Biography of Jane E. Manning James, written from her own verbal statement and by her request. She also wishes it read at her funeral. By E. J. D. Roundy.
Written in the year 1893
[words bolded by me for emphasis]
When a child only six years old, I left my home and went to live with a family of white people; their names were Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Fitch. They were aged people and quite wealthy, I was raised by their daughter. When about fourteen years old, I joined the Presbyterian Church. Yet I did not feel satisfied; it seemed to me there was something more that I was looking for. I had belonged to the Church about eighteen months when an elder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was traveling through our country [and] preached there. The pastor of the Presbyterian Church forbid me going to hear them—as he had heard I had expressed a desire to hear them—but nevertheless, I went on a Sunday and was fully convinced that it was the true gospel he presented and I must embrace it.
The following Sunday I was baptized and confirmed a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. About three weeks after, while kneeling at prayer, the gift of tongues came upon me and frightened the whole family who were in the next room.
One year after I was baptized I started for Nauvoo with my mother, Eliza Manning; my brothers, Isaac, Lewis, and Peter; my sisters Sarah Stebbings, and Angeline Manning; my brother-in-law Anthony Stebbings; Lucinda Manning, a sister-in-law and myself. <Fall 1840>
We started from Wilton, Connecticut, and traveled by canal to Buffalo, New York. We were to go to Columbus, Ohio, before our fares were to be collected, but they insisted on having the money at Buffalo and would not take us farther. So we left the boat and started on foot to travel a distance of over eight hundred miles.
We walked until our shoes were worn out, and our feet became sore and cracked open and bled until you could see the whole print of our feet with blood on the ground. We stopped and united in prayer to the Lord; we asked God the Eternal Father to heal our feet and our prayers were answered and our feet were healed forthwith.
When we arrived at Peoria, Illinois, the authorities threatened to put us in jail to get our free papers. We didn’t know at first what he meant, for we had never been slaves, but he concluded to let us go, so we traveled on until we came to a river and as there was no bridge, we walked right into the stream. When we got to the middle, the water was up to our necks, but we got safely across. And then it became so dark we could hardly see our hands before us, but we could see a light in the distance, so we went toward it and found it was an old log cabin. Here we spent the night. [The] next day we walked for a considerable distance and stayed that night in a forest, out in the open air. The frost fell on us so heavy that it was like a light fall of snow. We rose early and started on our way, walking through that frost with our bare feet, until the sun rose and melted it away. But we went on our way rejoicing, singing hymns, and thanking God for his infinite goodness and mercy to us in blessing us as he had, protecting us from all harm, answering our prayers and healing our feet.
In course of time we arrived at La Harpe, Illinois, about thirty miles from Nauvoo. At La Harpe we came to a place where there was a very sick child. We administered to it and the child was healed. I found after [that] the elders had before this given it up, as they did not think it could live.
We have now arrived to our destined haven of rest, the beautiful Nauvoo! Here we went through all kinds of hardship, trial, and rebuff, but we at last got to Brother Orson Spencer’s. He directed us to the Prophet Joseph Smith’s Mansion.
When we found it, Sister Emma was standing in the door, and she kindly said, “Come in. Come in!” Brother Joseph said to some white sisters that was present, “Sisters, I want you to occupy this room this evening with some brothers and sisters that have just arrived.” Brother Joseph placed the chairs around the room. Then he went and brought Sister Emma and Dr. [John M.] Bernhisel and introduced them to us.
Brother Joseph took a chair and sat down by me and said, “You have been the head of this little band, haven’t you?” I answered, “Yes, sir!” He then said, “God bless you! Now I would like you to relate your experience in your travels.” I related to them all that I have above stated and a great deal more minutely, as many incidents has passed from my memory since then. Brother Joseph slapped Dr. Bernhisel on the knee and said, “What do you think of that, doctor: isn’t that faith?” The doctor said, “Well, I rather think it is. If it had have been me, I fear I should have backed out and returned to my home!” He then said, “God bless you. You are among friends now and you will be protected.” They sat and talked to us a while, gave us words of encouragement and good counsel.
