Friday, November 19, 2010

Birgithe Jensen

  • Name: Birgithe Jensen Madson
  • Born: July 23, 1853 Dronninglund, Denmark
  • Died: September 15, 1932 Salem, Utah
  • Related through: Erin's grandfather James Madson

Birgithe Jensen Madson was born in Dronninglund, Longenhjoring, Denmark on July 23, 1853 to Paul M. and Meta Kyerstine Olsen Jensen. She was their first child and was probably names after her father's first wife, Birgithe Christensdatter, who died after only five years of marriage. (No childrens were born of that marriages that we can locate). Birgithe had a little sistter, Annie Johanna (Hannah), who was was born in 1860. These two girls were born as Poulsen according to the patronymic system in Denmark; however they took the name Jensen, their father's surname, when they came to America.

She was baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints April 22, 1866 by Peter Nelson and confirmed by him. After the family accepted the gospel they emigrated from Denmark to Utah in 1866. They arrived in Salt Lake City October 8, 1866 and settled in Spanish Fork. They dug a dugout to store their things and lived in a tent until they could build a two room adobe house. Her father made the adobe for the house and Birgithe and her sister Hannah helped mix the mud and water for them. They would get in barefoot and run around and dance and had all kinds of fun doing it.

Birgithe had no chance to go to school after she got to this country and had very little schooling in Denmark. She estimated about a year in all. She went to work about a year after she came and worked until she was married at the age of 16 to James Ephraim Madson. They were married in the endowment house in Salt Lake City by Daniel H. Wells. They lived in Salem until his death in 1914 and she continued to live there except for a short time when she lived with her only daughter, Delia, because of poor health. She passed away September 15, 1932 and is buried in Salem, Utah.

Some of her memories of the trip from Denmark have been recorded by Delia for the Daughters of the Utah Pioneers. (As a side note Birgithe's daughter Bodil "Delia" was named for her now famous cousin Bodil Mortensen who froze to death in the Willie Handcart Company.)

She stated they left a comfortable home, sold everything they could and came to Utah for the sake of the gospel. Birgithe was 13 and her sister Hannah was six at the time. They sailed on the ship Kenilworth from Hamburg, Germany in May of 1866 with 684 Scandinavian Saints on board under the direction of Samuel D. Sprague and landed in New York on July 17.

Birgithe's parents - Poul Marrtines Jensen and Mette Kjerstine Olsen
When they were on the ocean the ship caught fire. Birgithe’s father was acting as guard that night. While he was making his rounds a man who was sitting up with his sick wife showed him where the fire had burned a big round hole in the ship. Our great-grandfather could not speak a word of English so he had a hard time giving the alarm, but finally he made one of the deck hands understand. Some of the crew was very frightened. They thought the ship was sinking, but it was only the water they were using to put out the fire and it was not long before the captain came and told them not to the afraid; the fire was out and they would soon be on their way. It took eight weeks to cross the ocean. In New York they were advised to take a condemned train because it was so much cheaper. They were eleven days on the train as they went through Canada.

When they arrived in Boston, a friend of theirs, Mrs. Christanna Peterson, became ill and died, leaving her eight-year-old granddaughter, Mary Jensen, who was migrating with her alone. Mary traveled the rest of the way to Utah in the care of Birgithe’s parents. She became Birgithe’s companion – walking most of the way across the plains with her.

When they were nearing Chicago the Elders warned them to be real quiet as there might be a mob waiting for them if they found out they were Mormons. One fellow refused to close the window he was sitting by in the train, as he had been asked to do. He kept sticking his legs out and when they stopped, someone from outside grabbed them and hung onto them. After that he was glad to close the window.

The mob put rocks in the track thinking it would cause the train to run off into the lake. But it seemed as if the Lord was with them for by some miracle it ran off the opposite way into a forest of trees and bushes. Quite a few were shaken up and received cuts and bruises, but otherwise were unharmed.

They came down the Missouri River on a flat boat. While on this boat a crazy woman furnished them with amusement. The cooks were peeling apples and she asked for one and they gave it to her. Then she kept asking for more and was told she could not have any more so she watched for her chance and grabbed the pan and threw them all into the river. Another time she took a bath in the water they kept in a large stone jar for drinking. The Mormons were not allowed to drink that water; they had to drink river water. I suppose the sailors preferred the river water too after that incident.

At Omaha they were met by wagons from Utah and left on August 8th with Andrew L. Scott’s ox train. Hans Rigtrup was their teamster. There were 200 people in this company with 49 wagons. Thirty members of this company died while crossing the plains. All that were able had to walk so Birgithe, Mary and her mother had to walk most of the way. Hannah was only six years old and not very well so she was allowed to ride.

It was hard to keep in shoes. Birgithe’s mother made shoes of old felt hats or anything she could get to try and keep their feet covered. She was a very good dressmaker and used her skill on the shoes. But they didn’t last long and often their feet were sore and bleeding from walking so much. Grandfather Jensen had been in comfortable circumstances in the old country and sold out for what money he could get and then helped many immigrants who were less fortunate than himself by lending them money. Some were anxious to pay him back and did so as soon as they could, but he received nothing from others.

