Dan Jones, Welshman: Taking the Gospel Home


When Dan Jones was born in a mining area of Wales on 4 August 1810, it probably seemed unlikely that he would ever venture from there to America. It would have seemed even more unlikely that he would, in America, come to know a modern prophet and return to his native land as a preacher of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.

But Dan Jones eventually was to be one of the most successful and widely known of Latter-day Saint missionaries to the British Isles. An examination of his life makes it readily apparent that this missionary success could never have come without the guiding hand of the Lord.

A photo of Dan Jones

A photo of Dan Jones. (Photo courtesy of LDS Church Archives.)

Dan was born the sixth of eight children of Thomas Jones, a miner, and his wife, Ruth, in the little parish of Halkyn, North Wales. Thomas Jones’s position as “blaenor” (an elder or deacon) with the Methodists would suggest that young Dan was brought up in that faith. (See Thomas Rees and John Thomas, Hanes Eglwysi Annibynol Cymru, Liverpool: Office of the Tyst Cymreig, 1873, 3:549.) The chronic lung diseases which persisted throughout his life, and which were most likely a cause of his death at fifty-one, would suggest some time spent in the lead mines of Halkyn.

Because no diary or journal for Dan Jones has been found, details of his early life are lacking. But at about age sixteen Dan exchanged the rolling hills of Wales for the waves of the sea and became a mariner. Lengthy voyages took him around the globe, but they evidently allowed him sufficient land leave in the latter part of 1836 to court Jane Melling from Denbigh, about ten miles west of Halkyn. Inasmuch as Jane was just eighteen, her brother James (their father was deceased) gave his permission for her to wed 26-year-old Dan Jones in the Denbigh Parish church on 3 January 1837.

Dan and Jane later immigrated to the United States, and by 1841 they were residents of St. Louis, Missouri. On May 10 of that year, Dan Jones, as an American citizen, applied for a license to ply the Ripple, a thirty-eight-ton steamer, on the Mississippi River. Jones was part owner and captain of the vessel, one of the smallest registered on the upper Mississippi. Six months later, when the Ripple struck a rock and sank near Galena, Illinois, Dan immediately began work on the construction of another steamer, the Maid of Iowa. (See Donald L. Enders, BYU Studies, Spring 1979, pp. 321–35.) In partnership with Levi Moffit, an Augusta, Iowa, businessman, Jones began plying the Mississippi with this sixty-ton vessel in October of 1842.

It was about this time that Captain Jones began to notice the negative comments of Thomas Sharp in the Warsaw Signal about an obscure people called Mormons. In his 1847 Hanes Saint y Dyddiau Diweddaf (or History of the Latter-day Saints, Merthyr Tydfil: J. Jones, 1847), he recalled his reaction: “Through a careful investigation of the accusations I perceived clearly that it was impossible for them to be true, either because in their zeal they overstated the case or because they contradicted themselves in some way.” (P. 59; all Welsh-to-English translations are the author’s.)

He then explained how the words of Emma Smith prompted him to sympathize with LDS beliefs: “Soon, purely by accident, there fell into my hands a segment of a letter which the wife of Joseph Smith had written to some religious sister when she was [visiting] her husband in the Missouri prison; and I shall never forget the feelings which that segment of a letter caused me to have. I perceived clearly that not only did its author believe the New Testament, the same as I—professing the apostolic faith, and rejoicing in the midst of her tribulations at being worthy to suffer all that for a testimony of Jesus and the gospel—but also it contained better counsel, more wisdom, and showed a more gospel-like and godly spirit than anything I had ever read!” (P. 60.)

The impact of the letter was such that Dan Jones was not satisfied until he was able to talk with someone about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Several late-night conversations convinced him that he was nearly a full-fledged Latter-day Saint already. Reluctant to sacrifice his popularity and livelihood as a steamboat captain, he searched for counterarguments to this new religion in order to pacify his conscience for not converting to the newfound faith. “But I shall be forever grateful,” he later wrote, “that the task was too difficult and endless for me.” (Hanes Saint y Dyddiau Diweddaf, p. 60.) On 19 January 1843, Dan Jones was baptized in the icy waters of the Mississippi.

