Three Newly Discovered
Early Black Mormon Women
February 9, 2014
Two digitized missionary journals accessible on the LDS Church History Library website have proved to be valuable sources of information on the early membership of three black Mormon women. Stephen Post’s 1836 journal of his mission from Kirtland to New York tells of the membership of a free woman of color in Allegany County, while John D. Lee’s 1842 journal of his mission from Nauvoo to Tennessee records his baptism of two female slaves.1
Mrs. Samuel Francis
Stephen Post, born in 1810, was an early convert to the LDS church from New York. After Joseph Smith’s death, he followed James J. Strang and homesteaded on Beaver Island, Michigan. After he became disaffected with Strangism, he sided with Sidney Rigdon and became a stalwart of the Rigdonite movement until his death in 1879.
Post was made a member of the Second Quorum of the Seventy in Kirtland and immediately after the dedication of the temple at the end of March of 1836, he returned to his home in Crawford County, Pennsylvania, preaching along the way. From his home, he continued to venture out regularly to nearby towns to proselyte. In August he began to go farther afield and in September crossed into Busti, New York. From there he continued eastward roughly along the New York-Pennsylvania state line. On Friday, September 23, 1836, Post arrived in the town of Haight (now New Hudson), New York in Allegany County. Haight lay halfway between Cuba Lake and what is now Rushford Lake (a reservoir built in 1927). Post reported in his journal that he had made an appointment to preach at the Ayres2 home but for some reason it had been moved to the residence of “Mr Frances whose wife belongs to our church.” “[O]nly 3 persons came in,” continued Post, so “I preached awhile in my chair.” He then spent the night at the Frances home. “[T]hey were coloured people,” he added.3 With this all too brief account, we learn not only that Mrs. Frances was LDS while her husband was not, but that they were also of African descent. Who was the Frances family of Allegany County, and who had baptized Mrs. Frances before September 1836?
Unfortunately little has been discovered about this fascinating mixed-faith couple. They only appear for certain in three other historical documents: the 1820, 1830, and 1840 Censuses. Samuel Francis (or Frances) and his free family of color were enumerated in the three consecutive censuses in Allegany County, first in Rushford Township, then in Haight Township, and lastly in the town of Friendship, just south of Haight.4 (The Francis family likely did not move between 1820 and 1830, as Haight Township was formed from Rushford Township in 1825. Haight then changed its name to New Hudson in 1837.)
An 1100 page history of Allegany County only mentions two black residents prior to 1850: Jacques, who died there in 1817; and Simon Drock, who came to the county in 1836.5 Even though Samuel Francis apparently resided in Haight/New Hudson as early as 1820, this same history only notes that Spencer Lyon was the earliest resident, who beganbuilding a log cabin there in 1819.6 Many other white settlers were noted for the 1820s, but the Francis family was not. The other well-known history of Allegany County was checked, and it too did not name Samuel Francis as an early settler.7 In addition, probate records, probate and court records, deeds, and vital records were checked for the Francis family in Allegany County, all to no avail.
From the three census enumerations, however, the following data on the Francis family can be gleaned. Samuel Francis was born between 1785 and 1794. His unnamed wife, and our subject, was born between 1775 and 1794. They apparently had one son born about 1804, a daughter born about 1806, two daughters born 1807-1820, two daughters born 1821-1830, a son born about 1830, and a daughter born 1831-1840. Mrs. Samuel Francis does not appear in the 1840 Census and therefore likely passed away before then.
The 1810 Census of St. Georges Hundred, New Castle County, Delaware, reports a free man of color named Samuel Francis, with three other free people of color in his household (sex and age not given). This likely was his wife and their first two children, which does fit the data for the family of Samuel Francis of Allegany County, New York.
Despite the little known about Mrs. Samuel Francis, Stephen Post’s journal entry identifies her unique position as an early black Mormon woman – indeed, her baptism prior to September 1836 makes her the earliest known black woman to convert to the LDS Church. Since they resided in an area heavily visited by LDS missionaries throughout the early 1830s (some 80 miles southwest of Palmyra, New York), perhaps in the future some student of Mormon history will encounter a missionary’s record of the baptism of a Mrs. Frances/Francis in Allegany County.
