Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Princess Agnes Story -- Part 1

Princess Agnes -- A Fairy Tale
based on the real life of Agnes Love Flake 

 Researched and Written by Marlene Richardson Ellingson 

Forward: I was given the assignment, for girls' camp last summer, to come up with a Bedtime Story for the girls.  It was a Princess theme, and as I searched for a princess story, it occurred to me that a real-life story would be ideal.  So I read all I could find about Agnes Haley Love Flake, and wrote a story.  It is all based on fact, but of course I added details to make a historical fiction.  I used the dates from the family records and other church history information to round out the story.

Part 1 

     Once upon a time, there lived a beautiful princess, and what’s more, this was not a fairy tale princess, but a real-live princess. Her name was Agnes Haley Love. She had everything she could want, luxury, food, friends, family. She had a servant to dress her in the mornings, and pull her corset strings tight, to give her a very tiny waist. She had a dressmaker, who would come and design the most beautiful dresses, worn usually with a large hoop skirt. And a servant to do her hair and to add the finishing touches of jewelry and perfume.

     Agnes’ life consisted of her morning toilette, doing her studies with the best of tutors her family could employ, trying to make her four younger brothers to act like civilized gentlemen, and dressing for the delicious meals served each day on her family plantation. She loved making social calls with her mother Agnes and sisters Rosa and Mary, in her family’s handsome carriage, and attending dances and events expected of a southern belle in the North Carolina community where they lived. Agnes resisted the tendency that she observed in the other belles to become selfish and spoiled, however, as best a princess could. Her family attended church regularly, and although she attended dressed in the finest of gowns and hats, she thought often about God and wondered if he expected more of her than just this pampered life.

     In time, Agnes met a fine young man, her older brother Charles’ friend James Madison Flake. He was tall and handsome (4 ½ years older than her), and she knew she had caught his eye. Soon he was walking her home from church and calling at the Love’s manor house. Agnes was delighted to be the envy of the other princesses—or belles—at church, being seen with this charming Prince. With time, James spoke with her father William, a respected tobacco plantation owner with a high standing in the community. He received her fathers’ permission to begin to court her. And Agnes was beginning to fall in love. When she could focus on more than her fluttering heart in his presence, Agnes began to notice some deep qualities of character in James, different from the shallow young men she had acquainted. He was a man of principal, one with integrity and honor. What’s more, she and James shared a tendency to ponder on spiritual things.

     After months of courting, James asked her to be his bride! First came the elaborate party thrown in their honor, to announce the engagement. Then came the flurry of activity to order the gowns, the sumptuous refreshments, and the garlands and flowers to fill the church for James and Agnes’ lavish wedding! And so they were married, a month before Princess Agnes turned 19 (James was 23). It was the 2nd of October, 1838. The couple planned a honeymoon trip and James negotiated for them to settle in one of the homes on his parents’ manor, the Flake family plantation not too far from her parents. One of the wedding gifts she received from James’ mother, Faithy, was a young slave girl of her very own named Liz to wait on her. James was given a 20-year old slave as well. His name was Green. Agnes adjusted to life with the Flakes, and she and James were very happy.

     Soon, a baby was on the way! Agnes had grown up as the 7th of 11 children and she and James wanted a large family too. And so they were delighted when 9 months after their wedding, a new little prince was born, and they came up with the perfect name for their darling boy, William Jordan after her father William and James’ father Jordan! Agnes had Liz for a nursery maid to help care for the new baby.

     A little over a year later, a second little son was born, another little gentlemen prince who they named Charles Love, after Agnes’ favorite brother. And the next year, a third son arrived, little Thomas. Agnes, with plenty of help from their trusted slaves, enjoyed her little men. The family was happy, yet James began to be restless. He longed for a plantation of their own, and heard reports of land available out West, so as soon as the family could, he secured a prairie schooner to take them out West. It was a huge adjustment for Lady Agnes, as she could only bring two slaves along, and only one trunk of her dresses. It would be rough in the West. Agnes had never worked before. In fact, Liz liked to boast that “Missus had never as much as washed a pocket handkerchief. I would have died before I would have let her work.” But Agnes was willing to sacrifice for James’ and her dream of a plantation of their own. And he tried to provide every convenience possible to make the move comfortable for his Lady and the young Gentlemen, the oldest of whom was just 3 years old.

