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Joseph Henry Dean and the Samoan mission


Religion 342, Lamar C. Berrett, written by Kim Dean Anderson, March 30, 1988


This year will mark the 100th anniversary of the opening of the Samoan Mission. I quote from the March 5, 1988 Church News:  Dates have been announced for the 100th anniversary commemoration of the official opening of the Samoan Mission. Hundreds of missionaries who served in the islands are expected to gather June 19-26 for a re-union and meetings in American Samoa and Western Samoa. A monument is to be dedicated on the island of Aunuu, where Elder Joseph H. Dean and his wife, Florence Ridges Dean, and their baby put ashore on June 21, 1888. Some 25 years before the Deans arrived in Samoa, two other missionaries had also taught the gospel in the Samoan islands.  Joseph H. Dean is my great-grandfather. His son Harry A. Dean is my grandfather and also served a mission to the Samoan islands. He was responsible for the translation of the Hymn book to the Samoan language.


The purpose of this paper is to research and evaluate the, opening of the Samoan Mission. In my research, I plan to read from some of the journals kept by my great-grandfather located in the Herald B. Lee Library. Through this assignment, I plan to come closer to my ancestors, as well as, learn about the great mission of Joseph H. Dean a man who was close to many leaders of the church characteristic of that time period (Lorenzo Snow, George Q. Cannon, Joseph F. Smith, John Taylor, Franklin D. Richards, Brigham Young).


The Samoan Mission was established in 1888. This was the official founding date of the mission. It came at a most unsatisfactory period in Samoan history. Government, social, economic, and to some extent religious problems all militated against the success of the LOS missionary corps. Today approximately twenty percent of the population of Samoa is LDS, the entire nation (both Western and American Samoa) is covered with wards, branches, and stakes. A temple is now present on the island of Samoa which indicates the growth of the church over the years.

Walter Murray Gibson

In 1857-1858, Brigham Young was deeply concerned about the impending Utah War. The Zion (Utah) elders were called home from their missions world-wide. The missionaries in the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii), which was founded in 1850, were called home. After their departure in 1858, the local Saints were left to care for the Church. This caused the Latter-day Saint mission in the Sandwich Island to have many problems. Three years later, in July 1861, the adventurer Walter Murray Gibson, who joined the church in January 1860, arrived in Hawaii as a missionary. His appointed field of labor was Japan and Malaysia, but he had also been asked by President Young to visit the Hawaiian Saints. Gibson went far beyond the authority given him by the Church and ultimately defrauded the Hawaiian, members and misused his ecclesiastical authority. He was excommunicated in April 1864.  Walter Murray Gibson established himself as the supreme leader of the Saints in Hawaii. He set himself up as the Prophet and called apostles, seventies, an archbishop, and bishops. In September 1861, Walter Gibson reported to Brigham Young his designs to expand the bounds of the Church in the Pacific to the Society Islands and other points.  In a letter of August 30, 1862, Gibson told President Young that two elders had been dispatched on a mission to the Society Islands and Tonga Islands. Two priesthood bearers were called to serve as missionaries to Samoa.  Kimo Pelio and Samuela Manoa were called to be the first missionaries of the Church to the Samoan Islands. Both men were faithful servants of the Lord. Although they were ordained to the Melchizedek Priesthood before Gibson came to Hawaii, Kimo Pelio was called by Gibson to be an apostle, and Samuela was called to be a seventy. Pelio and Manoa were faithful, and therefore, accepted the call to open Samoa. When Gibson fell from his position of glory, the two men were left to their own devices in Samoa.  In 1863, Kimo and Samuela traveled the islands of Aunuu, Tutuila, Utumea, Apia, and Upolu. It is reported that they baptized a branch of forty-two, many who lived in Utumea. In 1888 when the mission was reopened, Manoa reported that they had baptized around fifty people during all of their ministrations.  Many problems arose for the Samoan Mission. The mission was not sanctioned by the leaders of the Church in Salt Lake City. The Church was honestly ignorant of the few Saints who had been brought together in that distant place.

