Fifth in a Series on Wilford Woodruff's Wives

(September 6, 1802 – October 3, 1852)

Mary Meek Giles, Wilford’s fifth wife, was born in Marblehead, Essex County, Massachusetts on September 6, 1802.  She was the 10th child born to Samuel and Elizabeth “Betsy” Giles.[1]  Mary was christened in St. Michael’s Church in Marblehead on September 26, 1802.[2]  This is the same church where Mary’s grandparents, Samuel Giles and Elizabeth Meek, were married in 1756.[3] The marriage date of Samuel and Elizabeth Reith Giles was 1784, although the church is not listed.   

Samuel and Elizabeth (Reith) Giles had 12 children between 1786 and 1812.[4] Four died as infants, then Hannah died at the age of 21, Alice died at 32, and Samuel Jr. died at the age of 45.  So, when Mary was introduced to the gospel in 1842, only four siblings – Elizabeth Giles Jones, Lydia Giles LeMarsters, John Reith Giles, and Ruth Jane Giles – were still living.[5]

Mary was taught the restored gospel by Erastus Snow and he baptized her on September 4, 1842.  Erastus Snow, with companions Benjamin Winchester then Freeman Nickerson, preached in Boston, Salem, Marblehead and surrounding towns from 1841 to 1843.[6]  At this point in time Mary probably lived in Salem.[7]  Erastus Snow also performed Mary’s marriage to Nathan Webster.[8]  With the exception of Ruth Jane Giles, it does not appear that Mary’s other siblings joined the Church. 

According to Ruth’s records, she was also born in Marblehead, Essex County, Massachusetts to Samuel and Elizabeth Giles.[9]  Ruth’s son Jacob Omner Turley wrote that his mother had an older sister named Mary, and two brothers, John and Samuel, who were shoemakers.[10]  There are no records of Ruth traveling to or arriving in Nauvoo, but she could have traveled to Nauvoo with Erastus Snow in March 1843 or with the Ashby family, also converted by Erastus Snow, who left Salem for Nauvoo on October 14, 1843.  (Nathaniel’s wife Susan Hammond was a native of Marblehead, and Nathaniel was a shoemaker in Salem, Massachusetts.)  The first indication that Ruth was in Nauvoo, was the birth of her son, Joseph Orson, on July 12, 1845.  Ruth was endowed in the Nauvoo Temple February 6, 1846.  Later, according to Benjamin Ashby, Ruth was staying with the Nathaniel Ashby family in Nauvoo during the early months of 1846 as the Saints began leaving the city.[11]  Ruth made the journey to Salt Lake sometime between 1846 and 1850[12] because she became the plural wife of Theodore Turley in Salt Lake City on June 18, 1850.[13]

There are no records documenting Mary’s journey from Massachusetts to Utah, and she is not listed in any of the overland trail databases under her maiden name Giles or her married name Webster.  However, from two letters written to her in 1850, it is clear that Mary traveled from Massachusetts by way of St. Louis, Missouri and Kanesville, Iowa to Utah in 1850.  The letters, written by Mary’s friend Anne Elizabeth Holman Wilson in January and Mary’s husband Nathan Webster in July, indicate she left Boston between those two dates.  Nathan’s letter includes a response to a letter he received from Mary on June 18, 1850 indicating she had already passed through St. Louis and had written him before from Kanesville.[14]  Several individuals kept records of the exodus of Boston area Saints, including Leonard Hardy, William Henry Branch[15], and Wilford Woodruff.  Wilford Woodruff left Boston on April 9, 1850 with about 100 people from the Massachusetts area. They arrived in New York the following day and were joined by another 100 Saints.  In Cincinnati the group had grown to 213.  They arrived in St. Louis on May 1st and the Deseret Depo near Kanesville, Iowa on May 15th.  Wilford Woodruff’s Company left Kanesville on June 15, 1850 and arrived in Salt Lake City on October 14, 1850.[16]  Mary was most likely part of this group of Saints. 

In any case, Mary arrived in the Salt Lake Valley sometime between July and November 1850.  She received her Patriarchal Blessing in Salt Lake City from John Smith on November 23, 1850.[17] In it Patriarch Smith said Mary had passed through “many trials, losses, and crosses to dwell with the Saints,” yet she had not departed from the ways of righteousness.  He told Mary that God was pleased with the integrity of her heart and had given His angels charge to protect her and deliver her from danger.  She was promised that she would enjoy her “companion in the blessings of the fullness of the Gospel,” that she was a “lawful heir to the priesthood which would be conferred upon her in due time with her companion” and she would be given power to heal the sick.[18]

Nathan’s letter to Mary, dated July 14, 1850, includes a note, “remember me to Ruth and all that ask after me” which could be a reference to her sister Ruth Jane Giles or to Ruth Vose Sayers[19] – another member of the Church from the Boston, Massachusetts area.[20]  The April 1851 Census of Salt Lake City, Utah, shows Mary was living with Ruth Vose and her husband Edward Sayers.  Mary was sealed to Mr. Webster in Salt Lake City on June 21, 1851.[21]  Mr. Webster died shortly thereafter, or they were sealed by proxy in 1851, because on March 28, 1852, Mary was sealed to Wilford for time and eternity in the Woodruff’s home.[22]   Wilford wrote that Mary “took up her abode” with Wilford and Phebe at that time. 

Five months later, on September 13, Wilford became ill with erysipelas, a bacterial infection that causes fever, chills, blisters, and skin lesions.  A week later Mary, Phebe, their daughter youngest daughter Beulah also became ill.  By the 27th Wilford was getting better, but still weak, Phebe was “feeble,” and Mary was “sinking.”[23]  Tragically, Mary died on Sunday, October 3, 1852.  That day Wilford recorded in his journal: “I sat by her at her last moments and closed her eyes.”[24] Her funeral, held the following day at the Woodruff’s home, was attended by four of the apostles.  Erastus Snow, who had baptized her ten years earlier, preached Mary’s funeral sermon and she was then buried in the Woodruff plot in Salt Lake City.[25]


Benjamin Ashby's Autobiography, published 1941. 
Catharine E. Mehring Woolley's Journal, Salt Lake Telegram, published serially January 7-11, 1935.
Diary of Erastus Snow, 1842.  
MS 2081 0000740s in the Emma Smith Woodruff Collection, Church History Library.
MS 2081 0000731 in the Emma Smith Woodruff Collection, Church History Library.
Vital Records of Massachusetts, 1639-1915
Walter Turley’s application for membership in the Sons of the American Revolution.
Wilford Woodruff’s Journals,1:209; 4:103, 148-49; 6:349; 7:107; 8:18.