We all stayed there one week; by that time all but myself had secured homes. Brother Joseph came in every morning to say good morning and ask how we were. During our trip I had lost all my clothes. They were all gone. My trunks were sent by canal to the care of Charles Wesley Wandell. One large trunk full of clothes of all descriptions, mostly new. On the morning that my folks all left to go to work, I looked at myself clothed in the only two pieces I possessed; I sat down and wept. Brother Joseph came into the room as usual and said, “Good morning. Why—not crying, [are you]?” “Yes sir,” [I said]. “The folks have all gone and got themselves homes, and I have got none.” He said, “Yes you have, you have a home right here if you want it. You musn’t cry. We dry up all tears here.” I said, “I have lost my trunk and all my clothes.” He asked how I had lost them; I told them I put them in care of Charles Wesley Wandell and paid him for them and he has lost them. Brother Joseph said, “Don’t cry, you shall have your trunk and clothes again.”
Brother Joseph went out and brought Sister Emma in and said, “Sister Emma, here is a girl that says she has no home. Haven’t you a home for her?” “Why yes, if she wants one.” He said, “She does,” and then he left us.
Sister Emma said, “What can you do?” I said, “I can wash, iron, cook, and do housework!” “Well,” she said, “when you are rested, you may do the washing, if you would just as soon do that.” I said, “I am not tired.” “Well,” she said, “you may commence your work in the morning.”
The next morning, she brought the clothes down in the basement to wash. Among the clothes, I found Brother Joseph’s robes. I looked at them and wondered. I had never seen any before, and I pondered over them and thought about them so earnestly that the Spirit made manifest to me that they pertained to the new name that is given the Saints that the world knows not of. I didn’t know when I washed them or when I put them out to dry.
Brother Joseph’s four wives Emily Partridge, Eliza Partridge,10 [and] Maria and Sarah Lawrence and myself were sitting discussing Mormonism, and Sarah said, “What would you think if a man had more wives than one?” I said, “That is all right!” Maria said, “Well, we are all four Brother Joseph’s wives!” I jumped up and clapped my hands and said, “That’s good.” Sarah said, “She is all right. Just listen, she believes it all now.”
I had to pass through Mother Smith’s room to get to mine. She would often stop me and talk to me. She told me all Brother Joseph’s troubles and what he had suffered in publishing the Book of Mormon. One morning I met Brother Joseph coming out of his mother’s room. He said, “Good morning,” and shook hands with me. I went into his mother’s room; she said, “Good morning; bring me that bundle from my bureau and sit down here.” I did as she told me. She placed the bundle in my hands and said, “Handle this and then put in the top drawer of my bureau and lock it up.” After I had done it, she said, “Sit down. Do you remember that I told you about the Urim and Thummim when I told you about the Book of Mormon?” I answered, “Yes, ma’am.” She then told me I had just handled it. “You are not permitted to see it, but you have been permitted to handle it,” [she said]. “You will live long after I am dead and gone and you can tell the Latter-day Saints that you was permitted to handle the Urim and Thumim.”
Sister Emma asked me one day if I would like to be adopted to them as their child. I did not answer her. She said, “I will wait a while and let you consider it.” She waited two weeks before she asked me again. When she did, I told her, “No, Ma’am!” because I did not understand or know what it meant. They were always good and kind to me, but I did not know my own mind. I did not comprehend.
Soon after they broke up the Mansion [House], and I went to my mother. There was not much work because of the persecutions, and I saw Brother Joseph and asked him if I should go to Burlington and take my sister Angeline with me. He said, “Yes, go, and be good girls, and remember your profession of faith in the everlasting gospel, and the Lord will bless you.” We went and stayed three weeks, then returned to Nauvoo. During this time Joseph and Hyrum were killed.
I shall never forget that time of agony and sorrow. I went to live in the family of Brother Brigham Young. I stayed there until he was ready to emigrate to this valley [Salt Lake Valley]. While I was at Brother Brigham’s, I married Isaac James. When Brother Brigham left Nauvoo, I went to live at Brother Calhoon’s.
In the spring of 1846, I left Nauvoo to come to this great and glorious valley. We traveled as far as Winter Quarters. There we stayed until spring. At Keg Creek, my son Silas was born. In the spring of 1847 we started again on our way to this valley; we arrived here on the 22nd day of September, 1847, without any serious mishaps. The Lord’s blessing was with us and protected us all the way. The only thing that did occur worth relating was when our cattle stampeded. Some of them we never did find.