Joseph H. Dean Reopens the Samoan Mission

Life in the Penitentiary

The 1880’s were difficult years for the Saints in Utah because of polygamy. Many of the Church’s strongest men were imprisoned during the later years of the decade. Joseph H. Dean, husband of two wives and father of five children by the first, Sally, spent part of 1886 and until May 13, 1887, in prison on a conviction of unlawful cohabitation. I quote a few of the journal entries from Joseph H. Deans stay in the penitentiary:

Monday September 27, 1886 Description: We got to the penitentiary about 3:30. I was allowed to stay in the yard until William (father’s brother) arrived with my clothes, trunk and bedding. When he arrived, I told Curtiss the turn-key that I was at his service. He took me into a side room and told me to empty my pockets. He took everything but my wallet, watch and button hook. He took my money, $9.65, which the boys said I will never see again, but can spend it by giving orders on the warden for what I want, within the rules, until it is gone. He then took my age, nativity, my complexion, height, age and offense. Next we went into the tailor shop where the tailor was told to fit me out with a suit of zebra clothes. He had a lot of dirty second hand suits, worn by those whose terms had expired. He is supposed to fit newcomers from that if he can. To my joy, he had none to fit me and has to make me a brand new suit. He took my measure and I was then ready to be ushered into the prison proper.  There were two doors to the entrance. One is made of iron about the thickness of a heavy wagon tire. The other about three feet away is a heavy wooden gate. Only one of these gates can be opened at a time. So he first opened the iron gate. I stepped in that which he shut again, leaving me standing between the two. He then unfastened the rod which holds the other gate, and told me to push. I did so and stepped into the Utah Penitentiary. The ponderous gate closed and I was shut out from the rest of the world.  An un-earthly lot of yells now greeted me: “Fresh Fish!” was shouted from many throats while others made vulgar remarks about Florence. I saw George Woods just to the left and shook hands with him. Brother George Lambert beckoned me and I went over into the crowd. My brethren greeted me kindly, while the others continued for some time yelling “Fresh Fish.” and many other things. When they found however, that their remarks did not bother me or aggravate me much, they soon desisted.

My bed clothes which William had brought from home were allowed to come in and I was told to go into Apartment Number three. This, the brethren told me is a great privilege. There are three apartments: numbers 1, 2, and 3. Apartment number 1 is where most of the new-comers are placed for a few days, filled with the lowest and most desperate characters, who take pleasure in making things as miserable for a new-comer as possible, especially if he is a Mormon. Apartment number 2 is considered quite a bit more respectable. Several of our brethren are there, Brother Woods being among them. Apartment number 3 is by far the most respectful. Our brethren form the majority. Apartment number 3 is the only one left open during the daytime, and our brethren, being the largest crowd, have things about their own way. Brother Hansen was also put in number 3, and he and I are going to occupy the same bed, or bunk, rather. Apostle Lorenzo Snow and also Apostle Rudger Clawson, among others occupy Apartment Number 3. Taking things all through, I think things are better than I expected. There are about 45 inmates in Apartment number 3.  At 5:30 we were called for supper. All fell into line, and marched single file into the dining room, past a guard. The supper was boiled beef, bread and water melon. The only dishes furnished are a rusty tin plate and cup. Most of the brethren have a combination knife and fork in the shape of a pocket knife. Mine was taken from me at the gate and has not yet been sent in to me. Neither have my box and other things.  I am now in the penitentiary, having been convicted of keeping one of the most important commandments ever given by our Heavenly Father for the salvation of his children. I feel first class now, and am very thankful that the parting from my dear family is over. It was truly heart-rending. Lucy and Roy took it very hard. I didn’t think they would realize it so acutely.  Well I feel well and happy and think my enemies will have to do more than put me in here to make me have the blues, or discourage me from keeping the commandments of God.

Tuesday September 28th: My first night in prison is over. I slept like a log. We had to all fall in line and march past the same guard who counts the number as they go in. He then closed the iron door and it is kept locked until six in the morning. The time is then spent in reading, playing cards, and playing quoits and checkers as one pleases.  About 10 am, I was called by the barber and he took off my mustache. This shaving and dressing everyone in the stripped clothes is truly a humbling and a leveling process. It makes the Apostle and the Bishop look about as hard as the worst criminals.