Dan Jones’s first meeting with the Prophet Joseph Smith has been credited with convincing the steamboat captain to become a follower. In reality, that meeting did not occur until three months after the captain had already been baptized. They first met on the afternoon of 12 April 1843 when the Maid of Iowa docked at Nauvoo to unload more than three hundred converts who had emigrated from Great Britain. Eager to become personally acquainted with Joseph Smith, Captain Dan ran his eyes over the crowd at the dock. No one, however, fit his notion of what a prophet was to be like—a man wearing a goat skin, having “a long beard and long, white hair … with a high and retiring gaze, murmuring quite a lot and very saintly.” (Hanes Saint y Dyddiau Diweddaf, p. 60.) Even after a “large, comely man” approached him on the boat and said, “God bless you, brother” while shaking his hand kindly, Brother Jones failed to recognize the person whom he sought. Only when Joseph Smith returned a second time did the captain realize that he needed to look no further. After studying him for a while, Brother Jones reformulated his concept of what a prophet should be like. Four years later he wrote: “His fair countenance and his cheerful, guileless face rather convinced me that he was not the cunning and deceitful man I had heard about.” (Hanes Saint y Dyddiau Diweddaf, p. 61.) Once Joseph had taken him on a brief tour of the city and had introduced him to members of his family, Dan Jones became one of his most ardent admirers. Soon they formed a strong friendship that would continue right up to the Martyrdom fourteen months later.

The night before the Prophet’s death, Dan Jones and Joseph Smith lay side by side in the upper room of the Carthage Jail. The others with them were sleeping when Joseph asked in a whisper if Dan was afraid to die. “Has that time come think you? Engaged in such a cause I do not think that death would have many terrors,” replied Brother Jones. “You will yet see Wales and fulfill the mission appointed you ere you die,” said the Prophet. (Letter of Dan Jones to Thomas Bullock, 20 January 1855, p. 10, Historical Department, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, hereafter cited as LDS Church Archives; see also BYU Studies, Winter 1984, pp. 95–109.)

Two months later Dan Jones was on his way to Wales, as Joseph Smith had said. Jane Jones accompanied her husband on this first mission. After nearly eight years of marriage, Dan and Jane had no surviving children; they had buried three—two of them in Nauvoo. Seven more would be born, and only two would reach maturity.

Elder Jones was assigned to labor in the Wrexham area of North Wales after reaching Great Britain early in 1845. Wrexham is just fifteen miles from Halkyn, his boyhood home, and about twenty miles from Denbigh, Jane’s town of origin. Certainly, friends and relatives would have been among the first Dan taught the gospel to in his rusty Welsh—rusty because he had been away from the language and the country for so many years. After nearly a year in Wales, he wrote to Brigham Young: “Ever since I came over I have been preaching in Welsh, so that now I prefer it to the English.” (3 December 1845, LDS Church Archives.)

Having traveled to Britain in company with Wilford Woodruff, Elder Jones had no doubt heard accounts from Elder Woodruff of the wonderful success he had enjoyed in Herefordshire a few years earlier. Surely, similar success awaited the returning Welshman; he may have thought it would be just a matter of proclaiming the good news to his compatriots, locating a pool of water, and keeping order as scores of converts lined up for baptism. On 24 February 1845, he wrote to Wilford Woodruff: “I have neglected writing until now, expecting to have the better news to give you, because I had some forebodings of glorious consequences.” (LDS Church Archives.) The “forebodings” were correct, just premature. The “glorious consequences” would not come until after what must have been a terribly frustrating first year.

