Maggie Becomes a Mormon

In 1882, when she was 16 years old, Maggie Shutt spent seven months visiting relatives in Salt Lake City. She loved her cousins, but had no use for their religion. But the next time she came to Salt Lake City, she came to be baptized.

Henry Shutt had brought his wife and two little girls, Maggie (Margaret Elizabeth) and Fanny, to Canada from England in 1876. Under the auspices of the Missionary Society of London, he taught school in the Indian village of Metlakatla, British Columbia.

Maggie was ten at the time, and within a year she had a good command of the Indian dialect. Using two little primers, she taught English to Indian children and older women, often returning home alone in the dark while the wolves howled. At the age of 11, she helped her father and a visiting bishop from the Church of England develop a spelling system to translate the Indian dialect into English. Maggie would carefully syllablicate the Tsimshian words, and then she, her father, and Bishop Bompas would decide on suitable English spellings for them. Soon hymns, primers, parts of the New Testament, and the Church of England prayer book were available to the Indians. The men discussed the meaning of these texts with Maggie, and she would reconstruct and translate the passages for them.

When she was 13, Maggie was sent to Victoria, British Columbia, to study with an “educated and cultured” English lady. When she returned home for summer vacation, however, she was romantically pursued by Indian braves, and plans were made to send her even farther away the next year.

But that year Mr. Shutt decided to give up his missionary life for a political one, and in 1882 he took his family to eastern Canada via the circuitous route of San Francisco and Salt Lake City. In Utah they stayed with Mrs. Shutt’s sister’s family members, who were Latter-day Saints. Maggie attended Rowland Hall, a Protestant school for girls, and hoped no one would find out that she had Mormon relatives. But the days with her Mormon cousins were happy ones, days to be remembered after the Shutts were in the harsher climate of Montreal, Canada. There Mr. Shutt’s political dreams faded; disheartened, he accepted a teaching post on Harvey’s Inlet, Georgian Bay, Lake Huron. An Indian canoe carried them the last 20 miles to a straggling Indian village.

This was a depressing experience for the little English family. They felt the world held nothing for them. But after their house was ready and they had met some of the Indians, they began to enjoy their new life.

They stayed two years. Occasionally someone would tramp across the country to visit them, but Maggie and Fanny were almost always alone, exploring the countryside by snowshoe, chopping wood and hauling it home, gathering berries in the summer, and playing in the snow in winter.

Guests were surprised to find this cultivated family so isolated in the woods. One visitor, a former superintendent of schools, wrote and asked if Maggie could be sent to Parry Sound to visit for a month or so. He could not stand to see “one so fair” missing all the pleasures of life, and he said he would be happy to show her the kind of time she was entitled to. But her parents declined the invitation, and she remained at home.

While in Montreal, Maggie had been confirmed a full member of the Church of England, and she was proud of this affiliation. Feeling sorry for her Mormon cousins in Salt Lake City, she wrote something to that effect in a letter, expressing pride in her church. Her young cousin, Joseph, wrote back, explaining that he was a deacon in his church, and no one needed to feel sorry for him; she could not be as proud as he was.

Then, in April, 1885, Maggie experienced a strong desire to learn something about Mormons. She tried to ignore the urge, but it persisted and grew stronger. Finally, she wrote to another cousin in Salt Lake City, saying she would like to learn something of his beliefs. Immediately there came a reply from him. He sent her “Spencer’s Letters,” a collection of discussions between Orson Spencer and a minister.

Every word she read was truth to her. She read and studied and had not a doubt. Her cousin had written, “If you read this to scorn as you did while here, I’ll send you no more. If you are interested and want more, I’ll send it.” Her answer to him quickly brought the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants. Her family viewed her interest in the subject with amusement, but she was fervently seeking the truth, and taking the Book of Mormon into her bedroom she knelt and prayed that it be revealed to her if Mormonism was true and if Joseph Smith was a true prophet. Of the experience, she wrote:

“I sat down and started to read, and immediately strong burning thrills went all over my body. At first I was afraid, and then a peace came over me, and all the while I read, those burning electric thrills stayed with me.” For three weeks this continued. She never mentioned it to her family.

“As I neared the end of the book, filled with the wonderful spirit it possesses, I came to the tenth chapter of Moroni, verses four and five:

“‘And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.

“‘And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.’ [Moro. 10:4–5]

“As I read those words my eyes were fully opened. I gave a shout. I knew then what had been thrilling and burning my whole body. It was the promised Spirit which had testified to my soul. Without being told, I had done just what Moroni said. I had asked my Father in the name of his Son to reveal unto me the truth, and he did just that; and I fully knew it. I cannot describe the joy I felt. It was beyond expression. I knew then, and have never doubted since, that the gospel is true and Joseph Smith is a prophet of the Lord.”

Maggie decided to share her belief with her family; her mother and sister read and believed, but her father would have none of it. When the women expressed a desire to move to Salt Lake City, he said he would not even consider it. Shortly afterward, Mrs. Shutt became seriously ill with dysentery. Delirious and in danger of losing her life, she yearned to go to Utah and be baptized. Her husband knelt by her bed, weeping, and promised that if she would only get well she might go anywhere she wished. As soon as she recovered, they sold their furniture and pets and set off for Salt Lake City to join the Church.

Maggie Shutt homesteaded with her husband, James Frater Gordon, in Canada and later served a 16-year genealogical mission for the Church. She survived all but one of her four children and died October 3, 1966, at the age of 100 years.

[photo] Margaret Elizabeth Shutt in 1885, the year she joined the Church.

[photo] Henry and Eliza Vernon Shutt with their daughters, Margaret, ten, and Fanny, six, en route to Metlakatla, British Columbia, in 1876.

Claudia L. Bushman is a granddaughter of the Maggie Shutt written about here. She lives in Cambridge Ward, Boston Massachusetts Stake, where she serves as stake music director.