- My mom Louise (b. 1925 Hubbard, Arizona)
- Her Dad William Franklin Butler III (b. 1891 Taylor, Arizona)
- His mom Mary Hancock (b. 1872 Leeds, Utah)
- Her dad Mosiah Lyman Hancock (b. 1834 Kirtland, Ohio, Nauvoo pioneer, buried at Hubbard Cemetery near Thatcher, Arizona)
- His mother Clarissa Reed (b. 1814 Ackworth, New Hampshire, Nauvoo pioneer)
- Her mother Rebecca Bearce (b. 1784 New Milford, Connecticut, Nauvoo pioneer, but died near Mt. Pisgah, Iowa, while crossing the plains).
Although this book is titled in her name and is 125 pages, it had a total of 6 pages dedicated to her personal history (the remainder was a history of her ancestors' Indian tribes). This post, however, is dedicated just to Rebecca Bearce.
Rebecca Bearce - from life in Connecticut to her death while crossing the plains with the LDS.
Rebecca Bearce was born 30 September 1785, in New Milford, Connecticut to Josiah Bearce III and Freelove Canfield Bearce. She was named after her paternal grandmother, Rebecca Baldwin (the daughter of John Nauasee Baldwin and Mercy Caroline, the daughter of Waramaug.) Rebecca's father, Josiah III, was about ¾ Indian and ¼ white; her mother, Freelove, was ½ Indian and ½ white; making Rebecca about 5/8 Indian.
New Milford is a 300-year-old town located on the Housatonic River in the western part of Connecticut, between Danbury and Litchfield.
She grew up in the town of New Milford where the Indian population was dwindling due to sickness, disease and poverty. Most of the Indians had either moved farther west, intermarried and become part of the white man's world, or died. Some of Rebecca's family continued to intermarry with Indians and retained their Indian identity for another hundred years, such was the case with her younger brother Gideon, the Great Grandfather of Franklin Elewatum Bearce. Rebecca, however, chose to accept the white man's ways and assimilate that new culture.
The cultural changes of her day were not only eradicating the New England Indian traditions but, at the same time, the old ways of the English colonists were fading from memory. The American Revolution, in which her father fought, ended just two years before her birth. The Constitution was written, the Federal government formed and the first State, Pennsylvania, was admitted to the Union when she was only two years old. She was four years old when George Washington was elected president. This young country was melting English, German, Irish, Scandinavian, Dutch and Indian cultures together and creating America.
Sometime between 1800-1805, Rebecca met and married John Reed of Acworth, New Hampshire. John was born in Acworth, 12 Oct. 1783, to Supply and Susannah (Byam) Reed (or Reade). Supply Reed (6) was the son of John Reade (5) the son of Ralph (4), and John (3), Ralph (2), William Reade (1). Supply was an American patriot and answered the call of the Minute Men on April 19th, 1775.
He was a private under Col. Moses Parker of Chelmsford, Mass., about 10 miles north of Concord, Mass. Although he saw no action in the first day of the American Revolution, he was called out again on subsequent alarms for a total of 40 days in the first year and a half of the war. Later, in 1780, when the military was asking men to sign up for six month terms, Supply answered the call by enlisting for one of these six month tours.
John Reed was the second of thirteen children of Supply and Susanna. At age six, however, his only older brother drowned, making him the leader and example to his younger brothers and sisters. As a young man, John found his way to New Milford, Connecticut where he met, and married, Rebecca Bearce. They returned to Acworth, N.H. to make their first home by John's family. (22: p.4-7, 14-21)
Rebecca had black hair, John's was auburn. He was not a tall man if he was built like his father, whose military papers list him at 5 feet 6 inches. Yet John must have been a strong man as he was a farmer his younger years and later worked as a blacksmith.
This young couple wanted a family and anxiously awaited the arrival of their first child. Excitement built as the months passed but, the anticipation was replace with sorrow as their first baby was stillborn. Again and again they tried to have a child but, after the first four babies were all stillborn, the couple became discouraged and felt they would never have a natural child. They decided to take in a young baby by the name of Thomas Henry Green, who was born 15 May 1808. Henry, as he was called, was less than one year old when John and Rebecca received him to raise as their own. They must have been delighted to finally have a child. It was not long thereafter that they realized they were about to have another one of their own. They must have been very fearful as the months passed awaiting the arrival of this baby. Fear was changed to joy as the baby was born healthy and strong. Over the next seven years they had four children born in Acworth, N.H.:
1. Lee, b. 27 Jan 1810, d. 15 Jan 1895 at Farmington, Ut; m. (1st) 15 Dec 1828 at Rome, Ohio, Nancy Babcock. They separated, he m. (2nd) Eliza Jerls, b. 15 Dec 1828 near Raleigh, N.C., daughter of Henry and Penny (Grey) Jerls; d. 23 Mar 1911 at Charlotte. Ia.
