Mary Ann Angell met Brigham Young in Kirtland in 1833. Baptized in 1832, Mary Ann was an early convert to the Book of Mormon. She testified that “the Spirit bore witness to her . . . of the truth of its origin, so strongly that she could never afterwards doubt it.”She soon set out for Kirtland, arriving in the spring of 1833.
Brigham Young had lost his first wife, Miriam Works, to consumption a year earlier, so Vilate Kimball, wife of his close friend Heber C. Kimball, had taken in Brigham’s two young motherless daughters while Brigham and Heber went out to proclaim their new faith. Now in 1833, Brigham had come to Kirtland to stay.
Within a few months, Brigham and Mary Ann became acquainted. She “felt drawn towards him” when she heard him preach; he was impressed when he heard her bear testimony.They were married early in 1834. Brigham later wrote that Mary Ann “took charge of my children, kept my house, and labored faithfully for the interest of my family and the kingdom.”
“Go and Leave Your Family”
Brigham had been transformed by the restored gospel, and his desire to proclaim it could not be contained. “I wanted to thunder, and roar out the gospel to the nations,” he later recalled. “It burned in my bones like fire pent up.”Although this required arduous travel, often in the face of poverty, sickness, and harsh weather, Brigham went willingly. “It has never entered into my heart,” he later declared, “from the first day I was called to preach the Gospel to this day, when the Lord said, ‘Go and leave your family,’ to offer the least objection.”
Mary Ann did not offer any objection either, even when missions and Church service took Brigham from home about half the time during their first five years together. Shortly after their marriage, he was gone four months with Zion’s Camp, returning in time for the birth of their first child in October. Early in 1835 he spent five months on a mission as a newly called Apostle. In 1836, he was home during the early months of the year, but his time was consumed with overseeing painting and window glazing for the house of the Lord in Kirtland. Shortly after the dedication of the temple, he departed on another mission that extended from April to September. In 1837, he went on two missions, one in the spring and one in the summer. These separations meant heavy work for Mary Ann, likely out in the fields as well as in the house, in addition to caring for their growing family: Brigham’s daughters Elizabeth and Vilate from his first marriage; a son, Joseph, born in 1834; and twins, Mary Ann and Brigham Jr., born in 1836.
Brigham’s letters to his family expressed his love and his awareness of their struggles. “Mary I remember you allways in my prayrs,” he wrote from Massachusetts in March 1837. “I can vue my famely with the eye of the mind and desire to be with them as so[o]n as duty will permit.”In July he expressed his hope that when he returned in the fall he would finally be able to “pay for [his] house” and make some improvements on it “so that I can feele contented about my famely when I leve them.” He asked Mary Ann to “get som lumber or timber or ston and if you have a chance to b[u]y enny thing for bilding.”
When Brigham returned that fall, however, he found Kirtland in turmoil, rent with dissension and conflict. His loyalty to Joseph Smith made him a target for the Church’s opponents, and in December he fled for his life, forced to leave his family behind. Mary Ann and the children were terrorized by apostate mobbers, who frequently came to search her property and bombarded her with “threats and vile language,” frightening her to the point of damaging her health. When Mary Ann finally joined Brigham in Far West, Missouri, in the spring of 1838, he was shocked at her condition. “You look as if you were almost in your grave,” he told her.
Shortly after the Young family’s arrival, Joseph Smith received an unpublished revelation instructing Brigham that he was not to leave his family again “until they are amply provided for.”But a revelation to the Quorum of the Twelve in July 1838—now in Doctrine and Covenants 118—indicated how short that respite would be. In nine months, the Twelve were to depart on a mission to Great Britain, taking leave from Far West on April 26, 1839.
Those nine months proved to be anything but restful. The Saints in Missouri were driven from their homes, and once again Brigham Young was in danger as one of the most wanted Church leaders. The Young family fled together, but they traveled short distances and then waited while Brigham went back to assist other destitute Saints. Mary Ann recalled that by the time they reached safety on the other side of the Mississippi River in Illinois, she had kept house in 11 different places within three months.She was also pregnant.
A Mission across the Waters
As the Saints began gathering again in the area of Commerce, soon to be renamed Nauvoo, Illinois, the Young family found living quarters across the Mississippi River in Montrose, Iowa, where many Saints had taken shelter in abandoned military barracks. In spite of their forced relocation and the press of building a new community, the Twelve were still determined to fulfill the commanded mission to Great Britain.
On July 2, 1839, the Twelve met with the First Presidency at the home of Brigham Young. The Presidency “lade their hands” upon the heads of several present, including Mary Ann Young, “to bless them & their families before they left for other Nations.” The Brethren were promised that they would return “to the bosom of [their] families” and that they would convert “many Souls as seals of [their] ministry.”
Two months later, on September 14, 1839, Brigham Young bade farewell to Mary Ann again and set out on his mission to England. It would be hard to imagine less favorable circumstances for his departure. “We were in the depths of poverty, caused by being driven from Missouri, where we had left all,” he recalled.His wardrobe “had not much of a ministerial appearance,” as his cap was made out of “a pair of old pantaloons” and a small “quilt with a comforter run through it” served as his overcoat.
