternoon of November 30, they were able to secure boat passage to Harkers Island. The local foliage was still to recover from the effects of the storm of that year for Elder Godfrey noted that along the north shore “the timber was quite scrubby.” Out among the trees he observed “some little boys shooting at birds with crossguns.” Upon arriving they were greeted by John Hamilton and Reuben Wade and “the people all seemed friendly.” By the next evening they had held a well-attended meeting at the Academy Field church.
The Elders soon learned that Reuben Wade’s nineteen-year-old son, Jasper, wanted to follow his father’s example. He was baptized in the chilly waters of Back Sound by Elder Richins on December 17, 1899. Jep, as Jasper affectionately was known, was very much his father’s son. Like his father, he was a serious student of the Bible. He had become a frequent companion of the Elders and often ferried them to the mainland or to the Banks.
Throughout the remainder of his long life he was to be in the forefront of the affairs of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at Harkers Island. He later served as a Sunday School teacher and Superintendent, and in 1932 he was one of the first three men at Harkers Island ordained as an Elder in the Melchizedek Priesthood. Finally, in 1936, when Harkers Island was deemed sufficiently established to become an independent Branch of the Church, Jasper Wade was called as the first Branch President. At his death in 1964, he was mourned and remembered as a “Founding Father” by the Harkers Island Saints.
Along with Jasper Wade, the Elders baptized that same day their first female convert at Harkers Island, Sabra G. Nelson. Sabra Nelson was Elizabeth Nelson’s niece and a cousin to both Willie Nelson and Reuben Wade. Though she too was but nineteen years old, she also was to play a prominent role in the growth of the Church during the next several years. It was she who donated the land that became the site of the first Latter-day Saint meetinghouse at Harkers Island.
Elder Godfrey noted that a large crowd gathered on the edge of the Sound to witness the baptisms. After the service they went up to Elizabeth Nelson’s home and later met at the Academy Field church, where Elder Godfrey confirmed both new converts as members of the Church. The Elder also noted that the service included “administering the Sacrament of the Lord’s Last Supper.” Every baptismal service of James Godfrey’s long stay at the Island would include this ordinance.
Elders Richins and Godfrey stayed in eastern Carteret County and at Morehead City throughout the long winter of 1899 and 1900. They made several visits to the rapidly dwindling community at Diamond City as well as to the Life-Saving Station and Lighthouse at Cape Lookout. They also traveled as far to the north as Atlantic, Cedar Island, and Hog Island.
While at Atlantic, Elder Godfrey recorded having lodged with a family named Rose. One of the sons of that family, George, was to play an important role in the growth of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at Harkers Island. He later married Annie Scott, Captain Scott’s daughter, and moved to Harkers Island. He was devoutly religious and served for more than a decade as Superintendent of the Sunday School of the Northern Methodist Church. But, like his wife, he eventually joined with the Latter-day Saints and became one of their leaders and most devoted members.
Richins and Godfrey were visited at Harkers Island by the Counselors to the Conference President in early February. The visitors, Joseph P. Bischoff of Fountain Green, Utah, and Edward S. Duffin of Paris, Idaho, would have counted their brief stay at Harkers Island as successful for each participated in the baptism of several new members.
On February 10, 1900, Elders Richins and Godfrey arranged to carry their visitors to Shackleford Banks. The weather was rather inclement and not at all appropriate for travel in a small open boat. The boat ride across the channel was so turbulent that Elder Godfrey noted in his journal, “… if my folks at home had been able to see us they would have thought we would be drowned.”
A meeting held at the Diamond City schoolhouse the next day was interrupted as it was announced that a whale had been sighted off the beach. “We went out on a large sand hill,” wrote James Godfrey, “I could see the whale. There were three boats with men who went after it. It was a grand sight!”
