About the Collection
by Jeffrey S. Hardy
William Ajax was born on 13 March 1832 in Llantrisant, Glamorganshire, South Wales, to Thomas Truman Ajax and Rebecka Darcus. However, his parents never married and he was raised by William and Frances Maxwell, whom he called father and mother. Although he began school at age six, he abandoned his studies by age ten when he went to labor as a farm hand, an occupation he held for five years. He then worked for the railroads and in the coal mines in South Victoria until he was twenty-two years old. In November 1853 William was converted to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and received the ordinance of baptism. As a new convert he was soon ordained an elder and was called to preach and distribute tracts in the area. For the next six years he alternated working and performing missionary labor, presiding over the Dyffyn Conway and Anglesea Conference, the Eglyes Fach Conference, and the Monmouthshire Conference at different times from 1854 to 1859.
In 1859 he was called to work as a clerk for the Welsh Mission and as translator and editor for the Udgorn Seion [Zion’s Trumpet], the church’s Welsh periodical. During this period in his life William became a self-educated man, reading books and learning languages such as Greek, Latin, and French during his lunch hour. He also studied the phonetic English alphabet. On 27 March 1861 he moved to Liverpool, England to assist in the publication of the Millennial Star and the Journal, two church periodicals for the saints in England. He also continued his work for the Welsh Mission and the Udgorn Seion from Liverpool. William felt strongly about being able to hear and read the gospel in one’s native tongue: “Inasmuch as…religion has to do more with the heart than anything else, it is of vast importance that the principles of salvation should be revealed to [man] in that language that is nearest his heart.”1
On 6 August 1861 William was married to Emma Jemima Hughes, also from Wales, by President Amasa M. Lyman. During this era the church in England heavily stressed emigration to Utah. Therefore, the next year, on 13 May 1862, the young couple embarked on the ship Antarctic for America. At sea William was chosen to serve as a counselor to Elder William C. Moody, who presided over the emigrating saints. After arriving in New York City on 27 June 1862, the company traveled to Florence, Nebraska, to prepare for the overland trek to Utah. Here 500 saints were organized into the Ansel P. Harmon Company and departed for the Salt Lake Valley on 1 August 1862, arriving at their destination on October 5.
In Salt Lake City William engaged in various occupations to provide for his growing family. From 1863 to 1884 Emma bore nine children, all of whom grew to maturity. In 1866 William served in the provisional militia during the Blackhawk War. After the war he and two partners engaged in a business venture selling stoves; however, this endeavor soon failed and the family was left in a state of abject poverty. Therefore, William relocated to Rush Valley, Tooele County, Utah, to harvest wild hay for a living, where he and other settlers made their home in the newly established community of Centre.
In 1870 he built a new home on the main route leading westward from Salt Lake City. Here he began to operate a mercantile establishment to cater to the needs of the various travelers that passed through the valley. The store, called ‘William Ajax, General Merchandise,’ was built entirely underground in order to keep it cool during the summer and warm during the winter, eventually occupying nearly half an acre. He stocked groceries, clothing, mining supplies, saddles, tobacco, jewelry, books, liquor, carpets, glassware, and many other products. This emporium soon became a landmark and was called the “Eighth Wonder of the World.”2 The town of Centre was soon known simply as ‘Ajax,’ a tribute to the success of William Ajax’s store.
In addition to the store, William also operated an inn that housed up to fifty people per night. Travelers staying here were entertained by the Ajax family brass band. He also served as postmaster for the local community. William Ajax passed away at home on 2 October 1899, although the store continued to operate under the direction of his son, William Morgan Ajax, until 1914, when easy railroad travel, mail order catalogs, and the collapse of the nearby mining towns caused Centre to become a ghost town.
Ajax, William. “Journals, 1861-1863.” MSS 1488, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University.
Allred, B. W., ed. Conservation History of Tooele County. [Grantsville, Utah: Grantsville and Shambip Soil Conservation Districts, c1976].
Carter, Kate B., ed. Our Pioneer Heritage. Vol. 13. Salt Lake City: Daughters of Utah Pioneers, 1958.
Family Data Collection. Provo, Utah: My Family.com Inc., 2003. 4 December 2003 available from http://www.ancestry.com/search/rectype/inddbs/4725a.htm.
Miller, Orrin P. History of Tooele County. Vol. 2. [Tooele, Utah]: Tooele Transcript Bulletin, 1990.
Mormon Pioneer Overland Travel, 1847-1868. Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2003. 4 December 2003 available from http://www.lds.org/churchhistory/library/pioneercompanysearch.
“Sketch From Tooele County.” The Standard (Ogden, Utah), 17 May 1893, p.1.
Stimpson, Joni Poppitz. “Ajax, William, 1832-1899.” Utah: Utah Academic Library Consortium, 2002. 4 December 2003 available from http://contentdm.lib.byu.edu/Biographies/image/4532020822002_AjaxWilliamBio.html.
The People of Vernon: A Compilation of Life Stories, Vernon, Utah. [Vernon, Utah?]: Transcript-Bulletin Press, 1983.
United States Federal Census, 1880. Provo, Utah: MyFamily.com Inc., 2003. 4 December 2003 available from http://www.ancestry.com/search/rectype/census/usfedcen/main.htm.