Monday, November 1, 2010

Chreston (Christian) Sorensen Family ~~~ Pioneers of the Month November 2010

the following history is taken from the book "They Followed Their Faith" (Christian Sorensen Family History)  with Helen Read, Editor and Owen Stewart, Publisher

Chreston was born in the neighborhood of Frederikshaven, the most northern harbor in Denmark in Arling Sogn.  He was the youngest child in a family of 14 children.  His parents died early in the life of the boy, his father when he was 3 and his mother when he was about 10 years old.

This misfortune put Chreston in the hands of his aunt, who did the lad the best she could.  They lived in a rural district where company for the boy was scarce.  He helped his aunt care for a few geese (domesticated) kept on the bit of ground which they called their "Gaard".  From the reports of Chreston in  later years as  told to his own children, the goose herding was no snap for a child, and he was none too successful as a herder.

Schools were primitive and far apart in the Northern part of the little kingdom of Denmark in that early day. He read the Danish well, but did not write.  Early in his teens circumstances forced him to leave adopted aunt's home and seek employment, such as he could do , wherever an opportunity was afforded, usually on a large farm or "Horgaar", where nearly all ages could find something to do. 

This was a  rough life and a tough one, especially for a child.  He showed the effects of rough treatment more or less all his life.

At a large ranch called "Rordal" he approached manhood.  He spoke well of the ranch and the people who worked there.  That he did his job or jobs well was evidenced throughout his life, in the fact that whatever he undertook to do for himself or others, regardless of pay or re numeration, he did masterfully and well.  When he finished a job, whether about the home or on the farm, whether for himself or others, he did it well and would not leave the job until well done. 

It was in Rordal that he met a modest and delightful young lady, also employed on said farm.  An affinity grew between them which became stronger with the passing years.  They became lovers, which in due time resulted in marriage.  This maiden which he wooed and wed, came from the north of the peninsula of Denmark. 

In that section, a new religion emanating from the United States, was being preached by missionaries who had been sent there, among other places.

There was something fascinating about this religion as well as the ministers who taught it.  This new cult won not a few followers, and in a short time much enthusiasm prevailed.  Church branches were organized and many new converts joined, among which were the parents of the girl who later wedded the young man,  Chreston Sorensen.  Whether Chreston as aware of this fact does not appear, but his wife had been baptized and was a member before she knew Chreston Sorensen.  Whether Chresten's conversion occurred earlier or later when the young couple was married and and frequented the gathering of the new Church is not known.  With these gatherings, some opposition arose, and the greater the number of new converts, the greater the notoriety of the new cult and the greater the opposition on the part of the general public, until the opposition became strong and turned into persecutions.

It became quite unpopular to be seen in the company and association of the new Church.  In fact, the large farm where they both worked had many employees, all of whom shunned and belittled this young couple. The result of which persuaded them to leave the ranch, but then what?

The missionaries from the United States persuaded the new Saints that in America were opportunities galore, a vast country with plenty of vacant ground, open to settlement and homemaking by anyone who cared to make the venture emigrating.

It should be noted that the parents of Christena Jensen, Jens  Jensen and his wife Marianne Jensen, and two sons, Carl and Albinus Jensen were among the first converts in Northern Denmark to the new LDS Church.  Two younger daughters, Johanna and Villirene (also recorded  as Willerena) were later baptized when old enough.

So the entire Jensen family became members.  All came too America except the father Jensen who became sick and gave up the thought of leaving his native country due to the state of his health.

Chreston and Christena decided to emigrate as soon as they could raise the necessary funds to pay their transportation.

For some years after the Mormon Saints located in Utah, local government of the New  Territory was left to them.  Accordingly, Brigham Young was elected the first Governor and continued such for a time, but opposition to this status arose, and under the guise that the Saints were practicing polygamy and advocating this practice, laws were passed by the Congress against this practice, and provided further that the Governor of Utah should be appointed by the President of the United States.  It was further alleged that the Saints were disloyal to their country and were actually in rebellion and working against the United States.  This in time resulted in organizing a body of Armed Forces for the purpose of sending them to Utah to quell the rebellion and subdue the uprising.

This body of U.S. Soldiers was known as Johnston's Army. It was alleged that Mormons refused obedience to Gentile law, that Federal officials had been virtually driven out of  Utah and others threatened with violence. With the advice of his Cabinet, President Buchanan determined that Brigham Young should be superseded as Governor and that an Armed Force should be sent to the Territory to set things right and compel the Saints to maintain law and order.

As a result of of this trouble,  all the Elders in the Mission fields were called home to Utah and all emigrations stopped.  This gave Chreston Sorensen and wife a chance to breathe and as much as possible prepare for their financial needs for  emigration.  If and when such an opportunity should come.