That same afternoon, the Elders performed the first ever baptisms of Latter-day Saints at Diamond City. With the waters of Back Sound still frigid, and the northwest winds of winter still blustering through a driving rain storm, Thomas Ann Hancock and Lillie F. Guthrie were baptized by James Godfrey. They later were confirmed by Joseph Bischoff. Thomas Ann was twenty years old. Her husband and brother-in-law eventually would join with her as members of the Church. Lillie was only seventeen and was soon to become the wife of Augustus Nelson, Elizabeth Nelson’s son.
Four days later, on February 15, the missionaries had returned to Harkers Island where Edward Duffin baptized Mary Lewis Willis and Armecia Hamilton Brooks. The service was held at “Rush Point,” the far western end of the Island. The Willis and Brooks families had relocated there a few months earlier. Both ladies were confirmed members that same day by Elder Richins. It would be difficult to imagine two baptisms of greater significance in the development of the Latter-day Saint community at Harkers Island than were those of Mary Willis and Armecia Brooks.
Fifty year old Mary Willis was the mother of Joseph Willis who had befriended Elders Telford and Hansen their first evening at Diamond City. Her husband, Anson, had passed away in 1893, leaving her alone to support a family of twelve children. Though she died in 1908, nine of her children, including Joseph, eventually followed her and joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Standing together, her family was to be in the vanguard of securing and maintaining a place for their new religion amid the violent opposition that soon erupted.7
Armecia Hamilton Brooks was forty-nine years old as she agreed to be baptized. She had first been introduced to the Elders at Diamond City prior to moving with her family to Harkers Island in the fall of 1899. Like Mary Willis, she was to see most of her children join with her in becoming members of the Church. She herself became a virtual “mother” for the entire “Mormon family” of Harkers Island. Her home soon was the accepted gathering place for both missionaries and members alike. She would encourage new converts and was a constant source of inspiration to members who grew discouraged in the face of opposition. The personal influence of “Aunt Meese,” as she was lovingly called by almost all who knew her, could be seen with almost every member who joined the Church at Harkers Island during the next thirty-five years.
APRIL 8, 1900
Elders Bischoff and Duffin left Harkers Island after the baptisms of February 15, and returned to Conference headquarters. James Godfrey confided in his journal that he and Jesse Richins “were quite lonesome the rest of the day.” The next morning they headed back to the mainland and labored at Marshallberg and elsewhere for several weeks.
By early April, they had returned once more to Harkers Island. On April 8, 1900, the shallow waters off Rush Point again were the scene of a Latter-day Saint baptismal service. Oscar Brooks, Armecia’s husband, and Henrietta Willis, Mary’s daughter, were baptized by Jesse Richins. Oscar Brooks had earnestly sustained his wife as she came to appreciate and accept the teachings of the Elders. That support continued and intensified in the remaining years before his death in October of 1915. He stood steadfastly with his wife in the face of mounting resentment and persecution, even when doing so jeopardized his property and his family’s safety.
