John Thomas Geary
"After a long pull and a strong pull and a pull all together, we have managed to fight our way through rivers, roads, creeks, over hills, and dales and snow, and every thing else which is good and bad I am thankful we are here," wrote Sophia Fryer Geary after her arrival in Great Salt Lake City December 15, 1856. (1)
Her husband, John Thomas Geary, was born in 1823 in Atterton, England, the son of a wealthy family who had him tutored and educated in seven languages. After studying in Germany, he practiced law in London. When he married in St. Savior's Church in Surrey to Sophia Fryer, from an old and respected family of the Isle of Wight, England, they led a three hour parade of both families and friends through the streets of London. (2) Sophia had twin siblings Albert and Victoria born at the time of the Queen's marriage.
In 1851, John Hyde was one of the elders who knocked on the Geary's door in London. At first turned away by the butler, then beckoned back by John, they spent a pleasant two hours together in his study. They said this was something they had been looking for all their lives. John attended many meetings of the Saints, and soon both he and Sophia were baptized- John 20 May 1851, and Sophia 20 April 1851. This caused "such a commotion" that his Geary family turned them out "without a single copper," "disowned him entirely, and wished to never see him again." They became fugitives, John even having to shave his head in disguise. (3)
They went to Liverpool where church members took them in, and John worked on the docks at night loading and unloading freight. When he had earned enough for Sophia's passage, he sent her with some other Saints to America, (4) and then earned his passage to come with her brother Richard, crossing the Atlantic Ocean to New Orleans, then up the Mississippi River to Keokuk, Iowa. There in 1853 in the camping ground, their first child Sophia Ann was born. From there they made their way to Council Bluffs, Iowa where a son Thomas Fryer Geary was born and died.
Descendent Roland Lee stands by the wagon monument to the pioneers at Martin's Cove.
By August 1856, they had outfitted a wagon and joined up with Andrew J. Siler's independent wagons and the Willie Handcart Company leaving the old Winter Quarters, now known as Florence, Nebraska on the 16th. On the afternoon of August 22nd, the journal records "Sister Sophia Geary had her left foot run over by Bro. Wilford's wagon. She was administered to in the evening by Bros. Siler, Cantwell and Geary. He sealed the blessing of health and strength upon her and promised that inasmuch as she would exercise faith she should walk tomorrow." Paul Lyman of BYU Studies adds, "The wagon wheels were rimmed with iron and the wagons themselves probably weighed close to two tons. This action should have crushed her foot." (5) She must have proved faithful as the company record of August 23 states matter-of-factly "Sis. Geary walked a considerable distance pursuant to Bro. Siler's promise."(6) Paul D. Lyman in BYU Studies, "The Travels of the Willie Handcart Company," (2006) Willie Handcart Company journal, August 22, 1856
They continued on, losing their oxen to a buffalo stampede during the night of September 4th, and had to use their cows to pull the wagon. Finally at Fort Laramie, Wyoming they were advised by the brethren to stay awhile to obtain oxen and join up with the Hodgett and Hunt independent wagons and the Martin Handcart Company, who were following them. (7) From this point on there was relentless rain, sleet, snow, frozen ground, howling of the wolves, deaths and buryings, scanty or non-existent rations, tear-stained cheeks, empty bellies, bloody feet, prayers, and hymns. (8)
"The handcarts and wagons were brought along to Devil' s Gate, to camp at Martin's Cove. It was decided to store most of their freight in log houses or huts which constituted the former trading post, for the winter. The great object now was to save as many people as possible... There was considerable crying of women and children, and perhaps a few of the men, whom the wagons could not accommodate… One of the relief party remarked that in all the mobbings and drivings of the 'Mormons' he had seen nothing like it." (9) Sophia simply records, "We left most of our clothes at Devil's Gate." (10)
"By this time the shoes of many of the emigrants had 'given out'. As they continued on, their terrible journey, there was no appreciable mitigation of the piercing wintry cold, but its intensity rather increased. The Rocky Ridge and the South Pass were crossed on the 18th of November, a bitterly cold day. The snow fell fast and the wind blew piercingly from the north. Here there was a sufficiency of wagons, for the first time to carry all the people." (11)