May 1848 my daughter Mary Ann was born. All of my children but two were born here in this valley. Their names are Silas, Silvester, Mary Ann, Miriam, Ellen Madora, Jessie, Jerry, Boln, Isaac, Vilate; all of them are with their Heavenly Father except two, Sylvester and Ellen Madora. My children were all raised to men and women and all had families except two. My husband, Isaac James, worked for Brother Brigham, and we got along splendid, accumulating horses, cows, oxen, sheep, and chickens in abundance. I spun all the cloth for my family clothing for a year or two, and we were in a prosperous condition—until the grasshoppers and crickets came along, carrying destruction wherever they went, laying our crops to the ground, striping the trees of all their leaves and fruit, bringing poverty and desolation throughout this beautiful valley. It was not then as it is now. There were no trains running bringing fruits and vegetables from California or any other place. All our importing and exporting was done by the slow process of ox teams.
Oh how I suffered of cold and hunger, and the keenest of all was to hear my little ones crying for bread and I had none to give them; but in all, the Lord was with us and gave us grace and faith to stand it all. I have seen Brother Brigham, Brothers Taylor, Woodruff, and Snow rule this great work and pass on to their reward, and now [we have] Brother Joseph F. Smith. I hope the Lord will spare him—if ’tis his holy will—for many, many years to guide the gospel ship to a harbor of safety, and I know they will, if the people will only listen and obey the teachings of these good, great, and holy men.
I have lived right here in Salt Lake City for fifty-two years, and I have had the privilege of going into the temple and being baptized for some of my dead.
I am now over eighty years old, and I am nearly blind, which is a great trial to me. It is the greatest trial I have ever been called upon to bear, but I hope my eyesight will be spared to me, poor as it is, that I may be able to go to meeting and to the temple to do more work for my dead.
I am a widow. My husband, Isaac James, died in November 1891. I have seen my husband and all of my children but two laid away in the silent tomb. But the Lord protects me and takes good care of me in my helpless condition, and I want to say right here that my faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ as taught by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is as strong today, nay, it is, if possible, stronger than it was the day I was first baptized. I pay my tithes and offerings [and] keep the Word of Wisdom. I go to bed early and rise early. I try in my feeble way to set a good example to all.
I have had eighteen grandchildren, eight of them are living; also seven great-grandchildren. I live in my little home with my brother Isaac, who is good to me. We are the last two of my mother’s family. I want him to stay there after me.
This is just a concise but true sketch of my life and experience.
Yours in truth,
Jane Elizabeth James
Jane Elizabeth James called on me to write this. It was her own statement, and she declared it was true. The only error, or you may call it evasion, was her reticence pertaining to one of her children. She stated in her brother’s presence that all but two were born in the valley. One, Silas, was born on their way to the valley, but the other was born before she was baptized or soon after.
Patriarch John Smith read or heard her history read. He said that when she came to Nauvoo, she had a boy five or six years old. At any rate, he said that he was a good chunk of a boy and told me to find out about it; I could not get anything out of Jane, but her brother Isaac came to my house one day, and he said that the boy was Sylvester, that he was born in Connecticut at her mother’s, that he was the child of a white man—a preacher—but he could not tell if he was the child of the Presbyterian or a Methodist preacher, that Jane was nearly eighteen or quite that old when the child was born, and [that] her mother kept the child, and Jane went back to the Fitch family, and then she heard the gospel and was baptized, and soon after she got her mother and the whole family to be baptized. Isaac said in a year or two after, they all started for Nauvoo, as Jane has stated in her sketch.
Elizabeth J. D. Roundy
"Aunt" Jane James
(Colored servant in the Prophet's House)
Yes, indeed I guess I did know the Prophet Joseph. That lovely hand! He used to put it out to me. Never passed me without shaking hands with me where he was. Oh, he was the finest man I ever saw on earth. I did not get much of a chance to talk with him. He'd always smile, always just like he did to his children. He used to be just like I was his child. O yes, my, I used to read in the Bible so much and in the Book of Mormon and Revelations, and now I have to sit and can't see to read, and I think over them things, and I tell you I do wake up in the middle of the night and I just think about Brother Joseph and Sister Emma and how good they was to me. When I went there I only had two thins on me, no shoes nor stockings, wore them all out on the road. I had a trunk full of beautiful clothes, which I had sent around by water, and I was thinking of having them when I got to Nauvoo, and they stole them at St. Louis, and I did not have a rag of them.
