Heritage Gateways

Official Sesquicentennial K-12 Education Project
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Pioneer 1848-1868 Companies

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Mads Frederick Theobald Christensen, 1853-4 (age 16-17), Ship Experiences and Trek

Brother of C.C.A. Christensen, the artist
I was born March 10, 1837, Copenhagen, Denmark, son of Mads Christensen born July 18, 1798, at Durup, Viborg, Denmark, and Dorothea Christiana Christensen, born November 20, 1806, Copenhagen, Denmark. I had an older brother Carl Christian Anthon Christensen, known as C.C.A. Christensen, born November 28, 1831, and a younger brother William Christensen, born February 13, 1841. Each boy had his own single bed with his number painted on it in the school in Copenhagen. My number was three. At seven o'clock a.m. the breakfast bell rang and the boys formed in double lines for inspection. Once seated all were called upon to say the Lord's Prayer in unison. Each boy took one slice of rye bread. A cup of boiled beer, or once in a while, warm milk was given with this. At 8 o'clock the bell called us to classrooms. At noon we had two kinds of vegetables and the evening meal was the same as breakfast. On Sundays the boys were allowed to visit their parents or friends if they were not held for misdemeanors.

At fourteen years of age... I entered a contract with a master saddler for five years" apprenticeship and soon was the scapegoat upon whom was hurled insults and abuses by the men working in the shop. ...Later in the year [two years later] an opportunity was offered me to migrate to Zion along with my mother, through the generosity of Bro. Bent Nielson and his family. They were preparing to go to Zion and were well supplied with means. The main obstacle in the way was my unfilled contract with my master which was considered to be very binding, and I had only served a little more than two years.

...Mother and I inquired of a lawyer as to how this could be accomplished. "You must prefer charges against the master in writing if you have any to make," he said. I assured him I had. I wrote a complaint against my master, charging him with having abused me. Upon presenting this before the lawyer he seemed somewhat astonished that they were of a religious nature of persecution, on account of my belief, and he promised to do what he could for my release. By his permission and assurance of safety from further persecution, I went home and stayed with Mother that night, and the next day an officer came to our humble home and handed me an official release, saying I could go safely to the master's shop and gather up my effects there and carry them away. This I did at eventide when no one was there to stop me, taking a Mormon friend with me. The joy I felt at being set free from bondage, I had not language to express. Recalling the event now brings forth a tear of gratitude to the Lord.

Everything was now being arranged for the going to Zion. It was summer and the emigration did not start until Christmas time, so I obtained employment for the summer to earn my living in the meantime. My employer was so pleased with my trustworthiness that he pleaded with me to stay with him, making good inducements, but of course his pleadings were in vain. Nothing could persuade me to give up my going to Zion. It occupied my thoughts all the time during waking hours. The Lord had heard and answered my prayers. The time for our departure for the great journey arrived. My benefactor, Jorgan Nielson, a son of Bent Nielson, of Hosterjob, near Copenhagen, furnished me with new clothing, enough to have lasted several years. My trunk was packed full of my own things, while Mother had her own trunk.

Ship Travels
On December 20, 1853, we boarded the steamer which left Copenhagen late in the afternoon. We sailed across the Baltic that night and arrived at Kiel Harbor next morning. The vessel was not large, but the billows on the sea were, and so we got rocked considerably and many were seasick. I and another boy stayed on deck most of the time though it was somewhat cold, but the air was wonderful. When the trunks were being put ashore, I thought I had better watch and see if mine was being put ashore with the rest. It was painted differently, red with white lettering, while others were of a lead color with black lettering. I did not see mine landed with the others, and so I reported it. The baggage was transferred to the railroad train taking us to Cluckstadon, the west coast of Glesvig. Here again I watched the transferring of the baggage from the railroad to the steamer without seeing my trunk and again reported it. A letter of inquiry was now sent back to Copenhagen, but the results were the same. I never recovered the trunk and was poorly clothed for the long journey to Zion. I started with my worst clothes and scarcely had a change of underwear.

We crossed the North Sea by steamer and arrived safely in Hull after a somewhat rough voyage, accompanied by much seasickness, which did not affect me, however. I was as fresh as the sailors and often in their way.

We were detained several days in Liverpool presumably on account of getting the ship in readiness for so long a voyage. The ship had to be supplied with provisions and fresh water, enough to last perhaps four or five months, in case of accidents or unfavorable weather causing delay. It surprised me to see the large vessels in the harbor with very low water, leaving them aground while the tide was low. It seemed to me the tide differed all of twenty feet between ebb and low tide. After several days we went aboard the Jesse Munn and started to float down the Channel and out on the Atlantic, steering much to the south of west in order to get into a warmer zone where the vessel could take advantage of the trade winds. We received our rations of food once a week. This was a regular allowance of uncooked food, such as peas, rice, salt, beef, sugar, coffee, and also fresh water once a day. The beef was salt beef.

There was a kitchen range midship where an Irish cook held sway, abusing nearly every person who needed something cooked. Outside stood our cooking utensils in a long row from early morning until late evening, waiting their turn to get on the hot stove where they would get half cooked and then be taken away by us. Another cook in the adjoining kitchen prepared the meals for the crew who also were rationed. The two cooks could not agree and because of this they had a fight with the permission of the captain. It was held for the public in regular sailor style, which I had the nerve to witness. Entirely stripped to the waist, they went at each other with heavy blows to begin with, keeping it up for perhaps an hour, by which time they both were so jaded that the blows could not hurt much. I do not remember if this battle decided the supremacy of either of them or if they came out even.

