John Sunderlin Eldredge

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Question: Where was John Sunderlin Eldredge called on a mission after he served in Brigham Young’s Vanguard Company in 1847?

Answer: John Sunderlin Eldredge was born on April 30, 1821, in Sennett, Cayuga, New York, the ninth child of Alanson Eldredge and Esther Sunderlin. His mother died soon after the birth of her tenth child, who also died.

In 1832 Alanson took his children and moved to Indiana where his son Horace was introduced to the gospel and baptized a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1836. Horace moved to Kirtland, Ohio the same year and then on to Missouri until 1838 when he moved back to Indiana after the persecutions drove the Saints out.

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John, and his father Alanson, visited Kirtland in the fall of 1836 where Alanson was baptized a member of the church. Alanson moved to Caldwell County, Missouri where he owned seventy acres of land. John’s older brother, Ira, joined the church in 1839. In 1840 Alanson moved to Nauvoo, Illinois. John was the youngest in the family, and was baptized when he was twenty-two years of age in June 1843. John worked as a carpenter on the Nauvoo Temple for 46 days.

After the death of the prophet Joseph Smith, the Saints were forced from Nauvoo.

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John moved with his father, Alanson, to Winter Quarters, Nebraska in 1846. Alanson stayed only a year, and then left for Salt Lake with the Daniel Spencer Company in 1847, traveling in his son, Ira’s, company of fifty. John Sunderlin, was asked to be in Brigham Young’s Vanguard Company, the first group to make it to the Salt Lake Valley in July 1847. John was a teamster and a scout for the company. John helped develop the irrigation system by putting a dam in City Creek and flooding the ground until it was softened enough to plow and plant a few crops.

On August 30, John Eldredge met his father and the Daniel Spencer Company on his way back to Winter Quarters. John joined with them in order to help them finish their trek to the Valley.

John was married to Sinah Ceneth Chipman on March 24, 1849 by Brigham Young. John lived in the Sugar House area for a year by his father and brothers, where he farmed, taught school, and became a father. The next summer, John moved his family thirty-five miles to the south to American Fork. John surveyed 150 acres where he soon built the first two-room log cabin in the area. John and Sinah became the parents of six children, the youngest one dying as a baby.

John married Rhoda Sylvia Collete on July 4, 1852, and after John returned from his mission to Australia, they became the parents of four children, the oldest one dying as a baby. On October 21, 1852, John was called to serve a mission to South Australia, along with ten other brethren. They made their way to San Bernardino, California and then sailed up the coast to San Francisco. Upon arriving in Australia, John was able to baptize several people despite the persecution by the local clergy, who, in fear of losing their flocks, circulated false reports. On the return trip to the United State, the ship John was on, broke up in a storm, and John was stranded on an island for two months. This is the story:

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Mission accomplished John was now ready to go home. He set sail with fellow Mormons on a ship ferrying passengers and a cargo of coal. The ship was called the Julia Ann. It was this voyage which proved to be the most amazing of all his adventures. During a dark night, 27 days into the long passage, a crew member on lookout duty saw a long white strip ahead. He went below to get his glasses for a better view of it. It was too late as the warning cry was heard: "Hard down the helm!" His desperate call for the ship to turn echoed onto the deck below. The ship shuddered violently and a terrifying sound, like thunder ripped the air. The white strip was actually a coral reef, hard and razor sharp. The Julia Ann's hull was smashed open against it. Water began pouring in. There was a fierce gale blowing and enormous waves relentlessly crashing over her, turning her sideways onto the reef. She was breaking up and there was no land to be seen close by on this moonless night.

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Captain Pond, wisely, kept her sails up, forcing the ship high upon the coral, before ordering his crew to cut down her masts and rigging. With the ship in this position, a crew member was able to swim to the reef, protected from the wind by the remains of the vessel. He took with him a length of rope and secured one end to a firm coral. The other end was fixed to what remained of the ship. Meanwhile, Captain Pond collected together all the vital instruments used for navigation at sea and put a sailor in charge of them. Using the rope to steady him, the sailor carried them onto the reef.

