Mormon Missionary Diaries
About the Collection
Joseph Hill Richards
by Jeffrey S. Hardy
Joseph Hill Richards was born on 5 December 1841 in Toronto, Canada, to John Richards and Agnes Hill. As new converts to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, John and Agnes moved in 1842 to Nauvoo, Illinois, to join with the body of saints there. After the martyrdom of Joseph Smith, however, persecution drove the Mormons to Winter Quarters, Nebraska, to prepare for the overland trek to Great Salt Lake Valley. The Richards’ were among the first to reach this staging area, but did not migrate further west until 1851. Joseph was nine years old when they joined the Easton Kelsey Company, departing on 29 June 1851 and arriving in the Salt Lake Valley on October 7. The family settled in the Mill Creek area of the Salt Lake Valley and remained there for eight years.
In the summer of 1859 Joseph and his parents helped colonize Cache Valley, Utah, and Joseph was influential in protecting the new settlement of Mendon from Indian raids. Here the Richards’ made their home. In 1864 he was called to drive a wagon back across the plains to the Missouri River to assist other saints make the long journey to Utah. He was also naturalized as a U.S. Citizen in 1864. Joseph married Mary Sutton Willie on 6 November 1867 and the couple established a home in Mendon. Mary bore nine children, the first three while living in Cache Valley.
A new chapter in Joseph’s life began in January 1876 when he was called on a settlement mission to the Little Colorado River region of Arizona. Within a month’s time the young family departed and after ten weeks arrived in the recently established community of Obed, Apache County, Arizona. The colonists immediately began building homes, a fort, and an irrigation system. Later that year, however, Obed was abandoned due to malaria and other diseases prevalent in the area. Joseph and his family, along with other settlers, found a better location across the river and founded St. Joseph, later called Joseph City. In a letter to Brigham Young written during this move, Joseph reaffirmed: “We want to…fill our mission honerabley [sic] and help to build up this stake of Zion.”1
In 1878 Joseph was ordained bishop of the St. Joseph Ward, a position that he held for nine years. On 11 December 1878 he married Martha Jane Quinn in polygamy in St. George, Utah. Unfortunately, she died while giving birth to twins on 8 January 1880. Joseph was ordained second counselor in the presidency of the Snowflake Stake in December 1887 and served in that capacity for twenty years. Joseph worked as a farmer, rancher, beekeeper, and blacksmith, and performed various medical functions such as setting broken bones and pulling teeth. He also was a captain in the Arizona militia, postmaster of St. Joseph for twenty-eight years, and county treasurer and commissioner. His wife Mary was midwife for the community and county, delivering over three hundred babies during her more than fifty years of service.
In 1891, at the age of forty-nine, Joseph was called on a proselytizing mission to Great Britain. In his reply to the call he wrote: “If the Presidency thinks I would be of any service, as a missionary to Europe or any other part, I am willing to go whare [sic] or when they wish me to go.”2 However, he requested to delay his departure until after that year’s harvest. Accordingly, on 4 December 1891 he left his home and traveled to New York City. Then, during the transatlantic voyage to England, aboard the ship Abysinia, a fire broke out. Fortunately, another vessel arrived and saved all the passengers before the Abysinia completely burned andsank, but all of the luggage was lost. Arriving in Liverpool, the mission president assigned him to labor in Scotland.
After only a few days in the country Joseph became ill. However, he recorded how he was healed by faith: “When I went to bed I told the Lord I was on his errand and I wanted him to give me health to perform this labor, I continued to pray until the pain seased [sic] sufficient that I fell asleep.”3 Joseph and his companions took their work seriously, sometimes distributing as many four hundred tracts in a day as well as attending appointments and meetings. After two years he was called to preside over the Scottish Conference. While in Scotland, Joseph also took the opportunity to compile the genealogy of his Scottish ancestors. Joseph returned home on 31 December 1893.
Joseph immediately resumed his businesses and church responsibilities. On 10 February 1907 he was released from the presidency of the Snowflake Stake and sustained as patriarch. Two years later he received the additional responsibility of high counselor. He continued to be influential in community and church affairs until his death. Joseph Hill Richards passed away at Joseph City on 3 July 1924.
1 Joseph Hill Richards to President Brigham Young, Senior, 8 January 1877. “Smyrna, New York Letters, 1817,” MSS 9, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University.
2 Richards to Brother Reynolds, 20 April 1891. “Smyrna, New York Letters, 1817,” MSS 9, LTPSC.
3 Richards, “Diary, 1892-1893,” MSS 9, LTPSC.
Ancestry World Tree Project. Provo, Utah: MyFamily.com Inc., 2003. 17 December 2003 available from http://www.ancestry.com/trees/awt/main.htm.
Bitton, Davis. Guide to Mormon Diaries & Autobiographies. Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 1977.
Esshom, Frank. Pioneers and Prominent Men of Utah. Salt Lake City: Western Epics, 1966.
Jenson, Andrew. Latter-Day Saint Biographical Encyclopedia: A Compilation of Biographical Sketches of Prominent Men and Women in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Vol. 2. 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/.
Richards, Joseph Hill. “Smyrna, New York Letters, 1817.” MSS 9, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University.
Tanner, George Shepard and J. Morris Richards. Colonization on the Little Colorado: The Joseph City Region. Flagstaff: Northland Press, 1977.
United States Census, 1920. Provo, Utah: MyFamily.com Inc., 2003. 17 December 2003 available from http://www.ancestry.com/search/rectype/census/usfedcen/main.htm.
Westover, Adele Bushman and J. Morris Richards. Unflinching Courage. [Joseph City, Arizona: John H. Miller, 1963].