Robert Harrison Watts

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Robert Harrison Watts

Birthplace: Albermarle, Virginia, United States
Death: March 28, 1879 (77)
South Weber, Davis, Utah, United States
Place of Burial: South Weber, Davis County, Utah, United States
Immediate Family:

Son of Col. John Watts and Lucy Watts
Husband of Elizabeth Watts
Father of Baldwin Harvey Watts; Elizabeth Fife; Franklin Moroni Watts; Hyrum Smith Watts; Lucy Ann Watts and 6 others
Brother of Nancy Maria Huckstep; Elizabeth Ellis; Capt. William Thomas Watts; Tyree Dalton Watts; Thomas Watts and 7 others

Managed by: Gwyneth McNeil
Last Updated:

About Robert Harrison Watts

Robert Harrison Watts was born in Albemarle County, Virginia, 5 September 1801, the son of John Watts and Lucy Dalton. As a young man, he left his native county and state and headed west. On the 1st of December 1830, he married Elizabeth Heath near Raymond, Hinds County, Mississippi, who was born 8 December 1815, near Jackson, Hinds County, Mississippi, and was the daughter of John Heath. (Pioneers and Prominent Men of Utah, p. 1234).

The Watts family is an old family of Virginia, beginning with Edward Watts of Spotsylvania County, Virginia, born about 1675, died about 1750. Edward Watts received a number of land grants. He was probably the father of Thomas Watts, born about 1700, died 1749, who made his will 22 December 1736, that was proved 16 March 1749 in Culpeper County, Virginia. In this will he names his wife, Ester, and a large family of children, including "my son Jacob." This son Jacob was born 9 July 1730, died 14 April 1824. He married Elizabeth Durrett, the daughter of Colonel Richard Durrett, who died in Albemarle County, Virginia, where his will was proved 11 August 1784. Jacob Watts was the owner of considerable land, slaves and property in Albemarle County, Virginia. He owned 1,100 acres on the north fork of the Rivanna River near Pine Mountain. In later years, he became a Methodist minister. Numerous records of him appear in the Albemarle tax lists, the order books, deed books, and will books. No will for him has been found, but he made two deeds of gifts to his children, and these name and identify his children much as would be done in a will. Among his children named is his son, John Watts, father of Robert Harrison Watts, who was born 24 January 1756 and died September 1823. John Watts, born in Orange County, Virginia, died in Albemarle where his will was made 15 July 1823, and proved October 1823. (Albemarle Will Book, p. 312) He married Lucy Dalton in Albemarle County, Virginia, 9 November 1778. She was born 15 December 1761 and died in Randolph County, Missouri, 16 September 1844.

John Watts was a very small man, dark-complexioned, and he lived to be an old man. He was a soldier in the Revolutionary War and served his country well. An incident which happened to him while he was serving his country occurred one night when he was put on guard. There had been an Indian that had killed the guards for three nights, fooling them by putting on some kind of a skin. The night John Watts was put on duty, the Indian came. John fooled the Indian, and he made the Indian "tow the mark" until morning. Then he brought him into camp.

A story which has been handed down through the family of John Watts is that once he got drunk and threw his wife's spinning wheel in the fire.  The house that John Watts' family lived in was still standing in very good condition in 1898 when Wallace and Lewis Fife, second great-grandsons of John Watts, visited the place while on a missions to the South.  Chimneys, one on each end of the house, were made of brick.  There were two doors in front and two doors behind and a porch for both doors with two steps leading up to each door.  There were four rooms in the main building, two rooms downstairs, and two rooms upstairs.Robert Harrison Watts and Elizabeth Heath's first child, Baldwin Harvey Watts, was born 10 April 1835, near Raymond, Mississippi.  My grandmother, Elizabeth Watts, was born 22 March 1839, at Vicksburg, Hinds County, Mississippi, the second child of Robert Harrison and Elizabeth Heath Watts.             

In 1840, when my grandmother was only a year old, her parents heard of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the testimonies of the missionaries of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It was not long after this that they entered the waters of baptism and were confirmed members of the Church. Their third child, Franklin Moroni Watts, was born about 1841, and Hyrum Smith Watts, their fourth child, was born about 1842 while they were still living in Mississippi. At this time, their whole lives had completely changed, and they had the desire to move to the headquarters of the Church in order to be with the Saints.

