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The Abel family in census records

By: Ardis S - February 26, 2010

For a recent project, I was doing some research and came across a brief summary of Elijah Abel, a man who has fascinated me since I first read about him a few years ago. As most of you already know, Abel was a close friend of the Prophet Joseph Smith who received the partial endowment in the Kirtland Temple and was ordained a Seventy during the Prophet’s time. He served several missions, returning from his last mission immediately previous to his death in Salt Lake on 25 December 1884 (you can check out his obituary here). There’s been a fair amount of research done on Elijah Abel and his life, but as I was reading an article about the new grave marker that the Church had placed on his grave in 2002, I came across someone I had not heard of before: Mary Ann Abel.

I should have noticed her name previously, as Ardis Parshall mentioned her in the great Sunday School lesson that she delivered late last year (don’t you wish that all Sunday School lessons could be like that?). However, for some reason it was not until this week that I realized that I have not heard anything about her, and according to my Google search, it seems that not very much has been written about her life. We know that she and her husband managed the Farnham Hotel together in Salt Lake. She was born around 1828 in Tennessee (according to census records, although the well meaning but often wrong Pioneer Women of Faith and Fortitude entry for her lists her birthplace as Ohio). She was quite a bit younger than her husband; the 1850 census lists him as 42 and she as 19 (which makes me extremely eager to learn more about their story). Although Pioneer Women lists her as dying on 26 December 1884, the 1880 census lists Elijah Abel as a widower, and so it seems that she died previous to 1880 (I think the DUP source has her date somewhat confused with Elijah’s death date).

So far, I have only done some preliminary research on Abel, so there is much that I hope to do to learn more about her life. As these census records are quite interesting, I wanted to share them here:

1850 Hamilton County, Ohio – Federal Census:

1860 Salt Lake City  – Federal Census:

1870 Salt Lake City – Federal Census:

1880 Salt Lake City – Federal Census:

Understanding more about Mary Ann Abel’s life will contribute to the historiography of race and gender in Utah and within the LDS Church, types of history that are dear to my heart. Please share any information or sources on her that you know of in the comments section below.

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13 Comments

  1. Elijah Abel’s grave marker lists her birth and death dates.

    Her death was noted in the Deseret News here (p. 7).

    Comment by Justin — February 26, 2010 @ 4:49 pm

  2. See, I didn’t bother even to hunt for this death notice, because I *knew* Justin would find it before I could.

    Thanks for the kind words, Ardis.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — February 26, 2010 @ 4:53 pm

  3. Thank you for sharing this, Ardis. I hope you can find more information and get it published. Since most of the literature on black Mormons has focused on the policies and statements of white leaders, we need as much social history on black Mormons as we can get.

    Comment by David G. — February 26, 2010 @ 8:52 pm

  4. I agree with you David, and Justin, I really appreciate you posting that link (and thanks Ardis for your prescience about Justin finding it). What a brief obituary. It makes me want to learn about her life even more.

    Comment by Ardis S — February 26, 2010 @ 9:35 pm

  5. I seem to recall that Mary Ann Abel is featured in Bound for Canaan (M.B. Young and D. Gray). Perhaps a source note is also featured in the book.

    Comment by Justin — February 27, 2010 @ 8:45 pm

  6. I am playing Mary Ann Abel in a show called I Am Jane . I am doing some research on this character, and was wondering: how did she die? And who were her parents? (why did they let her marry at 19?)Any extra information on her or Elijah would be helpful for the show. Thanks!

