Sunday, March 2, 2014

(SCOFIELD) Thomas & Elizabeth Bennett family migration

Since its beginnings, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been a missionary church. In the 19th century, tens of thousands were converted in the British Isles.

Thomas Bennett’s family were among the first Welsh converts.1 Thomas married Elizabeth Williams in 18752 and they began raising their family in Newcastle, England.3 But they did not stay long. It was a time of gathering. “During the 19th century, ‘gathering’ to Zion was the second step after conversion. … The gathering had two major purposes. First, Zion needed to be built up. Repeatedly persecuted and driven, the Church needed a strong, permanent base with a strong population to occupy the territory [of Utah] and make it economically self-sufficient. Also, the pure in heart needed a place of refuge from persecution and sin.”4 A fundamental part of the spiritual refuge was temple access. At that time, there were temples only in Utah.5 Persecution certainly did not end in Utah, but it was probably easier to bear when one could draw strength from the surrounding group of believers.

Like many others, the Bennett family emigrated somewhat piecemeal. Elizabeth and five of the children departed together. Thomas followed shortly thereafter, and the oldest daughter, Sarah, apparently traveled a few months later. This story follows Elizabeth, but her husband’s and daughter’s passages would have been quite similar.

Elizabeth and the children left Liverpool on Saturday, June 14, 1884. They traveled with 525 other Latter-day Saints: 406 from Scandinavia, 94 others from Great Britain, and 25 returning missionaries.6 

The SS Arizona, from
They sailed on the SS Arizona. “The Arizona was a record breaking British passenger liner.” The ship took about 8 days to reach New York from Liverpool, rather than 10. “One nautical historian called Arizona ‘a souped up transatlantic hot rod.’” The Arizona began sailing in 1879. That same year, she hit an iceberg and sustained heavy damages. However, she underwent repairs and continued sailing until 1897. The steamliner was then purchased by the US Navy, renamed Hancock, and used in the Spanish American War and World War I.7

“After a pleasant and speedy voyage the mighty vessel arrived in New York on Monday, June 23rd, and the same day the passengers landed at Castle Garden.”8 
Me at Battery Park/Castle Garden, October 2012.
The Statue of Liberty (slightly visible in background)
was placed a few years after the Bennetts' arrival.

Around 1808, due to “increasing tensions with the British, American harbor cities began building forts for protection.” New York City built four: one, named Southwest Battery, was on Manhattan Island. Southwest Battery was fortified during the War of 1812, though it never saw action. In the 1820s, the site was given new life as an entertainment center/opera house and was renamed Castle Garden. In 1855, the facility became the nation’s first “immigrant landing depot," giving newcomers like Elizabeth Bennett a safe place to rest and make further travel plans. After Ellis Island opened in 1890, Castle Garden was converted to an aquarium. Today, it is a national monument.9

Castle Garden was well organized.  Upon disembarking, people moved through
“Mormon Emigrants Landing on the Wharf at Castle Garden
from Ocean Steamers,” 1878 
“a narrow passageway” while “being subjected to medical inspection. …When the inspection was completed, the emigrants were herded into Castle Garden proper and marched up to a square enclosure in the center [to be registered]. Barriers were installed on each side to ensure that all were registered….Each emigrant moved along the alley, stopped before the registering clerks, and then proceeded on.” Castle Garden contained “two washrooms, each fifty by twenty in size. … An abundance of towels was conveniently hung about, and soap was not only handy but also required to be used. Every emigrant landing at Castle Garden was washed clean before he or she was permitted to leave.”

Castle Clinton National Monument, formerly known as Castle Garden.
I took this picture in October 2012.

