Francis Webster

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Mayor Francis Webster, Cedar City, Utah
Photo from Mayors of Cedar City, Evelyn K. Jones
and York F. Jones, Historical Preservation
Commission and Southern Utah State College, 1988

Francis Webster lived a fascinating life. His journal gives an overview of his life, and individual stories are given in this section. In addition, check out the sections on the The Mormon Trail and the Generations of Websters book. For genealogical data on Francis, visit the Genealogy section.

2nd Trip To Australia

The following information about Francis Webster's second trip to Australia appeared in an article in The Improvement Era.

Perhaps some of you think that the impressive drama presented [Lamps of Glory by Blanche K. McKey] is not based on facts. It is. I do not know the instance, but as I understood it, I said in my heart that Esther might have been a young girl in England ninety years ago, and Ronald, her sweetheart to whom she was engaged. Ronald was down in Australia seeking to make his fortune before he would return to England to take his sweetheart as bride, and while he was away she heard the message of Mormonism and with her adopted parents accepted the gospel. While, let us call him Ronald, was in Australia, he heard the terrible stories about the Mountain Meadow Massacre [sic] (the massacre occurred nine months after the Websters settled in Cedar City. awl) and the Danites and polygamy with which he associated these other terrible things He returned, however, to England and in high anticipation hastened to his sweetheart's home to have her name the wedding day. But she said: "I have something to tell you first. I have joined the Church."

"Well, that is all right. I will join it with you."

"No., you do not understand. I have joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints."

"Well, that is all right. One church is just as good as another. Name the day."

"You do not understand. I have joined the Mormon Church."

"What?" he said, "I cannot understand how you have been so deceived."

Well, I need not tell you the story. He finally said: "You choose between the Mormons and me."

But the light shone also in her soul, and she said: "If that is your decision, I choose the Church."

When that light gets into the soul it is as a guide, the most precious thing in all one's life. Ronald left England. Back to Australia he went, but stopped on his way in Salt Lake City to see for himself, then continued on and returned a year or so later and investigated for himself. He observed as best as he could the great leader, Brigham Young. He sat in the old tabernacle that was built before the present edifice, and he found out that he had been deceived, that it was he who was in error and not Esther. So he returned to England, asked her forgiveness, and they more married. . . .

I think it was about 1907 that I sat at the table as a guest of that little baby girl born on the plains, and around her, crowning her with glory, were nine children, and it was from her own lips that I received in detail the story of her mother and her father as I have briefly sketched it to you. She was Mrs. Leigh of Cedar City.

No mention of any bitterness towards the Church is given in Francis' personal journal. Francis recorded that he attended Latter day Saint meetings between his two Australia trips, and that he found them "very Interesting to me." In addition, when leaving for his second trip to Australia, he "took several of the works of the church with me to read on the journey". Amy Leigh 's source of Information was her father, and it is possible that Francis did become bitter towards the Church, and that he attended Church meetings to see if his bitterness was justified. His journal is not a complete record of his thoughts, and he may not have recorded his bitterness, even though it existed.

The "Early Church Records" in the Salt Lake City Genealogical Library confirms Francis' 1848 baptism by John Ligmonce; this indicates that the statement that Francis did not know the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Mormon Church were the same is not accurate.

McKay, President David O. "The Ideals of True Womanhood" The Improvement Ear, 50 (October, 1947), p. 640, as quoted in Generations of Websters, Amy L. Van Cott and Allen W. Leigh, Thomas Webster Family Organization, Cedar City, Utah, 1960, pp. 54-55., Minor changes made

The Handcart Trek

William R. Palmer wrote about Francis Webster and Ann Elizabeth Parsons Webster in England and about their preparations for their immigration to Utah.

The young husband had Sixteen Hundred Dollars left in gold dust. One day he and his wife carried the precious buckskin bag of Gold over to the British Mint in London and had it stamped into gold coins. The English girl looked in wide eyed wonder at a pile of gold coins on the mint floor that were being moved like so much coal by a workman with a shovel. With Sixteen Hundred Dollars cash in hand the Websters would be able to outfit themselves in luxury for a trip from London to Great Salt Lake City. Francis placed Five Hundred Dollars with a Church Agent to purchase for him a good wagon with full camp equipment and two yoke of good cattle, the same to be ready for him at the point in America where Mormon Emigrants started across the Plains.