Milla and Cintha: Slaves of Mark Young
The 1842 missionary journal of the infamous John D. Lee (ecclesiastically adopted son of Brigham Young and the only culprit of the Mountain Meadows Massacre to have been sentenced for the crime, leading to his execution in 1877) reveals his travels throughout Tennessee, including proselyting with fellow Mormon elder Alfred Douglas Young.8
Alfred D. Young was baptized LDS along with his older brother William on July 17, 1841, apparently in Gibson County, Tennessee. His second wife, Ann Mundine Chappell Young, was actually the first member of the extended Young family to convert, being baptized in January of 1841. Alfred and William Young were baptized by Elder McIntosh, who was actually the brother of Alfred’s first wife, Melinda Talbot McIntosh Young. (She died in 1829 and Alfred was remarried to Chappell in 1831.)
Unfortunately several pages from Lee’s journal are missing from April 1842, but the one most significant page is a nicely calligraphic list of people he baptized on April 12, 1842. 14 people on the list bear the surname of Young and they all appear to have been descendants (or their spouses) of Alfred and William’s grandparents, William and Elizabeth Huff Young (both deceased at that time).9 The top four names are those of Alfred’s uncles, Mark and David Adolpheus Young, and their respective wives, Ruth J. Roulston Young and Elizabeth Vance Young. The rest have been identified as Alfred D. Young’s cousins (and one spouse), including David and Elizabeth Young’s two daughters, Lavina and Mary Vance Young. John D. Lee would later polygamously marry these two sisters on February 27, 1847 in Winter Quarters, Nebraska.
At the bottom of the two-page list of those baptized that day appears the following notation: “MILLA & CINTHA 2 Servants Belonging to mark Young.”10
To ensure that these two women were not only “Servants” but in fact African American slaves belonging to Mark Young, the 1840 Census of Jackson County, Tennessee was searched for Mark Young’s family. This revealed that Mark Young owned five slaves that year: one male slave, aged 10-23; two females slaves, aged 0-9; one female slave, aged 10-23; and one female slave, aged 24-35. Then the 1850 Slave Schedule for Jackson County, Tennessee was searched, and that year, it appears that Mark Young still owned the same slaves, given their sex and similar ages: female slaves aged 17, 19, 24, and 45; and one male slave aged 22. Given their ages, all four women would have been over the baptizable age of 8 in 1842, and therefore any combination of them could have been Milla and Cintha.
What happened to these two women after their baptism? Unfortunately nothing beyond what has been revealed in the previous documents is certain. Even after their conversion, they appear to have remained enslaved to the Mark Young family until at least 1850. However, what happened to Mark Young and his family’s participation in Mormonism gives important clues.
In 1888 Alfred Douglas Young wrote a fascinating reminiscence of his conversion and early missionary experiences in Tennessee in the 1840s.11 John D. Lee’s journal confirms many of Young’s details. However his report sent to the Times and Seasons on May 18, 1842 severely criticized Alfred and William Young and accused them of gross apostasy. Not only did they “pretend to raise the dead” but also encouraged their converts to engage in “trembling, twitching, falling down and wallowing in the mud,” while “others would snort like wild beasts, bark as dogs, run through the creek, pretending to sing and speak in tongues…others would swoon for several hours,” etc. Lee claimed in this letter that he felt coerced to inform them “that the spirit by which they were actuated, emenated (sic) from Lucifer, the prince of darkness, and that its delusive influence would ultimately prove destructive to all the souls that were influenced by it if they did not resist it immediately.” Apparently, among these apostates was Mark Young. Alfred Young admitted in his reminiscence that his uncle Mark had been the second LDS elder ordained in his branch in Jackson County, but as a former Methodist, Mark had had a unique spiritual gift. During Methodist revivals “those on whose heads he would lay his hands and pray would be wrought upon with overpowering convictions of their sins and be converted.”12 After his conversion to Mormonism, Mark had asked his nephews if “he could still mingle with his Methodist brethren and exercise his gift among them.” Alfred and William Young “endeavored to instruct him, positively counseled him not to do so, and warned him if he did he would lose the spirit of the Gospel and go into darkness.” Mark Young had ignored their counsel however, and as predicted, by the time John D. Lee showed up in April 1842, had apostatized. Alfred D. Young then explained that the April 12, 1842 baptismal date of Mark Young was actually his rebaptismal date. Elders Lee, Alfonso Young (no apparent relation), and Samuel Frost had “come into the neighborhood” in April 1842 and “labored with him and rebaptized him and some of his family.”