Packing some food, their clothing, and only the bare necessities of life in a covered wagon which was drawn by oxen, this brave couple with their four small children, journeyed forth into the wilderness, trusting in God that they would be taken care of until they reached their destination. Four hundred long miles over rough, dusty roads and trails day after day, day after day, they watched the slow movement of their faithful trudging oxen with their heavy load. It must have been hard for them to travel such a journey with their small children, but their faith in the Gospel message and their testimony to its truthfulness urged them on and on.

On arrival in Nauvoo, they found many Saints who were arriving daily from England and elsewhere. It was at Nauvoo that Robert Watts and his wife first met the Prophet Joseph Smith and heard his burning testimony of "seeing God the Eternal Father and His Son, Jesus Christ."

They labored in the home of the Prophet, where they were privileged to hear the Gospel explained from the lips of the Prophet, himself. Robert Watts was also a bodyguard of the Prophet during his life. Grandmother Elizabeth had a very special privilege of being blessed by the Prophet, and many things which he pronounced upon her head at that time did come true.

The Nauvoo Temple was under construction at the time of their arrival and Great-grandfather Watts joined with the other Saints in the labor on the Lord's House. Some stood guard while others worked because of the mob's intense desire to see the temple destroyed. Upon the completion of the Nauvoo Temple, Robert Watts and his wife, Elizabeth Heath, took out their own endowments on the 2nd of February 1846. Sealings were not performed in the Nauvoo Temple at that time, but they later were sealed in the St. George Temple at St. George, Utah, in 1877.

The Saints must have endured painfully trying times, for at this time, they were being persecuted. Many homes were burned, and many Saints were forced to leave their homes. In this bitter persecution, they lost their beloved Prophet, Seer, and Revelator, Joseph Smith.

His association, teachings, testimony, and example must have left a deep imprint on my great-grandparents' lives because they remained very faithful to the Church to the end.

In the early part of the year 1846, the leaders of the Church admonished the Saints to sell their home in the beautiful city ofNauvoo, their possessions and buy covered wagons, food supplies, machinery, and other necessities of life in preparation for their movement westward. President Brigham Young, who now was leader of the Church, told them of the Prophet Joseph Smith's vision shortly before his death of the Saints dwelling in the Valley of the Rocky Mountains. Brigham Young was allowed to see the same vision, and he predicted that they would become a great and mighty people and that the desert would blossom like a rose.

The memory of the last long trek of 400 miles must have brought my great-grandparents sorrow at this time for they had only been in Nauvoo three short years when the news of the great westward journey pierced their hearts. It is difficult for us to imagine the faith and courage and heartbreaking circumstances involved in the preparation for the westward movement for they knew the hardships they must again endure. But again, they packed the bare necessities of life, consisting of food, clothing, bedding, seeds, etc. and bade goodbye to their beloved city and temple, and with the rest of the Saints, they began their journey westward. They crossed the frozen Mississippi River in the still of the night to be organized and receive instruction from their leader, President Brigham Young. Here, they were organized into 12 groups or divisions with an apostle in charge of each division. They further divided into groups of 100s, 50s, and 10s, each with a captain who was completely responsible for the group. Everything was organized to perfection, and Brigham Young was head over all, instructing them to keep the commandments, to trust in God, to pray often, to refrain from evil speaking, and to never complain but to be faithful in all things.

Leaders or scouts were chosen to go ahead and locate good campsites and places where the different companies could stop, rest, and repair their wagons and take on new supplies, provided there were any. The Watts family stopped at different villages for rest and supplies, finally arriving at Council Bluffs, Pottawattamie County, Iowa. Here, they set up temporary residence on the banks of the Missouri River, remaining for three years, working in order to gather enough supplies and equipment for the remaining journey to the Rocky Mountains. While living at Council Bluffs, Iowa, two children were born to the Watts family. John Watts was born 5 December 1847, and Robert Nelson Watts was born 7 September 1849. Prior to their movement to Council Bluffs, a daughter, Lucy Ann, was born to them 19 August 1845, while living in Nauvoo. (Heart Throbs)

In the spring of 1850, the Saints organized into companies and prepared to journey westward again. Robert Watts and his family were in the third company of Captain Aaron Johnson's Company which left Council Bluffs, Iowa, the 7th of June 1850, crossing the Missouri River on a flatboat. After arriving safely on the other side, Great-grandfather Watts left his wife and seven children without shelter while he went to help other Saints across. While he was gone, it rained.

