Notes from the Life of Alexander Neibaur

By C. Lynn Hayward

Transcribed by  Marolyn Cross


Notes from the Life of Alexander Neibaur


by C. Lynn Hayward



The early history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is filled with stories of unusual interest. Its converts came from many lands and a wide variety of nationalities. One of the most picturesque of these was Alexander Neibaur, who is said to be the first Jew to embrace the gospel and who became a person of considerable importance in the last days of Nauvoo and the early colonization of the valley of the Great Salt lake.

Being a well educated individual, Alexander Neibaur made entries rather faithfully in a dairy, which has fortunately been preserved in the office of the Church Historian. Much of the spelling in this dairy is, to say the least, original and many things which some of us would have enjoyed knowing about were omitted. Nevertheless, it contains a wealth of material in sufficient detail to allow us a glimpse into the soul of a stalwart member of the Church and gives detail to allow us a glimpse into the soul of a stalwart member of the Church and gives us another stirring example of the trials to which the early pioneers were subjected. The following account is taken in the main from the information in the dairy, but it is also derived in part from a few other writings on Alexander Neibaur. The dairy itself covers only that period of his life from February 5, 1841, when he left England for American to February 2, 1862, several years after he had become established in Salt lake Valley, Utah.

Much of the information available regarding the early life and conversion of Alexander Neibaur is contained in an article written by Susan Young Gates and published in the Relief Society Magazine, Volume 91, pp. 132-140, 1922. It is not entirely clear where Mrs. Gates obtained all of her information for the article, but some of it appears to have been obtained from conversation with the children of Mr. Neibaur. An article dealing with the early history of medicine in Utah also contains an account of Mr. Neibaur as a pioneer dentist in this area.

A picture of Alexander Neibaur and his four sons has been preserved. He appears to have been rather small in stature, but evidently possessed a fiery temper when provoked and seemed to have little fear of anything. His writing, nevertheless, reflect a high degree of personal modesty. Even though he was educated for the Jewish ministry early in his life, he became converted to Christianity shortly after he was 20 years of age, and the step from there into Mormonism was not great. Throughout his entire life following that conversion he was a zealous proponent of Christianity and Mormonism.

Alexander Neibaur was born January 8, 1808, in Ehrenbriestein in Alsace-Lorraine, which was at that time a part of France. It is located near Coblentyz, Prussia. His father was Nathan Neibaur and his mother was Rebecca Peretz. His parents were of a high class of Hebrews, and his father was well educated as a physician and surgeon. His father, it is said, was a personal physician to the great Napoleon Bonaparte. Not only was Nathan a well trained physician for his day, but he was also said to be an accomplished Linguist.

It is apparently Nathan Neibaur's skill as a linguist, rather than as a physician, that made him of great value to Napoleon as a interpreter. Even after Mr. Neibaur's retirement, the great soldier sought his help and offered him great sums of money to act as a spy, but Nathan was apparently opposed to Napoleon's principles and refused to join him.

With his parental background, and the fact that he was born and reared near the French-German border, it is little wonder that Alexander Neibaur also became well versed in several languages. In addition to his understanding of Hebrew and English, his father had apparently tried to influence Alexander to enter the Hebrew ministry. He apparently had ambitions of his own and when he was seventeen he entered the University of Berlin to study dentistry. Before he was 20, he graduated from that institution. Little seems to have been recorded about his life over the next few years, but during this interval he embraced Christianity and moved to Preston, England, where he set up his dental practice and apparently made many friends.

After moving to Preston, Alexander Neibaur married an English girl named Ellen Breakel, September 16, 1833, and their first child was born January 6, 1835.

The story of Alexander Neibaur's conversion to the LDS Church is told by Mrs. Gates in her account of his life. The first elder which included Heber C. Kimball, Willard Richards, Orson Hyde, and Joseph Fielding arrived at Preston about July 30, 1837. The Neibaurs heard of the message of the new missionaries and Alexander was at once interested, since he claimed to have had a vision in which he saw the Book of Mormon through the spirit of God. According to the account of his conversion, he read the Book of Mormon through, without pause, and was at once convinced of its truthfulness. He wanted to join the new religion immediately, but was urged by the missionaries to wait until he had made a more complete investigation. His baptism finally took place on April 9, 1838, by Elder Isaac Hersell, but he was rebaptized, as was a common procedure in those days, on April 1, 1857, after he had emigrated to the Salt lake Valley.

