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Mary Ellen Isaacson

Mary Ellen Isaacson

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Life Sketch of Mary Ellen Isaacson

Life Sketch of Mary Ellen Isaacson Thompson (1851-1924)
By her daughter Evelyn Thompson Stoddard, June 18, 1939.

Mary Ellen (Maren Helena) Isaacson was the first child of Niels and Bertha Katherine Ogis Isaacson. She was born at Aanerrud, Asker County, Norway, a small village about six miles from Christiania now Oslo. Mother's first recollections of their place in Norway was of a small farm house in a hilly country, where as a child she played and gathered nuts and berries which grew near by.

They lived in two rooms, in one of which was a fireplace. She remembered a loving old couple who lived in part of the house to whom mother would go for sympathy when anything went wrong.

The family owned a few cows and also a small herd of sheep. Mother told me of being attacked by one of the sheep when she was but three years old. Grandma Isaacson did a great deal of the farm work, and Grandpa went out tailoring. He owned a fishing vessel. He was also a musician, playing the clarinet and the violin.

It was while playing the clarinet in the band with his father at a 17th of May celebration when he was 12 years of age, that a cannon exploded fatally injuring his father, who died the following day. Grandpa was left with a sister, Petronella, his step-mother and two half-sisters, Martha Sorine and Karen.

When mother was five years old the family considered coming to America, and sold their home. As Grandma was in delicate health they changed their plans and bought Huken by Drumen where Aunt Maria (Johnson) was born. They later moved to Rusten where Grandpa first heard the Mormon Elders and was converted to their doctrine. Grandma Isaacson, slower to accept the new religion, was more eager to be baptized. The family had been Lutherans and mother had been baptized into that church by sprinkling when 8 days old.

When they were converted to the new faith, their home was open to the Mormon Elders, who were frequent visitors there. They joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the fall of 1859. In the spring of 1861 they sold their belongings at auction to get money for the trip to Utah. With this money they paid their way to Florence, Nebraska, and from there they came on with the help of the Immigration Fund of the Church.

They sailed across the Atlantic Ocean in the sailing vessel Monarch of the Sea, and after six weeks on the water they landed at Castle Gardens, New York. From there they traveled by rail to Florence, Nebraska. At one stop on the journey Grandpa and Grandma left mother, then 9 years of age, in charge of the three younger children, the youngest but 1-1/2 years, and left the train to look after their baggage. While they were gone the train pulled out.

William and Mary's Wedding Photo
William and Mary's Wedding Photo.
Photograph courtesy Lisa Talbert.

It was a terrible experience for mother. She thought she would never see her parents again. They were alone in a strange land, and among strange people who spoke a different language which they could not understand. However, some kind people on the train, including one, John Larsen, helped care for the children and helped them to change trains which they had to do in the middle of the night. The next morning at a junction, mother was overjoyed to see Grandpa and Grandma alight from another train and run toward them.

At Florence, Nebraska, the baby, Lorenza, died and was buried without a coffin. They crossed the plains, making the trek with three yoke of oxen and a covered wagon. At Fort Laramie, Wyoming, mother's sister Anetta, took mountain fever, died, and was buried by the wayside. Through the trials and hardships of pioneer life, Grandma showed wonderful strength of character and steady purpose, accepting the inevitable with great fortitude and always trusting in the Lord.

When they arrived in Salt Lake City they were in poverty. Grandpa worked there for about a month, then moved to Hyde Park. Later at the persuasion of C. H. Monson, they moved to Logan and to Richmond, four years later.

Grandpa played for the orchestra, the choir, and the band, and many times he walked from Logan to Richmond to play for the dances.

Mother was baptized in the Logan River in 1861 by Niels Mickelsen.

William and Mary's Home
William and Mary's Home.
Photograph courtesy Lisa Talbert.

Mother assisted Grandma with weaving and delivering the finished cloth to her patrons. At Logan, mother went to school. Her teachers were John Read, Louisa Ballif, President Charles W. Penrose and wife. Her schooling, however, was very meager, amounting to one and a half years ???all. She learned to read and spell. Her only book was a speller. From it she learned to spell, and she learned her times tables, which were on the back of the spelling book. She studied while at her weaving. In spite of her lack of schooling, mother educated herself. She was a good reader and enjoyed reading the daily newspapers. She could spell better than most people and could accurately figure the problems in arithmetic which arose from her daily experiences in managing a home.

