Emigrant destiny day: From love on the high seas to Hurricane Valley

Monument honoring early Hurricane settlers, Hurricane Valley Heritage Park Museum, Hurricane, Utah, Jan. 6, 2017 | Photo by and courtesy of Jim Lillywhite, St. George News

FEATURE — In the mid-1800s, two emigrants cut loose from the secure anchorage of a settled life, willing to voyage the wide sea and set adrift into a doubtful world. They started out separately but ended up finding each other and eventually also found their “Zion” – a place of one heart and one mind – in Hurricane, among the last of the townships established in Dixie.

Hurricane Valley Heritage Park Museum director and John Nock Hinton descendant Phyllis Hinton Lawton, Hurricane, Utah, Feb. 4, 2017 | Photo by and courtesy of Jim Lillywhite, St. George News

Phyllis Hinton Lawton, director of the Hurricane Valley Heritage Park Museum, tells the love story of her great-great grandparents’ journey.

Emma Spendlove left her home in Warwickshire, England, in 1861 at age 19 to journey to the United States. Spendlove worked nine years to earn her passage, first assisting a large family with child care and later using a loom to make lace. Her father needed more time to prepare for the journey with his remaining family.

Spendlove traveled with close friends Joseph Foster and his new bride, Joyce Hillman. Upon arriving and boarding the clipper ship Underwriter, the young travelers were greeted by Capt. John P. Roberts, along with each of the 624 other emigrant converts to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

This would be Roberts’ third passage sailing the Underwriter to New York City, Lawton said, and he appreciated the discipline and organization that these religious groups from the church brought to the voyage. He wrote:

I cannot speak in too glowing terms of the good spirit and feeling, manifest by the Saints on this happy voyage.”

As John Nock Hinton climbed the gangplank, he was drawn toward a singing group and immediately recognized his friend Joseph Foster standing with two young ladies, leading a little choir with their clear soprano voices.

Introductions were made, and Hinton smiled at Spendlove, who wore a pale green wrought-linsey woolsey dress with lace cascading down the bodice. She twirled a matching parasol, also edged in lace. Hinton reached out to Spendlove and gently squeezed her hand and then added his tenor voice to the singing group, Lawton said.

Photo of the clipper ship Underwriter, circa 1860, Hurricane Valley Heritage Park Museum, Hurricane, Utah, photo not dated | Image courtesy of Hurricane Valley Heritage Park Museum, St. George News

Before departure, European LDS Mission President George Q. Cannon, who had chartered three ships at Liverpool, Underwriter being one of them, boarded the ship, gave the emigrating Saints their instructions and blessing and sent them on their voyage.

The passengers would fall under the direction of President Milo Andrus and two councilors, as appointed by Cannon. They divided the emigrants immediately into nine wards, including a separate ward for unmarried men. Assignments were made to organize and protect the company. A man was appointed watchman over each ward. He guarded the property of the passengers and gave them suitable advice.

On April 23, 1861, the ship weighed anchor, but sailing wasn’t always smooth. The ship often rolled and pitched on open sea, and many experienced seasickness for the first time.

The upper deck became the resort for passengers, a source of attraction in conversational walking, singing, dancing and recitations. Some enjoyed observing porpoises or fins of sharks. Others were intent on reading and writing letters.

Hinton and Spendlove circled the upper deck often, and Hinton revealed his talents to his new girlfriend. At 14, after studying Greek, Latin, writing, math and drawing, he trained for seven years as a carpentry apprentice, learning to plan his work, get along with people and budget his money.

During his apprenticeship, he met some Mormon missionaries. He listened to their message and believed their words, ultimately disappointing his family and associates by being baptized. He was ridiculed and harassed, but he endured alone, dreaming of the day when he would finish his apprenticeship and sail away to America. He created a beautiful desk and sold it for passage to “Zion,” Lawton said.

