Jane Manning James
|Jane Elizabeth Manning James|
Wilton, Connecticut, United States
|Died||April 16, 1908 (aged 94)|
Salt Lake City, Utah
|Resting place||Salt Lake City Cemetery|
Jane Elizabeth Manning James (1822 – April 16, 1908), fondly known as "Aunt Jane", was one of the first recorded African-American women to enter Utah.: 32–34 She was a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and lived with Joseph Smith and his family for a time in Nauvoo, Illinois. She traveled with her husband to Utah, spending the winter of 1846–1847 at Winter Quarters. She petitioned the First Presidency to be endowed and sealed; as a result of her requests she was adopted as a servant into the Joseph Smith family through a specially created temple ceremony. Not satisfied to be an eternal servant in the Smith family, she continued to petition to receive her own temple endowment but was denied these rites during her lifetime. She was posthumously endowed by proxy in 1979.
Early life and life with Fitches
Jane Elizabeth Manning James was born in Wilton, Connecticut, to Isaac Manning and Eliza Phyllis Mead. Although late in James's life her brother Isaac gave her birthday as 1813, there are source discrepancies that place her birthday anywhere from September 22, 1812, to the year 1820 or 1822 (the latter being asserted on her gravestone). The Mannings were a free family living in rural Connecticut, and Jane had at least five siblings including Isaac, Lewis, Peter, Sarah, and Angeline. At the age of six, Jane was sent away to live with the Fitches, a wealthy Caucasian family. She was raised by the Fitches' daughter and lived with them for the next thirty years. Little is known about Jane's life with the Fitches other than she worked as a servant: cooking, cleaning, and ironing, etc. While with the Fitches, Jane was also brought up as a Christian. She was baptized into the Presbyterian Church when she was about 14 years old. On March 1, 1835, Jane gave birth to a son, Sylvester.
Conversion and relocation to Nauvoo
In the fall of 1842, two LDS missionaries, one of whom was Charles Wesley Wandell, were preaching in the area. Although forbidden by her Presbyterian preacher, James recorded that she "had a desire to hear them. I went on a Sunday and was fully convinced that it was the true Gospel." James was baptized into the Latter Day Saint Church the following Sunday, and later acquainted many friends and family members with her new beliefs as well. A year later, James and eight other members of her family, including her mother, three brothers, two sisters, and a brother and sister-in-law- decided to move from their home in Wilton to Nauvoo, Illinois, in order to live among other members of their new faith. The group of nine began their journey with other Latter Day Saints under the direction of Wandell, but got separated from the group at Buffalo, New York when they couldn't afford to pay the train fare from New York to Ohio. James and her family traveled the remainder of their journey (approximately 800 miles) on foot. In her Life Sketch, recorded in 1893, James recalled that "We walked until our shoes were worn out, and our feet became sore and cracked open and bled until you could see the whole print of our feet with blood on the ground." When James and her family arrived in Nauvoo, they were welcomed by Joseph Smith himself. Over the next year, her mother and siblings would establish their own homes. James, however, lived with the Joseph Smith family in Nauvoo until Smith's assassination in 1844.
James had several unique experiences while living with the Smith family in Nauvoo. She recorded that often, as she went about doing the washing and cleaning for the Smiths, either Emma (Joseph's wife) or Lucy (Joseph's mother) would stop her and talk with her. One day while James was in Joseph's mother's room, the woman told her to "bring me that bundle from the bureau and sit down here.": 4 According to Jane, she was shown the Urim and Thummim, the tools used by Joseph Smith to translate the Book of Mormon. Lucy then said to her, "You will live long after I am dead and gone and you can tell the Latter-day Saints that you was permitted to handle the Urim and Thummim". Another time, Emma asked James if she would like to be adopted by and sealed to her and Joseph. Not understanding at the time, James said nothing. Emma encouraged her to think about it. Two weeks later, she asked James again, at which time she said "no m'am". James would say later that she did not understand what that meant, or she would have taken the couple up on their offer. This early decision had a significant impact on James's later life as a member of the Latter Day Saint church.
