Amos Fielding (1792-1875) – (How I Became a Family Historian – Part 1)

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Welcome to Tenacious Genealogy! Today’s post is the first in a series of ancestor biographies. The general gist of these posts will be twofold:

1) to explore the life and legacy of a specific ancestor of mine.

2) to show a basic example of how you can research and write about your ancestors. (Many ancestor biographies are much more detailed than this, but this is an example of a basic  biography that any beginner family historian/genealogist can emulate.)

To start off, I’m going to delve into one of my more controversial ancestors: Amos Fielding.

 

Old Photograph of Amos Fielding, holding a sextant.
Photo of Amos Fielding, taken sometime during the 1860s. Note the sextant he is holding – a probable reference to the many trips he took or arranged between England and America.

 

Amos is controversial, not because of any particular event (or his scowly jowls), but rather, because of his legacy.

From the time I started doing genealogy as a wee child, Amos has loomed large in the Fielding family tree. Put on a pedestal by some relatives and denigrated by others, he always seemed to stand out among the ancestors I knew of. Stories swirled around about him when our family gathered and these piqued my interest.

For many years, he was described as a womanizer, misogynist, or worse. In the late 1990s, one of his descendants, a man by the name of Merlin Fielding, collected some of the stories about Amos. Merlin wrote a biography about Amos, both in an attempt to clear Amos’s name of any wrongdoing and emphasize the good that Amos did during his lifetime.

But as many genealogists will quickly tell you, there is never a ‘final conclusion’ to any question or narrative in genealogy. People are also rarely the perfect saints or devilish scoundrels we sometimes paint them to be.

In Amos’s case, the internet age has brought forth documents that seem to put him and his reputation somewhere in the middle. While he may not have been the cruel womanizer that he was originally painted to be, neither was he an infallible saint. Like most people of his time (and most people nowadays), the documents so far available seem to paint him as something in the middle.

That said, there are a few things, as a family, we know – and can agree upon. Amos was one of the first Fieldings to join the LDS church, doing so in September of 1837 (with his first wife, Mary). He was prominent in the Church, both in England and later in the United States, and helped organize efforts to bring Saints from England to the United States through an early predecessor of the LDS church’s Perpetual Emigration Fund. In many ways, he helped the church to grow in England and assisted new church members traveling to America in order to join the main body of believers. These stories are well documented and undisputed.

But… there were other stories. Oral tales of how he treated his family and rebukes he supposedly earned from early church leaders.

And those stories are where the controversy starts.

The Life and Times of Amos Fielding

Amos Fielding's Birthplace
Tonge with Haulgh doesn’t technically exist anymore as its own township or parish but as part of the greater metropolitan area. The area outlined is currently called ‘Tonge Fold’ and is about 1.2 miles from where Amos Fielding was baptized.

 

Amos was born July 16, 1792, in Tonge, England. Tonge is a small outlying area of Bolton, which was (and is) a small town northwest of Manchester and northeast of Liverpool. The first record we have of Amos is a christening record from the Lancashire Anglican Parish Registers. He is noted as being christened at Bolton-le-Moors St. Peter’s on September 26, 1792. His parents were noted as Matthew and Mary Fielding and living in ‘Tong’. (Given that there was a ‘Tonge with Haulgh‘ township within the Bolton-le-Moors parish at the time of Amos’s birth, I’m going to assume that is the ‘Tong’ referred to in the christening record.) A little bit of research (and some family notes) reveal that Amos was baptized at the same church that his father had been 26 years prior. This suggests that the Fielding family had lived in Lancashire for at least a generation or two prior to Amos’s birth. Another interesting fact: it seems Amos may have been named after his father’s older brother.

Amos Fielding's baptismal church
St Peters, Bolton-le-Moors

 

After this, Amos’s childhood and early adulthood are a bit hazy. There are stories of him being part of a large family, records of possible siblings (such as one Betty Fielding also born to a Matthew and Mary Fielding and christened in Bolton-Le-Moors in 1794), but little else. One family story (and Amos’s obituary of all things) has Amos and his family of origin moving to America in 1811 and then back to England, but beyond the Deseret News obituary from 1875, I have yet to find any records substantiating that claim.

Amos Fielding and Mary Haydock

The next certifiable record for Amos is a marriage record for him to one Mary Haydock on June 28, 1829.