Alexander's wife Ellen did not embrace the gospel as readily as did her husband. She was, for a long time, unable to accept the Book of Mormon as anything but a beautiful story. Her conversion is said to have come about as a result of a remarkable dream in which she saw the face of Willard Richards in some small clouds, which were to her, symbols of the new faith, and she was baptized soon afterward and remained an enthusiastic member of the Church for the remainder of her life.

The story of Alexander Neibaur's journey to America begins with the first entry in his dairy, dated February 5, 1841. On that day he left his home in Preston with his wife and three children, Joseph William (age 6), Margaret (age 5) and Isaac( age 2). The Neibaurs had lost another son, also named Isaac, who died after one year of life, and about a month prior to their departure from Preston. At the time of departure from England, Alexander's wife Ellen was well along with another child, which was to be born soon after their arrival in Nauvoo.

The entry in the diary for February 6 tells of the preparations of a company of Saints at Liverpool to embark for New Orleans on the sailing ship Sheffield contained by one R. K. Porter. Alexander met a friend by the name of Hank who gave the family several gifts, including a muff for his daughter and a pair of fur gloves for himself. Among other articles to be taken on the voyage was a supply of lemons, which were for the purpose of preventing scurvy. Elders Young, Taylor, and Richards came to see the party off and to organize them for the journey. At this time Elder Hyrum Clark was appointed president of the voyage.

The party set sail from Liverpool, England, bound for New Orleans on February 7, 18941. The following day there was a heavy storm and much sea sickness aboard. One woman died and was bound up in a sheet and buried at sea.

Throughout the voyage from the day of sailing until March 28, when they anchored in the Gulf of Mexico, Alexander records a number of incidents aboard ship that were of interest. The cook neglected his duty because of too much liquor being given him by the company and he was "flocked 24 lashes." Brother Neibaur seemingly practiced his dental profession enroute, since he mentions "drawing a tooth" for the steward on March 2.

On March 4 they met an American ship with flag at half mast and the captain of the Sheffield thought at first that the approaching vessel was in distress. It was discovered, however, that the half mast was in honor of the new President of the US, General Harrison.

March 5, Alexander recorded: "In the course of the day some serious things took place, Elder Hyrum Clark being charged with behaving himself, unseemingly to Sister Maria Harmon and other females." However, at a sacrament meeting held on March 7, Brother Clark asked forgiveness and the incident was forgotten.

During the voyage Sister Neibaur evidently suffered much from sea sickness, for on March 5 Alexander recorded that his wife had missed having the sickness for the first time since the voyage began nearly a month before.

On March 17 there was a near mutiny on board and several of the saints, including Hyrum Clark, were asked by Captain porter to help capture the offenders. On March 20 there was a fire on board, but it was put out before it caused much damage, and on the same date the ship passed the island of Jamaica. During the night of March 25, the party sailed past the island of Cuba and on march 28 they anchored in the Gulf of Mexico.

The follow day steamships came out to meet their ship, and the pilot came on board to take them into the Mississippi River. Regarding this event, Alexander says, "we went up the Mississippi in grand style--past Fort Jackson about 10 o'clock at night." the day of March 30 was a "fine frosty morning" and many strangers came on board ship selling provisions. Men had to be set to watch hatchways that night.

On the first day of April hands of families were sent to the "Costume" (customhouse) to get permits signed and luggage inspected. On that same day the company boarded the steamer Moravian, which was to carry them up the Mississippi to St. Louis. Their quarters on this vessel were seemingly not very comfortable. Alexander writes "we had iron rails for bedsteads, all being huddled together, some slept in hammocks, others were forced to sit up all night, having no place, some 6 or 7 sleeping in a bett."

The journey up the Mississippi began on April 2, 1841, and the party arrived at Quincy, Illinois on April 17. In the course of this trip a number of incidents of interest took place. When they landed at Vicksburg n April 6, Alexander recorded that there were "numerous turtles on shore and of the company killed a serpent 2 yards long." Negroes came on board selling fresh vegetables and eggs. While they were at Memphis, there was a terrible storm which frightened all on board and did considerable damage to the boat.