In January 1859, the Mission President of Scandinavia, returning from a visit to England, announced with great joy that a communication had been received from Brigham Young announcing that emigration to Utah, which had been stopped due to the Johnston Army war trouble, would be resumed, and that the Saints would have the privilege of crossing the Plains in the United States, either with ox teams or handcarts.  Accordingly, President Carl Windeborg and co-laborers went to work at once preparing for the emigration of a large company of Saints the following spring ~~ 1859, and through the generosity of some  o more well-to-do Saints, opportunity was given many of the poorer Saints also.  The cost, as announced in the Scandinavian Stjerne (Stjerne means Star ~~ a Scandinavian newspaper for members of the LDS Chuch) of January 1, 1859, would be, for those who would cross the Plains with the handcarts,$75.00 for each individual.  For those who expected to cross the Plains with oxen and wagons it would be $100.00.  Eight persons would be assigned to each wagon,  and about 3 or 4 with each handcart.  Those intending to go were asked to send their money and number of names in each family or group.  Money  was to be sent in advance to America to pay the necessary expenses to cross the Plains.  This was joyful news to the Sorensens.  The family now consisted of father, mother and baby, Patrena, less than 6 months old.

On Friday, April 1, 1859, a company of Scandinavian Saints, consisting of 355 souls, including 224 Danes, 113 Swedes, and 18 Norwegians, sailed from Copenhagen Denmark, on the steamer, :"L.N. Hvidt", in the charge of Carl Wederborg  and Niels Wilhelmsen.

After a rather stormy voyage over the North Sea, the company reached Grimsby, the emigrants continued the journey by rail the same day to Liverpool.  On April 7 they went on board the ship "William Tapscott".  Captain Bell was in charge.  Here they were joined  by British and Swiss emigrants.  Elder Robert F. Neslen was appointed president of the company with Henry H. Harris and George Rolayar, counselors, and a number of other assistants.

On Monday, April 11, 1859, the ship lifted anchor and was tugged out the "Messey" into the open sea with its precious cargo of 726 souls.  Songs of joy resounded from all parts of the ship as it was pulled out into the sea.  But these were subsequently succeeded as usual, by a different chorus, as those well know who make their first voyage on a restless and turbulent ocean.  As a rule, each and all make their contribution to the delight of the teaming fish looking for such generous contributions. 

It has been reported that the company was blessed with good weather and a pleasant trip, but the writer, who is the oldest son of Chreston and Christena Sorensen, was told by his Mother Christena that they had a dangerous trip, that at one point hundreds of monstrous glaciers or mountains of floating icebergs, drifting southward across the path or course taken by the ship, and it was deemed wise to steer southward a thousand miles or more to be safely clear of the dangerous icebergs.

The voyage lasted 31 days.  The health of the passengers was good, and only one death occurred on board.  There were 2 births and 19 marriages.  It is worthy of note that every day on the voyage the people were called together for prayer, morning and night  at 8 o'clock.  On Sundays three meetings were usually held on deck, and fellowship meetings were held in each ward two nights a week.

The monotony of the voyage was also relieved with singing, instrumental music, dancing, games, etc., in which, of course, the young people took a leading part.  The elderly were naturally interested spectators.  There were 9 different languages spoken in this group and also a great variety of manners, costumes and peculiarities.  Yet the voyage was agreeable and successful.

Upon the arrival of the Company in New York, it was pronounced by the Declair and Govt. officers to be the best disciplined and most agreeable company that had arrived at that port.  Arriving safely in New York Harbor, the emigrants landed in Castle Gardens on Saturday, May 14, 1859.  On the same day in the evening, most of them continued the journey by steamboat up the Hudson River for Albany, whence they traveled by rail  via Niagara Windsor in Canada, Detroit in Michigan, and Quincey, Illinois, to St. Joseph, Missouri, where they arrived on the 21st of April.

On the afternoon of that day they boarded the steamship "St. Mary", which brought them up the Missouri River to Florence, Nebraska, where they arrived on the 25th in the morning.  The whole route through the States was one which no former company of emigrating Saints had ever taken.  Bro. Geo I. Cannon, and those who assisted him in the emigration business that year, were quite successful in making arrangements for transportation by direct rail to St. Joseph, instead of, as at first contemplated, shipping them to Iowa City.

On their arrival at Florence, the Saints were organized into temporary districts and branches with presiding officers over each, whose duty it was to look after the comfort and welfare of the group which encamped at the place.  Prayer meetings were held twice a week in most of the branches.

winter facing them.  When the crops were gathered their employment ceased, and while the proverbial hungry wolf oft passed their submerged home, and whose howl could often be heard in the distance, they and their food supply were safe against their hunger depredations.

