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Sarah Brown was born January 1, 1834 in Jefferson, Henderson, New York. She was the fourth of seven children. Her parents, Harry Brown and Rhoda North were taught the gospel by David W. Patten and joined the Church in June 1833.
On April 1, 1834, three months after Sarah’s birth, her father Harry Brown accompanied Parley P. Pratt on a mission to Richland Township, New York to recruit volunteers to help aid the Missouri Saints. Wilford Woodruff was one of the recent converts they met with. Wilford immediately made arrangements to settle his affairs in New York and accompanied Harry Brown and Warren Ingles back to Kirtland, Ohio on April 11, 1834. Sarah’s father Harry and Wilford were among those who participated in the march from Ohio to Missouri that became known as Zion’s Camp. After Zion’s Camp disbanded, Harry Brown was one of Wilford’s missionary companions to Missouri, Tennessee, and Arkansas in January 1835.
While her father was gone, Sarah’s mother moved the family from New York to Jefferson, Ohio (about 35 miles from Kirtland). Four more children, two sons and two daughters, were born while the Brown family was living in Ohio, between 1837 and 1849. Ohio is also where Sarah began her schooling at the age of six. She completed regular school at the age of 14, then studied for two more years so she could earn a teaching certificate in 1850.
Saluda Steamship Tragedy of 1852
In March 1852, Saluda left St. Louis for Council Bluffs, Iowa, carrying many Mormon immigrants from England and Wales. The river was muddy, icy, and running high as Saluda stopped at Lexington, Missouri for supplies before continuing her journey. Just beyond Lexington, a narrow channel with very strong currents made it difficult for ships to make a sharp turn in the river. Saluda's Captain, Francis T. Belt, tried unsuccessfully for two days to make the bend. On Good Friday morning, 9 April 1852, Captain Belt, frustrated by the lack of progress, ordered an increase in steam pressure. Saluda pushed off, but before the paddlewheel got through its second rotation, the boilers exploded. The explosion could be heard for miles.
In December 1851 the Brown family sold everything to join the Saints in Utah. Harry and Rhoda along with their children Ira, Sarah, Mary, and Jane, took a steamboat from Cincinnati, Ohio to Louisville, Kentucky. There they waited for three months until the river thawed enough for them to make it to St. Louis, Missouri. On March 30, 1852 the Browns joined other Saints and were among the 175 passengers on the Steamboat Saluda when it left St. Louis. The ice in the Mississippi River delayed their journey for several days and they had to stop at Lexington, Missouri. On April 9, when Captain Francis T. Belt decided to get started, the dry boilers exploded disintegrating the hull. The boat sunk within minutes.
One hundred of the 175 passengers were killed or injured, and Sarah’s family members were among them. Sarah was knocked unconscious by flying debris, her brother Ira’s teeth were knocked out, his face was cut, and his leg was broken. Sarah’s mother and her two sisters were not harmed, but her father’s injuries were so severe that he died two weeks later, on April 24, 1852.
Rhoda Brown continued on their journey to Utah with her children. On July 12, 1852 their company departed from Council Bluffs. Rhoda, Ira, Mary and Jane spent the winter in Laramie, Wyoming because Ira’s injured leg became so infected it had to be amputated. Sarah, at 18 years old, continued the journey in Henry Miller’s Company and arrived in Salt Lake City on October 1, 1852.
Marriage to an Apostle
Sarah was sealed to Wilford Woodruff on March 13, 1853, the same day Wilford was sealed to Emma [Smoot] Smith. Although Sarah’s mother and siblings arrived in Salt Lake City later that summer, they left a year later to return to Ohio and Sarah did not see her family again.
Initially she lived with Phebe and Emma in the Valley House in Salt Lake City. Her first son, David Patten, was born there April 4, 1854. Then, the following year, she taught school in Weber. When she returned to Salt Lake she taught school in the 14th Ward. Sarah had six more children while living in Salt Lake City: Brigham Young (1856 - 1876), Phebe Arabell (1859 - 1939), Sylvia Melvina (1862-1940), Newton (1863-1960), Mary (1867-1903), and Charles Henry (1870-1871).