On April 13 Alexander noted that he "cleaned four passenger's teeth," and that words were received of the death of President William Henry Harrison. At St. Louis, which was reached on April 15, "such a confusion was not on board, merchants clerks coming, inquiring for letters from their houses--Negroes on like business, boys with apples, fruit, hardware, eggs, etc." The company transferred to a new boat called Goddess of Liberty to carry them on their journey.

The arrival at Quincy was on April 17 and their boat was able to take them only as far as Warsaw. On the following day they were taken on to Nauvoo by the steamboat Aster. On arrival at Nauvoo, many of the company were taken in by the Saints, but Brother Neibaur and some others stayed with the luggage and kept a large fire burning throughout the night.

In his diary Alexander Neibaur does not make clear the occasion of his first meeting with the Prophet Joseph smith, nor does he comment in any way upon his impression of the man. He states, however, that on April 21, while Alexander was in company with a Brother Thompson, Joseph Smith came to "... order some false corals (curlers?) for his wife, asked about some land, if I had means could get plenty." On April 25 Alexander attended an open air meeting at a site near the temple. He comments that April 27 was a fine coal morning. got some pig heads from Brother Snider's smoke house."

A fourth of a lot was acquired on April 28, on which a house was to be built and work on the structure was apparently started immediately. There were very few entries for May, presumably because all were busy building the house. However, it was recorded that a daughter, named Alice Breaker, was born n May 22, 1841. The family moved into the new home on June 1.

Only a few days after moving into the new house, Alexander was stricken with a severe illness (possibly malaria?) and he states that, "in the course of a few days went almost to a skeleton, but faith in the Almighty and the strong cry" of some of the elders, I feel myself out of danger."

For the remainder of the year 1841 and for the three following years there were very few entries in the dairy. It has been said that Alexander taught Hebrew to the Prophet Joseph Smith. There is no mention of this in the diary, but Alexander does mention going frequently to the home of the Prophet to read German. On one of the visits, Joseph Smith told him the account of the first vision, which was similar to the story related in the History of the Church. The Prophet also told him of his experiences with William law, who was a great enemy of the Prophet. From the scanty references in the diary, it is evident that Alexander Neibaur and Joseph Smith were close associates during the period form 1841 to 1844.

Under the general heading "City of Joseph" (Nauvoo), 1845 and 1846, Brother Neibaur refers to several incidents connected with the mob action around Nauvoo, prior to the departure of the Saints. On September 10 to 24, 1845, he acted as a guard and on September 11, 1846, he records that the "mob moved north toward laws field, firing 35 cannon balls, myself being placed in a corn field opposite Hyrum farm to spring a mine. Two forts erected in the night."

There seemed to be some confusion as to the destination of the Saints in their trek to the West. On September 25, 1845, Alexander recorded that the Mormons were to leave for California in the spring. Later, on November 2, 1847, after they had moved to winter quarters, he mentions meeting at the home of Brother Willard Richards at which time Brother Richards described the "journey to the valley, the name of the site, the Great Salt Valley."

Alexander makes several references to his own father, sister, and brother. He mentions that on September 28, 1952, he receives a letter from his father and widowed sister Bertha, in which they expressed a wish to come to America, but that they lacked the means. He had their names put on the perpetual emigration company list. On this same date he mentions writing to his brother David in Manchester and his brother Adolf in New York. A few years later he refers to a letter from his father in Warmbrun, Silesia, dated May 14, 1854, informing him of the death of his brother, Adolf, in New York, February 18, 1854.

Throughout the latter part of the dairy, frequent reference is made to activities in the church. Alexander records many of the meetings he attended, given the names of the speakers and the subject matter of their sermons. On February 143, 1853, he 'viewed breaking ground" for the Salt Lake Temple. April 20, 1854, he bought an ox from the church for $45.00.

On December 3, 1854, he records hearing a sermon by Brigham young of which he says, "Brigham Young preached concerning the Jews. No Jew coming in this church would remain faithful. Brother Neibaur, as a Jew, has changed his Jewish blood. There is not the smallest particle of the blood of a Jew in him."

Alexander states that on March 1, 1857, we went to the Bishop of his ward (Salt Lake 15th) to settle his tithing. He owed $7.56, and stated that all of the property "that I am steward over was valued at $2,233.00. On January 21, 1858, he paid $24.99 in tithing and began to build a house.

