Heritage Gateways

Official Sesquicentennial K-12 Education Project
sponsored by the Utah State Board of Education, the BYU-Public School Partnership and the Utah Education Network

Pioneer 1848-1868 Companies

Previous | Next

1863 (age 19), Debenham (Dowden), Naomi

I, Naomi Debenham Dowden, eldest daughter of Henry Debenham and Sarah Larter, was born October 10, 1844 at Scole, Norfolk, England. At that time my parents were active members of the Church of England, my father holding the position of clerk, my grandfather having held the same office during his life time.

In the year 1852 my parents first heard of Mormonism and, after investigating for themselves, joined their new-found religion. Our family at that time was in very good financial circumstances as Father was a successful bootmaker, but this prosperity did not last for our neighbors, friends and members of our former church became very embittered toward us. Riots took place, our family was mobbed and forced to board up the windows for self protection. Father and my oldest brother went to London where they procured work, and Mother made artificial flowers which my brother, Edgar, and I sold in a village seven miles distant. After two months Father sent for Mother and her four children and our family was again reunited.

In London I felt it my duty to find employment. The Soho Bazaar greatly interested me and I was happy when I secured the desired position and was assigned to the millinery counter. I wore the conventional black alpaca dress that was worn by all of the girls who worked in the Bazaar. Once each week the girls were chaperoned out to Kensington Beach for a day's pleasure, and it was at the beach I met the very sedate young gentleman whom I finally married.

To America
Edgar, my oldest brother, left England in 1862 for America and Salt Lake City, and on June 4th, 1863, I set sail on the ship Amazon, accompanied by my brother Harry, a lad of thirteen years. We were placed in the care of Brother and Sister Dorsan. George Q. Cannon gave the departing Saints instructions and appointed officers for the company. On board ship there was a good band that discoursed lively music, and dancing was indulged in. Meetings were held on the ship which the ship's captain and officers attended. The weather was cold and stormy and most people were seasick. The ship cast anchor upon reaching the Isle of Wight, due to stormy weather. After three days the journey was resumed. One baby died and was consigned to a watery grave. When ships passed, the captains would communicate and signal with flags.

To Florence
A riot in New York and dispute over wages had caused much trouble and the immigrants considered it providential that they were delayed in their journey until after the riot had subsided. Six weeks were spent on the ocean. The immigrants arrived at Castle Gardens, then followed up the Hudson River to Albany, New York. Here I was surprised to find my former acquaintance, Edwin Dowden, laden with a basket of delicious refreshments, waiting to meet me. He proposed to me but I declined as I had promised my parents I would consider no proposal of marriage until I reached Salt Lake City. Thus my true love gave up his position in New York and traveled west in the same company as I. From Albany, New York, we were loaded into cattle cars and sent to St. Joseph, then, taking a boat up the Missouri River, we arrived at Florence, Nebraska. Here we rested three weeks, doing washing, patching, mending and preparing for the tedious journey across the plains.

To Utah
Finally each individual was assigned to his company and wagon. Captain McArthur had charge of the company to which the Dorsans and I were assigned. Everybody in camp was called to an early breakfast after which the day's journey began. We traveled until noon when a stop was made for dinner, rest one hour, then resume the journey until sundown. Sometimes the noon meal would be prepared and a sand storm would come up and blow everything away. Food obtained from the commissary consisted of beans, rice, bacon or ham, and brown sugar. Baking powder-soda bread was prepared. The distance traveled per day would vary according to the condition of the roads. The oxen were slow, but sure and steady. All persons enjoying good health and strong bodies covered the entire distance on foot, most of them walking barefooted and wading shallow streams. The early evenings, after supper, were spent in singing, dancing and enjoying different sports. Meetings for the entire company were held at least once a week.

In Utah
The company arrived in Salt Lake Valley October 2, 1863, and my brother, Edgar, who was ill at the time, walked fifteen miles from Salt Lake City to meet us. Three weeks after I arrived in the Valley Edgar was called from this sphere of action, leaving me a stranger in a strange land to care for a boy of thirteen years. Grief for the loss of Edgar and weariness from the long journey brought on a severe illness. With the blessings of heaven, many friends were raised up in my hour of need, my health was restored and within the year I was married to Edwin Dowden.

Although I have had many trials to bear in parting with father, mother, husband and beloved children, I yet have a strong testimony of the truthfulness of the gospel for which I endured many hardships. My posterity numbers twelve children of whom four are living, nineteen grandchildren, and thirteen great grandchildren.

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.