John Darwin Chase

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Question: What trials did John Darwin Chase face after he became a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?

Answer: John Darwin Chase was born 10 October 1815, in the green hills of Bristol, Addison, Vermont, one of nine children of Abner and Amy Scott Chase. John’s father died when John was nine years old. The oldest son, Sisson, was married and his mother went to make her home with him. Sisson tilled the farm and tried to make a living for his family and his mother and sisters. The younger boys went to live with relatives.

John thereafter lived with his Uncle James Chase until he was 22, and then he moved to Sparta, New York to be with another Uncle, Isaac Chase. Here he fully accepted the message of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ and was baptized into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Here, in 1839, he met and married Priscilla Ann McHenry and together they moved to Nauvoo, Illinois to be with the Saints.

Two boys were born to them in Nauvoo: Amos (1841) and James (1843). Priscilla, apparently not well grounded in the church, could not withstand the trials. She gave their son Amos to John, took little James and returned to New York. John never heard from her again.

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John probably knew the Prophet Joseph Smith since he arrived in the City of Joseph in 1839, and lived in Nauvoo. He served as a Bishop in Nauvoo, helped build the Nauvoo Temple, and received his endowments. In early February of 1846, he left Nauvoo as part of the George A. Smith wagon train.

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John married Almira Higgins on the 17th of February 1846, probably at Sugar Creek, Iowa. The Saints didn't push on westward until the first of March. Almira was the daughter of Captain Nelson Higgins who would become his Captain later when John enlisted in the Mormon Battalion. Almira was only 17 years of age, but cared for John’s son, and would became the mother of twelve children with John.

The enlistment in the Mormon Battalion took place at Winter Quarters by July 1846. John Darwin Chase signed up in Company B., his brother Abner signed as a Pvt. in Company D., and Almira signed up as laundress. In the fall, John and Almira became part of the Battalion Sick Detachment which was sent back to Pueblo, Colorado to spend the winter months. John’s brother, Abner, died in November 1846 at Pueblo.

When spring came, the Mormon Battalion Sick Detachment tried to meet up with Brigham Young’s Vanguard Company coming from Winter Quarters, but were just a few days behind them. The Sick Detachment entered the Salt Lake Valley on July 29, 1847. The Battalion were released from their duty and did not have to go on to California. John and Almira worked to make a home in the Salt Lake Valley. Their first child was born in June 1848 in the Salt Lake Valley.

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John was among the industrious people who helped settle the Salt Lake Valley, building sawmills, flour mills, establishing farms and irrigation systems. They survived both the cricket and grasshopper infestations, and for many, starvation was very real. John became involved with his Uncle Isaac Chase in helping to build the first grist and flour mill erected in what is now Liberty Park.

John and Almira stayed in the old Tenth Ward and later in Millcreek where Almira gave birth to their second daughter. From here in 1849, they were among the thirty families that formed a wagon train that left to settle Sanpete Valley. They did not know that once there, they would face the worst winter on record and would only survive by moving from their wagon box to a dugout in what is now the Manti Temple hill. Once the dugouts were warmed up, it became a daunting chore to keep their cave secure from the rattlesnakes.

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The Chase men built a sawmill on the outskirts of Manti and sawed much of the lumber for their new settlement, also for the building needs of the Salt Lake Valley. In consequence of the Indian problem, John D. Chase's sawmill was burned and two of his workers killed. The Saints moved into the Manti Fort which they busily constructed. In 1854, John married Elizabeth Tuttle (Coolidge) in polygamy, who had been the 4th wife of Joseph Wellington Coolidge. Elizabeth had two children with Coolidge, but then they separated. Elizabeth took her two daughters and followed the Mormons to Utah. There she married John Darwin Chase. John’s son, Amos Chase, later married her daughter Ellenor Coolidge. John and Elizabeth has two children together.

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In the fall of 1855, John D. Chase was extended a call by President Erastus Snow to go north and preside over the Ward in Fort Ephraim. While at Ephraim in 1856, Elder Chase received a call to serve a mission in Carson Valley, Nevada. Almira was seven months pregnant with her seventh child when the call came.

After John D. Chase spoke from the rostrum of the tabernacle on April 21, 1861, he, Parley P. Pratt and Joseph Bigler are set apart as missionaries. John and Brother Bigler, who had been his companion in the Mormon Battalion, were called to serve in England. He left Almira with nine children in the care of his fourteen-year-old son Amos. John served three years in England preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ. His and Almira’s oldest son, fourteen-year-old Darwin John, died from a fall while John was gone. Also, his 2nd son James, by his first wife, a veteran of the Civil War, died of disease contracted in the war and was buried next to his mother (Priscilla) in Wisconsin.

On April 26, 1864, John Darwin Chase boarded the ship 'Monarch of the Sea,” and sailed home with Parley P. Pratt, again a companion. The ship carried 973 souls from Liverpool to America. The ship on its return voyage to Liverpool, while loaded with cargo, sank.

John Chase and his five daughters

John Chase and his five daughters

In early 1873 tragedy struck John’s family when an epidemic of small pox hit Moroni and surrounding areas in Utah. On February 23, 1873, Almira Higgins Chase, wife of John Darwin Chase, died of small pox at the age of 43. John and Almira's daughter, Clarrisa Chase Fox, died 8 March 1873 and a second daughter Amy died eight days later. The trials continue. Amos Chase, John Darwin's oldest son drowned while inspecting a dam on the Sevier River in May of 1880, leaving a pregnant wife and seven children.

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John moved to the Nephi area where he was appointed U. S. Commissioner for Juab County. In 1884 John Darwin Chase was called on a mission to his native Vermont and while there gathered some genealogy, later on enabling him to perform temple work for many of his family. He was ordained a Patriarch on June 13, 1897 by Joseph F. Smith. John moved to Huntington, Emery, Utah in 1890 where he lived until his death on July 21, 1902, at age 86. He was buried next to Almira Higgins Chase in the Moroni City Cemetery at Moroni, Sanpete, Utah.

Sources: Excerpts from “John Darwin Chase--In Honorable Remembrance,” FamilySearch.org; FindAGrave.com