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Elizabeth Davies Williams Aunt Betsy
By William R. Palmer
Published in The Instructor May, 1945
Among the very first converts to the Church in South Wales was the family
of William R. Davies of Ferry side. The men were of the Welsh colliers
who worked hard in the coal pits but they were a happy family in their
home life. True to the Welsh traditions they were a singing family who
participated in the great National Eisteddfods, and from
one of these sort Jim came home winner of the highest award as a tenor
The only daughter of We. R. Davies was named Elizabeth but most Elisabeth
in that day were called Betsy. Betsy Davies grew to womanhood and became
the wife of Rees Jones Williams and he, too, was a convert to the Church.
The Davies and Williams families came to Utah in the 1850s and William
R. Was advised to move South to the Iron County Mission and assist in
building the settlement of Fort Harmony. Rees J. Williams had mechanical
skill and, finding employment at a steam sawmill in Cottonwood Canyon,
remained in Salt Lake City.
May 31, 1860 a terrible tragedy befell the Williams family. Rees was
accidentally thrown into the saw and was almost cut asunder before he
could be pulled out.
Betsy Williams was one of those cheerful, kindly, helpful souls whom
neighbor and acquaintances instinctively called Aunt. She
was one of those whom everyone in trouble went to for consolation and
assistance. Now she needed these blessings which she had scattered so
lavishly on others and on all sides friends rose up to give her aid.
The calamity which had befallen her husband left her a widow in poverty
with four children, three boys and a girl, to rear. The eldest of her
little brood was a son nine years old and named Rees Jones for his father.
When that son was an old man eighty years of age he went with me to
visit the ruins of Old Fort Harmony and on the way down told me a story
of their family life in that place when he was a small boy.
The most cherished possessions of an old country gentlewoman transplanted
by her religion from Wales to a rude, rough-hewn home in an unconquered
desert was a bit of fine china. It might be a few thin plates or a dainty
cup and saucer. These supplied a touch of refinement in a land where
of necessity things were rough and coarse.
About all the dishes there were in Old Fort Harmony were the brown thick,
clumsy products of our own pioneer potters, or they were plates of tin
and cups that were tin cans on which handles had been soldered by the
local handy man.
When Aunt Betsy Williams left the old country she brought as a parting
gift from loved relatives she would never see again, a set of fine purple-flower
decorated English china. They were her most prized possessions and whatever
else had to be sacrificed to the exigencies of the long journey to Zion,
she would never consent for her dishes to be sold or left by the wayside.
If the load had to be lightened, they might dispose of anything else,
but her dishes must come if she came. They crossed the ocean in steerage,
they crossed the Plains carefully packed in an ox train, reaching The
Valley at length in safety, they graced her first log home near
Little Cottonwood Canyon where her husband found work.
After his shocking and tragic death Aunt Betsy gathered up her few possessions,
chief of which was her cherished china, and with her children went to
live with her father in Old Fort Harmony. Here her gleaming dishes gave
her humble cottage an air of aristocratic distinction for they were
the only nice tableware in the entire settlement.
One day word came to the Fort that Brother Brigham and his
party were coming and would spend a day with them. On such rare occasions
the Presiding Elders tinware and crockery were exchanged for Aunt
Betsys fine china in order that the visiting authorities might
be served with befitting dignity. Today the Elders wife had come
for the dishes and the two women washed and polished them and they were
stacked in a basket on the table ready to be carried away. The table
was of the old drop leaf style with a fifth leg that propped the extension
leaf up. Rees, the widows son was playing marbles on the floor
and Aunt Betsy, Fearful that he might bump against that fifth leg and
knock it out, kept driving the heedless boy with his marbles to the
corner of the room.
