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Mormon Convert, Mormon Defector: A Scottish Immigrant in the American West, 1848-1861 Hardcover – June 9, 2009


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: The Arthur H. Clark Company; First edition (June 9, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0870623699
  • ISBN-13: 978-0870623691
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,397,638 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

Polly Aird is an independent historian whose award-winning articles have appeared in the Utah Historical Quarterly, the Journal of Mormon History, and Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought.

About the Author

Polly Aird is an independent historian whose award-winning articles have appeared in the Utah Historical Quarterly, the Journal of Mormon History, and Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought. In addition, she is the author of the award-winning book, Mormon Convert, Mormon Defector: A Scottish Immigrant in the American West, 1848-1861. She lives in Seattle, Washington.

More About the Author

Born in San Francisco, I grew up in Mill Valley, California, and now live in Seattle. Graduating with Phi Beta Kappa from Stanford University in history, I worked for many years in scientific and technical communications. Finally I was able to return to my first love--history. I inherited an intriguing story of forbears who converted to Mormonism in Scotland in the 1840s and spent seven months traveling to Utah in the 1850s. Finding that it was a fanatical period among the Mormons--with insistence on absolute obedience to religious authorities and with a few bishops taking it upon themselves to eliminate those they considered enemies of God--most of the family became disaffected within five years of settling there. Fearing for their lives, they requested an army escort out of Utah to California. Their leaving split the family, for several daughters had married, remained faithful, and stayed in Utah.

In 2010, "Mormon Convert, Mormon Defector" was awarded "Best Biography" by the Mormon History Association and was also named Spur Award finalist for historical biography by the Western Writers of America.

My second book came out of associations with historians in Utah. My major piece was the autobiography of George A. Hicks, a truly amazing Mormon pioneer. Hicks had a gift for language and wrote with vigor. He was outspoken and was a keen observer of human nature, especially of people's foibles. But at the same time, he also pointed out people who had done a kindness. He was insightful and did not hesitate to express his own opinion. All this makes for a wonderful read and gives a view of pioneer life and events in especially turbulent times among the Mormons that is hard to equal.

"Playing with Shadows: Voices of Dissent in the Mormon West" was awarded the Smith-Pettit Foundation Best Documentary History Award by the Utah State Historical Society in 2012.

Customer Reviews

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27 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Val Holley on August 15, 2009
Format: Hardcover
There is a movement afoot to reclaim Utah history for the dissenters. The study of pioneers who abandoned the faith has been discouraged by pressure to write only "faithful" history and the notion that the "mantle" must trump the intellect. Thus, even though the archives which yielded the data for "Mormon Convert, Mormon Defector" had lain in plain sight for decades, it would take a Catholic historian to produce this Mormon masterpiece. Polly Aird advances the proposition that dissenters often worked as hard as their Mormon neighbors to make the desert blossom as a rose, and restores their legitimacy as pioneers.

In this most thorough study of the British Isles origins of an early Mormon convert ever to see the light of day, Ms. Aird has done the yeoman's share of legwork for descendants of English-speaking Mormon pioneers who want to learn what persuaded their ancestors to emigrate. If you're curious about your forbears' sufferings on the plains or in territorial Utah, you can find no better source.

The heart of "Mormon Convert, Mormon Defector" gives an unflinching picture of the dark events of the 1850s: the Mormon reformation, the Utah War, and Move South. Let us hope for many more of Polly Aird's meticulous reclamations of suppressed Utah narratives.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Alan Bernstein on August 6, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Every once in a while a book comes along that sheds light on a far vaster subject than at first expected. An illuminating book of just this kind is Polly Aird's Mormon Convert, Mormon Defector.

In the 1840s, the young Peter McAuslan, a calico print designer in Scotland, encounters Mormonism via missionaries sent from Salt Lake City. Recognizing in the new religion vistas opening to the Zion across the Atlantic, Peter and his wife Agnes accept Mormonism and move their family to Utah. Their experience is the heart of the tale. It is replete with poignant details about daily life, the pressures on the Saints in the new land, and internal contradictions in Mormonism itself. Eventually, Peter and Agnes allow a contingent of Federal troops to escort them with other refugees out of the Utah Territory, to settle finally in Marysville, California, at the Eastern fringe of the Sacramento Valley.

Polly Aird does a beautiful job balancing graceful prose with a dignified, neutral tone in analyzing the relevant ideas and events in the lives of the McAuslans and the Mormon community. She buttresses her tale with a magisterial command of archival material (from diaries, to LDS committee decisions, birth certificates, personal letters) to the photographs (complete with ratios for the images), to a diplomatic transcription (including the crossed-out words) of a fascinating letter McAuslan wrote to Robert Salmon, still back in Scotland, whom Peter had baptized early in his Mormon period.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By David R. Baker on October 12, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Polly Aird's book was a wonderful surprise, although it was pushed onto me as required reading as a direct----but distant---relative of Peter McCauslan. Her book is not a sentimental retelling of the McCauslan clan but meticulous history with real bite.

We start in Scotland near Loch Lomond where the McCauslans eked out an existence as farmers tilling the poor soil. Then, they, like thousands of others, were driven off the land in the early 1800's for more profitable sheep ranching. They migrated to small manufacturing towns near Glasgow that were truly Dickensian in horror: miasmas of water and air pollution, cholera and typhus. In order to survive, they worked in the textile industry, six days a week, 12 to 15 hours per day but their wages were relentlessly driven down below subsistence levels as both women and children were forced to work to survive.

All attempts at legitimate change failed. They were denied the right to vote, their unions were destroyed, their union leaders either imprisoned or shipped off to Australia. The only group that promised a better life before death were the Mormons. The McCauslans converted and began the hazardous journey to Utah.

The difficulties of the voyage as well as the trek overland were enormous. Their ship could have been easily wrecked by bad weather en route to New Orleans; food and water was scarce; privacy and cleanliness nonexistent: several on board died during the voyage. New Orleans was an exotic never never land to the poor from Europe: the architecture, the colors, the flora, the plantations, the slave markets were both beautiful and repellent.

The upriver trip was hazardous and slow; more died along the way. Finally, they reached the inland trail head and began the overland journey.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Pamela Knutson on November 3, 2009
Format: Hardcover
HISTORY IS US

Polly Aird's book, MORMON CONVERT MORMON DEFECTOR, is the riveting story of her great-great uncle's introduction to the Mormon faith by American missionaries to Scotland in the mid-19th Century. Consequences of the Industrial Revolution, hard times economically and socially, in combination with an impulse to pursue spiritual truth, opened him to the possibility of a better life in a promised land among like-minded faithful. After a hard but hopeful journey to Utah and years of residence, he witnessed things unacceptable to his integrity and intelligence and was led then, by a greater commitment to truth, to abandon Mormonism. Army escort was required for him to safely leave and travel to California. This book takes us on his physical journey as it becomes his inward journey. It is the story of every seeker, every person led by spiritual impulse to let go of the false and travel within.
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