Alfred D. Young wrote that when John D. Lee returned to Mark Young’s house two weeks later, “he was met by the Methodist circuit preacher who had been laboring with Uncle Mark for several days after his rebaptism…and had told the Elders they were not wanted there any more; and that they had broken the peace of the family and of the neighborhood by their humbuggerry (sic).” Alfred sadly reported, “My uncle, Mark Young, returned to his Methodism & Methodist gifts & never after that I am aware of, returned to the church.”13
While Mark Young and his family (and slaves) remained in Tennessee, where he died in 1857, most of the other LDS members of his family migrated to Nauvoo and on to Utah. (Alfred and William Young faced the charges of apostasy when they arrived in Nauvoo, the charges were dismissed, and they successfully gained full fellowship in the church, despite Lee’s vivid accusations.)14 Judging by Mark Young’s return to Methodism in May of 1842, it almost certain that his slaves Milla and Cintha at least became “inactive” in Mormonism, if not “apostates”. It was hoped that upon Mark Young’s death in 1857, he would have named them in his will as property to be passed on to his heirs. Unfortunately there are virtually no public records available for Jackson County, Tennessee prior to 1870. Also the names Milla and Cintha (and variants) were extremely popular among black Southerners (slave and free) so the 1870 census was of no value in trying to find them after emancipation and the Civil War.
Although Milla and Cintha were not the only slaves to have been baptized LDS (the so-called “Mississippi Saints” and other Southern converts brought slaves with them to Utah, some of whom were baptized), they are the only ones known to have a contemporary record of their baptismal date.
These three early black Mormon women provide fascinating yet woefully fragmented stories documenting the African experience and the legacy of the burden of racism and slavery in the United States of the 19th century. One woman is completely unnamed and known only by her husband’s name. The other two are only known by their given names and their slave master. If it had not been for the journals of two Mormon missionaries who encountered them and gave them invaluable context, the only records of their lives would be chit marks on early census records, tallying their sex and ages. It has been a profound honor to bring them back into history, if only in all too fragmented threads woven into the fabric of American life and religion.
1 Stephen Post Papers, 1835-1921, Journals, MS 1304, LDS Church History Library; and John D. Lee Journal, 1842-1843, MS 2092, LDS Church History Library.
2 There are some dozen Ayres/Ayers families living in the area, according to the 1830 and 1840 federal censuses.
3 Post Journal, September 23, 1836, MS 1304, Box 6, Folder 1, File 51.
4 No other black family with the last name of Frances/Francis resided in Allegany County, New York at this time, indicating that Stephen Post tarried overnight at the home of Samuel Francis.
5 John S. Minard, Allegany County and its People: A Centennial Memorial History of Allegany County, New York (Alfred NY: W. A. Ferguson & Co., 1896) 517 and 665; online at <https://archive.org/details/alleganycountyit00mina>, accessed January 5, 2014.
6 Op cit., 868.
7 F. W. Beers, History of Allegany County (New York City: Geo. MacNamara Printing, 1879).
8 Beside his journal, see John D. Lee’s very critical report of Alfred and William Young’s activities in the mission field in “Letter from Tennessee,” May 18, 1842, Times and Seasons, 3:16, June 15, 1842, 820-821.
9 Other names appear as well: four Smiths, three McCulloughs, and one Carlin.
10 Lee Journal, April 12, 1842 (loose page), MS 2092, vol. 1, files 23-24. I am profoundly grateful to Jonathan Stapley for having pointed out this journal entry to me in December 2013.
11 Alfred Douglas Young Papers, MS0292, Special Collections and Archives, University of Utah, J. Willard Marriott Library (carbon copy typescript); and identical copy as Alfred D. Young Autobiographical Journal, 1808-1842, BX 8670.1 .Y842, Special Collections, Brigham Young University, Harold B. Lee Library (carbon copy typescript made by BYU in 1958). I thank Rick Grunder for this second citation.
12 Alfred Douglas Young Papers, 26.
13 Alfred Douglas Young Papers, 27.
14 John S. Dinger (ed.), The Nauvoo City and High Council Minutes (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2011) January 8, 1843, 435; and Hosea Stout, Clerk of the High Council, “By Order of the First Presidency, Times and Seasons 4:5, January 16, 1843, 80.
Fascinating! I just finished Juanita Brooks book on John D. Lee. His journals are a treasure trove of early church history that didn’t make it into the mainstream narratives.
You’re quite welcome!
Thank you for mentioning me in your gay Mormon history. I would like to dialog further with you.