Monday, November 18, 2013

Sarah Jane Rich Miller

Sarah "Jane" Rich was born on 4 February 1839 to Charles C. Rich and Sarah DeArmon Pea near Quincy, Illinois. Raised in Nauvoo and later Salt Lake City, Jane was at the center of Mormon culture for all of her childhood. At the age of 17 she attracted the attention of John Tobin, an 21-year-old Irish-born convert. John had come to Utah as part of a military company and had joined the Church while wintering in Salt Lake. He had earlier taken an interest in one of Brigham Young's daughters; Alice Young. And for a while was he was two timing.  Shortly after Alice married someone else, Jane married John Tobin.

The turmoil of John Tobin's life are beyond the scope of this post. For those interested in the details, I refer you to Ardis Parshall's excellent 2005 article  “Pursue, Retake & Punish”: The 1857 Santa Clara Ambush. As for Jane, she divorced John in September 1861 after hearing about his adultery while on his mission. Later that year on December 22, 1861, she married Thomas Rudolph Miller and were apparently sealed in the endowment house on September 19th, 1863. Jane's daughter by Tobin, Ella, took the name Miller, as shown in the 1880 census. But that marriage eventually ended too. In the 1900 census Jane listed her marital status as "divorced"  In addition to her daughter Ella - who had re-assumed the surname Tobin - Jane had adopted a young man named Alfred Curtis.

On October 26th 1906 Sister Miller arrived in the Southern States Mission, which was presided over by her younger brother Ben E. Rich. Her name appears once at a mission conference on January 20th, 1907, at which she spoke to the conference presidents in attendance.

          One of the special features of the conference and also one of the most interesting was the remarks of Sister Sarah Jane Rich Miller, sister to Brother Rich, who is on of our lady missionaries. Sister Miller said she well remembers living in Nauvoo with her parents. She recalled vividly her being present when in the spring of 1844, Hyrum Smith, sealed her father and mother in the new and everlasting covenant. She also related the fact that she and her two brothers were kept at home by two of her father’s wives while her mother and father worked in the temple after it was completed. “My mother told me,” said Sister Miller, “that these women were father’s wives, and theĆ½ lived with us in the same house at Nauvoo.” Quoting her further she said: “When we left Nauvoo father took my mother and three of his other wives with him. One wife was unable to come with us on account of her baby being but three days old, but father went back after her and brought her with him to Mt. Pisgah, where we all lived together that winter, (1846), and in the spring of 1847, all of us started for the west arriving in Snit[Salt] Lake Valley just sixty days behind the original pioneers.The photograph of the 1847 pioneers, taken at the celebration in Salt Lake in 1897, shows among the number the children of three of these wives who were married to my father in Nauvoo and who took their babies to the Salt Lake Valley in 1847. I know from what I remember about Nauvoo, that Joseph Smith taught my father the principle of plural marriage, and that it was through his teachings that he entered into it. When people say that Brigham Young was responsible for first teaching it, they say that which is not true for I know better. Three of my father’s widows are still living and they will unhesitatingly, endorse the truth of these matters of history which I am now telling you.”
          In closing her testimony Sister Miller added, “Now I don’t want you brethren to construe my remarks to mean that I am teaching you this principle, for I have no desire to do that, but these things are a few matters of the history of our Church which you ought to know. I realize too that those of us who are living eye witnesses to many of these things are very few, and that it will not be very long before we will all be gone, and it is for these reasons that I feel to give you my personal knowledge of these things.”
          Sister Miller is in perfect health, and is remarkably well preserved in body. Her mind is exceptionally strong and active, and her memory clear and distinct.

Other than an indication that she was assigned to the East Tennessee Conference (of which Chattanooga was a part), there is no other mention of Sister Miller until she was released on July 20th 1907.

After her mission, Jane returned to Salt Lake where she lived with her only daughter, Ella, until her death on August 5th, 1926. Ella passed away two years later on November 29th, 1928.

4 comments:

JB said...

I imagine that "Snit Lake Valley" has to be a transcription error somewhere along the line, but I think I've just found my new favorite nickname for that place.

Also, this is a fantastic blog, and I've enjoyed every post since I started reading it. If only you had a counterpart in Kentucky!

BruceCrow said...

Thanks for the heads up. OCR software is only as good as the proof reading, and mine missed that one.

I know a man in Kentucky who would be a wealth of information on local LDS history. He never uses a computer, ever.

Ardis said...

She's walking a fine line, there, between teaching something and teaching about something! I'm glad that she was not ashamed of her heritage -- this is just at the time when so many Latter-day Saints were starting to pretend that plural marriage had never happened -- but I wonder how her words would have been taken by non-Mormon listeners? Really, I just hope she was happy in life, given the upheavals and the absent father and the unstable marriages. And it's nice to see this part of her life that I hadn't heard of. Thanks.

BruceCrow said...

Thanks Ardis. I don't walk the line the same way she did. But all us Mormons, whether we have polygamous ancestors or not (or in her case an active post-manifesto polygamist brother), must decide where we walk in relation to that line.