Soon after this order was placed advice came from Brigham Young to the Saints in England, for the well-to-do to share with and give assistance to the poor members of the church so that they also might come to Zion. Francis Webster heard that advice and was ready to obey council. The price of that good outfit he had ordered would pay the passage of nine additional persons to Utah. So, knowing that a baby would come to them out on the Plains, the Websters cancelled the wagon order and elected to travel by handcart that their money might bring nine more souls to Zion. They would obey council and trust themselves to the providence of God

Palmer, William Francis Webster. Privately distributed in ditto form, as quoted in Generations of Websters, Amy L. Van Cott and Allen W. Leigh, Thomas Webster Family Organization, Cedar City, Utah, 1960, pp. 55-56.

In correspondence with her half-cousin, Dr. George W. Middleton, Amy Elizabeth Parsons Webster Leigh described part of her father's life:

Father was the son of a poor farmer and had had no chance for education or culture, mother was a member of the Parsons family. But he and mother had met, he had fallen in love with her. She had promised to waite for him, until she was 21 and he had made a fortune. . . .

About them coming with the handcarte. . . .They had japaned tin Boxes made to carry their cloths in, but the Boxes were left standing on the prairie.

5 and 6 persons were allotted to each Cart, because after waiting three weeks for them to be finished. there was only half enough for all the people. Father expected to have one to themselves, for just him and mother.

Grand Father Middleton, drove one of the Provision wagons, and I think Grandmother could have rode some of the time, but that She walked to keep mother company, and to help carry me, the latter part of the journey, I have no doubt. They were living on a quarter of a lb. of flour a day, each. Father had lived for 5 days on dead Bufflo meat without salt when they were met by the relief train. Father done that so grandmother and mother could have his quarter of flour.

They reached Salt Lake on the last day of November stayed in Salt Lake 2 days, then started for Cedar City arriving here on the 15th of December. John Hamilton, and John Willes, brought them here.

Generations of Websters, Amy L. Van Cott and Allen W. Leigh, Thomas Webster Family Organization, Cedar City, Utah, 1960, p. 53. Minor punctuation changes made.

During this trip, humbling and faith promoting experiences happened to Francis Webster, resulting in his having a strong testimony of Deity. William R. Palmer wrote of that testimony.

I heard a testimony once that made me tingle to the roots of my hair. It was in an adult Sunday School class of over fifty men and women.

Nathan T. Porter, then Principal of the Branch Normal School, was the teacher and the subject under discussion was the ill fated hand cart company that suffered so terribly in the snow in 1856.

Some sharp criticism of the church and its leaders was being indulged in for permitting any company of converts to venture across the Plains with no more supplies or protection than a hand cart caravan afforded.

One old man in the corner sat silent and listened as long as he could stand it then he arose and said things that no person who heard him will ever forget. His face was white with emotion yet he spoke calmly, deliberately, but with great earnestness and sincerity.

He said in substance, "I ask you to stop this criticism. You are discussing a matter you know nothing about. Cold historic facts mean nothing here for they give no proper interpretation of the questions involved. Mistake to send the Hand Cart Company out so late in the season? Yes. But I was in that Company and my wife was in it and Sister Nellie Unthank whom you have sited was there too. We suffered beyond anything you can imagine and many died of exposure and starvation, but did you ever hear a survivor of that Company utter a word of criticism? Not one of that Company ever apostatized or left the church because every one of us came through with the absolute knowledge that God lives for we became acquainted with him in our extremities.

"I have pulled my hand cart when I was so weak and weary from illness and lack of food that I could hardly put one foot ahead of the other. I have looked ahead and seen a patch of sand or a hill slope and I have said I can go only that far and there I must give up for I cannot pull the load through it. I have gone on to that sand and when I reached it the cart began pushing me. I have looked back many times to see who was pushing my cart but my eyes saw no one. I knew then that the Angels of God were there.

"Was I sorry that I chose to come by hand cart? No. Neither then nor any minute of my life since. The price we paid to become acquainted with God was a privilege to pay and I am thankful that I was privileged to come in the Martin Hand Cart Company."

The speaker was Francis Webster and when he sat down there was not a dry eye in the room. We were a subdued and chastened lot. Charles H. Mabey who later became Governor of Utah, arose and voiced the sentiment of all when he said, "I would gladly pay the same price for the same assurance of the eternal verities that Brother Webster has."

