Question: Who was Rasmus Nielsen Jeppesen, and what role did he play in the settlement of Mantua, Utah?
Answer: Rasmus Nielsen was born in Sigersted, Soro, Denmark on June 28, 1820. Later in life, he adopted the surname of his father, Niels Jeppesen, as was common when immigrating to America. After arriving in America, he went by the name of Rasmus Nielsen Jeppesen.
Rasmus became a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Denmark. He was converted by Erastus Snow, a member of the first group of missionaries sent to Europe. He immigrate to America in 1854. His brother Peder Nielsen Jeppesen followed in 1868.
Rasmus left Denmark on the ship, “Cinberia,”on December 22, 1854. With him were his wife, Anne Hansen, and two sons, Hans and Karl. Five children had been born of this marriage but three girls died shortly after birth. Their last son was born in December 1854 but died at birth, just a few weeks before they sailed.
They changed ships at Liverpool, England, transferring to the ship “James Nesmith,” which sailed on January 7, 1855, with 440 Scandinavians and one Englishman aboard. Three adults and ten children died during the trip, mostly from cholera. Rasmus’ wife, Anne, died on February 18, and was buried at the mouth of the Mississippi River. On February 23, Rasmus arrived at New Orleans. On February 24, he continued up the Mississippi River on the “Oceana,” to St. Louis. He then continued his journey up the Missouri River to Ft. Leavenworth, and then proceeded to Mormon Grove, Kansas, where the Saints were gathering at that time.
Rasmus’ son, Karl, died on April 12 1855, and was buried on the banks of the Missouri River. Rasmus had one sole surviving child, his oldest son, Hans, age eight.
Among the passengers on the “James Nesmith” was another family group, consisting of Johan Peter Ottosen, his son, Christian, his two daughters, Ellen Catherine and Margrethe, and his second wife, Maren Christine Nielsen (nicknamed Dempsey). Johan’s other son, Jens (age 8) stayed in Denmark with his mother. Johan and Maren were married on September 4, 1838 in Denmark, after Johan and his wife divorced. Maren had been the children’s governess and had never married nor had children. Johan died, within two days, and was buried on the banks of the Mississippi River, leaving Maren with the three step children.
It appears that Rasmus assumed the responsibility for Maren Christine (whom he later married) and her step children when they left Mormon Grove on June 13, 1855, with the Jacob Secrist Company. The company arrived in Salt Lake City on September 7, 1855 with 58 wagons. Johan’s son, Christian, is listed in the Jacob Secrist wagon train, but seems to have died along the way, as there is no further record of him.
After reaching Utah, Rasmus married Maren Christine (Dempsey) in March 1856 and married four more times in polygamy. He married Emma Emelia Bravandt, Ellen Catherine Ottosen, Inger Pedersen, and Margareth Christina Alexander.
Nineteen-year-old Emma Emelia Bravandt had traveled alone across the plains in the James G. Willie Handcart Company in 1856. Rasmus gave her a place to stay and married her on January 18, 1857. Emma bore eight children and died at age 37 in Manuta and is buried in the Brigham City Cemetery.
Ellen Catherine Ottosen was Maren Christine’s stepdaughter, and decided to marry Rasmus in 1859, as she was almost seventeen and was being encouraged to marry. She had two children with Rasmus but then left him and married again and had nine children in her second marriage.
Inger Pedersen was a widow with four children. Her husband had died of diphtheria in Denmark.
Part of Rasmus’ calling was to meet the new converts coming from Denmark and assist them in getting settled, as many could not speak any English. Rasmus married Inger in November 1857, and they had four children together.
Margareth Christina Alexander was one of the immigrants from Denmark, who arrived in Brigham City and was greeted by Rasmus and Dampsey. She had been waiting at the station for two days. Rasmus soon found out that she had nowhere to go, and told Rasmus that she had fallen in love with a Mormon missionary in Denmark, and he had promised to meet her there. Ramus took her into his home, and they were later married in 1876.
Rasmus was prominent in Church leadership. He served as counselor to the Bishop during this early period of settlement. He also returned to his native Denmark on a mission for the Church.
He was a First Lieutenant in the Box Elder County Minute-Man Militia (under the name of Rasmus Nielsen). They were required to furnish their own weapons and a well-equipped horse.
Rasmus was one of the first settlers of Mantua. He was one of twelve families of the settling party, moving from Brigham City. He was instrumental in laying out the blocks of ten acres each for family units. He was a brick mason, and made bricks from the mud in the “Lowland.” He first lived at the north end of the town, where he baked the bricks in a kiln just outside of town. He made bricks for the Box Elder Court House in Brigham City.
Because Rasmus was a polygamist, there was a haystack on the family farm in Mantua that covered a room where Rasmus could hide out. The room included all the necessities for several days living. When the word was out that the Marshals were looking for him, he would go into his hideout. His wives and children proclaimed innocence as to his whereabouts. Of course, at times like these extra wives became “aunts” or visiting cousins.
Rasmus was a very kind and generous man, faithful to his beliefs, a good citizen, and loved by all his children and family. His descendants, today, are scattered throughout the country.
Rasmus believed a law could not be valid or enforced, retroactively. Also, he believed he was obligated to keep his covenants with his wives, and obligated to his children from these wives. He refused to comply with the new law as it meant breaking up the families. Rasmus died in 1896, at the age of 76 and is buried in the Mantua Cemetery.
Source: Excerpts from Rasmus Nielsen Jeppesen (1820-1896), compiled by Armor A. Jensen (great-great, grandson); Excerpts from “The Saints of Little Valley, History of the Rasmus Nielsen Jeppesen Family, Polygamist Settlers of Mantua, Utah,” by Dianna Jeppesen, 2001; findagrave.com