Friday, May 15, 2009

Thomas Christian Stephenson

I am emotionally drained after studying the life of my ancestor Thomas Christian Stephenson. The lives of all of my ancestors who joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints early on are so admirable. Each of them had their own lives and trials, and it is hard to judge one person's trials from another. If you ever think at the end of the day that you have given everything you have to give--think about that really hard. Our lives are so blessed and comfortable and most of us give very little in comparison to the blessings we are receiving each day.

Thomas Christian Stephenson's life story was compiled from many histories and especially from memories of my great-grandmother, Eva Merinda Stephenson Thompson. Her father was 61 years old when she was born in 1886. I can only relate a small portion of the history here.

Thomas Christian Stephenson

My great grandmother Eva Merinda Stephenson Thompson's father is Thomas Christian Stephenson who was born 14 June 1825 in Bogenshovld, Jerslev,Hjorring, Denmark. For the time and area, Thomas' parents were considered well-to-do. They lived in a large, comfortable, brick home. When Thomas was in his late teens, he went away from home to work on a farm. He met and fell in love with Maren Simonsen on that farm and married her 29 December 1846. The couple set up housekeeping in his father's home which later became theirs.

Shortly after the birth of their first baby, Thomas received a call to fight as a soldier in the war of Holstein-Schleering between Denmark and Germany. He received a medal from the king of Denmark for his bravery in battle.

As with most families in Scandinavia, the Stephenson's belonged to the Lutheran church and were brought up under its influence and teachings. One night Thomas was told in a dream that they did not belong to the true church of Christ, but that they would join it soon. In this dream he saw two men, ministers of a new religion, the true religion that would be brought to
him. He trusted in the Lord and never doubted his dream would come true.

His wife, Maren's cousin, Anne Marie Christensen often stayed with the family to help. She had been converted to the Mormon religion. She attended all of the Latter-day Saint meetings held by the Elders. The Stephenson's daughter Annie attend the meetings with Anne Marie. Feeling the Church to be true, Annie persuaded her family to attend the meetings. When Thomas saw and heard the Elders, he knew their message was the fulfillment of his dream. He and his wife, Maren were ba
ptized 1 August 1861.

They prepared to go to America and join the Saints in Utah. They sold their home, farm, sheep, cattle, to Thomas' half brother for half price. They were to emigrate in April of 1862 but all of his eight children got the measles. His wife Maren also contracted the disease. Family and friends shunned them because of their membership in the Church. Maren died
11 February 1862.

Thomas decided that he could not emigrate and pleaded with his half-brother to let them stay in their home another year. He refused to do this and demanded that Thomas live up to his agreement. So they prepared to go to a new land for the sake of the gospel. They traveled to Copenhagen then went by rail to Hamburg, Germany. Here they met other saints and boarded the ship Franklin to cross the Atlantic Ocean.

Maren's cousin, Anne Marie Christensen, was also on the ship. She helped take care of his family. They arrived in New York harbor 29 May 1862 while the United States was engaged in the Civil War. The family had to hide in freight cars for protection. Thomas and his family finally got to Florence, Nebraska to be outfitted for the trek west. Here in Winter Quarters he lost his two youngest daughters. While here in Florence, he marred Anne Marie Christensen 14 July 1862. They left on their journey across the plains the next day traveling with the Brossard Company. They arrived in Salt Lake City 23 September 1862 after many miracles.

This family certainly exhibited faith in every footstep.

After four days in Salt Lake City, they traveled to Fillmore, Utah and continued to Deseret, Utah where they settled in an adobe house. His wife Anne Marie died two months later.

Living and farming in Deseret was very difficult. They were plagued by drought and crickets. After the crickets had eaten the grain, Thomas was impressed to water the ground. He bought some water from a neighbor and soaked the ground. New life sprang from the grain roots, and he raised the best crop of wheat he had had for some time.

Thomas became acquainted and married Ingeberg Jensen of Sweden in 1866. She had accepted the gospel, but her husband did not. She left him and came to Utah. Thomas then entered into the practice of polygamy when he married
Dorthea Anderson Larson.

Thomas and his family lived in Deseret for six years and raised four crops before he abandoned it in the fall of 1868 and moved to Holden, Utah. He built a home large enough that each of his wives could have a room of their own.

The John Christian Poulson family were Thomas' neighbors. John died of the black measles leaving his wife Elisa with four children. They were the only Scandinanvian families in Holden. Since Elisa spoke very little English then, the Stephensons were the only ones who could communicate with her. Although Thomas already had two wives, he knew Elisa needed support with her family. He married her on 9 May 1879. After seven years of marriage, my great grandmother Eva Merinda was born to them.

Elisa and her family continued to live in their own home until after the deat
h of Thomas' third wife Ingeberg. Elisa told her daughter Eva, "I never want you to say one word against polygamy. Your father has been a wonderful man and a good father. He has been a good provider for all of us."

When Thomas married his wives, it was allowed by law in the state of Utah and a doctrine of the Church. In the late 1880s, the US Congress passed laws prohibiting polygamy. US marshals hunted the polygamists. Thomas was arrested, fined $90 and imprisoned in the Utah State Penitentiary. He served a prison term rather than desert his wives. At the prison, they shaved off his beard, cut his hair short and put striped clothes on him.

Hans Christensen of Richfield, Utah wrote Thomas a letter stating, "More than a quarter of a century is past since we first became acquainted. We were then crossing the great Atlantic Ocean, seeking a home in a land which boasted of its religious liberty. We little thought then that after a lapse of 28 years we would meet in a dreary prison for having acted upon our honest and conscientious religious convictions. But even in this, we will acknowledge the hand of the Lord, knowing that He can overrule all things for our best good."

On 30 March 1890, Thomas was released from prison and continued to manage his farm until he was 75 years old. Each of his five wives preceded him in death. He died 22 May 1912 in Holden, Utah.


  1. Thanks for sharing a great story that demonstrates such tremendous faith. You have been blessed with a wonderful heritage.

  2. Thank you for sharing these details. I am also a descendent of Thomas Christian Stephenson through his first wife Maren Simonsen. My brother James served a mission to Denmark and was able to visit the home they left behind there. I had the opportunity to visit the Holden cemetery last July (2012) and found Thomas's grave stone as well as many other of our Stephenson relatives. Larry Stephenson, Leola, PA

  3. Thank you for sharing. I too am his descendant. I continue to tell my sons about their ancestor. My grandmother, Melissa Stephenson, would tell me the stories of her grandfather, Thomas Christian Stephenson.

  4. I'm also a descendant as my Grandmother, Mabel Stephenson, married my grandfather, George Wilson McConkie. They passed quite a while ago but left us tons of information about our ancestry and I have accounts of some of the miracles that occurred. Lifting the wagon wheel off his son's chest, getting the wooden plank from a neighbor with whom he could not even communicate due to language barriers to lay is deceased wife on, etc. Lots of amazing stories from him! Oh the faith! (My name is David Terrence McConkie - not the David McConkie that has been a General Authority, hahaha)