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Ashbel Haskell and Family History

Ashbel was Uncle to Catherine Haskell, our ancestor, but much of this history involves Catherine and the Woodburys.

Ashbel Haskell and Family History


Our Pioneer Heritage
Volume 3
The Ship Brooklyn Saints—Part Ii
Ashbel, His Wife and Children
A Tribute

Vivacious, attractive Zulia Hastings, whose clothes brought out the beauty of her rich auburn hair and lovely complexion, had completely won the heart of tall, dark and handsome Ashbel Green Haskell. They were married by their minister on Sunday, March 3, 1822. Ashbel, then twenty-four, had prepared carefully and well for this event for he had been thrown early in life on his own resources. He and Zulia went to live at North New Salem where he had a farm and before long he also acquired valuable timber land. He became part owner of a sawmill, one of several in that part of Massachusetts. He liked not only farming, but machinery as well, and became a skilled millwright. Zulia's cooking, housekeeping and artistic ability made their home attractive. Ashbel was proud of his beautiful wife and the pretty clothes she made, and he added to them what only the fortunate few had, such as lovely, long silk veils and imported silk stockings. How she loved this kindly, considerate husband who provided so well.

After a wait of over three years tiny Irene received a glad welcome into their home. Eight more years passed before another child came. This time it was the longed-for son whom they named Thales Haskell. No more children came to gladden the big, new house which was now their home. School became a very important factor to the parents, and the children were allowed to attend the academy at New Salem Center a little to the south. Irene took all the courses she could until she was considered very well educated for her time. A very special school friend of Irene's was Emmie Woodward from nearby Petersham.

The panic of 1837 came, but the Haskells weathered through it without serious loss. To help her husband during these trying times, Zulia opened an eating place in their home for the many mill hands. Sorrow came to them in 1838 when Ashbel's beloved mother passed away at the advanced age of 83 years.

Zulia was born in the comfortable home of Consider and Phebe Hastings on May 12, 1799. She was named Ursulia but was called Zulia for short. She had one brother, Thales, and several years later a sister was born who was named Samantha Ophelia. When Zulia was eleven, in 1810, tragedy struck the household. Her father was taken from them when only forty years old.

When the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was organized missionaries were sent into various parts of the country proselyting the new religion, commonly known as Mormonism. In this new world where there was religious freedom, many different sects had sprung up and all were contending for larger membership. Ashbel usually stayed away from their meetings, but Zulia and Irene, both deeply religious, attended. One evening to Zulia's surprise Ashbel announced, "I've been to a Mormon meeting. The preacher, Elder Maginn, spoke more good sense than all the ministers I ever heard." His friends, the Jeremiah Woodbury's, also were interested.

Irene and Emmie Woodward went to the meetings. Emmie's mother had been baptized in Petersham. Several others joined this church, among them, in 1841, the Woodburys after a marvelous healing in their family. Ashbel's niece, his brother Samuel's daughter, Catherine Haskell, was given a bad time for keeping company with Thomas Woodbury who was now a Mormon. Zulia, Irene and Catherine Haskell and Emmie Woodward decided to be baptized into the Mormon Church. Emmie, who long afterwards became known as Emmeline B. Wells, described their baptism thus: "Much excitement prevailed; threats by town authorities and ministers, judges and others came to the water's edge to forbid baptism or learn if she (the youngest) was submitting to it of her own free will and choice. It was a trying ordeal." But she told her widowed mother that the crisis was past and henceforth she would dedicate her life to the work of the Church. The others felt the same, so Zulia and the three girls all became members. Catherine married Thomas H. Woodbury two months later, May 8, 1842.

A young man of wide experience, Francis M. Pomeroy, was attracted to the saw-milling business at New Salem. Here he stayed and was associated with Ashbel Haskell in this business. The eating house kept by Zulia and her daughter Irene was a handy place to get meals, and soon young Pomeroy showed an interest in the daughter as well as in her good cooking. For a time Irene refused his attentions; then to please her, Francis attended the Mormon meetings with them and was surprised to find himself really interested. Francis told them his life story. He had left his home in Somers, Connecticut when only a lad and had gone to sea to become a sailor. He had reached the rank of first mate by the time he was twenty-one and had already seen much of the world. He recounted how he had been ship-wrecked off the rocky coast of Peru, had clung to a spar for hours and had then been washed ashore more dead than alive. He was found by a young Spaniard in whose home he had been nursed back to health and had lived there for two years. At last, a longing for home compelled him to take a ship to the Isthmus of Panama, cross by land, go on to New Orleans and thence back to Connecticut.

