William L. Watkins (1827-1911)

William Lampard Watkins, 1827-1911
Autobiography (1827-1846)
typescript, HBLL
William Lampard Watkins, son of William Watkins and Hannah Maria Lampard, born in Islington, London, England, February 7, 1827.

At about two years of age I was paralyzed through the carelessness of a nurse, having been exposed too long in the fields on the wet grass. I lost the use of my right leg from the hip joint down.

From eight years of age until fourteen, I attended the Brewers School, being the gift of endowment of Lady Owens on St. Johns road, Islington, London. During my boyhood I attended church with my parents, known as Irvingites, on Sunday mornings and Sunday school in the afternoons with the Wesleyans.

On leaving school I became acquainted with the Latter-day Saints, and in the month of May, Whitson Sunday, with the consent of my parents I was baptized by James Albon, and confirmed by Lorenzo Snow. By the close of the year my parents and sister were baptized. On the 22nd of May, 1842, my sister, Emma Watkins, died. In October, 1842, my parents, myself, and two young brothers, Joseph and Henry, aged four and two years, left our home for Liverpool to sail with the company of Saints leaving that month for American shores in the ship Emerald under the care of Parley P. Pratt.

We had a stormy passage, were ten weeks on the ocean. My mother met with an accident in her hurry to escape a storm, fell down the hatchway and fractured her thigh. She was attended to by Elder Pratt. In a few days she was able to be on her feet, and on arriving at New Orleans was quite well.

We took the steamboat, Goddess of Liberty, to St. Louis. Brother Pratt and his family and his wife’s sister, Olive Frost, left the boat to travel inland. Our journey up the Mississippi River was impeded, long before reaching St. Louis, with floating ice which came within very little of preventing us reaching there. But after nine or ten days we were safely landed. We remained in St. Louis the [rest] of the winter. I got a situation in a store with a Mr. Severson. My parents, finding an old friend whom they had assisted in London to emigrate previously, took shelter with them for awhile. Early in April, 1843, Lorenzo Snow with a company of Saints came to St. Louis on a light draft boat, and the river being just freed of ice. They were able to continue their journey to Nauvoo.

We made arrangements and followed as soon as possible. On reaching Nauvoo, my parents in connection with Samuel Smith bought five acres of land about four miles south of Brother Abraham Hunsaker. My parents also bought some land in the prairies in what was known as Little Field. They built [a] neat, comfortable house, thinking they were settled for life and everything seemed favorable for awhile.

We attended Sabbath meeting at Nauvoo and frequently heard the Prophet Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon with others of the Apostles and leaders address the Saints. Nauvoo was flourishing, although the Saints were generally poor. They were exerting themselves to the utmost to build the temple.

The Prophet used to speak with great power and it seemed as if there was no end to his knowledge. Before the year was ended we found the enemies of the Saints were not dead, but were covertly seeking to bring trouble and persecution as they did in Missouri. Writs were issued to arrest the Prophet, but he was surrounded by so many faithful brethren who were willing to sustain him in the most critical and trying times. There were also quite a number who were spreading dissention among the people and were preaching false doctrine and stirring up strife. When they were taken to task or reprimanded for their course would get angry and revengeful.

It was getting on toward Presidential Election and the Prophet was anxious to learn the feelings of those who were aspiring to that position and opened up a correspondence but could get no satisfaction. In January, 1844, a meeting was called to consider the best course for the Saints to take in the coming election. Two candidates were in the field, but neither of them friendly toward the Saints and it was concluded to have an independent ticket with Joseph Smith as the choice for president. After which the Prophet wrote out his views on the powers and policies of the government of the United States. There was much political agitation. Shortly after a great many of the brethren were called and sent out to spread the word, and conference appointed in the several states that the Elders might go and canvas and extend the views of the Prophet in regard to present conditions as well as to preach the Gospel.

Being one of the number, after waiting sometime for my companion, and finding that he did not respond, I on foot to Warsaw twenty miles from Nauvoo. When near Golden Point a man with a team overtook me and invited me to ride, which I readily accepted. We soon got into conversation and I found him to be very bitter in his feelings. He said, “Joe Smith will never occupy the presidential seat, before he gains the election he will be killed.” He, however, cooled down and I rode with him to near Warsaw. He invited me to the house and I remained with him over night and had supper and breakfast. The next morning I went down to the Levee. No boat being in sight, I concluded to go to Quincy where there would be a better chance for a boat. Arriving at Quincy just as a boat came down the river. I went on board and took passage to St. Louis. Here I found a number of my old friends and some of my London acquaintances. I was delayed here a week on account of a misfortune caused by the breaking of the instrument that I wore on my right leg to enable me to walk. It was a difficult matter to get it repaired as I had outgrown it.

