Biography of William Severn

An interesting book might be written about the early settlement of Montpelier, Idaho, to which no one could contribute a more edifying chapter of personal experiences than the man whose name appears above, and some account of his venturesome, busy, useful and successful career is necessary to the completeness of this work.

William Severn was born in Hucknell, in Nottinghamshire, England, October 4, 1836, of an ancestry English in all known lines of descent. His parents were Enoch and Ann (Allen) Severn. They were married in England and were there converted to the faith of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Somewhat more than ten years ago they came to Montpelier, where their son William had come as a pioneer and had become a prominent citizen, and there Mr. Severn died in 1890, his wife having passed away a few years earlier. They had five children, of whom three are living. William the eldest was educated in England and learned and worked at the trade of weaving ladies’ hose. In 1856 he sailed for America, on board the ship Orrison, and was married on the voyage to Miss Mary Astel. They were both between nineteen and twenty years old at the time. From New York they made their way to Iowa City, Iowa, en route for Utah. At Iowa City they joined a party, numbering six hundred, which on the 1st of August 1856, set out over the old trail, moving their property by means of handcarts. It was a long, tedious journey, and there were some who never reached the end of it. The snow fell long before they reached Salt Lake City, and they were short of provisions and found it almost impossible at times to make any headway. But two hundred teams were sent to their relief from Salt Lake City, and met them still four hundred miles away from their journey’s end. Without assistance the suffering of the emigrants would very likely have been something awful. They did not arrive in Salt Lake City until December 1, four months after they had left Iowa City. Mr. Severn secured employment at sawing wood for the territorial legislature. In the spring of 1857 a farmer outside of the city employed him and paid him from one-half to two dollars a day. Under other circumstances he and his wife might have lived comfortably on what he was able to earn, but the isolation of the Mormon capital from eastern and western markets, and the almost total lack of transportation facilities in either direction, tended to raise prices on about every necessity to a point that made some of them unattainable to many persons. Sugar and butter readily brought fifty cents a pound, and flour was six dollars a hundred pounds, and hard to get at that price. Mr. Severn relates that he went several miles to buy five to six pounds of flour at a time. The young couple saw hard times, with little prospect of relief, but they were no worse off than thousands of others, and made the best they could of all the disadvantages at which they were placed. They returned to Salt Lake City, and went thence to Cache valley, where they arrived in the spring of 1861. From there they came to the site of Montpelier in the spring of 1864 and joined the band of emigrants sent to settle Bear Lake valley, under authority of Brigham Young, president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. The colonists called the place Clover Creek, but the name of Montpelier was given it by President Young, in honor of Montpelier, Vermont, which was the place of his birth. Each of the pioneers of Montpelier had allotted to him one acre and a quarter in the town and twenty acres of hay land and twenty acres of grain land. This allotment, where land was so plentiful and cheap, was thought to be wise, as it kept the pioneers closer together, for mutual protection, than they probably would have remained had they been left to their more ambitious choice. Later Mr. Severn took up a hundred and sixty acres and still later a hundred and twenty acres of government land, and he is now the owner of three hundred acres, raises cattle, hay and grain extensively and is one of the most successful farmers in the vicinity of Montpelier.

Mr. Severn tells many interesting details of the pioneer days at Montpelier. For a time after their arrival he and his wife slept in their wagon. In the absence of anything better to do service as a stove, Mrs. Severn did their baking in a kettle. Before the snow came Mr. Severn had provided a little log house, with a piece of cloth for a door and a smaller one for a window. Hay was spread on the floor as a carpet to protect their feet from the bare ground, which, as may be supposed, was not at all times agreeable to the touch. Later the settlers joined hands and whipsawed lumber out of which floors were laid in the cabins. Early frosts cut off young crops, and those about ready to garner were destroyed year after year, for half a dozen years, by crickets and grasshoppers, which were so voracious that they actually ate window curtains and any other article of cloth or paper they could get at. Less resolute people, less faithful and devoted people, might have faltered in the face of all these calamities, but not the colonists at Montpelier. They worked and prayed and fought and waited for success, and it came in plentiful measure. The wilderness was made to “blossom as the rose,” a thrifty town sprang up about them, and they were its most honored and most prosperous citizens.

For ten years of his later life, until after Mrs. Severn’s death, which occurred August 6, 1898, Mr. Severn kept hotel. Mrs. Severn was one of the “mothers” of the town, a woman loved by all who knew her, and her removal was deeply regretted. Following are the names of her children, all living at or near Montpelier, some of them vet members of their father’s household: Mary (Mrs. Joseph Robertson), William, Thomas, Elizabeth, Harry H., and Daniel E. July 11, 1899, Mr. Severn married Miss Mary Cornwallis, an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Mr. Severn is a stanch Democrat, but is not an office-seeker nor a practical politician; but he is a helpful citizen of liberal views, and has a reputation for sterling manhood that makes him popular with all who know him.



Illustrated History of the State of Idaho. Chicago: The Lewis Publishing Company. 1899.

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