Like many of the Saints at that time, he was suffering from malaria and shaking with fever. His health was so bad that, as he recalled, “I was unable to walk twenty rods without assistance. I was helped to the edge of the river Mississippi and carried across.” Nevertheless, he “was determined to go to England or to die trying.”
Brigham was not the only one suffering. Mary Ann had given birth only 10 days earlier. The family now consisted of seven children, and they were all “sick and unable to wait upon each other.” Nevertheless, Mary Ann crossed the river from Iowa to Illinois so she could bid her husband a final farewell.As Brigham and an equally sick Heber C. Kimball pulled away from Heber’s Nauvoo home, Brigham joined his friend in feebly standing up in the wagon in which they were riding to shout, “Hurrah for Israel,” in an attempt to cheer those they were leaving behind.
Making Ends Meet at Home
Two months after Brigham’s departure, the family ran out of food. Still suffering the effects of malaria, Mary Ann was forced to take action to relieve their hunger. On a “cold, stormy November day,” she wrapped herself and her baby Alice in tattered blankets and set off in a small rowboat across the Mississippi River. During the journey, the wind-whipped waves soaked both her and her baby. Upon reaching Nauvoo, she went to the home of a friend, who later recounted, “Sister Young came into my house . . . with her baby Alice in her arms, almost fainting with cold and hunger, and dripping wet.” Mary Ann refused her friend’s offer to let her stay. “The children at home are hungry, too,” she insisted. Procuring “a few potatoes and a little flour,” Mary Ann “wended her way to the river bank” to row home. Many times she crossed the river “to obtain the barest necessaries of life,” sometimes “in storms that would have frightened women of ordinary courage.”
Around this time, Mary Ann was forced out of her room in the old military barracks. She took up residence in a horse stable in Montrose and spent the winter eking out a meager living “sowing [sewing] & washing” for others. The following spring she was given a lot in Nauvoo, on which she planted a garden. Throughout that summer, Mary Ann paddled across the Mississippi River to care for her garden and then paddled “back again at night after her days work was done.”
In addition to working in her garden, Mary Ann undertook to build a log cabin on the lot. In September 1840, a year after Brigham left on his mission, she moved her family into their new home in Nauvoo. Vilate Kimball noted that the house “could hardly be called a shelter,” but at least it saved her constant trips across the river. Her nephew later recalled that it was simply the “body of a house,” with blankets hung over the doors and windows to keep out the elements.
Although Mary Ann had reason to complain, she kept her challenges from Brigham. After learning from others about some of her trials, he wrote her in November 1840: “You may well think that my hart feeles tender toards you, when I relise your patiants and willingness to suffer in poverty and doe everything you can for my children and for me to goe and due the thing the Lord requires of me.”
In April 1841, anticipating his return from England, Mary Ann informed Brigham that while she wished to have “a better house to recieve [him] into,” she was “thankful for a comfortable shelter from the Storm.” She explained that it had “been so differcult to obtain work that what I had done is not done as I wanted itt.” Having “done the best [she] could,” she thanked her “hevenly Father for all the blessings I recieve and pray the Lord to continue his mercys with us.”
Upon returning to Nauvoo on July 1, 1841, after a 22-month absence, Brigham learned just how impoverished Mary Ann and the children had been. He set to work immediately to improve their situation. When not “at the call of bro. Joseph, in the service of the church,” Brigham said, “I spent [my time] in draining, fencing and cultivating my lot, building a temporary shed for my cow, chinking and otherwise finishing my house.”At the same time, he began work on the red brick home that still stands in Nauvoo, although he was not able to move his family into it until May 1843.
“Your Offering Is Acceptable”
A week after Brigham’s return, on July 9, 1841, Joseph Smith visited him at his home. Mary Ann was likely there. No account survives of the conversation or circumstances of the day, but no doubt Joseph saw firsthand the evidence of the Young family’s sacrifice and continuing need. He dictated a revelation on the spot, now found in Doctrine and Covenants 126.“Dear & well beloved Brother, Brigham Young,” it read, “it is no more required at your hand to leave your family as in times past, for your offering is acceptable to me.” He was instructed to “take special care of your family from this time henceforth and forever.” Though the revelation was addressed to Brigham, it was an unmistakable affirmation of Mary Ann’s sacrifice and faithful support. “This evening I am with my wife a lone by my fire Side for the first time for years,” Brigham recorded in his journal six months after returning from England, reflecting the welcome relief his presence at home brought to them both. “We injoi [enjoy] it and feele to pra[i]se the Lord.”
The revelation changed where Brigham Young served, but not how much. He was absent from home for only three short missions in the ensuing years, but his time was still dedicated to serving the Lord. Mary Ann continued to support him and to make sacrifices for her faith, including accepting the principle of plural marriage and welcoming new wives into the family. And there were more hardships to come. In the midst of the Saints’ forced exodus from Nauvoo, Mary Ann was said to be “benevolent and hospitable in the extreme,” administering generous “advice and assistance” to those in need.Throughout her life, she served family, friends, and fellow Saints and helped build up the kingdom of God.