November 27th, 1886: Two months today since I came into this damned hole. Time passes quickly but I am beginning to feel that I was raised here. Apostle Clawson says he feels like he was born here. He has now spent two years and one month here.

January 11th. 1887 Legislation: News has reached us that the House of Representatives has voted to spend tomorrow and Thursday considering anti-Mormon legislation. There is also a rumor that a law is to be proposed compelling us to swear we will obey the law before they will let us out of here. Let them pass it and be damned. The Lord will be after them shortly with a sharp stick.

February 25th Bed Bugs: The place is swarming with bed bugs and body lice. The bugs come out in droves and the walls are covered with marks where they have been killed. It seems an outrage to move Rudger Clawson, as he had his bunk all lined with oil cloth and other conveniences such as shelves etc. fixed up. We have lined out new bunk, however, and will soon be used to the change.

Sunday March 6th 1887 Divine Services: Our inmates held Divine Services today. Andrew Jensen (the Church Historian) being the visiting speaker. About eight of us sang the opening song: “God of Our Refuge”. The speaker and some of the inmates, who had first been admitted, were melted to tears. There is something in the scene of a lot of the servants of God shaved and shorn and dressed in prison garb singing sacred hymns. It is very affecting to one who has seen it for the first time.  These are but a few of the journal entries. I found this to be very interesting; however, due to the length of this paper, I will have to move forward.  The day of his release he was once again hiding from the law because deputies were to arrest him on charges of illegal voting. A close friend, William O. Lee, allowed Joseph to stay in his home while plans were being made to take care of him. While he was there a message came from Apostle Franklin D. Richards. He asked Joseph about the possibility of his filling a mission in Hawaii; it would be his second mission there. The First Presidency agreed that the mission call would relieve more problems for the thirty-one-year-old fugitive than it would cause.  At 11 am, I went up to the Presidents office. Rode up in the 13th Ward delivery wagon. I put on my false beard and no one seemed to notice me. Went in the back way and remained there the afternoon until 5:30 o’clock, when I went down to the Globe Bakery, Sally and Florence were there and we then went up to the Presidents office, according to previous appointment, to be set apart, Florence and I for our missions. Apostles Franklin D. Richards, and Moses Thatcher officiated. They also blessed Sally. They were three comforting blessings.

Joseph arrived in Hawaii on the island of Laie on June 13, 1887. Joseph’s first assignment was to visit the Branch of Kahana, two hours distance by horse back for him and his wife Florence. He records in his journal:  I spoke about an hour and 20 minutes on the plurality of wives. I was so led by the Spirit.  There is a feeling among some of the natives that we marry our plural wives through lust and the burden of my discourse was to correct these ideas and I think I succeeded.  All through Joseph’s life he spoke, preached, and defended the principle of polygamy, in justified defense of his entering into the principle, which was, at that time the thing to do. After returning from Kahana, an evening meeting was held in Laie where Mission President King turned the time over to Brother Cluff and Joseph. He wrote:  At the request of President Joseph F. Smith, I gave an account of my experiences in the penitentiary. They all seemed much interested and kept me going longer than I should have done, by asking numerous questions.

All during Joseph’s adult life he was a close friend of Joseph F. Smith. Joseph F. Smith had preceded Joseph H. Dean on his first mission to the Islands. And after Joseph had returned from his mission, he and Joseph F. Smith worked together in presiding and conducting the activities of the Hawaiian Colony in their settlement of Iesefa. Joseph H. Dean conducted bi-monthly meetings with the Hawaiian Colony. Because they were both missionaries to the same people a common bond of affection existed. Now they were together again in the Islands. On June 21, 1887, Joseph F. Smith came to Joseph H. Dean with his autograph album and asked him to write a few lines of sentiment in the book. He wrote:

As a star is to the mariner on the deep sea to guide his ship, so shalt thou be to me.
May no storms dim our friendship, nor fogs dim the sky to imperil my bark when the billows run high.
And if on life’s sea I should chance to go wrong, if distance between us should not be too long,
I pray you’ll assist me by words of correction, to again steer my bark in the proper direction.

