Martha Robinson Blackham
In Stockport, Lancashire, England on the 13th of February 1726, Joseph Cook, the great grandfather of Martha was born. He married Mary Cook who came to gladden her parent’s heart on 25 Sept 1721, also in Stockport, Lancashire, England. To this couple, Nancy Mary Cook Robinson, grandmother of Martha was born 25 Dec 1750. She married George Robinson who was born about 1756. To them was born on 11 October 1783 a son, James Robinson, who married Elizabeth Perry, who was born about 1785. This couple became the parents of Martha Robinson Blackham who was born 22 March 1807 in Heaton Norris, Lancashire, England
Martha married Samuel Blackham Jr. To them were born seven children, John, James, William, amuel, Elizabeth, Sarah, and Thomas. Her two eldest sons John and James came to America in 1855. She left home, friends, and husband for the sake of the Gospel as preached by Elders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on 25 May 1856. She with her three children, Samuel, Sarah, and Thomas (her daughter Elizabeth had died of fever) along with 800 saints set sail on the steamship “Horizon” at Liverpool. They were on the ocean five weeks and four days, landing in Boston 3 July 1856 where they took the train for Iowa, arriving there on July 8th. The distance from the train to camp was about 4 miles. They were tired of riding, so they gladly walked the distance. They had not gone far before a thunderstorm drenched them & everything they were carrying. Night came on them, and their clothes were wet, so they stood up all night. This was their first experience in traveling to Zion on foot.When they reached camp, they found no handcarts were ready. They with the rest of the company had to remain in Iowa about two months making preparations to start the trek across the weary plains. They left Iowa, August 25, 1856, in the company of Edward Martin’s company, which consisted of 576 persons, 146 handcarts, and seven wagons. The Martin Handcart Company was last of five handcart companies to leave Iowa City that year. They had a long tiresome journey suffered many hardships and privations, and food had to be rationed out. Many of the company died on the way. But Martha and her three children survived, and with the few who were left reached Salt Lake City 30 November 1856.
It has been said it was a sight to see 576 souls pulling their carts through cities and villages of Iowa, people came out of their houses and jeered at them, on they went, all happy and cheerful. They encountered many storms and were wet through. The company moved along successfully until they reached the mountains – then snowstorms overtook them and suffering became intense. Women grasped hands to wade across steams coming out on the other side with their clothes frozen stiff. They camped at a place called “Martins Hole”. Snow was too deep to go any further. While at prayer meeting during a bitter cold night, Brother Rodwell spoke in tongues. An interpretation was given telling that rescuers would arrive in two or three days. On the 3rd day Joseph A. Young and another man rode into camp. What a shout went up – they brought word that food was a few miles away. During that night 19 people died. Wolves dug up bodies of the dead and devoured them. Few oxen were left to pull the wagons. A sick oxen was killed and meat rationed.
At the October Conference of 1856, President Brigham Young asked for volunteers to go and relieve the ill-fated Martin Handcart Company. John Blackham was the first man to respond, because he knew that in the company were his mother, sister Sarah, and brothers Samuel and Thomas. President Brigham Young then dismissed the conference. The men placed their quilts, clothing, corn and food in the old government wagon and started on their errand of mercy. The snow was 18 inches deep. When they reached the summit of “Big Little Mountain”, they say smoke issuing from a distant group of trees. At first sight they thought it was Indians, but upon going nearer they saw it was the ill-fated Martin Handcart Company. Brother Wheelock on his horse, reached there first and heard Thomas cry out, “Here comes our Jack.” Never had there been a more happy reunion.
It must be remembered that this was the first year of Handcart migration and naturally an experiment. The Edward Martin Company was latest starting and the largest company of the year. There were a greater percentage of children and aged people in it, which made it long on the way and suffering more terrible than any other company.
I remember them saying my own grandmother (Sarah) spent her 17th birthday on her way to Zion, June 24, 1856. It was to be remembered that all of the companies traveled over mountain terrain with elevations reaching 8000 feet. In addition, the carts supplied were frail objects made of partly seasoned wood and leather. They were met at Sweetwater near Devils Gate by the first wagon coming to bring food. There were some log houses there, which were torn down to make fires, because the snow was so deep and teams had long been on the road and rations were short.
A short time later they were met by a 2nd rescue wagon train with sufficient wagons to carry most of the company. There were but few remaining who were able to walk and it was difficult to decide who should ride. According to Roberts History of the Church probably one sixth of the entire company had died on the way. They arrived in Salt Lake City, on Sunday, November 30 at noon.
The Saints were taken to Sugarhouse Ward. Meetings had been dismissed early. President Brigham Young had asked the Church members to take the new converts in to their homes and care for them until they could find places of their own; but not all could be placed here, so requests for succor went out to the surrounding communities.
She was called with her family to help settle Nephi, in Juab Co. When she reached this place a fort had been built for protection against the Indians and their raids. The wall around the fort covered an area of four blocks, and inside were small homes, in one of which the family lived during the winter. Others shared their meager supplies of food with them. After a short time the call came to help settle Moroni in Sanpete County, she and her family were among the first ones to go. When Martha first saw the green pastures in the valley she was reminded of her beloved home in England. Martha’s home was through the lot from her daughter Sarah’s Home. I have heard my mother and sisters tell how particular Martha was about her housework. Her board floors had to be scrubbed every week. The hearthstone in front of the fireplace polished with sand. The copper bucket polished till you could see yourself in it. Her meals were on time and very regular. Martha worked hard to supply the needs of her family and also devoted much time to her Church duties. She was an avid reader. When in later years her eyesight became so weakened that she could not live alone, she moved to the home of her daughter Sarah and family. She died there a true Latter-day Saint December 11, 1888 and was buried in the family plot in Moroni.
(Written by Blanche Draper Cooper, a great granddaughter of Martha)