At this point, the rest of the Company continued on to the Valley where they were welcomed by throngs of people "dismissed in the middle of the usual Sunday morning services in progress at the "Old Tabernacle" when President Young learned of the approach of their company to the city. This was so that the people might meet the emigrants and care for them…. to prepare to give those who have just arrived a mouthful of something to eat, and to wash them, and nurse them up…. Prayer is good, but when baked potatoes, and pudding, and milk are needed, prayer will not supply their place. Now that most of them are here, we will continue our labors of love until they are able to take care of themselves." (12)
Once again, the Gearys remained behind, this time when little "Echo was born at the mouth of Echo Canyon on the 26th of November 1856." In John's diary he said that "the snow at that time was in drifts 18 feet deep and all that they had for Sophia and that sweet baby was a little straw in the wagon box with a quilt over it for a bed and not too much to cover them with. The wagon cover was so old that it kept them busy mending it the best they could. But with the help of the Lord they got along fine and Echo lived to marry and become the mother of two fine sons." (13) In a January 3, 1857 letter, John Geary states, "I must say we have two little responsibilities living. Sophy and another little girl born back at the mouth of Echo Canyon, therefore we named her Echo then added the name Workman after our Captain." (14)
Upon his winter arrival in the Valley, John worked cutting and hauling wood from the canyon with his brother-in-law Richard Fryer, then happily obtained a teaching position in the 14th Ward of the city. In time, "Brigham Young sent them to Dixie where John was one of the first men there to raise cotton. He was the very first man who ever taught school there who did not whip the children." (15)
John and Sophia Geary had five daughters grow to maturity: Sophia Ann, Echo Workman, Eliza Jane, Leah Fryer, and Sarah Annie. In 1867, John died of an accidental gunshot wound in Salt Lake City and was buried in a pauper's grave in the city cemetery. His wife Sophia remarried, to Joshua Thomas Willis, had two more children, William Richard and Laura Adinal Willis, then died after childbirth with a third child in 1872. Both she and her son James were buried in the same grave in the Toquerville, Utah cemetery.
"No one will probably ever know or realize the heartbreaks and hardships they endured but with the help of their Lord, they died as they had lived-true as steel to the Gospel of Jesus Christ." (16) As John testified just two weeks after entering the Great Salt Lake Valley, "We are well and fully alive so trust in the justice of the Kingdom of God which may he grant to be the lot of all the honest in heart." (17)
1. In Bessie Snow, Fate of the Fryers. (1973) Letter from Sophia Geary to Jane Harrison 19 Jan. 1857, Great Salt Lake City.
2. Personal story by Golda Geary Page Smith from memory in 1967 as told to her by her mother Sophia Ann Geary Page.
3. Personal story by Smith.
4. Personal story by Smith.
5. Paul D. Lyman in BYU Studies, "The Travels of the Willie Handcart Company," (2006) Willie Handcart Company journal, August 22, 1856.
6. Willie Handcart Company Journal, August 23, 1856.
7. Willie Handcart Company Journal, October, 1856.
8. Riverton Wyoming Stake, Remember, the Willie & Martin Handcart Companies and Their Rescuers-Past & Present," (1997).
9. John Jaques, "Some Reminiscences", Salt Lake Daily Herald, 22 Dec.1878, 1.
10. Snow, Fate of the Fryers, Letter of 19 Jan. 1857.
11. Jaques, "Reminiscences".
12. B. H. Roberts, Comprehensive History of the Church, Vol. 4. Ch. 98, p. 100-101
13. Personal story by Smith.
14. In Snow, Fate of the Fryers, Letter from John Thomas Geary to Jane Harrison Jan. 3, 1857, Great Salt Lake City.
15. Personal story by Smith.
16. Personal story by Smith.
17. In Snow, Fate of the Fryers, Letter Jan. 3, 1857.
Submitted by Andrea Lee Conley, 3rd great granddaughter, July 4th 2006,
876 North 1010 West Pleasant Grove, Utah 84062 801- 785-6258 firstname.lastname@example.org
Geary-Fryer Research Challenges and Miracles 2003-2006
On our way home from. our Ohio Cleveland Mission with assignment at the Historic Kirtland Visitor Center in 2003, we drove along the Mormon Trail, following the handcart pioneers. From Nauvoo on, we listened to "The Fire of the Covenant" tapes by Gerald Lund (which my brother Blaine Lee had lent us) dramatizing the story of the Handcart Pioneers. We anguished with those pioneers through their trials and sorrows, troubles and triumphs. I thought, "This is crazy! I feel such a closeness to them, as if we were related! But, I know we are not!"