Henrietta Willis was twenty years old as she was baptized. She was the seventh child and fourth daughter of Anson and Mary Willis. She would later tell of having lost her job as a “housemaid” to a family on the Island on the day of her baptism because her employer “had no use for the Mormon Church.” In 1901 she married Freeman Salter and moved with him to his home at Sea Level. Though she remained almost totally isolated from Mormon missionaries and other members for many years, Henrietta Willis Salter never faltered in her devotion to her new church. She lived until 1964 and eventually was able to attend Latter-day Saint services at Harkers Island. In her later years she was known to everyone as “Aunt Henrette” and her reputation for unwavering faith and patience continues to inspire both her literal and her spiritual heirs. Her descendants have remained the pillars of a small group of Latter-day Saints in the community of Sea Level.8
A SUNDAY SCHOOL
That same day, April 8, 1900, the Elders officially organized the area’s first Latter-day Saint Sunday School and called Reuben Wade to be Sunday School Superintendent.9
For many years to come, the Sunday School sermons and classes were the focal point of the Latter-day Saint services at the Island. Members and missionaries were called upon to offer their testimonies and to preach on various principles of the Gospel. Classes were conducted for both children and adults that emphasized the more basic aspects of the scriptures. Typical of such was that recorded by a visiting missionary in June of 1903. He noted that the subject for a Sunday’s “theological class” was “the Betrayal of Christ.”10
It is probable that Reuben Wade was ordained to the Aaronic Priesthood at the same time as he was called as Sunday School Superintendent. From that point onward he was viewed as the ecclesiastical leader of the small group of Latter-day Saints at Harkers Island. Later missionaries all would acknowledge him in that capacity and reported to him soon after arriving. They also would note that he presided and conducted the services for all local gatherings of the Saints.11
One week after the Sunday School was officially organized, Sunday, April 15, 1900, the Elders and members received notice from the trustees of the local school that Mormons no longer could use that building for their services. Thus it was decided to hold their Sunday School service at the home of Betty Nelson. After singing “Welcome, Welcome Sabbath Morning,” the “small class” went upstairs for a lesson while the adult class met downstairs and heard Elder Richins preach on “The Birth of Christ.” Elder Godfrey noted that the house was so crowded that “some of the people could not get in!”
Later that same day, everyone walked along the shore towards Red Hill for another baptismal service. After a short meeting at the water’s edge, Garrison Willis, called “Garse,” and Sarah Russell were baptized by Elder Godfrey and confirmed members by Elder Richins.
Garse was Joseph Willis’ twin and was twenty-nine years old. It appears from James Godfrey’s account that the families of the two brothers lived together after first moving to the Island from Diamond City. Elder Godfrey also pointed out that together they often had given the Elders passage on their small boat. It seems that Garse had not been closely associated with the missionaries until after relocating from Diamond City to Harkers Island. Yet his commitment to the Mormon faith was complete and unconditional. Few among the early converts to the Church were asked to sacrifice more in its behalf than was the family of Garrison Willis. And none offered their sacrifice more willingly than did they.
Sarah Brooks Russell was the first of Oscar and Armecia Brooks’ five children to join the Church. She earlier had married Ed Russell, yet still lived next door to the home of her parents. Several years later, Sarah became gravely ill after the birth of her daughter, Naomi, and lived the rest of her live in a sanitarium. But Naomi was raised by her maternal grandparents, and she and her descendants remain until today as members of the Church.
On April 29, 1900, yet another baptism followed. Wellington Hamilton, known to his friends as Wells, was thirty-three years old when he was baptized along the shore at the east end of the Island by Elder Richins. He was confirmed by Elder Godfrey. Wells’ father, Franklin Hamilton, was the younger brother of both John Hamilton and Armecia Brooks. His baptism was soon to be followed by that of his wife and eventually by several of his children.
FIVE NEW CONVERTS
May 2, 1900, proved to be of unsurpassed importance in the annals of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at Harkers Island. On that day alone, five new converts entered into the waters of baptism. The Elders originally had been scheduled to leave the Island that afternoon to begin their return trip to Conference headquarters. But as they preached their farewell sermon to a crowd packed into the overflowing home of Oscar Brooks, “… five more made up their minds to get baptized … It sprinkled some while the baptizing was going on.”
The rain eventually became so heavy that the missionaries decided against leaving the Island that afternoon. Each of the new converts was baptized by James Godfrey and he and Jesse Richins took turns in confirming them members of the Church. Perhaps even more important than the large number baptized was that the new members of that day proved without exception to be valiant defenders of their new faith. Each was to play an important role in establishing the foundation of Mormonism at Harkers Island such that it could withstand the trials that soon arose. The new members included Joseph Willis, Lucy Willis, Elizabeth (Betty) Nelson, Mary Nelson, and Letha Brooks.
