Francis Beckstead, Sr.

 

The father of Francis Beckstead, John Beckstead, was probably born in

Germany and migrated to England where he served in the armed forces. Later

he saw services in Canada in the "Seven Year War" that ended with cession of

Canada, by France to the English in 1763. At the close of the war, disbanded

soldiers who wished to settle in America were landed in ports of entry,

especially Philadelphia and New York. It is believed that John settled first in

Pennsylvania, moving later to the colony of New York where he became a

blacksmith. It was probably during this period, about 1792, that he married

Helena/Elizabeth McDonald, as John and Helena appear in Church records

relating to baptisms of their children and grandchildren. The families had

associations with both the Evangelical Lutheran, and Dutch Reformed

Churches. The family seemed to remain neutral during the Revolutionary

War, but favored the cause of the English. This shows in the records of later

years where a son and grandchildren were awarded land grants. These records

show them to be Loyalists, but not UE Loyalists, a distinction reserved for

those who had enlisted on the British side, served in the war, and moved to

Canada to become British subjects.

Francis was christened 20 June 1773, in the Old Dutch Reformed

Church at Schoharie Co., New York. He married Margaret Barkley in New

York about 1792, and they became the parents of eleven children. Our

ancestor, Alexander, was the fifth child. Margaret died between 1816 and

1817. He then married Catharine Lang, and they had ten children. Sixteen

of the children were born in Canada.

Francis and his brother Alexander, had a close relationship. They each

procured 200 acre farms near the town of Williamsburg, then known only as,

"The Corners.” Their sister Catherine, had married a pastor of the Dutch

Reformed Church. She and her husband were living in the W illiamsburg area

at this time. Both brothers had families, and the two families moved to

Canada in about 1802/3. Francis' farm was a beautiful piece of property,

having good, well-drained soil, with its elevation affording a pleasing view in

every direction. The land was purchased for 150 pounds (about $700 in later

currency). Here, aided by a diligent family, he built up one of the best farm

homes in Dundas County.

In 1812 war broke out between the United States and England.

Canada could not avoid involvement as American forces invaded the country

along the St. Lawrence River, as well as Lakes Erie and Ontario. One battle

was fought within a few miles of the Beckstead homesteads. The Canadians

also had Indians fighting with them, whose terrifying war cries and savage

tactics helped to unnerve the enemy. This must have been a distressing period

to our Beckstead families, who had so lately come to Canada from the United

States.

A great change took place in the lives of these two brothers and their

families in 1837-38. They were brought under the influence of three Mormon

missionaries of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It is known

that Francis, his wife Catherine, and most of their children and grandchildren

became converts during that period. However, it is not known if members of

Alexander's family were likewise converts. It is recorded however, that

members of the LDS Church were anxious to join the main body of the

Church, then in Missouri, and later in Nauvoo, Illinois. Therefore, this move

called for preparations by the families of Francis. One necessary step was the

sale of the farms. Because of the quality of the farms, sales were soon made.

Other preparations followed for the great adventure of faith-- the journey to

Missouri. Wagons, oxen and provisions were needed. The company also had

to be organized and put under responsible leaders. Christopher Merkley, who

with his family had joined the movement, was appointed as first in command,

and Francis Beckstead as second in command, with assistants. All told, it is

believed the party could not have numbered more than 30 or 35, its size being

reduced by the decision of Alexander and his family to not make the journey

at that time. There were present however, three Mormon missionaries

returning to their homes from their missionary work in Canada. It is also to

be noted that the party consisted not only of the grown children of Francis,

but a considerable number of his grandchildren as well. (Some of Francis'

children chose to remain in Canada, and one of Alexander's daughters chose

to go with the party.)

Thus, Francis Sr. and members of the group moved away from

Williamsburg. This must have been a tremendous sacrifice to them, to leave

their homes which were well established, and leave other members of the

family behind. As they traveled on, it is known that they encountered great

difficulties with sickness and other hardships from day to day. It was a long

journey moving by oxen, and among other things, it is reported they

encountered a serious peril at one time, when they were attacked by armed

enemies of the Mormons who threatened them with destruction. They were

camping near a stream, and it is told that it was impossible for anyone to go

to the stream for water, as the enemies would fire on them. However, a

torrential rain came and dispersed their attackers. Early the next day they were

rescued by friends, under the leadership of the Prophet Joseph.

