This is a talk presented by Phylis Tonks (a John Pack Descendant) at a ‘Daughters of Utah Pioneers’ meeting in St. George in the spring of 2011
John Pack was my great-great grandfather. He was born to George Pack and Phylotte Green on May 29, 1809 in St. John, New Brunswick, Canada. He was one of twelve children. When John was eleven years old, the family moved to a farm at Hounsfield in New York State. It was close to Watertown, which was an active industrial center, and like many farm families, they visited the town as often as once a week on market day.
In October 1832, John, then twenty-three years old married Julia Ives, my great-great grandmother, in Watertown. John had purchased the farm from his father and as part of the transaction, agreed to care for his parents, who were now in their sixties.
By this time, Joseph Smith had received his revelations, and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was officially organized. Missionaries were being sent all over from Kirtland, and John and Julia probably had heard of the “Mormonites,” of the “golden Bible,” and of “Joe Smith.” By 1835, traveling missionaries found John’s parents, George and Phylotte Pack, and they believed, and were baptized. Once in the Church, they could not resist the attraction of gathering with the Saints at Kirtland, Ohio, so John helped them “fit out”–get together the wagon, animals and whatever they could take with them and they left for Kirtland in the fall of 1835.
John and Julia had been married nearly four years now, and were still living on the farm in Hounsfield. They had had several discussions with visiting Elders, including Heber C. Kimball and Joseph Smith, Sr., but because of John’s strong-mindedness, he was not easily converted. Once converted, though, John’s and Julia’s lives would never be the same. They were baptized in March of 1836, and in the early spring of 1837, they sold their farm, packed all their goods and headed for Kirtland to be with John’s parents, George and Phylotte. It was here that they renewed friendships with Heber C. Kimball and other apostles and personally met Joseph Smith.
John Pack’s year in Kirtland – the spring of 1837 to the spring of 1838- was a terrible time for them because of the persecutions. John purchased a farm on the Chagrin River outside of Kirtland, intending to build a sawmill, but it was not to be. The Pack’s attended meetings in the Kirtland Temple, and they were loyal to the prophet and his defenders like Brigham Young.
In April, after selling the farm at a loss, John and Julia headed for Missouri with their two children, four-year old Ward Eaton and baby Lucy, less than a year old, and John’s parents, George and Phylotte. This was a difficult 500 mile trip in a wagon, and it took a month to arrive in Far West. They bought a farm on the Grand River, some thirteen miles away.
It was going to be a long, hot summer with many terrible things going on. Oliver Cowdery, David and John Whitmer, W. W. Phelps, and Lyman Johnson had been excommunicated and were very vocal dissenters. It seemed as if the whole area was in turmoil. Milling around were anti-Mormon mobs and Danite bands organized by a Mormon to fight fire with fire, along with bands of militia trying to keep peace.
One day, a company of immigrants came, bringing word that John’s sister, Phoebe’s husband had just died at Huntsville, Missouri, and that Phoebe was deathly sick. John and Julia headed out the next day to go get her.
Before they reached the ferry, a company of about 30 armed men met them and asked if they were Mormons. John answered with a simple “yes,” and they were told to follow them to the group’s camp. Immediately they were accosted by Sashiel Woods, a Methodist minister and leader of this mob force. He told Julia “We take you for a spy,” and “You can bid your husband goodbye; you will never see him again.”
Julia was told to go to a nearby log house, but strongly protesting, she said she would die with John. John leaned over and whispered, “Stay with the wagon and take care of the horse. I am not afraid. I will be back soon.” Led by Woods, a group of five or six men took John through the brush to a grassy clearing. Woods then delivered an ultimatum: “Here will be your grave. We are going to kill you unless you deny Joseph Smith.”
John swallowed hard. He was not one to be cowed. “Joseph Smith is a prophet of God,” he said. “Reverend Woods, you claim to be a preacher of the gospel. So do I, and I will meet you at the day of judgment.”
At that point, no one seemed willing to shoot him, and finally one of the men standing by the wagon called out, “Let that damned Mormon go.” John was brought back to the wagon, and the entire group escorted them to the ferry with the warning, “If we ever find you around here again, you won’t get off so easy.”
Arriving at Huntsville, they found Phoebe near death, so they left her three oldest children with another family and brought Phoebe and her six-month old baby back to their own home on the Grand River. Things were not much better there. Rufus, John’s brother was down with the chills and fever, and John’s 69 year- old father George was seriously ill. Sometime in October he died and was buried in Far West.
Fear of the mobs drove John to move his family into Far West. He purchased some logs and on the edge of town put up a one-room structure. It was in this “poorly lighted and poorly heated room” that twenty persons lived during the winter of 1838-39. After a number of mob encounters and the Battle of Crooked River, Governor Boggs issued the infamous extermination order that stated “the Mormons must be treated as enemies and must be exterminated or driven from the state.”
Conditions deteriorated rapidly with mob violence everywhere. After the Haun’s Mill massacre, the state militia descended on Far West, and Joseph Smith, Sidney Rigdon, Hyrum Smith, Lyman Wight, George Robison and Parley P. Pratt were taken prisoners and escorted to Liberty Jail. Brigham Young was left in charge.
Finally, in February of 1839 John Pack and his family left for Illinois. He settled in Perry, Illinois for about a year and then moved to Nauvoo in April of 1840. By this time, Joseph Smith and the other leaders had escaped and come back to Nauvoo. John had served a ten month mission, preaching in southern Illinois. The Nauvoo Legion was organized, and John became a captain and then a major in 1843.
Nauvoo grew rapidly, the first story of the Temple was built, John and Julia received their endowments and were sealed, and many new doctrines were introduced, including baptism for the dead and polygamy.
John Pack was called on another mission to New Jersey along with Ezra Taft Benson. They were to preach the gospel and also to promote Joseph Smith’s plans to run for president. While on this mission, in June of 1844, Joseph and Hyrum Smith were killed.
Finally, after hearing of their deaths, John returned to Nauvoo. Here, he became a member of the “Council of Fifty” and he worked in the Temple with Julia where they received all their endowments, and in January of 1846, John added three wives to his family. He was now 36, and Julia was 29, with five children of their own.
Opposition to the Mormons was now fierce, and on February, 1846, John and his entire family left for the Rocky Mountains. Their 10-month old Julia died and they moved into Winter Quarters.
In the spring of 1847, John was called to be one of the pioneers to the Rocky Mountains and they were led by the Twelve, Brigham Young and Heber C. Kimball. After many trials, they reached the valley in July, where Brigham Young became very sick with mountain fever, and had to rest a few days while others pushed ahead. John Pack was in charge of the main company, bringing it into Emigration Canyon.
On the morning of July 22, he joined a small party of eight to go into the valley by horseback. Some in this group were Orson Pratt, George A. Smith, Erastus Snow and Porter Rockwell. “This is the Place Monument” has one panel showing John Pack in this group.
John Pack and the other pioneers returned to Winter Quarters in the fall of 1847 to get their families, and by April of 1848 the entire company started across the plains, reaching the Salt Lake Valley in September of 1848 after suffering many great trials.
John served seven missions, including a three -year mission to France and the Channel Islands. He died April 4, 1885, leaving many descendants. He had married eight wives and had 43 children.