Pioneer Women – Intrepid Ancestors!

In my recent research, I discovered some real honest-to-goodness women pioneers!  I am talking about women who traveled by wagon train out west to find new homes and build a new life with their husbands and braving all kinds of peril on their arduous journeys!  In this blog, I will share some of what I researched and although they are “cousins” and not direct ancestors, I feel their stories have a need to be told.

Mary Thomas and her husband John Griffiths Williams departed Winter Quarters, Nebraska in January of 1847 to travel west with a company of covered wagons  (Company type is unknown).  Her journey must have been both adventurous and taxing and ended in Tooele, Utah!   John Griffith Williams was born in Penally, Pembrokeshire, Wales about 1804, the son of John Williams and Anne Griffiths.   Mary Thomas was born in 1808 in Washington County, Virginia and was the daughter of Abijah Thomas (1776-1819) and Martha McReynolds (1782-1850, died of consumption).  Mary Thomas was related to my 3rd great-grandmother, Susannah J. Porter, mother of Mary Ann James (see blog “Portrait of a Strong Woman”).  John Williams and Mary married in February of 1834.

Here is how the ancestry goes:  Susannah Porter James’ mother was Mary Polly Thomas (1801-1894) who was the daughter of Thomas Jefferson Thomas (1766-1838) and Freelove Cole (1773-1848).  Yes, his name was Thomas Thomas and her name was Freelove.  I am not making this up! By the way, Freelove’s mother was “Remember Cole!”  Definitely unforgettable names!   Thomas J. Thomas, my 5th great-grandfather, had a brother named Abijah Thomas who was the father of Mary Thomas.  Put more simply, Mary Thomas was a distant first cousin to myself.  I usually do not research distant cousins but I felt that Mary, being a pioneer woman, probably had a story to be told!

Thomas, Thomas and Freelove Cole gravestone 001
Gravestone of Thomas Thomas and Freelove Cole

Another member of their wagon train was most likely John’s brother, Daniel Edward Williams,  who is also buried in Tooele, Utah Cemetery.  From what I found, Mary died in April of 1864 in Tooele, Utah after surviving the long, perilous journey.  She did not bear any children that we know of and cause of death is unknown.  Her husband John remarried the same year to Margaret James and they had 3 children.  The second wife Margaret died in 1869 just after their 2 day old son, Daniel Williams, died on 16 Dec 1869 perhaps from complications of childbirth.

Pritchett, Lavinia Heninger 001
Lavinia Chadwick Heninger (Pritchett)

Mary Thomas Williams’ niece, the daughter of her sister Ann, also traveled west.  Lavinia Chadwick Heninger was born in Burkes Garden, Tazewell, Virginia on 17 Aug 1845.  She married Thomas Mitchell Pritchett on 16 May of 1865 in Scioto County, Ohio.  According to records, Lavinia and her husband also left the Winter Quarters in Nebraska in January of 1847 so it is likely that they were traveling with the same wagon train as her aunt and uncle, Mary and John Williams.

Pritchett, Thomas, Lavinia, Eunice 001
Thomas and Lavinia Pritchett with their only surviving daughter, Eunice Emily

Lavinia and Thomas Pritchett did arrive safely in Utah but much of their later story is tragic.  Of their 5 daughters, only 1 survived.  The first child, Lavinia Ann was born in Mt. Pleasant, Sanpete, Utah and lived only about a month.  The second baby daughter was born and died the same day in June of 1868. The third daughter, Eunice, born in 1869, did survive, lived a long life, and died in 1950.  The fourth daughter, Celestia was born in December 1872 and died in June of 1873.  The last daughter, Annie, lived only a month in 1877.  In 1880, the little family moved to Emery, Utah and Lavinia died in 1889 in Teasdale, Wayne, Utah.