Joseph Willis had hosted John Telford and William Hansen on their first evening at Diamond City and remained perhaps their closest contact. He had continued to be one of the primary benefactors of all the missionaries that followed in the ensuing years. His mother, sister, and twin brother all had preceded him in joining the Church. But it is logical to assume that they had been encouraged in their decisions by Joseph.
Joseph Willis’ benevolence was unsurpassed in providing for the missionaries and offering his home as a haven and as a setting for their meetings. Several more of his brothers and sisters were to follow him in joining the Church, as were each of his six children. His wife, Lucy Sullivan, never officially became a member but throughout her life she remained a devoted friend of the Saints and the Elders. It is also significant that as the niece of Oscar Brooks, she was an important link between the Brooks and Willis families.
Lucy Leffers Willis was the wife of Garrison Willis. She was originally from Straits but had followed her husband to Shackleford Banks and later to Harkers Island. Along with Garrison she was an unwavering supporter of her new Church and willingly sacrificed all she had in its defense.
Elizabeth Hamilton Nelson was a fifty-six year-old widow at the time of her baptism. Betty, as Elizabeth was called, was the sister of Armecia Brooks and John Hamilton. She had first been noted in William Hansen’s journal when he and Elder John Wall were entertained at her home the night of November 20, 1898. From that time onward she was frequently visited and mentioned by all the missionaries who served at the Island. Most Latter-day Saint meetings at the east end of the Island were held at her home and the missionaries knew they always could find a meal in her kitchen. Though she died only three years later, in 1905, her influence persisted as four of her children joined the Church and another, Thomas, willingly risked his life to protect the missionaries when threats of violence came to a climax in 1906.
Mary Styron Nelson was the fifty year-old niece of Betty Nelson, John Hamilton, and Armecia Brooks. Vivid indication of her genuine conversion was that her daughters, Lillie and Hattie, also would later join the Church. Through them and their many descendants, Mary Nelson’s influence still can be felt.
The final new member of that morning was Letha Brooks. “Edie,” as she was called, had just turned sixteen years old but was very mature for her years. Along with her mother, Armecia, and her father, Oscar, she had befriended the Latter-day Saint missionaries from the very first time she made their acquaintance. She would play an important role in seeing that her close friends, Bertha and Bessie Willis, later joined with her in being baptized. She was an unwavering defender of her chosen faith and a proficient student of all the scriptures. It would be said that after her mother’s death in 1935, Edie assumed Armecia’s mantle as “mother” to the family of Mormons at Harkers Island. She lived until 1964, and still is remembered as the quintessential Latter-day Saint by those who knew her.
THE GARDEN SPOT
On the day following the baptisms of May 2, 1900, Elders Richins and Godfrey left Harkers Island and did not return until the following year. They were presented a large cake prepared by Lucy Willis, Joseph’s wife, and Lucy Willis, Garrison’s wife. James Godfrey noted that “some of the people cried, as they were very sorry to see us leave.” He added that he too “felt very lonesome and sad after leaving [their] kind friends at the Island.” They were transported by boat to Morehead City by Joseph Willis and John Hamilton.
The local membership remained in regular contact by mail with the Conference and Mission headquarters, especially at those times when no Elders were staying at the Island. Earlier missionaries who had served there frequently corresponded with their friends to encourage newer members and to stay updated on the progress of missionary work. Likewise, Elders scheduled to serve there usually contacted local members in advance and made arrangements for transportation from the mainland and for provisions once they arrived. Also, the Conference Sunday School Presidency traveled widely and frequently throughout the state and sometimes made brief stopovers at the Island.
