Joseph Henry James (1855 - 1908)

HOME SELECT A BIOGRAPHY Joseph and Sarah Holyoak James

this biography is all on one page

written by LaVon Gurr Hansen, a great‑granddaughter* 

JOSEPH JAMES was born February 28,1830 at Halse, Somersetshire, England, to Mary James and Joseph Jury out of wedlock.  But Joseph said his father and mother were married, that they ran away and were married out of the church.  His brother, Francis William, was born about 1832 who as a young boy went to sea with an uncle as a cabin boy on a ship.  He took sick and died at sea.  He also spoke of his mother having twins, that were born dead or died shortly after.  He often said in later years that his own two daughters, Sarah and Mary, had the same names as his mother's twins.   Joseph's father deserted them before the twins were born and his father's name was never mentioned in the household again, and, supposedly, Mary died of a broken heart.  So Joseph grew up under the name of Joseph James, the name of his grandparents on his mother's side of the family, who reared him to manhood.  They were Benjamin and Elizabeth Richards James. 

His grandfather, Benjamin James, died in the year 1834  at Somerset England when Joseph was only four.  His grandmother, Elizabeth, remarried to a man by the name of Barnes.  Joseph spoke of him as a very good man.  Joseph, as a young man, had smallpox.  He was put in a hospital next to a man who had erysipelas, which he also contracted.  After recovering from both of these dreaded diseases his face was left scared quite badly, especially his nose, which he wore a white bandage over  to his dying day.   His daughter, Mary, put a fresh clean bandage on the day of his funeral.  She said the scars weren't as bad as he thought,  but due to this he never had a picture taken of himself. 

When Joseph was about twenty years of age he moved with the family to Cardiff, South Wales.  Shortly after arriving there, he met Elder John Chugg from whom he first heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  From that time on he began to search the scriptures.  He investigated the principles of Mormonism and was soon convinced that they were the principles of salvation.  On  Feb.13, 1852 he was baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints by Elder William Jenkins and confirmed by Elder Joseph Chambers.  He labored  faithfully and diligently in his calling  in Whales until the 1st of February , 1854, when he took passage on the ship "Old Galconder" and sailed for the United States, taking nine weeks to cross the Atlantic Ocean.

When the company reached New Orleans they were detained there to wait for another company of saints who had been delayed on account of having much sickness and trouble at sea, taking them thirteen weeks to cross the ocean.  This second company for which they were waiting came on the  old ship "Windemere."  This  company had been quarantined at St. Louis  on account of an epidemic of cholera, causing further delay.  These two companies were to travel together across the plains. Their provisions were to be hauled by ox team and the people were to walk.  Joseph, who was traveling alone was assigned to travel with the Holyoak family.

SARAH HOLYOAK, wife of Joseph James, was born August 4,1835, in Yardly, Warwickshire, England to George and Sarah Green Holyoak.  Her parents were members of the church and so were all of their children, eight in number, Sarah being their sixth child.  Except for the fifth child, Daniel Holyoak, who died and was buried in England, the remainder of the family emigrated to Utah.  She was baptized a member of the Latter Day Saint church January 7th, 1848, by Elder Thomas Trusteen  and confirmed by John Taylor.  The Holyoak family lived in what was called "Rose Cottage" in Yardly Wood a suburb of Birmingham.  Climbing roses covered most of the house.  The yard was full of beautiful flowers and the grass was green almost all year.   From this lovely home and beautiful surroundings the children inherited a love for flowers and beauty.  They were also taught to be industrious and religious. 

Sarah had three brothers and three sisters; William, born April 12, 1825 in Yardly, Warwickshire, England; Mary, born March 25, 1827, in Solihull; George, born September 1, 1829; Ann christened February 3, 1832, in Yardly; Daniel Eli, christened April 27, 1834, in Yardly; Henry, born March 5,1839 in Yardly; and Hannah, born March 25,1841 in Yardly. 