Clerks inside Castle Garden helped emigrants plan the rest of their US travel, whether by boat or train. Latter-day Saints, however, had their own emigration agents who purchased tickets for them. “Mormons avoided much of the stress suffered by their countrymen who passed through the Garden. The majority of Latter-day Saints [including the Bennetts] were escorted by leaders who were Americans by birth or had previously emigrated to the United States. … They were also schooled ahead of time on the latest news that had arrived from America and were given detailed letters of instruction….Normally [as was the case for this voyage], a Mormon agent received the emigrants and walked them through the registration process.”10

On the evening of their arrival (Monday, June 23), the emigrants left Castle Garden, New York, for Jersey City, New Jersey. From Jersey City, the emigrants traveled in 11 cars on the Erie Railroad. At Salamanca, New York, they switched to the Chicago & Atlantic Railroad. 

This 1884 map of the Erie Railroad lines shows the extent of Elizabeth Bennett's travel on that line -
from Jersey City to Salamanca. The location of Susquehanna is also noted.16

This depiction is from an 1882 album of views along the Erie RR. Passing through this area might have had some significance for Elizabeth, as the first baptisms in this dispensation occurred in the Susquehanna River.17
They reached Chicago, Illinois at 8:30pm on Wednesday, June 25. The immigrants were given two additional railroad cars and transferred to the Chicago & Western Railroad. They departed Chicago at 12:30am, headed for Council Bluffs, Iowa.

The party reached Council Bluffs at 11pm. They transferred to the Union Pacific Railroad, and were also transferred into different railroad cars.  For Elizabeth Bennett, traveling with 5 children under the age of 5, all these late-night transfers must have been difficult.

Ogden, Utah, 1875, from

On the morning of Sunday, June 29, the train reached Ogden, Utah, the Bennetts’ final destination. We don’t know Elizabeth’s first impression of her new home, but her thoughts about the train depot might not have been favorable. At that time, “the local press was filled with complaints about the dark and gloomy depot, with its quarter-mile of wooden sidewalks across swampy mud flats…that served as the embarrassing entrance to Ogden. The complaints included calls for the carriers to erect permanent buildings and workshops, and to 'go to work like substantial corporations, instead of dickering around in shanties.'”11  

In just 14 days, Elizabeth and her five small children traveled about 5,500 miles across the globe. They joined a substantial group of immigrants: at that time, about 30% of Utahns were foreign-born. 

Americans had differing opinions on the value of immigration. “An 1881 Harper’s article denounced the Church for consisting of ‘foreigners and the children of foreigners …fresh serf blood from abroad.’”12  Some were more positive. Another article stated, "by the work and activities of the emigrants many barren regions have been turned into fertile and civilized nations. The New World and particularly the United States has profited from the European migration.”13 

Like other LDS immigrants, the Bennetts probably thought of Isaiah as they transformed the barren Great Basin: “The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for them; and the desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose.”14 

Line of descent: 
Thomas Edward Bennett (1854 - 1935)
Sarah Ann Bennett (1876 - 1942)
Clara Lavon Cheshire (1915 - 2007)


This entire post, and especially the section dealing with railroad travel, relies heavily on from 4 accounts of this voyage available at

1 – Obituary, Salt Lake Telegram, 27 Nov 1935,

2 – Relationship information about Thomas and Elizabeth, accessed 2 March 2014.

3 – Newcastle is the Conference listed on their passenger lists:  and, and see Thomas’s obituary, cited in footnote 1

4 – “Coming to Zion: Saga of the Gathering,” William G. Hartley, Ensign, Jul 1975, 

5 –

6 – see 

7 –

8 – “A Compilation of General Voyage Notes, Liverpool to New York on the Arizona (14 Jun 1884 - 23 Jun 1884)”

9 –National Park Service website, Castle Clinton National Monument, History & Culture,, accessed 2/24/2014

10 – “Castle Garden, the Emigrant Receiving Station in New York Harbor,” Don H. Smith,, quotes are from pages 4-9

11 – “Ogden Union Railway & Depot Company,”

12 – “Coming to Zion: Saga of the Gathering,” William G. Hartley, Ensign, Jul 1975,

13 – “Castle Garden As An Immigrant Depot 1855-1890”, Dr. George J. Svejda, 1968 p. 2

14 – Isaiah 35:1,

15 - Picture from

16 - Map from article at article, map alone at

17 - Picture from

No comments:

Post a Comment