Upon our arrival home, I received a call from my brother Grant Lee in Boise who was helping someone in his ward with family history. He asked if we had any handcart pioneers. I answered with authority in the negative, as I had read all of my ancestors' stories. We did have a lot of pioneers, just not with the handcart companies. Then he told me he had found the names of John Thomas Geary, wife Sophia, and daughter Sophia Ann, our 3rd great grandparents on Grandpa James Horald Lee's side, on the list of the Martin/Willie Handcart Company. I was amazed! Maybe we didn't get all this information originally because Grandpa Lee's mother died early, both Gearys died early, we didn't have access to John Thomas Geary's missing journal, we knew they were in a wagon not a handcart, family stories all said 1855 instead of 1856, they were busy trying to make a living and didn't know what they had accomplished so the real story just didn't get passed on to us.
Thus began our fervent and feverish research. We first gathered all of Grandma Lee's research (copied personally from Jennie May Woodbury Lee herself in about 1978), data from Uncle Jim (James H. Lee Jr.), Sheri and Steve Naylor, and Betty McMaster, the current family history specialists. Then we went to different internet sites to see what information was already out there about circumstances and relatives. I also visited the Salt Lake Family History Library and the Salt Lake City Cemetery.
Brothers Grant Lee and Roland Lee and wives Joyce and Nellie visited the city of Toquerville and cemetery, the Hurricane library, Sophia's brother Richard Fryer's home in Toquerville (still standing), and interviewed some Toquerville locals. From this, word came to us of a Fryer manuscript which our bedridden mother Thelma Reeder located after much sleuthing. She called a friend in her ward, Louise Ward, who knew their ex- home teacher Max Seegmiller who said, "That's written by my Aunt Bessie Snow. She was a school teacher. But who you really want is Ted Snow," who suggested to call Bessie's niece Gwin Winn, who went up to her cabin in Pine Valley to retrieve a copy of the "Fate of the Fryers" (only 15 were printed).
This compilation details letters indicating that the Gearys were indeed with the handcart pioneers, going through all their trials and leaving their belongings at Devil' s Gate. This manuscript and even church records on Family Search such as Echo's birth and endowment dates have a contradiction in listing 1855 instead of 1856 as their arrival time or as Echo's birth. Even the Golda Geary Page story shows Sophia finally giving birth to little Echo Workman Geary at the mouth of Echo canyon amidst 18 foot snowdrifts Nov 26, 1855. Also, some relatives thought that John stayed behind to help get other's wagons ready and Sophia went across the plains alone.
Research Miracle #1 Finding the burial place of John Thomas Geary. At first I could not find the burial place of John Thomas Geary, even though family group sheets listed him as buried in the Salt Lake City Cemetery. He wasn't listed in any of the printouts of that or any cemetery, and I even called the cemetery itself which gave no clue as to his burial. Finally, I went through microfilms of the Deseret News Weekly for January 1867 at the BYU library and did find the cemetery's sexton's report at the end of January listing 15 deaths and burials for the month, one an accidental shooting. At least I was on the right track because his death was from an accidental shooting.
Next, I obtained a "Book of the Dead" microfilm at the SL Family History Library for early Salt Lake including the year 1867 which did list a John Thomas Geary, and even gave his plot number at the SLC Cemetery. The death date there was as listed in our own family history records. So, armed with these records, our own family group sheets, and census records, I personally visited the cemetery to talk to the current sexton. His records showed the name John Thomas George not Geary in that grave. I assured him it was a miscopying error. After reviewing the data for several weeks he said he would list both names. At last, our John Thomas Geary in his grave was discovered for posterity! He is now listed both on the cemetery's internet site, and at the cemetery. Although at present, he is buried in a pauper's grave without a tombstone to mark it.