Palmer, William R. "Pioneers of Southern Utah" The Instructor, 79 (May, 1944), 217-218), as quoted in Generations of Websters, Amy L. Van Cott and Allen W. Leigh, Thomas Webster Family Organization, Cedar City, Utah, 1960, pp. 61-62.

Francis Webster has been criticized for his statement that none of the handcart company left the church. That statement should, of course, be interpreted in the context of Francis Webster's knowledge of the handcart pioneers after they arrived in Utah. As far as he knew, none of them left the church.

Chad Orton, an archivist with the Family and Church History Division of the LDS church has written an extensive review of the Martin Handcart Company and Francis Webster's experience during that trek. His article is well-written and adds information not included in this web site.

Mayor

Francis Webster served as mayor of Cedar City from 1872 to 1876. During that time, he encountered interesting problems that taxed his ingenuity. According to William R. Palmer:

In one of his terms as Mayor a complaint was made that the city was holding the price of city lots and some dry land on the outskirts of town too high. The School of the Prophets which functioned like our Chamber of Commerce, petitioned for reduction so that young men might have a chance to acquire building sites. The Hon. Mayor was in sympathy with the young men's cause and fought it through the city council. Soon he took the breath of the School of the Prophets by announcing that prices were reduced to one dollar and twenty-five cents for city lots and seventy-five cents per acre for dry land. Many of Cedar's best homes of today are located on those dollar and a quarter city lots.

At one time he was appointed under protest to dispense alcoholic liquors in Cedar City. He knew that if he sold too much and drunkenness resulted, the people would criticize him, and if he sold too little the customers would kick. He was charged specifically to sell no liquor to habitual drinkers. He asked for a list of the habitual drinkers but no one would compile it. He solved the problem so far as he was concerned by announcing in church that he would sell liquor to no one unless the purchaser brought a recommend from their Bishop.

Generations of Websters, Amy L. Van Cott and Allen W. Leigh, Thomas Webster Family Organization, Cedar City, Utah, 1960, pp. 64-65. Minor changes made.

Overview of Church Activity

Francis Webster was an active member of the LDS church. Assistant Church Historian, Andrew Jenson, wrote this sketch of Francis' church activity.

He was set apart as second counselor to Bishop Christopher J. Arthur, of Cedar City, July 29, 1877 by Apostle Erastus Snow, and later he was set apart as Bishop Arthur's first counselor. May 5, 1884, he was set apart as first counselor to Bishop Henry Lunt, by Pres. John Taylor. In 1889 he served six month's imprisonment in the Utah penitentiary for conscience sake [polygamy]. He was set apart as a member of the Parowan Stake High Council June 23, 1889, and he was set apart by Apostle Heber J. Grant to be second Counselor to Pres. Thos. J. Jones of Parowan Stake Sept. 23, 1889. When the Stake was reorganized, March 21, 1892, he was set apart as second counselor to Pres. Uriah T. Jones, and later (June 21, 1896) he was chosen first counselor to Pres. Jones, being set apart to that position by Apostle John Henry Smith....Elder Webster has always been an energetic and enterprising man, continually striving for the betterment of the community in which he has resided.

Jensen, Andrew. Latter-Day Saint Biographical Encyclopedia 1. Salt Lake City: Andrew Jenson History Company, 1901, as quoted in Generations of Websters, Amy L. Van Cott and Allen W. Leigh, Thomas Webster Family Organization, Cedar City, Utah, 1960, pp. 52-53.

Spiritual Advisor

Margaret Pryor Dalley in writing of her mother, Margaret Evans Pryor, said:

The one friend that she turned to at any and all times, and whom she counted on most, was Francis Webster, who encouraged her when she was weary and discouraged. He taught her faith and humility, and admonished her to not be afraid of the criticism and opposition and jealousies that she had to contend with. Mr. Webster had prophetic insight into the conditions that Mother worked under and of her worth to the people in distress. He was her spiritual advisor and counselor up until his death.

Carter, Kate B. Treasures of Pioneer History, 3. Salt Lake City: Daughters of Utah Pioneers, 1954, p. 151, as quoted in Generations of Websters, Amy L. Van Cott and Allen W. Leigh, Thomas Webster Family Organization, Cedar City, Utah, 1960, p. 62.

