Stephen Luce must have been in Nauvoo in April 1840. I’m happy to have that piece nailed down.
The confusion here is from an index card in the Early Church History Information file. It says Stephen Luce was ordained a Seventy on 9 April 1840 by Wilford Woodruff.
That can’t be right. Woodruff was on his English mission. There is no evidence in family tradition or written sources that Stephen Luce served a mission in England.
I wrote to the experts at the BYU Family History Center. They didn’t say it can’t be right, but they did say there’s no evidence. The person who typed that card might have made a mistake on the date. Woodruff’s journal has a fairly lengthy entry for 9 April 1840 but no mention of Stephen Luce or of ordaining anyone.
So, we backtrack.
BYU pointed out that Stephen Luce was ordained a Teacher by Woodruff on 13 April 1838 in Vinalhaven. The event is recorded in Woodruff’s journal. His brother-in-law Nathaniel Thomas was ordained a Priest at the same time.
Stephen and his wife Mary Ann (Nancy) did not join the Mormon exodus from Maine in October 1838. Woodruff named the people who traveled with him in a journal entry dated 4 October 1838. The family of Stephen’s brother Ephraim Luce was part of the company. Stephen and his family were not. (We can guess the reason. Nancy was in the advanced stages of pregnancy. She gave birth to Wilford Woodruff Luce in Vinalhaven on November 9, 1838, just a few weeks after the company departed.
If Stephen and Nancy didn’t travel with Wilford Woodruff to Nauvoo in 1838, it seems likely they arrived there in 1839 or 1840.
I recently discovered Stephen was in Nauvoo in July 1840. On 18 July 1840 Phebe Woodruff wrote to her husband about the death of their small daughter. She died at their home in Montrose, Iowa. They took her body across the Mississippi River to Nauvoo for burial. In the letter, Phebe mentions in passing that Stephen Luce had agreed to make a little fence around the grave. Telling the story, writer Laurel Thatcher Ulrich describes Stephen Luce as “a friend from Maine” (Ulrich, 49).
It seems unlikely Stephen Luce had traveled to England on the mission with Wilford Woodruff, then returned before Woodruff did, particularly when there is no evidence that he went to England at all. I’ve written to BYU again. Perhaps they can locate the record of Stephen Luce’s 1840 ordination.
- Stephen Luce, Card No. 457, Early Church History Information File, visited Oct. 13, 2019.
- Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, A House Full of Females: Plural Marriage and Women’s Rights in Early Mormonism, 1835-1870 (2017), citing Phoebe Woodruff to Wilford Woodruff, July 18, 1840, Wilford Woodruff Letters.