Stories from the Muddy

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Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Arthur Lewis and Rosalie Neilsen

This is the story that has come down to me.  Again, I don’t know who recorded Arthur’s memories.

Arthur Lewis

Arthur Lewis was born July 13, 1866 and grew up on Henrietta Street in Bloomsbury, London.  When Arthur was a boy, he was one of 5,000 school children chosen by Queen Victoria to sing at a certain celebration.  His mother, Caroline Matthews died when he was very young and he didn’t remember her, but remembered playing on London Bridge and on the Thames River all the time.  He was evidently left alone a lot after his mother died.  He once fell in and was rescued by a passerby.  When Arthur was in school, he was given books for scholarship and brought two of them with him to America.  When the family was quarantined with diphtheria, the health authorities burned every book in the house and they were lost.

Arthur knew little of his family.  When I was in Salt Lake City the summer of 2006, I found his parents’ marriage record at the Family History Center.  Henry Lewis and Caroline Mathews were married, October 12, 1856 in the parish of Saint Andrews, Holborn, London, England.  Both resided on Grays Inn Lane at the time of the marriage and both their fathers signed for them.  Thomas Lewis was a jeweler or a cabinet maker for jewelry.  James Matthews was a boot maker.

Henry’s parents were Thomas Lewis and Sarah Thackery.  Her family was not members of the LDS church.   Sarah was a widow when she joined the church in the early days of the missionaries in London and was a member of the branch in Pentinville.  Arthur didn’t know his grandparents and didn’t know he had two sisters who died in infancy before Arthur was born.  He was very fond of his older brother, John, and his younger brother James.  James was about ten years old when Arthur left for America.

John Married Sarah Collins at the time the Lewis family joined the church.  Arthur left England because the Latter Day Saints were gathering in Salt Lake City.  His family was poor, but thought they should send someone.  Arthur left London without money.  The sailors noticed he wasn’t eating.  In those days, the sailors had ship’s biscuits in their store of food.  Arthur had a carpet bag, from which he took his worldly possessions and filled it with the hard baked biscuits.  He stated that, “I kept more than myself alive on them.  There were a lot of fellows who were hungry.”

Arthur’s beautiful Welsh singing voice earned him friends wherever he went, including the sailors on his ship and that is why they gave him food.  Even after a three-week crossing, Arthur had some biscuits left when he arrived in America.  When Arthur Lewis arrived in Salt Lake City in 1882, the Tabernacle organ had been installed for fifteen years in the Tabernacle on temple square, but the temple was still under construction.  John Taylor, the same who was present when Joseph Smith was martyred, was prophet, seer and revelator of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. 

Arthur was only sixteen as he walked down the street in Salt Lake singing an old song he had learned in England, “This Ellen Riley they speak of so highly, how do you do, Ellen Riley, you’re looking quite well,” When the lady in front of him turned around and said, “That’s my name.”  He became acquainted with her and found that she was the wife of the Bishop of the sixth ward.  They were in the trucking business when they took him in and gave him a job driving their big wagons.  That’s what he did when Rosalie first met him and until he got into the greenhouse business.

Rosalie Neilsen

Rosalie Neilsen was born August 14, 1866 in Merlose, Holbaek, Denmark.  One night when Rosalie was five, she was locked in the church yard.  Her older sister, Elise and her mother, Christina, looked for her all night.  The next morning when the gates opened, she thought she would be welcomed with open arms, instead she was spanked and told she was a naughty girl.  She was the youngest of five children and her mother loved her very much.  Rosalie started school in Copenhagen in 1872 at the age of six, and graduated in 1879. 

           In 1880, Rosalie left Copenhagen with her mother and siblings, Carl, Charles, Elise and Niels, for Liverpool where they caught a boat for New York.   They caught a train from Albany to Salt Lake City.  The fare was $35.00.

Christina Vallentin Neilsen

Rosalie hated the trip to Salt Lake.  She didn’t like the flat plains, but when they finally arrived at the mountains, she loved it.  Many times, she spoke of beautiful Copenhagen.  She felt badly about leaving friends and her father.  She was very seasick on the ocean.  The hard ship’s biscuits were not much help.  Rosalie was living with her sister, Elise in the sixth ward when she met Arthur Lewis at a dance and they fell in love.  When Rosalie married Arthur, July 13, 1887, she was going by the name Vallentin, even though she had been christened Neilsen.  Her parents, Christian Neilsen and Christina Vallentin were married in Denmark on February 14, 1853.  They separated when Rosalie was young and her father would not come to America with his family.  Christina Vallentin Neilsen chose to use her maiden name.  The four children used that name when they came to America, where it was changed to Fallentin.

