Sixth in a Series on Wilford Woodruff's Wives

Sarah Brown
(January 1, 1834 - May 9, 1909)

Sarah Brown was born January 1, 1834 in Jefferson, Henderson, New York.  She was the fourth of seven children.[1]  Her parents, Harry Brown and Rhoda North were taught the gospel by David W. Patten and joined the Church in June 1833.

On April 1, 1834, three months after Sarah’s birth, her father Harry Brown accompanied Parley P. Pratt on a mission to Richland Township, New York to recruit volunteers to help aid the Missouri Saints. Wilford Woodruff was one of the recent converts they met with.  Wilford immediately made arrangements to settle his affairs in New York and accompanied Harry Brown and Warren Ingles back to Kirtland, Ohio on April 11, 1834.[2]  Sarah’s father Harry and Wilford were among those who participated in the march from Ohio to Missouri that became known as Zion’s Camp.[3]  After Zion’s Camp disbanded, Harry Brown was one of Wilford’s missionary companions to Missouri, Tennessee, and Arkansas in January 1835.[4]

While her father was gone, Sarah’s mother moved the family from New York to Jefferson, Ohio (about 35 miles from Kirtland).  Four more children, two sons and two daughters, were born while the Brown family was living in Ohio, between 1837 and 1849.  Ohio is also where Sarah began her schooling at the age of six.  She completed regular school at the age of 14, then studied for two more years so she could earn a teaching certificate in 1850.[5]

In December 1851 the Brown family sold everything to join the Saints in Utah.  Harry and Rhoda along with their children Ira, Sarah, Mary, and Jane, took a steamboat from Cincinnati, Ohio to Louisville, Kentucky.  There they waited for three months until the river thawed enough for them to make it to St. Louis, Missouri.  On March 30, 1852 the Browns joined other Saints and were among the 175 passengers on the steamboat Saluda when it left St. Louis.  The ice in the Mississippi River delayed their journey for several days and they had to stop at Lexington, Missouri. On April 9, when Captain Francis T. Belt decided to get started, the dry boilers exploded disintegrating the hull.  The boat sunk within minutes.[6]

One hundred of the 175 passengers were killed or injured, and Sarah’s family members were among them.  Sarah was knocked unconscious by flying debris, her brother Ira’s teeth were knocked out, his face was cut, and his leg was broken.  Sarah’s mother and her two sisters were not harmed, but her father’s injuries were so severe that he died two weeks later, on April 24, 1852.

Rhoda Brown continued on their journey to Utah with her children.  On July 12, 1852 their company departed from Council Bluffs.  Rhoda, Ira, Mary and Jane spent the winter in Laramie, Wyoming because Ira’s injured leg became so infected it had to be amputated.[7]  Sarah, at 18 years old, continued the journey in Henry Miller’s Company and arrived in Salt Lake City on October 1, 1852. [8]

Sarah was sealed to Wilford Woodruff on March 13, 1853, the same day Wilford was sealed to Emma [Smoot] Smith.[9]  Although Sarah’s mother and siblings arrived in Salt Lake City later that summer, they left a year later to return to Ohio and Sarah did not see her family again.[10]

Initially she lived with Phoebe and Emma in the Valley House in Salt Lake City.  Her first son, David Patten, was born there April 4, 1854.  Then, the following year, she taught school in Weber.  When she returned to Salt Lake she taught school in the 14th Ward.  Sarah had six more children while living in Salt Lake City:  Brigham Young (1856 - 1876), Phoebe Arabell (1859 - 1939), Sylvia Melvina (1862-1940), Newton (1863-1960), Mary (1867-1903), and Charles Henry (1870-1871).

After her son’s Brigham’s birth in 1856, Sarah learned how to make gloves.  The cloth for the gloves was made from the flax they grew.  They also used flax to make other things including carpets, linens for the kitchen, and bedspreads.  In her autobiography Sarah wrote that “Aunt Phoebe” was a good tailoress and taught her how to make dresses as well as clothes for the men.[11]  Phoebe was Relief Society President, and Sarah contributed a square for the 14th Ward quilt which the Relief Society auctioned off in 1857 to raise money for the perpetual emigration fund.[12]  Sarah’s square featured two birds tending a nest using appliqued fabrics and she embroidered her name as “Sarah Woodruff.”[13]  Ten years later Sarah learned millinery, and began to make hats and bonnets.  She was very proud of her work and the fact that all the materials were homegrown, except the silk thread she used to embroider the gloves and the silk used to decorate the hats and bonnets.