The passengers had been sent quickly to the after-cabin. They huddled together, trying to avoid sliding furniture torn from its lashings. Children clung to their mothers, their terrified screams drowned out by the crashing of the waves while water was entering their cabin. Rosa Clara, just eighteen years old, was the first of the passengers who volunteered to go on the rope, to the relative safety of the reef. Perhaps she hoped this act would encourage the others to follow her.

Before attempting the crossing, she strapped her baby onto her husband's back, with a shawl. Her husband with the baby, were then washed overboard by a large wave. He could not swim. A sailor immediately dived in and pulled them both to safety back on the ship. Young Rosa then made the hazardous crossing from ship to reef with the Captain's help. There she waited for her family and others to join her. Five lives were lost, as some were swept away into the water.

The night was long as most were in knee deep water and a rising tide caused their footing to be insecure. Several hours later, the Captain and the remaining crew threw themselves upon their hauling rope that led to the reef, just seconds before the lifeline finally broke. The coral was so spiky that it cut into them and many sustained nasty wounds. They watched bleakly, as the Julia Ann, their only safe haven, split in two. The sun finally started to appear the next morning, shedding its light on some distant islands. This gave new hope to the stranded survivors. They fought off sharks as they scurried higher onto the sharp reef.

Mercifully, they had salvaged a boat from the ship, which John helped to repair. Some of the crew then rowed to explore these islands. Some hours later, they returned safely, but disappointed. They had found a sandbar and a collection of Islands, none of which had any fresh water to drink or fruit to eat. However, Captain Pond decided to ferry everyone around the atoll, which was 5.5 x 7 mile, to the highest side of the reef. It was safer and more comfortable there. Some of the women and children were the first to go. It would take more than one trip and many hours to get everyone to the other side.

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John helped to construct two rafts, from the wreckage of the Julia Ann, for the passengers. Their boat was also used to transport useful items salvaged from the ship including bags of flour, a barrel of biscuits, one tea chest, clothing, coal and carpenters tools. Having spent another uncomfortable night on the reef the last of them left in the direction around the atoll. As the water was shallow in places, the men pushed the rafts, but at times it got deeper, the shorter ones had to scramble onboard and even the tallest were forced to climb on when fins of hungry sharks encircled them! Up to twenty sharks were seen together, at one time. It was a perilous task and terrifying ordeal for all of them.

Amazingly, they made it safely to the Island. Most of them had been in the blistering rays of the tropical sun for two full days. They were really thirsty, and their faces were swollen from the burning rays of the tropical sun. Seeing water everywhere, yet the seawater was too salty to drink. They started building huts, thatching them with the Pandanus Tree that grew there. Suddenly, some children who had been playing in the sand called out excitedly, look, look in these holes. They had dug down below sea level and placed plate shaped sea shells at the bottom of the hole, gradually lifting the shells, filled with water they could drink. It was only slightly salty. Everyone urgently needed water more than food, but they were very hungry, as well.

There were lots of shellfish about, but no way of cooking them, until one of the sailors unpicked stitching from the lining in his hat and produced dry matches he'd kept safely there. So, that night all shared in a roast fish supper by the comforting light of a fire. Exhausted they fell asleep on the comfortable dry ground at tropical temperatures. The next day, everyone worked to help each other. Women used their petticoats to bandage wounds caused by the coral reef (John had badly cut feet). Shelters were made from spare clothing. Empty coconut shells were laid out to catch rainwater.

A few days later, a turtle was found on the beach, which then became a favored change to their diet. They soon realized that many turtles were coming onto the beach every night to lay their eggs in the sand. Boys were given the job of turning turtles over, onto their shells, as a way of catching them. John helped to build a pen, in which to keep them.From now on, turtle steaks could be the dish of the day, everyday. Also pancakes were popular, made from grated coconuts, mixed with turtle eggs and a pinch of flour. If they had been marooned on this Island at any other time, the castaways may well have died from starvation. As it happened, the turtles had just begun their two-month nesting season, when the unfortunate passengers arrived.