The days at sea passed swiftly for Spendlove and Hinton. She missed her family less because her new dark-haired friend filled her hours. She admitted she was falling in love, and Hinton wrote in a letter to his mother that his biggest fear was losing Emma Spendlove before they could arrive in Utah.

One evening, as the young couple circled the upper deck, Hinton looked into Spendlove’s eyes glowing like the stars sprinkled in the black sky. He felt her shiver and removed his wool coat placing it around her shoulders. His arms encompassed her, and their lips met.

“The love story progressed something like that,” Lawton said.

Impression of John Nock Hinton and Emma Spendlove, Hurricane Valley Heritage Park Museum, Hurricane, Utah, image date not specified | Image courtesy of Hurricane Valley Heritage Park Museum, St. George News

The two wished to begin their lives in the New World as a married couple, and on May 19, 1861, just 26 days after they met and three days before the clipper ship was scheduled to arrive in New York, Emma Spendlove and John Nock Hinton were pronounced man and wife.

Lawton read the following from a journal:

“This marriage was food for fun and anticipations with the young and merry recollections among those who had passed through the ordeal before. The beautiful heavens, warm air and the pleasant events of the day induced many to stay up to perambulate and talk.”

The Underwriter anchored across from the Statue of Liberty near then Castle Garden, New York, where immigrants would sleep on the hard floor for a few nights until they were processed and cleared. Immigrants were given instructions for getting to Florence in Nebraska Territory and schooled in understanding American money.

The Hintons boarded a train from New York to the Mississippi River, followed by the Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad, crossing Missouri through burned plantations, uniformed men and cannons guarding bridges and stations. The Civil War had begun.

Pioneer wagon, Scottsbluff, Nebraska, September 2016 | Photo by and courtesy of Jim Lillywhite, St. George News

The day after the fall of Fort Sumter, Brigham Young, concerned for the thousands of immigrants, had decided to send 200 wagons with provisions and 1,700 oxen – called “down and back” wagons – into Florence near Omaha in the Nebraska Territory. The wagons arrived on schedule in June, but there weren’t nearly enough.

Immigrants waited for their wagon assignments. Travelers were allowed to take 25 pounds of personal belongings. Emma Hinton knew that her husband’s heavy carpentry tools were important to their future, so she sold her beautiful clothing, receiving goods in exchange – a coffee mill, heavy cooking pot and some cooking utensils.

From Florence the slow-moving ox trains followed the Mormon Trail 1,000 miles across Nebraska and Wyoming into Utah. The Hintons walked every step. On Sept. 11, 1861, they were greeted in Salt Lake City.

Early Hurricane furniture possibly built by John Nock Hinton, Hurricane Valley Heritage Park Museum, Hurricane, Utah, Feb. 4, 2017 | Photo by and courtesy of Jim Lillywhite, St. George News

John Hinton was able to find carpenter work building mostly caskets and some furniture. He had designed a table admired by many, but the people were so poor none could afford it. Col. Reece, an officer who disbursed provisions to the Johnston Army, bought the table and paid for it with enough flour and bacon to supply the couple for the entire winter.

After the Hintons’ first baby was born, Young asked 200 more families to go to Southern Utah and help with the Dixie Mission. The winter had been so cold in Salt Lake that the Hintons were anxious to go to a warmer climate. They started out in December for the “Cotton Mission.”

“It was colder than crossing the plains,” they wrote.

In Virgin they built their first home, a dugout using cottonwood logs for the gable roof. In a letter home, Emma Hinton wrote, “This place is not so good.”

Read more: History day; Virgin Town walkabout, once ‘a dreadful place’

A year later, her family arrived from England, and all six of them moved in with the Hintons, including her father, John Spendlove IV and Emma’s brother John Spendlove V.

“There was considerable chaos until the three men, all named John, could build another dugout nearby,” Lawton said.

The Hintons and the Spendloves were not farmers by training or experience. They acquired grape cuttings but planted them upside down and had to do it all over again. They soon learned the art of farming.

