Based on the book,
Indefatigable Veteran—History and Biography of Abel Evans,
A Welsh Mormon Elder,
written by Ronald D. Dennis,
Rhydybont Press, Provo, Utah 1994
Samuel and Anne Evans were newlywed and poor. They lived in a
laborer’s cottage and worked on a farm in Wales called Hedgehog Castle.
On June 17, 1812, Anne gave birth to their first child, a baby boy. Although
Samuel and Anne had been forced by the laws of England to be married in
the Church of England (also known as the Anglican Church), they were
allowed to choose the church in which their son would be named and
christened. Most parents took their infant children to the local vicar of the
Anglican Church, but Abel’s parents were members of a group called the
Independents. The Independents were “nonconformists” who were fiercely
opposed to many of the Anglican Church’s beliefs. They strongly
encouraged their members to study the Bible and think for themselves.
Farmhouse at Hedgehog Castle
Samuel and Anne took their newborn son to the Independent Chapel
for christening and named him Abel.
Abel grew up as a farm boy, but his family moved to Merthyr Tydfil,
a industrial mining town, by the time he was a teenager. As he grew and
became a man, he probably began working in the mines where cave-ins and
explosions were a constant danger. During winter months, the miners spent
six days a week in the mines and only saw daylight on Sundays. Abel
attended church on Sundays at the Independents’ Bethesda Chapel. He was
well-respected and was asked to serve as a deacon in the Sunday School.
Independent Chapel at Llanboidy
Bethesda Independents Chapel in Merthyr Tydfil
Abel’s 32nd year of life was one of change. His Mother died of
pulmonary tuberculosis and, within a few weeks, Abel first met the Mormon
Missionary work began in Wales in 1840, when Brigham Young and
Heber C. Kimball were serving missions in the British Isles. Because of the
positive reception they had received in Wales and their love for the people,
the Church leaders sent other missionaries. In 1843, Lorenzo Snow called
William Henshaw, an English convert who had married a Welsh woman, to
establish his family and preach the gospel in Merthyr Tydfil. By the end of
1843, he had baptized nearly eighty converts.
Many negative stories were circulated about the Mormons. A Baptist
reverend in the area wrote:
The foolish and madmen who call themselves
‘Latter-day Saints’ have arrived . . ..
I did not think there were men so stupid in Wales
to believe such a heap of nonsense and
I’m sorry to say that a number of the dregs of
society are now believers. They are baptized at
night, and those receiving baptism must undress
for them and go to the water stark naked.
The Independents took a different approach to the Mormons. They
challenged the Mormon missionaries to two debates, the first on the topic of
miracles and the second on baptism. The Independents believed that
miracles such as healings had ceased at the time of Christ and that the proper
method of baptism was by sprinkling. The Independents selected Abel
Evans, rather than their minister, to represent them in the debates. After the
first debate, it was reported that Abel Evans, “an intelligent and gifted young
man,” “a warrior from his youth,” had “appeared victorious in the eyes of
the public. His brethren were extremely proud to have such a young man of
hope in their midst.” During the second debate, Abel Evans, the hero of the
first debate, fell silent. Abel listened to the missionaries he was supposed to
be debating. He was persuaded and his heart was touched. He knew the
message was true, and he had the integrity and courage to follow his new
convictions. After the debate, Abel went with the missionaries to the river
and was baptized.
The Independents were shocked. It was reported that Abel’s father, Samuel
Evans, was greatly distressed: “His lament the next night at the meeting at
Bethesda [Chapel] was extraordinary, and all he could do was wonder and
ponder as to what had bewitched his son.” Samuel Evans soon found out.
Only four days after Abel’s baptism, Samuel Evans and another of his sons
were baptized, with other family members soon to follow.
For the next six years, Abel Evans served as a missionary in Wales,
preaching the gospel, administering to the sick, casting out devils, suffering
persecution, baptizing many new converts and strengthening the Church.
Although Church records from this period are incomplete, it was reported
that Abel baptized over two thousand souls during his first mission.