Amos Fielding and Mary Haydock's Marriage Record
Note Amos’s profession in this marriage record…

 

Amos would have been 36 at this point, nearly 37. It wasn’t uncommon for men to marry later in life during this time (especially if they had spent their younger years working their way up in a trade). What is unusual is the story that records have Mary as being his age or older. In most variations of the family story, she is a wealthy widow whose property (money rather than land) Amos inherits upon her death. However, this is partially incorrect. In the marriage record for Amos and Mary, it states her as being a ‘Spinster‘, which would have made this marriage the first for both of them.

Either way, there are a few things for certain: 1) Amos and Mary joined the LDS church in 1837 and 2) they were childless for the entirety of their marriage.

Amos and the Early Years of the LDS Church in England

After 1837, more records of Amos come to light as he became more prominent in the LDS community in England. In October of 1837, the church in Preston, England was organized into six branches. As noted earlier, Amos and Mary join the LDS church just a month prior. On December 25, 1837, the first British conference for the LDS church was held in Bolton and Amos is recorded as receiving the Aaronic Priesthood and being ordained a Teacher. Immediately after the conference, he went with one of the missionaries in the area (Heber C. Kimball) and visited some of the nearby villages, doing more missionary work. At the next conference in April of 1838, (this time in Preston, England) Amos is recorded as receiving the Melchizedek Priesthood and being ordained an Elder and then a High Priest in 1841.

After this point, records show that Amos was active in the church and missionary work well into the 1840s, working in leadership positions in the Bolton congregation. Many of the documents concerning Amos Fielding’s ecclesiastical work in England (and later in the United States) are contained within the LDS Church History Archives and even the Joseph Smith Papers.

Amos and the Emigration of English LDS Saints

During this time (1837 to 1851, roughly), Amos was also one of the more affluent and well-connected members of the church in England. Some records/stories note him as being in the banking business, others in shipping. His marriage record from 1829 notes that he was a butcher. So it seems he was very much a jack of all trades (given some of the other professions he joined after coming to Utah).

Either way, letters and journal entries from various early church members show that Amos was often asked to assist other members both with money and with finding jobs.

In 1841, after stories of pickpockets preying on members of the church immigrating to the United States made their way to church leaders in Nauvoo, Amos was appointed an Agent of the Church to help English saints gain passage to the United States during this time. (This is a different program than the Perpetual Emigration Fund that the LDS church later used to help church members come to the United States.) Throughout the 1840s, he also traveled several times to Nauvoo (including once being called up by Joseph Smith to clarify some allegations against Amos) and, according to his obituary, was one of two Mormons ‘permitted to leave Nauvoo to attend the trial of the murderers of Joseph and Hyrum Smith in Carthage.‘ His trips between England and America continued until his final immigration to America in February of 1852.

Also of note during this time, Amos’s wife Mary (Haydock) died in England in June of 1849. This fact comes into play later when Amos immigrates to America in 1852.

Jane Benson

During that time (1837-1852), Amos was familiar with the families who made up the small LDS congregations in Lancashire. Among these families were the Bensons of Wrightington. Church records show that Amos, at the very least, knew Richard Benson – Jane Benson’s uncle, so it isn’t hard to fathom that Amos knew the extended Benson family.

Jane Benson was born June 4, 1824, making her roughly 31/32 years younger than Amos. Due to Amos’s familiarity with her uncle and the other Benson men, it is safe to surmise that she would have known him growing up. Also of note, the missionary who baptized the Benson family in England was one Heber C. Kimball – the same missionary with whom Amos Fielding did missionary work.

I’m not going to write too much detail about Jane Benson’s life here (mostly because I have another post coming up about her soon), but instead talk about where her life intersects with Amos Fielding’s.

The Birth of ‘Hiram Benson’

In September of 1848, Jane Benson had a son named Hiram Benson. Supposedly the birth certificate lists no father (There is a record of a Hiram Benson being born in 1848 in Wigan, Lancashire, however, this information comes from an index.) Most of Amos Fielding’s descendants (including Amos Hyrum himself) however believe Amos Fielding to be the biological father of Amos Hyrum. Pictures of the two men as adults certainly show similarities between them, most prominently, facial structure.

A few descendants of Amos Fielding have theorized that if Amos was Hiram’s biological father and open about it, it would have meant either polygamy or adultery in the eyes of English law and looked poorly upon Amos (and consequently, the LDS church in England at the time). On the other hand, illegitimacy was not uncommon at this time and thus as an unwed mother, only Jane’s name would be besmirched. Either way, Jane and Hiram came to America soon after (May of 1849) and lived with Jane’s brother Richard in Saint Louis, Missouri for a time.