Within three months after his arrival in Wales, Elder Jones published his first pamphlet, a 48-page work entitled Y farw wedi ei chyfodi: neu’r hen grefydd newydd (The dead raised to life: or the old religion anew). The date of the preface, 4 April 1845, coincides with the date of the first meeting of Dan Jones and his very successful counterpart in South Wales, Elder William Henshaw. The occasion was the Manchester Conference. Elder Henshaw, who spoke no Welsh and who had been in the Merthyr Tydfil area for just over two years, reported the opening of five more branches in his conference during the previous year and an increase of 195 convert baptisms, or about 16 per month.

Dan Jones, whose native tongue was Welsh, had neither branches nor baptisms to report after three months in North Wales. But he addressed the conference with such eloquence that the clerk, after taking down a few lines, wrote: “We would here remark that we are utterly incapable of doing anything like justice to the address of Captain Jones, for though delivered while struggling with disease, such was its effect upon ourselves, and we also believe upon others, that we ceased to write, in order to give way to the effect produced upon our feelings.” (Millennial Star, April 1845, p. 170.)

At a December 1845 conference in Manchester, Elder Jones was assigned to preside over the missionary effort in all of Wales with headquarters in Merthyr Tydfil, South Wales. The city had experienced phenomenal growth in the previous two decades as thousands of tenant farmers left their hillside fields in exchange for the much higher-paying jobs in the burgeoning coal industry.

A map showing the area where Dan Jones preached the gospel(click to view larger)

A map showing the area where Dan Jones preached the gospel.

Three major challenges awaited President Jones as he assumed leadership in Merthyr Tydfil. First, there was the 32-page pamphlet of David Williams entitled Twyll y Seintiau Diweddaf yn cael ei ddynoethi (or The Deceit of the Latter Saints Exposed, Merthyr Tydfil: D. Jones, 1846) which opposed and ridiculed President Jones’s pamphlet printed eight months before. Dan Jones lost no time in producing a 16-page reply to Williams, whom he characterized this way in the preface: “He resembles a poor man who had sunk down into a bog on the bank of a great river in America after heavy flooding. A traveler came past that way after the surface had hardened. Seeing a hat in front of him, he picked it up and to his great surprise he beheld a head underneath it. After staring at it until he could believe his own eyes, he grasped it with all his strength thinking to pull it to the bank by its hair. But with the first pull the poor man shouted out loudly, ‘Don’t, don’t take me to the bank, for I have a good horse underneath me and a pair of new boots on my feet; I would rather sink with them than lose them!!!’” (Dan Jones, Y Glorian, or The Scales, Merthyr Tydfil: J. Jones, 1846, p. 2.)

Jones’s second challenge was characterized by a similar spirit of debate. It began in January 1846 when he administered to the injured William Hughes, a recent convert whose leg had been broken in the Cyfarthfa Mine near Merthyr Tydfil. The healing was so sudden that Hughes removed the splint and began walking around with no pain. Witnesses, both LDS and non-LDS, claimed to have seen a miracle happen. The Reverend W. R. Davies, a Baptist minister in the neighboring town of Dowlais, disputed such absurd claims through the columns of Y Bedyddiwr (or The Baptist): “The ‘Satanists’ professed many miracles and hoodwinked a bunch of unlearned, irreligious and no-good little men.” (March 1846, p. 111.)

Davies’s sarcasm spurred Elder Jones to action. He answered with a defense he hoped would be published by the same periodical that had printed the attack. The editor, however, refused to open his columns to the likes of the Latter-day Saints, and this brought on Dan Jones’s third challenge—how best to present the LDS side of the issue to his compatriots. Normal proselyting activities by the handful of missionaries that President Jones had at his disposal would reach only a small number of the people. The Millennial Star was being published in Liverpool by fellow Latter-day Saints, but it had very limited circulation among Welshmen because of the language barrier. What was needed, Elder Jones decided, was a Latter-day Saint periodical in Welsh.