After Joseph Smith's assassination in 1844, James resided in Brigham Young's home. It was here where she met and married her husband, Isaac James.: 56 Isaac was born a free man and grew up in rural New Jersey. He converted to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in 1839. At the time of his baptism Isaac was 19 years old, and became one of the earliest immigrants to Nauvoo.
Pioneer life in Utah
When the Latter Day Saints began to migrate west in 1846, James prepared to move as well. Although many of her immediate family members, including her mother, three brothers, and two sisters, had joined the church, she was the only one who chose to move West with the main body of saints from Nauvoo. At the time of the James family's departure, she was pregnant with a second son, Silas James, who was born at Hogg Creek, Iowa in June 1846. James, her husband Isaac, and Sylvester were part of the original group of Latter Day Saints to spend the winter of 1846–1847 at Winter Quarters, Nebraska. They were also part of the Ira Eldredge company, the first Mormon pioneer company to enter the Salt Lake Valley in September 1847. At the time of their settlement in the Salt Lake Valley, they made up a third of the 12 African Americans living in Utah, and were the only ones who were free.
James was the first documented African-American woman to come to the Utah Territory as a Mormon pioneer. The family's first years in the valley were difficult: they lived in poverty and often did not even have the barest essentials for survival.: 11 Nevertheless, James exhibited remarkable charity and strength of character. In 1849, Eliza Lyman, a neighbor of hers, had no food to sustain her and her children until the harvest after she sent her husband on a mission to California. She records that "Not long after Amasa had gone, Jane James, the colored woman, let me have two pounds of flour, it being half of what she had."
Despite trials, James's life in Utah was punctuated by moments of joy. A daughter, Mary Ann, was born in May 1848—the first black child born in Utah.: 57 Eventually things began to get better for the Mannings: by the mid 1860s they were able to build a comfortable home and had acquired both farmland and animals, including an ox, horses, and a small flock of sheep. By the end of 1865 the Jameses, while not wealthy, were fairly prosperous. Only four households in the area held more assets in 1865 than they did, while 31 held less.: 6 The family was growing quickly as well. Between 1848 and 1860 five children were born: Miriam, Ellen Madora, Jessie Jeroboam, Isaac, and Vilate. James's oldest son, Sylvester, was listed as a member of the Nauvoo Legion in 1861.
Petitions to be endowed and sealed; adoption as a servant in the Smith family
Isaac James left the family in 1869 after selling most of the family's realty to his wife. There is no evidence that suggests that Isaac had any permanent relations with any members of the family again. Within four years James was remarried to her son Sylvester's father-in-law, Frank Perkins. The marriage lasted less than two years, after which time she reverted to her former married name. It was at this time that James became increasingly worried about her eternal welfare. She began to petition the First Presidency to be endowed and to be sealed, along with her children, to Walker Lewis, a prominent African-American Mormon Elder. Lewis, like Elijah Abel, had been ordained to the priesthood during Joseph Smith's lifetime, and James therefore assumed that he would be eligible for temple ordinances. However, her petitions were consistently ignored or refused.
Despite these trials, James neither renounced her faith nor gave up hope that one day she would have the blessings she desired. Throughout the 1870s and 1880s, she struggled to care for the remaining children at home as a single parent. In 1872, she sold the family farm and moved closer to the city in order to save money. During these years James both managed a household of children and small grandchildren, but also worked as a domestic servant in order to make ends meet. In addition, she made the family's soap, clothing, and raised vegetables in a small garden. James remained active in the church at this time as well. She participated in the Relief Society doing extensive charitable work. She also contributed financially to the building of the Logan, Manti, and St. George temples; temples that, as an African-American, she was not allowed to enter. The members of her congregation, however, did recognize her faith and sacrifice. In her later life, both she and her brother Isaac J. Manning received reserved seats near the front and center of the Utah Tabernacle for church services.: 8 James remained a strong supporter of Joseph Smith, calling him "the finest man I ever saw on earth."