2. Caroline, b. 1 Nov 1812, d. 23 Apr 1872; m. (1st) 2 Dec 1831 Ira Beckwith, b. 27 Jan 1800, d. 1838 at New Lyme, Ohio; m. (2nd) Dec 1843 Hezekiah Platt, b. 20 Oct 1794, d. 3 Dec 1863.
3. Clarissa, b. 18 Dec 1814; d. 17 Jan 1860 at Salt Lake City, Ut.; m. 29 Mar 1833 Levi Ward Hancock, b. 7 Apr 1803 at Springfield, Mass., son of Thomas and Amy (Ward) Hancock; d. 10 June 1882 at Washington, Ut. They were separated, she m. (2nd) 11 Apr 1854 at Salt Lake, Thomas Jones White, b. 17 Jan 1823 at Dorson, Herefordshire, Eng., d. 17 July 1885 at Harrisville, Ut.
4. William Willard, b. 11 Mar 1817, d. 17 Feb 1887; m. (1st) Eleanor Schafer, b. 19 Mar 1816 at Arcadia. N.Y. d. 23 Oct 1904. They separated, he m. (2nd) Talutha _______ b. about 1851; they separated, he m. (3rd) Skippie A. Lyons, b. 23 June 1859.
In the early 1800s. families were out of New England into the frontier of western New York and Ohio. The construction of the Erie Canal led the way, followed by artisans of various trades and then by farmers looking for new lands to cultivate. Rebecca and John decided to leave their home and John's family in Acworth, N.H. and make a new life in upstate New York. They traveled first to New Milford to visit Rebecca's family and talk to them about the opportunities of the opening frontier. Rebecca's sister, Sarah Elliot and her family, moved to Penfield, Monroe Co. (near Rochester) N.Y. about 1820, which was about the time that Rebecca and John also moved there. Rebecca's parents followed them to Penfield about 1825. It was probably in New York that the next two children were born. The records were not well kept on the frontier as they had been back in New Hampshire:
5. Susanna. b. __________, died at about two years of age from scalding.
6. John, b. ___________, m. Henrietta Meade, they had one daughter who died at birth. John died Oct. 1846 at Keokuk, Iowa.
Rebecca and John did not stay long at Penfield. Perhaps the tragic death of their little two year old daughter made them feel like moving on to a new location. From upstate New York, pioneers were spilling over into the Ohio River valley. John and Rebecca next moved to Rome, Ohio, where four of their remaining five children were born: (22: p.7)
7. Joel Goss, b. 22 Apr 1824, d. 26 Feb 1899 at Camden, Ark; m. (1st) 25 June 1845 in St. Louis, Mo. Harriet Louise Steed, b. 20 Nov 1826 in Great Malvern, Worcestershire, Eng., d. 25 Nov 1887 at Carrollton, Ill; she was the daughter of William and Hannah (Turner) Steed. He m. (2nd) 10 Dec 1891 Tillitha Steed, sister of his first wife, she was b. 22 Mar 1838 in Great Malvern, Eng.
8. Lydia, b. 15 May 1827, d. 17 May 1912 at Farmington, Ut; m. 16 Aug 1845 at Nauvoo, Ill. Henry Steed, b. 24 May 1817 at Mathon, Worcestershire. Eng.; d. 8 Oct 1890 at Farmington, Ut. Henry was the son of Ann Steed and ___________. Henry and Lydia were married by her brother-in-law, Levi Ward Hancock. This was a second marriage for Henry.
9. Laura Lucinda, b. 22 May 1829, d. 22 Nov 1903 at Farmington, Ut. m. 13 Dec 1846 at Keokuk, Iowa, Thomas Steed, b. 13 Dec 1826 at Great Malvern, Worcestershire, Eng., son of Thomas and Charlotte (Niblett) Steed. He died 26 June 1910 at Salt Lake City, Ut.
