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Jane Manning James’ Pioneer Life in Utah (Part 4 of 5)

Dr. Quincy Newell discusses early black Mormon pioneer Jane Manning’s marriage to Isaac James.  The two travelled to Utah in one of the earliest wagon companies to settle in Salt Lake City.

GT:  Did they go with the first pioneer companies?

Quincy:  I don’t think they’re in the first wave. They’re in the second wave, now I’m remembering. Patty Sessions delivers Jane’s child essentially, on the trail in Iowa, at a place called Keg Creek. So Jane is traveling pregnant, which can’t have been fun. At some point, they get hooked up with the George Parker Dykes company. They continue to stay with and work for Dykes and his family when they’re in Winter Quarters.  Dykes goes off with the Mormon Battalion, and he writes letters home to his wives, who he refers to as Mrs. Dykes, to sort of cover up the fact that there are multiple Mrs. Dykes’s. He makes several remarks about, make sure you treat Isaac and Jane well, take care of them and so on.

GT:  Polygamy is such a can of worms. So, she gets into the Salt Lake Valley.

Quincy:  She’s in one of the first companies to enter the Salt Lake Valley. So they arrive in the summer of 1847. She has had another child, so she has given birth to a child on the way to Winter Quarters, and she’s pregnant with another child by the time they get to Salt Lake. They set up on some of the property that belongs to Brigham Young and continue working for him for some time, and then they get a piece of land down in the First Ward, I believe, and set up a farming operation. Jane starts doing laundry pretty soon as well.

We will discuss her other marriages, and her prominent role in Pioneer Utah.

Quincy:  So in 1870, Jane and Isaac get divorced.

GT:  1870?

Quincy:  1870. That’s the necessary background. So in the 1880s, and 1890s, when Jane is starting to request endowments and sealings, she requests endowments. She requests sealing as a child to Joseph Smith. And she requests sealing in marriage. And occasionally, she will request sealing and marriage to Walker Lewis, which is a really interesting move on her part. And I think it’s maybe because Walker Lewis has the priesthood.

GT:  That’s a fact I think most people don’t know.

Quincy:  Right. So if you request sealing to a black man who doesn’t have the priesthood, well, then there’s a sort of procedural problem there, right?

GT:  Yeah. Isaac, her husband didn’t have priesthood.

Quincy:  Exactly. And so, she may be thinking, “Well, okay, I will request sealing to somebody who does have the priesthood, but who is also black, so they can’t object to it being an interracial marriage. And they can’t object that he doesn’t have the priesthood. So I should be good to go.”

Quincy:  Yeah, they say no to that, too.

Quincy:  But so that’s, as far as I know, that’s the only evidence that we have Jane and Walker Lewis knew each other. I am not totally persuaded that that’s evidence that they knew each other. She may only have known of him but known that he had the priesthood.

GT:  So this was just kind of a strategic move on her part.

Quincy:  It may have been, It’s hard to say. There’s a lot about Jane that’s hard to say.

Check out our conversation….

Jane Manning James was part of the second wave of pioneers to enter the Salt Lake Valley.

Don’t miss our other conversations with Quincy!

315:  Jane’s One-Of-A Kind Sealing to Joseph Smith)

314: 19th Century Sexual Politics

313: Was Jane a Slave?

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Jane’s One-of-a-Kind Sealing to Joseph Smith (Part 3 of 5)

Early black Mormon pioneer Jane Manning James walked 800 miles to Nauvoo.

Quincy:  Her trunk got lost, at least that’s what Charles Wandell says. In the Nauvoo Neighbor, the local paper, there is an ad that appears for several weeks running. The title is “Lost.”  It describes the trunk and offers a small reward for its return. But Jane is essentially left without anything but the clothes on her back, which she finds to be a truly sorry state of affairs, in part, because I think she used her possessions as a way of asserting her respectability.  She describes the clothing in the trunk as beautiful clothes, mostly new. She’s left without all of them. All she has are the shoes that have worn out, the stockings that have ripped and torn, the dress that she was wearing, and very little else. So she relies on the kindness of strangers. She needs to get a job. She needs to get some new clothing, all that kind of stuff.

GT:  I know in the movie, Emma and Jane, there’s a really interesting scene where Jane comes to meet the Prophet Joseph and Emma. I know she’s pretty embarrassed. But she’s like, “I don’t have any clothes.” And Joseph says, “Let’s go get her some clothes, Emma.” Can you tell about that story?

Dr. Quincy Newell tells us more about that story, and tells us that Jane was a great friend of Joseph and Emma Smith.  In fact, it appears Emma may have asked Emma to be sealed to her as a family member.  In our next conversation, we will discuss this proposal, and Jane’s attempts to be sealed to the prophet Joseph Smith’s family.

