History of Mary Larsen Benson
Mary (Ane Marie) Larsen was born 19 Dec 1843 at Rostofte, Sjaelland, Praesto, Denmark. Her parents were Lars Magnussen and Ane Kirstine Hansen. Mary Larsen was baptized 2 August 1857 and confirmed the same day. (LDS Copenhagen Branch Records) Missionaries A. Jensen and L. Ericson were largely responsible for the conversion of the Larsen family to the Mormon Church.
Poor economic conditions in Denmark motivated her parents to arrange passage on a German sailing boat called “Athenia,” and they left for America 25 April 1862 from Hamburg and arrived in New York 7 June 1862. There were more passengers than the boat could accommodate. Nearly all the children under nine years of age died and were buried at sea. Mary’s sister, Amalie, was on of these.
The Larsen family sailed into the Gulf of Mexico and up the Mississippi River to Omaha, Nebraska, on a steamboat. The journey across the plains to Salt Lake City was trying and slow. Church teams hauled their provisions, but the family had to walk most of the way. On arriving in Utah, they found good food and rest for their tired bodies.
In October of 1862, the Larsen family arrived in Brigham City, Utah, where Magnus Larsen, the father, found work with a man who owned a threshing machine. The Larsen family stayed in Brigham about one year and then moved to Mendon, Cache, Utah.
Mary did not come to America with her father and mother because of a prior work arrangement with another family which lasted into the year of 1863. At the age of 17, in the year 1860, Mary was living with Uncle Paul, Aunt Ane Marie, and little cousin Lars Larsen, age 5, Mary left Denmark for America at the age of 19 with Uncle Paul and his family.
They sailed on the “John J. Boyd” with a passenger list of 763 people. They left Liverpool, England, 30 Apr 1863 with a company organized by George Q. Cannon, and the voyage lasted only 29 days. They came within close range of eight icebergs. The “John J. Boyd” arrived safely in New York Harbor on Sunday, 1 June 1863.
The trip from New York to St. Joseph, Missouri, and on to Council Bluffs was made by rail, then by boat on the Missouri River to Florence, Nebraska.
From Florence, Nebraska, Mary and her party walked almost all the way. While crossing the plains, they witnessed what probably was the most disastrous stampede of oxen in the history of the Mormon pilgrimage across the western plains. This was a terrifying experience, for they came very close to losing all their provisions and even their lives. One can only conclude that they were given generous assistance from the Lord, or they never would have made it to Salt Lake City.
In August or September of 1863, Mary and her party arrived in Salt Lake City, and then she went directly on to Mendon in Cache Valley for a joyous reunion with her family. Her family had gone through a meaningful experience in the five years since the Larsen family had joined the Church.
Upon arriving in Mendon, early in the fall of 1863, Mary set about to make friends and become acquainted, and soon she was asked to assist in managing the home of the Joseph Barker family.
In the spring of 1864, Mary became acquainted with Apostle Ezra T. Benson, and he employed her to work for the Benson family. She was well prepared for this responsibility because of her experience in managing homes of wealthy families in Denmark.
Research in parish registers in Denmark brought to light the name of Mary Larsen, coming and going as contracts of service in home management would commence and expire. She would then move on to another home in another parish, where she would work out the terms of another contract.
In the service of the Benson family, she met many people of high station. Because of her position, and also the fact that she was a beautiful young lady with a charming personality, she developed a wide circle of influential friends. When Church leaders and others came to Cache Valley, they usually stayed at Ezra T. Benson’s big house on East 2nd North in Logan.
Ezra T. Benson came to recognize unusual qualities in Mary Larsen because of her contribution as an aid in the management of his various households. It was only natural that he should fall in love with her. They were married 15 Sept 1866 at the Endowment House in Salt Lake City, Utah. She became his 8th wife. Subsequently, Mary became the mother of two sons, Walter Taft Benson, born 17 June 1867, and Henry Taft Benson, born 19 Mar 1869.
It was in 1868 that Ezra T. Benson, through his firm Benson, Farr and West, obtained a contract from Governor Stanford to build the railroad west of Ogden, Utah. It was here that Mary Larsen Benson had the responsibility of managing the food services for the men who worked for Benson’s company. It was in this connection that she met Governor Stanford. He was so impressed by the quality of her work that he offered her the opportunity to come to California and manage his household on the Stanford farm (later, to become Stanford Campus.)
Mary Larsen Benson became acquainted with Brigham Young because of his many visits to the Ezra T. Benson home in Logan, Utah, when he attended the many conferences and meetings on Church business in Cache Valley. Ezra T. Benson called upon Mary to supervise the preparing and serving the many dinners that were needed.
Tragedy struck in the fall of 1869 when Ezra T. Benson died in Ogden, Utah, of a heart attack. His railroad building business with Governor Stanford had not been brought to a successful conclusion, and as a result, Ezra T. Benson’s families were left with limited resources.
The author of this article, Wesley Taft Benson, remembers a Benson family reunion held at the Brigham Young College campus in Logan, June 1923, where Frank Andrus Benson told how hard it was to make a living and get ahead after Ezra T. Benson’s death. Frank Andrus Benson and three of his brothers had gone to Conference in Salt Lake City to attend a school Brigham Young maintained for his own family, but with Ezra T. Benson’s passing, 3 Sept 1869, these plans ended.
Upon the shoulders of George Taft Benson, age 23, and Frank Andrus Benson, age 16, rested the leadership of the Benson family. (George Taft Benson and Frank Andrus Benson were the sons of Adeline Andrus Benson.) George Taft Benson was the grandfather of the present Ezra Taft Benson.
Mary Larsen Benson shared in the generosity of the older and better established of Ezra T. Benson families. She had two infant sons and her responsibilities at times seemed greater than her ability to carry on. Mary Larsen Benson will always be grateful for the wonderful attitude on the part of the other wives who helped her during these difficult times.
In 1878, Mary Larsen Benson married Peter Peterson and moved from Logan to a ranch in Petersboro on the west side of Cache Valley. She took her youngest son, Henry, with her and left Walter to live with members of the Benson family in Logan. Seven additional sons came from this union. The farm grew in size and became one of the finest integrated ranch properties in the state of Utah. Mary Larsen Benson’s contribution to this accomplishment was outstanding. In this, she can share equally with her husband and sons who managed the property.
Mary Larsen Benson died 21 Feb 1926 at the age of 83 and she is buried in Mendon, Utah. Mary lived a full life with many friends, relatives and acquaintances. She was a gracious, kindly woman who was interested in others. She was true to the covenants she made in the Endowment House with Ezra T. Benson. There were many tribulations which she had to deal with, but she remained faithful to the end of her life.
The author of this article, Wesley Taft Benson, was born 15 Sept 1907, 41 years after the marriage date (15 Sept 1866) of his grandmother Mary Larsen and his grandfather Ezra T. Benson. The author wishes he had known Mary Larsen when she was a vivacious young lady just arrived from Denmark.
The author relied to a large extent on the writings and researches of three of his cousins who were responsible for the records of the Larsen family who were most generous in sharing their information, and an earlier eye witness, a former president of the Logan 4th Ward Relief Society, who grew up in Logan during the 1860s. She described Mary as about 5 feet 8 inches tall, dark complexioned and a most pleasant personality.
The author, a grandson, was acquainted with his grandmother, Mary, as a teenager during the last years of her life, when every summer he used to call at the Peterson ranch for a visit with her. He feels her contribution to the Church and to the Benson family was substantial.
(Compiled by a grandson, Wesley Taft Benson.)
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