Welsh Mormon History
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Who was the first missionary in Wales?

THE BEGINNINGS OF MORMONISM IN NORTH WALES

 

by Ronald D. Dennis

2 March 2005

 

The first official Church missionary to Wales was Elder Henry Royle, a British convert, who was called at a conference in Manchester on 6 October 1840 to ?go to Cly [sic] in Flintshire?. [Millennial Star 1:168] ?Cly? is no doubt ?Cloy?, located about two miles from Overton in North Wales. Cloy was hardly more than a string of farm-houses situated on the outskirts of Overton. And Overton itself consisted of fewer than two thousand inhabitants. Another British convert, Frederick Cook, was assigned to accompany Elder Royle.

 

The reason for sending missionaries to this area in Wales just across the border from England was most likely that Elders Brigham Young and Heber C. Kimball had preached in that area a short time before. The only record we have of their visit to Wales is the 12 November 1840 letter of Brigham Young to his wife Mary Ann:

We have hered from Wales wheare Bro. Kimball and I went, a grate many of the people was sorry they did not obay the gospel when we ware there the report went out that we had the same power that the old apostles had, it is true we did lay hands on one young man that was quite low with a fevor, we rebuked his fevor and he got well, we laid our hands on a woman that had very bad eyes she emeditly [immediately] recoverd, they have a gradel [great deal] to say about our preaching, they say that Elder Kimball has such sharp eys that he can look wright through them, and Elder Young preaches so that every Body that heres him must beleve he Preaches so plane and powerful. [Blair Collection, University of Utah. Original spelling and punctuation preserved.]

 

Although the exact date of the visit of Elder Kimball and Young is not clear, it logically preceded the assignment and arrival of Henry Royle and Frederick Cook, which would explain why the latter two during the Manchester conference on 6 October 1840 were assigned to go there. It would also explain the immediate success they had, for two days after their arrival on October 16th they had baptisms in the River Dee, and by October 30th they had established a branch with thirty-two members. [Millennial Star1:192] And some of these were no doubt witnesses and perhaps even the recipients of the blessings given by Elders Kimball and Young.

 

Frederick Cook wrote of the experience he had with Henry Royle on their mission to Wales:

Elder Henry Royal and my self by the directions of Confrence of Manchester went on a mision to Wales [to] preach the gospel we arived in Wales on the sixteenth of October in the year one thousand eight Hundred and and [sic] Fortey in a villeg in the County of Flintshire Cloy Overton at the House of John Thomas and on the eighteenth of the same month we commenced Batizing [sic] there in the River Rue [?] Dee we Continued Preaching and Batizing untill we had batized eighty Souls and then I went Home to see my Wife and Familey at Manchester. [Cook, Frederick. Journal, p. (5)-(6). A xerox copy of this journal is in possession of Ronald D. Dennis.]

 

            In November 1840 Royle and Cook were joined by Elder James Burnham, an American. In a letter dated 23 November 1840 Burnham reported:

The brethren at Overton have baptized 56 converts and some more are ready to go forward. There is great opposition in this place [Wrexham] and Overton. The priests have raised in opposition to the truth, and they slander and falsefy men?s characters. [Millennial Star 1:212. The month printed is actually December, but this appears to be a typographical error.]

Burnham attended a presentation by one of the priests about the Latter-day Saints, given ?to show their delusion?. According to Burnham?s letter, the priest avoided discussing doctrine and based his observations on newspaper stories and letters from apostate Mormons. When he had finished, the priest extended an invitation to the Saints to reply. Burnham wrote:

I rose, and observed that the gentleman had not mentioned our doctrine. I then commenced to lay before them our principles from the Bible, but was interrupted. One of the priests said he could prove that we did not believe the Bible, and that he could prove it from the Bible. [Millennial Star 1:212-13.]

The latter issued a challenge to Burnham for a public ?discussion?, for which the Bible was to be the test ?without any man?s commentaries, opinions, or newspaper stories?. The discussion was to begin that Thursday evening, presumably November 26th, and continue for three nights.

 

            In a letter dated 22 December 1840 Elder Burnham gave a brief report on the event:

I held a discussion, and had a good opportunity to preach the gospel to them, in their own chapel in this place, where they had previously closed doors against our preaching. The discussion had a good effect, inasmuch, that many persons have come forward since, and obeyed the gospel, and are now rejoicing in the Lord. Although the bible was to be the test, or standard, yet my opponent did not perhaps quote four verses from the Bible, during the three nights of discussion. Man?s assertion and newspaper stories was his chief resort, while his followers were ready to cry out like the Ephesians, ?Great is the Diana of the Ephesians?, but were so unfortunate as not to have a wise town clerk amongst them. [Millennial Star 1:238.]