As Francis was becoming convinced of the truth of this Latter-day Saint Gospel, he and Irene found themselves very much in love. Ashbel felt that they could not lose what they had spent their lives to attain to go off—nobody knew where. But Mormonism was making a difference. Dear ones were turning against them—there was so much confusion and misunderstanding. Joseph Smith said, when in Massachusetts in 1836, "The country is rich in religious superstition, bigotry, persecutions and learned ignorance." How true it was, they knew.

Catherine, with the Woodburys, had gone to Nauvoo and so had Emmie. Her letter was encouraging after she had seen the Prophet for she said of him: "It was as if I beheld a vision. I seemed to be lifted off my feet—to be walking on air. Before I was aware of it, he came to me and took my hand. I was simply electrified—thrilled through and through every part of my body. The one thought that filled my soul was, 'I have seen the prophet of God!' The power of God rested upon him to such a degree that on many occasions he seemed translated. The glory of his countenance was beyond description. His voice seemed to shake the place on which he stood and to penetrate the inmost soul of his hearers. The people loved him to adoration." It was while they were in Peterboro, New Hampshire attending meetings that Francis and Irene were married; and here they heard the terrible news in July, 1844 of the martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum Smith. Mourning throughout the church was intense. As all prayed, the spirit of gathering with the Saints came to the Haskell family and slowly their plans took shape. It was decided that Ashbel remain and take care of their business affairs. The other members could go to Nauvoo, Illinois, well equipped for the trip, with the dependable Francis to look after them. Zulia, Irene and Thales wished to visit Boston. Then Irene could meet Francis to visit his family in Connecticut before starting west. Another sifting was taking place; they were being led by God's hand that His purposes might be brought about—"Only my sheep hear my voice."

With hearts too full for words or tears the family began their separate journeys. Zulia, Irene and Thales left for a short visit in the East before meeting Francis for the trip to Nauvoo. As they took the stage for Worcester, Massachusetts the parting from Ashbel seemed the most distressing thing of all. Father and Mother Pomeroy had never met their son's wife Irene; so Francis was anxious to take her to the family home in Somers, Connecticut. He hoped, in spite of the great prejudice against the Latter-day Saints, that his parents would relent and understand the important step he had taken and appreciate his wonderful wife. Although Francis and Irene were treated well, still his parents made every effort to persuade them to give up the religion and not go so far away. They, too, could not understand.

Young Thales was overjoyed that his mother had consented to take him. They would go from Boston via New Orleans on the ship Gloucester with a company of Saints in charge of George B. Wallace. Thales later said: "I had often imagined I would like to be a sailor, but the awful storm one night cured me of that. The waves rolled mountain high and the salt water came splashing into our berths by the buckets full. The rocking of the ship made us all seasick. After a time the weather became pleasant, but I was taken with the measles which laid me up for several days. We were 27 days from Boston to New Orleans and were glad to put our feet on land once more."

To their surprise they did not enter New Orleans via the delta of the Mississippi, but came from the Gulf of Mexico through Lake Borgne and a narrow steep passage, the Rigolets, into Lake Ponchartrain and then into the bayou of St. John bordered by many live oak. They passed the French and Spanish forts. A short canal took them to the Basin, the landing place of this rather elevated city, New Orleans. Francis had been there as had many of the Saints before and after them. It seemed more like France, but beside the French there were negroes, Indians, Spaniards and Americans living largely in separate sections. On the opposite side of the city from the Basin flowed the great Mississippi river with its levee. This was truly the gateway to the South. From there this Mormon company took a steamboat The Pride of the West up the Mississippi to St. Louis. The oldest part of this city was also French. From St. Louis they took the riverboat Tempest and from it they first saw on a bend of that great river, the City of Nauvoo which could truly be called The Beautiful. There on a hill stood their inspiring partly-finished temple. They had seen Boston, New Orleans and St. Louis; had their first train ride, an ocean voyage, sailed up the Mississippi river but their greatest thrill was to see their destination—the much talked of Nauvoo and to be with the Saints at last.

