Jane Johnston Black

To celebrate Pioneer Day this week I compiled a history about a special midwife. A special thanks to Shani Allen Dutton, one of our readers and a descendant of Jane Johnston Black, for introducing me to the story of this courageous woman.

Jane Johnston Black lived a full and eventful life.  It was clear early on that she did not let challenges hold her back.  She was born in Lisbon, Ireland, in 1801 to a preacher of the Weslayan Methodist Church. Her mother died when she was very young and when she was just sixteen years old, her father died.  Her father was so beloved by his congregation that they insisted Jane carry on his work.  For four years she served in her father’s place as a preacher on his circuit. Before his death, he had arranged for Jane to live with the William Black family.  When their son, William returned from war, he fell in love with Jane and they were married in 1821 and had four children together. They lived with William’s father until his death in 1834. At that time, they moved to Manchester, England, where they heard the message of the restored gospel from William Clayton who baptized them in 1839.

Jane’s husband was immediately called to serve a mission in Ireland.  This was the first of many missions and assignments William would be given.  Jane travelled to America in 1840 while William was still serving in Ireland.  The journey across the ocean was difficult. At one point it seemed their boat would sink.  Jane gathered her children about her in prayer. Her son William spoke in tongues. Jane interpreted the message that they would be safe on the remainder of their voyage.

Upon arriving to Nauvoo, Sarah worked to support her family and took part in the all of the joys and trials of the saints of that time.  In her journal she shared that she “heard the Prophet Joseph Smith preach and [could] testify that he was a prophet of God.”  He called and set her apart as a midwife and doctor. She was promised success in her labors. This became her life’s work.  It was not a calling she took lightly.  She was beloved by the church leaders of that time.  It is recorded that it was her that John Taylor summoned her to care for him following the martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum. When she asked him why he called for her he replied, “Because I knew there was none better at such a job, and wanted you to stand at the morning of the resurrection and testify to the Lord against the assassins who murdered the Prophet and his brother Hyrum.” Her husband returned to her from Ireland, only to soon be called to a mission in Canada.

Her grandson, Edward L. Black, wrote, “Jane witnessed the battle between the mobs and saints. She was the only woman on the battlefield and carried water all day between opposing lines.”  While her husband was serving another mission in Canada, the saints were forced to leave Nauvoo. This happened in two stages.  The first was a well-planned settlement in Sugar Creek with plenty of provisions. But not everyone left in this first exodus in February of 1846. The one thousand who remained in Nauvoo were considered to be among the most poor, sick, feeble or farthest along in pregnancy. Jane stayed to care for them. By September of 1846, the mobs had grown tired of waiting for these stragglers to leave and forced them to go.  Jane wrote, “Before we crossed the river a party of the mob rode up and surrounded our wagon and made a demand that I should give up what arms we had. I then had a pistol in my bosom, which I drew out and told them it was there, and that I would use it before I gave it up. They did not take it from me, but threatened to throw me in the river that night.”

When she got to Montrose, Iowa, on the other side of the Mississippi River, she buried her gun under her wagon wheel. She was given a tent as shelter for the women that were in labor.  The trauma of this final exodus had hastened their births. She recorded, “I was the mid-wife, and delivered nine babies that night.” Their provisions were sparse, “until the Lord sent quails among us. We had nothing to sweeten anything until the Lord sent honeydew, which we gathered in bushes until we got all the sweets we wanted. I also boiled maple juice and got cakes of maple sugar.” If you ever visit Nauvoo Illinois, you can see two plaques bearing her words along Parley Street’s “Trail of Tears.”

When they were preparing to leave Montrose, she was digging up her firearms that she had buried under her wagon, when the mob came and asked her what she was doing. She replied, “the Saints were to have power to resurrect and that was what I was doing. ‘Oh,’ said one, ‘she is crazy,’ so I saved our arms.”  She survived Winter Quarters and finally settle in the Salt Lake Valley in 1850. They were soon assigned to settle in different communities in southern Utah including Manti, Spring City, St. George and finally Rockville. Jane’s grandson, Edward Black, related this story of his grandmother’s bravery:

One day a burly giant Indian, face plastered with war paint and long braids decorated with feathers, walked into their little cabin. The two women [Jane and her daughter-in-law] were the only ones at home. This was about three days before I was born. Grandmother was preparing a meal over the coals in the fireplace, as stoves were not fashionable in those days. Mother was so frightened that she had a hard time to keep from fainting. The Indian asked Grandmother for something she did not have and so informed him and, to manifest his contempt, he walked to the fireplace and spat in a frying pan of meat. She had a rather heavy oak stick standing by the fireplace sharpened at one end, which she used in lifting the bake oven and other vessels from the coals. She immediately broke that stick in two across his head and chased him out to the road, punching him every step with the sharp end, and him screaming for help. Mother said the last words she heard her say to him were, ‘if you ever come to my home again you will get something worse than that.’ A few days after this, his head bandaged, he met Grandfather and congratulated him on having such a brave squaw.

President Brigham Young warned her concerning her obligation to her sisters and told her “if she would be faithful she would never lose a mother or baby.” On one occasion President Young sent a team and buggy to Manti and had her care for one of his wives in Salt Lake City. Jane had recorded that she delivered more than 3,000 babies. She did not charge for her services but was usually given some type of payment whether it was a sack of flour, a ham or both. Although she was a midwife, she often was called in place of a doctor even assisting in an amputation. She knew the different plants and herbs well and utilized them for the benefit and blessing of the sick and afflicted.

I have to admit that I do not really know if Jane felt fear or not in the more traumatic moments of her life, but what I do know is that she stood up to fear and didn’t back down. Jane Johnston Black died when she was 89 years old and is buried in Rockville, Utah.


