Hay view from Castle

Hay view from Castle
Hay-on-Wye, Powys (formerly Breconshire), Wales. The "Town of Books" (and Vaughans!)

Friday, October 4, 2013

The Blind Harpist - Friend of the Family

Thomas Davis Giles (1820-1894) was well known in Territorial Utah as "The Blind Harpist." I had seen references to his performance in Springville from the Luke Gallup Journal.

That was a bit of surprise after checking the Tredegar, Wales Branch membership records for John and Jane Vaughan Lewis (and maybe Elinor). I had seen that a Thomas Giles was Branch President and had emigrated to Utah in 1856 along with the Lewises. So, I thought he could be a possible connection to find them in Utah.

Also in the Branch records I found that John Lewis, married to Jane from Llanfoist (our Jane Vaughan, daughter of John 1789 & Elinor) was ordained a Priest by President Giles on June 27, 1850, and then became an Elder October 16 of the same year when he was also chosen to serve as Second Counselor in the Branch Presidency. So I figure our people would have known Thomas Giles pretty well.

Giles was born in Blaenavon just over the Blorenge mountain from Llanfoist. He was one of those eight-year-old coal miners. It was dangerous work, but he had no serious ill effects until 1848. Here is his story from this website [citing LDS Biographical Encyclopedia, Andrew Jenson, Vol. 2, p.507]:

At a meeting of saints held in Bro. Giles' native town [Blaenavon], in 1848, a member of the Church arose and spoke in an unknown tongue, prophesying that something of a very serious nature would shortly happen to some of the leaders of the Church in Wales. A spirit of dread took possession of the little branch, as it was feared that the calamity predicted would come through mob violence, and as a precaution the Elders of the Church from that time ceased going out to labor singly as missionaries. The prediction sure enough came to pass, Bro. Giles, being the victim. One day, while working at his trade, digging coal in a mine, a large piece of coal fell on him, striking him on the head and inflicting a wound nine inches long, rendering him totally blind. The injured man was carried to his home and medical aid hastily summoned. The doctor then bound up the wound in Bro. Giles's head and rendered him other assistance. In taking his leave, the doctor said he did not believe the injured man would live longer than twenty-four hours. News of the sad accident was carried to two Elders of the Church, who hastened to the bedside of their unfortunate brother, whom they anointed with oil, and then prayed for his recovery. He was promised that he would get well and even if he would never see again, he would live to do much good in the Church. A month later he was out traveling through the country attending to his ecclesiastical duties.
So, he was a blind Branch President when he ordained John Lewis as a Priest! The accident and miraculous healing may even have had an influence on John & Jane's conversions. Giles also served as President for the Monmouthshire Conference - and as Branch President in Nant-y-glo. The conferences and branches were constantly reorganized and restructured as so many were emigrating to Zion in the U.S. In 1856 it was time for President Giles to go along with John Lewis's family.

Giles had one of those difficult trips across the plains as did John & Jane with the challenging story we are piecing together. Giles had two children and his wife die as they traveled with the Bunker handcart company. When his wife died, his teenage sons were sent to the company just behind them, the Martin Company (they survived). It seems they wanted the boys to have some adult supervision since their mom had died and their father was, well, blind. Brother Alfred Reese was assigned to accompany Giles as his guide. Heading towards Ft. Bridger, Giles himself became ill. The Company left him aside the trail with two brethren to wait with him to bury him. Fortunately (or blessedly), Elder Parley P. Pratt was on the trail and came across Bro. Giles whom he knew from Britain. With a blessing of healing from Elder Pratt, Bro. Giles made it to the Valley. Brigham Young was so impressed with his musical skills that he lent a harp to Bro. Giles and his musical career was born.

So far, we haven't found a connection between the Lewises or Elinor with Thomas Giles in Utah, but we're still looking. We probably have to check out Bro. Reese as well.
Heroes of Faith: True Stories of Courage and Faith, Sullivan, Marlene Bateman (Cedar Fort, Springville,      Utah, 2013), Chapter 18, online
Family Search - Family Tree
British Mission, Membership Records, LDS CHL
Deseret News, (April 3, 2013)

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