Francis and Irene who had made the trip overland in less time were there to welcome Zulia and Thales. It was good to make kind, inspiring, new friends and to see again the dear old ones such as Catherine, the Woodburys and Emmie. Emmie was in deep trouble; she had been dangerously ill, her baby had died and her husband had left the Church and deserted her because she also would not leave. Zulia was kept busy for in September, 1845, Irene's first baby, Francelle, was born and Catherine had her second child. Francis and Irene received encouragement through their patriarchal blessings. When the beautiful temple was rushed to completion they received their endowments.

In Nauvoo confusion reigned for besides enemies from without there was dissension within. Many were apostatizing, even those who were formerly valiant. Some joined the forces of evil against their dear friends. The sifting was again taking place. God needed a tried, true people to lay the foundation of His new Zion, for it depended on these faithful ones and those who followed to carry on the work that had been begun.

An order came for the Saints to evacuate Nauvoo. Everyone who possibly could was feverishly preparing to go. Francis quit his job, had a wagon made and stocked it with provisions, ammunition, etc. It was in the month of February, 1846 that the mob drove them west across the Mississippi. Many were without necessities because they were not given the promised time to prepare and no one would buy their valuable property. The Haskell-Pomeroy family had come to Nauvoo well provided with goods and money. Ashbel and Francis had seen to that. But what they had could not be enjoyed unless it was shared with the needy and there was so much need. The vast company all met at Sugar Creek where they were organized. The snow had to be swept away where the tents were put up. They had only outdoor fires and their beds were made on the cold, hard ground. The continual storms made the roads terrible. Thales said, "We discovered that our team was too light. Francis traded for a heavier yoke of oxen, but again found that these were too weak. Then we bought a yoke of strong, white oxen and traveled more comfortably."

Late in January, 1848 an historical event occurred. After a heavy rain rich findings of gold were discovered at Sutter's Mill. It was decided to keep it a secret. The Mormons continued their work at the mill and panned gold at every opportunity. In February and March the news commenced to leak out. By May it was broadcast to the world. The mill was completed by March 11, 1848, so Ashbel was free to collect his fortune. Many left their work regardless and rushed to the gold fields. With the sudden influx of population supplies were badly needed. Ashbel had always given his best to Zulia and his family, so now he worked early and late picturing what comforts he could bring to them and the other needy ones.

The Saints' westward journey from Nauvoo, Illinois had thus far taught Francis and many other novices how to travel with ox teams. Because of his early life as a sailor Francis was excellent help in crossing the large streams. He also knew a smattering of many languages and spoke Spanish fluently and they were going into Spanish territory. So Francis was chosen as one of the 143 men who comprised Brigham Young's advance company to lead the way to the Great Basin. With a courageous goodbye to his loved ones in Winter Quarters, Francis left shortly after the conference held there April 6, 1847.

Up to now Zulia and her children had been cared for by her husband Ashbel, or her son-in-law, Francis. Now both men were gone, and the most difficult part of the journey lay ahead. But the will to go on and faith in God's help sustained them. It was necessary to get provisions so thirteen-year-old Thales was sent to Missouri for this purpose in company of George B. Wallace who had been their leader and friend from Boston to Nauvoo. Mr. Wallace did the trading and helped Thales when needed.

There were over 2,000 people to go west that year. These were organized into ten large companies. The Haskell-Pomeroy-Woodbury group were assigned with the George B. Wallace company. They left Winter Quarters and crossed the Elkhorn River June 18, 1847. Zulia and Irene helped in every way they could, and they all were pleased whenever they found en route a short message left by the company Francis was in.

Cousin Catherine's sister-in-law, Maria, was near Thales' age. She was the youngest child and the only girl living in the Jeremiah Woodbury family. Young Thales, who was large for his age, shouldered responsibility splendidly, drove the ox team and took his turn guarding and herding the stock at night. Usually too tired for play Maria and Thales would talk of their school days in New Salem.

