A promised son.
Margaret Campbell joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1875 in Glasgow, Scotland. While stoking furnaces for the City of Glasgow Gas Company, James Campbell met missionaries from the Church. He and his twelve-year-old daughter, Margaret Campbell, were baptised by Alexander Rankin and David McKenzie. While Margaret’s mother never joined the Church, she and her father were devoted Latter-day Saints. When Margaret Campbell joined the Church, there were fewer than 500 Latter-day Saints in Scotland. The majority had immigrated to Utah in the United States, where many Latter-day Saints were gathering.
In 1879, Margaret’s mother passed away. Her father made the decision to emigrate to Utah in 1880. Margaret, however, remained in Glasgow and married the man she loved, William Williamson in 1880. William was an Irishman who had moved to Scotland to work in the mills, where Margaret presumably also worked. Margaret soon found herself pregnant with their first child. Tragically, William died from tuberculosis, living only long enough to see his son William Jr born on Saturday 8th December 1881, before passing away the following day. William Jr then also caught tuberculosis and died when only six months old. When Margaret’s father heard of their illnesses, he began the journey back to Scotland. However, he passed away on the train headed East from Utah and was buried in Nebraska. Now completely alone, Margaret moved further up north to Dundee for work, where she worked in the jute mills.
In Dundee, Margaret eventually remarried a tailor from Aberdeen, Scotland, called William Wilson in 1894. Life was hard as a working-class family in Scotland in the late nineteenth, early twentieth centuries. Their family lived near the jute mills where Margaret worked, so she was able to walk to work. Jute was a big industry in Dundee in the late nineteenth century.
Margaret’s husband was not a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and there was no church congregation in Dundee. However, Margaret had a strong belief in the truthfulness of the Church she had joined with her father in her youth. The missionaries would come to Dundee from time to time to hold Sunday meetings which Margaret would attend with her children. From her weekly wage from the jute mills of 10 shillings she would post 1 shilling to the missionaries in Glasgow to pay her church contributions of 10 percent. Though she had limited education, she could read and write and treasured reading the Book of Mormon and other church materials she could get hold of. Her children described her as “a woman of faith like a little child”. In particular, Margaret had a strong belief in the Book of Mormon as scripture, and that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God.
When reading about Joseph Smith’s life in the Millennial Star (a newspaper by the Church in Britain during the nineteenth century), she reflected on his life and decided to pray to God to give her a son who she would name Joseph. Like Hannah in the Old Testament when she prayed for a child, Margaret also promised her son to the Lord, promising that when he was of age, she would send him to Utah where he would serve God. Margaret became pregnant, and in the third month of her pregnancy had a visionary dream. In her dream a woman with long black hair appeared to her, dressed in a white robe. The woman approached Margaret with a baby in her arms and placing the baby in Margaret’s lap she said, “Yes, you shall have a son.” Margaret did indeed have a son, whom she named Joseph Smith Wilson. When Joseph was eighteen, Margaret told him, “I promised the Lord when you were of age, I would send you to Zion. Now I want you to get ready and go.” Having grown up knowing of his mother’s promise, Joseph had saved money and emigrated to Utah in 1922. As Joseph said goodbye to his mother at the door, her parting words to him were, “Now remember, you’re a wee man, but you’re a good wee man.” Joseph went on to a lifelong career teaching Sunday School and Church seminary classes in Utah.
Margaret had six children in total with her second husband William Wilson, four of which survived to adulthood. Both Joseph and one of her daughters, Maggie, emigrated to Utah, and a third child emigrated to Canada. Her fourth child, Lizzie, remained in Dundee, Scotland, where she remained faithful to the gospel. Shortly before her death on 3rd April 1924, Margaret sent her son Joseph a letter. The letter shows a woman with a great love for each of her children, a great desire for their happiness and her faith in God.
Research: Michelle Graabek
Writing: Michelle Graabek
Editing: Amy Epps & Louise Paulsen
Photography: Provided by Nicola Stobbs
Letter from Margaret Wilson to her son Joseph Smith Wilson, 2nd March 1924.
Self-published booklet written by Joseph Smith Wilson, 1980s, extracts compiled by Nicola Stubbs.