When they were in Laramie, Wyoming, Birgithe and Hannah were walking down the road together and an old lady stepped out of a log house and caught hold of Hannah and took her in the house. Both girls screamed until their father came. The old lady explained that she wanted to keep the child. She said she looked delicate and would never live to cross the plains. The old lady took them in afterward and gave them a good meal which Birgithe did not share as she could not be found. Hannah crossed alright and lived to be over 70 years old.

James Madsen family about 1893
Top row: James, John, Joe, Enoch
Middle row: Ervin, Frank
Seated: Delia, Father James, Elmer, Mother Birgithe, Will

James Ephraim and Birgithe immigrated at the same time, but she did not meet him until she came to Spanish Fork. He was the only one of his family to come to Utah and his parents and sisters seemed to think he had disgraced them by joining the Mormons. After they were married they moved to Salem and built a dugout to store their things. They camped in a wagon until they could build a one-room adobe house for which her father made the adobe. Birgithe was often left alone while her husband was away freighting or working in the canyon. She was sometimes quite frightened of the Indians. She often went into the fields gleaning wheat and thought nothing of walking to Spanish Fork to visit her parents. A few years later they built a larger house, a two-room adobe, and as the family grew they added on to it. As they prospered a little they build a ten-room brick house.

She became the mother of eight sons and one daughter. Granddaughter, Bea Kimball, remembers sitting on the porch of the Salem home and watching Birgithe make beautiful beaded necklaces which she gave to her grandchildren. Grandma would say, “Are you a princess, I’m making this for a princess.” This was typical of her interests and talents and love for her family.

Another granddaughter, Hattie Madson Knight, would always look forward to a visit from Grandma Madson each summer. How she got to Idaho she didn’t know, but she would spend about a week with each family – John, Frank and Irvin. She would sit for hours and teach Hattie to tat and crochet. She was an expert at both. She had a painful hip and used a cane during her later years. Her needlework was beautiful and given generously to each family.

Her husband passed away on March 26, 1914 after a useful and exemplary life. He was always a hard worker and kept busy until almost a week before his death, although he had been ill for almost two years. He served for many years a chairman of the Board of Education and was an active church worker. She was also kept busy in the church. She was treasurer in the Relief Society for 27 years. She spent many hours making temple clothes for the dead and other sewing that was needed.  She helped lay out the dead and waited on the sick. She was also active in religion classes for many years.

Birgithe was of a cheerful, happy disposition and a good wife and mother. She always thought of the welfare of others and did a good turn whenever she could. Through her many trials she always tried to look on the bright side of things.

This history was written and compiled by Hattie Madson Knight, 1976.


  1. Erin,

    I've been going through your Madson posts loving all of it! Looks like we are distant cousins of some sort. Anyways my grandma is Amelia Ann (Madson) daughter of Ann Amelia Clark and Mads Madson. She was the baby of the family. Her birthday is Christmas day and I've been trying to compile histories and pictures to give to her this year. Thank you for the time and effort you put into this blog with the pictures to follow the stories. If you know of other pictures of interest from these families I would definitely be interested.

    Thank you,

  2. Megan- I think that makes us second cousins. My grandfather James was Amelia's brother. I remember meeting her once or twice. Does she still live in California? Most of my info came from books from the family history library. I can point you to those two books if you want. I do know there is a family picture of the Ann and Mads Jonathan family. In it my grandpa was pretty young, like eight or nine. So your grandma might not have been born yet. I need to borrow it from my parents to scan but I would love to send it to you.

  3. I'd love to know the titles of those two books. I think I know the picture you are talking about because my parents have it hanging on the wall and you're right my grandma was not born yet when that picture was taken. Have you ever noticed that Mads' hand looks strange in that picture? I wonder what happened. Yes my grandma and grandpa live in Laguna Beach still and are doing well. Thanks again.

  4. Here are some links to those books. I am sure you have seen the first one because my parents have had a copy for forever. Written by one of grandpa's other sisters.
    This other books is newer and is about Birgithe's parents. There is a pdf version so that was nice.

  5. Well, we're all related! James and Birgithe are my great-grandparents. Their son Franklin Oliver is my grandpa--my dad's father, and we're of the "sen" spelling. Frank's oldest son, Clifford Dalton Madsen, told me once how Grandma Birgithe would come to the ranch (in Malad, Idaho) and the grandkids would sit on the floor around Grandma and she'd sing them songs in Danish. "We'd just laugh," he said, "because she sounded so funny!" He said she loved to dance, but Grandpa James didn't, so she'd go out in the barn and her sons would dance with her. How is Willie Martin Handcart member Bodil Mortensen related to us?

  6. How fun. It is always fun to find new relations. I am not 100% sure how Bodil is related but from the info I found it sounded like she was a cousin to Birgithe.