‘Amos Felding’ and the 1850 census

This is where Jane’s relationship with Amos get interesting, however. In the 1850 US Census, there are three men with the name ‘Amos Fielding’ (spelling variants include ‘Feilding’ and ‘Felding’). Two (2) in Pennsylvania and one (1) in St. Louis, Missouri. While the ‘Amos Felding’ in Missouri is noted as being only 40, he is also living with a ‘Jane Felding’ age 24 (Jane Benson would have been 26 in 1850) and a ‘Hicrain/Hiram Felding’ age 2 (Hiram/Hyrum Benson would have been 2) and a Martha Sutliff age 29.

1850 US Federal Census noting the household of Amos Fielding
The household of Amos Fielding in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1850.

 

Given that:
1) Jane Benson was living in St. Louis from 1849 until 1852,
2) Richard Benson was known to have left St. Louis for Utah in 1850 with his wife and family,
3) Amos Fielding was noted as a ‘butcher’ in the marriage record for him and Mary Haydock.

4) Amos Fielding traveled between St. Louis and England multiple times (including his final voyage to America in 1852), it is not hard to fathom him being in St. Louis during the 1850 census.

As for the age discrepancy – depending on a variety of reasons, census information may be incorrect. Census takers would often talk to one person in the household and that person may not know all the details of a household. Or they might mix up facts about other members of the household. Other times, the census taker might make mistakes in the notes they are taking down. Or, in some cases, the person talking to the census taker may fudge the truth a bit.

The biggest question arising from this record is: Who is Martha Sutliff and how is she connected to Amos Fielding and Jane Benson? But that is another mystery for another day.

It is certainly a personal theory of mine that this census is noting Amos Fielding and family. But given the other facts that we have about Amos, Jane, and Hiram/Hyrum,  Amos living in Saint Louis with Jane and Hiram for a season doesn’t seem to be so far-fetched.

Jane Southworth

Bluntly put, Jane Southworth is a footnote character in the stories about Amos. In his biography on Amos, Merlin Fielding gives a little bit of background on her and her family. The Southworths also lived near Bolton and were early members of the LDS church. Jane Southworth and Jane Benson were peers and after 1847, sisters-in-law (Jane Benson’s brother James married Jane Southworth’s sister Ellen).

In January of 1851, there is a marriage record for Amos and Jane (Southworth) as well as notations for them in the England & Wales Civil Registration Marriage Index. Important to note, Amos’s first wife died in June of 1849. Thus Amos’s marriage to Jane Southworth would be considered legal, whereas any marriage to Jane Benson would not.

Notation for Amos Fielding in the England & Wales Civil Registration Marriage Index

 

Notation for Jane Southworth in the England & Wales Civil Registration Marriage Index

 

The next we hear of Jane Southworth is her sailing to St. Louis from England with Amos in 1852. After their arrival, we know that they quickly headed west. And this is where the crux of Amos’s legacy problems seem to stem from. For many years, Jane Southworth was known only by pejoratives – ‘that Houston woman‘ or ‘the hussy‘. She was the villain in the story of Amos Fielding and Jane Benson. The stereotypical ‘other woman’ so to speak.

What we know of her life after they all came to Utah is sparse. She lived with Amos Fielding until his passing in 1875. After that, she lived in an old house he left her and his 4th wife (Sarah Rex) until her (Jane Southworth’s) death in 1904. Jane Southworth is never recorded as ever having any children and oddly enough, while buried in the old Salt Lake City Cemetery (the same cemetery as Amos and Sarah Rex), is not buried anywhere near them.

The Trek to Utah

In 1852, Amos Fielding sets out from Saint Louis, Missouri with Jane Benson, Hiram Benson/Fielding, and Jane Southworth. There are few records about their journey to Utah. Only family stories, making Amos out to be a jerk to Jane Benson. The stories record Amos and Jane (Southworth) traveling across in the wagon, whereas Jane Benson and Hiram were forced to walk the entire way. They were also cooking the food, finding buffalo pies for fuel and the rest of the chores. The stories also tell of Jane (Benson) and Hiram being treated poorly by Jane Southworth.

While these stories are interesting to read and certainly make Amoslook bad, from the perspective of a genealogist, there is one problem. All the stories come from Jane Benson’s progeny. So immediately the stories hint at being biased. (I say this as an ardent member of Team Jane Benson.) But even in the most biased of stories, there is some truth.