Arthur Lewis was talented with making things grow.  He took charge of all the greenhouses in the western part of Salt Lake, which extended for three or four blocks.  When there was a funeral and flowers were sent for, he would make beautiful sprays and arrangements.  Arthur worked twelve hours a day at the greenhouse, then he came home, took a baby in his arms and sang to it while Rosalie fixed supper.  He couldn’t read music.  When they moved to Overton, he was asked to lead the ward choir. He said he could sing, but he didn’t know anything about music.

After Arthur brought his father to Salt Lake, they received a letter saying John was preparing to go to South Africa to fight in the Boer War.  The last letter from John, who was a policeman in London, said he was being trained to ride camels across the Sahara desert.  The family didn’t know if he had volunteered.  He had two little children at the time.  (See the post, John Lewis, Great Grandpa Arthur’s Brother for details about my research on this family). When he was never heard from again, the family assumed he had died in that war.  The letter also said James had left home and they didn’t know where he was.  His father was in Salt Lake.   The summer I was doing research at the Family History Center, I often visited Henry’s grave, set on a hill under a beautiful mature pine tree with an unobstructed view of the magnificent Wasatch Mountains.

By 1905,  there were eleven children all living in a three room house Arthur had built – Maybelle Rosalie, Elise Caroline, Ethel Margaret, Clarence Arthur, John Francis, Hazel Ruth, Ernest Theordore, Ralph Lionel, Grace Marguerite, June Bernice, and Roger Vallentine.  The Bishop heard that a co-op in Nevada called Catalappa, needed help growing cantaloupes.  Arthur’s family all boarded a train and moved to Nevada.  Mabel and Ethel sat down and bawled.  Ernest, who was nine, said, “Are we ever going back to the United States?”  The desert of Nevada after the greenery of the mountains must have looked like a wasteland to them.

The whole family lived in a big tent with a wooden floor.  They had brought their furniture.  After they went to church and became acquainted with people, they began to like it.  Arthur found out Nevada, farming and the hot weather were out of his line.  Even in his forties, he didn’t have the strength for it.  Clarence, who was fifteen, and John, thirteen, worked with him like men.  They worked for the land owners.  It was hard for them at first, but they finally bought ten acres of land where Emery Lewis lived later.

Rosalie had a miscarriage and a stroke when she was forty-three.  It was a sad thing for Arthur, but she had a sense of humor and made the best of it even though her tongue was paralyzed too.  She lived past eighty-four that way.  She could get down on her hands and knees and sweep the floor with a whisk broom and make a cake by holding a little saucepan between her knees.  In 1910, the couple’s twelfth child, Emery Leonard was born.

Arthur had an affliction that they didn’t know about back then.  All the acid was gone from his stomach.  He was so sick, he couldn’t sing anymore.  He got to the point where he couldn’t eat at all and died of starvation March 24, 1945.  After Arthur died, Rosalie went to live with her daughter, Grace, in Pioche, Nevada where she died December 4, 1950.

           While I was in Europe I decided to take a Welsh class.  Welsh is the language of our Lewis ancestors and I wanted to learn something of the language.

            I left home at  pulling my poor luggage once more over the uneven paving stones to the train station.  I caught the train from Strawberry Hill to Twickenham station where I waited for a train to Reading.

     When the train arrived, I couldn't board my luggage and purse and lunch at the same time, so I threw my purse and lunch onto the train and leaned down to pick up the luggage. As I did sos, the train doors closed. I was frantically pushing the open button from the outside and a couple on the inside was doing the same thing. We stared at each other as the train left the station with my purse and lunch on it.

            I always wore a money belt, so it wouldn't have been the end of the world, but I would have lost my camera and my passport. After this experience, I kept  my passport in my money belt.
            I prayed as I walked to the conductor's office that the Lord would help me retrieve my belongings. The porters quickly called the stations down the line. The purse and lunch were captured two stops away and they sent me on to retrieve them. They were very efficient and kind to help me. Yeah for the British Rail System.

            On the Reading to Cardiff leg of my journey, I spoke with Wayne, a native Welsh actor going to Cardiff to audition for Hamlet in Welsh. He was very at ease and fun to talk to. I have been lucky on my trips to Wales to talk to people who set me at ease. I always seem to know unconsciously when I cross the border into Wales. I always feel so happy. When I leave, I cry.

            The train from Swansea to Carmarthen was not air conditioned and it was the hottest day of the year. 70 degrees is hot in Wales. Five women sat facing each other, hair blowing in the wind. There was a lot of camaraderie as we talked about genealogy, bird watching, Wales and travel. We were all tourists from America, England and Wales.

