The early Saints who converted to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints came from all over the world and many came through the docks in New York City to start a new life and make their way to the location of the Saints.
These voyages were not easy, sickness often would spread through the groups.
Although there are many stories and many different accounts of the European Saints coming to the United States here is one account of the voyage of the group James Willie helped cross the ocean. James Willie was the man in charge of the Willie handcart company, which was caught in the early snow fall in Wyoming. It is sobering to hear how the early part of this journey was not easy for this group of newly converted Saints either. Reading through the journals one can find problem after problem for these faithful Saints, trying to make it to Utah and practice their religion in peace.
The James Willie group sailed from England, on a ship called “The Thornton”. The difficulties for the Willie group started soon after they left from England. There was one point while crossing the sea that the ship did not go anywhere for a week, they were stuck in the middle of the ocean. For the passengers, it seemed like they were moving, but the winds had kept them going in a zig-zag pattern and they had made very little forward progress. With the lack of forward progress, this made the food in short supply. The Saints had to ration their drinking water, with worries that there would not be enough water to make it to the United States.
James Willie, the leader of the group, had many responsibilities on the ship to help the people through these very challenging times. He received the call to be captain of this group because he was serving a mission to England and his mission was ending the same times this group needed help getting over to Utah. Hames was asked to help this group of Saints to get Utah on his way home from his mission.
In many cases, James Willie was the missionary who had helped convert many of the people, in his group on their way to Utah. He was busy on the ship helping everywhere possible, with blessings, calming and encouraging the Saints, keeping order in the group, performing marriages, funeral services and trying to keep spirits up while they endured the long journey. James put a great emphasis on cleanliness, knowing of the importance. There were so many people on that ship, living in tight quarters, and the Saints did their best to make it a good experience. The records say that James Willie would often remind the group why they were going to America, and trying to keep that in the front of their minds.
The ships captain, Captain Charles Collins, often complimented the Saints on their conduct. Just before the group landed in America the Captain addressed the group and said "that he had never crossed the sea with so good a company of passengers before. He wished [them] prosperity in all their future works, and said he would remember them with the warmest feelings as long as he lived. He asked God to bless them. Here his feelings overcame him and he had to stop speaking."
After six long weeks at sea the Thornton arrived in New York City on June 14, 1856. Little did they know that the hardest parts of the journey was still on its way. From New York they left to Iowa City, where the Church had established outfitting camps for handcarts and wagon companies.
New York Harbors would have been a beautiful site for this newly converted Saints, who had just crossed the ocean and arrived from Europe. Excited about the future in a new land, and knowing they still had a difficult journey across the plains, they consistently relied on Heavenly Father. This group of Pioneers truly had "faith in every footstep" leaving a legacy of hard work, determination, long-suffering, and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ.
"Follow Me To Zion" by Andrew D. Olsen and Jolene S. Allphin and the Art by Julie Rogers. Pages 2-5