Thomas Rowell Leavitt

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Mormon wagon train re-enactment, similar to that led by Tom Leavitt The Mormon pioneers coming off Big Mountain into Mountain dell.png
Mormon wagon train re-enactment, similar to that led by Tom Leavitt

Thomas Rowell "Tom" Leavitt (June 30, 1834 May 21, 1891) [1] was an member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the founding settler of Leavitt, Alberta, Canada, which the former Utah sheriff and marshal founded at age 53 after an arduous 800-mile (1,300 km) journey in covered wagons, fleeing a crackdown on polygamy that sent fellow members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints across the border to Mexico and Canada.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints nontrinitarian Christian restorationist church

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, often informally known as the LDS Church or Mormon Church, is a nontrinitarian, Christian restorationist church that is considered by its members to be the restoration of the original church founded by Jesus Christ. The church is headquartered in Salt Lake City, Utah in the United States, and has established congregations and built temples worldwide. According to the church, it has over 16 million members and 65,000 full-time volunteer missionaries. In 2012, the National Council of Churches ranked the church as the fourth-largest Christian denomination in the United States, with over 6.5 million members there as of January 2018. It is the largest denomination in the Latter Day Saint movement founded by Joseph Smith during the early 19th century period of religious revival known as the Second Great Awakening.

Leavitt is a hamlet in southern Alberta, Canada within Cardston County, located about 13 kilometres (8 mi) west of Cardston on Highway 5. It falls within the Canadian federal electoral district of Medicine Hat—Cardston—Warner.

Canada Country in North America

Canada is a country in the northern part of North America. Its ten provinces and three territories extend from the Atlantic to the Pacific and northward into the Arctic Ocean, covering 9.98 million square kilometres, making it the world's second-largest country by total area. Its southern border with the United States, stretching some 8,891 kilometres (5,525 mi), is the world's longest bi-national land border. Canada's capital is Ottawa, and its three largest metropolitan areas are Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver.


Early life

Leavitt was born at Hatley, Lower Canada, on June 30, 1834, the son of Jeremiah Leavitt and his wife Sarah Sturdevant Leavitt. Jeremiah Leavitt had been born at Grantham, New Hampshire, in 1797, and married Sarah Sturdevant of Grafton County, New Hampshire, on March 6, 1817 in Vermont. Shortly after their marriage, the couple departed for Hatley, only 15 miles (24 km) from the Canada–Vermont border, where farmer Jeremiah Leavitt was attracted by the rich soil and plentiful timber. At the time of his immigration to Canada, the area around Hatley was fresh from control of Iroquois Native American tribes. Leavitt cleared his new acreage, on which he built a log cabin, and began raising an eventual family of 10 children.

Hatley was a Canadian township (canton) in the Estrie region of Quebec. It was created on 25 March 1803 by publication in the Gazette officielle du Québec, the official publication of the Quebec government. The territory of the township was later divided, and led to the creation of current Hatley township and Hatley municipality (municipalité), amongst others.

Lower Canada 19th century British colony in present-day Quebec

The Province of Lower Canada was a British colony on the lower Saint Lawrence River and the shores of the Gulf of Saint Lawrence (1791–1841). It covered the southern portion of the current Province of Quebec and the Labrador region of the current Province of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Grantham, New Hampshire Town in New Hampshire, United States

Grantham is a town in Sullivan County, New Hampshire, United States. The population was 2,985 at the 2010 census, up from 2,167 at the 2000 census, the greatest increase in population in Sullivan County over this time period.

In subsequent years, Jeremiah Leavitt and his wife Sarah joined the Latter-day Saints (Mormons) led by Joseph Smith. Thomas Rowell Leavitt was 16 months old when his parents pulled up stakes to follow Franklin Chamberlain, a Mormon convert who had married Lydia, the oldest child in the Leavitt family. The family returned to the United States, having been converted by Mormon missionaries who swept across eastern Canada on orders of Smith. The Leavitt family remained only briefly in New England, before launching themselves in 1835 towards Kirtland, Ohio, the gathering place of increasing crowds of Mormon converts.

Joseph Smith American religious leader and the founder of the Latter Day Saint movement

Joseph Smith Jr. was an American religious leader and founder of Mormonism and the Latter Day Saint movement. When he was 24, Smith published the Book of Mormon. By the time of his death, 14 years later, he had attracted tens of thousands of followers and founded a religion that continues to the present.

