Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Annie Hicks Free and the handcart

Sorry this does not copy as I wrote it. The items from Annie's notes are numbered. The points below the line are also numbered with each item having its own explanation. How stupid is this that it won't transfer as I wrote it?  HELP.

Annie Hicks                        by LaRae Free Kerr M ED  12/12/2012                      Item 537l in LFK file drawers
Notes from Grandma Rachel Free taken 7 Nov 1967 probably by my Mom, Myrtle Joy Wadsworth Free, because I was still on my mission on that date and rewritten by me.
1.      Annie Hicks shared handcart.
2.      Edward Martin handcart Company – Annie and Jemima Nightingale saw Brother Blake, whose feet were frozen, crawl off to die. In evening Brother Blake was missing, so Annie and Jemima went back, cutting across the trail and found him. They pulled him to where they were met by wagons.
3.      In SLC Annie had very tattered clothes. Skirt in ribbons and had black quilted horsehair [stiff and shiny] [alpaca?] petticoat, stayed in wagon on arrival till finally someone remembered her.
4.      She worked at various homes 5 am- 12 pm for 50 cents a week, such a good worker.
5.      All the men wanted to marry her, but she wouldn’t because there were too many people in the houses already.
6.      Had to knit by fire and gump, a bowl with rag through holes and lit.
7.      Finally to Brigham Young. He took her to Grandpa Free’s and former wife went to keep house for son Oliver and Annie married him. A week later a fellow who had followed her from England came to claim her – too late.
8.      She could knit really fast, very efficient. People said she was uppity. Grandpa Free always called her, “my lady.”
After just having written the chapter on the 1856 handcart and baggage trains for the revised Wadsworth history, the above notes make all kinds of sense as shown below.
1.      Everyone shared handcarts. The young single women regularly shared one handcart among five of them. They could each have a maximum of 70 pounds as I recall. But that meant there would be 350 pounds on each handcart plus their ration of foodstuffs. The wagons that accompanied the handcart companies carried more flour and food plus the tents, so they were never to have had more than that much weight per handcart.  However, it was a tough pull, and everyone was very tired.  When 35 buffalo robes were provided, the handcart pioneers jettisoned them as well as many other items to lighten the load – just before they hit the snows the robes would have saved them from.
2.      There was a Jemima Nightingale, age 21, in the Martin Handcart Company along with Jane Nightingale, age 57, and Sarah Ann Nightingale, age 31, and Joseph Nightingale, age 16. Jane Nightingale is the mother-in-law of Ann Barlow’s oldest son, Oswald, already in the SL valley.  Jane Barlow “left at Ft Bridger to recuperate, married John Long there, Mar 15, 1857.” Could this be a member of the John Verah Long family? The connections just astound me. See the Wadsworth revision. All these people were born in England, as was Annie. Would like to know more about Jemima Nightingale, but except for her name, nothing more is given about her in Allphin, Jolene S. Tell My Story, Too. Dingman Professional Printing. 8th Edition. Jul 2012.
The event of saving Brother Bleak is attributed to Maria Jackson Normington in the book Tell My Story, Too by Allphin 8th edition. p 179. But the information about Annie Hicks is so specific and correct I suspect Annie and Jemima assisted with the finding and saving of Brother Bleak, especially as I see no other way Grandma Free could have known of this event in 1967 – certainly not from any current handcart books.
Brother Bleak, age 26 in 1856, kept a trail diary as well as other records which can be found online in the Mormon Pioneer Overland Trail database. Knowing that Annie Hicks knew him should make reading his diary interesting and useful to Annie’s biography. [Is he the Brother Bleak of southern Utah? Yes, he is the James Godson Bleak who settled in St George. Allphin p180.]
3.      As the ragged, hungry, handcart and baggage train pioneers entered Salt Lake City in Dec 1856, people lined the streets to welcome them and to be assigned to take them home and care for them. The people in Salt Lake City had literally taken the clothes off their backs and thrown them into the rescue wagons. So if all of Annie’s clothes were her own, they would have been in tatters. If she were wearing some of the clothes donated by Salt Lake City citizens, they could have been ill-fitting. It’s entirely possible that she did not have the strength to get out of the wagon unassisted. In addition, the pioneers were so crowded into the wagons, that some of the rescuers were afraid they would suffocate.