We know from other records (and later actions on behalf of Amos and Amos Hyrum) that there had been some kind of relationship between Jane Benson and Amos Fielding. Once the group arrived in Salt Lake City, however, stories note that Jane Benson cut ties with Amos and that she and her son begin living with Heber C. Kimball and his family for a time.

The meeting with Brigham Young

It is at this point in the timeline that another family story pops up. One of Amos Fielding being called before Brigham Young and his counselors. (Which included Heber C. Kimball – the same man who had baptized the Benson family and had also done missionary work with Amos years before in England.)

In this story, reports of how Amos treated Jane (Benson) on the trek to Utah are brought before Brigham Young. Amos is then called in to give his side of the story. Very little is said about the conversation between the men or what Amos said. Only that at the end of the conversation, Brigham Young tells Amos that he will ‘lick hell for what he has done’ and Heber C. Kimball adds, ‘and salt too.’ (I’ve always been under the impression that that meant Amos was more like a farm animal in nature than human, but if I’m mistaken in the meaning of the idiom, feel free to comment below.)

Either way, this story is, at this point, just that – a story. However, there is a possibility that it is true. The LDS Church History archives have several collections of papers and documents related to Brigham Young. Some of those collections contain office documents and notes of people that Brigham Young met and/or interacted with. One specific collection deals with marriages and divorces. My curiosity is as to whether there was even ever a meeting (or meetings) between Amos Fielding and Brigham Young.

As of this time, I haven’t had the chance to inquire about whether Amos Fielding is noted in any of those documents. (That is, did this meeting ever actually happen and if so, when?) But that is a venue that I hope to explore in the future.

Amos Hyrum (Benson) (Perkins) (Fielding)

As for Jane’s son, the documents we have on him are more telling of his life after arriving in Utah. By 1860, Jane Benson had married again to a man by the name of John Perkins. Family stories say that John Perkins got along well with Amos Hyrum (as Hiram Benson would be known as during most of his adult life), even preferring him to his own son from his first marriage.

Around 1869/70 when the mines near Tintic were opening up, family lore has that Amos Fielding helped get Amos Hyrum a job there. (Which brought much-needed income to Jane Benson and her family after John Perkins’s death in 1870.)

In 1875, when Amos Fielding passed away, he named Amos Hyrum his sole descendant and heir. (Part of this inheritance Amos Hyrum ended up using to buy property in Mancos, Colorado for his mother.)

What’s In A Name?

When Amos Hyrum was sealed to his mother in 1878, he was also sealed to John Perkins. He was noted as ‘Amos Hyrum Benson’ and ‘Amos Hyrum Benson Perkins’ in the record. However, this is the only record in which he is referred to by the Perkins surname. It is interesting to note, however, that at this point he is using the name ‘Amos‘ as part of his name.

Then by the 1880 census, the surname written down for Amos Hyrum and his family is Fielding. (At the current time, I have yet to find him in the 1870 census). Amos Hyrum himself was also quoted as saying he ‘was a Fielding, not a Perkins‘ by one of his daughters. Thus, while Amos Hyrum was referred to by many names during his life, much of the evidence points to Amos Fielding and Amos Hyrum Fielding being father and son.

Amos Fielding in Utah

Coming back around to Amos after his arrival in Utah, despite what domestic problems he had, he was otherwise successful. During the period of time between 1852 and his death in 1875, Amos accrued land in the Salt Lake Valley. Enough to live on and farm a few crops.

He also was an ink maker for a time and a surveyor of areas around the Salt Lake Valley. A jack of all trades, so to speak. (As mentioned earlier.) In particular, the town of Fairfield in Utah County was named for him after he surveyed the land. He was also a member of the Salt Lake School of the Prophets. In 1860, he took the widow Sarah Rex Austin as a plural wife, denoting some wealth on his part.

When he passed away on August 5th, 1875, he had also purchased five grave plots. Why he purchased FIVE as opposed to one or three is unknown. My personal theory, however, is that he purchased one for him, one for Jane Southworth, one for Sarah Rex, and then two more for Amos Hyrum and Ellen Agnes Hobbs (Amos Hyrum’s wife).