 

            Burnham obviously believed that he had been triumphant over his opponent, and no doubt his opponent also claimed victory. Burnham proudly announced having been stoned twice since going to Overton and was quick to add that he rejoiced in such persecution:

Some of the priests follow and endeavour to make disturbance in our meetings; they are all in arms about their flocks, they call us robbers and infidels, declaring that we rob other churches. If the opposition continues to increase, as it has done for some time past, we shall perhaps loose [sic] our heads soon; but the Lord is with us, and I do not fear them. When their cup is full the Lord will remove them out of the way. We have in this region near 100 who have obeyed the gospel. [Millennial Star 1:284.]

 

            Just one more of Burnham?s reports, this one dated 10 February 1841, was printed in the Millennial Star. He wrote:

We have great opposition?the priests are combined against us, and they stir up the baser sort against us, in order to disturb our meetings. If we hold meetings at any private house that has not been licensed they are sure to enter complaint and have them fined? I have organized two branches of the church, consisting of about 150 members. [Millennial Star 1:284. According to British law all non-Anglican places of worship were required to be registered with the diocese. Those in violation of this law were subject to a fine.]

           

            The rate of increase during the first four months after missionaries were assigned to the Overton is astounding. Within two weeks after their arrival, Henry Royle and Frederick Cook reported 32 convert baptisms. Three weeks later James Burnham wrote in his letter that there was a total of 56 members. Four weeks after that Elder Burnham reported ?near 100 who have obeyed the gospel?. And finally on 10 February 1841, James Burnham declared ?about 150 members? in the Overton area. Consequently, during the approximately 120 days from the arrival of Henry Royle and Frederick Cook there was an average of over one baptism per day?certainly any missionary?s dream come true. And in a small village such as Overton one can easily imagine the excited reaction of the local religious leaders as their parishioners, the source of at least part of their income, changed their allegiance and left their pews in favor of the despised Mormons.

            After Elder Burnham?s third letter, the Millennial Star is silent as to further developments in the Overton area except for the 6 April 1841 conference report of 170 members. [Millennial Star 1:302.] At this time the Overton Branch became part of the Liverpool Conference, and its statistics were no longer reported separately in the Millennial Star.

 

 

 

FULL TEXT OF ELDER JAMES BURNHAM?S LETTERS

 

LETTER 1 ? Millennial Star 1:212-13            Dated 23 November 1840

 

Dear Brother,?We are labouring in this country with some considerable success. The brethren at Overton have baptised 56 converts, and some more are ready to go forward. There is great opposition in this place and Overton. The priests have raised in opposition to the truth, and they slander and falsefy men?s characters; one of them gave out public notice, that he was going to preach upon the doctrine of the Latter-Day Saints, to show their delusion, and invited the people to attend. I attended, and heard them. They commenced with their own assertions, and continued with newspaper stories, and with letters from the apostates; never mentioning but one passage in the bible; nor did they mention anything of our belief, excepting the ?Book of Mormon,? and the book of ?Doctrine and Covenants.? When he had ended, he gave the Saints an invitation to reply. I rose, and observed, that the gentleman had not mentioned our doctrine. I then commenced to lay before them our principles from the Bible, but was interrupted. One of the priests said he could prove that we did not believe the bible, and that he could prove it from the bible. He then gave me a challenge for discussion upon the subject. The Bible is to be the test, without any man?s commentaries, opinions, or newspaper stories.

            The discussion commences on Thursday evening, at six o?clock, at Overton, and continues three hours each night, for three nights. I have found a people in this place who come nearer the principles of the Latter-Day Saints than any other people I have ever seen in any other part of the world. * * * * It must be there are many of the seed of Abraham in this place, or the devil and his emissaries would not fight so hard: for certainly some of them act more like demons than they do like men. My love to all the faithful in Christ Jesus. Yours in the gospel covenant, James Burnham.

 

LETTER 2 ? Millennial Star 1:238-39            Dated 22 December 1840

 

Dear Brother,?I am well and in good spirits. The Lord is with us, and the Devil is here also. I have been stoned twice since I came to this place, only once received harm. I rejoice in persecution and in tribulation, for Christ?s sake.