By this time, Dan Jones had become a controversial figure in Wales, and most printers were refusing to publish LDS materials. One press that was at his disposal, however, belonged to his brother John, a Congregationalist minister in Rhydybont, a small village northwest of Merthyr Tydfil. His colleagues of the cloth accused John Jones of operating a “prostitute press” because of his willingness to print the “dull and idiotic” writings of the “Mormons.” (Seren Gomer, or Star of Gomer, December 1847, p. 375.) The Reverend Jones’s reactions to such accusations was calm: “Our work in printing their books proves nothing more than the fact that our press is made of iron and its owner is a free craftsman.” (Y Golygydd, or The Editor, January 1846, p. 2 of the wrapper.)

The first issue of the periodical Prophwyd y Jubili (or Prophet of the Jubilee) appeared in July of 1846, six months after Dan Jones began presiding over the missionary work in Wales. In the preface, he declared: “Is the press closed to us? Is that the freedom of Wales in the 19th century? Have the periodicals been locked up? We shall open our own periodical, then. Has the press been defiled by slandering us? We shall cleanse it through defending ourselves, then.” (P. 2 of the wrapper.) Thirty issues were printed over the next two and one-half years, and in January of 1849 the name was changed to Udgorn Seion (or Zion’s Trumpet). During his first mission, in addition to the monthly periodical, Dan Jones also published a hymnal for Welsh Latter-day Saints, a 104-page history of the Church, at least fifteen pamphlets, and a 288-page scriptural commentary in defense of the Church.

That his preaching and publishing had a powerful impact is indicated by the reaction of the local ministers: “[The Reverend] Mr. Davies said one time in our home that his desire was to do the same with their [the Mormon] elders as was done to Joseph Smith, that is to kill them.” (Job Rowland in Prophwyd y Jubili, December 1848, p. 187.) The Reverend Edward Roberts, a Baptist minister from the town of Rhymney, became so irate that in 1847 he promised to “kill Mormonism in Rhymni on Christmas Day and bury it the next.” (Prophwyd y Jubili, March 1848, p. 40.)

In a letter to Orson Spencer dated 29 September 1847, Dan Jones described the situation “The scenes here are very like the continental rabbles of Missouri, &tc., and still raging worse and hotter daily. You need not be surprised should you hear of Carthage tragedies in Wales, ere long. The whole towns and works hereabouts, containing over 60,000 people, are actually drunken with infatuation, and rage for or against Mormonism. … It is dangerous for me to go among them now for some declare that they consider it God’s service to rid themselves of me!” (Millennial Star, 15 Oct. 1847, p. 319.) Sixteen months later, as Elder Jones prepared to leave Merthyr Tydfil to lead over three hundred converts to America, the commotion was such that bodyguards had to watch him round the clock. Judging from his comments in a letter to Orson Pratt on 6 January 1849, one would almost think that he was enjoying this tumultuous life-style: “After a fortnight’s constant pressure of business, which beset my little barque like a raging tornado, I at length find time enough to report that I am still afloat and sea-worthy, with my colors nailed to the mast head.” (Millennial Star, 1 Feb. 1849, p. 38.)

Among the best things to come out of this opposition was the conversion of William Howells, a lay minister with the Baptists in Aberdare, not far from Merthyr Tydfil. Incredulous at the wild accusations of his friends W. R. Davies and Edward Roberts, he was also reluctant to be seen conversing with any of the hated “Mormons.” Consequently, he requested that one of the widows of his congregation obtain for him whatever LDS pamphlets she could. Writing again to Orson Spencer, 3 November 1847, Elder Jones describes the result of Howells’s reading of the pamphlets and their first meeting: “He came four miles purposely to be baptized, though he had never heard a sermon, only reading my publications; especially my last … finished him entirely, and he came in as good a spirit as any one that I ever saw, and has just returned on his way rejoicing.” (Millennial Star, 7 Dec. 1847, p. 364.) William Howells brought about one hundred converts into the Church during the next year, and in 1849 he became the first LDS missionary to France.