Joseph H. Dean traveled from island to island teaching the gospel. He had many successes among the people in Hawaii. He was also translating the Doctrine & Covenants (sections 76, 20, etc.) as well as many missionary tracts. He translated John P. Morgan’s famous Plan of Salvation tract. President Joseph F. Smith writes the following concerning this tract:  My compliments to you on the translation of the tract, Plan of Salvation. I think it will do a good work among the natives. We have always looked for suitable reading material of our own, among the natives. The contract of doctrine and there ready reference will add greatly to the value and usefulness of the work. I congratulate you on your success. I think 3,000 copies are not enough unless you have it stereotyped.

Joseph H. Dean shows much interest in the Samoan Islands while serving in Hawaii.  By October 1887 he was aware of Samuela Manoa, and during conference he asked whether anyone knew his address. Brother Kaleohano told him that he had received word from sailors of the Hawaiian Man-of-War Imiloa, which had just returned from Samoa, that Manoa was still there, that there were a good many Saints there, and that they felt that the Church had forgotten them entirely. This news increased Joseph’s concern.  As soon as he knew that Manoa was still alive and faithful to the Church, he began gathering information about Samoa. From a man who had worked there, Joseph learned about steamship connections, the almost total lack of mail service, the cost of sailing to Tutuila, which was close to Aunuu where Manoa lived, the fact that there were 35,000 people living in the islands, and so on.  On October 2, 1887 he received a letter from the First Presidency. It read:  It has been felt for some time that there should be some effort made to preach the Gospel to the natives of other island groups and not confine our efforts to the Sandwich Islands. Your letter meets with our feelings on this point. We feel that it will be well for you to get all the information you can on Samoa, and if you feel yourself justified by that which you learn in making a visit in company with a native Elder, and attempting to preach the gospel to that people, we feel that it would be a good thing for you to do. We should highly approve of such a move on your part. If you feel the information you received from there justifies you in taking such a step. You may, before this letter reaches you, receive definite information from that group of islands and may be able to judge of the propriety of your going there. We trust it may be favorable and that you may be able to take the voyage, and, with a suitable native Elder undertake the labor of opening a mission to that people.  In the event of you doing so, you are hereby authorized to call upon mission President King for the necessary funds to pay you and your companion’s passage. And if he will inform us what the amount is, we will either credit it to the Sandwich Island Mission or remit to him.  We will await with pleasure any information you have to give upon this subject, and pray the Lord to fill you with his Holy Spirit and guide you in your movements, preserve you from every danger and give you great success in this mission, should you enter upon it.  With kind regards, Your Brethren,  Wilford Woodruff, George Q. Cannon.

On October 26, 1887, Joseph wrote to Manoa and asked whether he would be able to care for him and his wife. Florence was five months pregnant, and Joseph was deeply concerned about housing, food, and other facilities.  On the 9 February 1888, Florence delivered a ten-pound baby boy.  On the following day Joseph received word from Manoa.   He wrote:  Manoa says he will open his house and make us comfortable. He is very desirous to have us come and says he thinks the prospects are as good for converts as on Hawaii nei. That settles the matter and I will be able to take Florence along with me.

Departure for Samoa

In early May, Joseph decides to sail for Samoa on 7 June. He made reservations for their steamship passage arranged with a faithful Hawaiian brother, C.K. Kapule, to come to Samoa as a missionary. Joseph continued to search for information about Samoa. The Hawaiian Saints and the haole (white) missionaries held a number of feasts in their honor. Unfortunately the mail ship they were to travel on was three days late because of the late arrival of mail in San Francisco. This complicated the Dean’s departure, because the captain was not sure he would even stop the ship at Tutuila and let them off. When the Alemeda was offshore a couple of miles west of Tutuila, the captain did stop the engines, and had the Deans lowered to a small rowboat that had come out to meet them.  The roughness of the sea, the uncertainty of the accommodations for his wife and infant son, and the knowledge that he was to open the gospel door to a new nation all caused some misgivings and anxiety in Joseph’s mind. He was somewhat calmed when the head boatman made it known that he had been sent by Manoa and would take them to his home in Aunuu. Because of the roughness of the sea, the Deans were forced to spend three nights on Tutuila. But finally the longboat was put ashore at Aunuu on 21 June 1888.  Manoa and his wife greeted Joseph, Florence, and the baby at the shore and took them to their frame house. Manoa ushered Elder Dean into a separate room away from the crowd and, taking him by the hand, he said in Hawaiian, “I feel greatly blessed that God has brought us together and that I can meet his good servant here in Samoa.” here Manoa broke down but soon controlled himself to welcome the new missionaries to his adopted land. It had been over twenty-five years since Manoa had seen an authorized priesthood leader from Zion. Joseph describes his first impressions of the island of Aunuu:  We finally got here at Aunuu at 11 am. We were met on the beach by Manoa, and were rather disappointed in his appearance. He is quite ugly and thin, not having been in very good health. His Samoan wife received us more cordially, and taking Florence by the hand led her here to the house. We have a table, two chairs and a “homemade” bedstead. A wood kerosene lamp and certain ware dishes. But they have no stove, no cow, no bread, no running water, rain being the only water they use. It seems that we will have to live on straight native food.

