Teacher and Surveyor

{Second Place Historical Essay Professional by Marilyn Fox Alexander}
There's a thread which binds me to the historic tapestry of Manti. I am part of that tapestry which begins with a scene in the life of my gr-great-grandfather Jesse Williams Fox, Sr., born the son of a “respectable farmer" in Jefferson County, New York. As a boy, he worked on his father's farm until 1837. When he was eighteen years old, he was sent to a “literary institution" [seminary) to acquire an education. From then until 1844- these six years he attended school and then taught school. Except in the name, there was little difference in early 19th-century seminaries and academics. Students learned grammar and literature, oratory, arithmetic, algebra, geometry, trigonometry, surveying, geography, history, astronomy, elementary physics and chemistry. Many young men went directly from an academy to the study of law, medicine, and divinity.

In 1844 after he heard about he Mormon Church, a new picture begins to emerge. Jesse emigrated to Nauvoo with his two brothers, their wives, five children and an unmarried sister; it took them two months. They arrived the day before the Prophet Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum were assassinated in Carthage Jail. Jesse was baptized days after viewing the bodies, which were brought back to Nauvoo on June 28th. Jesse lived and taught school in Nauvoo until the general exodus of the Latter-day Saints in the early months of 1846. One of his pupils was a thirteen-year-old, Eliza Jerusha Gibbs, whose mother and sister had joined the church after her father died. During this time of persecution of the church members, many people died of cholera, exposure and lack of nourishment. All but four of the twelve Foxes who lived in Nauvoo with Jesse died. He took responsibility, along with a brother and sister, for his brother's orphaned children. He also helped many members of the church who were in need. Jesse gave of himself and means to such an extent that he became ill and Brigham Young sent him home on a mission to New York and to regain his health. Therefore, he was unable to accompany the first group of Saints across the plains.

He returned to New York where he converted and baptized a number of his family, including his father, Samuel. With him in New York was his nephew Edward W. Fox, who attended school and learned surveying from Jesse. They returned to Council Bluffs together in 1849. then crossed the plains the same year, although in separate wagon trains. In later years Edward became a resident of Manti and continued the surveying work Jesse had been doing.

The Gibbs family had stayed in Nauvoo and were now preparing to cross the plains. We may imagine the reunion of Jesse and Eliza on the banks of the Missouri early in the summer of 1849 after their years of separation, and their getting reacquainted with each other—now, not as teacher and pupil, but as two people who had admired each other in earlier years. She had become a lovely young woman and their fondness for each other grew stronger until on June 2nd they were married by Apostle George A. Smith. Their wedding supper was served in the open with an ox-yoke for a table. She was now eighteen years old and he was thirty. The long trek of crossing the plains was perhaps considerably lighter because it was their honeymoon.

The tapestry continues to grow when Jesse and Eliza arrive in Salt Lake Valley where they soon selected a lot on which to build. According to tithing records, he started farming and was hired as assistant to William Lemmon the Territorial Surveyor. President Brigham Young sent Jesse to Manti with others to strengthen that colony in 1850: Jesse left his wife and infant daughter in Salt Lake. He took his nephew Edward with him and expected to become a permanent resident after establishing himself in Manti. He was going to serve the community as a teacher and surveyor. The value of such a man was no doubt appreciated by Father Morley, whose group of colonists had been exposed for years to hardships of life on the frontier. Brother Morley had come to General Conference in the fall of 1850 to ask President Brigham Young to send more settlers to help the struggling colony. It seems that the County Surveyor, William Lemmon, had run some of the lines of the townsite while visiting Mann with President Young and his party in August 1850. Jesse fox and nephew Edward completed the survey.

Another scene in the tapestry is Jesse as school teacher. The first regular term began in September 1850. A log house had been built for meeting purposes and school was taught there. Jesse fox's son, Jesse W. Fox, Jr., years later wrote the following: "Father taught school in Manti and Black Hawk was one of his pupils. Later Black Hawk became chief of his tribe and Father drove into his camp on Silver Creek when on his way to Coalville to do some surveying. The Indians surrounded the buggy. Chief Black Hawk recognized Father and waved his hand and the Indians stood aside and let them pass on. Abe Doremus, who was with Father, said he was so frightened that his hair stood on end." This was during the time of the Black Hawk Wars. 1865 to 1867.

The Black Hawk incident is evidence of the respect and esteem the Jesse fox inspired in his pupils. That he had in the few months of his residence in Manti won the confidence and respect of the adult colonists is obvious from the fact of his being elected, in the month of April 1851, to the office of Collector and County Clerk. The election is also evidence that he expected to remain in Manti and that the voters has assurance that he had no plans of a contrary nature. In the very same month President Young visited the colony for the second time and released Jesse to return permanently to Salt Lake City. William M. Lemmon, the principal surveyor in Salt Lake City and County, had died on March 10, 1851, and President Young was satisfied that Jesse fox was the man best qualified to succeed him. Here then is the piece of the tapestry depicting Jesse fox, Sr., as a professional man.

We tend today to think of pioneer times as ancient history. To show how untrue this is let me create another picture. Jesse William Fox, Sr.'s son, Jesse Williams Fox, Jr.. took as his first wife Ruth May Fox (my gr-grandfather and gr-grandmother) and as his second wife Rosemary Johnson Fox. Rosemary's son Ellis Mathias* Fox lives today in Orem, Utah, at age eighty-eight "Mathias" was named for Matthias Cowley because Jesse fox, Sr.'s. plural wife was Sarah Foss Cowley, widowed mother of the apostle to be. My father, George Merrill Fox, is still living {1996) at age ninety-four. His grandmother, Ruth May Fox lived until she was almost 105 years old and died in 1958; Rosemary Johnson Fox lived to be 92 and died the same year. They had twenty children.

The thread continues to weave pictures. The tapestry grows through their posterity and the stories continue.

"Rosemary changed the spelling of her son's name using only one "t".


The Life of Jesse W. Fox. Sr.. Preface by James J. Fox. son of Feramorz Young Fox. who did the research.

History of Utah. Jesse Williams Fox. Sr.. Vol. IV. Orson F. Whitney. High. Dry and Offside. Manti. Utah 1849. Albert C. Antrei. Song of a Century. 1849-1949. Centennial Committee, Manti, Utah.

source Saga of the Sanpitch Vol 28


Mindy said...

Thank you for your post about Jessie Fox and his wife Eliza. I was looking for some information for my daughter who is going on trek and the story of their wedding was just the thing. I wanted her to have information about her ancestors who crossed the plains so that she would appreciate more the experience. I had never heard that story and will definitely share it with my relatives.
Thanks again,

~stacy said...

I am so glad this story helped you!
I am trying to compile as much as I can here so our family has an easy place to find it, but I love help, if you have any stories or know someone who does or wants to type stories into the computer I have tons that need to be done:)

Christine Duerksen said...

Stacy, I love that you are doing this. I have been trying to do research and loved that I have stumbled upon a family member's website. Love the information here.
Christine Duerksen

Christine Duerksen said...

Stacy, I love that you are doing this. I have been trying to do research and loved that I have stumbled upon a family member's website. Love the information here.
Christine Duerksen