About the Collection

Charles Alfred Harper

by Jeffrey S. Hardy

See Diary

Charles Alfred Harper was born on 27 January 1817, in Upper Providence, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, to Jesse Harper and Eleanor Evans.  The family belonged to the Society of Friends, or Quakers.  Charles was a well-educated youth and went on to become a college graduate.  On 19 December 1839, he married Lovina Wollerton Dilworth, also from Pennsylvania.  Because she was not a Quaker, however, Charles briefly lost his membership in that organization.  Lovina would bare him eleven children, five of whom died in infancy.  Their first children were twin daughters, Susan and Ann, born on 28 July 1841, who did not survive the day. 

Less than a year later the young couple was converted to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Charles receiving baptism on 10 May 1842, and Lovina perhaps earlier.  They thus severed their ties with the Society of Friends.  Later in 1842 they moved to be with the saints in Nauvoo.  By trade Charles was a wheelwright and fine carriage maker and was apparently quite well off, especially compared to the majority of church members at the time.  On 31 December 1845, the Harpers received their endowments in the Nauvoo Temple.

After being expelled from Illinois by the mobs, the Harpers helped establish Winter Quarters, Nebraska.  Because of his trade, Charles became a vital member of several overland trail companies.  During these treks he was constantly busy repairing and replacing wagon wheels.  In 1847 he was in the advance party of the Brigham Young Company forging the way across the plains.  In addition to wheelwright, he also served as cook for his company of ten.  He entered the Salt Lake Valley on 22 July 1847, but then returned to Winter Quarters.  The following spring Charles joined the Heber C. Kimball Company and moved his wife and two children to Utah, arriving on 24 September 1848; Charles settled in Holladay on a 36-acre plot of land.  He also helped establish Holladay’s first public school in 1849.   

Charles’ mission to England began on 16 September 1852.  After crossing the plains in the company of other missionaries, Charles wrote, “We all felt to rejoice greatly and prais [sic] God for bringing us safely acros [sic] the plains in the enjoyment of health and his spirit.” 1  During a storm while crossing the Atlantic, Charles “had a full assurance in my mind that the Lord would deliver us from the waves.” 2  His entire mission was spent laboring in the Norwich Conference.  While there he converted, among others, a young lady named Harriet Taylor.  Upon the completion of his mission, they journeyed to America with a group of converts.  Charles then organized and captained a 305-member company mostly comprised of British immigrants to make the overland trek to Utah.  They departed from Mormon Grove, Kansas in July 1855 and reached Salt Lake City in late October the same year.  Harriet became his plural wife on 2 December 1855, and bore him eight children, six of whom survived to adulthood.

In 1856, Charles was called with his families to settle the Carson City, Nevada area.  The following year, however, the project was abandoned.  In 1860 he moved to Summit County and became involved in ranching.  During the 1860s he also assisted more companies across the plains.  A new home for the Harpers was established in 1887 on another settlement mission, this time in Lehi, Maricopa County, Arizona.  Charles died of a heart attack at the age of 83 on 24 April 1900, at home in Holladay, Utah.  He was known as a humble man, yet possessed great leadership qualities.  He was devoted to the church and to missionary work until his death.


1 Charles Alfred Harper, “Diary, 1852–1855,” 2 November 1852, MSS 1198, L. Tom Perry Special Collection, Lee Library, Brigham Young University.

2 Ibid, 13 January 1853.


Bitton, Davis. Guide to Mormon Diaries and Autobiographies. Provo, Utah:  Brigham Young University Press, 1977.

Carter, Kate B., ed. Our Pioneer Heritage. Vol. 2. Salt Lake City: Daughter of Utah Pioneers, 1958.

Harper, Charles Alfred. “Diary, 1852–1855.” MSS 1198, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Lee Library, Brigham Young University.

________. “Diary and Biography, 1847–1871.” MSS 1007, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Lee Library, Brigham Young University.

Jenson, Andrew. Latter-Saint Biographical Encyclopedia: A Compilation of Biographical Sketches of Prominent Men and Women in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Vol. 1. Salt Lake City: Andrew Jenson Historical Co., 1901–1936.

Mormon Pioneer Overland Travel, 1847–1868. Salt Lake City:  The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2003. 31 October 2003 available from http://www.lds.org/churchhistory/library/pioneercompanysearch/.