Alexander Philip Chesley

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Question: After his trek with Brigham Young’s Vanguard Company in 1847, what equipment did Alexander Philip Chesley help get to the Salt Lake Valley in 1852?

Answer: Alexander Philip Chesley was born on October 22, 1814 in Bowling Green, Virginia to John and Elizabeth Biscoe Chesley. At a very young age, Alexander and his brothers were orphaned and were forced to live with an uncle. Being very dissatisfied with his newly acquired home, Alexander, as soon as he could, said goodbye to his brothers and set out for Kentucky, where some of his cousins were living at the time.

During his stay there, Alexander became acquainted with a few of the sons of Henry Clay, the noted statesman, who at that time was known as a lawyer and a teacher of law. Through the close friendship of the Clay boys, Alexander became a constant companion of their father, who urged young Chesley to study law. Heeding his advice, Alexander became a very efficient lawyer.

Alexander soon tired of Kentucky, and traveled to Illinois, where he met Eliza Haws of Wayne County, who he married in June 1842. His wife had previously joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and she encouraged her husband to investigate the “new,” revealed Gospel of Jesus Christ and to go to church with her. He went with her and was impressed by what he heard and saw. He soon asked for baptism, declaring the religion, as revealed through Joseph Smith, the greatest thing that had come into his life. He became a member in December 1845.

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Shortly after this, the Saints were driven out of Illinois. On arriving at Winter Quarters in 1846, Alexander was married by Brigham Young to his first wife’s sister, Emily Haws. He left his family at Winter Quarters and joined with Brigham Young’s Vanguard Company in the 14th Ten, led by Joseph Mathews, entering the Salt Lake Valley in July 1847. He gained the reputation of being a daring Indian fighter.

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In the fall of 1847, Alexander went back to Winter Quarters to join his family and remained there until 1852 when he headed out to the Salt Lake Valley once again. The company had been out but a number of days, when Alexander received a message from Elder John Taylor requesting that Alexander wait at the first watering place for the “sugar train,” that was dependent upon Alexander’s knowledge of the country, to pilot them safely through to the Salt Lake Valley. Elder Taylor had recently been in France, buying machinery to be used for making and refining sugar. Alexander made camp and waited two weeks for the “sugar train” and upon their arrival guided them into the Salt Lake Valley. Hence Alexander Chesley helped bring the first machinery to manufacture sugar at the old Sugar-House Plant.

Immediately after his arrival with the “sugar train,” Alexander and his two families moved to Provo, Utah, where he taught school and was a lawyer.

In the year 1856, Alexander, at age 41 was called to serve a mission to the Philippines. The Crimean War broke out, and he was sent to Australia instead. In May of that year, Alexander said goodbye to his two wives and children, and with several other missionaries answered the call. The records show that he landed in Australia and was in contact with his families for about three months thereafter.

November 2, 1856 - Nine more missionaries arrived at Hofsons Bay, Melbourne, Victoria. One of those missionaries was Alexander Philip Chesley. (“A History of the Church in Australia to 1900,” by John Douglas Hawkes, August 1965)

From the Church's Historian's Office, LDS Church, Salt Lake City, Utah, Notes: List of arrivals and departures of Elders that labored in the Australian Mission: Alex P. Chesley is listed as arriving in Australia in Nov 1856 and his departure as May 1857.

Deseret News, 1 December 1857, Notes: From Victoria, Australia, extracts of a letter from Br. Alex. Somerville to Elder George Q. Cannon states "A.P. Chesley said he is bound for home in eight weeks, if he can get a vessel." Alexander does not seem to have returned to America from his mission to Australia in 1858. He is not listed with his wives and children in the 1860 or the 1870 census of Provo. To the family, what actually happened to Alexander remained a mystery.

One Australia death record recorded on FamilySearch.org lists a Philip Alexander Chesley, with parents John and Eliza Biscoe, as dying on August 9, 1884 in Orange, New South Wales, Australia, at age 69. It may be that Alexander was never able to leave, or decided not to leave, Australia and did indeed die there.

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There is a tombstone in the Provo City Cemetery for Alexander’s two wives: “In memory of the two wives of A.P. Chesley,” and then lists his two wives, Eliza and Emily.

Source: “Alexander Philip Chesley,” a brief history by Mrs. Ivy Quist his granddaughter, Edited by Joseph Martin Bielefeldt his great-great grandson, FamilySearch.org; Biographies of the Original 1847 Pioneer Company, Church News, Updated, 14 October 2009; “Alexander Philip Chesley Story,” FamilySearch.org; FindAGrave.com