Their mother, Elizabeth Heath Watts, worked very hard cutting the bark from the trees in order to make a shelter for her children to keep them dry. (Journal History, 31 December 1850, Supplement, p. 5, and 12 June 1850, p. 1) On June 12th, 1850, Captain Aaron Johnson's train of 100 wagons was reported as being at Council Grove, 12 miles from Bethlehem, west of the Missouri River. (Journal History, 12 June 1850, p. 1)

At five o'clock every morning, the bugle was blown. Prayer was offered, and the women prepared the meals while the men took care of the livestock. At seven o'clock, the bugle blew again, and they were on their way.

Food was always a problem to them. They ate buffalo meat whenever it was available and also wild berries and roots which were edible. Sometimes, they traded their most prized possessions for food, and many times their food was shared with the Indians, since Brigham Young had warned them, telling them that it was better to feed the Indians than to fight them.

On Sundays, a wheel wasn't turned. Instead they heldchurch services, sang songs, read from the Bible, and the Book of Mormon, as well as the Doctrine and Covenants, and in general, kept the "Sabbath day holy."

They traveled on the trail made by those who went before them. Sometimes, they traveled many miles; sometimes, only one or two miles. It all depended upon the conditions of the terrain they were passing over and the weather. When the mountains were steep, they wrapped chains around the wagon wheels to help the wagons get up the mountains and to slow the wagons down when they were descending down the steep slopes.

All the boys and girls had to take turns herding the cattle. They had fun searching for relics while doing this task, and they also watched for signs along the way where other pioneers had been. Sometimes, the buffalo skulls lying on the prairies were used for post offices, and notes and letters were left in them for friends who would follow.

Great-grandfather Watts' wagon was drawn by a yoke of oxen and two cows. They milked the cows and hung the milk on the side of the wagon. The movement of the wagon churned the sweet milk, and by noon they had butter to eat.

All along the way, temporary villages had been erected, crops had been planted, and as the different companies came through, they stopped, rested, repaired their wagons, and acquired new supplies. It was at one of these villages that Great-grandfather Watts and his family stayed over a short time due to the fact that his eldest son, Baldwin, nearly lost his life. He became stricken with cholera while driving the cattle and fell to the ground unconscious. He wasn't missed by the company until evening, and then a searching party was organized and sent out to find him. In the meantime, Baldwin Watts revived and, being guided by our Heavenly Father, he was found by the searching party. He was very fortunate to recover from this dreaded disease because 26 out of one 100 Saints which he had traveled with died of this dread disease. A company of LDS missionaries traveling east met Captain Aaron Johnson's Company near Fort Kearney on the 27th of June 1850, and some of the emigrants in the company had already died of cholera by then. (Journal History, 5 July 1850, p. 8)

Babies were born along the way, and many of them as well as the older children died and were buried along the way. But with courage, faith in God, and a prayer in their hearts, they traveled on.

After three months and a few days of traveling, they arrived in Salt Lake City on the 7th day of September 1850. What a glorious sight it must have been for them to see the Valley of Saints where they could worship in peace at last. They had traveled the distance of 1,5000 miles through the sparsely settled Iowa territory, then across the Missouri River into the lands of the Omaha, the Sioux, and the Ute Indians—a thousand trackless miles beyond the fringes of civilization. Upon their arrival to the Salt Lake Valley, the estimated population in the valley was 15,000. According to a history written by a son, Robert Nelson Watts, their first home was constructed of logs. It was located in what was known then as Goodyear Fort and which later became known as Brown's Fort. His parents were very good friends of Captain James Brown, builder of Brown's Fort which was named after him and his family, for they had known them previously in Mississippi.

The Watts family settled in Ogden, Weber County, Utah. In the fall of 1851, Robert Harrison Watts secured a squatter's claim in South Weber County, Utah, comprising 60 acres of land he began to develop and improve for it was in a wild state when it came into his possession.

He built a house of logs on his land for his family, and in 1852, with the help of others, he started a canal for irrigation, which they completed the following year. With Great-grandfather Watts engaged in digging a well on his property, he unearthed a bolt some six feet under ground. It had the appearance of a half-inch bolt which was badly rusted, yet it seemed to have been made by some raceprior to the Mormons, indicating that there had been a previous occupancy of this district.

