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Susan Evans McCloud: English pioneer convert's works will follow her

Her name was Jennetta Richards. She was born Aug. 21, 1817, in Lancashire, England. When missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ came to her home in the summer of 1837, she believed what they taught and was baptized on Aug. 4 in the River Ribble by Elder Heber C. Kimball, just weeks after Queen Victoria took the throne. She was confirmed right there, on the gentle bank at the water’s edge — thus becoming the very first convert confirmation in England (see “My Soul Rejoices at the Thought: Jennetta Richards Richards,” by Susan Evans McCloud, "Women of Faith in the Latter Days — Volume 1: 1775-1820," published by Deseret Book, p. 286)

On Independence Day, July 4, 1845, only eight years later, Jennetta died in Nauvoo, Illinois, and was buried in the garden beside her house, which she had so dearly loved.

The River Ribble near Avenham Park, Preston, Lancashire, is where the first Latter-day Saint baptisms in Great Britain were performed. Here Jennetta Richards was baptized and confirmed.
The River Ribble near Avenham Park, Preston, Lancashire, is where the first Latter-day Saint baptisms in Great Britain were performed. Here Jennetta Richards was baptized and confirmed.
Kenneth Mays

The lights and shadows of life passed over her, as they do with us all. Her father was minister of a small independent congregation, and there was peace and beauty in the lovely manse where the family lived. Jennetta taught in her father’s school and wandered the fields and stretches of woodland surrounding their home. But when she accepted the teachings of the missionaries and then accepted the young Willard Richards as her husband, everything changed. She had to leave the family who were so dear to her and discover new beauties and joys to replace all she had lost.

After Elder Heber C. Kimball had baptized Jennetta he said to his friend, with the prophetic insight which was his gift, “Willard, I baptized your wife today.”

Following his marriage to Jennetta, Willard wrote: “Most truly do I praise my Heavenly Father for his great kindness in providing me with a partner according to his promise. I receive her from the Lord and hold her at his disposal — and pray he will bless us forever” (quote from Richards journal, Sept. 24, 1838, quoted in “Women of Faith in the Latter Days,” p. 291).

In July 1839, Jennetta gave birth to a son, Heber John, who died of smallpox five short months later. In April of 1840, Willard was ordained an apostle at the hands of Brigham Young. Serving also as first counselor in the mission presidency and helping to edit the Millennial Star, he was gone from his home and wife much of the time. Jennetta was expecting another child at the time of his ordination, and this second son was born to them in October 1840 and given again the name of Heber John.

When she finally arrived in Nauvoo in November 1842, after weary, lonely months in Richmond, Massachusetts, with Willard’s family, Jennetta had been proven well in the lessons of endurance, patience and faith. But she was homesick and longed for members of her family to unite with the church and come to her.

The home and chapel of John Richards, Jennetta's father, is in Walkerfold, Lancashire, England. Jennetta Richards lived here at the time of her conversion.
The home and chapel of John Richards, Jennetta's father, is in Walkerfold, Lancashire, England. Jennetta Richards lived here at the time of her conversion.
Kenneth Mays

Her health was poor; it had always been poor, but she had learned how to live with pain. She loved life in Nauvoo. She loved the work, she loved the people, and was drawn to the tenderness of the Prophet Joseph who had required the help of her husband beside him, thus occasioning the months of separation which she had endured. But the Prophet Joseph Smith had written her a letter of tender concern and appreciation, praising her virtue and her strong attachment to the truth (see "Women of Faith in the Latter Days," p. 293_)._

The work progressed, and Jennetta was carrying another child when she and Willard experienced the joy of being sealed, along with their children, as an eternal family unit in May of 1843. Rhoda Ann Jennetta was born the following September. But no one from Jennetta's own family, far away in England, ever accepted the gospel and came to Zion to join her, as she had prayed.

The happy times seemed to go by so quickly when the unbelievable took place: Joseph and Hyrum Smith were killed by a mob on June 27, 1844. Willard Richards was with them in the jail cell at Carthage, Illinois, and the prophecy which the Prophet Joseph Smith had given was fulfilled: that fire and death would surround Willard on every side, but he would not be harmed.

But now the entire community of Saints in Nauvoo faced the increased persecution that surrounded them in a whirlwind of darkness and fear, that led to a beehive of activity as families attempted to meet the requirements necessary to leave their beloved city.

Jennetta did not have to leave Nauvoo. Although she seemed to rally briefly and raise her husband’s hopes, on July 9, 1845, she stopped breathing. Willard wrote: “She appeared like a person asleep. … Little Heber John came to me and said, ‘Pa, will you bury Ma in the garden? If you do I can bear it, if you do not I cannot bear it'” (Willard Richards to John Richards, July 18, 1845, as quoted in "Women of Faith in the Latter Days," p. 296).

Rhoda Ann said, with a child’s faith, “Mother is gone away — she is gone to see Uncle Joseph, and Hyrum, and my little brother” (Richards journal, July 11, 1845, as quoted in "Women of Faith in the Latter Days," p. 297).

A delightful photograph, warm and natural, was taken by Lucien Foster on March 26, 1845. Willard was 40, Jennetta 28, Heber John 4½. She is sitting on her husband’s knee, with her arm around his shoulder, and they are holding hands. There is a great tenderness captured in this rare photograph, and Jennetta’s spirit is portrayed in her expression and form.

Willard Richards’ expressed his love and conviction in these words:

“She died as she lived, an heir of heaven. She was one of whom the world was not worthy, and our Heavenly Father has taken her to himself. … She is not alone, neither has she lived in vain; her works will follow her to the end of time" (Willard Richards to John Richards, July 18, 1845, as quoted in "Women of Faith in the Latter Days," p. 297).