Mail Disappointments: Mail facilities seem to be in a fearful state. No inter-island mail at all, and I will have to send each month to Poloa (20 miles) which will cost $1.50. And even then I may not get it. This is the most discouraging thing we have met with so far.

Sociability: We are much annoyed by the natives crowding at the doors and windows. They that control their curiosity. Even now, after it is dark, they are crowding at the windows.

Language: It will be a big job getting the language.

Food: We have had three chickens today one for each meal, with talo, breadfruit, and Luau. We get along nicely. I drink nothing but the milk from the coconuts of which I am growing quite fond.

The natives of Aunuu were eager to hear Dean’s message. On Sunday, 24 June, Elder Dean gathered a large number of the villagers and preached his first sermon. Joseph records:  Our first-Sunday in Samoa and our first meeting. At 9:30 this morning the house was swarming with natives. The large center room was jam full and as many more were in the side rooms and outside. ! would judge about 140 in all. I asked Manoa to call them to order. The whole congregation sang from the Church of England hymn book page 104. Manoa offered prayer. After another hymn, I then spoke to them through Manoa as interpreter. The speaking and interpretation occupied about 40 minutes. Because of the necessary wait between sentences, I felt that I did not do myself justice, but there is no help for it. They gave me good attention. No one else wished to speak, so after another hymn, we dismissed.  On the following day Joseph rebaptized Manoa, confirmed him, and ordained him an elder. This was thought necessary because of Manoa’s questionable original authority from Gibson, and because of the questionable authenticity of his first rebaptism by a man (Miomio) whose priesthood authority could be doubted, having come from Manoa himself. The act of baptism must have been a spiritual experience for those who looked on, because a Samoan woman named Malaea applied for baptism almost immediately.  Her faith seemed sincere, and so he also baptized her. Since she had not been baptized before, Joseph counted her as his first Samoan convert. By 3 July, Joseph had baptized fourteen more and felt much encouraged. He soon expanded his work to include occasional visits to Tutuila, where he baptized the daughter of a Samoan judge on 21 July. Joseph records:

First Baptism: I count this an important day in my history, for today I baptized my first convert on Samoa, and blessed one child. At 8 this morning, I went to the sea and baptized Manoa, confirmed him and ordained him to the office of an elder. A lady by the name of Malaea witnessed the confirmation of Manoa and seemed to be moved upon by the Spirit of the Lord, for as soon as I was through she applied for baptism. So I put on my wet clothes again and baptized her. She also brought her four yr. old child for me to bless.

Other Baptisms: A high chief by name of Suani, applied for baptism today. He is an influential man and a member of the Legislature and his joining the Church will lend influence and respect to our cause. I surely have every cause to feel encouraged. I must live the credit to the Spirit of the Lord for I have not been able to teach them because of not knowing the language. They come around and feel our influence and apply for baptism.

Prophecy: I predict that the word of the Lord will now spread among this people until thousands will be numbered in the Church.

On 29 July, Joseph delivered his first sermon in the Samoan language. Evidently he had progressed very rapidly in the language, for when the first group of American elders arrived in October, they reported that he was speaking quite fluently. The encouraging thing was that Joseph was having success during the first month of his mission. Especially considering the problems and opposition in Samoa at that time. Joseph reports on these events:

First Speech in Samoan: I am gradually getting the language. I can understand most of what is being said. We have had two meetings today, and I made my first speech in the Samoan language. It was not too long but the natives say I did well. I have made my start and will improve fast now.