Sarah’s oldest son David was a horse enthusiast and Wilford wanted to support David’s interest in raising stock horses.  Wilford purchased 20 acres in Randolph, Utah – about 75 miles northeast of Salt Lake City – and moved Sarah’s family there in May of 1871.  Wilford then spent weeks there building fences, plowing, and planting with his sons David, who was 16, and Wilford, Jr. – Phoebe’s eldest – who was 30 years old.[14]  Reflecting on Wilford’s work ethic, Newton’s son Wilford Weeks Woodruff said his grandfather "worked so hard he'd make himself sick.  He didn't stop until he got through with a job.  He'd go like crazy till he got through.”[15]

Sarah was sad to leave Salt Lake City and her close association with Wilford’s first wife, Phoebe, who had become a second mother to her.  In her autobiography Sarah wrote that Phoebe “was a noble woman and a loving mother to us all … She would administer to the sick children and give us good counsel and advice in all things.”[16]  It was also hard for Sarah to leave her second oldest son, Brigham, behind in Salt Lake City, but he stayed so he could pursue an education at the University of Deseret.

Sarah’s daughter, Arabell, wrote the following about the move to Randolph: “This was a severe trial for me.  There were no good schools or teachers in Randolph.  I arrived there on my twelfth birthday [May 30].  We lived in a tent for six months.  I went boat riding with my sister in a tub on Little Creek.  In the fall we moved into a new home, the only home in Randolph with an upstairs.  Mother taught school two years and was secretary in the Relief Society.  I often attended these meetings with her.”[17]

Wilford, David, and Wilford Jr., built a 20 x 40 foot cabin on the farm in Randolph.  For five years, Sarah’s family of five children shared the Randolph cabin with Wilford, Jr. and his wife Emily and their children.  Wilford lived in Randolph periodically between 1872 and 1876.  On Sarah's 39th birthday, January 1, 1873, Wilford recorded that he installed two floors.  He also wrote that, "Sarah was very poorly through the night."[18] A month later, Wilford and Sarah's eighth and last child, Edward Randolph, was born on February 2, 1873.  He died six days later and Sarah wrote that she “came very near following him.”[19] 

Wilford records farming, fishing, and hunting with his sons in Randolph, particularly during the summers.   One entry, from September 6, 1873, tells of taking both Sarah’s family and his daughter-in-law Emily’s family in a wagon on a day trip.  He caught 30 trout, three ducks and two sage hens.[20]   During this time Sarah also accompanied Wilford when he traveled around the area meeting with the various wards and branches.  On one occasion, in May of 1874, he was responsible for organized the settlements into the United Order.

On June 14, 1875, Sarah’s daughter Phoebe Arabell was married to Jesse T. Moses, and Sarah became a grandmother in April of 1876.  That fall the Moses family moved back to Salt Lake City and Wilford traded some of his cattle for 40 acres with a house in Cache Valley that David wanted.  So Sarah moved to Smithfield with David, Sylvia, Newton and Mary.  A few months later, on February 17, 1877, David was married to Arabell Hatch.

In June of 1877 Sarah’s son Brigham graduated from the University and traveled to Smithfield to visit his mother.  The following day, June 16, he went duck hunting with his brothers and drowned while swimming in the Bear River to retrieve one of the ducks.  His body was not found for five days.  At this time Wilford was in St. George presiding over the new temple there and received the tragic news by telegram.[21]  Sarah wrote that, because she did not have Wilford’s company to help her cope with Brigham’s death and burial, she was grateful the people of Smithfield “did all in their power” to comfort her.[22]

Two years later Sarah’s daughter Arabell’s family moved to Arizona, her son David’s family moved to Ashley, Utah, and her daughter Sylvia married Heber J. Thompson and moved to Liberty, Idaho.  1879 was also the year that Wilford began his exile in hiding to avoid arrest by federal Marshalls for practicing plural marriage.  Sarah helped support her remaining children by making hats and dresses.  The next time Wilford was able to come visit them was for the dedication of the Logan Temple in 1884.

