Home Text

Biography of Mary Wann Shelton

Written by Charles Worley.

Mary Wann Shelton’s life began in North Shields, England, on April 4, 1834. She was born of poor parents and had only the bare necessities of life. The first few years of her life were uneventful. As time went on, she had to take her place in the duties of the farm on which she lived. At the age of ten, she had to get up at dawn to help milk the cows. After this was done, she had to help her mother in the household duties.

She did not have any time to play as did some of the more fortunate children: but she was always held down by her work. Mary had no schooling in her younger life except for some knowledge that she gained from sessions with her mother. They would often spend the night studying reading or writing. After doing this for some time, she became quite proficient in these arts. For the next six years her life remained about the same as it had been before. Mary sill lived on the farm and did the chores that a young girl should.

When she was seventeen, she became associated with a young Mormon Elder, John Shelton. Through him she became acquainted with a new form of religion: Mormonism. In England at this time, Mormonism as not too popular, and many people scorned it and persecuted the people who believed in it. After knowing Mr. Shelton for about six months, she joined the church herself. Mary did this much against the wished of her parents who were devoutly Protestant. Again against the wishes of her parents, she married the Mormon Elder–John Richard Shelton. When she did this, she just about severed herself from her family. Her husband was having a hard time in his work because of the opposition of the other religions of England. After much consideration, the Sheltons and a few more Mormon families decided to go to America–the land of the free.

The boat was very crowded because of the excess of people that were going to the United States. The trip was miserable because they had to sleep on the decks exposed to the wind and cold. After a miserable six weeks on the open seas, they finally reached New York where they stayed for a month pending instructions from the church. In New York they lived a dismal life because they were so poor and had hardly any friends. They finally received word from the head of the Mormon Church and were sent to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Here Mary’s life became more eventful. She had her first child and it gave her much pleasure and responsibility.

In Philadelphia, John Shelton, who was a blacksmith by trade, started to work in the steel mills. Along with this he still carried on his work and duties with the church. His job in the mills brought him his first real money.

The family became quite prosperous and Mary was gifted with another child. While the family was still prosperous, Mary, who was a good singer, sang in light operas. This allowed her to be away from her family some and provided some necessary recreation. Mary was a fine mother. Her children (she now had four) were always treated in the best manner. Their clothes were always handmade, but were very nice. Her family was always fed well because she was a good cook. She made the best of what they had. While Mary and John and family were still in Philadelphia, John was seriously hurt in an accident in the steel mills. During the time John was sick and unable to make a living, Mary had a difficult time making ends meet. She had to cook and sew for other people to bring in a little money to support the family. Though this was a great task, she never let it get the best of her and kept her usual high spirits. After some months, John finally regained his health and was ready to start work. Just at this time he received word from the Mormon church that they wanted him to move to the west and help in the colonization of that new area. John, always loyal to his church, packed up his family and proceeded to Utah in the year 1853.

The Sheltons and some other Mormon families bought some wagons and oxen and started on their journey. It was not very difficult until they reached Illinois because there were traveled roads and they could make good time. When they reached the western side of Illinois, the going became harder. Instead of the well-traveled road, they now had to travel on trails and more often most of the people had to walk a lot of the way. In the wagon that John and Mary were in there were elven people, making it very uncomfortable. On the journey they encountered many hardships. Often they would come on unfriendly bands of savages and they would have to fight them. They would often go hungry because of the lack of provisions. They would sometimes be able to get fresh meat by hunting in the country they were passing through. This was never possible when they were in Indian territory. They had many hardships pertaining to getting their wagons across the country. They would often have to ford rivers, chop down trees so they could pass and move large rocks so that the wagons could continue to the west.

This little Mormon party finally reached Utah in the year 1862 after a long and painful journey. In Utah they settled in Cottonwood where they made a little home. John set up a blacksmith shop and again took in business. All this time he was doing his work as a Mormon Elder. Life went on in Cottonwood successfully and Mary had her fifth child.

The Sheltons liked Utah because they could do as they pleased without any interference from others. After about two years in Cottonwood, they were sent by the church to Mendon, Utah, a small and new town.

In Mendon John again set up his blacksmith shop and built a house and started to cultivate the land. The farm was run by Mary and much of the work was done by the children. The farm worked out well and became quite productive and helped pay the family’s expenses while John was doing his religious duties. The Shelton’s house was often the scene of a gathering for religious purposes. There were five more children born to Mary in Mendon.

In 1883 a great disaster came to the Sheltons. John Shelton died of the injuries which had never healed from his accident in the steel mills in Philadelphia years before. We call it hernia now. This left Mary to face the world alone without the help of her husband. She still had five unmarried children to support. She was a wonderful manger and soon put her resources into play. Mary continued to make the farm pay and furnish food for her family. She sewed to help pay expanses. She owed money on the farm and still, with all her responsibilities, she managed to pay off all her honest debts.

During all this time of trial she took time to enjoy the recreation of the community. She sang in the ward choir and also entertained her children and made them happy and contented. Mary made many friends in Mendon and was well-liked by all. She was noted for her kindness. She was always ready to help the sick and those in need. The Shelton household was open to the unfortunate. Mary would take in people who were cold and hungry and provide for them while in town. Often the Mormon Elders and missionaries would stay with the Sheltons and they held many meetings in her home.

Mary Wann Shelton continued to take care of her family in Mendon until she died at the age of 72 on March 6, 1905. Many people mourned the loss of this great pioneer woman. She was buried on March 9, 1905. All of her ten children were present at her funeral. At the time of her death she had one hundred descendants.

(Post Script)

I, Maggie Larsen Bergener, can remember my grandmother Shelton. She was a beautiful woman with pretty, wavy, auburn hair. She was always prim and neat with her white apron with hand-made lace on the bottom. She was quite strict in her ways. I used to hold my breath if hurt when I was a child and she told my mother, “I would soon break her of that.”

Mother left me with an older sister while she went to relief society one day. I had whooping cough at the time. I started to dig holes in the front yard with a knife and hurt myself and started to cry. I was holding my breath and I looked up and saw grandmother Shelton coming down the street. When I came to, I was in a tub of cold water. I didn’t hold my breath anymore.

I never did see my grandfather, but mother said he had double teeth all the way around and lots of thick, dark hair. After his passing away, if our grandmother was alone, we children took turns staying with her at night. She always had a nice treat for us. I was twelve years old when she passed away.