     She made it through the trying trip, and soon, she and James found a beautiful spot in Kemper County, Mississippi, with pine trees and gorgeous flowers. James procured land near a small stream with the Indian name, Ptictfaw, for a new plantation. Crops were planted, and a beautiful manor house and the other buildings of a large, prosperous plantation were built. Life was rich, sweet and peaceful. They focused on building their fine home on their new plantation, and raising their little men, giving them every opportunity money could buy. And soon, another baby boy arrived, little Richmond, their first child born in Mississippi. How the family rejoiced when kinfolk from North Carolina soon joined them in Mississippi, starting plantations nearby. A relative Henry Flake was the first to move close by and settle next to James, then his brother John Flake. Agnes was delighted when her family eventually moved there as well, and set up not far from the Flakes. She had had a hard time leaving her mother, for although she was the 5th daughter, she was the one who had received her mother’s name, and they had always been close.

     As they became acquainted with the area and its people, Agnes and James were treated well, but gradually began to observe some narrow-mindedness of many of these Westerners. Word of mob violence occasionally in the area troubled them, and rumors about an evil religion Mormonism. So one day when a Mormon Elder knocked at their door, they were wary. Of course they let him in, as that was the expected Southern hospitality for all. If someone is traveling without purse or scrip, as this young man was, of course you offered him a meal and an overnight stay. Elder Benjamin Clapp was unexpectedly intelligent and refined, and he carried a bible and another volume of scripture that he claimed was delivered by an angel to a prophet. James and Agnes were skeptical of his claims, until Elder Clapp kindled their interest by explaining that he preached the very same gospel taught by Christ and his ancient apostles. Carefully and prayerfully, the Flakes began to investigate this new religion.

     As soon as neighbors heard that the Flakes had opened their home to a missionary, they harassed and even threatened the Flakes. Still, after several weeks, James and Agnes became convinced that they had found the true Church of Jesus Christ. And they were baptized the Winter of 1843-44. William was 4 ½, Charles was going on 3, and the little ones were still babies. They and the few others baptized that night were ridiculed and defamed. A year before they had met Elder Clapp, a group of 80-90 Latter-day Saints had emigrated to Nauvoo because of persecution. Now, this new little group formed a tiny branch, called Running Water Branch. Though some of the teachings had been new and strange, the Word of Wisdom had particularly rung true to Agnes. She had watched her family—tobacco growers and users—die early, many of them, and she had always attributed it to their tobacco use. She had long felt that tobacco, alcohol, coffee and tea usage were particularly bad for her people’s constitutions (only 3 of the 11 survived to adulthood). Much later in her life, right before her death, Agnes told her children, “If you want to live in this World, you must leave tea, coffee, tobacco, and liquor alone. These are death to our people. Our constitutions can not stand them, and all who indulged, died young.”

     Though Elder Clapp left for a time, he returned in early Spring and brought Elder Brown with him to ordain James Flake to the office of Elder. Agnes was so proud, and though it was dangerous, she encouraged her husband to go ahead and share the gospel with a few others who they felt might be open to it. Agnes grew close to the Lord as she knelt often in prayer to thank Him for the gospel, and to beg him to protect her husband from the violent threats. Agnes was grateful to a couple of faithful slaves that helped run their plantation. Green Flake and Allen Flake were dependable slaves, who were also interested in the missionary’s message, so James had arranged for them to be taught. They had joined the church shortly after she and James. Agnes felt safe when they were nearby.

     When Elder Clapp and Elder Brown returned a couple of months later, Agnes was so proud that James had two converts ready for baptism, and the tears flowed when they asked him to perform their baptisms, there in the creek. They had to conduct the baptism in great secrecy, and the opposition seemed to make the occasion sweeter. James was asked at times to accompany the Elders on their journeys and once, he attended a Conference in Alabama representing their branch, which now consisted of “fifteen members, one Elder all in good standing.”

    As James’ activity in the church increased, so did the condemnation and even wrath from their associates and their own families! Oh what sorrow this brought to the young couple. But the Spirit whispered that they had done the right thing. Still, realizing that there was no peace for his family, James and Agnes decided they would have to move to Nauvoo. During the conference in Alabama, James had been struck by the words of Elder Clapp about the gathering and the building of the Temple in Nauvoo. Still, their young boy Thomas was gravely ill, and the baby was so young. James wanted to ascertain the conditions in Nauvoo, out in the wilderness of Western Illinois, so like a courageous knight, he set out on mule back, the latter part of May, 1844, to ride the 700 miles to Nauvoo, leaving Agnes and the boys in the able care of Green and Allen and Liz, and the other slaves. Agnes again turned to prayer for the Lord to protect her husband, alone those many miles.

