Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Sarah Thornton Coleman

Sarah Thornton Coleman

Sarah Thornton Coleman, daughter of William Thornton and Elizabeth Christian, was born June 11, 1806 at Little Paxton, Huntingtonshire, England.  She and her older sister, Jane, were left motherless at the age of ten and eleven, as their mother died August 23, 1816.  The father placed the two girls in a boarding school, and afterward married again.  Rules and regulations of the school were so strict that the students had no childhood or girlhood pleasures.  Whipping was not allowed but some of the punishments were going without food, undressing and going to bed in the daytime, separation from classmates, etc.  The most cruel punishment was that given the children when found sleeping with the knees drawn up.  They were expected to recline in bed perfectly straight and should they draw their knees up in their sleep; the teachers and nurses roughly jerked the legs down suddenly waking the child.

Sarah Thornton decided, then and there that should she ever have children they should never acquire their education at a boarding school.  However, she remained at this school about ten years, when she met and after a courtship of six weeks, married Prime Coleman, son of George Coleman and Elizabeth Prime, born 1804 at Arlesey, Bedfordshire, England.

The young man’s Father told him that he was making the mistake of his life by marrying a girl who had spent her life at school, and could not be a helpmate to a cattle man and a farmer.  But as the old saying is – “love goes where love is sent”—the young man decided he knew best, and so Prime Coleman and Sarah Thornton were married August 1826.

They owned and lived on a large, well-equipped farm at Thorncot, Bedsford, England.  The house was a large two-story one splendidly furnished.  Here seven children were born to them –George, Sarah, Prime Thornton, Ann Elizabeth, William, and Rebecca; and later one more in Nauvoo, Illinois, USA named Martha Jane.  There was always plenty of hired help in the house and on the farm, so the mother’s only work was to look after her children and manage the household affairs.  It took only a few years to convert the father-in-law that he was mistaken in his opinion as to what an educated girl could and could not do, for then Mr. Coleman finally acknowledged to his son and daughter-in-law that she had made a wonderful wife and mother.

There being no washboards or washing machines in those days, the family washing had to be done by rubbing the clothes between the hands.  This family’s washing was done every six weeks and the task was not finished in less than three days.

One day as Mrs. Coleman approached her home; she met a man with a beautiful feather bed.  He asked her to buy it.  She thought it looked very much like her bed, but she paid him for it.  On taking it upstairs to her bedroom she discovered that her feather bed was missing, and upon examination, found she had really bought her own feather bed from a “would be robber.”

One of the girls who lived for years with the Coleman family at Thorncot was Lucy Brown, whose father had died, her mother had married again and she had to go out to service.  She also joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and came to America with the Coleman family.  After arriving in Nauvoo, Illinois, she went to live with the John Taylor family at a dollar a week.  There she met and married Elias Smith.  They came to Utah, September 1851.  The Coleman and Smith family have been close friends ever since “Aunt Lucy” as we have always called her, lived so long with the Prime and Sarah Coleman family at Thorncot, England.

Mrs. Coleman was much more inclined toward religion than was her husband and often said that whil she attended church, he enjoyed more to rest at home reading and smoking his cigar.

When the Elders found them, the Coleman family was not long in making their decision to join the church and come to the New World.  So, with their four children who were over eight years of age, they were baptized in 1841 and 1842, and on the first of January, 1843, left their home at Thorncot in a large baggage wagon and began the journey to America.

Christopher Layton, (for whom the city of Layton, Davis County, Utah, was afterward named), had been one of the hired men on the Coleman farm in England.  He too, was baptized and came with the family.  He and the oldest son, George Coleman, about 16 years of age, drove the baggage in a very cumbersome wagon with three strong horses.  Listen to their part of their trip with the baggage wagon:  “It was against the laws of England for teamsters to ride, and while both of us were riding, a policeman saw us and gave chase.  We whipped up the horses and after about three miles we out-ran him and slowed down to a peaceable jog.”  Leaving the wagon at Wolverhamton, they went by train to Liverpool, where they joined other Saints, and were enrolled on the ship Swanton, (Captain Davenport), as the 19th company of Latter-Day emigrants, with Lorenzo Snow as Company’s captain.  They had to stay at Liverpool two weeks waiting for repairs on the ship, but made the vessel their home, doing the cooking and sleeping on board.  Brother Layton acted as cook for the Coleman family.  Once incident in their history says – “One day Brother Coleman said to Layton: ‘Chris, ain’t you going to peel some potatoes and make us a pie?”  So Chris made the meat and potatoes into a pie, and when it was all baked, all the others wanted to share it, and saked for the recipe for “Chris’ Pie: as they called it.”

On January 16th, 1843, they set sail from Liverpool, the company numbering 212 souls.  After sailing for seven weeks and three days, they arrived at New Orleans, Louisiana, and were transferred to the ship “Amarauth” in which they sailed up the Mississippi River to St. Louis.  There they were transferred from the steamer to a barge, and here they had to stay two weeks waiting for the ice to break.  About the 7th or 8th of April; a small steamer fastened a cable to the barge and ugged it up the river to Nauvoo, Illinois, where they landed April 12, 1843, three months and twelve days after leaving their home at Thorncot, England.  Choice feather beds and other valuable baggage had been left behind, or thrown overboard enroute, to decrease the weight of the ship, as the journey was a long tedious one.

