Women's Conference 2015: Story of Else Marie Jensen Peterson, by Samantha Farr
by Samantha Farr
I began my mortal journey on February 11, 1833, in Fourholt, Albaek (pron. al-bike), Denmark. My parents Maren Johanna and Jens Thorsen gave me the name of Else Marie Jensen. I was called “Elsie.” I had one younger sister, Johanna Marie, and an older brother, whom I never knew. Thor was born and died before my birth. When I was nine years old, Father died. Mother remarried a man 20 years her junior named Ole Mikkelsen.
I myself was married to Lars Peter Peterson, in a little church in Albaek, Denmark, on November 26, 1852, when I was 19 years of age. We lived in the family home in Fourholt where six of our seven children were born; in all, four boys and three girls. It was a beautiful home, on the south side of a large hill, close to a lake and only a few miles from the North Sea.
My Lars was in King Frederick VII’s personal guard, and was decorated with the highest award in the Danish army. As an official representative of the king, he was able to provide a fine living for our family. We were considered to be among the nobility and enjoyed many luxuries, including attendance of functions in the king’s court. He was very proud of his accomplishments and his beautiful family, and our marriage was a wonderful union of perfect love and confidence.
But things changed when the Mormon missionaries came in the early 1850s. Mother and my sister Johanna, who was still living at home, invited the Mormon elders into their home, where they heard the glorious news of the restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Mother was able to verify the truthfulness of the gospel through prayerful reading of the Book of Mormon. I too had heard the message of the gospel, and had received a witness of my own.
But in the spring of 1855, when both Mother and Johanna were baptized and confirmed members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, I could only stand by and watch, disappointed. You see, Lars did not approve of this unknown church; a new religion that was scoffed at by the entire community! I knew the truthfulness of the gospel in my heart and desired greatly to join but Lars would not give his consent. I’m sorry to say our religious differences caused our once peaceful and loving union to become a turbulent one, nearly to the point of separation.
In October 1855, the call came from the First Presidency of the church for all the European saints to come to Utah by handcart beginning the following spring. My mother, stepfather, and sister Johanna sold their belongings and left their home, sailing across the ocean to join the Saints in Zion. In Iowa, they parted ways. Mother, being too old to travel in the handcart company, went with Ole in the William Hodgett Ox Train Company, and Johanna continued on with the Willie Handcart Company. How could they have known they would never see one another again in this life? Poor Johanna survived the desperate and terrible conditions with the Willie Handcart Company only to be informed a day after her arrival in the valley that our dear mother had died along the way. She wrote to tell me the sad news shortly after she arrived.
The news of Mother’s passing only strengthened my resolve to join the Saints. I was anxious to follow in her footsteps. Lars finally consented ,and I was baptized on November 29, 1857.
Persistence pays off and four years later, on October 14th, 1861, Lars was baptized and became a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. The call to gather with the Saints in the Great Salt Lake Valley was still in force, and we made preparations to emigrate to Utah.
We sold our beloved home and auctioned off all of our furniture. All of our belongings were sold. We could take with us only the basic things. In April 1862, we bid farewell to Denmark and set off to join the Saints in Zion.
A neighbor drove us 15 miles to the seaport Aalborg (pron. eyel-borg). From there we sailed to the German port of Kiel. And from there, we took the train to Hamburg. It was during this stage of our journey that tragedy struck for the first time. Our poor daughter, Maren, only six years old, became deathly sick. She died on the train as we neared Hamburg. Lars had a coffin made for our sweet Maren, but there wasn’t time to bury her before we were required to board our ship. We, along with 413 emigrating Latter-Day Saints, set sail on the Good Ship Franklin on April 15th, and our poor Maren was the first to be buried at sea. What a terrible sadness came over us to have to part with her this way.
The emigrants brought measles with them, and soon there was an epidemic. By May 27th, 43 children and three adults were dead of the measles. In all, 48 children were buried at sea. Two of my own were taken. On a Sunday afternoon, May 4th, my youngest boy, Christian, died in my arms and was buried at sea. He was 11 months old. Exactly one week later, my second youngest, Ole Christian, only three years old, also passed away and was buried at sea. Words cannot describe our sadness.
Even amid the great sorrow, so common among so many of us, we had our meetings, gatherings, and dancing almost daily on board the ship. We had the call to get up every morning at 5:00. Prayer was at 7:00 in the morning and again at 8:30 at night.
My husband and I, along with our three surviving children arrived safely in New York Harbor on Thursday morning, May 29th, 1862. With relief, we boarded the transport boat only to be turned back at the bridge at Castle Garden because several were still sick with the measles. We had to go back to the ship where we remained for two more nights and one day. We were finally permitted to land on May 31st, 47 days after we first set out to cross the ocean.
From there, we traveled by rail and boat, until we reached Winter Quarters on Monday, June 9th. There, we met up with several other companies who had sailed from Hamburg at the same time. The companies together made up one of the largest migrations from Europe to America up to that time and for many years after: about 1,500 Mormon pioneers all together. We put up our tents and bought wagons, oxen, cows, stoves, cooking utensils, and food for the 1,100-mile journey to Salt Lake City.
We left Winter Quarters in July of 1862 and reached the Salt Lake Valley in September of that year. By the time we reached our destination, 62 of the 413 in our company had died. In all, we had been on our journey about six months. We settled in Pleasant Grove, as requested by Brigham Young. It was a mere three weeks after we arrived that I gave birth to my seventh child, a beautiful girl we named Elsie Marie. Only eight days later, on October 17, 1862, I left my own mortal body to rejoin in spirit, my mother, father, and beloved children who had all gone before me. My baby girl lived only a month longer, passing away on November the 10th.
What a tragedy it would have been if that were the end of my story; to have tried for so long, to have sacrificed so greatly to join the saints and partake of the sacred ordinances of the temple, only to have been released too soon from my mortal body, and to never have had the opportunity to receive the highest blessings promised to the faithful! What would it all have been for?
But our Heavenly Father is merciful. He wants all of his children to receive those promised blessings. His plan enables us to receive all of the blessings of the temple, even on the other side of the veil, through the faithful service and sacrifice of the living.
My dear husband, a widower with children still to raise, took a new wife. Her name was Maren. On November 5, 1866, four years after I had departed, Lars and Maren went to the temple together, where she stood in as proxy on my behalf, and on that blessed day, I received my endowment and was sealed to my dear husband. Many years passed before the rest of my temple work was completed and I was able to fully participate in those special blessings here on the other side of the veil. But I am blessed. There are many here with me who still wait. Our stories are not finished yet. And death is not the end.