In November 1830, there began to be considerable excitement in the area around Rome, Ohio, on the subject of religion. A man, by the name of Parley P. Pratt, was travelling through the countryside telling of a book that was the history of Christ's visit and teachings to the ancient inhabitants of the American continent. The book was called the Book of Mormon and those who believed in it were referred to as “Mormons.” Many converts stepped forward requesting baptism into this new Church. One of these early converts was a well known and respected young man of the community by the name of Levi Ward Hancock. He was baptized in November and ordained an Elder a few days later. He began immediately to preach the gospel throughout the countryside where he was well known.
Levi's home was in Rome, Ohio. Here, he was well known and respected by John and Rebecca Bearce Reed. As Levi began to preach the gospel, members of the Reed family were some of the ones to listen intently to what he had to say. The date of their baptism is not known but it appears they were probably baptized, by Levi, sometime in 1831.
Just six months after the Church was organized, its leaders felt a concern for the Lamanites, or Indians. As a result, Section 32 of the Doctrine and Covenants was given to the Prophet Joseph Smith. In it Parley P. Pratt, Oliver Cowdery, Peter Whitmer and Ziba Peterson were sent on a mission, to the west, to preach to the Indians. Enroute, they stumbled on a very receptive group, in the area of Kirtland, Ohio. Soon there was a larger congregation here than there was back in New York. It was while they were in Ohio that Levi Ward Hancock, and others, joined the Church. While the four original missionaries continued on, toward the Mississippi River, to preach to the Indians, Levi, a newly ordained Elder, converted Rebecca Bearce, perhaps one of the first Indians to join the Church in latter times.
As one of the first, if not the first, Indians (Lamanites) to join the Church, Rebecca, in part, helped to fulfill the prophecies and intent of the Book of Mormon as stated by Moroni when he said it was a “record of the people of Nephi, and also of the Lamanites – written to the Lamanites, who are a remnant of the house of Israel; … by the spirit of prophecy and of revelation – written and sealed up, and hid up unto the Lord, that they might not be destroyed – to come forth by the gift and power of God unto the interpretation thereof ... to show unto the remnant of the House of Israel what great things the Lord hath done for their fathers; and that they may know the covenants of the Lord, that they are not cast off forever -- and also to the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God, manifesting himself unto all nations." (Book of Mormon title page.)
Rebecca and John were so happy to receive the news of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ that they named their next baby after the bearer of that glad message:
10. Levi Ward, b. 15 Nov 1831; d. 30 Nov 1893 at North Point, Ut., m. (1st) 1852 Matilda Eve Pettit (marriage performed by Samuel Alger, a brother-in-law of Levi Ward Hancock). She was b. 4 Apr 1837 at Hempstead. N.Y.; d. 20 Mar 1869 at Salt Lake, Ut. She was the daughter of Ethan and Margaret (Ellsworth) Pettit, and sister to Margaret Pettit, the wife of Ira Beckwith Reed. He m. (2nd) 8 May 1879 at Salt Lake City, Ut, Augusta Larson, b. 8 June 1851 at Hjelsted, Sweden; d. 25 Aug 1923 at Fairfield, Id.
In early 1831, Joseph Smith, Prophet of the LDS Church, moved with the Church to Kirkland, Ohio. Soon thereafter, Levi Hancock was sent on a mission to Missouri and after his return home, in May 1832, he records in his journal that he “went to Rome, lived a while with John Reed, then went to Chagrine and stopped with Solomon (Hancock, a brother), for a few days when the Prophet Joseph Smith sent for me... I told Joseph how I had felt on the way. I also told him about the girl that I left and how sorry I had been that I did not tell him before I went. He said not to mind, that the Lord had a girl for me that would suit me better than she would if I had of married her. ‘I hope you will not marry soon. I want you to do some work for me.’ I told him I would do the work and was soon to work building his desk and room.” (47: p.50-51)
During this time, one of Rebecca and John Reed's daughters, Clarissa, was working in the home of Joseph and Emma Smith, in Kirtland, Ohio helping out with housework. No doubt, Levi knew Clarissa as he was well acquainted with her family in Rome but, as she was eleven years younger than he was, he had probably not given her much thought. In 1832, Levi was 29 and Clarissa was almost 18.
It seems Joseph Smith was somewhat of a matchmaker for this couple and arranged to bring them together. Levi Ward Hancock continues, “about this time Joseph called on me to go to Rome with a hired girl by the name of Clarissa Reed, who had been living with him. I went and returned with her in about two weeks…
“It is now March, 1833, and we had not a place to worship in. Jared Carter went around with a subscription paper to get signers. I signed up two dollars. He made up a little more than thirty dollars and presented it to Joseph. The Lord would not accept it but gave a command to build a Temple.