Next is the story of Emeline Emelia Hopper and her sister, Irene C. Hopper who were kin of my 3rd great-grandmother, Lucinda Cloud Lyons.  Emeline was born in 1832 and Irene in 1827 in Illinois.  Their adventure began when they started west with their parents and possibly other siblings leaving from the Winter Quarters, Nebraska in June of 1848.  Their entire journey west entailed 109 days of travel.  Their wagon train was to join with another.  One this other train was Jasper Harrison Twitchell, a blacksmith and wheelwright by trade.  Jasper was traveling with his wife, Sarah Rutledge and small son, John Newton, who was born in 1842 in Illinois.  In 1844, Jasper had been appointed wagon master of one Mormon wagon train leaving Navoo, Illinois in 1844 and the train wintered in Iowa for several years before leaving in spring of 1848.  On the way, his wife Sarah died at Chimney Rock, Nebraska in July 1848 and he dismantled part of his wagon to construct a coffin for her.  Jasper and his 5 year old son arrived in Salt Lake Valley, Utah, that September.

Twitchell, Jasper and Emiline 001
Emeline Hopper Twitchell and Jasper Twitchell with baby.

Emeline Hopper, not quite 17, was on this same wagon train and married the widowed Jasper Twitchell on January 1, 1849.  Her sister, Irene Hopper,  then married Jasper’s younger brother, Sanford Lorenzo Twitchell, a few months later.  That spring, the Twitchell families and other relatives left for California.  Irene and Sanford’s first child, Celestia, was the first baby of European descent to be born at Sutter’s Fort, California (Sacramento).   Jasper and Emeline and other relatives settled in San Juan Bautista and Jasper opened a blacksmith shop.  They had 13 children and Jasper died in 1894 and Emeline in 1912.    Irene and Lorenzo had 9 children and Irene died in 1905.  Lorenzo wrote a journal of their journey which can be seen on

My last story of a pioneer woman is about Sarah Ann Richmond, born 20 Nov 1829, daughter of Thomas Richmond and Sarah Ann Burrows, both of England.  Both of their families emigrated from England and slowly made their way to Nauvoo, Illinois.  The families joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.  Sarah married Henry Nelson in May of 1848 and in 1850, they had a son born at Council Bluff, Iowa and named him Henry Thomas Nelson after his father and grandfather.  They were in one wagon company at winter Quarters and suffered much cold and hunger during those trying days.  They departed Council Bluffs in May of 1851 when Sarah was but 21 years old and they traveled for 131 days with the David Lewis Wagon Company to Provo, Utah.  Their next child was born in Provo in Feb. of 1852.  All together, they had 13 children and finally settled in Buysville, Utah.  Henry died in 1897 and Sarah died in 1902.

Sarah Ann Richmond and Henry Nelson pioneers 001
Henry Nelson and Sarah Ann Richmond Nelson

One can only imagine the fortitude of these pioneer women who endured such hardships and perils on their travels across the west.  They experienced so much first hand that we only can read about.  They had to bury their children and loved ones and go on.  They left their homes and other family behind, probably never seeing them again.  It was not glamorous, but endless toil.  They packed their lives into a covered wagon and traveled hundreds of miles.   They perservered despite Indian attacks, droughts, storms, and just bad luck.  Their stories are compelling and sometimes heartbreaking.  I am honored to have them as ancestors!


Find A Grave, database and Images,, memorial page for Mary Thomas Williams, Memorial number 99526.

Utah State Historical Society, Comp. Utah Cemetery Inventory, Salt Lake City, Utah, 1847-2000 [database on-line], Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc., 2000.

United States, Federal Census Mortality Schedules, Index, 1850-1880, [database on-line] Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc., 1999.

Virginia, Select Marriages, 1785-1940, FHL 34389, p. 465.


3 thoughts on “Pioneer Women – Intrepid Ancestors!

  1. This is a great story, however, this is a case of mistaken and blended identities. The Mary Thomas that married John Griffith Williams to which you refer in your story were not from Virginia–they were both from Wales. See the following websites:

    As of the moment, there is no evidence to suggest that Mary Thomas from Virginia (who was the daughter of Abijah Thomas) ever came to Utah. The only member of the Abijah Thomas family to come to Utah, so far has been confirmed, is Ann Thomas Heniger.


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