At one conference of the Church, individuals possessed of devils were
disrupting the proceedings. The presiding officer commanded evil spirits to
depart and the audience responded with such such powerful “Amens” that
the neighbors thought it had thundered. Although this sent most of the
devils packing, two women who were more stubbornly possessed continued
to be disruptive. The presiding officer closed the meeting, called the elders
together, including Abel Evans, to deal with them. The women, who had
been frequently possessed elsewhere and were living in sin, were biting,
kicking and swearing most awfully. When the women were
excommunicated, they laughed and derided, saying that was what they
wanted. Once the evil spirits were cast out, however, the women dressed
their upper garments which they had previously torn off themselves and
went home without further disruption, weeping bitterly when they learned
they had been excommunicated.
Although Abel had, before his baptism, argued that miracles had ceased, he
became known as one whose priesthood blessings had miraculous force.
Through Abel, the Lord healed many believers of various maladies,
including several cases of cancer and cholera. In one instance, Abel
administered to a sister suffering from a cancer that had terribly eaten away
her face and nose and bored holes in her jaws. The smell of the cancer was
so horrible that no one would stay in the house with her. Following a
priesthood anointing and blessing, the cancer was killed and her face began
to heal. Eventually, she grew new flesh and skin and a new nose.
In a small town on the Isle of Anglesey, the town crier—whose job it was to
make public announcements in a loud voice throughout the town—refused
to announce the sermon Abel Evans would be preaching that evening. Abel
learned that it was the local Methodist minister who was imposing this
restriction. In a letter describing the situation and his response, Abel said:
[The town crier] was free to announce dogs and
swine, fairs and games—in short, everything
except for a preacher of the Saints. Then I had to
take the honor to myself of announcing throughout
the town in his place; and together with
announcing the sermon I was obliged to announce
to the public why I was taking the job of the
restricted crier in question. And the people
testified that I filled his office much better than he.
I don’t intend ever to try to obtain his services
again, rather I shall announce myself. And
perhaps if the crier is not able to escape from the
Methodist clutches of his minister, everyone in
[town] will begin to announce himself also. After
the trouble I took and the threats I received, an
excellent meeting was held, and many testified that
they believed on the sayings that cause some to
begin in Christ.
In late 1849, Abel was notified that church leaders in Council Bluffs, Iowa
(where there was a large company of Welsh Saints), were requesting him to
cross the Atlantic with the next company. Abel began preparations
immediately, and about three months later he boarded the Josiah Bradlee, a
sailing vessel the Church had chartered to take 263 emigrating Saints from
Liverpool to New Orleans.
Abel kept a journal of the crossing.
The following are some of the excerpts from Abel's Journal:
Feb 19 Harsh wind and almost all the Saints sick. Wm Rees and
myself watching over them day and night.
Feb 20 Everyone very sick except for two, Jones and myself. We
were carrying the pots out and tending to them.
Feb 24 Today we saw a fish half the length of the ship. It was about
thirty yards long!! This sunday I married Lewis Davis
and Sarah Rodgers on board ship.
March 1 The wind very contrary. The elders agreed to pray for a
March 2 Strong favorable wind driving us along quickly.
March 10 Strong rain. Pouring rather like floodwaters. John Carver
and Mary Ann Eames are married.
March 27 The daughter of Hannah Hughes from Llanelli dies at six in
the morning. She was cast into the sea before seven. She
went from our sight before sinking.
Other passengers kept journals or recorded memories of the voyage. The
leader of the Saints, Thomas Day, recorded what happened when one of the
brethren was involved in two activities at once:
To Day A Church meeting was held upon deck.
James Needham Cought a Fish weighing 10 lbs,
while we was Administering the Sacrament And
drew away many of the Saints which caused
Another passenger reported the following healing:
[A] little boy . . . fell through the hatchway of the
vessel, alighting upon his head on the ring an bolt
of the lower hatchway. When he was picked up it
was found that the force of the fall had driven the
iron upon which he struck into his head, and within
a minute afterwards the injured palce puffed up
like a distended bladder. Of course, he was
knocked insensible and apparently lifeless, but
Brother Evans and one or two other Elders
immediately administered to him, and while their
hands were upon his head the swelling entirely
disappeared and he was restored to consciousness
and to health.