In 1853, they moved into Brown's Fort because of the Indian uprising in the territory. It was here that their eighth child, Phoebe Watts, was born. At this time, the only lights they had were made by placing a rag in a saucer of grease and lighting it. They later made candles of tallow. They used the light from the fireplace a lot to save on the candles.

Their clothing were all homemade, and their mother, Elizabeth, made their clothing. The children took turns putting dry willows on the fire in the evening so that their mother could see to spin the wool by firelight. Spinning thread by spinning wheels was the only means of making cloth for clothes in their day.

For part of their meat, they fished in the Weber River as fish were very plentiful there. They also hunted for sage, prairie chickens, and pine hens. They gathered many sego bulbs and ate them raw, for they were very tasty. Mustard greens were gathered and cooked for food. In the summertime, there were many kinds of wild berries which were gathered, and delicious pies were made from them, or else the were dried for winter.

Robert Harrison Watts was a farmer and a livestock man by trade. His two older boys helped their father farm by leading their old ox, which was called "Old Baldy" because of his bald face, while their father walked behind and held the plow. This ox was harnessed to the plow just like the horses were in later years.

Their children went to school in an old, log schoolhouse. Everyone read from the same book as they only had one book in use, which was a spelling book. The children brought their own Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants with them, and they also studied from these books.

While Robert Harrison Watts and his wife were living in the vicinity of South Weber, Weber County, Utah, two more children were born to them, thus completing their family of 10 children.  James Watts was born 22 August 1855, and Elizabeth Ann Watts was born 31 July 1857.             

In the year of 1856, at the age of 17, my grandmother, Elizabeth Watts, went to work in Salt Lake City. It was here that she met her future husband, James Fife. James Fife was the son of James Fife, Sr., and Margaret Mathieson, and he was born 6 July 1832, at Leith, Midlothian, Scotland. Leith is the chief seaport on the eastern coast of Scotland, and the Fife family mined coal there. They had heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ while living in Scotland and had also come across the plains but in a different company than the Watts family did. They were united in marriage in the fall of 1856 in the Endowment House in Salt Lake City, Utah.

In 1877, Great-grandfather Robert Watts helped my grandfather, James Fife, rig up two wagons so they could all go to the dedication of the St. George Temple. It took them three weeks to complete the trip. My father, Wallace, Fife, was just one year old at the time the journey was made, and he always told how he cried all the time they were journeying to St. George. The driver of their wagon offered my grandmother $5 if she would down the little "cuss."

On April 6, 1877, the Watts family was sealed to their parents for time and all eternity by Daniel H. Wells, who dedicated the St. George Temple while they were still at St. George. They were baptized for their deceased loved ones in the temple while they were still at St. George. Their records of those they did baptisms for were so complete that not one day's work had to be canceled and done over. A careful and accurate record had been kept by the families which has enabled researches to glean rapidly the names which life did not permit them to gather.

Robert Harrison Watts was the first ward clerk of the South Weber Ward. He was also a member of the Eleventh Quorum of Seventies and served as a constable for a time. He, his wife, and family held many positions in their ward.

When the family grew too large for their small log cabin, Great-grandfather Watts built a much larger house of stone and mortar for them to live in. You can imagine the joy and happiness the family had when they moved from their small, log cabin into their much larger and spacious, stone house. This last house built by Great-grandfather Watts still stands today, south of Ogden, Utah.

Upon the completion of the railroad in 1869, Robert Harrison Watts made a trip to his native state of Virginia to visit with his relatives and again to see the home of his parents and where he was born. He traveled in a train run by steam all the way to Virginia and back again, and the journey was comparatively easier this time than it was the first time he crossed the plains to Utah.

Robert Harrison Watts passed away on the 10th of March 1880, while his wife, Elizabeth Heath Watts, passed away on Christmas Day of 1903. He had helped to build and promote the churches and schools in his community and was active in the support of all public enterprises for the good of his children, friends, and neighbors.

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Robert Harrison Watts's Timeline

September 5, 1801
Albermarle, Virginia, United States
April 10, 1835
Age 33
Raymond, Hinds County, Mississippi, United States
March 22, 1839
Age 37
United States
Age 39
June 6, 1842
Age 40
August 19, 1845
Age 43
December 1, 1847
Age 46
September 7, 1849
Age 48
Council Bluffs, Pottawattamie County, Iowa, United States
Age 49