Quincy:  [Jane] starts telling anyone who will listen that Emma came to her and said that Joseph Smith had told her, Emma, to offer to Jane the opportunity to be adopted as a child. Jane, at the time said, “No thanks.” But starting in 1880, she starts petitioning church leaders to say, “You know, I’d really like to change my mind about that. Could I please be adopted to Joseph Smith, as a child as he offered to do back in Nauvoo? Would that be okay? When can that be accomplished?”

GT:  This was not a legal adoption, but a religious adoption. Is that correct?

Quincy:  That’s how Jane frames it. So at the time that Jane says the offer was being made, parent-child sealing, which is sort of how she frames it in the 1880s, was not really a thing. It was at least theoretically a thing. But it was not a thing that had been practiced. So nobody is really doing this. By the 1880s, lots of people are doing it.  Lots and lots of white people are petitioning to be adopted as Joseph Smith’s children.  They never laid eyes on Joseph Smith. He was dead long before they became converts to the church. Their requests are being granted right and left. I think probably thousands of people were adopted. He’s got a huge family. So Jane is basically asking for what lots of other people are getting as sort of a matter of course.

GT:Oh, really? It just a widespread thing by then.

Quincy:  It’s a very widespread thing. So she’s just asking for something that everybody else is getting. But church leaders find this a really difficult request to grant in her case.

GT:  I can imagine.

Quincy:  I think it’s because they have a lot of trouble imagining giving Joseph Smith a black daughter in eternity. But she just keeps kind of poking them. So she writes letters to them. She has friends write letters to them. She goes to visit the church presidents in their homes. She talks about this at every opportunity. It’s in her autobiography. It’s in every account of her life. She sort of states this over and over again. She seems to make the argument that she should be allowed to have a sealing to Joseph Smith, as a child. She should be allowed to receive her endowments because she has been a virtuous Mormon woman, and because Joseph Smith would let her do this. So why won’t the church leaders at the time, let her do that?

Her repeated requests resulted in the most unusual sealing ceremony ever granted. Check out our conversation….

Dr. Quincy Newell gives more details on the most unusual sealing ceremony ever.
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Was Jane a Slave? (Part 1 of 5)

Dr. Quincy Newell is the first non-Mormon scholar we’ve had on Gospel Tangents.  Of course, I had to ask why she was interested in Mormon history in the first place!

GT:  I think one of the things that’s most perplexing to me, and I think to my listeners as well, you’re not Mormon!

Quincy:  No, I’m not.

GT:  Why in the world are you studying Mormonism?

Quincy:  I am interested in religion in the American West, and Mormons are a huge part of that story.  I’m also interested in the experiences of religious and racial ethnic minorities. So thinking about sort of how those different factors in identity intersect and how they shape people’s lives. So that’s why I got into the study of Mormonism.

Dr. Newell has just come out with a book on early black Mormon pioneer Jane Manning James.  It’s called “Your Sister in the Gospel,” and is published by Oxford University Press.  I was curious about Jane’s relationship to slavery.

Quincy:  Jane was not a slave. She was very particular in making sure that everybody knew that. She was born free in Connecticut, in about 1820. Her mother had been enslaved, and she said that her maternal grandmother had been brought from Africa as an enslaved woman as well. So Jane certainly had slavery in her background. She knew about it. She experienced it. She knew people who had been enslaved. But she herself was not enslaved at any point. That’s a status symbol, I think, for her. So she was very particular in making sure that people who knew her, people who heard about her, knew that she was not enslaved, and that was important to her.

GT:  But her mother was a slave. How did that work?  I think there was a law or something that you were emancipated a certain age or something. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

Quincy: Yes, I’m not sure I’m going to be able to get all the details right off the top of my head. But Connecticut passed a set of laws that basically instituted a kind of gradual emancipation.  I don’t remember the year in which they were passed, but Jane’s grandmother was too old, and was never emancipated. The legislature in Connecticut decided they didn’t want owners of slaves to dump their aged slaves on the public trust and make the public responsible for maintaining them. So they remained enslaved for the rest of their lives. But there was a date that anybody born after that date was to be emancipated by, I think, their 25th birthday, something like that. So Jane’s mother was eligible for that emancipation, and for that reason, she probably was emancipated in around 1810 or so. Jane was born about 10 years later, so she was born free. But she certainly knew relatives who would have remained enslaved for the rest of their lives.

We will get more acquainted with both Jane and Quincy in our next conversation.  Check it out!

Dr. Quincy Newell of Hamilton College has published a biography of black Mormon pioneer Jane Manning James.

Don’t miss our previous conversations about Jane with Margaret Young!

002:  Combating Racism

001: “Is There No Blessing for me?