Another passenger reported that when a severe epidemic of fever broke out,
threatening the destruction of many on board, Abel Evans felt that their only
hope was securing the favor of the Almighty, and determined to muster all
the faith he could in appealing to the Lord.
He called together four Elders of experience who
were on board, and asked them to retire with him
to the hold of the vessel and unite in prayer. They
did so again and again without any apparent good
result, and Brother Evans marveled at the cause. It
was such an unusual thing for him to fail to have
his prayers answered, that he was surprised that is
should be so that instance, and he could only
account for it by lack of union or worthiness on the
part of the Elders. He therefore called the four
Elders again to retire with him to the hold of the
ship, and took with him a basin of clean water.
When they had reached a scheduled place where
they were not likely to be overheard or distrubed
by others, he talked to the Elders about the
necessity of being united in faith and clear of sin
before God if they desired to call upon Him and
receive a blessing. “ Now,” he said, “I want each
of you Elders, who feels that his conscience is
clear before God, who has committed no sin to
debar him from the enjoyment of the Holy Spirit,
who has faith in the Lord Jesus Christ sufficient to
call upon the Almighty in His name and claim the
desired blessing, to wash his hands in the basin!”
Three of the Elders stepped forward and did so; the
fourth could not—his conscience smote him. He
was therefore asked kindly to retire, and the four
others joined in earnest prayer before the Lord and
rebuked the disease by which the people were
afllicted. The result was that the epidemic ceased
its ravages and the sick recovered from that very
hour, much to the surprise of the ship’s officers
and others on board who knew nothing of the
power by which such a happy result was
Not only was Abel busy with his priesthood duties as an Elder and as 1st
Counselor to Thomas Day, he was also busy romancing a lovely 21-year-old
woman named Mary Jones. Mary was the only member of her family to
convert to Mormonism.
One evening, when Mary was about seventeen years old, Mary was tending
the children of a family that was investigating the Church. Mary was in the
loft with the children where she could not be seen, but she was listening
intently to the missionaries’ words. After one of the missionaries spoke in
tongues, the other interpreted, saying that there was someone listening to
them that night whom they could neither see nor hear. This person, he
continued, would join The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and
continue faithful throughout her life. Mary believed the missionary was
talking about her, and four years later she was baptized. As she was
preparing to leave for Zion, Mary asked her mother for a lock of hair to
remember her by. But her mother replied, “No, if you have got to go to
destruction you’re not taking my hair with you.” Leaving her family, she
boarded the Josiah Bradlee, but would soon start a new family with Abel
Abel and Mary were probably married in St. Louis, after which they boarded
the steamer that took them to Council Bluffs. They remained in Council
Bluffs for two years with Abel serving as an assistant to the bishop of the
Welsh branch and as a high councilor. A little over nine months after their
marriage, Mary gave birth to a beautiful baby daughter, but she lived only
ten months. In 1852, the Evans family crossed the plains with the Welsh
Company. Upon approaching the Salt Lake Valley, the Welsh members
already living in the valley, sent a welcome wagon with a load of fruits such
as watermelons, mushmelons, potatoes, pickle cucumbers, grapes, and other
treats they had not tasted all summer.
Abel and Mary settled in Lehi, Utah where the family grew with the birth of
more children and the addition of plural wives, Martha Morgan and Jane
Davis. In all, Abel fathered 15 children. Over the years, Abel became an
American citizen and served as a counselor in the bishopric, a member of the
city council and city marshall.
In April of 1865, Abel attended general conference. His name was
announced as one who was called to serve a mission. He answered the call,
leaving his family behind, and returned to Wales to preach the gospel. In
January of 1866, President Brigham Young called Abel to serve as District
Abel served faithfully for as long as his health would permit. In April, Abel
contracted an illness from standing guard in all night long in poor weather
while Saints were boarding a ship in Liverpool. He continued to serve in his
demanding role, continued to travel and preach, suffering further exposures,
until he was too weak to stand. He would neither complain nor allow others
to speak of his illness while he was on the Lord’s errand.
Abel Evans died on November 30, 1866, in the service of God. His
tombstone in the cemetery at Merthyr Tydfil reads:
“Whoso loseth his life for my sake and the gospel shall find it again.”