Correspondence: I have spent the afternoon writing to the authorities, President Woodruff, Cannon and Joseph F. Smith. I have asked them to send me immediately at least three missionaries but not more than five. The letter is 16 pages in length and covers quite in detail our voyage here and the progress we are making.

The First Year

Although conditions in Samoa were hard, Joseph moved ahead with his missionary work. On 30 October 1888, four months after his arrival in Samoa, he wrote to President Wilford Woodruff, explaining why he had not expanded the work beyond Aunuu. First, he did not feel that he should leave the forty or so souls who had joined the Church there since he arrived. He wrote: “My policy has always been to labor as hard to keep a member as to get a new one, and not to spread my wings over more eggs than I can keep warm.” Second, he mentioned that he had been working with the members on a new meetinghouse.

In addition to taking care of his wife and new son, he had organized a branch, baptized at least thirty-five people (who had an additional twelve unbaptized children), organized a Sunday School and a Relief Society, looked after the arrival and subsequent work of Elder Kapule, who arrived on 13 August, and cared for and oriented Elder William O. Lee, his wife Louisa and their baby Louie, Elder Adelbert Beesley, and Elder Edward James Wood after they arrived on 10 October.  In addition to these activities, Joseph and his flock were faced with a serious challenge. A rumor was circulated that the reigning king, Tamasese, following the advice of his German adviser, Mr. Brandeis, had declared it illegal to join the Mamona (Mormon) Church. He allegedly threatened to arrest all who were baptized into the new church-Joseph along with all the rest. After this threat only one person, a young boy, had applied for baptism. They were later assured by the American consul that they and their congregations would be protected.  The arrival of new missionaries made it possible to expand the work. Joseph had concluded even before the end of October that Aunuu was not suitable for a mission headquarters. In fact he was anxious to move to Tutuila as soon as housing could be arranged. But even Tutuila was not central enough and before another year had passed, headquarters were moved to Fagalii, near Apia, the most important city in Samoa.  The elders took matters one step at a time. They set about to complete the meetinghouse. It was eighteen by thirty-six feet and “very comfortable and commodious.” The roof was of sugarcane leaf thatch, the limber and posts were of breadfruit and coconut, and the floor was covered with clean white coral pebbles. Elder Wood said it was of half American and half Samoan design.  The elders also devoted as much time as possible to the study of the Samoan language. The method employed was slow. They tried to learn some phrases, but most of the time they listened to the native speakers, jotted down the words they heard, looked them up in a dictionary, and then tried to use them.

The first conference of the Samoan Mission was held on 28 October 1888. Joseph dedicated the newly completed chapel, gave the new elders their assignments, called one Samoan brother to fill a six-month mission and announced plans to make a walking missionary tour of the island of Tutuila as soon as possible. Joseph records the dedication of the chapel: I offered prayer, dedicating the meeting house. We white folks then sang Come Come Ye Saints. I explained the work that is usually done in conferences, and presented the General Authorities, which were unanimously sustained. I had quite a difficulty in getting the natives to vote by raising their right hands. I read a statistical report of the mission up to date: Number of missionaries 5, plus two wives and four children; Number of Native elders 2; Priests 1; Deacons 3. Total membership 56.  President Dean took Elders Beesley and Wood with him to Tutuila. On 2 November 1888, they began a twenty-three day teaching marathon that ultimately led them before 1,851 people in thirty-nine villages and required eighty-nine miles of walking. When they were through, they had only baptized three people, but the elders were sure that once the government problems were resolved, many more people would come into the Church.  The Tutuila tour was immensely valuable. By living with the Samoan people around the clock, the elders quickly became educated in the native ways. One of the first lessons they learned was the necessity of following local social customs when the gospel standards would allow it. They also learned that the best way to begin a gospel discussion was with the highest ranking chief or chiefs (matai) of a village. The Samoan social system is patriarchal. The village elders make the rules of the community; young people listen and obey. Therefore, it was best to contact the chiefs first.  Every evening the chiefs came to have prayer with Joseph, Beesley, and Wood. After prayer they had supper. Wood described it this way:

On looking around the little village it was a beautiful scene. We could see in every hut the family gathered around the fireplace, singing or reading or praying, seemingly unconscious of all surroundings. This grand custom is followed in almost every household in the islands.  Seeing the Samoan people pray and study the scriptures helped the elders realize that even though the people lived in huts and used ovens that were but heated rocks in the ground, they were very spiritual and much loved of God. Love was extended to the missionaries many times as they tramped around the island. Wood noted that their own “testimonies were many times strengthened by having our food provided for us, having boats placed at our disposal, also having the privilege of holding so many meetings and in nearly every instance of having good places to sleep.” Joseph records his feelings about the trip to Tutuila:  We feel pleased with our trip around Tutuila and are glad to be back again. Some of the results of the trip are: 46 meetings held; 89 miles traveled in 37 hours. Our testimonies born to 1,851 people; 3 baptisms.

In early December 1888, the missionaries bought a small (twenty-two foot) sailboat. It was well-made and had two sails, but it was very small for sailing in open water. They christened it the Faaaliga, “Revelation,” and began sailing from place to place on Aunuu and Tutuila.  Soon after the end of the Tutuila tour, Elders Wood and Kapule were assigned to teach there on a permanent basis. They worked from the village of Alao, which already had some Mormon families. In early January, Joseph and his family moved there with them, and two weeks later moved on to Vatia, a nice village directly over the mountain north from Pago Pago.  After much hard work the elders built a twenty by forty foot mission house. It was constructed of coconut wood and was made with only two axes and two native adzes. In early March, even before the house was finished, the Lees moved to Vatia from Aunuu. Joseph records a review of the year 1888:  So this is the end of another year. I wonder what the coming year will bring forth? I feel that I have put in a good year in the work of the Lord. I hope that my efforts have been acceptable to him. As I have said at the end of other years, I don’t know that I have an enemy in the world and I have no hard feelings toward anyone. My faith is stronger than ever before in the work of the Lord. May he bless my dear ones at home and those that are with me here also, and preserve all our lives to meet again with renewed determination to serve the Lord. I bid farewell to 1888. And with a firm hope in his promises and constant blessings, and protection, hail with joy the New Year of 1889. “Tofa ia” to the year 1888.

Missionary Work Continues in 1889

On 12 and 13 March 1889, Joseph, Beesley, and Wood embarked on a trip which was later described as the most exciting and important boat voyage of the entire mission. This voyage, which took the brethren to Apia, Upolu, covered forty miles of open water between the two islands and approximately twenty-five miles along the coast of Upolu. Their little twenty-two foot craft was hardly able to withstand the open seas, but made it close to Upolu, only to be overturned near shore. Natives righted the craft, and finally, the elders reached Apia. Joseph records: But now I have to record an accident that happened to us which might have cost us our lives, boat, baggage and all. About seven miles along the coast where the reef stands out about a mile from shore, leaving a nice calm lagoon inside. Seeing the natives boats all making for this lagoon, we followed suit, and had to sail up so close to the island that it kept the wind off of us. We had the sail pulled around so as to catch the little wind coming off from the side and were nearly at a stand still when a heavy gust struck us so suddenly that the boat was tipped over to one side in an instant and filled with water. I called to brother Wood to jump out with me so as to lighten the boat, and to stay in the boat and bailout the water with the bucket, but too late. The boat went down and we were all in the sea, floating about among oars, valises, and boxes. I had brought my trunk along which I had made in Honolulu and knowing that it was water proof, except the cover, I set Brother Beesley to keeping it right side up while I swam around keeping the rest of the wreckage together as much as possible. Brother Wood, not being much of a swimmer, had all he could do to keep afloat. A boat load of natives, seeing our predicament, came to our rescue and gathering up all that was float, loaded it on their boat. Four young men jumped out and began to dive down and untie the mast from the boat, and get it loose from the boat, which was floating on its side and after getting everything loose and untangled, the boat turned bottom side up. They then turned the boat right side up quickly which emptied enough water out of it that it would bear a mans weight. One of them got in and bailed out the boat. By taking turns and bailing hard for about 20 minutes we got her empty and ready to be reloaded. Pulling up beside the other boat, we got our luggage on board again.  This trip to Apia was motivated by two desires. First, they hoped to establish the Church on Upolu.  A Samoan convert during the days of Manoa, named Ifopo later proved to be a faithful convert to the Church and helped establish the Church in his area. The other purpose of the trip was to visit the American consul in Apia and establish relations with his office. This was prompted by the Samoan civil war and its possible implications for the Church.

