Immigration and Emigration

Author: Jensen, Richard L.

The immigration of tens of thousands of converts, first into America's Midwest and then into the mountain West, was a major part of the growth of the Church in the United States during the nineteenth century. So closely interrelated were proselytizing and the gathering of the faithful in the vicinity of Church headquarters that President Brigham Young declared in 1860 that emigration "upon the first feasible opportunity, directly follows obedience to the first principles of the gospel we have embraced" (Brigham Young to A. Lyman, et al., and Saints in the British Isles, Aug. 2, 1860, Brigham Young Letterbooks, LDS Church Archives). With millennial fervor, Latter-day Saint converts sought to flee the impending woes of a sinful world by gathering "home to Zion," where they could join their American counterparts in preparing for the second coming of Jesus Christ. This gathering made it possible for the Latter-day Saints to become a dominant economic, political, and religious force in the Great Basin. It reinforced a sense of group identity and shielded them from religious persecution while providing individuals and families with greater economic opportunity.

Most converts were poor; indeed, the majority lacked sufficient funds to emigrate. Individuals and families were encouraged to save systematically, and the few who had surplus funds after emigrating were asked to assist fellow converts. In 1849 the Church organized the perpetual emigrating fund (PEF) to solicit donations and provide emigrants with loans, the repayment of which would aid others. Such loans were most often made available to individuals with needed skills, to those whose relatives or friends donated to the PEF, or to those who had been faithful Church members for ten years or longer. From 1852 until 1887 the PEF assisted some 26,000 immigrants-more than one-third of the total LDS emigrants from Europe during that period-with at least part of the journey to the mountain West. In the 1850s and 1860s there were three categories of immigrants: the independent, who paid their own way to Utah; "states" or "ordinary" immigrants, who paid only enough to reach a port of entry or other intermediate stopping place in the United States, hoping to earn enough there to finish the journey; and PEF immigrants, assisted by the Perpetual Emigrating Fund. In later years private assistance eclipsed the PEF in the amount of aid rendered. In the 1880s and 1890s, 20 to 50 percent of the immigrants each year received private assistance.

Enthusiasm for emigration was highest during periods of international unrest, with accompanying millennialist expectations of increasing troubles worldwide prior to Jesus' second coming. Thus, in 1855, during the Crimean War, more Latter-day Saints emigrated from Europe than during any other year. That year 4,225 emigrants-about 2.4 percent of all Europeans who migrated in 1855 to the United States-were Latter-day Saints, even though the total number of Church members in Great Britain and on the Continent, from whom the emigrants were drawn, was fewer than 35,000. The American Civil War brought exceptionally high LDS emigration in the years 1861-1865, a time when the general emigration from Europe was relatively low.

Because Church funds, including those of the PEF, were never sufficient to help as many as wished to immigrate, Church leaders on both sides of the Atlantic utilized many approaches. After the 1855 season, when Church and PEF resources were exhausted, donations of Salt Lake City real estate were sold for cash to British arrivals with the proceeds applied to emigration; and the use of handcarts rather than large wagons cut costs for the overland journey from Iowa to Utah. The tragic loss of more than two hundred lives in the two last handcart companies of 1856, because they departed too late and were caught in early snowstorms, grimly underscored the necessity of careful planning and implementation.

While the PEF continued to assist with individual expenses for transatlantic voyages on a limited basis after 1856, most of its aid was applied to the overland portion of the trip. Beginning in 1861 this was made possible by the use of the "Church trains" system for conveying immigrants. Under Brigham Young's direction, oxen and wagons along with teamsters and other personnel from throughout Utah appeared in Salt Lake City as soon as spring grass began to grow along the immigrant trail. The men, for their labors, and the owners of teams and wagons received either credit for tithing or wages paid in goods from local tithing storehouses. This practice resulted in the Church's tithing system subsidizing the operation heavily: in 1868 teamsters and owners received about $200,000 in tithing credit, while immigrants were charged only $75,000, on credit. It often took immigrants years to pay their indebtedness for emigration, and many failed to complete payment. By 1887, about one-third of the emigrants had paid their debt to the PEF in full, one-third had paid part, and one-third had paid nothing.

After the completion of the transcontinental railroad in 1869, immigrants traveling by steam-powered ships and trains could make the trip from Liverpool, England, to Salt Lake City in just over three weeks. Earlier, the journey by ship and wagon often took nearly six months. Yet advantages in time, comfort, and health were countered by the fact that more cash-a scarce commodity in the pioneer economy (see Pioneer Economy)-was required for the trip. The PEF still provided full passage for more than one hundred emigrants yearly from Europe to Utah in the years 1871-1875 and 1878-1881.

Church personnel at both local and mission levels played important roles in organizing the emigration from Europe. Clerks in each branch (congregation) received deposits to individual emigration savings accounts, which were forwarded to headquarters for a larger area, called a "conference," and then sent on to the mission headquarters. Local leaders sought out potential emigrants who seemed deserving of assistance and forwarded information about them to mission headquarters. Expanding a system dating from 1840-1841, when the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles organized the first emigrant companies (see Missions of the Twelve to the British Isles), mission publications gave notice of planned departures and costs and provided helpful information such as lists of items passengers should bring. Well in advance of the departure date, conference presidents collected deposits to reserve places on particular vessels. Mission personnel served as passenger agents, thus avoiding middlemen, and used the commission they received for the benefit of poor emigrants or missionaries. Where necessary, they made arrangements for provisions and for cookware and eating utensils. In hectic last-minute efforts they helped hundreds of passengers board ship and obtain their berths. Men traveling with the group, usually returning missionaries, were appointed as presidencies for the ship and were responsible for the conduct and morale of the passengers and for holding religious services. Generally the daily routine involved prayer, washing the decks, cooperative cooking arrangements, and special meetings to discuss problems that arose.