On May 1, 1865, mother moved to Richmond with her family and it was here that she met father, William Thompson, and they were married on June 1, 1868.

William and Mary's Family
William and Mary's Family.
Back row: Frank, Walt, Will, Bertha, Dan, Flora. Front row: William, Albert, Oliver and Mary Ellen holding Neil.
Photograph courtesy Lisa Talbert.
Thirteen children were born to them.

Mary Ellen Thompson was a good mother, conscientious in whatever she did. She was quiet and unassuming, a woman of strict integrity, honest, true, and faithful to her church. She was a Relief Society teacher for over 40 years.

Father died eleven years before mother. After his death she divided the property among the children and built a modern little home south of the old one (where Ivan now lives.)

She died at the age of 73, on December 4, 1924, of cancer of the bowels.

"God made me a wonderful mother
A mother who never grew old;
He made her smile of the sunshine,
And he moulded her heart of pure gold;
In her eyes He placed bright shining stars,
In her cheeks fair roses you'd see;
God made a wonderful mother,
And He gave that mother to me."

Evelyn T. Stoddard
June 18, 1939

Mary Ellen Isaacson Thompson, by Reva Wilson


Mary Ellen Isaacson when she was married
aren Helene was the first child of Nils Isaksen and Berthe Catrine Aagesdatter. She was born 21 November 1851, in the small village of Aanerud, Asker, Akershus, Norway, which was situated about six miles from Christiana, now Oslo. The family lived in two rooms of a house and another part was occupied by an older couple. Maren would go to them for sympathy when anything went wrong.

The Isacksens owned a few cows and a small herd of sheep, one of which attacked Maren when she was about three years old, which of course she always remembered. Her mother did most of the caring of the animals because her father was a tailor and was busy with his trade. He owned a fishing boat and all his life he loved to fish. He was a musician and played the clarinet and violin.

When Maren was three years old she got a baby sister, Petra Anatte. In two more years her parents considered going to America and moved to Lier, near the city of Drammen, where Ingeborg Marie was born. They also lived at Rustin where Lorentze was born two and one half years later.

Maren had been baptized by sprinkling, into the Lutheran Church, the State Church of Norway, when she was eight days old. When the family left Norway, they brought a document from the minister probably releasing them from the church. In Rustin, Nils and Berthe heard the Mormon elders and joined the church in the fall of 1859.

President John Van Cott of the Scandinavian Mission issued a call, early in 1861, for those Saints interested in immigrating to America, to be at the Copenhagen docks by late April. The Isaksens held an auction and sold all their possessions except what they could take with then to Utah.

The Isaksens had to ride some kind of a ship or boat to take them through the now Oslo Fjord and the body of water between Drammen and Copenhagen. The North Sea was on one side of it and the Baltic Sea on the other.

President Van Cott booked the Baltic Sea Steamer,VAUEMAR, at Copenhagen and 550 (or 565 - Andrew Jensen) boarded her for the trip to Kiel on the north shore of Germany. Sixty-four persons were from Norway. They arrived at Kiel, May 10. They immediately boarded a chartered train for Hamburg, Germany. The Isacksens sailed on one of two North Sea ships from Hamburg. Some of the Saints boarded the BRITTANIA and departed for Hull, England. The second group left the next day for Grimsby on the steamer, EUGENIE. The two companies joined at Grimsby. On the morning of 14 May, they proceeded by special train to Liverpool. That same day they went on board the ship MONARCH of the SEA.

The MONARCH of the SEA was the largest wind ship used by the Mormon emigrants to cross the ocean up to that time. The ship was a square-rigger of 1,979 tons. Sailings took 34 to 36 days. It sailed the ocean for more than 25 years before it was reported lost.

The ship set sail 16 May 1861. Nine hundred and fifty-five Saints were crammed together on three decks. They were berthed amid ship where there was more space available. The president of the emigrants “proposed that betrothed couples be married to stop over crowding in the quarters for singles.” Fourteen marriages took place. Eleven of the couples were Scandinavians. Four births took place on board and nine persons died, most of them children. The weather was favorable most of the way. Large icebergs were passed, one towering over two hundred feet above the water. The company was so large that there were not enough kettles so each family could only cook five times a week. The provisions were good and sufficient. They reached New York June 19. They were on the ocean 34 days. They were met by L.D.S. emigration agents and were lodged at Castle Garden overnight.