James continued to ask that she and her family be given the ordinance of adoption so that they could be sealed together forever. Her justification for asking to be the exception to the church's rule was Emma Smith's offer in 1844 to have her sealed to the Smith family as a child. James was now reconsidering her decision, and asked to be sealed to the Smiths. Her requests were again refused. Instead, the First Presidency "decided she might be adopted into the family of Joseph Smith as a servant, which was done, a special ceremony having been prepared for the purpose." The ceremony took place on May 18, 1894, with Joseph F. Smith acting as proxy for Joseph Smith, and Bathsheba W. Smith acting as proxy for James (who was not allowed into the temple for the ordinance). In the ceremony, James was "attached as a Servitor for eternity to the prophet Josep[h] Smith and in this capacity . . . connected with his family[, to] be obedient to him in all things in the Lord as a faithful Servitor."
James was dissatisfied with that unique sealing ordinance, and applied again to obtain the sealing that was offered to her by Emma. According to the diary of Franklin Richards, the LDS First Presidency met on August 22, 1895, to consider her appeal, but again turned her down. James would petition the leaders of the church for the rest of her life, but with no success. She continued to have trials: all but two of her eight children (Sylvester & Ellen) preceded her in death, as did 6 of her 14 grandchildren.
Jane Elizabeth Manning James died April 16, 1908, in Salt Lake City. Despite her circumstances, it is apparent that she died on good terms with the LDS Church. Church President Joseph F. Smith spoke at her funeral. There, he declared that she would receive all her temple blessings in the eternities and become a white and beautiful person, reflecting the Church's contemporary theology on race. According to The Deseret News, her funeral was attended by many.: 11
In 1979, nearly 72 years after her death, James was endowed by proxy.
A 20-minute documentary based on James's life, Jane Manning James: Your Sister in the Gospel, premiered in 2005, and has been shown at This Is The Place Heritage Park in Salt Lake City, Utah, the 2005 annual conference of the Foundation for Apologetic Information & Research (FAIR), and on public television (PBS). The film was directed by Margaret Blair Young, co-author with Darius Gray of the Standing on the Promises trilogy of historical fiction that draws on the facts of James's life.
In June 1999, a monument to James's life was dedicated near her grave in the Salt Lake City Cemetery by the Genesis Group (an official organization begun under LDS President Joseph Fielding Smith to support Latter Day Saints of African descent) along with the Missouri Mormon Frontier Foundation. The original headstones of Jane and Isaac James were supplemented with a granite monument faced with two bronze plaques. One side of the monument commemorates an incident documented in 1850, by Mormon pioneer Eliza Partridge Lyman, who wrote:
April 13: Brother Lyman [Eliza's husband] started on a mission to California with O. P Rockwell and others. May the Lord bless and prosper them and return them in safety. He left us ... without anything to make bread, it not being in his power to get any.
April 25: Jane James, a colored woman, let me have two pounds of flour, it being about half she had.
A second bronze plaque, containing quotations from James and significant dates and events from her life, was placed on the back of the monument. In April 2005, the graves and monument were again cleaned and sealed. The inscription on her grave marker reads:
Jane Elizabeth Manning James
"I try in my feeble way to set an example for all."
Born free in 1882 [The marker incorrectly states her birth year. It should say 1822], Fairfield County, Connecticut
Baptized LDS in 1841, she led a group of family members to Nauvoo, Illinois in 1843
"Our feet cracked open and bled until you could see the whole prints of our feet with blood on the ground."
Jane lived with Joseph, Emma and Mother Smith
"Brother Joseph sat down by me and said, 'God bless you. You are among friends."
Married Isaac James around 1845
Arrived in Salt Lake September 22, 1847
"Oh how I suffered of cold and hunger, but the Lord gave us faith and grace to stand it all."
Shared half her flour with Eliza Partridge Lyman, who was near starving.
Died April 16, 1908, outliving all but two of her eight children.
On October 12th, 2018, a feature-length film was released about James's relationship with Emma Smith, entitled "Jane and Emma." The film was directed by Chantelle Squires, with a screenplay by Melissa Leilani Larson.
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- Jane Manning James: Your Sister in the Gospel