EXPERIENCES OF A PIONEER MOTHER By Edward L. Black (accessed on Family Search)

Pearson, C. “Nine Children Were Born: A Historical Problem from the Sugar Creek Episode.” BYU Studies 21:4.

My family recently had the privilege of attending the ground breaking and dedication of land for the Pocatello, Idaho temple. This event was by invitation only, knowing it would not be possible to accommodate all who would want to physically be there. We only received an invitation because our Bishop was unable to attend with his family. We were ecstatic to be able to be there in person. The event was also broadcasted from LDS.org to area meetinghouses and homes so that all who wanted to be a part of this momentous occasion could take part.

Let me reverse a bit. I grew up in south-east Idaho and returned here after college to raise a family. It has been a heartfelt desire of mine to have a temple here. I remember as a youth leader many years ago waiting outside the baptistry in the Idaho Falls temple when I found a book detailing the history of the Idaho Falls temple. In it was included a revelation that temples would dot these valleys. I knew then that it wasn’t a matter of if but when we would have a temple in Pocatello. And when the announcement was made? I’m sure you can imagine the rejoicing!

We have had a lot of snow this past winter and so there was concern over whether the ground could handle the event given the abundance of moisture. We were asked to pray that the weather would cooperate. And as you can see, it was a beautiful day. However, we were blessed with the assistance of a local business that provided hay tarps as ground cover given the soil was still very muddy. The cool thing about this? You will have to read the article here. Even though we got there early we had to sit on the ground (hay tarps) and while this may not have been the most comfortable, I think it was actually better for my kids. They cuddled around me and gave me sweet hugs as we listened.

As expected, the event went smoothly, and a beautiful spirit prevailed. You can read more details about the ground breaking here. I loved that for the first time, leaders from other local churches were invited to attend and participate in the event. These leaders of local faiths were the first to turn the soil with Elder Wilford Anderson. That was a beautiful thing. Elder Anderson offered remarks before the dedicatory prayer in which he reminded us that the things we have in common are more important than the things we don’t have in common. There were other significant “firsts” that this groundbreaking included which you can read here. You can watch a video summary of the event here.

The most memorable part for me will be the divine, heavenly feeling I felt shining down on us. It reminded me of that feeling of heaven that enters a space when a baby is born. It is difficult to put into words, but it is as if there is a connection between earth and heaven and times seems to stop. I have blogged about the symbolism of temples and birth in the past. You can read more about that here and here. Temples and birth are also touched on by the essays “The Two Veils” and “Birth in Remembrance of Him” in our book.

I loved reading this 5 star Amazon Review about The Gift of Giving Life.

Every woman should read this book. It is so beautifully put together and incredibly inspiring! As a mother preparing to give birth to my child, I found exactly what I needed while reading this book. I recommend this book to anyone having a baby, but also to every woman. It’s so, so beautifully done.

To read The Gift of Giving Life buy your copy on Amazon!

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You are helping to host a “normal” baby shower, but you want to make it a little bit more spiritual and meaningful for the mom.  A party with gifts and food is fun, but it is easy to add a few simple things to make this celebration more about the Mom and her journey to mothering this baby and therefore make it a bit more special.

Have you attended a Mother’s Blessing?

You have heard about and maybe even attended a Mother’s Blessing aka Blessingway?  Do you want to help create something like that for your friend?  At the same time you don’t want the fellow guests to think it is too “weird”.  So maybe skip the belly henna painting, but try these 3 simple tips instead.1.

1 – Writing and Sharing Wishes

Pass around blank note cards and have everyone write a wish or a piece of supportive advice they have for the mom.

Some examples:

A Fast and Easy Birth

A Happy Baby

An Easy Adjustment to the Baby

Take a Nap when the Baby Takes a Nap – you deserve the rest!

Then when Mom is opening their gift, the guest whose gift is being open, stands up and reads their wish to the Mom.

The thing I really love about this, is it keeps the guests focused on the mom as she is opening gifts and really makes the night about her and not just socializing with each other.

2 – Add Beads to take it up a notch

An easy thing to take the first tip up a notch, is have each guest bring a bead to add to a necklace/bracelet for the mom.  Have some extras on hand to give to those guest who forget to bring one.  Or if you already sent the invites out, go get a bunch of fun beads that the guests can choose from during the party.

When the guest shares their wish, they can go over to the mom and give her the bead and a hug.  Have a bowl near the mom, as an easy place to store the beads as the gifts are opened.

After all the presents are opened, you can easily put the necklace/bracelet together.

The mom will love having a keepsake from the well wishes that were given to her.  I know many moms who choose to wear their bracelet/necklace during their birthing time.


3 – We are all connected

Take some colorful cording and wrap it around the Mom’s wrist.  Then pass the cord around the group and have the guests wrap it around their  wrist and keep passing it on.   When it gets back to the Mom everyone is connected.

Take a moment and share how you are all connected together to share and love the expecting mother!  That she can feel that love at any time.

Then go around and cut the cord between each person and have them tie the cord on their wrist.  Let the guests know they can choose to wear it until the Mom has her baby.  Remind them if they choose to do this, they can think of the expecting Mom and send her prayers and well wishes, each time they think of her.

Moms and Guests love it!

Do these 3 tips, or even 1 and it will add something special to the shower

I have done this at 3 or 4 “normal” baby showers.  Each time the guests and the Mom express how meaningful both of these activities were.

They were easy to add and made the baby shower more of a Mother’s Blessing.

Try it and let us know your experiences.

(If you want tips to hosting a Mother’s Blessing, sign up for our newsletter, it will be the first e-mail you receive.)

Tips to throwing a Mother’s Blessing

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