Sarah’s youngest daughter Mary left for college in Logan in 1885.  She felt another great loss when Phoebe Woodruff died in 1886.  Sarah was grateful that Arabell moved back home from Arizona in 1887 and when Mary returned to Smithfield to teach school after graduating from college in 1888.

In 1889 Wilford Woodruff was sustained as President of the Church and that same year Sarah moved to Coalville with Mary while Mary taught school in the Academy.  Sarah and Mary lived in Farmington, Utah for two years and Mary taught school.  In 1892 they moved to Provo so Mary could teach in the Brigham Young Academy, and she remained there for nine years.  While she was living in Provo, Wilford Woodruff died September 2, 1898.  She wrote that this was another severe shock to her.  And on February 5, 1903 she lost her daughter and close companion, Mary who died suddenly.  Sarah tried to stay in her home in Provo so she could be near her grandchildren, but when her health began failing Newton and Arabell moved her back to Smithfield where she lived until her death in 1909.

Sarah was the mother of eight children, but suffered the death of two children in infancy, Brigham’s death when he was 20 years old, and Mary’s death at age 36.  Sarah died May 9, 1909 at the age of 75 and was buried in the Woodruff family plot in the Salt Lake City Cemetery.  At her death she had 34 grandchildren and 24 great grandchildren.


References to Sarah Brown in Wilford Woodruff’s Journals, 1:205, 209, 3:71-73, 75, 4:199, 211 (sealed to Wilford Woodruff in Council House), 304, 366, 448, 5:9-10, 28 (sealed to Wilford Woodruff in Endowment House), 180, 341, 411-12, 6:7, 37, 44, 135-36, 213, 216, 326 (receives second anointing), 387, 457, 510, 521, 571, 582, 7:6-7, 20, 24, 38, 40, 43, 45-46, 53, 59, 61, 71, 77, 79, 89, 91, 98, 107, 119, 121-22, 125, 127-28, 131, 133, 147-48, 153, 156, 159, 162, 7;164, 171, 182, 193, 196, 207-208, 213, 225, 267, 273, 288, 295, 412-14, 433, 448, 475, 482, 494, 548, 559, 564, 582, 586, 589, 593, 602-603, 608, 8:8, 12, 18, 25, 34-36, 43-44, 71-72, 85, 88, 90, 110-11, 115, 117, 127, 129, 134, 141, 147, 152-53, 159, 170, 194-96, 200, 205, 208-209, 222-224, 242, 248, 251, 276, 298, 300, 304, 307, 309-10, 312, 315, 317, 319, 321, 328-29, 331, 337, 341, 348, 350, 372, 374-75, 378-81, 8;383, 385-86, 388, 390, 392, 394, 397, 400-402, 407-408, 411-12, 414, 423, 425-26, 428, 430, 432-33, 436, 451, 456-57, 468-69, 481, 484-86, 492, 495, 499, 504, 509, 514, 517, 522, 9:3, 12,14, 39, 43, 51, 54, 59, 66, 69-70, 72-73, 80, 84, 88, 90, 101, 108, 112, 122, 129, 134-35, 137-38, 142, 146, 149, 161-62, 165-66, 176, 182, 184-86, 201, 213, 222, 226, 237, 244-45, 256, 258, 270, 283, 292, 303, 319-20, 322-23, 339, 344-45, 353, 363-64, 369, 378-79, 381, 387-89, 395, 397-401, 403, 411, 415-16, 446, 450, 453, 459, 472, 483, 496, 505, 515-16, 532, 536, 552, 555.

Millennial Star 27 (1865), History of Wilford Woodruff, (From His Own Pen).

"Sarah Brown Woodruff," Kate Carter, ed., Our Pioneer Heritage.

Carol Houndrake Nielson, The Salt Lake City 14th Ward Album Quilt, 1857: Stories of the Relief Society Women and Their Quilt, The University of Utah Press, (Salt Lake City, 2004).
Interview of Wilford  Weeks Woodruff quoted in “Restored cabin a remnant of faith,” article by John L. Hart, Church News, May 29, 1993.

Biographical Sketch of Sarah Brown Woodruff, written in Smithfield, Utah, dated April 15, 1909.  MS 13106, Church History Library.