It was probably here or soon after, that the names of the Isacksen family were anglicized. Their surname became Isaacson and Nils became Neils, Berthe Catrine became Bertha Catherine, Maren Helene became Mary Ellen, Petra Anette was known as Annetta, Ingeborg Marie was called Maria, with a long i, and Lorentze became Lorenza.

The Saints were all put on harbor barges, which landed at the Jersey City depot. On June 20, they left by train going northwest to Zunkirk, New York, west along Lake Erie and to Chicago, and southwest to the Mississippi River at Quincy, Illinois, fifty miles south of deserted Nauvoo. The Isaacsons traveled with the Saints by riverboat twenty miles down river to Hannibal, Missouri, where they again traveled by train, this time across Missouri to St. Joseph. There they boarded a Missouri riverboat for a two or three day journey up river to Florence, Nebraska.

The 12-day trip from New York was an uncomfortable journey and this along with the many other changes from dirty, tiring ships and trains from Norway to New York, eleven changes in all to Florence, would sometimes have made anyone wonder if the gospel was worth it, but there were more trials to come.

On one of these train trips from New York to Florence, Maren, now Mary, nine years old, was left in charge of the three younger children while her parents left the train for a short time, at one of the stops. The train pulled off without them. Mary was terrified. She thought she would never see her mother and father again. She was among strangers in a strange land where most everyone talked a different language. Some kind people on the train helped her care for the children and helped them change trains, which they did in the middle of the night. Mary was overjoyed the next morning, at a junction, to see her parents get off another train and come running toward them. They arrived at Florence, now Omaha, Nebraska, on July 2.

The Isaacson family had enough money to get them to Florence and then they had to rely on the Church’s Perpetual Emigration Fund to get them to Utah. They were assigned to a church train. Fares were fourteen dollars for adults and seven dollars for children under eight. Each passenger was allowed fifty free pounds of baggage and was charged twenty cents for each pound over fifty.

Mary’s sister, Petra Anneta, six years old, died July 6, just four days after arrival in Florence. The emigrants assigned to church wagons camped outside Florence until departure, practicing camping procedures.

The church wagons were called the “down and back” wagons. Brigham Young asked Utah Wards for loans of wagons and teams for a six-month round trip to Florence to bring Saints to Utah, who couldn’t afford to buy wagons and oxen, in exchange for tithing credits. Seventy-five wards, nearly every ward in Utah donated a fully outfitted wagon and yoke of oxen, and most sent two or more outfits. These “down and back” wagons made up four church trains with veteran captains as the leader of each. Young men from Utah drove the wagons to Florence and back.

All the able-bodied emigrants walked the one thousand miles, along the Platte River’s north shore, across Nebraska and part of Wyoming, then followed the Sweetwater River halfway across Wyoming to South Pass before cutting southwest to Fort Bridger and then over rugged 7,700 foot high mountains to Utah.

The Isaacsons had another sorrow at Fort Laramie, when Mary Ellen’s babysitter, Lorenza, nearly two years old, died. It was hard to leave the bodies of these two children along the way.

After arrival in Salt Lake City, Mary’s father worked there for about a month before moving his family to Hyde Park for a short time, and then to Logan. They were living in Logan when Mary got a baby brother, Isaac. He lived for few months and then he died.

They moved to Richmond in May of 1865 where they made a permanent home. Their house consisted of two rooms with a small attic and cellar. It was two blocks east of town. Bertha did weaving for customers and Mary helped her and delivered the cloth. Neils worked his trade as a tailor. He played for the choir and at dances and weddings. Bertha loved gardening and did her own budding and grafting of trees.

Three more children were born in the home in Richmond, Caroline, Martha Ann, who only lived for about five months, and Neils Henry.

Mary Ellen was a petite pretty girl and when she was sixteen, she married William Thompson, who was thirty-two. He was born in York Township, Ontario, Canada of Scottish immigrants.

William and Mary's Wedding Photo, Head to ToeHis family settled in Bountiful but William moved to Richmond in 1860, at the age of 24 and helped to settle Richmond. When he was 28, he married Hannah Eliza Funk. She died at childbirth.