As Brigham Young's company reached Fort Laramie a flat boat was rented for crossing the Platte River. In the Black Hills, about 142 miles beyond Fort Laramie, this river had to be crossed again. Brigham Young sent nine men including Francis three days ahead to prepare for the crossing. They had a sole-leather skiff capable of carrying 1800 pounds. Light rafts were made of poles to take the wagons across. A large number of emigrants going to Oregon had been traveling on the south side of the Platte while the Saints were taking the north side until they reached Fort Laramie. Here they met and traveled to the Black Hills, then both companies had to cross. The emigrants paid the Saints in much needed supplies. It was decided to leave several men to do this ferrying. Francis stayed to help with the work. As soon as he was free to go Francis started eastward after his family, but much to his surprise he met them almost there. Within a few days he had a severe attack of rheumatism brought on by being in the cold river so much, so young Thales had to continue with the hard work. Francis got so bad he had to be helped in and out of the wagon.

Ashbel had never been long Out of Zulia's mind; if only she knew that he was safe. When they arrived at Pacific Springs they met Brigham Young's company returning to Winter Quarters. The Brooklyn Saints, she learned, had landed safely in California and Samuel Brannan wanted the Saints to join them there. This Brigham Young would not do for he knew it was not the place chosen by the Lord for his people.

The difficult five-mile climb up Big Mountain was slower and harder for Zulia's family because earlier they had let the Grant company have a yoke of their oxen when that company's cattle had stampeded. By night they had reached the summit and morning brought the first view of the Salt Lake Valley they had striven so hard to reach. It was desolate and uninviting. It was the last part of September 1847 when they reached the Valley. Their faith was such that they closed their minds to the memory of the green valley of their Massachusetts home and recalled that by God's direction to both Joseph and Brigham Young "this was the place." Time had to prove why the Lord, knowing of the productive land in California and Oregon, chose instead the desert land in the Rockies for his faithful, harassed Saints.

Near the site where the adobe fort had been commenced Zulia's family camped. Francis recovered after bathing in the warm springs a few times. They lived in their tent and wagon box while the men got out logs from North Canyon and built a cabin in the middle line of the South fort. Although very crowded, they were glad to be at last sheltered from the cold and stormy weather. Zulia and Irene brought out a few homey things along with the precious much-used Bible and Book of Mormon. Food was scarce that winter and all had to live on rations. In the spring of 1848 Francis and Thales put in a crop on Millcreek bench, but the crickets destroyed much of it.

Almost four years had passed since Zulia and her husband parted in Massachusetts. Now, at last, she received his letter from California bearing the news she had long awaited. Ashbel was leaving for Salt Lake to be reunited with his family and the main body of the Church. The letter told them he had panned much gold and that they "would be wall-heeled for the rest of their lives." It also stated when he was leaving California with a certain company of eastbound emigrants and about when they expected to arrive in the Salt Lake Valley. The family joyously made every preparation for Ashbel's coming and happily went out to meet the company. To their dismay Ashbel was not with them. The group said only that he had not come and that they knew nothing about him. In despair his family returned home. They investigated and found, too late, that Ashbel had started with that company. Nothing was ever found of their dear husband and father, nor of the fortune in gold he was bringing. His fate remains a mystery.* The greed for gold has caused many crimes, and Ashbel had too much gold with him for a safe journey.

Zulia found it hard to understand why she, in need of this dear, loving companion, should be left alone; still with faith and hope she trusted in and received God's loving comfort. All would be right in the end. But now Zulia and her family struggled for the most meager necessities ... Hope, faith, determination spurred the Saints on, for life itself for them and their loved ones was at stake and many did not survive. Every person's energy was needed to help obtain the absolute necessities. They needed roads, bridges, fences, barns, churches, schools, mills, stores and factories. The second winter was almost as bad as the first and food again had to be rationed. By early spring, as there was now safety in numbers, the people built homes away from the fort. Francis and Thales built a better house in the Second Ward. Francis made things for his folks as comfortable as possible as he left for California in the fall of 1849. He went with a large company which included a group of missionaries. Jefferson Hunt was guide and they traveled via the southern route. Thales, almost 16, stayed at home, looked after the family and raised a good crop of wheat. On June 26, 1850 before Francis' return, Irene's third child was born, a little son whom they called Elijah.