Of course, the home was crowded. of course, the inconvenience was great, but the true honored and cheerful Danish  adage which says, "Where there is heart room there is home room".  proved here to be a veritable fact.  So winter dragged its weary length along, and the two families managed to get by, nor suffered from either cold nor hunger, nor want of company and friends.

When Spring work began, the Sorensens were ready to  meet the challenge  and would accept work of any kind or nature, they never debated the wage nor the kind of pay with their employers.  They could do any kind of work incident to farming life at that time, from milking of a cow, driving  a team, hauling hay, harvesting grain or even hauling muck from corrals.  Thus went the summer, galloping by, and the autumn found them with food supply ample for the winter and some to spare, should circumstances require. 

Willerena Jensen Sorensen 

The meeting of the sisters was a tender one, having been separated for ten years, and now meeting again so far from home made it even more genuine and touching.

Plurality of wives was in flower, and the older men were taking unto themselves a second wife.  Christena no doubt anticipated her husband would seek another wife to fulfill the higher order of marriage.  She no doubt thought about it , discussing it with her husband ~~ why should he not take Willerena as his second wife ~~ they would be able to live in greater happiness and compatibility than if he were to marry someone else.

Christian and Christena were married September 12, 1870.  Willerena was nearly 16 years old when she married Christian Sorensen, who was thirty five years of age.  The difference in age at that time did not seem so outstanding then as it might today.  Girls married younger then than they do today. 

For the next eighteen years Willerena was a good wife, helping in the fields, helping Christena at home with the household chores of washing wool, spinning, cording, making clothes, soap and candles, preparing meat for the winter and a thousand and one things there were to do to keep two households  stocked and provisioned for the hard winters and a lot of little hungry mouths to feed, as well as to bare children and take care of those they already had.

Everyone had to work in the fields or at home.  The time was valuable in the summer for farming and wrestling from the soil those foods needed to feed the family, while the wintertime was when indoor work could be done.  Every girl had a job and was expected to work according to her ability, while the boys could haul wood by the loads for the hungry fireplaces, logs for barns and fences, and timber for the barns, homes and sheds. 

Two years after Willerena and Christian were married, they sent to Denmark for her mother and father, but the father would not leave his homeland.  He was old and wanted to stay there and die there, which he did two years later, in the year 1874.  The mother, Mary Ann (Larsen) Jensen, desired above all things to come to Zion and to see her two daughters and their families.  She made the journey as her daughters had done.  She arrived here in 1872 and lived with her two families for five years, when she passed away on September 8, 1877.

When Willerena had five children and life just seemed to be smiling on the family, all hell was turned loose, and Satan did his best to perpetuate it on each, as if these poor souls had not had enough to endure in fighting the wilderness, the elements and the Indians.  Persecution by a government that claims any man can worship God according to the dictates of his own conscience seemed unfair.  These noble people believed the Lord when he said the new and everlasting covenant was plurality of wives and were practicing and believing only that which their prophets had done and preached.  These men married their wives, acknowledged their children, cared for them and raised them to become good citizens.

In the spring of 1888 the U.S. Marshal posted guards around the house of Willerena Sorensen, and then forced the door open.  Only the frightened children were there; to their dismay.  They questioned the children all they could.  Caroline was questioned as well as Elsie and George.  such questions as "Where is your mother?"  "Where is your father?"  "Does he come to the house often?"  etc. etc.  They gave as few answers as they could, because they knew the results if they were to talk too much. 

After frightening the children nearly to death, the brave Marshal and his posse of deputies deployed themselves around Christin's house, and there the husband was found.  He was forced to get out of bed and go through a grilling, which lasted for some hours.  He then was arrested and most of the children of the two families were subpoenaed to appear in court.  They traveled the rest of the night to get to court in Spring City by nine o'clock the next morning.  The court was held, and Christian Sorensen was bound over to the court in Salt Lake City. 

Sometime later he appeared in Salt Lake City and was sentenced to 90 days in jail and a fine of $90.  He was sent to prison but was released early because of good behavior.  The $90. was hard for the family to raise.

When Christian got home from prison, just a few days before Christmas, a happy party was given in his honor.  The family felt to rejoice and he felt happy to be home and to greet all his friends and neighbors, but he showed uneasiness all evening, which made his family wonder why.

He knew the marshal was watching him, and if he so much as showed any fidelity toward his second wife, he'd be sent back to prison for a much longer time.

In the blackness of night, a wagon slipped out of the corral with provisions and blankets, carrying three people headed northward.  A man was escaping with his wife and fifteen year old daughter from the ever watchful eyes of the law.  He must dispose of his wife until the persecution had died down, and that was the only way to do it.  From Mt. Pleasant to Evanston, Wyoming was a long hard trip on the father and daughter, but more so for the wife, who was carrying her seventh child.  The miles traveled each day were few and the road rough. (Note: Willerena had a daughter, Hannah, born August 24, 1874.  Hannah died August 27, 1874.)