For many days the weather was warm and the wind a dead calm, so the vessel scarcely moved. We could then play and dance on the deck just so we kept out of the way of the sailors who had their duties to perform. Again, we had wind storms, causing uneasiness for our safety.

After some seven weeks of sailing, we passed the Island of Cuba at some distance. At first its mountainous outlines against the sky appeared as outlines of clouds, but gradually they became more plain and distinct. I judge we did not get nearer than four miles, but it caused a great deal of relief, excitement and rejoicing among the passengers, as it was a part of America. Passing Cuba we sailed again into the Gulf of Mexico out of sight of land, passed Florida and after several days, entered the muddy waters flowing out of the great Mississippi River, many miles out to sea. The change of waters could be seen long before we entered them.

Soon a pilot vessel came out and lay alongside while the pilot boarded the ship and took charge of it. The next day we were in the Mississippi River and cast anchor off New Orleans. After inspection by the health officers, we were permitted to go ashore and view part of the city. Here we saw the slave market where slaves, male and female, were offered for sale. They stood in rows outside the dealer's place of business, where he would cry them off to passersby, much like other merchandise while the slaves were dressed so as to appear to the best advantage. After a delay of two or three days we were transferred to a large steamer with tremendous large side wheels as propellers. These steamers were floating palaces in appearance, painted white and handled mostly by crews of Negroes.

Wood is the fuel to make steam but when two steamers come alongside steering in the same direction, a race goes on and then oil and fat pork is thrown into the furnaces to increase the steam power to its utmost capacity. Along the riverside are dense woods where the boats occasionally stop and take fuel aboard, the fuel being carried on the shoulders of the Negro crew. Foodstuffs were very abundant and cheap and large quantities of leftovers from the tables of the officers and first class passengers were thrown overboard into the river, while we looked on longingly. On the water floated oranges, apples and other foods.

We were on the steamer about ten days and landed in St. Louis. There we were temporarily quartered in a large storage house, buying our food at the grocery shop where the price of nearly everything was five cents a pound. It was calculated that we should be there about six weeks so a number of the brethren took jobs on a railroad then being constructed in Illinois about 40 miles from St. Louis. Another boy and myself went along to earn a few dollars. When we had worked there about three weeks we received word that the company had left St. Louis and gone to Kansas City, then a trading post. We quit work and asked for our pay through an interpreter. The paymaster refused to pay us but after some parleying paid the men various amounts just as he pleased. As I was hired for seven dollars a month, he refused to pay me anything as I had not worked a month. After some argument, mainly that I couldn't get to the company without money to pay my way, he ordered the cashier to pay me five dollars. In doing so, the cashier gave me a worthless bank bill for three dollars and two one dollar bills. When we boarded the steamer that was to take us to Kansas the steward refused to take my three dollars and I had but little more than one dollar besides it left. There was but a few minutes left until the boat would leave, and it was time for quick action to arrange to go with the men.

I hastened across the street to get the bill changed and seeing an old lady behind a fruit stand I asked her for some apples and held out my hat to receive them, telling her I was in a hurry. She about filled the hat. I thought perhaps she would not change the bill to get five cents out of it, so I ordered one pint bottle of whiskey which I saw standing on the shelf, all the time shaking for fear she would refuse to take the bill. On handing it to her she held it very close to her eyes, then paid me the change. I was saved by my own dishonesty. I reconciled that act as best I could in this way of reasoning; I did not make the bill and could not help that it was not as good as all the others. I hoped she might be able to pass it again.

The Trek
Well, I got aboard the steamer, paid my fare and got to Kansas where my mother was glad to see me, having had much worry for my safety. The company arriving in Kansas was provided with tents with which they formed a camp in the woods a mile or two from the city and there we waited while oxen, wagons and supplies were bought and prepared for the journey across the plains. While encamped here in the woods it rained considerably. One morning after a rainy night, we found everything in the way of fuel so wet we could hardly get a fire started. I got an ax and began chipping off the wet outside of a log so as to get some kindling wood. While I was standing astride the log the ax glanced off and with great force struck my leg, making a deep gash to the bone. I was lame for a long time.

After camping in the woods for three weeks everything was in readiness and we started with six oxen hitched to each wagon. The prairie was soft and miry because of the rainy weather. For many miles there was not a trail or road and the oxen were not trained to pull wagons and knew nothing about "gee" and "haw" and less about our Danish talk. We had to tie long ropes to the heads of the leader oxen of each team to prevent them from taking their own course. Occasionally some ox would start to bellow and cause a stampede or panic of fear, and away they would run despite our holding tight to their ropes.

After arriving in Salt Lake, Mother and I were treated to pumpkin butter and bread, also wheat coffee without milk or sweetening. The bread was good and fresh and we enjoyed it. As we did not own any part of the team we were put off on the public square or general campground until we could be picked up by someone who had use for our labor. I was picked up by George Carson who lived eight miles south of Salt Lake City. He was riding a horse and I was placed behind the saddle and this made me so sore that I could hardly walk for days. He was a rather rough character, unfeeling and not religiously inclined. He had a young wife and baby. I liked the baby best for it did not mock me nor use me for a scapegoat.

I had the language to learn and scarcely knew the meaning of a dozen English words, but the first lessons were the hardest. By mutual consent I left Carson and went to Springville where my younger brother William was living with Richard Bird and family. I found employment with Horace Thornton who was a chair maker and was willing to board me for what I could do for him. Thus I spent the first winter.

Source: Our Pioneer Heritage © Carter, Kate B., ed. 20 vols. Salt Lake City: International Society, Daughters of Utah Pioneers, 1958-1977. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced in any form or by any means without permission in writing from the publisher. Documents and images are exerpted by permission from the LDS Family History Suite CDROM from Ancestry.