After a journey lasting almost three months, the company reached

DeWitt, Missouri in the latter part of September 1838. The Historical Record,

edited and published by Andrew Jenson in 1886 records the arrival of the

Saints from Williamsburg (now Morrisburgh), Upper Canada. This was the

beginning of a ten-year period during which they suffered and were severely

persecuted, as were all the Saints, from mob violence in this and other areas.

A few days before the group arrived in DeWitt, a mob of about 100-150 men

rode into the settlement and threatened the Saints with violence and death if

they did not agree at once to leave the place and move out of the country. The

mob leaders finally gave them until the 1st of October (1838) to take their

departure. They threatened further that if the "Mormons" were not gone by

that time they would exterminate them without regard to age or sex, and

destroy their chattels by throwing them into the river. About this time the

Prophet Joseph Smith learned of the difficulties being encountered by the

Saints in DeWitt, and he immediately tried to make his way to that location.

Because the mobs were guarding the roads, Joseph had to travel unfrequented

roads, but was finally successful in reaching DeWitt. He found the Saints in

dire circumstances, their provisions nearly exhausted and no prospect of

obtaining any more. Because the mobs had stolen their cattle, horses and any

other property they could get hold of, the brethren were obliged, most of them,

to live in wagons or tents. Some died for the common necessities of life and

perished from starvation. Many houses were burned, cattle driven away, and

much of their property was destroyed.

The militia having mutinied, and the greater part of them being ready

to join the mob, the brethren came to the conclusion that they would leave the

place and seek shelter elsewhere. Gathering up as many wagons as they could

get ready, a total of about 70, and with a remnant of the property they had

been able to save from their matchless foes, they left DeWitt and started for

Caldwell and Far West. The mob continued to follow and threaten them, and

many Saints died from exposure, exhaustion, and the privations they had

suffered. They arrived in Caldwell on October 12, 1838. Some of the Saints

settled in Caldwell, while others went to Far West, for the winter. Francis

Beckstead, with his children and grandchildren, was in the midst of those

trying times. It is not known at which location they settled during the winter

of 1838. However, from our records we believe it was at Far West, Missouri,

inasmuch as Sarah Elizabeth Beckstead was born at Far West, Missouri on 31

December 1838. She was the daughter of Alexander and Catherine Lince

Beckstead, granddaughter of Francis.

Sometime in the spring of 1839, Francis and his group, with many

hundreds of the Saints, began their movement toward the Mississippi River,

and up the river toward Quincy, Adams County, Illinois, a distance of more

than 200 miles. The weather was cold and the roads generally muddy, making

it difficult to travel. Scores of Saints died from exposure and fatigue on that

memorable journey. They traveled in organized companies, in order to help

each other. It is believed that Francis settled in Lima, Illinois, while others of

his family settled in Warsaw, an area near Nauvoo. Our ancestors did not

leave many records for this period of time. In 1846 we find them in

Pottawattamie County, Iowa. Their records indicate however, the birth of

some grandchildren to Francis from 1840-1845 in Warsaw and Carthage, so

we can be sure they lived in that area until the Saints were driven out of

Nauvoo.

It is recorded that some of the children were in the vicinity of the

Carthage Jail when the Prophet Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum Smith

were killed by the mob. A family story has been related about Alexander

Beckstead telling of the occasion when he was asked to help guard Joseph

Smith. He said he witnessed the shooting and killing of Joseph and Hyrum,

and saw Joseph fall from the jail window after he was shot. While he was away

on this duty, two men rode up to Alexander's home and asked for him. His

wife told them he was guarding the Prophet. The men then told her if she

wasn't gone by morning they would burn down her house and kill the children.

She pleaded with them, saying she had a very sick little boy, but that made no

difference. They rode away, saying they would be back. There was constant

fear of mobs attacking the homes and families.

Francis Beckstead's death is recorded as having occurred in Adams

County, Illinois in 1841. His youngest child was six years old. Apparently

Francis' wife Catherine, made the trek from Canada to Utah, as she died in

Union, Salt Lake, Utah on 18 July 1868. Thus, the responsibility of keeping

the families together fell to Francis Jr. and his brother, Alexander.

Source: Descendants of John Beckstead by Lee Allen Beckstead – 1963

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FBECKST.wpd

Compiled by Barbara Winward Seager July 1997

 

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