Research Miracle #2 Finding daughter Echo and husband. Next, I looked at the posterity of John Thomas and Sophia Geary. I focused on daughter Echo who married, after her parents died, somewhere in Utah, to a man from Ireland name Kennedy Hanley. Someone had done their work and their marriage, but not their children. I found them in Silver Reef, Utah in 1880, a mining area, and then in Idaho in 1900 in another mining area. I checked Utah, Idaho, Montana, and Colorado for 1910 and 1920 but found nothing. Then I found them in Spokane Washington in 1910, Los Gatos, California in 1920, and widow Echo with her son Robert still in Los Gatos, California in 1930. I was thrilled!
I searched Google for cemeteries near Los Gatos, called them on the phone and found Kennedy at first, then Echo, and finally Robert Hanley all buried there, and obtained their death information. Then I emailed my brother Grant Lee with the data, not even dreaming I would ever get anything further. But he called his daughter-in-law's father who works near Los Gatos, who had a digital camera, took it with him to work, photographed the tombstone, and emailed the picture to Grant who emailed it to me. Boy was I surprised and delighted! The tender mercies of the Lord!
Then Grant said I ought to call a library to see if they have obituaries. I googled to find the library in Los Gatos and called their number. They gave me the email of those in charge of obituaries, who after about two weeks mailed me obits for Echo and her husband. None was available for the son.
Research Miracle # 3 Finding Echo's sons. I had read that Echo had two grown sons, so I wanted to find them. Robert was one, listed on the census. I also found his 1917 WW1 registration which gave his birth date verified by his burial record. At the same time, looking for Hanleys, I "happened" on a James G. Hanley in the California death records with birth and death dates that coincided with other data. I further found him on the 1900 census record at school in Spokane, and in 1930 in Virginia with wife Nelle. I didn't find him in 1910 or 1920. I theorized the G stood for Geary, but didn't know.
I went to Rootsweb on the internet to see if anyone had queried about this family. Lo and behold a woman from Georgia was descended from Kennedy's brother Daniel who had come from Ennis, County Clare, Ireland to Ohio in the 1860's and had listed Kennedy Hanley of Spokane in his obituary. I emailed her, and she emailed me back with the brother Daniel Hanley's obituary. I emailed her more stuff, then she emailed me photos that said Robert Emmet Hanley on the back of one and James Geary Hanley on the back of the other, and one of Echo, and one of maybe Kennedy. They were so beautiful I cried!
I immediately went to my local family history center to print up their temple work in Temple Ready. I took that disc to the temple to print the cards, and had the impression to call my brother Grant Lee to see if he would like to do the temple work. He said he had wanted to do the temple work, but felt it was my prerogative as I had done the research, but felt that if I wanted him specifically to do the work, I would surely call him. He was just reading his patriarchal blessing about doing Temple Work when I called with the offer. He was enthusiastic, "Oh, yes!" He would love to do the temple work!
Research Miracle #4 Finding Echo's son James' grave. Meanwhile, I had been looking for more data on James' grave on the internet for many weeks when I "happened" upon a California Military Cemetery, the Presidio, near San Francisco. I ran down the list of names alphabetically and found the grave of James G. Hanley. I was thrilled!!!! So, Grant did all three male baptisms on February 4th 2006, did the confirming of the sons himself with tears running down his cheeks, did two sessions immediately following for Kennedy and Robert's endowments, then returned Feb 11th for James' work. Since Grant was alone at the temple, he asked a couple to act as the parents for the sealings of the sons to their parents Kennedy and Echo Hanley. It turned out this couple will actually be at Martin's Cove, Wyoming this summer as missionaries and want to use our Geary family story to share with other families who come to visit!