4.      Fifty cents a week was a huge sum at the time. The Utah pioneers were so poor themselves, that when the 1856 pioneers first looked over the valley they saw only snow-covered hovels. This was the Great Salt Lake?  This was their salvation? Their dream?  By 1856, the Utah citizens had suffered drought and several terribly destructive cricket infestations. They had very little coinage and dealt in barter. And yes, the seagulls did rescue them but not until substantial losses had occurred. In other words, it was out of extreme poverty and with no place to get more supplies that the Utah Saints gave their all to save the handcart and baggage train Saints.  This included healing them, feeding and housing them, teaching them how to live in the desert and providing jobs for them.
5.      That many wanted to marry Annie is almost certainly true. It is another eternal gift the Utah Saints gave the “handcart” girls.  After saving them, nursing them to health, teaching them to live in the unhospitable environment of Utah, many of the rescuers, their neighbors and friends took handcart girls as their second or third, etc. wives. Thus the first wives essentially “cared” for the handcart girls for eternity. How grateful I am that Betsy Strait Free, Absalom Pennington’s wife, was willing to welcome Annie Hicks as her husband’s new wife.  After polygamy was abolished, Betsy Strait did live with her son and care for him. From time to time, Absalom P Free would visit her, sitting on the porch in their rocking [?] chairs. After all, APF was forty years older than Annie, and our Grandpa, Wen, was born when he was 75.  So with all those little kids around, he probably needed a few moments of peace.
6.      Other sources indicate Annie made her living in England by knitting socks.
7.      See item 5 above.  The story of her sweetheart has several twists.  The one I’ve heard most often is that he was a member of the Martin handcart company and died on the way. I see no way to verify this.
8.      Annie Hicks Free was aware she was a Wenlock on her mother’s side and seemed to believe she was connected to gentry at the least if not nobililty, even though her family lived in extreme poverty. Her father and mother both died in the Romford poor house. See this story in one of my newspaper articles in the book It’s All Relatives Columns. However, Frank Smith and other professional researchers not only could not find any connection to any upper crust Wenlocks, they had a very difficult time making any headway on the Wenlock line. With all the additional data available online, it might be possible to do so now.
So, as Uncle James Wadsworth’s family in the Hunt Baggage Company was fulfilling it’s assignment to stay behind the handcart companies and help them, Annie was doing what she could to help others within the Martin Handcart Company, including helping to save Brother Bleak’s life.


  1. Hi,

    I'm a decendent of Annie Hicks Free and was wondering more about the context and origin of these notes. Would you be able to tell me more about them?

  2. Hi Bry, So glad you are interested in Annie Hicks. As I sit here at my computer, Annie is looking over my shoulder from an oval picture frame I inherited from my father, Lory M Free. Who is your father? And how do you descend from Annie Hicks Free? What do you want to know? I'll share all I can.

  3. Hi Rae,

    Thanks for your quick reply. Would love to hear all that you have and I can share with you the little info I have as well, I believe my Grandmother has a couple times that traveled with Annie across the plains. Can we exchange emails?

    mine is

  4. My ancestors is Jemima Nightingale (Davis), daughter of Jane Nightingale. Their family didn't keep any journals, so it's nice to see them mentioned or remembered by others. Thank you!

  5. My ancestors is Jemima Nightingale (Davis), daughter of Jane Nightingale. Their family didn't keep any journals, so it's nice to see them mentioned or remembered by others. Thank you!

  6. I am a great great great granddaughter of Annie Hicks Free. We grew up listening to stories about Annie and love her. My mother has painted beautiful pictures of her life story and has some other stories about her passed on from her mother.