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The days passed by into weeks on the Island without sign of a rescue ship, and their main food supply was almost gone. The castaways decided to send a party out in the quarter boat, to search for help. Meanwhile, John had been using his carpentry skills to make their boat more sea worthy, for what might be a very long journey. The salvaged coal was used as fuel for a fire to forge nails from scrap iron. It had taken weeks to complete the task, but now she was ready to sail. Captain Pond's plan was to head west, to a set of inhabited Islands. The snag was, they were 1,500 miles away. The nearest islands were under 300 miles to the East, but the trouble with sailing to them would be a battle rowing against the strong trade winds blowing from the east. A decision was eventually made to sail west, taking the longer route. After much searching, they found a good place to launch their craft. They moored it there, overnight, with all their equipment and food supplies (including sun dried, sea-salted turtle meat) in it, ready to escape the reef the following morning.

That night, a fearsome gale raced across the Island. The Captain rushed to the harbor, in the early morning and his worst nightmare became reality. He discovered their boat and everything in her had disappeared. A catastrophe. Hope of leaving the Island was dashed to pieces, until the Captain suggested that her anchor might have snagged in deeper water. They looked around and amazingly he was right. They managed to recover the boat with everything still inside. A miracle! However, before they set sail one of the Mormon Elders, John McCarthy, told of his dream, in which he had seen the boat floating upside down, with the drowned bodies of her crew all around. Captain Pond asked the person to not tell of any more of his visions unless they were good ones. Later the captain was told of another dream and asked in desperation, if it were a favorable one. Yes, a very good one was the reply. The boat was seen departing with a crew of ten men, bound eastwardly, and after over three days of rowing, they reached a friendly island. Because of these visions, Captain Pond was pressured into changing his plan from the long route west to the shorter one east. However, only nine men offered to go with him. The Mormon who had told of the two visions then immediately volunteered to be the tenth man. Most miraculously, on the morning of departure the wind changed directions helping to blow the boat in the right direction. This would make the rowing much easier. Everyone else cheered them on their way, including John, who remained on the Island.

Captain Pond and his crew had many adventures of their own, during the expedition. By incredible coincidence, the Captain met with an old friend who came ashore from a whaleboat. He ferried him to a nearby Island where a ship, with a cargo of oranges, offered to sail him back to rescue his marooned party. On approaching the Island, they searched the landscape with telescopes, for signs of life. Nothing. Not any sign of them. As they sailed closer and sailed all the way around the Isle, their hopes of finding John and his companions faded. They weighed anchor, for the night, intending to retrieve bodies from the reef the following day. They were afraid all had died from thirst, starvation or heat. They slept, until light from the east graced an early morning sky. In this new light, they looked to the Island again. There, on the point nearest their vessel, was a group of half-starved, frantically waving, eternally grateful people, including John. Mercifully, all the castaways had survived.

Sometime after they had been rescued, all the Mormon passengers were transferred to other ships. John made it back to San Francisco on April 23, 1856. From there, John with his fellow companions were asked to drive four Mormon wagons, loaded with needed provisions, to Utah. These supplies would be distributed to needy families back at their home in Salt Lake. This arduous journey of driving across the wild frontier must have seemed relatively easy for John in comparison to the adventures he had already experienced. Finally, John was joyfully reunited with his family.

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One of John’s first projects after returning home was to move his cabin three blocks to the south of the fort. He then began to reestablish family ties with his two wives and children. His young son, John, died at age five in 1857. John became involved in community affairs, and was appointed a state legislative representative in 1856 for Utah County. He also continued to work on his farm. In 1865, John was elected as one of the Councilmen for the City. John was elected Captain in the 2nd Regiment of the Nauvoo Legion and served from 1866 to 1871. When homesteading became available in Charleston in 1862, John was one of the first to receive homestead rights. He spent some of his time farming in that little community, where he eventually planned to retire. However, John died suddenly of a heart attack at age 51, on May 5, 1871, and was buried in the American Fork City Cemetery.

Source: “John Sunderlin Eldredge History,” FamilySearch.org; FindAGrave.com