New England Region in the northeastern United States

New England is a region composed of six states in the northeastern United States: Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut. It is bordered by the state of New York to the west and by the Canadian provinces of New Brunswick to the northeast and Quebec to the north. The Atlantic Ocean is to the east and southeast, and Long Island Sound is to the south. Boston is New England's largest city, as well as the capital of Massachusetts. Greater Boston is the largest metropolitan area, with nearly a third of New England's population; this area includes Worcester, Massachusetts, Manchester, New Hampshire, and Providence, Rhode Island.

Kirtland, Ohio City in Ohio, United States

Kirtland is a city in Lake County, Ohio, United States. The population was 6,859 at the 2010 census. Kirtland is known for being the early headquarters of the Latter Day Saint movement from 1831–1837 and is the site of the first Mormon temple, the Kirtland Temple, completed in 1836. The city is also the location for many parks in the Lake Metroparks system, as well as the Holden Arboretum.

In September 1835, the extended Leavitt family came face-to-face with the man who had converted them long distance: Joseph Smith. No diary exists to describe what they made of their leader, but shortly afterwards the family departed with other recent converts to Smith's religion for Nauvoo, Illinois, the next jumping-off point on the Mormons' westward journey. Along the way, Jeremiah Leavitt's elderly mother, Sarah (Shannon) Leavitt, died of exposure. Having arrived in Nauvoo, the Leavitts bought a farm seven miles (11 km) outside town, where they began planting wheat.

Nauvoo, Illinois City in Illinois, United States

Nauvoo is a small city in Hancock County, Illinois, United States, on the Mississippi River near Fort Madison, Iowa. The population of Nauvoo was 1,149 at the 2010 census. Nauvoo attracts visitors for its historic importance and its religious significance to members of several groups: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints ; the Community of Christ, formerly the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (RLDS); other groups stemming from the Latter Day Saint movement; and the Icarians. The city and its immediate surrounding area are listed on the National Register of Historic Places as the Nauvoo Historic District.

Anti-Mormon sentiment reached a crescendo shortly afterwards, and in 1844 rioters set upon Smith, killing the church prophet and his brother Hyrum, and setting fire to Mormon properties. On August 8, 1844, church elders voted to replace their fallen prophet with Brigham Young, who shortly afterwards announced his intention to found a Mormon sanctuary safe from persecution. Young's decision was prompted by Illinois's move to expel the settlers from its territory. In 1846, the Leavitt family set out as part of Young's trek, with father Jeremiah dying along the way. Ultimately the family got as far as Council Bluffs, Iowa, where what remained of the family built a house overlooking the Missouri River at Trade Point, where they remained three years. By 1850, the worn-out Leavitt family departed for Utah Territory, where they were told that a successful settlement had been made.

Death of Joseph Smith Founder and leader of the Latter Day Saint movement

Joseph Smith, the founder and leader of the Latter Day Saint movement, and his brother, Hyrum Smith, were killed by a mob in Carthage, Illinois, on June 27, 1844. The brothers had been in jail awaiting trial when an armed mob of about 200 men stormed the facility, their faces painted black with wet gunpowder. Hyrum was killed first, having been shot in the face. As he fell, Hyrum shouted, "I'm a dead man, Joseph!" After emptying the pistol with which he tried to defend himself, Joseph was then shot several times while trying to escape from a second-story window and fell from that window as he died.

Hyrum Smith American Mormon leader

Hyrum Smith was an American religious leader in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, the original church of the Latter Day Saint movement. He was the older brother of the movement's founder, Joseph Smith, and was killed with his brother at Carthage Jail where they were being held awaiting trial.

Brigham Young 19th-century Latter Day Saint religious leader

Brigham Young was an American religious leader, politician, and settler. He was the second president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from 1847 until his death in 1877. He founded Salt Lake City and he served as the first governor of the Utah Territory. Young also led the foundings of the precursors to the University of Utah and Brigham Young University.