Amos’s Legacy

In the end, I do not think Amos is the wicked man that some of his descendants painted him to be. Not by a long shot. The work he did in the early days of the LDS church shows that he had good qualities. However, I also do not believe that he was a saintly man who could do no wrong (as other descendants have painted him). Good people, even the best of people, have their character flaws and lapses of judgment just as much anyone else.

There is still plenty of debate as to whether or not Amos Fielding and Jane Benson were married. Or if he was the biological father of Amos Hyrum. Barring more research, time travel, or exhumation of Amos’s remains/DNA testing, that will always be an issue.

However, while the relationship between Amos Fielding and Jane Benson is currently circumstantial, the fact that Amos did certain things, (like buying five burial plots when technically he only needed three, helping Amos Hyrum find work in Tintic to earn a living, or even noting Amos Hyrum as his heir and sole descendant) denote that there was more of a relationship between Amos and Amos Hyrum than just benefactor and recipient. Heck, the fact that ‘Hiram Benson/Perkins/Fielding’ began noting his name as Amos Hyrum and to his dying day, stated that he was Amos’s son, holds weight.

I believe that Amos Fielding is the biological father of Amos Hyrum. I also believe he was married to Jane Benson in some regard, plural or otherwise. According to the records that I’ve been able to access thus far, I think that Amos probably did piss off some people. Including members of the First Presidency of the church at the time. But I also believe that Amos may have realized that he messed up. And while he couldn’t make things right with Jane Benson, he at least tried to not be a deadbeat dad to Amos Hyrum.

And perhaps that is the story to tell. But until further information is found to clarify what happened over 150 years ago, this is the best we got.

7 thoughts on “Amos Fielding (1792-1875) – (How I Became a Family Historian – Part 1)

  1. Sue Fielding Reber says:

    Thanks for your research on Amos Fielding and Jane Benson. I grew up hearing that Amos was a womanizer then heard Merlin Fielding present his research on Amos that the church records show him as a good man. I appreciate your titles as we all can be labeled positive or negative for the exact same quality.

  2. Greg Sippel says:

    Laura-
    Can you please contact me? My gr-gr grandparents were enumerated in the 1850 St. Louis, the family just previous to Amos Fielding family. They too were from Preston, Eng. My gg grandmother baptized in Preston in 1837. She was previously married to a Southworth.

  3. G says:

    Laura-
    My email is gcsippel@gmail.com. I have some knowledge about these families, but looking for anything else that may fit. As far as I know my family did not make the journey to Utah. They stayed in St. Louis. Later (1872), they joined the RLDS church.
    Greg.

  4. Pamela Carson says:

    You did not tell the story of Amos Fielding and Fairfield, Utah. The Goshute Indians camped by the spring in Cedar Valley, Utah County, Utah. Amos Fielding, a surveyor, was sent to explore the valley for settlement. (1854) He wrote the tall grass was “belly-high to a tall horse.” He reported the valley could be settled. The location had been referred to as “Frogtown,” but it was named Fairfield. “Fair” because it was beautiful and “field” after Amos Fielding.
    In 1855 John Carson, his four brothers, a sister, their spouses and children who had come to Utah as pioneers in 1851, arrived to settle the valley. The Carsons built a rock fort for protection from the Indians. Overgrazing changed the ecology of the valley and now it has to be irrigated. John Carson was the presiding Elder of the Mormon church. The summer of 1855 was the worst year for grasshoppers in Utah and they lost their crops and grazing.
    In February of 1856 John’s brothers, George and Washington Carson, and Henry Moran, were killed by the Indians. This was part of the Tintic War. They were the first people buried in the new Fairfield Cemetery.
    In 1858 John Carson took the stones from the fort, added adobe bricks, and built the Stagecoach Inn in Fairfield. That same year General Albert Sidney Johnston brought an army of 3,500 troops to Utah and established Camp Floyd in Fairfield. There were 7,000 camp followers and businessmen who built in the town. Fairfield quickly became Utah’s 3rd largest town with 11,000 people living there. in 1860 General Johnston left Camp Floyd to serve in the Civil War and he died in 1862 at the battle of Shiloh. Camp Floyd was abandoned in 1861 when the soldiers either went to Fort Douglas, then eastward, or to the south to join the Confederacy. Camp Floyd and the Stagecoach Inn are now a State Park in Fairfield.

    • Laura Nelson says:

      I actually hadn’t heard that specific story about Amos and Fairfield. I knew that he’d been a land surveyor and that Fairfield was partially named after him, but that was the extent that I knew when I originally wrote this. So, very interesting and good to know.

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