They was looking for us because I wrote them a letter. There was eight of us, my mother and two sisters and a brother and sister-in-law, and we had two children, one they had to carry all the way there, and we traveled a thousand miles. Sister Emma she come to the door first and she says, "Walk in, come in all of you," and she went up stairs and down he comes and goes into the sitting room and told the girls that they had there, he wanted to have the room this evening, for we have got company come. I knew it was Brother Joseph because I had seen him in a dream. He went and brought Dr. Bernhisel down and Sister Emma, and introduced him to everyone of us, and said, "Now, I want you to tell me about some of those hard trials." And we told him. He slapped his hands.
"Dr. Brenhisel," he said, "what do you think of that?" And he said,
"I think if I had had it to do I should not have come; would not have had faith enough."
I was the head leader, I had been in the Church a year and a little over. That is sixty-nine years ago. [She was at the first time twenty years of age.] So then our folks got places. He kept them a whole week until they got homes, and I was left. He came in every morning to see us and shake hands and know how we all were. One morning, before he came in, I had been up to the landing and found all my clothes were gone. Well, I sat there crying. He came in and looked around.
"Why where all the folks?"
"Why Brother," I say, "they ahve all got themselves places; but," I says, "I haint got any place," and I burst out a-crying.
"We won't have tears here," he says.
"But," I says, "I have got no home."
"Well you've got a home here," he says, "Have you seen Sister Emma this morning."
"No, sir," I says.
So he started out and went upstairs and brought Sister Emma down and says, "Here's a girl who says she's got no homne. Don't you think she's got a home here?"
And she says, "If she wants to stay here."
And he says, "do you want to stay here?"
"Yes, sir," says I. "Well, now," he says, "Sister Emma you just talk to her and see how she is." He says, "Good morning," and he went.
We had come afoot, a thousand miles. We lay in bushels, and in barns and outdoors, and traveled until there was a frost just like a snow, and we had to walk on that frost. I could not tell you, but I wanted to go to Brother Joseph.
I did not talk much with him, but every time he saw me he would say, "God bless you," and pat me on the shoulder. To Sister Emma, he said, "go and clothe her up." Sister Emma did. She got me clothes by the bolt. I had everything.
The folks that come to me think I ought to talk and tell what Brother Joseph said, but he was hid up (his enemies were seeking his life) and I cannot remember now. I could not begin to tell you what he was, only this way, he was tall, over six feet; he was a fine, big, noble, beautiful man! He had blue eyes and light hair, and very fine white skin.
When he was killed, I liked to a died myself, if it had not been for the teachers, I felt so bad. I could have died, just laid down and died; and I was sick abed, and the teachers told me,
"You don't want to die because he did. He died for us, and now we all want to live and do all the good we can."
Things came to pass what he prophesied about the colored race being freed. Things that he said has come to pass. I did not hear that, but I knew of it.
After I saw him plain, I was certain he was a prophet because I knew it. I was willing to come and gather, and when he came in with Dr. Bernhisel I knew him. Did not have to tell me when I saw him back in Old Connecticut in a vision, saw him plain and knew he was a prophet.
This is the Gospel of Jesus Christ and there will never be any other on earth. It has come to stay.
Servant in Family of Prophet Joseph Smith at Nauvoo Passes Away
Jane Manning James, an aged colored woman familiarly known as "Aunt Jane," passed away about noon today at her late residence, 529 Second East street, after a lingering illness. She was in her ninety-fifth year, and up to a few months ago was comparitively hale and hearty. A severe fall caused a marked decline in her physical condition, and gradually she grew weaker until the end came.
The above is a reproduction of a photo of deceased, taken with her brother, Isaac Manning, two years her junior. By the latter "Aunt Jane" was tenderly cared for duing the last 15 years of her life, and especially during the months of her illness. Both were servants in the family of the Prophet Joseph Smith at Nauvoo, and each has remained loyal and true to his memory since his tragic death nearly 64 years ago. They were converted to Mormonism in the early 'forties' in Connecticut. Few persons were more noted for faith and faithfulness than was Jane Manning James, and though of the humble of [the] earth she numbered friends and acquaintances by the hundreds. Many persons will regret to learn that the kind and generous soul has passed from the earth. Notice of funeral will appear later.
Released in 2018 and directed by Chantelle Squires, this film brings to life the character of Jane Manning James and her relationship with the prophet's wife, Emma Smith. This film stays true to Jane's autobiography and they quote her nearly verbatim as often as they can. It's a film worth watching in and out of Mormonism!
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