Rees Price, a high-ranking official in W. R. Davies’s congregation in Dowlais (about two miles from Merthyr Tydfil), went through an experience similar to that of William Howells’. Elder Jones reported Brother Price’s conversion:

“There have been nine baptized there since the beginning of January, one of which was the ‘right hand man’ of the Rev. W. R. Davies! He was a scribe in his meeting house, one of the ‘trustees,’ etc., and very staunch in their sight. Their persecution and their endless lies are what caused him to look into Mormonism; and the honesty and the love which he has toward the truth caused him to embrace it as the treasure of all treasures. Two others of Mr. Davies’s members were baptized after him [the right hand man], and several before that, although Mr. Davies maintains that only one old woman left him for the Saints.” (Prophwyd y Jubili, March 1848, p. 45.)

W. R. Davies denied that Rees Price had ever amounted to anything in his congregation, saying that he could not have been a scribe since he did not even know how to write. Shortly thereafter, Brother Price explained his conversion to the Church:

“I was with the Baptists for close to nine years, living as righteously and zealously as I could and striving to the best of my ability to get a grasp on the comfort of the Holy Ghost, as promised in the scriptures. I received the best counsels of the Rev. W. R. Davies, Dowlais, for years. I heard his persecution and his continuous false accusations against the Latter-day Saints in meetings, from the pulpits, through the periodicals and throughout the houses and the streets; and I examined them carefully and without bias as well as I could; eventually I became convinced that they were baseless and derived from a bad principle. And I perceived also that Mr. Davies could not to my satisfaction disprove the principles espoused by the Saints.” (Prophwyd y Jubili, September 1848, p. 131.)

Rees Price gave credit to Dan Jones and other defenders of the faith for precipitating his decision to leave the Baptists’ camp and take refuge with the Latter-day Saints: “I heard and read the Saints’ defense [a reference to Dan Jones’s pamphlets] in the face of it all, whereupon I requested my excommunication from the Baptists and received baptism from the Saints.” (Ibid., p. 132.)

By 1846, the “glorious consequences” Dan Jones was hoping for, mentioned in his 24 February 1845 letter to Wilford Woodruff, finally began to come. An average of 35 converts per month during 1846, his first year as president of the missionary effort in Wales, must have seemed “glorious” indeed after bringing but 3 into the Church in North Wales in 1845. And during the eighteen-month period from July 1847 to December 1848, President Jones and his growing missionary force averaged 135 convert baptisms per month. The number of Latter-day Saints in Wales was nearing the 4,000 mark by the time Dan Jones finished his first mission in January 1849.

As he prepared to leave his native land once again, more than two hundred Welsh Latter-day Saints were ready to accompany him and “gather to Zion.” A number of them were able to emigrate thanks to the assistance of Sister Elizabeth Lewis, a convert from Kidwelly who became a plural wife to Dan Jones after they reached the Salt Lake Valley. On board the Buena Vista when she set sail on 26 February 1849 was an enthusiastic group of 249 Welshmen singing a special farewell song.

Fresh on the minds of the emigrants was an ominous forecast which had appeared in a Baptist periodical a few weeks earlier: “After receiving enough money to get a ship or ships to voyage to California, their Chief-President [Dan Jones] will sail them to Cuba, or some place like it, and will sell them as slaves, every jack one of them. It would serve them right for having such little respect for the book of Christ and giving it up for the books of Mormon.” (Seren Gomer, October 1848, p. 305.) They all had a good laugh about the ludicrous prediction as they passed Cuba en route to New Orleans.

From New Orleans, Brother Jones wrote an enthusiastic report of the successful crossing of the Buena Vista to the Saints back in Wales and encouraged them to prepare to follow. His letter from St. Louis was also cheerful, although the journey had been marred by the deaths of a young child of consumption and of twenty-year-old Jenkin Williams of cholera. With the danger of cholera all around, Dan Jones was happy to report, in a letter of 30 April 1849 to William Phillips: “All are healthy today and heartened and rejoicing in their privilege and desirous to move forward.” (Udgorn Seion, June 1849, p. 122.)