Mary and William drove to Salt Lake City in a covered wagon, accompanied by a woman who had been visiting in Richmond, and were married in the Endowment House by Daniel H. Wells, 1 June 1868. In their wedding picture his suit and her dress are made of identical material. They could have been made of cloth woven by Bertha Isaacson or Mary Ellen and tailored by Neils.

William and Mary's HomeThey began their life together in a one room log house just one half block south of where Mary had been living with her family. Their table and cupboard were homemade. They had two sons while living in this house, William Orville and Daniel Isaac.

Richmond was patterned after some other Mormon towns with the houses together and farms out of town. William and Mary bought a frame house on State Street, one block south of Main Street, one of the first two story homes built in Richmond. This house was the birthplace of the eleven other children born to Mary and William. Mary lived there for 48 years. The children were: Walter George, Mary Florence, Francis Ira, Bertha Estella, Albert Henry, Neils Oliver, Nellie Maria, Melvin Edward, Raymond Junius, Inez Evelyn and Ivan Cyril.

Nearly two years after Mary’s marriage, she got a baby brother named Neils Henry. Mary had her own baby son, William, by then. Neils Henry Isaacson was the pride and joy of his parents. At the age of 21 he went to work for the railroad in Montana and died there of Mountain Fever. He was the fifth child to die in the Isaacson family. All that was left of the eight children were Mary, Maria and Caroline, who they called Cad or Caddie. Caroline died at the age, of 34, leaving her own three small daughters. The three daughters of Bertha Isaacson, who grew to maturity, named a daughter after their mother.

Besides the deaths of her five brothers and sisters, Mary had sadness in her own family. Her baby Melvin died at 10 months of meningitis. Daniel died of pneumonia, leaving a young wife and baby and Raymond was killed at age 18 of injuries he received in a run-away team accident on the main street of Richmond. Her mother passed away in 1904 and her father in 1909.

Mary and William lived happily together until his death in 1913 of a kidney ailment. Although Mary had but little schooling, about a year and one half in all, she educated herself. She studied while she did her weaving. She learned her times tables and studied spelling. She learned to read and enjoyed reading the daily paper. She had strict integrity and was honest, true and faithful to her church and in all her doings. William died eleven years before Mary. After his death, she divided the property among the children and in a few years built a smaller modern home, south of the old one, where she lived with her son, Ivan, until her death, 4 December 1924 of cancer. The home in Richmond leaves fond memories for the grandchildren. I particularly remember grandmother in the homey kitchen, the clock on the shelf and also on the shelf were tiny china animals, which I used to sit and admire and wish I could hold. My mother, Bertha Thompson Whittle was the only daughter who didn’t live in Richmond and so occasionally my father would drive us over to Richmond with the horse and buggy, about eleven miles from our home in Fairview, Idaho or he would drive us the almost two miles to the Utah Idaho Central Railroad, and we would ride the train to Richmond. We would stay overnight in the upstairs rooms. William Thompson, my grandfather, had passed away and I had no recollection of him. I remember the stream of water that ran by the house to the north, which had peppermint growing on the banks.

Mary Ellen Isaacson

Age 36

Sources of Information:

September Ensign “Down and Back” Wagon Trains by William G. Hartley – pages 26-31
“Our Pioneer Heritage” – They came in 1861.
“The Scandinavian Saints” by Andrew Jensen pages 41-43
Family Records and Research
Earlier History by a daughter – Evelyn T. Stoddard

From Evelyn Webb Butler – a granddaughter:

"Mother wrote this to me more than once. Grandma had told it to her, and others no doubt. The Isaacsons lived in Norway; they were close to the hills that Mary Ellen loved to play in. There were wild berries growing there as well as flowers, etc. Mary Ellen loved to pick the berries and eat them. When her mother told her they were leaving Norway to go to Utah or Zion, as they spoke of it, Mary Ellen told her mother she didn’t want to go. The reason she gave was that there would be no more picking berries and eating them. Her mother told her not to worry because there was everything in Zion and she would still be able to go picking berries. Can you imagine what a disappointed little girl she was when they got here to this desert country?"

("Mary Ellen Isaacson Thompson," Reva Wilson, date unknown. Permission granted to post this history by Reva through her daughter Pam to her cousin Lisa Talbert, 9 July 2002. If my calculations are correct, Reva is a granddaughter of Mary Ellen.) Monday, 27-Jan-2003 21:45:51 MST