Jesse Carter Little

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Question: What role did Jesse Carter Little play in the creation of the Mormon Battalion and the settlement of Morgan, Utah?

Answer: Jesse Carter Little was born in 1815 in Belmont, Maine, the youngest of Thomas and Relief Little’s eight children. The family moved to New Hampshire where Jesse graduated from the New Ipswich Academy in 1833, and at 18 Jesse began teaching school. He then operated his own store in Peterborough. In 1839 he married Eliza French. Eliza was born September 2, 1818 in New Hampshire to Whitcomb French and Mary Kendall. Jesse and Eliza became members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in April 1841.

Elder Parley P. Pratt of the Council of the Twelve ordained Jesse a High Priest in April, 1845 and appointed him President over the New Hampshire Branches. He was prospering in the business of manufacturing carriages. In January, 1846, Jesse was appointed President of the Eastern States Mission of the Church. This was at a time when thousands of European immigrant converts were pouring into the eastern harbors enroute to “Zion,” many of them searching for temporary jobs to sustain them in their journey.

Jesse abandoned his own business and devoted his full time to the work of the church. He enlisted citizens to provide jobs for poor immigrants. He published three circulars to instruct the saints in preparing for the exodus to the West. As directed by Brigham Young, President Little established the Perpetual Emigration Fund. Brigham Young counseled him by letter, “If our government shall offer any facilities for emigrating to the western coast, embrace those facilities if possible.”

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In response to Brigham Young’s counsel, in May of 1846 President Little traveled to Washington DC to lobby for the Saints. Armed with letters of introduction from the New Hampshire Governor, John Steele, and other influential men, and assisted by Thomas L. Kane, Jesse proposed to offer services to the United States Government: building roads or forts as the Mormons traveled west, providing freighting services, or even defending the United States in the Mexican War, in exchange for means to assist nearly 15,000 exiled saints scattered across Iowa or yet in Illinois who had been driven from their homes. Disappointingly, many Washington dignitaries recognized the plight of these Mormons but felt that anything they could do would constitute a political blunder.

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Jesse wrote a letter to President James K Polk which led to a conference and the creation of the Mormon Battalion. From Jesse’s seven-page letter we read:

“…Our brethren in the west are compelled to go, and we in the eastern country are determined to go and live, and if necessary, to suffer and die with them. …They, as well as myself, are truehearted Americans, [many are sons of the Revolution]; true to our country, true to its laws, true to its glorious institutions, and we have a desire to go under the outstretched wings of the American Eagle.

“From twelve to fifteen thousand have already left Nauvoo for California, and many others are making ready to go. …We have about forty thousand in the British Isles. …. There are yet many thousands scattered through the States. …. thousands are looking to me for help and I cannot, yea, I won’t give myself rest until I find means for the deliverance of the poor. In this thing I am determined, and if I cannot get it in the land of my fathers, I will cross the trackless ocean where I trust I shall find some friends to help. But, Mr. President, …. I have the fullest confidence in you, and we are truly your friends. Your obedient subject, J. C. LITTLE, Agent of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Eastern States”

In spite of overwhelming opposing challenges, miraculous events fell into place, and the Mormon Battalion was formed. Jesse traveled to the camps in Iowa, then back to preside in the Eastern States again. The following spring, in April 1847, Jesse was summoned from the mission field to join Brigham Young and his Vanguard Company which would be leaving Winter Quarters. He joined them 70 miles west of Winter Quarters after traveling post-haste some 3,000 miles before joining this pioneer company four days after they left Winter Quarters.

As the Vanguard Company of Pioneers neared the valley of the Great Salt Lake, Jesse was in the advance guard, the first group of nine men to enter the Salt Lake Valley ahead of the main company, July 22, 1847. Immediately after his arrival in Utah, Jesse explored Bear River, Cache, Ogden, and Utah Valleys seeking good places for the Saints to establish their settlements. That fall he returned to Winter Quarters with President Young and was charged again to resume his Presidency in the Eastern States Mission.

After a diligent half-decade as a missionary, Elder Little brought his wife Eliza and children to Utah from New Hampshire, having to bury a daughter and a son enroute. Jesse and Eliza arrived in Utah in 1852. Jesse Little was named adjutant, serving for many years as a trusted military, civic, and church leader in the Territory. He served as a counselor in the Presiding Bishopric with Bishop Edward Hunter for 18 years.

Jesse and Eliza became the owners of the first hotel at Warm Springs, later called Beck’s Hot Springs on the north side of Salt Lake City. Jesse was appointed Salt Lake City’s first fire chief, marshal, city sexton, assessor, and first internal revenue collector under President Abraham Lincoln. Jesse took a second wife, Mary Maria Holbrook in 1855, and they had five children.

In 1856 Jesse was commissioned by Brigham Young to assist in the planning and settlement of the newly opened Morgan Valley in Utah. The town (and thus the new county) was named for the father of Heber J. Grant (Jedediah Morgan Grant). Jesse brought with him his second wife, Mary, and they built a fine farm and a log cabin south of Milton near Deep Creek. The name “Littleton” was given to the settlement to commemorate Jesse as one of its early founders. Jesse Little was a landowner who provided share-cropping opportunities to new settlers. He established the first post office in his home and delivered the mail in a blue buggy which the children of the county called “the Bluebird.” He attempted to establish manufacturing in the community. To this end, he installed a large water wheel and other machinery in Deep Creek.

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Col. Little was active in military preparations in the Echo and East Canyon areas during the threat of the Utah War in 1857-58. The Spring Creek Station became a Utah Militia Commissary under his command. “He was largely instrumental in the construction of the first wagon road in Weber Canyon and its maintenance for many years at great labor and expense.” In 1859, Jesse took a third wife, Emily Hoagland, and they had ten children together.

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After the Mormons received the contract to build the railroad from Ogden to Evanston, Jesse served on the resolution committee for Central Pacific and Union Pacific Railroads. He was asked to represent the Church when the two railroads met to drive the Golden Spike at Promontory Point, Utah, on May 10, 1869.

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Jesse built a two-story brick home in Morgan for his first wife Eliza and children, about 1869, where Jesse and Eliza lived not far from Mary and her children for the remainder of their lives. Jesse died at the home of a son in Salt Lake City on December 26, 1893 and was buried in the Salt Lake City Cemetery.

Sources: Excerpts from the research done on the life of Jesse Carter Little, Sr., FamilySearch.org; FindAGrave.com