After her son’s Brigham’s birth in 1856, Sarah learned how to make gloves. The cloth for the gloves was made from the flax they grew. They also used flax to make other things including carpets, linens for the kitchen, and bedspreads. In her autobiography Sarah wrote that “Aunt Phebe” was a good tailoress and taught her how to make dresses as well as clothes for the men.
Phebe was Relief Society President, and Sarah contributed a square for the 14th Ward quilt which the Relief Society auctioned off in 1857 to raise money for the perpetual emigration fund. Sarah’s square featured two birds tending a nest using appliqued fabrics and she embroidered her name as “Sarah Woodruff.” Ten years later Sarah learned millinery, and began to make hats and bonnets. She was very proud of her work and the fact that all the materials were homegrown, except the silk thread she used to embroider the gloves and the silk used to decorate the hats and bonnets.
Sarah’s oldest son David was a horse enthusiast and Wilford wanted to support David’s interest in raising stock horses. Wilford purchased 20 acres in Randolph, Utah – about 75 miles northeast of Salt Lake City – and moved Sarah’s family there in May of 1871. Wilford then spent weeks there building fences, plowing, and planting with his sons David, who was 16, and Wilford, Jr. – Phebe’s eldest – who was 30 years old. Reflecting on Wilford’s work ethic, Newton’s son Wilford Weeks Woodruff said his grandfather "worked so hard he'd make himself sick. He didn't stop until he got through with a job. He'd go like crazy till he got through.”
Life in Excile
Sarah was sad to leave Salt Lake City and her close association with Wilford’s first wife, Phebe, who had become a second mother to her. In her autobiography Sarah wrote that Phebe “was a noble woman and a loving mother to us all … She would administer to the sick children and give us good counsel and advice in all things.” It was also hard for Sarah to leave her second oldest son, Brigham, behind in Salt Lake City, but he stayed so he could pursue an education at the University of Deseret.
Sarah’s daughter, Arabell, wrote the following about the move to Randolph: “This was a severe trial for me. There were no good schools or teachers in Randolph. I arrived there on my twelfth birthday [May 30]. We lived in a tent for six months. I went boat riding with my sister in a tub on Little Creek. In the fall we moved into a new home, the only home in Randolph with an upstairs. Mother taught school two years and was secretary in the Relief Society. I often attended these meetings with her.”
Wilford, David, and Wilford Jr., built a 20 x 40 foot cabin on the farm in Randolph. For five years, Sarah’s family of five children shared the Randolph cabin with Wilford, Jr. and his wife Emily and their children. Wilford lived in Randolph periodically between 1872 and 1876. On Sarah's 39th birthday, January 1, 1873, Wilford recorded that he installed two floors. He also wrote that, "Sarah was very poorly through the night." A month later, Wilford and Sarah's eighth and last child, Edward Randolph, was born on February 2, 1873. He died six days later and Sarah wrote that she “came very near following him.”
Sarah Brown was sealed to Wilford Woodruff (1807-1898) on March 13, 1853. In his journal Wilford recorded that he was sealed at 7:00 pm to both Emma Smith (1838-1912) and Sarah Brown by Brigham Young (1801-1877).
- David Patten Woodruff (1854-1937)
- Brigham Young Woodruff (1857-1877)
- Phoebe Arabell Woodruff (1859-1939)
- Sylvia Melvina Woodruff (1862-1940)
- Newton Woodruff (1863-1960) - Mayor of Smithville, Utah 1900
- Mary Woodruff (1867-1903)
- Charles Henry Woodruff (1870-1871)
- Edward Randolph Woodruff (1873-1873)
|Offspring of Harry Brown and Rhoda North (1811-1865)|
|Charles Brown (1828-1828)|| |
|Baby Brown (1830-1830)|| |
|Mark Brown (1831-)|| |
|Sarah Brown (1834-1909)||1 January 1834 Henderson, Jefferson County, New York||1 May 1909 Smithfield, Cache County, Utah|| Wilford Woodruff (1807-1898)|
|Mary Brown (1837-1894)|| |
|Ira Brown (1840-)|| |
|Jane Celeste Brown (1844-1933)|| |
|Edward Brown (1849-)|