Frederick Piercy, a 23-year-old British artist, wrote: “On the 5th day of February, 1853, … I embarked in the Jersey for New Orleans, on my way to Great Salt Lake Valley. My object was to make sketches of … the Route, and Great Salt Lake City, which were afterwards to be published.” 1 The resulting book was intended to provide information for English converts immigrating to Zion.

Piercy was well qualified for the task. His pencil drawings reflect his attention to detail, and his lively writing style is filled with fascinating commentary.

In January 1854 he returned to England. Charles Fenn made Piercy’s sketches into high quality steel engravings. James Linforth, an editor for the Millennial Star, added footnotes to Piercy’s 45 drawings. 2 From July 1854 to September 1855, Route from Liverpool to Great Salt Lake Valley was published in 15 parts. In 1855 the book was published in its entirety in Liverpool and London. Though its use was limited among Latter-day Saint emigrants, who by then were using eastern seaports to avoid cholera in the New Orleans area, the book proved to be a valuable aid for historians of the West.

Born on 27 January 1830 in Portsea, Hampshire, England, to George and Deborah Adams Piercy, Frederick was baptized on 23 March 1848 and served a mission to Paris in 1850. He married Angelina Hawkins on 15 September 1849, and they became the parents of 11. Sadly, in 1857 they left the Church due to misunderstandings surrounding the publication of his book. However, his sister Syrina immigrated to Utah with her husband, Thomas Biggs, and remained faithful to the Church.

Piercy continued to exhibit his art in London. In 1881 Angelina died. Three years later, though stricken with paralysis, he married artist Catherine Wornum, and they had one son. Piercy died on 10 June 1891.

Following are scenes from Frederick Piercy’s work.

St. Louis, Missouri

St. Louis, Missouri Above: Many Latter-day immigrants traveled by paddle-wheel steamboat up the Mississippi River from New Orleans to Nauvoo, Illinois. Piercy captured the river, steamboat, and brick buildings of St. Louis in this drawing.

Nauvoo Temple

Nauvoo Temple Fire set by arsonists in 1848 gutted the temple, and later a tornado destroyed the rest. Piercy noted, “On the banks of the river lie broken blocks of stone and shattered bricks, the visitor’s first steps are over evidences of ruin and desolation.”

Nauvoo, Illinois

Nauvoo, Illinois Of Nauvoo’s setting on the Mississippi, Piercy wrote, “The beauty of its situation is fully realized, and one cannot wonder that Joseph Smith … ‘loved Nauvoo.’ It is the finest possible site for a city.”

Keokuk, Iowa

Keokuk, Iowa In 1853 Keokuk served as the outfitting post for Latter-day Saints traveling west. Piercy wrote of this site, which is located on the west bank of the Mississippi River, “I made the accompanying sketch of the camp, showing the arrangement of the wagons and tents, which, with their white covers, looked extremely picturesque amidst the spring foliage of the country.”

Kanesville, Iowa

Kanesville, Iowa From 1846 to 1852, many Latter-day Saints lived in Kanesville on the east side of the Missouri River. However, between 1846 and 1848, many others lived in Winter Quarters, across the river to the west. President Brigham Young returned to Kanesville in 1847 and on 27 December was sustained as President of the Church.

Missouri River and Council Bluffs, Iowa(click to view larger)

Missouri River and Council Bluffs, Iowa “The city is situated at the mouth of a small valley, beside a stream called Indian Creek,” wrote Piercy. “The town was commenced by the Saints after their exodus from Nauvoo in 1846.” By 1852 most Latter-day Saints in the area had moved to Salt Lake City.

Elk Horn River Ferry, Nebraska

Elk Horn River Ferry, Nebraska Frontier travel required fording rivers. Piercy wrote of this crossing: “The ferrymen … stretch a rope across the river, which, being held by one or two of the ferrymen in the boat, … guide[s] the boat which is partly carried by the current, and partly dragged by them to the desired point on the opposite bank.”

