Mormon influence felt in Fayette County

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By Linda Hanabarger

In early spring 1839 George Washington Hickerson had a vision – and in 1866, when he wrote his life story, his vision was preserved for posterity.

One of the three children of William Loving and Malinda Luster Hickerson, George, along with brother, Andrew Jackson Hickerson, served in the Black Hawk War from Fayette County. George wrote in his memoirs that he was elected major of the militia in Fayette County.

After their discharge from service, the Hickerson brothers took to traveling. George wrote that he traveled to Missouri in August 1832 – where in Jackson County he saw some of the first Latter Day Saints or Mormons. 

He wrote, “I was struck with admiration in consequence of their gathering together, yet was adverse to them in consequence of popular rumor which was always unfavourable.”

His conversion to Mormonism came later – with the vision.

The brothers went west in the spring of 1833, when they were employed to guard the paymaster from Ft. Leavenworth to Ft. Gibson. They had to swim rivers and cross on rafts, and both were wet and exposed a great deal.

George wrote: “In the winter of 1834, I went boating down the Ohio and Mississippi rivers to New Orleans. Here I saw the first rail car. Came back again in the spring of 1834 and stopped about home in 1835.”

The History of Fayette County, published in 1878, tells that several men were active in spreading the Mormon doctrine in Sefton Township in the 1830s. Jeremiah King was a well-known preacher, and Levi Stewart and John Doyle Lee were mentioned in connection with the Mormon theology as well.

Lee would later figure in the Meadow Mountain Massacre in Utah, for which he paid his life.

George Hickerson married Sarah Woolsey Stephens in Fayette County and became John Doyle Lee’s brother-in-law. Sarah’s sister, Agatha Woolsey, was Lee’s first wife (one of 40), and Hickerson and Lee became business partners in Vandalia, where they hauled produce to St. Louis to sell.

In early spring 1839, Hickerson wrote, “The saints being driven from Colwell County and from all parts of Missouri to Illinois, and being in a scattered and helpless condition, yet many were sent on missions to the various parts of the world.

"Brothers John D. Lee and Levi Stewart being also sent, they came down through Illinois and left their families with their friends. John D. Lee’s wife and mine being sisters, he left his family with me – [Lee] left some books with this wife – which I read occasionally and must confess notwithstanding my prejudice, I was a little concerned about the matter, and in the summer had a singular dream.

“It appears that one of my neighbors, John Bowls, and myself were sitting in my house. It was a cabin and an angel came down, made an opening through the top of the house near the southeast corner. The impression came with him to us, so he did not have to tell us he was an angel, for we knew it and he proclaimed this singular sentence: ‘The heaven church bell is ringing.’

“I, being somewhat concerned, was anxious to know more about it and asked, ‘Is it ringing for us?’ At this moment my wife shook me and I awoke.”

Six months later, while sitting in his cabin home, George interpreted his vision. That fall, Levi Stewart had returned to Sefton Township and held a meeting in Hickerson’s home.

As Stewart stood before the window, the shaft of light that fell on him appeared just as it had in George’s dream. As he looked to his right, there was Joseph Bowls in the room.  He was converted to Mormonism right then and there. 

Two years later, George moved his family to Nauvoo, and from there settled with the saints in Utah. George Washington “Wash” Hickerson died in Millard County, Utah, on Aug. 17, 1884.

Both George and his brother, Andrew Hickerson, took part in the California Gold Rush. In a letter written to his wife, Sarah, from Eldorado County, Calif., George told that six of them had “engaged in trading and making a garden, buying and selling goods and provisions at very small profits.”

The six men, mostly Fayette County men, included George, Andrew, Jeremiah Evans, William Whittle, William Woolsey and Samuel Bunyard, a cousin to Jeremiah Evans.

Andrew Hickerson was married on March 23, 1837, to Margaret H. Shirley, a Fayette County girl. They made their home in California, where their descendents live today.

Without the telling of life stories of men such as George Washington Hickerson, much of our history would be lost. For it is in the telling that such incidents become history.