They kept an open house for the elders and their home was also a regular meeting place for all the saints in their locality for years prior to their leaving England in 1854.  They left Liverpool, England February 17th, 1854 on the ship "Windemere" with a company under the leadership of Elder Carnes.  They had a very rough, tedious and sometimes dangerous voyage.  The ship, an old sailing vessel,  was not in the best condition, and at times would spring a leak and all who were able would have to dip water to save their lives.  When they arrived at the Irish Channel one old gentleman died and was wrapped and sewed in a blanket and slid into a watery grave; but since he was one of the church members, a short funeral service was held.   Although Sarah was quite young this scene was impressed upon her memory. 

After this there were  storms at sea; the waves seemed to rise mountains high and the ship seemed like it would be swept away.  It tore down the rigging and split the sails to ribbons.  During a storm a fire broke out, which

damaged the stove so badly that they were unable to do any cooking.   They had some dirt on board the vessel which they made into  a mound, built a fire on it, then laid some old pieces of iron on top of it on which to cook and were compelled to cook in this way the remainder of the trip. 

Under these conditions traveling on the sea was very slow.  Their provisions grew short and they had to put out signals of distress and got some assistance, although they found other vessels  who were not able to assist as they were in about the same condition on account of the storm. 

The smallpox broke out at this time and eleven died from this dreaded disease and were buried at sea.  The captain became very discouraged and gave up all hopes of ever landing. 

They held a special prayer on the ship and the storm ceased, which brought new hope and all the members of the company got busy, making wagon covers and tents for their journey across the plains. They were thirteen weeks crossing the ocean.

When they arrived at New Orleans, Sarah remembers her father gathering up their family and taking them out to get a breakfast which certainly was a treat.  They thought they could now go out and get their food but when they returned to the ship they found five men on board stealing their carpet bags and baskets and clothing.  After these men were ejected from the ship, the ship was tugged back into the ocean and remained there until they could get a steamer to take them up the Mississippi river.  They were not allowed to land at St. Louis but were sent to Branshire Island because a false report had been circulated they had cholera aboard.  This rumor no doubt was caused by the fact that they were  near an old ship which had passengers with cholera and a number of them had died. 

Sarah's sister, Mary Knowles, died while here from an injury received before leaving England.  She left a husband and two small children, a boy five and a girl three.  They obtained another steamer to take them up the Missouri River to where they were to land.  They arrived after nine weeks of a hard perilous trip‑‑some tired, sick and hungry.  Here a young women, whose parents had died, and who had been given to her father, died and was buried in the hollow of a tree which they covered with dirt‑‑the tree served for a coffin. 

Here preparations had to be made for crossing the plains: wagon covers and tents to be completed, provisions gotten, wagons and wild Texas cows and steers had to be utilized with green, ignorant English drivers, unaccustomed to handling either cattle or wagons.  With the assistance of some Texans they were able to hitch them up but it can hardly be imagined how they traveled.  Wagons were capsized at times and women and girls who were able, had to assist in holding the oxen, etc. 

While crossing the plains many walked nearly all the way‑‑(only while crossing deep streams and in case of sickness they rode).  They waded through small streams and many died on the way, including Sarah's mother and her sister Ann.  They died of mountain fever and were sewed in quilts  and put in hastily dug graves  and covered with dirt.  This was a very sad thing to leave their loved ones like this and hurry on. They were buried in Nebraska just ten days apart, leaving Sarah the oldest of the girls left, and she had the care of the family, also of the two motherless children of her sister Mary.  It was a great responsibility for one so young and inexperienced. 

About this time her father met a company of men, apostates, who were on their journey back, had become discouraged and had forsaken the saints and were returning.  They tried to persuade her father to go back as they claimed they had been greatly deceived by the elders and found the Mormons a bad lot; but her father would not listen because he said, "You men have told me many times it was true and bore your testimony to me.  Now you say it is not.  Which shall I believe?  I will not return, I will prove for myself because I cannot depend upon your word." 

JOSEPH and SARAH JAMES.   It was on this long trek across the plains that Joseph became  attracted to Sarah.  They suffered all the usual hardships of not having enough food or water, and having sore feet from walking.  They were in constant fear of Indian attacks.  After a long hard journey for about three months, they arrived in Salt Lake City September, 1854.  They came with the David Jones and Darwin Richardson companies.