     James found the city of Nauvoo and the surrounding farms beautiful. There near the river, the gleaming white limestone walls of the temple were rising, a true castle. Mingling with the Saints, he felt friendliness and peace. One that he met was Hyrum Smith, the Prophet’s brother and the Patriarch. James was privileged to receive a blessing from him, a choice experience. A copy was given him, and he was soon on his way back with the joyous plan to bring his young family here. But sadness hit him hard, when the news came that just 15 days after that blessing, Hyrum and the Prophet were both martyred. He recalled the words from his blessing, “You have been wrought upon by the Spirit of inspiration and have come up hither, For this cause you are blessed.” So he made immediate plans to move his family to Nauvoo.

     When he ran up to embrace his Agnes, he noticed at once the sorrow etched in her face. Little Thomas had succumbed to death in his absence. Agnes was worn out, having cared for him day and night, until he had taken his last breath. To further their grief, the words of the local minister had come to their ears, the ranting and raving of what wicked parents they had been to leave their child unbaptized, and that their child was now burning in hell fire forever. What’s more, they had not been allowed to bury him in the church cemetery, but Green had just dug a tiny grave under a favorite tree on the grounds. She, her little boys, and the servants had been the only ones to mourn at a little service for Thomas.

     James was filled with grief and sorrow, and he visited the grave of his young son, whom he had loved dearly, and used his Priesthood to dedicate the little grave. The family knew they had to leave for a better place.

     The next thing James did was to follow the counsel of the Prophet Joseph, to “Break the shackles from the poor black man, and hire him to labor like other human beings, for an hour of virtuous liberty on earth is worth a whole eternity of human bondage.” This was undoubtedly tough for James and Agnes, as they had grown up with slaves to constantly serve them. But it felt right, with the help of the Spirit, so they immediately freed all their slaves. Many of them left, rejoicing. But Green Flake, the large, husky man, who had watched over the family, refused to leave the family. Liz, too, who had grown up in their household, would not leave, but both became members of the family. Also wishing to go North with them was Edie, a young black mother of four. The group was joined by three other convert families who upon hearing James’ enthusiastic report, wanted to go to Nauvoo as well.

     While James readied the ox team and wagon, and the pair of white mules to lead the caravan, Agnes tried her best to be brave. She knew how hard was wilderness travel was, with three young sons. Further, though her family seemed to hate her now, she loved them and hated to leave them. She had hoped they would one day join the church too. Would she ever see them again? Agnes went to try to see her mother and father one last time, and several of her siblings who still lived at home. Her father and brothers only exhibited contempt, and outright derision that she would be going to the devil. Despite their rebuffs, she kept her composure as best she could, and expressed her love for them. And at last, her mother relented and gave her a tender embrace of farewell, which was a great comfort to Agnes. James’ family too was cold and hostile toward them, thus making it a sad farewell.

     The journey was long and arduous. As the family pulled out away from their wonderful plantation, Agnes thought her heart would break, to leave her little son’s fresh grave under the tree. She knew she would likely never see her dear family again. As she jostled along day after day, still exhausted from her care of her sick boy night and day, and worn out with grief, there were two voices that vied for her attention: the one voice reminded her of her old days as princess, beloved and pampered by her parents, the servants that attended her, the parties and balls. Further, the voice whispered of all that she had given up for this church. She had enjoyed her nice home only a very short time. She had been forced to give up friends and family, security and peace, her husband gone so much, and even her young son. She would recall the words of the minister. Had she lost Thomas forever by becoming a Mormon?

     But the second voice in her head, the one she had to fight to keep foremost in her thoughts helped her realize that the storybook princess life and the fine things that used to matter so much to her, mattered little now. She knew her James would build her another home. She remembered how pleased she had been as he became such a fine church leader in the new branch. As she continued her prayers, her mind was able to turn to the truths of her new religion, that told her son was not lost, but was with God in heaven. That her husband had the Holy Priesthood, and that the Temple that he would help finish, would hold great blessings for them. Through her sorrow and loss, her faith began to grow ever stronger.

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