Merchant

William R. Palmer, in a Sunday evening fireside talk, described the merchandising in early Cedar City. Before the completion of the transcontinental railroad at Promontory Point, the only importing of goods into Cedar City was by wagon. At first the goods were freighted the thousand miles from Missouri to Utah--the round trip took six months. Thus only one trip was made per year, because no freighting could be done during the winter. The day after the wagons arrived from Missouri, the goods were completely sold. Later, freight began coming into Cedar City from California. Because the imported goods did not satisfy all 0f the needs of the residents of Cedar City, some of them became merchants by selling goods, such as candles, soap, lard, medicinal supplies, etc.

Francis Webster was one of those merchants; he had a small store that was located on Main Street, about where Hunter Hardware is located today [1959]. His stock included candy, stationary, calico, shoes, etc. The shoes were displayed in a small lumber lean-to in the rear of his store. The younger members of his family had fond memories of his store and the candy contained in it. After the railroad came into Utah, Francis shipped sheep and wool to Chicago, going back with them. While he was in Chicago, he purchased goods--mens suits, saddles, harnesses, etc.--to fill orders from individuals in Cedar City. He also made business trips to Salt Lake City, and he brought his family special dainties, such as canned McGowen Salmon, fresh oranges, etc.

Generations of Websters, Amy L. Van Cott and Allen W. Leigh, Thomas Webster Family Organization, Cedar City, Utah, 1960, pp. 65.

Member of the School Building Committee

Francis Webster was a man of perseverance, as illustrated by his activities as a member of the building committee for the Branch Normal School being constructed in Cedar City (now the Southern Utah University). Rhoda M. Wood interviewed several men who worked in the mountains getting lumber for the school and who worked in Cedar City in various capacities. Some of the men described their contacts with Francis Webster.

[Jim Hunter said:] I wasn't married, but living at home with Mother on the property where the El Escalante Hotel now stands [Main Street & 200 North], in January 1897. I had just driven into the lot from weeks of freighting between Milford and Nevada Mining camps. I had two good teams and a new Bain wagon, and wanted a rest from the dog's life of freighting, when Francis Webster came to where I was Unhitching. "Jim,, we need you and your outfits to go into the mountains to help get the lumber out for the new building to house the high school." He talked and argued. I had been out camping in the weather all I wanted for that winter, and his talk didn't convince me. Mother told me she thought I ought to go. Anyway, the next day another of the committee came, Jed Jones, I think. They kept coming until all five had been there and I felt compelled to go so I told them I'd go on that trip, and that mostly to get rid of them. . . .

[Frank Adams said:] In February 1898, I had a load of coal on my wagon ready to leave for Delamar, having promised to deliver it at a certain time. I was just back from a long freighting trip and since we didn't make much money I needed all the cash I could get. The evening before I was to leave, Francis Webster and Jed Jones came to my place to tell me that my help was needed in getting out the finish lumber for the new school building. The rough lumber was pretty much milled and hauled out, at least a good start had been made toward it, but the finish-lumber must be sawed and piled to season and because I was an experienced logger, I should feel it my duty to assume such an assignment without pay, regardless of the needs of my wife and four little children. My wife had already had a hard winter and sickness while I was away but they thought she could manage regardless of the weather. They won out. I got Albert Nelson to take my outfit and deliver that load of coal. He was glad to get the job and I, riding one of my horses and Levi Walker riding one of Jed Jones, on our rolls of bedding left for Jenson's sawmill. . . .

[Herbert Adams, a cousin of Frank Adams, said:] At the insistence of Francis Webster, I put off an anticipated trip to Delamar, to go to my rock quarry out in Dry canyon on the 8th of January and make a start toward getting out the rock for the foundation, the corners and the lintels for the new Branch Normal School building. . . .

[Rob-Will Bulloch said:] After six weeks or so of hauling between Bryant's Hotel on the Mammoth and the Old Setting, I quit and came home. I had been out quite late one night and it seemed like I had just gotten to bed when there came a loud rapping at the door that roused the whole house. Presently I heard Father's and Francis Webster's voices. "But Dave, I can't get anybody else and they can't go on with the building without his help." I knew that I might as well say 'yes' because that man didn't take a turn-down, so I got up and began to get ready. . . .