Through the love for her husband she was seeking an exile, seeking a new home in a strange place where she knew on one, and better still, no one knew her, where she had no friends and dared not make any, where she could not have her husband with her in her coming ordeal, where her soul companion, helpmate and consolation would be her young daughter.

At Evanston a shack was rented on the fringe of the town, down by the river.  The shack was run down and a horrible looking place, but with plenty of homemade soap and warm water, mother and daughter got it cleaned up ~~ but one thing they could not wash away was bedbugs.  Willerena said they could not live there with the bugs, but the father could not locate another house in the town or out of it.

One's heart goes out to a harried and frightened individual who must go through all that Willerena went through.  But the story is not ended ~~ it goes on for years and years.  When the baby, whom the mother named Geneva, was born, she was a weak, sickly babe, due to the hardship, worry and privation the mother had gone through.  The baby was near to death's door, when her father clandestinely visited them, and through faith and prayers the child was made well, and lives today as a living testimony of the power of God.

When the baby was six weeks old the mother could stand the separation no more.  she felt she could not be so far away from her family and live under the primitive conditions she had there.  Christian sent her the money to travel from Evanston to Nephi, Utah, on the train.  While on the train she kept her face turned as much as possible or looked out of the window, for fear someone might recognize her and tell  the officers.  She imagined she recognized an officer of the law, which made her so afraid she almost got off the train with her little family, knowing she had no more money to take another train. 

When she arrived in Nephi, Utah, William Sorensen was there to meet her with a wagon.

After the wagon ride of thirty miles they finally got to Mt. Pleasant in the middle of the night.  They had purposely timed it that way so no one would see and recognize her or Elsie.  She slipped into her little home and, with a flickering lamplight, went from one child to another, to gaze upon their faces, as the tears streamed down her cheeks and all the craving of a mothers heart to grab up her little Andrew and cover his little dirty face with kisses.  She wanted to hug her nine year old Josephine and cuddle George to her bosom and tell Caroline what a fine job she was doing as a little mother to the family she was forced to repudiate, because the law had been passed saying a man could not have two families but had to renounce and forsake them or go to jail.

Before morning the trip was started again, only this time Grass Valley in Sevier County was the destination.  They were left there for the summer, where Willerena and Elsie labored in the fields to earn enough to keep body and soul together.  Her nursing babe and the lack of proper food was too much for their strength, so her husband arrived with a wagon and took her to Central Utah, where they were visiting some friends.  While there a man who sold salt in the towns of southern Utah, came  to the door, recognizing Christian and his wife, as he had visited them in their home at Mt.  Pleasant.  With fear the "Salt Man" might begin talking, the couple slipped out of town that night and sped in hast to Manti.

In Manti a shack was rented in the eastern part of town, just south of the present temple site.  For two years this became home for Willerena and her two daughters, Elsie and Geneva.  Elsie was growing into young womanhood, and  in Manti she had many friends among the  young folks and was popular with the young men of the ward.

Years later she spoke of those days and the many friends she left there.  Willerena was called "Wash-woman Jensen" because that was the way she earned her meager living for her two children and herself.  She had to use the name Jensen so no relationship to the Sorensens would be suspected by anyone. 

Willerena must have been a wonderful person, and very likable, because at Evanston she made so many friends that Elsie in later years said they could not have lived there had it not been for the help  of the friends God had raised up  for them. 

In 1890 the Church issued its Manifesto, declaring to the world it was forsaking the practice of plurality of wives because the laws of the land had been made forbidding it, not because it was not still a divine commandment of God, not because the Church repudiated the doctrine, but because God had said we must obey the laws of the land, and the condemnation would be upon the heads of these who prevented the fulfillment of the commandments.  Perhaps it served its purpose in helping to populate the desert, to build up a strong church to test the faith of the faithful, and to build up physical empire in the wilderness. 

Willerena lived to see most of her children grown up and some of them married.  She saw some  of her grandchildren born, and life tasted sweet to her now, having tasted the bitter.  On September 12, 1902 she passed away having contracted consumption due to her starvation, privation and overwork which weakened her body's resistance.  Life had been hard and cruel to her, but she proved faithful to the end.

Christian followed his wife Willerena in death about four years later, on February 17, 1906, and Christena followed her husband seven years later March 2, 1913.

The family reunion must have been one of great rejoicing when all three were able to meet in their beautiful home  beyond the river, with those children of the sister wives, who had  been called earlier  in their lives.  The family unity, love  and solidarity was only begun on this earth.  The Christian Sorensen family  shall continue to grow, and because of their faithfulness shall be a mighty force for good in the Celestial Kingdom of God throughout the eternities to come.