            I held a discussion, and had a good opportunity to preach the gospel to them, in their own chapel in this place, where they had previously closed doors against our preaching. The discussion had a good effect, inasmuch, that many persons have come forward since, and obeyed the gospel, and are now rejoicing in the Lord. Although the bible was to be the test, or standard, yet my opponent did not perhaps quote four verses from the Bible, during the three nights of discussion. Man?s assertion and newspaper stories was his chief resort, while his followers were ready to cry out like the Ephesians, ?Great is Diana of the Ephesians,? but were so unfortunate as not to have a wise town clerk amongst them. (See Acts xix, 34, 35.) There are many doors opening for preaching. Some of the priests follow and endeavour to make disturbance in our meetings; they are all in arms about their flocks, they call us robbers and infidels, declaring that we rob other churches. If the opposition continues to increase, as it has done for some time past, we shall perhaps loose [sic] our heads soon; but the Lord is with us, and I do not fear them. When their cup is full the Lord will remove them out of the way. We have in this region near 100 who have obeyed the gospel, and there are a many who believe, that will probably obey soon. May the Lord roll forth his kingdom in mighty power, until the redemption of the purchased possession, is the prayer of your brother and fellow labourer in the new and everlasting covenant. James Burnham.

 

LETTER 3 ? Millennial Star 1:284                  Dated 10 February 1841

 

Dear Brother?Feeling it is cheering to the hearts of the Saints, and especially to you, to hear of the spread of truth throughout the land, I now communicate to you some information of the progress of the work of the Lord in this part of the vineyard. I am happy to say that the work is moving rapidly. We have great opposition,?the priests are combined against us, and they stir up the baser sort against us, in order to disturb our meetings. If we hold meetings at any private house that has not been licensed they are sure to enter complaint and have them fined. They have undertaken to collect a fine of one person whose house has been licensed 27 years, they have exposed his property at public sale; but I think they will repent the day the did it.

            We have many places to preach in yet; we have opened a place in Oswestry and Whittington, and have commenced baptizing at Oswestry?the prospect is good, although the opposition is great. I have some good faithful brethren with me in the ministry. I have organized two branches of the church, consisting of about 150 members. I expect soon to organize another branch at Ellsmore [Ellsmere]. We are continually baptizing whether the weather is not or cold?some have been baptized during the coldest weather we have had this winter. There are also many who are waiting for warmer weather; not having faith sufficient to go into the water in such cold weather. We preach in these large towns on market days, in the streets; there are many who oppose us but we are determined to warn them.

 

 

TWO ENTRIES IN THE JAMES BURGESS JOURNAL

 

FIRST ENTRY            Dated 7 January 1841

 

I went with two other Bretheren into Wales we started from Manchester and came by Railway to Liverpool and then from there to Harden [Harwarden] the same day Stopped here all night the day after to Overton and at Night we went to a preaching and a very rough Meeting we had some men come and tied the door and smoked some sulfer through the key hole and when we came out they followed us and rung old cans and things after us but we were not afraid of them then we came to Overton then on the Sunday Brother Burnham and I came to [Lightwood] Green and preached there then we went to Ellesmere and preached at night to different villiges round about until the 22nd of February. Then Brother Henery Royle and I went [to] Oswestry and preached twice on the Sunday then day after we went to a Villiage called the Canwy [?].

 

SECOND ENTRY      Dated 11 March 1841

 

Conference at Ellsmere. Morning following?Oswestery. On the Saturday we went to Overton to a Funeral of a Brother and the same night Brother Royle and I came to Ellesmere and on the Sunday morning following we went to Wittington. On the Monday we went to a village called the Canary and preached out of doors at night then we came back to Oswestery ? after we went to a village called Lanshillin but we could not get a Chapel to preach and we stayed all night. The day following we came to Oswestery the day following we came to Ellsmere then to Colesmere the same day being Friday to see some of our Brethren and Sisters and stayed all night with them. The Day following we went to Overton and met with Brother Young, Burnham, Cooke and some other Bretheren we took Council Brother Cooke and I went to Elesmere the day following being Sunday we went to Oswestery and preached in our room to very good congregations stayed all night the day following we went to Overton to meet with a many of the Brethreren and Sisters they some of them proposed about going to Zion the same night Brother Cooke [and] Royle and I went [to] the Cloy to Stop all night. The following we came back to Overton.

 

[James Burgess was baptized 19 October 1840 and ordained a priest two months later on 19 December 1840. I consulted his missionary journal at the Church Historian?s Library in August 1983 and typed a few notes. I have preserved his spelling and punctuation, but the journal needs to be checked again for verification. Also there may be more references to Henry Royle in later entries of the journal. RDD]

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