[Jethero Palmer said:] Francis Webster came into the harness shop sometime in January 1898, to say to me, "Jethero, I want all the horse blankets you have or can get. With teams working in the cold high in the mountains, they must have blankets." I answered him, "The horse blanket season is pretty well done, but you can get what we have. I didn't intend to order more and don't think I could get them if I did." "Well, you can make some can't you?" he asked. I told him I had no material but if I had some I could try. He went away and soon came back with a big chunk of heavy canvas. He told me that John M. Higbee had secured it from one of the sugar factories where he had been recently and was donating for the purpose of making horse blankets. Canvas is not enough, I told him. "Good blankets have to be lined. Well, an hour or so later here he came with the lining in the form of several extra-heavy stout bed blankets. "Now if you need help I'll get that too," he told me. . . .When Brother Webster took them he said, "You understood this was a donation job?" "Yes", I answered, "I expected you would come to that." "The Lord will bless you," he said as he closed the door. I have been blessed in many ways so I suppose Francis Webster’s prophesy came true.

Generations of Websters, Amy L. Van Cott and Allen W. Leigh, Thomas Webster Family Organization, Cedar City, Utah, 1960, pp. 63-64.

Grandfather

Francis Webster was loved by his grandchildren. John U. Webster wrote his memories of his grandfather.

My first recollection of Grandfather. . .Webster was the big family reunions we used to have at Xmas time. . . .Before the celebration closed Grandfather always called us youngsters together to sing some of our school songs. "Tenting to Night on the Old Camp Ground," was one of his favorites. It must have reminded him of evenings spent singing, on their trek west to Salt Lake City, Utah, with the hand cart company. . . .

Every summer while we kids were growing up, we always looked ahead to our moving to our ranch on the mountains, after school closed, where we enjoyed so much the cool mountain air, cold spring water and everything available in ranch life, milk butter, curds & cream--curds the first stage of cheese making-taking care of the cows and calves, riding calves, horses, donkeys and really enjoying life. Kegs of butter and shelves of cheese were made for our winter supply.

In all farming communities, in my day, horses, cattle, sheep, hogs, poultry of all descriptions were a part of farm and ranch life. To move hogs from one locality to another was always quite a problem, because they are much slower travelers.

Hogs played quite a part in the ranch dairy life, they consumed the swill, skim milk, cheese whey, etc.

Grandfather Webster thot I was the only one to drive the hogs over the mountain to the ranch so I'd have to start much earlier and drive much later. No matter how early I started the wagon carrying the folks would always pass me usually in about the same place year after year.

I began driving the hogs at the age of eight or nine years old over 18 miles of road over mountains, ridges and hollows. I always felt fine as long as I was in lead, but when the folks passed me it would almost break my heart to be left behind. It made such an impression on me that to this day I never want to be left behind or have any one else left out or behind. I want everybody to be there.

Generations of Websters, Amy L. Van Cott and Allen W. Leigh, Thomas Webster Family Organization, Cedar City, Utah, 1960, pp. 67.

Another grandson, Wilford U. Webster, wrote his memories of his grandfather:

As for my memory of my Grand parents--Francis and Ann Elizabeth Parsons Webster--I was a small boy when they died, but I do remember Grandfather Webster had a little store over on main street, where Hunter Hardware now stands--just a little store back a short distance from the street. . . . And I remember the big apricot tree north of their house and a place where Grandfather kept his coal, just a big place boxed in without a roof over it. Then I remember the cool water jar that was on the north side of their home, and the dipper where we could always get a cool drink, as the water dripped a drop at a time to a lower container, but it was always cool water.

Then I remember when Grandfather died. I think it was in May-it was warm weather--and they had him in the front room of their home, packed in ice for a day or two, with a sheet over him. I thought it would be mighty cold for him, but that was the way the body was taken care of in those days.

Generations of Websters, Amy L. Van Cott and Allen W. Leigh, Thomas Webster Family Organization, Cedar City, Utah, 1960, pp. 68.

The Francis Webster Statue

The downtown portion of Main Street in Cedar City has become a Historic District. To encourage people to become more familiar with the history of the town, officials are creating statues of some of the early pioneers of the city. A statue to Francis Webster was unveiled on August 30, 2008.

Here are the cover of the printed program for the unveiling ceremony, the agenda of the program that was held in the Heritage Theater,  and a brief summary of Francis Webster's life that was included in the printed program. Click the images for larger views.

The following pictures show the statue and some of the people who attended the unveiling.

Francis Webster Statue Dedication

More pictures are here.

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