Rachel Andora Woolsey (1825 - 1912)

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Birthdate:
Birthplace: Danville, Mercer, KY
Death: Died in Lebanon, Graham, AZ
Managed by: Dennis Buck
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About Rachel Andora Woolsey

Rachel Andora WOOLSEY was born 5 Aug 1825 in Danville, Mercer, Kentucky, the daughter of Joseph WOOLSEY and Abigail SHAFFER. Rachel died 7 Jul 1912 in Lebanon, Graham, Arizona, and was buried Jul 1912 in Lebanon, Graham, Arizona.

When John D. Lee first met the Joseph Woolsey family they lived near his cousins, the Conners, about fifteen miles north of Kaskaskia, Illinois. John subsequently married the eldest daughter, Aggatha Ann. Twelve years later, he married Aggatha's widowed mother, Abigail, and two more of her daughters, Rachel and Emoline.

The Woolsey families were some of the early settlers in America. Their progenitor, Reverend Benjamin Woolsey, who arrived in 1623, remained in the New England area where he eventually died and was buried and where his descendants grew and flourished for the next one hundred fifty years.

In 1770 a descendant, Thomas Woolsey, moved south to Washington County, Virginia. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, his son Richard and wife, Nancy Plumstead, emigrated through the Cumberland Gap into what was to become the state of Kentucky. Rachel Woolsey's father, Joseph, was one of the children in that family.

When Rachel Andora was born to Joseph Woolsey and Abigail Shaffer Woolsey, the family was living in Mercer County, Kentucky. A few years following her birth, Joseph took the family farther west, so that by 1828 or 1830, their residence was in Randolph County, Illinois. It was here that Rachel's sister, Aggatha Ann, met and married John D. Lee in 1833.

The following year 1834, Thomas, the eldest child in the family became the first to join the Mormon Church. Eventually most of his brothers and sisters and their mother, Abigail, followed. Joseph, the father, however, could not bring himself to make such a commitment. By the time the Woolseys moved to Nauvoo, he had died.

John D. Lee wrote that the Woolsey family came to Nauvoo in 1840 and settled near the Lee home. From that time on, the Woolseys and the Lees generally lived near one another and enjoyed close communal relations.

Lee was absent from home much of the time during that period, fulfilling church missionary assignments. Rachel spent much of her time with her sister, Aggatha Ann, in the Lee home assisting Aggatha with household chores and Lee's growing family. Soon she was as much at home in the Lee residence as she was in the Woolsey home with her own family.

In keeping with the newly accepted principle in the LDS church, of plurality of wives, on May 3, 1845 John D. Lee and Rachel Woolsey were married. On the same day, he married Rachel's aging, widowed mother, Abigail, bringing the latter into the family for "her eternal welfare," as Lee put it.

Thus when the Lees departed Nauvoo in 1846, there were three Woolsey wives in the family. By the end of the year, a fourth was added as his eleventh wife. This was Rachel's younger sister, Emoline.

The Lees, along with most citizens of Nauvoo, left Illinois in February 1846. Their destination was uncertain at the time, but they had a vague notion that, according to prophecy, it was somewhere west in the "tops of the Rocky Mountains." It was to be more than two years, however, before they completed the journey. In the interim, following a wet and laborious trek across Iowa, the winter of 1846 was spent at Winter Quarters, Nebraska. Then for the Lee family, it was a move fifteen miles north to Summer Quarters to grow corn to aid in the general migration of the Saints, when they trudged across the plains toward their "land of Zion."

The Lee family departed Summer Quarters in Nebraska on May 26, 1848. John had been appointed captain of a company of fifty wagons. It was quickly recognized by the emigrants that the next few months would be an intense challenge to their survival.

None of Rachel's ancestry, as far back as the first Woolsey to arrive in America in 1623, had undertaken a walk such as she would take as a Mormon pioneer in 1848. It stretched more than one thousand miles across high desert plains and mountain passes. Attended with unimaginable fatigue and endless numbers of pestilences and maladies to plague her life and those of her companions, they were about four months on the trail. Before its end, it exacted the lives of some of her closest friends and members of the wagon company, including that of her own mother. Except for Abigail, the rest of the family fortunately did survive to arrive safely in the valley of the Great Salt Lake in September 1848.

During a brief two years in the new settlement, then known as Great Salt Lake City, Rachel helped put in crops and build cabins. With others, she killed crickets contending for the fruits of the settlers' labors, nurtured a little flock of hens, helped harvest vegetables, corn, and buckwheat, and gave birth to two children. By that time she was one of six wives in the Lee family; eight others had either left him or had died. Among the six wives who remained, they had ten children.

Lee's destiny, though, lay to the south. In 1851 he was asked by President Young to accompany George A. Smith, of the Quorum of Twelve, in colonizing new territories. Basic to that assignment was a search for iron ore, traces of which had been discovered two hundred miles south of Salt Lake City. If sufficient quantities could be found and extracted, it would free the Saints of costly imports from the eastern states.

The assignment commenced in December 1851. John D. Lee never moved back to Salt Lake City, spending the following two and a half decades pioneering on the fringes of civilization in southern Utah. Those years included some of the family's finest of times, interspersed with some which were unbelievably difficult.

Lee helped establish the settlement of Parowan and by 1852 had all his family removed from his properties in Salt Lake. They remained in the newly established town for a short period, then moved to Cedar City and the building of that community. By 1853 their home was nineteen miles south of Cedar City where they were busily engaged in building another settlement to be known as Fort Harmony.