The next three weeks were filled with horror, however, as 44 of the 249 Buena Vista passengers fell victim to the cholera epidemic. Dan Jones’s only printed comment about this tragedy on the Missouri River came several months later, on 12 October 1849, in a letter to his friend and successor William Phillips; he called up the ultimate philosophy in such matters, as expressed in Job 1:21: “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” (Udgorn Seion, April 1850, p. 108.)

After several weeks of recuperating and making preparations in Council Bluffs, about one-third of the surviving Welsh Saints were able to continue on their way to the Salt Lake Valley as part of the George A. Smith Company. Among their number was Dan Jones, his wife Jane, and their four-month-old daughter Claudia. They had buried two more children back in Wales.

The Joneses first settled with their fellow Welshmen a few blocks from Temple Square in Salt Lake City. The following winter, however, would find them in Manti, about 150 miles to the south, where Dan Jones was elected its first mayor. After two years of farming, Dan heeded the call of Brigham Young to return to proselyting and made his way back to Wales once again, this time traveling without his family.

On his second mission in Wales, Elder Jones was not opposed by the Reverend W. R. Davies, who had died in a cholera epidemic. Another critic, the Reverend Edward Roberts, had been excommunicated from the Baptists for drunkenness. But there were many more opponents to take their place. These Elder Jones confronted with similar tactics and with similar results as before.

During his absence from Wales, publishing responsibilities for the Latter-day Saints had been taken care of in fine style by the very capable John S. Davis. In addition to numerous pamphlets and treatises, Brother Davis had also translated the standard works into Welsh and published them on his own press. When Brother Davis emigrated in 1854, Dan Jones bought his press. For the next two years, in addition to serving as the editor of Udgorn Seion, President Jones published a number of pamphlets in defense of the Church and presided over the missionary program in Wales. As was the case in the rest of the British Isles, the number of convert baptisms dropped off considerably during this period. The average for President Jones and his missionaries during 1854 and 1855 was sixty-five per month, a very respectable increase, but only about half the influx of the missionary heyday a few years earlier.

When he was released in April of 1856 to emigrate once again, Brother Jones organized a body of nearly six hundred Welsh Saints to accompany him on board the Samuel Curling. In a 21 May 1856 letter to Samuel W. Richards, he wrote of their reception in Boston: “A delegation from the tract society waited on me, petitioning the privilege of distributing Testaments, tracts, &c., to enlighten the benighted ‘Mormons,’ and they were as much astonished as pleased when informed that their charity was highly appreciated, and that they were at perfect liberty to say or introduce anything they pleased, to any and all of the passengers—that we could investigate, and, if they could decoy any away from ‘Mormonism’ I would thank them for it, and be glad to get rid of them.” (Millennial Star, 5 July 1856, p. 430.)

After crossing the plains again, this time in a handcart company, Dan Jones lived in various places in Utah during the next five years. He married once more, this time to twenty-year-old Mary Matilda LaTrielle from London. His health worsened after his return to Utah, and the lung ailments that had plagued him for so many years took him to an early grave on 3 January 1862. He left six living children—two by each wife. He also left a host of Welshmen who would be eternally grateful to him for having proclaimed to them in their own tongue the good news of the restored gospel.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Paul Mann

[illustration] During the eighteen-month period from July 1847 to December 1848, Dan Jones, then presiding over missionary work in Wales, and his growing force of missionaries averaged 135 convert baptisms per month.

[illustration] After reading a letter Emma Smith wrote while she visited Joseph Smith in prison, Dan Jones sympathized with, then investigated, LDS beliefs.

[photo] The Llanelli chapel, center, was dedicated by Dan Jones in January 1849. It is the oldest surviving meetinghouse built by Latter-day Saints in Wales. (Photo by W. Dee Halverson.)

Ronald D. Dennis is a professor of Portuguese at Brigham Young University and is Gospel Doctrine instructor in the Provo Thirty-first Ward, Provo Utah North Stake.