The trip, though very difficult, was profitable for upon his return Francis sold their little home in the Second Ward and bought two valuable lots near the center of Salt Lake City. Here they built a nice adobe house. Thales said: "Although Ashbel had gone, his desire for a good home again for his precious family was realized." It was located on Emigration Road. As polygamy was now being preached Francis married Matilda Coburn and later Jessamine Rutledge.

A call came in 1853 for Thales to serve as an Indian missionary in unsettled southern Utah, Arizona and Nevada. He was then only nineteen. It was difficult for Zulia to have this energetic, fearless son go so far away on such a dangerous mission. Thales was so successful as an Indian missionary that he was told to go home, get a wife to bring back with him, and continue his labors. He had won the heart of his former school playmate in Massachusetts, Hannah Maria Woodbury, and they were married in Salt Lake City October 4, 1855. They then traveled to Santa Clara in southwestern Utah where with a few other missionaries they made a home among the Indians. In the summer of 1857 Thales came home wild with grief. During one of his absences an Indian boy accidentally shot his young wife who was soon to become a mother. Zulia and Irene were grief-stricken too for they had always loved her. Thales was advised to marry again, so in the fall of 1857, he wed Margaret J. Edwards, an English convert, and they returned to their difficult mission. Here his wife served faithfully as a midwife and doctor and also reared a family.

*Upon reading this I decided to do a little research and see if there was more information on the web about Ashbel Haskell. I found this note in the Zechariah and Nancy Decker Genealogy that mentioned his name:

Zechariah and his friend Lafayette journeyed to Nauvoo sometime after this and were there at the time of the Prophet Joseph Smith’s matyrdom in 1844. They were also among those who were driven from Nauvoo during the winter of 1846. In the summer of that same year, Zechariah volunteered to join the Mormon Battalion, which was organized at Council Bluffs, Iowa, in response to a call issued by the U.S. government for military service. The United States had declared war on Mexico that spring, and sought the aid of the Mormon migrants in securing the territory of California against the Mexicans. Zechariah was mustered into Company A under the leadership of Captain Jefferson Hunt. Like other Battalion members, his journey across nearly two-thousand miles of desolate land was difficult and discouraging at times. Once, during a period of strict food rationing, some of the men in Zechariah’s company came upon a herd of buffalo and were successful in killing a few for food. They were overjoyed with the prospect of a tasty meal as they prepared the meat. However, their superior officer intervened and commanded them to discard the food. He proceeded to point his bayonet at the men to ensure that they would comply with his authority. But Zechariah refused to be bullied. He continued eating and told the officer to go ahead and shoot if he wanted to. The officer backed down and left the men to retrieve their discarded portions and finish their meal.

After arriving in San Diego, California, the Battalion was dissolved and its members headed off in various directions. Zechariah joined with a group of men who went northward to find work. Several, including Zechariah, were employed by a man named John Sutter to construct a saw mill. When gold was discovered at the mill, Zechariah was fortunate to be able to cache in on the spoils. However, good fortune did not follow the group on their journey back to Utah. They were ambushed along the way and some of Zechariah’s companions were killed.v Much of the group’s gold had been stashed away during the confrontation, but was never found by those who returned to search for it. Zechariah was fortunate to escape the fray not only with his life, but also with a small bag of gold tucked under his belt. It is believed he gave $15,000 worth of it to Brigham Young upon his return to Utah, a considerable sum in those

v Ashbel Haskell, father of Thales Haskell, was among those unlucky comrades who was killed in the ambush. Interestingly, Zechariah Decker and Thales Haskell were destined to cross paths over thirty years later as part of the settling of the San Juan. [See]
Note written by Marci Stringham

Owner/SourceOur Pioneer Heritage
File nameAshbel Haskell and Family History
File Size
Linked toCatherine Rebecca HASKELL; Thales HASKELL

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