Today is Pioneer Day in Utah as I sit at my computer letting my fingers do the talking. The sun is about to set and firecrackers are popping. It was on this day, July 24, 1847, that the pioneers finished their one thousand mile arduous journey by leader Brigham Young and his faithful followers. That was 174 years ago.
As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Later Day Saints, I have a rich pioneer ancestry. I can trace my Mormon roots back to the very first branch, The Colesville Branch, of the Church of Jesus Christ. I am of German, Welsh, Scottish, and English descent. Some of my ancestors came to America in the days of Jamestown seeking religious freedom. Others came to America after hearing missionaries from the Church of Jesus of Latter Day Saints share the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.
A few months ago, I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts https://www.ldsliving.com/pages/allin-e131-mauli-bonner-paul-reeve-understanding-history-of-blacks-in-church and it led me to the discovery of the amazing story of Sarah Ann Mode (Hofheintz) the wife of my Great, Great, Uncle Peter Hofheintz.
Peter was a stow away bound for America. He came looking for a new way of life and found a new faith as well. Peter worked as a stonemason in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, a trade he had learned in Germany. Peter worked and saved enough money to send for his brother Jacob, my maternal great, great grandfather. The two brothers were the only members of the Hofheintz family to emigrate from Germany.
Sarah Ann was born on July 4, 1811. Sarah Ann's mother was white and her father was black. Her father worked in commerce. An 1831 census notes that Jesse was the head of the Mode family and the household consisted of "five free people" of color.
Peter married Sarah Ann Mode of Philadelphia in 1831. Peter was 22 years old and Sarah Ann was 18. In 1835 they had their first child, a son. While in Philadelphia, the couple had three more children. Peter and Sarah joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints on November 15, 1840. Sarah and Peter moved with the saints west and fully enveloped themselves in their new found faith. In Nauvoo, Sarah gave birth to two more children. Unfortunately both died and are buried in the old pioneer cemetery there. Despite hardships, Sarah and Peter remained faithful. Sarah became the first person of black African ancestry to receive her temple endowment and washing and anointing (temple rituals) and did so Christmas Eve 1845 just prior to the saints being driven from Nauvoo. https://exhibits.lib.utah.edu/s/century-of-black-mormons/page/hofheintz-sarah-ann-mode#?c=0&m=0&s=0&cv=0&xywh=-1743%2C-134%2C6517%2C2666
During this time, Sarah was unaware of the plight her father faced. In 1848, her father, Jesse, was imprisoned for contracting to pick up a load of lumber in Maryland at Swan Creek with an all black crew. According to Maryland law, one white man must accompany a crew of black sailors. Mode and his crew were all imprisoned. Jesse Mode died in the Wilmington almshouse two years later. He was 77 years old.
It Seems strange that Sarah enjoyed all the privileges of white society although not without turbulence while her father fought against the evils that saw his skin as unequal. I wish I had the answers. How did Jesse come to marry a white woman in 1799? Was Sarah's skin light in color so she never met obstacles or did skin color matter to those in her circle? How was she viewed by Mormon Society or had color not yet become an issue in this new faith. I wish knew more about Jesse's family and his wife Mary Shuel. Records indicate that Jesse's father was born in Delaware around 1748, Jesse was born in 1773 and married Mary in 1782. How did a white woman marry a black woman in the late 1700's? There is so much I don't understand. I wish I had more answers.
I am grateful for my faith. I am great for my increased understanding and for the patience God has granted me when I lack the understanding. I am grateful for Sarah Ann Mode who despite all obstacles remained faithful. Sarah died on September 22, 1882 in Salt Lake City. Her obituary read "Sarah was a kind and affectionate mother, a true wife and a faithful Latter-day Saint.” It noted that she left “a numerous posterity, and a host of friends to mourn her loss.” Sarah died of “dropsy of the heart,” a nineteenth-century description for swelling likely caused by congestive heart failure. Her funeral was held in the 12th Ward building where Sarah had worshipped since arriving in Utah over thirty years earlier. She was buried in the Salt Lake City Cemetery.
Oh to be like Sarah!