On Oct. 3, 1854 Joseph James and Sarah Holyoak were married in a covered wagon, in Salt Lake City, by Elder Philip Sykes.  Sarah's wedding gown was a clean calico dress.  Here they parted with the motherless Holyoak family who had been called to go south and settle in Parowan, Utah.  They were without anything to start life except a meager supply of clothing.  Joseph  walked to Farmington where he obtained a job.  Sarah followed as soon as she could get a ride and joined him.  They both worked for their board and room, with a family who were keeping a sort of boarding house, which they kept until the hard part of a severe winter was over.  

Then Joseph went North to Ogden to try his luck.  He found a very poor but charitable man by the name of Samuel Sunfield, a widower, who needed someone to keep house and care for his two motherless children.  Joseph sent for Sarah.  She got a ride with some folks going farther north and when they forded the Weber River she had such a good feeling come over her she felt like she had arrived home, or to the promised land.  She was left on Main Street, as it was called then, not knowing a living soul nor even knowing where to find her husband.  Thomas Jenkins came along and took her and her possessions in for the night and next day she was reunited with her husband.  They lived with Mr. Sunfield where Sarah kept house, cooked and cared for the family until that fall when Mr. Sunfield remarried.  

  Joseph bought a small lot on Wall Avenue between Grant and Lincoln.  Here he built a one room sod house with a willow and dirt roof and a dirt floor and an old piece of cloth for a window.  He made a bedstead of poles fastened together covered crosswise  with willows.  He worked for enough straw to fill a tick for a mattress.  Joseph  carried slats from Mount Fort and build a door, three stools and a table.  They only had one camp kettle.  They had to use it for cooking, washing  and all other household chores.  They even loaned it to the neighbors. Their prize possessions were their ax and gun.  This was Sarah's first home in America and they lived there until October when they moved to a two-room adobe house which they had built.  It had one light window in each room.   

Sarah bore six of their thirteen children here: Joseph Henry, October, 22, 1855;  William Francis, April 30, 1857; George Richard, May 4, 1859; Edward Benjamin, December 11,1860; Charles Willard,  September  9, 1862; and Sarah Hannah, September 20, 1864. 

 The next thing was the terrible event of Johnson's army.  The men were called to go to  Echo Canyon to protect the lives of their families.   The ammunition was very scarce, guns were mostly old flint muskets that  were almost impossible to fire at all.  Next came the move south to Payson, but soon  the conflict was closed and the people returned home again and peace reigned.  Surprisingly, Johnson's army proved a blessing to them instead of a curse because clothing could be obtained and they now began to prosper.  The women began to learn to spin, make sandles and soap, braid straw for hats and various other things to supply their needs.

 The year 1861 was a very trying time for this good family.  The hardest thing for them was the death of their baby, Edward Benjamin, when he was only nine months old.  They did not have enough to eat and suffered from the severe cold.  The children were barefooted and often cried for bread.  The crops were washed away with high water.  Joseph  rented another farm and when the crops were ready to harvest the grasshoppers came and destroyed everything again.  This was a bad winter for everyone. 

Joseph assisted with the construction of the first road through Ogden Canyon; helped dig the first irrigation canals; battled the troubles with high water and the grasshopper plaque. 

When the Ogden tabernacle was being built Joseph made five thousand adobes by hand and donated them.  At this time  all the family had in the house to eat  was a little bran bread.  One day while working on the adobes  Joseph become so exhausted from hunger he couldn't go on.  He sat down in the shade of a tree and feel asleep.  When he awoke he saw a very large bird coming down towards him.  It came very low and dropped a fresh ear of corn at his feet.  He thought it was the best food that he had eaten.  As he ate the corn a voice seemed to say "This is a sign that you will never want for food again."  This promise came true.  This was a very marvelous thing  as no corn had yet been raised in Utah.  When he returned home Sarah came to meet him to tell him he could get some flour at Taylor's mill.  It was very late at night when he got home with the flour but Sarah made some bread and woke up the children to have something to eat. 