While the two women worked they talked,. Sister Lee said, It is
so good of you, Aunt Betsy, to let us use your lovely dishes. I am thankful
when Brother Brigham comes to visit us that we do not have to serve
him with our horrible looking crockery. It would be as embarrassing
to give the President one of our old yellow crock plates and a salmon
can to drink out of. You dont know how much I appreciate your
Oh, well, Sister Lee, Aunt Betsy replied, you know
Brother Brigham and the brethren belong to all of us and we much all
see that their visit is pleasant. I am thankful to have something that
I can contribute on such happy occasions. You do have plenty of good
foods to serve them,. But it would be terrible if they had to come and
eat the victuals I could give them. It would be pretty much greens and
Your foods would be good, Aunt Betsy, and the brethren would relish
them. You make things so tasty no matter what they are. But anything
would taste good off such lovely dishes.
You are welcome, Sister Lee, to use my dishes, replied Aunt
Betsy, but I do want you to be very careful with them. Dont
let the children wash them or handle them. Put them in the basket right
off the table and bring them back dirty for I would rather wash them
myself. You know, I brought them from Wales and they mean so much to
me. I think it would break my heart if anything should happen to them.
And here for about the tenth time she drove Rees back into his corner.
No, Aunt Betsy, replied Sister Lee, I wont
bring them home dirty but I promise to wash them myself and I will be
very careful about it, too.
It is not only that they are lovely dishes, Aunt Betsy continued,
but they are all the dishes we have. What could I do if they were
broken? However could we live without dishes of some sort?
Just them the tragedy happened. Rees, with his eyes on his mother rather
than where he was going, chasing a marble bumped into the table and
tipped it over. The stack of precious dishes came crashing down in a
broken heap on the floor. The two women screamed and grabbed frantically
at the falling china but their efforts were in vain.
Poor Aunt Betsy was almost beside herself. She seized Rees and spanked
with all her might. My son! My son! she screamed, see
what you have done. Then when she saw his tears and his frightened
look her mother instinct welled up and gathering the boy in her arms
she hugged and kissed him as stoutly as she had spanked. But when she
looked down at the broken dishes, in half hysteria she spanked Rees
again and again then hugged and kissed him. My boy! My boy! She
moaned, what can we do? Whatever can we do? There is not a dish
or a cup left to drink out of. There is not a dish to be bought this
side of Salt Lake City and we havent a cent of money if there
were. I told you to stay away from the table. I was afraid something
would happen. She threw herself on the bed and wept bitterly.
Sister Lee came and put her arms around the sobbing woman and said,
Dear Aunt Betsy, I am to blame for this terrible thing. Dont
cry too hard about it. We will share our dishes with you. This is a
calamity to everybody in Harmony. How can we entertain the authorities
now when they come?
Rees J. Williams, with much feeling, told me this story as we rode together
to the ruins of Old Fort Harmony. Arriving at our destination, we walked
around the inside of the heap of earth that was the decomposed walls
of Fort Harmony. He pointed out the places where homes had been , saying,
This was the Lee home; Woolseys lived in this place; Grandfather
Davies home was here; Uncle Jim Davies lived in this corner and
your father was next to him, etc. When we came to the northeast
corner he said, This was where we lived. We lingered there
for a little while and the story he had told was in my mind. Looking
down I saw a tiny speck of white shining in the dirt. I kicked at it
and a piece of broken china came up as large as my hand. Wiping it off
I saw the dainty purple flower he had described. I held it up. Brother
Williams turned very pale and put out a trembling hand to get it. Choking
with emotion he said, Yes, this is a piece of my sainted mothers
dishes. He drew out his handkerchief, wiped the fragment of china
clean, wrapped it carefully and put it away in his inside coat pocket.
I walked away in my car leaving him alone for a time on the old home
site with his memories.
Aunt Betsy was tall and slender and she had long, slender, skillful
fingers. He voice was soft and musical and she had only words of kindness
for everyone who came to her home. The gospel was everything to this
good woman, and she instilled a love for it in the hearts of her children.
She was born November 21, 1829 at Ferry side, South Wales and died in
Kanarraville, Utah, September 27, 1890.