Friday, July 16, 2010


Posted by Carolyn J. Christensen, 4th Great Granddaughter of William Eckersley

Carolyn Johnson Christensen > Doris Kikrham Johnson > Sarah Wrigley Kirkham > Sarah Ann Robinson Wrigley > Sarah Eckersley Robinson > William Eckersley Hannah Hardy

(The following are a few facts & assumptions about William Eckersley gleaned from records by Carolyn J. Christensen. I have always had strong sympathies for this man (my biological 3rd great grandfather) who brought his family of four little girls and his wife to America for the sake of the gospel, then not only lost his only son, but his own life while working to bring his family to Zion. We have records of only his and his father’s family and have not been able to find records going back further. I am very much looking forward to meeting him and thanking him for his role of sacrifice in my heritage.)

Sometimes, knowing a little about the area in which a person grew up helps to understand the individual, his motivations, expectations, and dreams. Therefore, this part of the history of William Eckersley concerns his hometown of Oldham, Lancashire, England.

I (Carolyn Christensen) spent several days in this city, staying with a family in one of Oldham’s typical “row” houses. We would call these houses “town” houses as all the houses in a row share outside walls. The one I stayed in was typical with a hall ending in stairs that accessed the two rooms back to front on each of 3 floors. Could William’s family have lived in a similar house?

Remember that William Eckersley was born in 1812, and left Oldham in 1845, at the age of 33. He was involved in the textile industry, being designated as a cotton worker in the 1841 Census.

Historically a part of Lancashire, and with little early history to speak of, Oldham rose to prominence during the 1800s as an international center of textile manufacture. (William was involved in this industry during it rise in Oldham.) Oldham was a boomtown of the Industrial Revolution, and amongst the first ever industrialized towns, rapidly becoming "one of the most important centres of cotton and textile industries in England". At its zenith, it was the most productive cotton spinning mill town in the world. (This would have been in the 20-30 years after William left Oldham. Oldham's textile industry began to fall into decline during the mid-1900s, and its last mill closed in 1998.

Much of Oldham's history is concerned with textile manufacture during the Industrial Revolution; it has been said that "if ever the Industrial Revolution placed a town firmly and squarely on the map of the world, that town is Oldham” (N. J. Frangopulo, Tradition in Action; The Historical Evolution of the Greater Manchester County, (1977)).

Oldham's soils were too thin and poor to sustain crop growing, and so for decades prior to industrialization the area was used for grazing sheep, which provided the raw material for a local woolen weaving trade. In the 1600s there were in Oldham various thriving crafts and trades chiefly devoted to cloth-making and linen-making on a domestic basis.[6] It was not until the last quarter of the 1700s that Oldham changed from being a cottage industry township producing garments via domestic manual labor, to a sprawling industrial metropolis of textile factories.

The first steam engine for Oldham went into operation in 1794. Oldham's small local population was greatly increased by the mass migration of workers from its outlying villages, resulting in a population increase from just over 12,000 in 1801 to 137,000 in 1901. The speed of this urban growth meant that Oldham, with little pre-industrial history to speak of, was effectively born as a factory town. (Inasmuch as William’s family has been untraceable further back than his father, it is very possible that the Eckersley family were a part of this migration.)

Oldham's social history is marked by politicized civil disturbances, as well as events related to the Luddite, Suffragette and other Labor movements from the working classes. The Luddites were a social movement of British textile artisans in the early nineteenth century who protested — often by destroying sewing machines — against the changes produced by the Industrial Revolution, which they felt threatened their livelihood.

It has been put that the people of Oldham became radical in politics in the early part the 1800s century, and movements suspected of sedition found patronage in the town. Oldham was frequently disturbed by bread and labor riots, facilitated by periods of scarcity and the disturbance of employment following the introduction of cotton-spinning machinery. On 20 April 1812, (the year William was born) a "large crowd of riotous individuals" compelled local retailers to sell foods at a loss, whilst on the same day Luddites numbering in their thousands, many of whom were from Oldham, attacked a cotton mill in nearby Middleton. (Having lived through the 1960s & 70s and the “cold war”, I can imagine William longing for a peaceful and safe place in which to raise his little daughters.)

In 1849 (four years after the Eckersleys left Oldham in England), an article in the Morning Chronicle by Angus Reach says of Oldham:

“The visitor to Oldham will find it essentially a mean-looking straggling town, built upon both sides and crowning the ridge of one of the outlying spurs which branch from Manchester, the neighboring "backbone of England". The whole place has a shabby underdone look. The general appearance of the operatives' houses is filthy and smoldering.”

Oldham didn’t improve much in the next 30 years, which also indicates it didn’t improve a lot in the 30 years of William’s residency, except in growth, as we can see from an entry in the Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales (1870-1872).

In the 1870s, John Marius Wilson described Oldham as consisting of:

“... numerous streets, and contains numerous fine buildings, both public and private; but, in a general view, is irregularly constructed, presents the dingy aspect of a crowded seat of manufacture, and is more notable for factories than for any other feature.

After examining the above facts, it would seem that William, at minimum, would have been aware of these social disturbances, and possibly a part of them. Possibly, in leaving for American, not only was he moving his family to Zion, but away from “Babylon” so to speak. The lure of the gospel and Zion would have a tremendous influence on William’s family and their decision to leave England.

Now that we have some background in which to put William and Hannah Eckersley and their four little daughters, let’s explore more personal details.