Loup Fork Ferry, Nebraska

Loup Fork Ferry, Nebraska Piercy, who did his share of work on the trek, wrote of the day they camped on the bank of Loup Fork: “The yoke of cattle under my care improved upon acquaintance, although I must confess our 15 miles drive this day gave me enough of ‘geeing’ and ‘hawing.’”

Wood River, Nebraska

Wood River, Nebraska About 150 miles southwest of Council Bluffs, Wood River became a general stopping place. Piercy wrote: “Crossed over … a bridge, composed of branches of trees, and foliage thrown into the river, which is about 2 feet deep and 3 or 4 yards wide. Camped close to the river. I made the accompanying sketch of our camp.”

Scotts Bluff, Nebraska

Scotts Bluff, Nebraska Named for a trapper who died here in 1828, Scotts Bluff served as an important landmark along the Platte River. Scenes such as this were typical because large herds of buffalo still roamed the plains.

Independence Rock, Wyoming(click to view larger)

Independence Rock, Wyoming After fording the Sweetwater River about one mile past Independence Rock, while the company was eating breakfast, Piercy hurried back to the rock and made a sketch of it. “It is a large rounded mass of granite, on which are inscribed the names of many passing emigrants,” he wrote.

Fort Laramie, Wyoming

Fort Laramie, Wyoming Located midway between Winter Quarters and Salt Lake on the Laramie and Platte Rivers, Fort Laramie was a military post and post office. In his footnotes, James Linforth described this landmark, “Its walls are built of adobe or sunburnt brick, being about 15 ft. high, and of a rectangular construction, enclosing a court of about 130 ft. sq.”

Devil’s Gate, Wyoming

Devil’s Gate, Wyoming “I remained behind to make a sketch of this great curiosity,” wrote Piercy, “after which, as my boots were without toes, and admitted the gravel, which cut one’s feet dreadfully, I had some difficulty in catching up with the wagons.” In 1856 rescuers carried survivors of the Martin handcart company across the icy Sweetwater River west of Devil’s Gate.

Fort Bridger, Wyoming

Fort Bridger, Wyoming Of this trading post belonging to mountain man Jim Bridger, Piercy wrote: “The fort is built in the usual form of pickets, with lodging apartments opening into a hollow square. A high picket fence encloses a yard into which the animals of the establishment are driven for protection, both from wild beasts and Indians.”

Great Salt Lake, Utah

Great Salt Lake, Utah “We at last entered as the sun was setting beyond the Great Salt Lake,” wrote Piercy. “And now our journey, so full of interest and novelty to me, was nearly completed, and we were about to exchange the rude, but bracing and healthful, prairie life for the comforts and refinements of the city.”

Salt Lake City, Utah(click to view larger)

Salt Lake City, Utah For this drawing of Salt Lake City, Piercy used a camera lucida, an optical instrument that projects the view onto paper, allowing the artist to trace its outline. As a result, the buildings and their location are easily identified.

[illustration] Liverpool, England On the six-week ocean voyage to New Orleans, storms and seasickness distressed everyone. Yet there were pleasant days when Piercy and other Latter-day Saint passengers sat “in the sunshine, told stories, sang songs.” The isolation on the sea made all aware of the “vastness of the ocean” and the “power of the winds.”

Show References


  1.   1.

    Information for this article was taken from Frederick Piercy, Route from Liverpool to Great Salt Lake Valley (1855), spelling modernized; Wilford Hill LeCheminant, “‘Entitled to Be an Artist’: Landscape and Portrait Painter Frederick Piercy,” Utah Historical Quarterly, winter 1980, 49–65; and Jonathan Fairbanks, “The Great Platte River Trail in 1853: The Drawings and Sketches of Frederick Piercy,” in Prints of the American West: Papers Presented at the Ninth Annual North American Print Conference, ed. Ron Tyler (1983), 67–86.

  2.   2.

    Two major collections of Piercy’s original work exist in the United States: 16 images are located in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, Massachusetts; 17 images are located in the Missouri Historical Society in St. Louis, Missouri.