"I helped my father to move to Kirtland. I had married Miss Clarissa Reed on the 29th of March 1833. I had obligations against the estate of three hundred dollars. I told my folks to sell and send the money to Zion on all they could spare. They did it and I gave up the note. Father bought a place in the town of Kirtland. My wife and I lived with them. I signed a note for fifty dollars toward the Temple and went to work on the Temple whenever I could… In the fall I had to guard the Temple walls for some men had threatened to tear it down and at times it grew worse and worse. (47: p.52-53)
At this time, John and Rebecca Reed also moved from Rome to Kirtland, Ohio to work on the Temple. John did the blacksmith work on the Temple between 1833 and 1836. While living in Kirtland, Rebecca, who was just three months short of her fiftieth birthday, gave birth to their youngest child. He was named after a son-in-law, Ira Beckwith, the husband of their oldest daughter, Caroline.
11. Ira Beckwith, b. 25 June 1835 at Kirtland, Ohio: d. 8 May 1872 at North Point (SLC) Utah; m. 18 June 1858 at Mona, (or Clover Creek) Utah to Margaret Pettit, b. 1 May 1844 in Lee Co., Iowa d. 16 Feb 1923. (22: p. 20)
Devoted converts to the Mormon religion, John and Rebecca (Bearce) Reed endured the hardships of anti-Mormon prejudice in Kirtland, and moved with the Saints to Nauvoo, Illinois. Here, for a short time, peace seemed to be possible and the family enjoyed spending time together. Rebecca, and some of her married daughters and spend many enjoyable hours conversing as they carded wool, spun thread on an old spinning wheel and made their own cloth and clothing.
The peace was not to last long however. In 1844 the Prophet Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum were assassinated and the mobs threatened the destruction of any Mormons who remained in Illinois. Not wanting to leave their beautiful city before the completion of the Nauvoo Temple, men and boys were put on armed guard around the town to allow the workers to continue building. Boys, too young to build, were formed into the “Whistlin’ and Whittlin’ Band.” As suspicious looking strangers came into town to spy on the Mormons, these young boys would open their pocket knives and begin carving on a stick and whistling a tune. They would casually follow the stranger around town whistling and whittling as they went. Different tunes were recognized to have various meanings to the other boys in the Band, who would then open up their knives, pick up a stick, begin whittling and following the stranger as they joined in on the same tune. It could be argued that this was not a very hospitable way to treat strangers but, at this point in their history, the could not afford to be as hospitable as they had previously been. The Saints knew they would soon have to leave their homes and much work was needed to complete the Temple before they wanted to leave. At least one of Rebecca's grandsons, Mosiah Hancock, was a member of the Whistlin' and Whittlin' Band, and it is likely that her two youngest sons, who were about the same age as Mosiah, would also have been members of this humorously famous group.
The first goal of the Church was just to get the Saints out of Nauvoo safely and across the river. Few people had adequate provisions, on such short notice, to last them more than a couple of weeks at the most. The first night of the exodus, February 4, the temperature was below freezing. Thousands were homeless with on1y the thickness of a canvas tent, or less, between them and the elements. Nine babies were born and other sick and elderly people died. Within a month, Brigham Young had the first wagon train, of over 500 wagons, rolling across southern Iowa. Short on provisions, many of the men would stop briefly to work for local farmers in exchange for food supplies. Fences and bridges were quickly built, fields plowed, rocks cleared from land by plant grain on the public land where later followers would tend it as they passed and, eventually, yet other pioneers, would harvest it and bring it with them as they came.
As the first wagon train began to move in March 1846, the ground was still covered with snow and progress was slow. They moved five miles on the first day before stopping to make camp. Slowly the Saints began to make their way across Iowa and, by summer, they were arriving on the Missouri River at Council Bluffs. Here, they stopped to form a more permanent camp, and to organize a rendezvous point for all the pioneers who would follow. The Church leaders planned to spend a year in preparing the people for the long and difficult march to the Rocky Mountains.
As summer passed and the level of the river dropped, the stagnant water bread various bacterial diseases and fevers. Thousands died and nearly everyone was affected, to some degree, by cholera and other terrible illnesses. People were so ill that at times they could not keep up with the task of burying all of the dead. Mothers were seen, weakly waving towels to keep flies off of their dead babies, whose bodies were decomposing in their tents.
