Mary Ann Angell was born June 8, 1803 to James and Phoebe Morton Angell in Ontario County, New York. When she was young, her family moved to Providence, Rhode Island. There they lived until her mother, Phoebe, left her abusive husband and moved herself and their two children to China, New York in 1831.
A year after the move to New York, Mary’s brother, Truman, was baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Mary Ann was baptized shortly afterward.
Mary Ann had always been deeply religious. She was keen on studying Hebrew and Christian scripture. “She vowed never to marry until she met a ‘man of God’ in whom she could confide her spirituality and with whom her heart could unite in the active duties of a Christian life” (1).
She set off alone for Kirtland, Ohio to gather with the Saints in 1832. In 1833, she met a young widower, Brigham Young. She “felt drawn to him” as she listened to him preach. He, likewise, was impressed with her as he heard her bear testimony (2).
They were married February 18, 1834. According to Brigham, Mary Ann, “took charge of my children, kept my house, and labored faithfully for the interest of my family and the kingdom.” While that all might sound good and well, context provides incredible depth to this description of what Mary Ann Angell did to support her husband and family in their early years of marriage.
These were extremely trying times. Brigham had a fire and a zeal for proclaiming the gospel that was unparalleled. “It burned in my bones like a fire pent up,” he said. He never offered objection when calls came to preach the Gospel. Neither did Mary Ann. But this meant that he was only home about half the time for their first five years of marriage. This left her home alone to support herself and their growing family. She would work in the home as well as out in the fields to earn a living and put food on the table.
By 1836, the family consisted of Brigham and Mary Ann, Brigham’s daughters from his first marriage, Elizabeth and Vilate, Joseph, born in 1834 and twins, Mary Ann and Brigham Jr., born in 1836. In addition to the difficulty of running a household, tending to the children and providing a living during her husband’s long absences, mobs and apostates were terrorizing the Saints in Kirtland. When Mary Ann and the children were finally able to join Brigham in Far West, Missouri in the spring of 1838, he was shocked at her condition. “You look as if you were almost in your grave,” he told her (3).
Brigham was not ignorant of the plight of his family during these hard times. He often wrote home, expressing his love and his desires to be home with them. It must have been a welcome relief when the Prophet Joseph received a revelation in 1838 that Brigham would not be required to leave his family again, “until they are amply provided for” (4).
Enough can’t be said about the work and the sacrifices Mary Ann willingly took on for her family. The book, Revelations in Context, says that she kept house in 11 different places within three months, while pregnant (5). She rowed across the Mississippi River with a newborn baby, soaking wet, in November, while suffering from malaria in order to acquire food for her starving family. She built a log cabin with her bare hands in Nauvoo. She crossed the plains, helping as many as she could along the way with her skills in herbal medicine. She accepted the law of plural marriage and was beloved by each of her husband’s wives and children.
James Crockwell stated, “She was a very gifted and intelligent woman, highly cultured, yet humble and meek, ever ready to help the poor and needy, or ease the suffering of the afflicted. She passed through great trials and privation but through it all she was a faithful wife, model mother and Latter-day Saint, in whose heart native goodness and benevolence abounded" (6).
Mary Ann Angel was truly an angel on Earth. For more information, please see the sources and further reading below.
Sources and Further Reading:
Wells, “Heroines of the Church,” 17; Arrington, Brigham Young, 37.
Wells, “Heroines of the Church,” 19.
Doctrine and Covenants 118
Crockwell, James H.; Crockwell, James H. (NaN). Pictures and biographies of Brigham Young and his wives : being a true and correct statement of the birth, life and death of President Brigham Young, second president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints : and brief biographies of his twenty-six wives : and names and number of children born to them. Salt Lake City, Utah : James H. Crockwell.
*Further Reading: “Indomitable Mary Ann” from the Ensign July 1993 https://www.lds.org/study/ensign/1993/07/indomitable-mary-ann?lang=eng