It was while the elders were at Apia that a great hurricane struck, placing them in dangerous circumstances. A man named Moorse housed them in the loft of an old barn and slaughterhouse near the harbor. When the storm came, they had to remain in these quarters until it ended. The barn was so full of holes that they could hardly keep a candle lit even before the storm, but perhaps the flimsy construction helped the building to remain through the entire storm. When the storm ended, the beach was swept clear of its row of buildings, only one small building still stood, buried in sand to the roof, which alone had saved it from total destruction. Inside were Elders Dean, Beazley, and Wood.  After completing their business in Apia they sailed toward the east end of Upolu. At Salea’aumua they located Ifopo, who welcomed them warmly, provided a feast, and ultimately applied for rebaptism. He had been baptized twenty-five years before, but it was considered best to do it again. With the performance of this ordinance the elders felt that the door to this large and beautiful island had been opened. They sailed that day for Tutuila.  The first annual conference of the Samoan Mission was held in Aunuu on 7 April. All missionaries were present except Sisters Dean and Lee, and a fair number of Samoan Saints were there as well. The pattern for this conference followed the established procedure for such meeting elsewhere in the Church. The leaders of the Church were sustained, talks were given, and business was transacted.  On 16 June 1889, four new missionaries arrived: Elders Hyrum E. Boothe, Brigham Smoot, Jesse J. Bennett, and Brigham Soloman. When they arrived at Vatia, they found that the missionaries and the Samoan people were suffering from a famine caused by the hurricane. Then, two days later, Elder Smoot, who could not swim, stepped off the reef and drowned, but was miraculously restored to life through the administration of his fellow missionaries.

In June 1889, assignments were made to all the missionaries. Elders Lee and Bennet were appointed to labor on Tutuila and Aunuu, Beesley and Boothe were sent to Manua, and President Dean and Elders Wood, Smoot, and Soloman were given the task of opening proselyting work on Upolu. The Church was well founded. Only time and work were needed to see the effort succeed.  It is noteworthy that by this time the missionaries had experienced almost every problem Samoa could offer them. They had endured war, famine, a hurricane, and other tropical storms. They had suffered sickness, apostasy, days in open boats, and storms at sea. Rumors had been circulated against them and Protestant ministers had used newspapers and their pulpits to republish all the old lies about Joseph Smith and the Latter-day Saints. Their housing was inferior to their home in Zion, and living conditions resembled a perpetual camping trip. Nevertheless, through all of this the elders were in high spirits and eager to spread the gospel throughout the islands.

Joseph H. Dean will be honored this year for his efforts to take the gospel to the Samoan people. He was a great man and greatly esteemed by the leaders of the Church. I am honored to be his descendant and hope to meet him face to face some day. I am grateful for his example. I have gained a renewed testimony of the importance of keeping a journal. His journals have been so entertaining as well as inspiring. I hope that someday my posterity will have some records that will enable them to know me like I feel I know my great-grandpa Dean.

My next project will be to read my grandpa Dean’s journals and learn about his great mission to the Samoan people. He served two missions to Samoa and worked with the leaders of the Church in getting a hymn book translated into the Samoan language. He spent many years on this and must be commended for his influence on this people as well. He has three hymns in our hymn book today.

I hope that I can someday be an instrument in bringing the gospel to an untoward generation. I served my mission in New Zealand and worked with the Samoan people. This sparked my interest in my great-grandpa and his mission among them. Before this project, I had learned a lot about him through Samoan’s in New Zealand. They know about him and the great mission he performed. In conclusion, I have enjoyed this assignment immensely.


Britsch, Lanier, R. “Unto the Islands of the Sea,” Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1986.
Britsch, Lanier, R. “Brigham Young University Studies,” Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 1977.
Dean, Harry, A. “Joseph H. Dean Family History.”

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