    Comment by Jenny — May 10, 2010 @ 9:51 pm

  7. Hi Jenny. Jared T. alerted me to this conversation. Thanks for participating in _I Am Jane_ (which opens on June 9th at the SLC Grand Theater.) I don’t have my research with me (currently I’m in London with my husband and son), but I believe Mary Ann Abel died of consumption. In _Bound for Canaan_, I portrayed a scene with Rachel Ivins Grant paying her a visit, since Sister Grant would’ve been the RS president in the Abels’ ward at the time of Mary Ann’s death. Her death was right around Thanksgiving, which was a celebrated holiday at that time. As I was doing research, I found announcements of the renaming of the Congo River in Africa to the Luluaba (a name which did not hold) by Livingstone, and a Deseret News article on the inevitable opening of missionary work on the African continent. I integrated some of that article into the funeral as I wrote it in the book. Mary Ann died after Brigham Young did in 1877, and before the important meeting in 1879 when church leaders were trying to figure out just what the availability of priesthood was for blacks–though I don’t remember the exact date.
    What we definitely know was that Elijah Abel wanted to be sealed to his wife, that he petitioned for his temple blessings while she was still living. His petitions brought about that 1879 meeting between President John Taylor, Abraham Smoot, and Zebedee Coltrin–though she had died by then. I’d read either _Bound for Canaan_, Bush’s seminal article on Blacks and the priesthood, or Newell Bringhurst’s _Elijah Abel and the Changing Status of Blacks in the Church_. (You will find information on Elijah in the Bush and Bringhurst material, and some info on Mary Ann–along with many musings–in _Bound for Canaan_.)
    Other information on Mary Ann: She and Abel met and married in Cincinnati after he left Nauvoo around 1841. They did not come west until the early 1850s. They suffered some serious economic problems in Utah, though great pains were taken to be sure that Abel’s priesthood ordinations were mentioned in his obituary.
    So how are rehearsals going, Jenny?

    Comment by Margaret Blair Young — May 11, 2010 @ 11:03 am

  8. P.S. As to this:
    Although Pioneer Women lists her as dying on 26 December 1884, the 1880 census lists Elijah Abel as a widower, and so it seems that she died previous to 1880 (I think the DUP source has her date somewhat confused with Elijah’s death date).

    The DUP has indeed listed Elijah Abel’s death date rather than his wife’s. I believe she died in 1878, and I know it was right around Thanksgiving time in November, but I’m working without any research notes right now. My memory is definitely good enough to identify Elijah’s death date and to know that the DUP got Mary Ann’s wrong.

    Comment by Margaret Blair Young — May 11, 2010 @ 11:06 am

  9. p.p.s.
    Maybe I should read all of the comments before presuming to submit one of my own. Justin has indeed provided the date and the year of Mary Ann’s death. 1877–so months after BY’s death.

    Comment by Margaret Blair Young — May 11, 2010 @ 11:29 am

  10. Hi Margaret!

    What an honor to be part of the show! I love Mary Ann and think she must’ve been a pretty strong woman to continue her faith in the Church. (I guess we all have our personal trials.)

    The rehearsals are coming along, and I enjoy working with Lisa, Keith, and Tamu. Thanks for helping me understand her life better. How can I find out where the Farnham Hotel was located? Do you think the Family History Library would have anything?

    Comment by Jenny — May 28, 2010 @ 9:32 pm

  11. Greetings all. I’m in town and very much enjoying shadowing the “I AM JANE” folks. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Jenny/Mary Ann.

    I have a question about her life in Salt Lake. Where did the Abels live? Did they live at the hotel? If so, where was this hotel? I’d very much welcome any ideas here!

    Comment by Max — June 10, 2010 @ 3:02 pm

  12. I really do appreciate the entry on “Elijah Abel,” and am very much acquainted with all of the material of facts into the entry. I wrote a research paper on Elijah Abel, while attending Brigham Young University in 1985. A copy of my paper is located in the Special Collections Department at Brigham Young University’s Harold B. Lee Library. By the way, this paper was written as research requirement for under graduates in the English Department at the time when I attended BYU.

    I first became interested in learning about Elijah Abel, that I took the initial step of approaching the then Curator of Special Collections. He went back in his Office, while I was waiting in Research area of Special Collection on the fourth floor of Harold B. Lee Library. He came back, gave me only two photo copies of artickes written about Elijah Abel along with a picture. I asked him, “Is this all you have?” He responded, “That’s all I have.” I was somewhat disappointed at first, but decided that I should do some researching on Mr. Abel. By the time I had finished doing my reearch, I decided that a paper should be written. I was grateful for numerous consultatiiions that I have had with folks who knows more than I did about Mr.Abel, however, I went further by looking at many sources, and found additional material of fact to be included in my paper. I am currrently doing a complete bibliograhy on Elijah Abel. Please stay tuned.
    Again, thanks for your great entry on a great African-American Latter-day Saint.

    Chester Lee Hawkins
    email address chesterleehawkins@gmail.com

    Comment by chester lee hawkins — June 27, 2010 @ 11:54 pm

  13. Thanks Chester! Please keep us posted on your bibliography. That’ll be a great source to have available.

    Comment by Ardis S. — June 29, 2010 @ 10:16 am