The year 1850 was the highpoint of the California Gold Rush, as well as the Mormon migration westward. On June 1, 1850, a group of Latter-day Saints in 51 wagons, including the Leavitt family, crossed the Mississippi River behind Capt. Milo Andrus. Shortly afterwards, the company reached Salt Lake City. The Leavitt family subsequently moved to northern Utah, where Thomas Rowell Leavitt settled at Wellsville in Cache Valley, where he became constable, [2] marshal and ultimately sheriff, as well as a rancher, and where he built a large one-room log house on his 55-acre (220,000 m2) farm outside Wellsville. [3]

California Gold Rush gold rush from 1848 until 1855 in California

The California Gold Rush (1848–1855) was a gold rush that began on January 24, 1848, when gold was found by James W. Marshall at Sutter's Mill in Coloma, California. The news of gold brought approximately 300,000 people to California from the rest of the United States and abroad. The sudden influx of gold into the money supply reinvigorated the American economy, and the sudden population increase allowed California to go rapidly to statehood, in the Compromise of 1850. The Gold Rush had severe effects on Native Californians and resulted in a precipitous native population decline from disease, genocide and starvation. By the time it ended, California had gone from a thinly populated ex-Mexican territory, to having one of its first two U.S. Senators, John C. Frémont, selected to be the first presidential nominee for the new Republican Party, in 1856.

Mississippi River largest river system in North America

The Mississippi River is the second-longest river and chief river of the second-largest drainage system on the North American continent, second only to the Hudson Bay drainage system. Its source is Lake Itasca in northern Minnesota and it flows generally south for 2,320 miles (3,730 km) to the Mississippi River Delta in the Gulf of Mexico. With its many tributaries, the Mississippi's watershed drains all or parts of 32 U.S. states and two Canadian provinces between the Rocky and Appalachian mountains. The main stem is entirely within the United States; the total drainage basin is 1,151,000 sq mi (2,980,000 km2), of which only about one percent is in Canada. The Mississippi ranks as the fourth-longest and fifteenth-largest river by discharge in the world. The river either borders or passes through the states of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Louisiana.

Milo Andrus Early leader/Church of Jesus Christ/Latter-day Saints

Milo Andrus was an early leader in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

But by the 1880s, the United States government's toleration of the Mormon practice of polygamy came to an end. The government began cracking down, arresting polygamists. Some hid, others crossed the border into Mexico and Canada. Among the first to leave was Charles Ora Card, who traveled to modern-day Cardston, Alberta, named for the Mormon settler, to escape the crackdown and founding the first Mormon town in Alberta in 1887.

Refuge in Canada

Jeremiah Leavitt had never been a polygamist, but his sons followed the subsequent dictum that church members should take multiple wives. [4] Thomas Rowell Leavitt had 26 children with his three wives. Shortly after Card's departure from Utah, former lawman Leavitt followed suit. In early spring 1887 Leavitt left Wellsville with other Mormon polygamists in a large wagon train—the last recorded in the Old West. After an arduous six-week, 800-mile (1,300 km) trek, Leavitt's party reached Lee Creek, Alberta, on May 25, 1887. Leavitt had traveled with his wife Harriet Martha Dowdle and several children by all three wives. He left wife Ann Eliza Jenkins behind on his Wellsville ranch. [5]

By 1897, the rest of the family had followed, including Leavitt's son Alfred, who subsequently helped dig, with his brother, the irrigation canals that Charles Ora Card had promised the Canadian government in exchange for more land grants to fellow Mormons hard-pressed by the U.S. government crackdown.

Leavitt lived out his days in the tiny hamlet he founded in Alberta, known as Buffalo Flats on his arrival, and subsequently christened Leavitt, Alberta, in honor of the pioneer fugitive. Leavitt died there in 1891, leaving a legacy of scores of disciples of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints named Leavitt, many of whom remain in the region today, ranching and living in the bucolic area in the shadow of Chief Mountain.

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  1. "Children of Jeremiah Leavitt II & Sarah Sturtevant". Other Plaques. Western Association of Leavitt Families. Retrieved 2009-12-16.
  2. Tullidge's Histories, Vol. II, Containing the History of All the Northern, Eastern and Western Counties of Utah, Edward W. Tullidge, The Press of the Juvenile Instructor, Salt Lake City, Utah, 1889
  3. Conquerors of the West: Stalwart Mormon Pioneers, Vol. II, Florence C. Youngberg, National Society, Sons of Utah Pioneers, Agreka Books, 1998 ISBN   1-888106-31-X
  4. Some Mormon historians have asserted that only three men were known to have brought more than one wife to Canada: John Lye Gibb, Thomas Rowell Leavitt and Franklin Dewey Leavitt.
  5. Once Upon a Wedding: Stories of Weddings in Western Canada, Nancy Millar, Bayeux Arts, 2000 ISBN   978-1-896209-33-3

Further reading