Sarah was very anxious to go to Salt Lake for semi‑annual conference.  They only had one ox and it was lame so Joseph thought that it would be impossible for them to make the trip, but Sarah was determined to try.  She worked hard all summer making hats, spinning yarn and knitting stockings.  She also worked for a man that wove cloth and he gave her cloth for her pay.  Joseph raised broom straw and made the first brooms by hand in this area.  He also worked for combs.  They would trade these things for the things they needed.  By borrowing the neighbors ox which was very lean they were ready for the trip by the first of October.  Their wagon was slabs put on the running gears for a wagon bed.  Picture in your minds them heading for Salt Lake to conference in this kind of a wagon with one lean ox and one lame ox.  They took with them all the things they had made and worked for to trade for things they needed.  In Farmington they traded some combs and brooms for fruit.  Sarah saw to it that every seed and pit was saved.  Also some of the combs they traded in Salt Lake City for dry goods, unbleached muslin, calico, thread, needles, and buttons.  How thankful they were.  The seeds and pits which they saved  proved to be a lasting blessing and benefit to them. 

With these seeds they started an orchard, having a six acre lot on Wall Avenue between 27‑28th Street, which was the first and best orchard in Weber county. They obtained from the mountains, small fruits and vines, strawberries, and cherries, goose berries, which Joseph cultivated and grafted, and they bore a large and as good a crop as the regular berries and grapes.   In 1869 the railroad arrived and soon after they had sale for milk, cream and fruit which also helped to build up Ogden.  Real hard times were over and they were able to assist others who were in need.

Sarah and Joseph had seven more children after the six that were born in the one room sod home.  Mary Elizabeth, June 17, 1866;  Abinadi, March 28, 1869; Moroni, Feb. 18, 1871; Frederick, Feb. 22, 1873; Heber, Dec. 24,  1874; Hyrum Robert, Feb. 21,1878; and Harriet, Jan. 14, 1881.  Through all their hard times the very hardest was the death of seven of their precious children.  George Richard died when he was ten years old,  Richard Benjamin was ten months old, Moroni was eight years old, Frederick was one and a half years old, Robert was sixteen years old and Harriet the youngest was only four weeks old.  Joseph Henry, William Francis, Charles Willard, Sarah Hannah, Mary Elizabeth and Moroni all married and raised wonderful families. 

They lived all their married life in Ogden except the first winter when they lived in Farmington.  Joseph died November 19, 1893 and Sarah died, October 25, 1916, leaving only two sons and two daughters to mourn her demise.  They were both buried  in the Ogden city cemetery. 

This is an account of Joseph James death, taken from the Millennial Star on November 24, 1893. 

Our ranks are being thinned out.  Elder Joseph James, another of our sturdy veterans has passed to the spirit world after a useful, well-spent life.  On November, 1893 he was taken sick.  His disease developed into typhoid pneumonia.  After severe suffering he succumbed  to the fell destroyer on the 19th instantly. 

The funeral service which was numerously attended was held November 20th, 1893 at the family home.  The speakers on the occasion were Elder Lorin Farr, George G. Bywater, C.F. Middleton, Thomas Doxey  and Bishop Robert McQuarrie.  They all spoke of him in high terms and of commendation of the life and character of the deceased.  The speakers had been acquainted with him for many years and knew of his honor, truth and fidelity; ever ready to visit and administer to the sick, to feed the hungry, clothe the needy and do all that was in his power to relieve their suffering.  His good deeds will live in memory of hundreds who knew him in life and mourned him in death.  On September 7, 1873 he was ordained a member of the Seventy‑Sixth Quorum of Seventy.  On May 1, 1890 he was ordained a High Priest.  All these positions he filled with honor and to the satisfaction of those to whom he was responsible.  He leaves a widow, 5 sons and 2 daughters.  He was the father of thirteen children, ten of whom were sons.  He has thirty eight grandchildren. 

                                             Yours truly,   Joseph Hall, Millennial Star. 


NOTE: This account was written by LaVon Gurr Hansen, who used the following histories and sketches as source material: 

1. An account compiled by Margaret Gurr Hamblin, a great grand‑daughter of Joseph and Sarah James, who referenced  histories and family records of a daughter, Mary Elizabeth James and an account by a granddaughter, Bathsheba James Gurr.  

2. A life sketch of Joseph James by Rodelpha Singleton James a granddaughter in‑law, and wife of Charles W. James, a grandson. 

*NOTE: The name Holyoak was derived from a large grove of big oak trees near Birmingham.  These trees were considered to be Holy. 

HOME SELECT A BIOGRAPHY Joseph and Sarah Holyoak James

this biography is all on one page