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Saturday, November 27, 2010

Maria and Hannah Jane Brown

James Gammell was married five times.  His first wife, Harriet Fitzgerald, died in Michigan in 1848.  His very short marriage to Mrs. Editha Clark of Michigan in November 1849 ended in early 1850.  In October 1851 his third wife, Elizabeth Hendricks, died.  His fourth wife was Susan Maria Brown, and the fifth was Maria's sister-in-law Hannah Jane Davis Brown.

Susan Maria Brown
Maria and her family lived for a time in the Ambrosia Branch of the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints near Montrose in Lee County, Iowa, where she was baptized in the Mississippi River.  At age nineteen (1850) she crossed the plains with her widowed mother, Avis Hill Brown,(1) and her two brothers, George Washington Brown, age twenty-three, and Sidney William Brown, age thirteen.  Her oldest brother, Isaac Hill Brown, and his wife, Hannah Jane Davis, had entered the Salt Lake Valley three years earlier on September 25, 1847, as part of the Daniel Spencer/Perrigrine Sessions Company.(2)

Hannah Jane Davis
Hannah Jane and her family became members of the Mormon Church while living in West Township, Columbiana, Ohio.  A few years later her father, Isaac Davis, moved the family to Lee County, Iowa, about four miles from Nauvoo, where he bought nine hundred acres of farmland.  At this time many members of the Church had fled the persecutions in Missouri to settle in Illinois and Iowa. Although Nauvoo, located across the Mississippi River in Hancock County, Illinois, became the center of Church, there were also several Mormon congregations organized in Lee County, Iowa, under the direction of Stake President John Smith, the uncle of Joseph Smith.

At the time of the martyrdom of Joseph Smith in June 1844, nineteen-year-old Hannah Jane was living in close proximity to Nauvoo.  Here she met Isaac Brown, and they were married in the Nauvoo Temple in spring 1846, before being driven out of their beloved city by intense persecution.  They made the 300-mile journey across Iowa along with hundreds of other Latter-day Saints.  The following spring, while they were camped at Winter Quarters, Nebraska, Hannah Jane gave birth to her first child, Emily Jane.  On May 20, two days after the birth, Hannah Jane’s father, Isaac Davis, died of bilious fever.(3)  Emily Jane died six days later and was buried in a tiny grave next to her grandfather and her aunt Sabina Ann Davis Harrison, who had also died in Winter Quarters in February 1847.(4)

Leaving behind the graves of loved ones, Hannah Jane and Isaac Brown began the trek across the plains with the Spencer/Sessions Company consisting of 185 individuals and 75 wagons.  Although Perrigrine Sessions was a captain of fifty, his company was called “Parley's Company” after Parley P. Pratt of the Council of the Twelve Apostles, who was a member of the company.  Parley was traveling to the Great Salt Lake Valley for the first time, having just returned from a mission in England.  An excerpt from one of the trail journals recorded this incident, “I recollect one day that a large heavily loaded wagon ran over one of Bro. Pratt's little boys, about two years old; he took up the child and laid hands on him, and the child never complained, and soon was as well as before to all appearance.”(5)

For the most part the company followed the trail on the north bank of the Platte River, “sometimes leaving the river some miles, crossing streams and sand hills and passing long reaches without a single tree to relieve the sameness of the river valley.”  Along the way they had access to plenty of buffalo meat and other game.  As the journal stated, “…one Isaac Brown [husband of Hannah Jane Davis Brown] of our fifty was an excellent hunter and kept the camp supplied with fresh antelope meat.”  On the trail they met Willard Richards and other Church leaders from the Salt Lake Valley who were headed back to Winter Quarters to give support to the continuing exodus of Mormon pioneers.  Richards assured them that “they had found the place for the gathering of the saints, that they had laid off a city and named it Great Salt Lake City, Great Basin, North America."  The company arrived in the valley on September 25, 1847.(6)

By 1851 the Browns were settled in Utah County.  The widow Avis Brown was living with her children, Maria, Sydney, and George, and according to the census, her son Isaac H. Brown’s family was living in the house next door.  Hannah Jane Davis Brown, twenty-five years old, is listed, along with her three-year-old son, Isaac, and year-old daughter Hannah Jane.(7)  Isaac Brown, who worked as a freighter and could have been traveling at the time of the census, was not listed.  The more logical explanation is that he had already died or was missing.  Isaac was reportedly killed by Indians while building railroads in Nevada.  Another version of the story claims that Isaac was actually killed by his partner, and it was blamed on the Indians.  It is estimated that Isaac died sometime between 1850 and 1852.  The actual date and specific circumstances of his death are unknown. Even his wife didn’t know the full story. Hannah wrote that she “lost her husband sometime in the 50's.”(8)

On August 11, 1851, James Gammell married Susan Maria Brown as a plural wife.  (In the early days of the Mormon Church men who had the financial means to support more than one wife were sometimes asked by Brigham Young or other Church leaders to enter into plural marriage.  The practice was formally discontinued in 1890.)   On this same day James was also sealed to Elizabeth Hendricks, his third wife, and to his deceased wife, Harriet Fitzgerald.  One year after the death of Elizabeth Hendricks, James married Hannah Jane Davis Brown as a plural wife on October 7, 1852.(9)
  1. Avis Brown was converted to Mormonism and baptized in 1838 in Chautauqua County, New York. Maria was baptized in 1840 in Ambrosia.  (See “Ambrosia Iowa Branch Register”, Church History Library, Salt Lake City.)
  2. See , Mormon Pioneer Overland Travel (1847-1868). Avis Brown and her children traveled in an unidentified wagon company (1850).
  3. Bilious fever is an archaic medical term that could refer to malaria or typhoid.
  4. “Biography of Elisha Hildebrand Davis”. (Elisha is the brother of Hannah Jane Davis.)
  5. Source of Trail Excerpt: Smith, Jesse Nathaniel, Journal of Jesse Nathaniel Smith, The Life Story of a Mormon Pioneer, 1834-1906 [1953], 11-12.
  6. Ibid.
  7. U.S. 1850 Census, p. 127, image 256. (This is actually an April /May 1851 enumeration.)
  8. Hannah Jane Brown, letter to the Daughters of Utah Pioneers.
  9. IGI Extracted Marriage Records.


  1. Email message from Carolyn Lyman:

    I just found your site. I found it when I searched for Isaac Brown and Hannah Davis. I am a descendant of Isaac's brother George. I have been trying to find the grave of Avis Hill. After arriving in Utah she married a McBride and then after his death she married his brother. I don't know if you have more information on the Brown line, but I really appreciate the information on your site. I hope your research goes well and I would be very interested in a copy of your final work.

    Please keep my email on a list of contacts. I will keep watching your site!

    Carolyn Lyman

    1. Carolyn,
      I believe Avis is buried in an unmarked grave in Charleston, Wastach, Utah Cemetery.
      Dianna Elbrader

  2. An email message from Bary Gammell:

    Liz, I am so grateful for what you are doing on the blog. You have uncovered such incredible information about our grandfather. Recently I received some brief histories from Nancy that included details about Hannah Jane Davis and her coming to Utah in Parley P Pratt’s 1847 wagon train company. Now I am looking to find out if they came with Brigham or a bit later?
    Much love to you and your family.

    Bary J. Gammell

    Response from Liz: Hannah Jane Davis and her first husband, Isaac Brown, arrived in the Valley on September 25, 1847. Brigham Young's company arrived July 24, 1847.