2016-06-30
With a convert's passion and little else to tide him over, Gustaf Johnson set sail in 1884 on a two-month sea voyage from his native Sweden to the United States, where he planned to join his fellow Mormons in the mountains of Utah.

Turbulent seas soon ended any worries about money for food after Johnson, 21, and a brother boarded their ship in Gothenburg, Sweden, for the winter crossing of the Atlantic.

"It was difficult to think of food while passengers all around were vomiting," Gustaf wrote years later in his family history.

Gustaf's great-grandson Steven Johnson and his wife, Amy, hope modern medicine will stave off any seasickness when they return to Gothenburg this week as part of SeaTrek 2001, a modern re-enactment of the LDS emigration from Europe.

Timed to coincide with the 150th anniversary of the first Mormon emigrant ship to leave Scandinavia, the eight square-rigged tall ships depart from Esbjerb, Denmark, on Tuesday and continue to Copenhagen and other cities in Sweden, Norway, Germany and England, then sail to Portsmouth, England. Four of the largest ships will cross the Atlantic, via the Canary Islands and Bahamas, and dock in New York Harbor on Oct. 4.

"This will pay homage to the sacrifices of our European and Scandinavian ancestors," says Bill Sadleir, SeaTrek 2001 chairman.

Sadleir came up with the idea for an ocean voyage after he and his family participated in the 1997 re-enactment of the Mormons' wagon train journey across the United States. The three-month event drew hundreds of participants and widespread media attention.

At the time, it occurred to Sadleir that "nobody thought about the fact that thousands of Mormon emigrants had to first cross the ocean in sailboats," he said. "That was the more grueling part of the journey."

As many as 1,500 people are expected to participate in the voyage, which costs as little as $160 for a single day's sail to $7,945 for the entire trip. The modern-day seafarers will not wear period clothing or suffer some of the problems their ancestors faced. There will be modern kitchens, medical facilities and sleeping quarters. No cattle or chickens will roam freely below deck. And there will not be any burials at sea, organizers promise.

The "trainee sailors" are expected to put in a four-hour shift daily during the voyage -- lending a hand at everything from keeping a lookout to piloting from the helm. Classroom lectures will be given by LDS Church history and doctrine experts.

Still, it will be a chance for those with ancestors in the "old country" to relive family history.

The Latter-day Saint migration from Europe began when Mormon missionaries were first sent to the British Isles in the late 1830s and to Scandinavia in 1850. Thousands were converted to the church and embraced the "doctrine of the gathering," or the need to build Zion on the American continent. They left their homes and all they possessed for the dream of a godly society.

Between 1840 and 1890, more than 90,000 Mormon converts crossed the ocean to gather with other Latter-day Saints in the Utah Territory, nearly half under the age of 21.

"A surprising number of young pioneers sailed without their parents," says Susan Arrington Madsen, co-author of "I Sailed to Zion: True Stories of Young Pioneers Who Crossed the Oceans." "Many newly converted families were unable to afford to travel together. Some sent children on ahead with trusted neighbors or with Mormon missionaries."

Some of these travelers later recalled feelings of abandonment and loss as they left loved ones in the only homes they had ever known.

Dexter Wilberg's great-great-grandfather, Jens Jensen Skow, was among those who had to send his family to Utah in waves -- first went children Niels and Maren in 1852 and then, two years later, Skow, a widower, and his youngest daughter Mette.

Wilberg's Norwegian ancestors were themselves seagoing folk who owned ships. The Pleasant Grove resident and his wife Geniel will join SeaTrek for the Oslo to Hamburg leg.

Though no vessel carrying Mormon emigrants across the Atlantic Ocean was lost at sea, these pioneers had to cope with wrenching sickness and diseases, and even death.

Annie Batt (who later acquired the married names of Bird and Caffall) was 4 years old in 1868 when she and her sister were lashed to the mast during a particularly violent storm to keep their bodies from being washed overboard, Arrington says.

Margaret Robertson (later Salmon), age 10, witnessed the death and burial of her sister. "One of the thirty-eight who died while at sea was my bright-eyed sister Elizabeth, three years old," she wrote. "I can never forget the look of agony on my mother's face when her little girl's body was put overboard, one of four that day."

It was no easy task planning the large movement of converts, writes Conway Sonne in "Saints on the Seas: A Maritime History of Mormon Migration 1830-1890."

The church set up the Perpetual Emigrating Fund Company to assist travelers with loans, as well as a shipping agency in Liverpool, England, and other ports to smooth the way for incoming missionaries and departing emigrants. Organizers had to charter ships, plot sailing routes, establish schedules, find funding, gather provisions and manage the passengers, all from different countries, with diverse languages, customs and expectations.

"The Mormons crossed more than sea and land," Sonne writes. "They literally crossed the boundaries of mind, blood, and class."

Fired by the zeal of converts and led by strong -- even autocratic -- Mormon leaders like Brigham Young, the journeys went relatively smoothly.

"Discipline was enforced in the emigrant companies," Sonne writes. "While backsliders and the disaffected apostized or were excommunicated, those who endured and found their way to Zion demonstrated their mental and physical stamina, spiritual fervor, and loyalty."

There were no backsliders among Faye and Keith Thomas' family. The Bountiful couple, who plan to join SeaTrek from Copenhagen to Gothenburg, both have great-grandparents from Scandinavia who left their homes for Utah.

The Thomases hope to experience a little of what their ancestors did.

"These people made a great sacrifice to leave their homes and families. There was no e-mail. They couldn't even get a message to their families back home. They had to give up all contact," Keith Thomas says. "The Mormon church would not have survived if there hadn't been a gathering."

Faye Thomas' great-great grandfather, Ola N. Liljenquist, was a tailor from Copenhagen who sailed to America with a group of Mormon emigrants in 1856.

Her great-great grandmother, Elizabeth Simpson Haigh Bradshaw, buried her first husband, then remarried. After the death of her second husband, she continued their planned sea voyage to the United States with three small children. After arriving in America, the family ended up in the infamous Martin/Willie handcart company; many members of the company perished after getting caught in an early Wyoming storm.

"She had been given a priesthood blessing that she would be able to gather to Zion," Faye Thomas says. "That sustained her faith."

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