A few records are made regarding his vocation of making matches. He states that on September 13, 1858, he deposited $28.00 in Deseret Currency at the President's Office toward the purchase of phosphorus and brimstone. On November 4, 1859, he records selling 4,000 bunches of matches for $111.45.

Between the years 1857 and 1862, several references are made to the activities of Alexander's oldest son Joseph William. On January 3, 1857, he records, "the 5th Quorum of 70 met at my house, after meeting my oldest son Joseph William was married to Elizabeth Cranshaw." On March 14 of the same year he writes that, "Patriarch John Smith attended at my house to give a Patriarchal Blessing to myself and wife, also myself blessed my eldest son Joseph. I being mouth felt much of the Spirit of God, his wife Elizabeth Cranshaw was blessed....."

Three days later (March 17) Alexander states that "my son Joseph and his wife went to Lehi in Utah to farm for brother William Snow."

During the year of 1858 there were several accounts of trips to Provo. On May 11 he writes that "myself and son Joseph Williams and son-in-law Morris Mrosenbaum started with a load of flour for Provo City, Utah and returned on the 14th." Several such trips were made during the weeks immediately following. This was part of the "grand move" south, prior to and in preparation for the arrival of Johnson's army. Beginning about April 1, 1858, hundreds of wagon loads of supplies, as well as thousands of head of livestock were moved from Salt Lake City to Provo. The Neibaur family participated in this activity. Alexander and his son Joseph William and their families left Salt Lake City on June 1 and with the children driving cows and pigs, arrived at Provo on June 4. The families remain in Provo until about July 11, when it was again safe to return to their homes in Salt lake City,

In the year 1860, Alexander recorded an event of great importance to the Hayward family. Under date of September 16 he writes that "my son Joseph had a daughter born to him." This child, of course, was to be our mother.

During the years 1860 to 1862 there is mention in the dairy of several trips made by Joseph with a Mr. Colister to Pikes Peak and Denver, Colorado for the purpose of hauling freight. Incidentally, there seems to be every evidence in the references to son Joseph that he was, so to say, the apple of his father's eye.

During the same time there are a few comments regarding son Isaac, who seemed, on occasion, to run afoul of the law. On September 14, 1860, Isaac was fined $100.00 for "being on a drunken spree." September 14, 1862, he was arrested by the sheriff for fighting and later for stealing. An account of a trial held over the misdeeds of Isaac is given in some detail. Alexander was accused of encouraging his son in such deeds and Joseph was asked to testify, in defense of his father.


A Family History account by Alexander Neibaur


Born of Jewish parents and educated in the Law of Moses to become a Rabbi at 14 years of age, I chose the profession of a dentist. Went to the University of Berlin 1t 17 years of age. Began to travel on the continent of Europe as a dentist in 1830. Went to England. Established myself in Preston, Lancs. Got married to Ellen Breetiel, an estimable young woman. Heard the Latter-Day Saints preach on June 4, 1837. Embraced the truth in opposition to all my friends. Passed in consequence through hardships and trials, yet my trust was in the God of Abraham.

Emigrated in the first LDS company in the ship Sheffield by New Orleans to Nauvoo, Illinois. left the Liverpool harbor with my wife and three children February 7, 1841. In the fall of 1843 had the honor of instructing the Prophet Joseph Smith until he went to Carthage, in German and Hebrew, from which text he preached several times to large congregations. Was in the battle of Nauvoo. Was driven out by the mob in September 1846, stayed in Iowa that winter. In the summer of 1847 went to Winter Quarters. In May 1848 started for the Rendezvous of the LDS at the Horn. Joined President Young's Camp to travel to Salt Lake City. Got there September 24. Got a city lot. Myself and my oldest son Joseph made adobes for a house. Lived in a tent until the May following with my wife and 7 small children. Passed through all the trials and difficulties with my brethren, thanking the Lord, his spirit has sustained me. On December 14, 1860, my wife fell asleep in the Lord. A faithful servant, leaving myself, 4 sons, and 7 daughters and numerous family of grandchildren. I do not pen these lines, but for the gratification of my posterity, bearing to them and to all who may read these few lines my testimony that Joseph Smith was a prophet of the Lord. The things spoken on in the Bible and Book of Mormon and sealed with the blood of the martyr at Carthage jail, Illinois, are true. My prayer is that my posterity might work in the way of righteousness. amen. Got Elizabeth Kily sealed to me September 1, 1870 at the endowment House by George Cannon.



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