Rachel's first child had been born in December 1848 a few months after their arrival in Salt Lake. That child was Elizabeth Abigail who died at age five. Nancy Emily was her second child, born on January 22, 1850. Both of those children were born at a place known as Big Cottonwood, about eight miles southeast of Salt Lake City, where John's farms were located. She gave birth to six more over the next fourteen years, all in southern Utah. With the exception of Helen Rachel (Nellie), all were born at Harmony in Washington County.

Rachel, a remarkable woman, was as well-suited as any female could be for the frontier life that she lived. She could ride a horse or drive a team of oxen as well as most men. She could carry on with usual homemaking duties under the harshest of circumstances. When on the trail, she knew how to use the resources at hand, setting up a camp, cooking over an open fire and seeing to the needs of her family. She had the ability to size up a situation at a glance, make a decision and follow through. In the home, she was organized and neat. Her son, John Amasa, said that "...she was so orderly that he could get up in the dark of night and find anything, because everything was always in its place." Although she had received little formal education, she could write intelligently, and her penmanship, though rather cramped, was easily read. A good example of that was found in the records of the Harmony Branch of the church during the years 1856 to 1860 where she kept minutes of the meetings, including the regular Sunday church meetings, and, interestingly enough, the minutes of the priesthood meetings.

Those were busy years for Rachel and her growing family and for all the families of John D. Lee, for they were colonizing a new area, clearing land, constructing homes and building herds of cattle and flocks of sheep. They were, for the most part, good years and the family prospered.

When John's difficulties from the tragic affair in 1857 commenced, beginning with his excommunication from the church in 1870 and his apprehension by federal authorities in 1874, the life of each member of the family was affected. It was during that period that Rachel, along with Emma Batchelor, his nineteenth wife, became known for her devotion and loyalty to her husband. The Young sisters, wives thirteen and fourteen, and Sarah Caroline Williams, wife four, also proved faithful to him to the end.

After John's death, Rachel moved with her family, most of whom were married with their own families, to the little settlement in northern Arizona that became known as Lees Valley. The name did not continue very long though, for the Lees, for whom the valley was named, remained only one year. The mountain community today is a popular summer resort called Greer. Rachel spent the winter of 1880 in the valley, then moved to the nearby settlement of Eagar, remaining there until 1883.

One of her sons, John Amasa, was married that year and immediately set out, with his bride, for the settlements in the Gila Valley. Most of his brothers and their families made the move with him, along with his mother. Rachel spent the next twenty-nine years in and around Safford, Arizona, surrounded by her numerous family of children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. Some of the grandchildren who knew her during that period, recalled her as being quick and alert, even into her old age.

Rachel Woolsey was a true pioneering woman, beginning with her childhood in Kentucky, through the experiences in Illinois, crossing the plains and eventual settlement in southern Utah. Then, with her move into the remote Colorado River area of Lees Ferry and deeper into Arizona to the Mormon colonies on the Little Colorado River and the Gila Valley, her entire life was lived on the frontiers of nineteenth century America. She became adept at improvisation, providing for her family by making do with resources at hand.

Her greatest challenges, though, lay not in the physical aspects of her pioneering experience. Intertwined with her life during those years was her relationship and that of her husband's to the institution that they both considered to be "the Kingdom of God upon the earth." This dedication provided motivation to do their best with what they had. It sustained them, when in later years their faithfulness to their Mormon concepts and beliefs was threatened by what they considered a gross miscarriage of justice, disloyalty and severance from the community of the Saints. Those years were, for them, some of the most agonizing and tragic of any experienced by early Mormon pioneers settling the west.

Rachel passed away in 1912, thirty-five years after the death of her husband. She was in her eighty-seventh year. Her last resting place is a little rock-strewn cemetery on a plateau overlooking a vast arid country, where can be seen for miles around the varied flora of its desert setting. It is located at the base of the Graham Mountain, about seven miles west of Safford, Arizona.

She married John Doyle LEE 3 May 1845 in Nauvoo, Hancock, Illinois.

They had 8 children:

i. Elizabeth Abigail "Margaret" LEE, born 3 Feb 1848 in Big Cottonwood, Salt Lake, Utah, died in infancy 1848/1849.

ii. Nancy Emily LEE, born 22 Jan 1850, died 12 Feb 1931.

iii. Helen Rachel "Nellie" LEE, born 29 Jul 1852, died 5 Jul 1943.

iv. Amorah LEE, born 29 Mar 1856, died 21 Jul 1945.

v. Ralph Doyle "Pap" LEE, born 12 Feb 1858, died 20 Jul 1918.

vi. John Amasa LEE, born 9 Mar 1860, died 29 Apr 1939.

vii. William Franklin LEE, born 5 Aug 1863, died 12 Jun 1946.

viii. Joseph Willard "Brig" LEE, born 9 Aug 1868, died 30 Oct 1916.

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Rachel Woolsey's Timeline

1825
August 5, 1825
Danville, Mercer, KY
1837
June 17, 1837
Age 11
June 17, 1837
Age 11
1844
April 19, 1844
Age 18
Nauvoo, Hancock, IL
1845
December 21, 1845
Age 20
December 22, 1845
Age 20
1846
March 28, 1846
Age 20
Ft Harmony, Washington, Ut
1848
February 3, 1848
Age 22
Omaha (Summer Qu,Douglas,Ne
December, 1848
Age 23
1852
July 29, 1852
Age 26
Parowan, Iron, Ut