Old farm and steel-wheeled tractor, Hurricane Valley Heritage Park Museum, Hurricane, Utah, Jan. 6, 2017 | Photo by and courtesy of Jim Lillywhite, St. George News

In 1876 John Hinton used his skills to help with finish work on the LDS church’s St. George temple as a one-year donation.

Emma Hinton continued to manage alone with six children. She milked the cow, kept the little thatched-roof home clean and improvised. The oldest of the children would gather pigweed and lucerne (alfalfa) for mother to cook. Her coffee mill came in handy to grind sorghum seed for flour, making a coarse, bitter bread.

Read more: Sorghum day; Dixie’s other crop and a LaVerkin walkabout

Finally, the little Hinton family started getting ahead. John Hinton built a woodworking shop and filled it with furniture to sell. However, just when the shop was ready to open, combustible glue exploded. The fire burned everything to the ground.

Though discouraged, John Hinton knew he had 10 mouths to feed and another on the way, so he  drove to Salt Lake City to work and purchase new tools. After six months, he brought back tools, more fruit trees and grape cuttings.

Soon talk arose of building a canal to open up 2,000 acres of new farm land in the Hurricane Valley. The canal took hard labor, pick, shovel, sweat and toil.

Photo of Hurricane Canal workers, Hurricane Valley Heritage Park Museum, Hurricane, Utah, photo date not specified | Image courtesy of Hurricane Valley Heritage Park Museum, St. George News

The Hinton boys helped with the construction beginning in 1891 with a dam in the LaVerkin Gorge and digging a 12-foot-wide canal diverting water from the Virgin River.

The 8.2 miles of canal, 12 tunnels and six wooden flumes took more than 12 years to complete, after which workers were paid with 20-acre shares of land. The Hintons’ sons worked and earned their land and built homes, becoming the first settlers in Hurricane. Before he died, John Nock Hinton and Emma Hinton moved to Hurricane and lived in a beautiful home, close to their sons.

Water ran in the canal for 80 years. Today it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Hurricane was named for a strong wind that blew the top off Erastus Snow’s buggy.

Hurricane Mayor John Bramall said those pronouncing the city’s name must respect the first settlers’ English accent: “Hur’-ah-kun.”

Visiting Hurricane Valley Heritage Park Museum

Early doctor’s office, now the Hurricane Valley Heritage Park Museum, Hurricane, Utah, Jan. 6, 2017 | Photo by and courtesy of Jim Lillywhite, St. George News

Hurricane Valley Heritage Park Museum is located at 335 State St., Hurricane, and is open Monday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Visitors can read or listen to stories of the canal runners and riders. Visitors can also obtain directions to the canal trailhead, a fun and easy hike. A path that canal runners used to inspect and patch leaks runs along the canal edge. Hikers can view and experience tunnels and flumes hiking on the trail.

The museum also includes other buildings, a 100-year-old wedding cake, relics, wooden water pipes and farm machinery.

For more information, call 435-635-3245.

Photo gallery follows below. Click on photos to enlarge, use left-right arrow keys to cycle through the gallery.

About the series “Days”

“Days” is a series with St. George News contributor, feature writer and photographer Kathleen Lillywhite. She said:

I write my stories for people who say, ‘What is there to do around St. George?’ and for new folks just moving into this area.

Read more: See all of the features in the “Days” series.

Email: [email protected] | [email protected]

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2017, all rights reserved.

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  • anybody home February 13, 2017 at 1:55 pm

    The headline has a misspelled word. Needs to be fixed. Only one “m” in emigrant.

    • Paul Dail February 13, 2017 at 3:04 pm

      Thank you for bringing that to our attention. It has been fixed.

      Paul Dail

  • ptarmigan February 13, 2017 at 4:19 pm

    Such a tender emmigrant love story that continues for a lifetime.

  • .... February 15, 2017 at 12:13 am

    Great article !

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