Published: 06:00, 25 July 2021
| Updated: 14:06, 04 August 2021
It was the year after the Gold Rush, and people from around the globe were emigrating to the United States in their hundreds of thousands.
But it wasn't the promise of riches that made one Sittingbourne woman make the perilous journey to Paradise, Utah, but love, as Memories writer Patricia Robinson discovers...
Many people from the Sittingbourne area emigrated to America and elsewhere, including my great-grandfather.
Usually people left for financial reasons, but sometimes it was for love.
That was what led Caroline Brenchley, who was born in Borden on May 6, 1830, to emigrate to America in 1856.
She had been converted to the Mormon faith by Thomas Lorenzo Obray, who had been born in Wales in 1821. He was ordained as a High Priest, and left Liverpool, on March 22, 1854, bound for Utah.
After his arrival he settled in Wellsville, Cache County in 1856, where he was one of the first settlers. By then he had two wives - Louise and Martha Shelton.
Caroline made the first part of the journey by train, and then joined a wagon train, led by John Hunt, at Iowa City in August 1856.
There were 50 wagons and 240 people, and on the 27th they arrived at the Missouri River and camped there before resuming the journey on September 2, travelling at around 15 miles a day.
On October 7, some of the oxen took fright and stampeded. About 12 wagons left the road, carried off by the frightened cattle at a break-neck speed in all directions.
During the month the weather became worse, and on October 20 it started to snow. By then they had been joined by another wagon company as well as the Martin Handcart Company.
The handcart company had not been expected to travel so late in the year, their handcarts had been made hastily and soon began to break down.
The provisioning posts had not been stocked with food for them, and many died.
George Grant, the leader of a rescue party sent from Salt Lake City, recorded that there were ‘between five and six hundred men, women and children, worn down by drawing hand carts through snow and mud; fainting by the wayside; falling, chilled by the cold; children crying, their limbs stiffened by cold, their feet bleeding and some of them bare to snow and frost. The sight is almost too much for the stoutest of us; but we go on doing all we can, not doubting nor despairing.’
Some of the weakest emigrants were then carried on the wagons of Hunt’s company, and by December 15 they reached Salt Lake City. Around 20 of Hunt’s company died on the way; but of the 576 members of the Martin Handcart Company, more than 145 died on the 1,000-mile journey. But Caroline made it.
She married Thomas Obray in Salt Lake City on August 2 1857. He was a farmer and they lived in Paradise, Cache with his other wives and their children. Her own children were Sarah, John, Robert, Joseph, Ezra and Ida. Thomas died in October 1899, and in 1900 Caroline was living with her son Ezra, who was also a farmer.
She died on November 20, 1910, and was buried, three days later, in Paradise Cemetery.
I first heard about Caroline’s story from Mr and Mrs Foster in the 1990s, when I was researching my first book on Sittingbourne.
As often happens, stories become distorted over time, as they believed that she had travelled with the Martin Handcart Company.
The records of members of the various wagon trains and handcart companies are now available online, which is how I discovered that she had been a member of Hunt’s wagon train.
Her memories of the sufferings of those who walked across America that she witnessed, and perhaps having to walk much of the way herself, must have been so strong that her descendents believed that she had been a member of the ill-fated handcart company. Descendants of Caroline and Thomas Obray still live in Paradise.
Did members of your family emigrate to countries like America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand? Do you have relatives living there, or records of the hardships they suffered? If you do, email firstname.lastname@example.org