            I realized somewhere on this journey that I was a pioneer, making the reverse journey my ancestors traveled.

            The first thing one sees after leaving the train station at Carmarthen, is Merlin's castle ruins. I walked all over Carmarthen taking pictures and bought Becca a beautiful ring of small flowers made of tiny colored stones. I also bought a fan, hairdryer and travel iron with British outlet plugs. I don't care what European's say they think about America, when they find out you're from America, their eyes light up like you're talking about the promised land.  I took a shower to cool off and turned on my new fan. I was out for the night.

             Traveling on a curvy, narrow road with hedges on both sides, was like Mr. Toad's ride from Carmarthen to Lampeter, home of the University of Wales, College of St. David's, on a bus. I felt like I was in a wind tunnel or a time warp. We came around a high corner and the landscape opened up and God's masterpiece lay before me in its breathtaking radiance.

River through Lampeter, Wales
            I arrived at the college about and put up a picture of my family. It was down right chilly with the window open at . I could hear the sheep baaing on the hill behind the University. It was quite a cacophony  -  a very homey sound that comforted me in a strange place. I walked to town before class the next day to mail Becca's ring I bought in Carmarthen.  Somehow, she didn't receive it until I was home three months later.

Morina Lloyd
            Our Welsh course was taught by Morina Lloyd. What an inspiration to sit at her feet, so to speak, every day for two weeks and learn the language of my ancestors. Our course was 30 people from all over the world, split into four classes according to experience with the language. There were two of us from the U.S. Others came from Germany, Poland, Ireland, England, the Punjab of India, Australia, and Wales.
I heard that sometimes students come from Patagonia in South America. Many Welsh went there during a hard time in Wales, and they preserve the language with a passion.

           My memory was not what it used to be and I struggled to remember the words and patterns. I so wish I could have gone 25 years before when I was still sharp as a new penny.

The hills and sky of Lampeter, Wales
            I enjoyed a walk out of town. Not far from the city center are the most beautiful hills. It's a pastoral place of green and water and sheep and cattle. I feel so at home here. I didn't know I could be so moved by hills and sky.

         The sky is most often overcast. That's why it's so cool.  Amanda, a classmate from the west coast of Wales, asked me if I wanted to take a drive to the coast with her.  We left after class one evening and drove to Aberaeron, less than an hour away. She drove her new car for the first time with a passenger. She drove slowly and we were fine. She thought I was very brave.

Aberaeron, Wales
          We had a wonderful supper of fish and chips in this picturesque fishing village and took in the sights. The light was changing before we left and I caught an interesting picture from the shade, shooting into the light.

         What a great adventure today. Olwena and Claudia from Welsh class, and I went on an excursion about . We headed for Tregaron and walked around, but it was early and nothing was open. We went on to Aberystwyth, scouted out the beach and the town. I took them to Siop Y Pethe, which is an all Welsh shop I remembered from my last trip here. They loved it. We visited the museum and found neat posters with words in Welsh and English. We ate ice cream on the beach.

Dogs in Machynlleth
             We drove on to Machynlleth, where I saw some beautiful dogs waiting for their owners. Claudia bought her first Welsh book.
            At Corris, Claudia and I went into King Arthur's labyrinth. It's an old slate mine that's been flooded. A boat takes you past scenes from King Arthur's life.

Dolgellau, Wales with Cadir Idris in the background
            Dolgellau, is a beautiful stone-built-village at the foot of Cadir Idris, a Materhorn-like mountain. I have a special affinity for this town. On my last visit here in 2000, I saw a young man who looked just like Cousin Stevie Perkins. This time a bird left a little present on my shoulder. It is supposed to be good luck. I certainly would start looking for our ancestor, Thomas Lewis here. I would also look in Carmarthen where every other business is owned by a Lewis. The other half are Davies.

            I was the only one in our group who didn't make the rounds to the pubs at night. I was the only one whose life is consecrated to the Lord. One night when I was feeling very alone, I opened my scriptures as I did every night and read Deuteronomy 14:2 "For thou art an holy people unto the Lord thy God, and the Lord hath chosen thee to be a peculiar people unto himself, above all the nations that are upon the earth."  I didn't feel alone any more.

            One day, one of our English classmates, Aled, drove Caroline and I, the two Americans to Mwnd on the west coast. What a truly picturesque setting and beautiful day to discover another corner of my beloved

The beach at Mwnd, Wales

Mwnd (pronounced Moont), Wales

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