A Change of Heart: My Pioneer Ancestor Thomas Harper

In our society today, I would that people talk to each other instead of believing hateful things being spread to gain power over people’s hearts. When we take the time to know someone, blinding scales of distrust and prejudice fall from our eyes and we can have honest dialog. Thomas Harper’s story is an example of this. He was the first convert in my patriarchal line.


He lived in Riccall England when the elders first arrived. Young Thomas heard that the missionaries of the Mormon church were in the vicinity, and he had heard so much bad about them that he and some other boys decided to rotten egg them and drive them out of town. They armed themselves and started for the place where they knew the elders were preaching. When they arrived in the vicinity, the elders were singing, and he said that such a feeling came over him that he could not bring himself, nor could the others, to do the thing they had come to do. So they slunk away home.

After that, Thomas made it a point to listen to them on his way home from work. Then, feeling he had found the truth, he had a desire to share it with the rest of his family. They heard it with horror and commanded him to stay away from ‘those wicked Mormons’. This he found impossible to obey. At age 22, he asked for baptism and after a year, feeling the pressures against the church began making preparations to migrate to Zion. In December 1852, he departed England on a ship with 332 saints on board. It was a hard voyage. They saw five deaths, five births and two marriages.

He migrated to Utah, settling in the Calls Fort area North of Brigham City. He became the bishop of the “Harper Ward”, as it was named for many years even after his death.

At one point, as a bishop, Thomas submitted himself to the requirements of a law against polygamy. He was imprisoned for having taken a second wife, received a large fine and spent 6-months in a bed-bug ridden jail. He and his cell-mate dedicated their cell as their “home unto the Lord”, and vowed to keep it clean and maintain morning and evening devotions.


Thomas Harper (disputed) second to left, pictured with George Q. Canon of the first presidency (sitting in center)

He was known as a defender of the faith and one who cared for and shared what he had with others. I present to you my beloved ancestor, Thomas Harper.

Polygamy Sidenote: The Book of Mormon teaches clearly, “For there shall not any man among you have save it be one wife… For I, the Lord God, delight in the chastity of women… For if I will, saith the Lord of Hosts, raise up seed unto me, I will command my people; otherwise they shall hearken unto these things.” (Jacob 2).  I am grateful the Lord commanded for a brief, critical period of our church history to allow polygamy, as it enabled me to be born into a gospel home. The Lord withdrew this command in a revelation given in 1890. Since then the Latter Day Saints have only one spouse.