As Superintendent of the Sunday School, Reuben Wade exercised some authority over asking and assigning various members to provide food and shelter for the visiting missionaries. But, judging from the journal reports of those Elders, he was never at any loss in finding someone willing to offer such accommodations. From one end of the Island to the other, the missionaries were treated like royalty by the Saints. They could count on their hosts for meals, lodging, and transportation. The ladies would wash their clothes and mend any that needed it. Many of the Elders quickly became especially taken with the local cuisine. They often noted their enjoyment of such dishes as flounder, clam soup, oyster stew, and sweet potato pie.12
The Elders attempted to return some measure of the gratitude they felt for the warm receptions they received. They tried to entertain their hosts as well as to teach and exhort them. The missionaries also were willing to shoulder their part of the burdens involved in household chores and cleaning. Later Elders would note that they had spent almost an entire day helping Willie Willis, one of their friends, to build a stairway in his home.13 The missionaries also would perform much of the labor when work eventually began on building a Latter-day Saint meetinghouse.
A FIRM FOUNDATION
Jesse Richins was released from his missionary responsibilities in October of 1900, but James Godfrey was allowed to return to the Island in January of 1901. His new companion was Elder John Jensen of Goshen, Utah. Elder Jensen had been in the mission field since February of 1899 and Harkers Island was to be his last field of labor. The Island already had earned a reputation as a “garden spot” of the Conference, and as such many missionaries desired to be assigned to the area. With thirteen baptisms the previous year, members who gladly catered to the Elders’ every need, and a pristine setting on the banks of the sea, this reputation was understandable. In such situations the Conference or Mission President might well have reserved the assignment as a “going away” gift for an Elder whose performance had been exceptional.
Arriving at Harkers Island on New Year’s Day, they found the Conference Sunday School President, Elder William Adams, and his companion, Elder Burton J. Bean, already there. The four labored together at the Island until January 9, when Elders Adams and Bean said their goodbyes. Elders Godfrey and Jensen also left that day to spend much of the next three months in the western part of Carteret County. They continued to stay in close contact with the Saints at the Island as they visited on several occasions, but stayed only a few days each time.
By early April they had returned to the Island where they remained until they left to return to Conference headquarters on May 5. Soon after their return, several baptisms were scheduled. On April 28, 1901, three new names were added to the rapidly expanding list of members of the Church. On that morning, after a special service at the east end of the Island, Annie Laurie Johnson, Minnie Hamilton, and William Thomas Salter were baptized. Each was baptized by Elder Jensen who also confirmed Minnie Hamilton, the others being confirmed by Elder Godfrey.
Minnie Hamilton was the wife of Wells Hamilton who had been baptized the previous April. Annie Laurie Johnson was the twenty-five year-old daughter of Oscar and Armecia Brooks. She and her husband, John Tyler Johnson, had hosted Elders Hansen and Wall in their home at Diamond City as early as November of 1898. William Salter was the husband of Thomas Ann Hancock who had joined the Church in February of the year previous. His brother John also would be baptized two months later.
Within another week, Elder Jensen had received his release and he and Elder Godfrey once again bid farewell to their friends at the Island. Before they left, however, plans were formalized to begin raising money for the construction of a meetinghouse on land donated by Sabra Nelson. The site for the chapel was to be a half acre tract about one hundred yards inland from the south shore and near the mid-point of the Island. Attendance at the various Church meetings had grown far beyond what could fit comfortably into any of the small homes of members.
As earlier noted, they no longer could presume to use the chapel at Academy Field for their services. It soon would become apparent that the Reverend Moody and his successors had been successful in fulfilling the Reverend’s promise to “give [the Elders] a lot of trouble.” They slowly but surely had aroused the animosity of many people on the Island toward the Latter-day Saint religion. All too soon the members and the missionaries would learn just how intense that hostility had become.
Elder James Godfrey, in particular, said goodbye to Harkers Island with a large measure of mixed emotions. It was his last visit to an area in which he had participated directly in the baptism of nineteen of the first twenty-one members of the Church. He and Elders Richins and Jensen, in only eighteen months from November of 1899 to May of 1901, had helped to establish a firm outpost for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in a remote corner of coastal North Carolina. Time soon would prove whether that foundation had been built upon rocks, or upon sand.