Because the Saints traveled as a Church family under priesthood leadership-and with the assistance of an experienced and well-organized system-LDS emigration impressed nonmember observers as orderly and civilized compared with the tumult generally surrounding emigrant ships. One writer noted: The ordinary emigrant is exposed to all the chances and misadventures of a heterogeneous, childish, mannerless crowd during the voyage, and to the merciless cupidity of land-sharks the moment he has touched the opposite shore. But the Mormon ship is a Family under strong and accepted discipline, with every provision for comfort, decorum, and internal peace. On his arrival in the New World the wanderer is received into a confraternity which speeds him onwards with as little hardship and anxiety as the circumstances permit and he is passed on from friend to friend, till he reaches the promised home [Edinburgh Review, Jan. 1862, p. 199].

When passengers arrived in America, they were usually met by a Church emigration agent who assisted them with arrangements for transportation to the frontier outfitting point. At the frontier the emigrants remained encamped until all arrangements could be completed for the arduous overland trek (see Mormon Pioneer Trail). Before the immigrants arrived, agents purchased teams and wagons or handcarts. During the era of "down and back" Church trains, flour was generally hauled from Salt Lake City-part of it stashed along the trail-and other provisions were purchased by agents near the outfitting point. After 1861, wagon trains sent periodic reports on their progress by telegraph, and, when necessary, relief parties met immigrants en route as they neared the end of the journey.

Immigrant companies were officially welcomed as they arrived at Salt Lake City, where they camped while awaiting assignments. Bishops or their representatives then escorted them to the various settlements to which quotas had been assigned.

LDS immigrants, particularly those from northern Europe, were usually assimilated into communities and congregations quickly. New arrivals who did not speak English availed themselves of Church-sponsored publications and activities in their mother tongue, while also attending worship services in English. There was a short-lived effort to produce materials in a phonetic alphabet to ease immigrant learning (see Deseret Alphabet), but most of the immigrants and virtually all their children became fluent in English. With few exceptions, relatively little sense of ethnic community survived beyond the generation of immigrants themselves. Most descendants of the immigrants who served as missionaries to ancestral lands had to learn the native language during their service.

After the late 1880s, coinciding with a new wave of emigration from central and southern Europe and with negative publicity and antipolygamy legislation, LDS immigration was frowned upon by many in the United States. The large number of LDS steamship passengers were still assisted with arrangements by Church personnel, but they were instructed to maintain a low profile and did not function visibly as Mormon emigrant companies. By the 1890s the number of Latter-day Saints in Europe had dwindled, and in view of economic conditions in the United States, Church leaders began to discourage emigration-though LDS immigration revived modestly during the following decade. More than 103,000 emigrated in the years 1840-1910, an average of some 2,000 annually. In the years 1911-1946, with two world wars and the Great Depression dampening interest in relocation, LDS emigration declined to an average of only 291 annually. Encouraging the Saints to remain in their native lands and strengthen the Church there-a temporary expedience in the 1890s-eventually became a firmer policy. Leaders obtained more substantial locations for Church meetings in major European cities and promoted a greater sense of permanence.

A resurgence of LDS emigration from Europe took place in the years immediately following World War II; an average of more than 1,000 Latter-day Saints emigrated annually in the years 1947-1953. Beginning in the late 1950s the Church moved to provide its members in Europe and other areas with greater access to opportunities found in the United States, including the temples, more substantial local meeting places, and local leadership. This reinforced the encouragement to build Zion wherever Saints were found, and emigration from Europe tapered off. The gathering of emigration statistics was discontinued after 1962. By that time approximately 127,000 Latter-day Saints had emigrated from Europe, and thousands more from Canada, the South Pacific, and Mexico, to bring the total to about 150,000 emigrants. The influx of Church members from such areas as Canada and the South Pacific to Utah, California, and Missouri remained at a significant level into the 1970s and 1980s. Additionally, conversions from among other recent immigrants, particularly refugees from Southeast Asia, continued to give the Church in the United States an international flavor. This was also true for other areas of the world, with converts from Africa and the West Indies becoming an important factor in the Church in the British Isles.

From the 1840s on, immigrants made vital contributions to Latter-day Saint life. Immigrant educators, artists, craftsmen, musicians, architects, clerks, and others all enriched life in their adopted land (see Social and Cultural History). Immigrants played a particularly significant role in local Church leadership in the nineteenth century. Of 605 bishops and presiding elders in Latter-day Saint congregations in the United States from 1848 to 1890, 40 percent were born outside the United States. Twenty-nine percent were born in the British Isles. Scandinavia, the next richest source of LDS immigrants, accounted for 8 percent. In addition, 29 percent of stake presidents in the period were born outside the United States, including 23 percent born in the British Isles. Other immigrants have served as General Authorities, including several who served in the First Presidency.


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