When they arrived at Nauvoo, Illinois, the Coleman family went to live on the farm belonging to the Patriarch Hyrum, as Brother Prime Coleman had been an experienced farmer in his native country.

Here they suffered privation and hardships not known before by this prosperous family, and the mother gave birth to her eighth child, Martha Jane, September 15, 1843, four months after their arrival in Nauvoo, Illinois.  A little over one year of this new life of sacrifice and hardship, and typhoid fever broke out in Nauvoo.  Some of the Coleman children were down with it.  The father was also ill.  A cat had broken the windowpane.  Rather than allow the mother to get out of her bed, Brother Coleman insisted on fixing something to stop the wind from the sick room.  While in the act of doing so he took a chill and said—“I am a dead man.”  Typhoid fever developed and he lived only a short time.  The father and the oldest daughter Sarah, age 15 years, died June 1844, within a few days of each other, and were buried in an old well along with the others.

This left Sister Coleman with seven children to raise, lacking the comforts of the olden days in England, and almost destitute of the necessities of life.

The same month, June 1844, about two weeks after these sad deaths in the Coleman family, the Prophet and Patriarch were martyred, bringing to the Saints an almost unbearable sorrow.  One of Sister Coleman’s daughters, Elizabeth, about ten years old, was staying at the home of the Patriarch Smith at the time.  She often related the scene of grief and sorrow in the home when the bodies of the brethren were brought home to their wives and children.

The widow Sarah Thornton Coleman, with her family moved from the Smith farm into the eleventh ward of Nauvoo.  Here she met David Evans, who was Bishop of that ward, and when the Saints were driven from county or state to another, she with her children shared the persecutions and trials of the exodus from Nauvoo and of crossing the plains.  Being driven further west from state to state, they spent between four and five years on the journey to Utah, stopping at times for the men to work and purchase teams, wagons, and provisions to continue the long trek over mountains and bridgeless streams.  One stop lasted about three years in Nodaway County, Missouri, where they built log huts.  Babies were born in these huts with no doors, windows, chimneys or floors.  Food consisted mostly of corn bread, and bran for coffee.  The corn had to be ground on a handmill.  Here the men had plenty of work, and completed a good outfit for the trip across the Plains.

Companies were organized for the move and the Coleman family was placed in Bishop David Evans’ Company.  They made the final start on June 15, 1850, arrived in Salt Lake Valley the following September 1851.  President Brigham Young sent David Evans south to preside over the little colony already located in Dry Creek.

Sarah Thornton Coleman and her seven children, three sons and four daughters, came with the Evans family and remained to help build up what is now Lehi City, Utah.  Her sons built a two-room house for her which was among the first adobe homes built there.  It still stands (1934), one block west and a half block north of the Relief Society Hall.

Sister Coleman was chosen and acted as president of the first Relief Society organized in Lehi, in the fall of 1868 and served in that position many years.  She was blessed with the gift of tongues and used that gift many, many times.

The Coleman family were among the first to employ a genealogist in England to search out their ancestors, and have done the temple work for hundreds by the surname of “Coleman, Thornton, Prime and Christian,” from England, also the Coleman’s of America.  Sister Coleman and her oldest son, George, with his wife, Jane Smith, began work in the St. George Temple soon after it was opened for ordinances; work for the dead, and as soon as the Manti and Logan Temples were finished, all her family joined in this work for the dead.  When not able to go and do the work personally they furnished the cash to hire it done.

Sarah Thornton Coleman raised a highly respected and very prosperous family; all of them became active in the church in the cities where they lived.  She lived an exemplary life, passing on at the ripe age of 86 years nine months, with full faith in the Gospel for which she had sacrificed so much.  She died March 1, 1892, at Lehi, Utah.


  1. Hey cousin! I am also related to Sarah & Prime, & love genealogy! Have you heard of the Coleman Pioneers of Utah book? You can get a copy of it thru Stevenson's Genealogy in Provo, Utah. I come thru Prime T. & Elizabeth Eagles; John Robert Coleman & Mary Elzade; & Joseph Everett Coleman & Ethel Lund. Who do you come thru? Thanks for posting this!

    1. Thanks for the info! Sarah Thornton Coleman's son, George Coleman, was my great-great grandfather. Glad to meet you cousin!!

  2. Leslie, thank you so much for doing your blog. I was able to find it through a google and pinterest search. Prime and Sarah are my 4th great grand parents. I come through their son, Prime Tornton Coleman. Would you mind if I copied this history on Sarah for a binder I am putting together for my mother? It won't be published, just for family use only.

  3. Tara - I posted what I had so that others could have it too. Please feel free to use the information however you'd like. What a lovely project for your mother!!! So nice to meet another cousin!!