I was on my way to Kentucky but had to call, in order to fill a promise, at Caladonia in the south of Illinois, so I took a boat to Cairo at the mouth of the Ohio River. On landing here I found it was eighteen miles to Caladonia. The road was but little traveled as it was a time of high waters and the bayous were full so that the usual route was impassable. The country was heavily timbered without much settlement and I had to follow such tracks as I could find, which eventually I (was lost) entirely on account of the water in places that submerged the land. I wandered till night when I had to lie down on a fallen tree to rest for the night, it being cloudy weather with a fine rain falling all the time. The mosquitos were awful. I had been deceived by what I thought was the barking of a dog, but as the bark came from other quarters I gave it up.

Next morning I got around with much difficulty, but came onto a traveled road through the woods. I did not know which course to take so concluded to wait for awhile. I did not wait long before a man with a team came along and I learned from him that I was farther from the place I wished to go than when I started from Cairo. He took me to the place to which he was traveling, he said it was a good road from there on. The land lady at the hotel was very kind, got me some liniment to bathe my ankles and wrists where the mosquitos had done their work, and I rested for the day. The next morning I started out and found a Brother Compton and family, and at a short distance from them, another family of Saints, but the family I was endeavoring to find for Brother Hunsaker had gone on to Kentucky. I went to the river and waited for a boat to come to the landing. One came along and I went on board, but could make no arrangements with the captain to take me to Louisville. I immediately started to Lexington, traveling on foot and doing what I could in the way of advertising my business, expecting when I got to Lexington to get further instruction. In this I was again disappointed, so I had to do the best I could alone.

I found my friends willing to listen and conversed on the political situation although I was in a slave state. The question of slavery as advocated in the views of the document I carried found great favor. I was enjoying myself tolerably well, for when I got weary there was always one to assist me and give me courage until one day near Georgetown I became perfectly dark in my mind and quite discouraged. I sought to overcome this feeling ling on the Lord for help, but could not continue. As it were, a voice made an impression on my mind to go to Cincinnati. A boat had just come up the river and docked. I stepped on board and the first person I met was Elder George J. Adams. Being very well acquainted with him I told him freely of my feelings. He said, “Brother William, I have sorrowful news. Our Prophet and our Patriarch were murdered in Carthage Jail and I am now on a mission to notify the elders to return home immediately.” The same day I got on a boat and went to St. Louis and from there took boat to Nauvoo. It was a serious and trying time. Few of the elders had yet arrived and the condition of the Saints was mournful in the extreme. Our enemies were rejoicing in what had been done, yet full of fear. History, of course, gives a full account of these perilous times.

Sidney Rigdon, one of Joseph Smith’s counselors who had gone to Pittsburgh, hastened home on hearing of the martyrdom of the Prophet and with some of his friends sought to influence the people to appoint him as guardian to build up the church to Joseph, but few of the Twelve had arrived and John Taylor was suffering from the wounds he had received at the time of the martyrdom.

A meeting was appointed for August 8th by which time Brigham Young and most of the other apostles had returned home. It was at this meeting Sidney Rigdon made a lengthy and tedious speech presenting his claims, telling the people what wonderful things he had planned for them. It was a solemn time, for he was a man who on account of his experience and talents had been sustained as Joseph’s counselor by the people, although contrary to the Prophet’s wish for some time past, but the darkness was soon dispelled, for Brigham Young explained before the people on that day, the order of the Priesthood. He was filled with the power of the Holy Ghost. He stood before the people as the Prophet Joseph Smith often had done and we heard the voice of the true shepherd, for he spoke with the voice of Joseph. His manner and appearance were like unto Joseph’s and it was manifested to all those present upon whom the responsibility rested to carry on the work of God and lead the Saints.

I sat in that assembly and did not realize for a time but that I was still listening to the Prophet Joseph, so great and marvelous was the manner in which the manifestation before the entire congregation was made, that when the proposition was placed before the people to decide whom they would sustain as the leader of the Church, the Twelve Apostles with Brigham Young as their president were almost unanimously sustained. This circumstance, although the Saints were in deep trouble and filled with sorrow for the condition in which they were placed brought a great relief and gave joy to the Saints for they realized that God was still mindful of them.

Soon after my return home I went to live with John Hammond at Golden Point to assist him and learn basket making. On December 4, 1844, I married his daughter Mary Almina. I bought an old log house in the neighborhood of John Carson. During the year 1845 the enemies of the Saints continued their annoyances. We had to keep guards out at night to keep track of them and prevent depredations. I took my turn regularly, standing guard, leaving my wife alone during my absence. Finally a treaty was made that all the Saints shd leave Nauvoo. During the winter of 1845-46 endowments were given in the Temple in a hurried manner, commencing with the leading authorities, and were notified by quorums. I was a member of the 6th quorum of Seventy and received my notice to attend but I was just taken down with a violent fever and unable to respond. As soon as I was able I arranged to go to Nauvoo to get my endowments. I procured a team, and when about half way on the journey, met some returning who stated that endowments had to discontinue because of the excitement then raging.

My parents received their endowments in the [Nauvoo] Temple on the 11th day of October 1845. My daughter, Mary Ann, was born early in the spring of 1846. I with my family and my father-in-law with his family crossed the Mississippi River into Iowa.