Research Miracle #5 Reconciling family stories with actual facts of arrival time. From President Hinckley's Handcart Celebration this year, we know that the handcarts didn't begin until 1856, not in 1855. Then on June 15, 2006, I received an e-mail from BYU Studies telling about a daily journal for the Willie Handcart Company with added information by BYU professor Paul Lyman. I asked my husband David if he had sent me the data, and I asked my brother Grant Lee if he had sent me the data. Neither had, but I strongly feel that my father, Blaine Lee, was directly involved from the "other side."
As I read through the daily handcart journal, I came across an entry for August 22, 1856 stating that our Sophia Geary had her foot run over and crushed by a 2000 pound wagon. Her husband and two other priesthood holders blessed her that if she was faithful, even though her foot was crushed, she would walk the next day. The record for August 23 states she did "walk a considerable distance that day pursuant to Bro. Siler's promise." This one bit of information was so very, very important in that it identifies both Gearys as being there at the same time, and with the handcarts of 1856. So, Sophia did not come across the plains alone, but John was with her, and with the baby born in Echo canyon.
They left August 16th from Florence, Nebraska as several independent wagons attached to the Willie handcart company. What we hadn't realized is that each handcart company had wagons to carry the 20-person tents and other heavy equipment. First came the handcarts, then the independent wagons, then the handcart supply wagons. The next day, the 17th, John Thomas Geary went back to Florence with brother Jost to help him, then returned to the wagon train. Also, there were many, many trials mentioned in these daily journal including September 4th loss of oxen for the wagons.
On September 30th, at Laramie, Wyoming, the leaders advised the wagons to wait for another wagon group coming in a week that might better be able to help them. So on October 1st the Willie Company continued on without them, while they waited for the Martin Handcart Company and the Hunt and Hodgett wagons. This proved "a blessing for that company as it provided more wagons for those exhausted handcart Saints to ride in when they traveled near Martin's cove." And it identifies that our people were with both handcart companies, first Willie, then Martin.
Celebration. In the middle of the night July 1st 2006, I felt compelled with the thought that since this was the 150th anniversary of OUR Handcart Pioneers, then we as a family needed to celebrate OUR people. So I got up, went out into the kitchen, and wrote down "celebrate our Handcart Pioneers." The thought that came to my mind was to write up all that has happened since I first felt the impressions and we first went over the Mormon Trail, of finding the graves, obituaries, doing the temple work etc., to make a record, type it up, and share it with all our family this year. I thought it might be great to have a memorial service, so I e-mailed Grant about having a tombstone with a handcart insignia on it made up, and having a family ceremony at the Salt Lake City Cemetery for John Thomas Geary and family. Grant said he is ready! How grateful we are for the gospel legacy from our blessed, honored pioneers.
Click here for new research added in 2009 by Kaye Page Nichols that sheds much new light on the history of John Thomas Geary and Sophia Fryer
Click here for Part 3 - Family Group Sheets, Census Data, Maps of John Thomas Geary and Sophia Fryer
Andrea Lee Conley
3rd Great Grand daughter
876 North 1010 West
Pleasant Grove, Utah 84062
EXCERPTS FROM WILLIE HANDCART COMPANY JOURNAL
Paul D. Lyman in BYU Studies, "The Travels of the Willie Handcart Company," (2006) Willie Handcart Company journal, 1856
16 August 1856
Handcart Company leaves Florence
with 85 Hand-carts and 11 waggons.
"Brother Jost borrowed a yoke of oxen from Bro Cantrell."
"Bros. Jost and Geary returned to Florence
with Bro. Cantwell's oxen."
22 August 1856
"During afternoon Sister Sophia Geary
had her left foot run over by Bro. Wilford's waggon."
She was administered to in the evening by Bros. Siler,
Cantwell, and Geary, Capt. Siler officiating. He sealed
the blessing of health and strength upon her and promised that
inasmuch as she would exercise faith she would walk tomorrow."
"The wagons were driven by W H Kimball,
John A Jost, Andrew I Siler, William Wilford,
and myself. (James Cantrell)
James Cantrell Autobiography
"5 of the Wagons belonged to Andrew L Siler,John A Joste (Jost),
William Wilford, James S Cantwell, and William Kimball."
John Alexander Jost
who arrived in S.L. City
15th December 1856