These diseases lasted throughout the summer, particularly, and into the fall. Eventually, as the weather cooled down, the diseases abated. The Reed family was hurt severely when Rebecca's husband, John, first became ill and then died from the dreaded disease, cholera, in October 1846. He was buried at Bonaparte, Iowa, on the Des Moines River. He was 63 years old at the time of his death and Rebecca was 61. She was left a widow with two young boys, ages 11 and 15, and a 17 year old daughter, alone, on the plains, in the middle of Iowa.
Still, she did not give up. Rebecca looked forward to continuing her trek west with the saints. Her son-in-law, Levi W. Hancock, looked after her and her family and they planned to move on toward Council Bluffs. Soon, however, the U.S. Army came to ask for volunteers to march to Mexico and fight for the country they were now leaving behind. Levi was asked to go with this army, known as "The Mormon Battalion.” As a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy, he was the only General Authority on the march, and as such, acted as their Chaplain. This noble cause left, not only his own young family, but also his mother-in-law’s family, without a guardian.
On 13 December 1846, Rebecca's youngest daughter, Laura Lucinda, was married to Thomas Steed at Keokuk, Ia., leaving only the two youngest boys in her immediate care.
In the spring of 1847, as the first wagon trains of Saints began to embark on their long journey west, Rebecca and her family had to remain behind. She, along with her young children and her married daughter, Clarissa, continued to make plans and preparations for the following year. Surely they would be able to go in the spring of 1846.
This was not to be, for the same diseases which had plagued the camp the previous year, continued to take their toll on the pioneers in the summer and fall of 1847. Rebecca contracted cholera and suffered from this illness until her death, on February 10, 1846, in Pottawattamie Co., Iowa, and was buried at Mt. Pisgah, Iowa. She was 62 years old at her passing and left her two young songs, ages 12 and 13.
Even though Rebecca did not reach the Salt Lake Valley, her dream was realized, in November 1848, when these two boys, together with her daughter, Clarissa, arrived in the Salt Lake Valley to make a new home and bring up her descendants in the love, peace and religion that she wanted to give them.
The bravery of John and Rebecca must be admired. Over the age of sixty and with relatively young children, to give up their home and the comforts of civilization, to make a long and difficult trek across one thousand miles of unknown wilderness, and to know they would face hardship, privations and disease, would be a difficult decision to make.
It is one thing to talk about and romanticize today but, quite another for those courageous souls who met the challenge and gave everything they had, including their lives, to push on and never give up.
Rebecca Bearce a young Indian girl from New Milford, Connecticut, embodied all of the noble heritage of her great American native forbearers; wrestled with the conflicts of two opposing societies and chose the ways of the new Americans; lived a life of joys and tragedies on the frontier of and expanding country; responded enthusiastically to the familiar doctrines of the restored Church of Jesus Christ and faithfully followed its leaders throughout the remainder of her life. She died in an obscure location on the Great Plains outside the boarders of her country. But, the decisions she made have changed the lives of thousands today, who have descended from this great woman.
In the Book of Mormon, Nephi recorded a vision he had concerning his, and his brother’s descendants. He saw their civilization break down and their people degenerate into a lowly state. He saw them fight among themselves and lose their lands to the Europeans. But, he also saw the restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the coming forth of his record of their ancestors, and he knew that many of them would recognize and accept the religious history of their people. He said, "And now, I would prophesy somewhat more concerning the Jews and the Gentiles. For after the book of which I have spoken (Book of Mormon) shall come forth, and be written unto the Gentiles, and sealed up again unto the Lord, there shall be many which shall believe the words which are written; and they shall carry them forth unto the remnant of our seed.
“And then shall the remnant of our seed know concerning us, how that we came out from Jerusalem, and that they are descendants of the Jews (or House of Israel.)
“And the gospel of Jesus Christ shall be declared among them; wherefore, they shall be restored unto the knowledge of their fathers, and also to the knowledge of Jesus Christ, which was had among their fathers.”
“And then shall they rejoice; for they shall know that it is a blessing unto them from the hand of God; and their scales of darkness shall begin to fall from their eyes; and many generations shall not pass away among them, save they shall be a white and delightsome people.” Nephi (2 Nephi 30:3-6).
“Many generations" have not passed away since the time Rebecca Bearce recognized the gospel of Jesus Christ and was restored unto a knowledge of her fathers. And we, her descendants, are the fulfillment of this prophesy.
History taken from the book, Rebecca Bearce, by Lionel Nebeker, March 22, 1987. Book was donated to the LDS Family History Library, Call Number 929.273 B38n. It was also microfilmed by the Library (surname index at 2055217 Item 28, and book filmed as 1697283 Item 4).