(1812 – 1846/7)

William Eckersley was born in Oldham, Lancashire, England and christened in St. Peter’s Church, an English Gothic church which replaced the original church in the 1400s. It was enlarged during the Industrial Revolution. Oldham was visited by William’s 3rd great granddaughter, Carolyn Johnson, where she saw the beginnings of the razing of St. Peter’s in 1967 – two years before it’s use was discontinued. At that time, some demolition had begun and Carolyn came home from England carrying in her luggage along with other souveniers (and in lieu of clothing which was shipped home) three pieces of stone or marble, remnants of church decorations and head stones. These mementos are treasured as a tie to various ancestors including William and his father’s family.

William was born on 23 April 1812, to James Eckersley and Mary Greaves, both of Oldham. He was the fourth of seven children, and named after his oldest brother, the first child who died before he was born. The children were: William, Frances, Mary, William, Thomas, Mary, and James Henry, all christened at St. Peter’s in Oldham. Having been in large churches in England, it is pleasant to picture in my mind a tiny babe in the hands of the priest at the alter, being baptized, as his parents, James and Mary stood by, along with their two older children. Perhaps they hushed their children as William’s name was announced. In their joy of this new baby, there must have been some grief because of the death of their first child, William’s oldest brother and namesake.

St. Peter’s Church, Oldham

History is silent about William’s childhood except that three more children came into the family with one daughter dyng before the last daughter was born. Probably William’s father was involved in the textile industry as was his son. William would have begun work in his early teens if not in his late childhood. Not only was he designated as a cotton worker in the 1841 census, he was also designated as a spinner when his third daughter was born. He was probably not wealthy. However, in his adulthood, William and Hannah were able to save money to go to America in 1845. In America, they had only enough money to get as far at St. Louis before they had to stop in their journey to earn more money.

At the age of 21, William married Hannah Hardy (age 18) on 21 October 1833. Three children were born to this union in the next seven years, all girls; Annetta, Mary and Hannah. Hannah’s birth registration indicates that the family lived at Royton Street, Oldham, Below Town.

In December of 1841, William had been converted to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and was baptized. His wife was later baptized in 1842. Neither exact date is known. Two years later, another girl was born to this family, Sarah. On her Birth Registration, indication is that Sarah was born at Barnfold in Oldham Below Town. Her father, (William) was again listed as a spinner,

On 17 Jan 1845, William and Hannah decided to emigrate. This must have been a difficult decision knowing that they would never see any of their family again in their lives. What sad farewells there must have been as the Eckersley family left Oldham and headed for Zion on the ship Palmyra*. The ocean trip was difficult and little Sarah, the youngest daughter became very ill, resulting in a lifetime of deafness for her. Like many pioneers coming from across the ocean, this couple arrived in New Orleans. They did so on 11 March 1845 then traveled up the Missouri and settled in St. Louis for a time while they earned the money needed to prepare to travel westward.

In July 1846, their first and only son was born, James, named after William’s father, who lived only a month.  He was buried in St. Louis. The tragedy for the family deepened when William followed his son to the grave  within a few months. He was murdered sometime in early 1847. Imagine the horror and despair of his wife Hannah, when the news was brought to her, probably after a night of worrying because her husband didn’t  arrive home when expected.

In the book, Pioneer Women of Faith & Fortitude, Vol. I, a biography of Hannah Hardy Eckersley Crompton states:

"The following year (after the birth and death of baby James Henry) William went into town, and some say he was mugged and killed for the money he had hidden in his coat, because when he was found there was no money. "

At the time he died, William’s oldest daughter, Hannah was 12. His next daughter, Mary was 10. His third daughter, Fannie was 7, and little Sarah, who was deaf, was 3 years old. This left his wife, Hannah, age 32, with four girls to support, which she did taking employment at the largest hotel in St. Louis and earning enough money to get the family to Council Bluffs, Iowa, the taking off place for Utah. There she met Robert Crompton. Robert and Hannah were married and the rest of their story is told in the history of Hannah Hardy Eckersley Crompton.

William’s temple work was completed in June of 1941.

* (The Ship) Palmyra

Ship: 612 tons: 143' x 31' x 15'

Built: 1838 by Sprague G. James at Medford, Massachusetts

Departed from England on, 17 January 1845

Arrived in New Orleans on, 11 March 1845

About two hundred Mormons sailed from Liverpool on 17 January 1845 aboard the Yankee square-rigger Palmyra. Elder Amos Fielding presided over the emigrants, and Captain Barstow was ship master. In a famous letter Ann Fitchforth, a passenger, described a storm encountered during the crossing:

We had soon something else to think of than farewells, friends, or anything else, for the winds arose, and our fears with them; wave dashed on wave, and storm on storm, every hour increasing; all unsecured boxes, tins, bottles, pans, etc., danced in wild confusion, cracking, clashing, jumbling, rolling, while the vessel pitched, and tossed, and bounced till people flew out of their berths on the floor, while others held on with difficulty; thus we continued for eight days-no fires made-nothing cooked-biscuits and cold water; the waves dashed down the hold into the interior of the vessel, hatchway then closed, all in utter darkness and terror, not knowing whether the vessel was sinking or not; none could tell-all prayed-and awful silence prevailed-sharks and sins presented themselves, and doubts and fears; one awful hour after another passing, we found we were not yet drowned; some took courage and lit the lamps; we met in prayer, we pleaded the promises of our God-faith prevailed; the winds abated, the sky cleared, the fires were again lit, then the luxury of a cup of tea and a little gruel.

During the passage the Palmyra came upon a sinking vessel and rescued nine people. These survivors had fought to keep their craft afloat for seventeen days in water up to their waists. After fifty-three days the emigrants landed on 11 March 1845 at New Orleans.

This packet ship was operated at various times in the Dispatch Line, Pennsylvania & Louisiana Line, and the Packet Line. She had two decks, a square stern, no galleries, three masts, and a billet head. In 1854 the Palmyra was condemned at Rio de Janeiro and sold.

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