We left John and Hannah coming into the year 1834 with 4 married children and 10 grandchildren and counting. Life seemed to be going well. Their continuation of living in Newry attests to the fact that their farm, and John’s blacksmithing, were bringing in the necessities of life. But, then as now, life can change in a twinkling of an eye.
We know that in the following account of Hannah’s baptism that she was sick in bed and supposedly dying. What ailed her we are never told but it could have been any number of things from a simple flu to any of a number of contagious diseases like typhoid. Whatever the ailment was, the family considered her live to be in danger of being snuffed out.
Newry being really just a scattering of small family farms and communication not being like today, John probably sent out Philip and/or John to tell the married children of their mother’s sickness. If the traditional baptism date of Dominicus, 30 Jun 1834, this would mean his mother took ill almost immediately after his baptism and the missionaries that miraculously appear at Hannah’s door were probably sent by Dominicus.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints practice baptism by immersion. Candidates for baptism are usually taught by missionaries over several meetings so they can be exposed to the various teachings of the Church and understand the commitment that the convert is making. The location for a baptism today is usually at a church building that has a specially designed fount, but a candidate for baptism can be baptized in any body of water that is deep enough to immerse them. My own father was baptized in a horse trough.
|Early LDS baptism - ca. 1830|
This picture doesn’t depict Hannah’s baptism but is actually depicting the baptism of the parents of Joseph Smith in New York four years previous to Hannah’s baptism. Except for the largeness of the water body I would imagine that the event probably looked something like this. The number of people who gathered may not have been as many but I am sure this event did draw a crowd besides Hannah’s own children.
|Eliza Ann Carter|
So now we finally come to the day of Hannah Knight Libby Carter’s conversion and baptism, 4 July 1834. There is only one first-hand account of this event and we can thank Hannah’s daughter, Eliza Jane Carter Snow, for that. If it was not for the recollections of a 15-year-old girl, who later in life in 1892 felt inspired to write down her impressions, we would have been left without any hard evidence of what happened that day.
We have to realize this was just four years after the Church was organized and the Carters lived literally in the back woods. The original document is housed in the LDS Church History Library in Salt Lake City. It is so fragile that you are not allowed to see or handle the original, so you have to deal with an aged microfilm. Her entire diary written with pencil in a notebook is all of 6 pages long and the bulk of the story is the conversion story. Being ever the skeptic I spent an afternoon pouring over the film trying to read each word so I could see if the transcription we have is accurate or not. Not every word was readable on the original but I am satisfied that the transcription is an accurate record of what Eliza Ann wrote.
|Bear River south of Hannah's baptism site|
Eliza Ann Carter Snow wrote of that day: “I first embraced Mormonism in 1834, in the town of Newry, Oxford County, State of Maine. The first Mormon elders I ever heard preach were John F. Boynton and Daniel Bean. They came to my father's house, and my mother lay very sick. The doctors had given her up. The elders told her they were preaching a new doctrine and they told her that she could be healed if she could have faith, that they would hold hands on her. They did lay hands on her and said, 'In the name of the Lord Jesus be thou made whole.' And she was made whole and arose and called for her clothes and said I must go to the water. She walked one-half mile and was baptized in the river called Bear River and confirmed. And there was a large branch raised up in that place." (Eliza Ann Carter Snow, Autobiographical Sketch, 1892 April 10, LDS Church History Library, MS 9676 – microfilm of the original handwritten record transcribed by the author, 14 Feb 2012.) The quote of the day was John’s comment on this event, “That beats doctor bills.” (Ibid.) The date of the baptism is not recorded by Eliza Ann, or anyone else in the family for that matter. It can be inferred by the fact that the consensus date recorded in new FamilySearch for the baptism of most of the members of the family is 4 July 1834.
The effect of Hannah’s being brought back from near death and subsequent baptism sowed the seeds of division in this family on religious grounds. It is true that the family seemed to migrate together over the next 20 years but evidence will be presented that they really didn’t make the trek west together. Those who appear to share the baptism date with Hannah were John Jr., and Eliza Ann. Richard Harrison probably was baptized at that time as he lived in the home even though his recorded baptism date is 31 Oct 1832 – an obvious error. Dominicus, as previously mentioned, was baptized about this time. In fact, his traditional baptism date is 30 Jun 1834. William, who was married, joined the church a little later on 17 Nov 1834. One of the girls who did join the church lacks a baptism date – Hannah and Aaron M York had to have been baptized between when Hannah was baptized and 1837 when they left for Kirtland. Besides their father, John, Almira, Philip and Mary Jane never joined the church. Almira was already married and pregnant with her 5 child on July 4, 1834, so she may have not witnessed the healing of her mother. Possibly the need to be loyal to her husband, who may have not been receptive to the gospel, played a part in Almira’s failure to convert. The whereabouts of Philip who was 21 in 1834 is not known for sure but most likely he was there. Why he didn’t join is not known. The surprise in the family would have to be Mary Jane, the baby of the family, and only 12 when this event happened. Again it is only for us to guess as to why she didn’t join.
One last issue for today – I have long been a champion of John Carter. I realize he has been a much misunderstood figure in our family history. It is unfortunate that four words recorded by his then 15-year-old daughter would define his life – “That beats doctor bills.” It just isn’t right to define a person based on four words. John was a good man. As time will show he will keep his wife in contact with her LDS family members, but for him organized religion was not necessary. It would be so nice if we knew more about him. Unfortunately, what we have is what we got and that is all.
In any case, the event of 4 July 1834 will begin the physical schism of the family over the following few years. Regardless, Hannah never appears to look back and have any regrets for what transpired that day. Surely she was relieved to have been healed and the miraculous way the events transpired left her with an undeniable faith in God and her new-found religion. This faith would carry her through the remaining 30 plus years of her life, providing her with the needed strength to endure the many challenges – both physical and emotional – that she would experience over the ensuing decades.