Patty Bartlett Sessions is an ancestor on my mother’s side, a fourth great aunt. I once read in her diary how she had “put a woman down with child” and realized that woman was a relative on my father’s side, a third great grandmother. Given how close-knit of a group the early Saints were, I’ve wondered whether any of my other ancestors might have known one another. I didn’t find any conclusive proof in Nauvoo, but I did see that the Sessions home and Lyon Drugstore were just a block and a half away from the Yearsley home. Even though Nauvoo once rivaled the population of Chicago with some 12,000 residents, I feel fairly confident that some of these ancestors probably knew each other and well.
While in Nauvoo, I visited the Land and Title building, which is where they send anyone who starts asking questions about their ancestors. There, I received a CD full of useful information, including the conversion story of Enoch Bartlett Tripp, my third great grandfather on my mother’s father’s side:
About five miles from Nauvoo, I saw a man with a gun on his shoulder and my heart jumped, not knowing but that the stage driver might be a Mormon too, and that they might conspire to take my life. My eye was on a good look-out from one to the other, until we had left the man with the gun far in our rear.
As my cousin, Sylvia Sessions, had married W.P Lyon, a merchant in the city, I asked the driver if he knew W.P. Lyon. He said he did, so I took out fifty cents which I gave him and asked, “Will this pay you for your trouble to drive me to his store before you stop at any other place?” He answered, “that it would.” I felt if I could only get among my relatives and reveal to them who I was, I would be safe.
On arriving at the Lyon Store, December 24, 1845, I asked if Mr. Lyon was in. The gentleman answered, “I am the man.” I asked if I could see his wife and he opened the door and called her. They lived in the back part of the store. She came in, and when I informed her that I was E.B. Tripp from the state of Maine, she grabbed me by the hand and asked, “Is this cousin Enoch B. Tripp?” I answered, “It is.” She greeted me with a kiss and thanked the Lord that he had preserved her life to behold some of her blood relatives from Maine. I was introduced to her husband and then taken into the dwelling part of the building, and her father, mother and brothers were sent for, and all greeted me with a most hearty welcome. The fear of being killed had now to a great degree left me.
I was much prejudiced against the Mormons because of all the bad reports I had heard of them, thinking they were a set of thieves, robbers and murders, and that they were kept together by their leaders through secret oaths. After being introduced into their society and to some of their leading men, and after partaking of the kindness and courtesy extended to me and seeing how strict they were in their faith, asking the blessings upon their food and prayers in their families, I asked myself, “Are the reports about the Mormons true?” The answer came, “No!”
I ventured one day to ask Aunt Patty Sessions to let me see the Mormons’ golden bible. With a smile, she brought forward a large bible and said, “That is all the bible we Mormons have.” Being well posted in the bible, I looked it over and said it was like our bible. Aunt Patty replied, “It is the same kind of bible that I have heard your father preach from many a time in the state of Maine. The only difference between your father’s beliefs and ours in the bible is that your father does not believe the bible as it reads, but spiritualizes it. We believe the bible as it reads.” This opened my eyes and put me thinking, for that was my belief, too, and I had contended with my father on that point several times. Aunt Patty then said that they had another “bible” they held as sacred and brought it forward saying it was called the Book of Mormon and that it had been translated from golden plates by the Prophet Joseph Smith, and was a true history of the inhabitants of this continent, the Indians. “Christ,” she told me, “was with them after His crucifixion, and had established his church among them, the same as he had in Jerusalem. The same gospel that he preached there he preached here and it was recorded in the book of Mormon more plainly.”
I begged the privilege of reading it which she readily granted. On reading the book, I was convinced that it was true and the work of God, but I kept the same locked up in my breast. I then read the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Voice of Warning by Parley P. Pratt. In the meantime I often met in company with Heber C. Kimball, one of the twelve apostles, at Mr. Lyon’s store. He stood next to Brigham Young in the leadership of the church. He often spoke pointedly of the Latter-day work, but I tried all the time to show that I had no faith in it, against my feelings.
On Sunday morning, February 1, 1846, Elder Heber C. Kimball came to the house of my cousin, Windsor P. Lyon, to re-baptize him into the church. They sent up to the temple and got a large bath tub to baptize him in inside the house. Mob violence was so strong that Elder Kimball did not dare to do it in public. I took Elder Kimball to one side and informed him of my feelings in relation to Mormon doctrine. I told him I believed it to be the true word of God according to the bible. I made a confidence of him and said that I did not want to disgrace my father’s family by becoming a Mormon if it was not true, as my folks stood high in society in Maine. My father was then in the legislature and my eldest brother, William, president of the senate in Maine. “If it was the work of God, so inform me. If it was the work of men, so inform me, and I would forever remain dumb.”
Elder Kimball looked down at me, his face white as snow, and said, “Enoch,”—he always called me by that name—“I see the integrity of thy heart and I say unto you, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, this work is the work of God, and not the work of man! I promise you that if you will go forth into the waters of baptism, and have hands laid upon you for the gift of the Holy Ghost, that you shall know for yourself that this is the work of God!” I felt a shock go through me from the crown of my head to the soles of my feet with a convincing power that it was the work of God and I said to him that I would obey, and delay no longer and that I was a candidate for baptism. We went into Mr. Lyon’s kitchen where he baptized and confirmed me a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I then had a witness of the truth of this Latter-day work and that testimony has always abided with me.
Benjamin Morgan Roberts is a third great grandfather on my mother’s mother’s side. He was born Jan. 15, 1827 in Chester Co. Pennsylvania, to Samuel Roberts and Sarah Lamar. His parents died when he was a small child leaving himself and his sister orphaned. He was raised by the Society of Friends in Pennsylvania. At an early age he became a wheelwright apprentice, which he used later in life. In 1840, he found a pamphlet of Mormon literature with the address of the meeting place for the missionaries. Secretly he attended their next meeting and became converted and was baptized in July 1840 at the age of 13. Knowing his guardians would voice strong objections should they found about his desires, he decided to join a group of Mormons that were going to Nauvoo.
In Nauvoo, Benjamin was adopted into the family of David and Mary Ann Yearsley, who had previously adopted George Boyd. Benjamin was in Nauvoo in the midst of the stirring times, witnessing the aftermath of the Prophet Joseph Smith’s death and the expulsion of the Saints into the safety of the Iowa Territory.