Annie Griffith Burbank: Amongst the Gentiles

Annie Griffith was born on August 27, 1837, in Georgetown, Essex Co., Massachusetts, on the Merrimack River near the New Hampshire state line. She lived in that county all her life. Her father, William Griffith, was a shoemaker; her mother, Sarah M. Hills, raised Annie and her younger brother Frank.

Annie was married in 1858 to John Burbank, a shoemaker like her father. Her only child, whom she named William Henry, was born a few months later.

In about 1862, some now-unknown missionary passed through the neighborhood preaching the gospel. Annie believed his message and was baptized.

There was no branch in the area, no ward clerk to make a membership record in Annie’s name, no priests to administer the Sacrament, no visiting teachers to take care of Annie when she became sick with tuberculosis that wasted her young body until she knew she would soon die. There was no elder to give her a blessing, no missionary to accept her tithing, no way for Annie to reach Zion.

Yet we know that, all alone, Annie remained faithful to her baptismal covenant. We know that she believed in the restoration and in a prophet she would never meet, and we know that she wanted to contribute something to the Kingdom of God.

We know all this because Annie wrote this letter to Brigham Young:

Groveland Jan 9th 1866

Beloved Prophet.

I am dying of consumption here amongst the Gentiles but my faith is strong. I have been in the church nearly four years. I am now 28 years old. I have a very few dollars by me which I send to you to devote to some good purpose. It is but a trifle, but had I more I would willingly give it.

Pardon me for troubling you with a letter. I knew no other way. I pray that I may be received although unworthy

(Mrs) Annie G Burbank
Groveland Essex County Mass

There is no record that Brigham Young ever answered her letter – we can at least hope that he instructed a departing missionary to call on Annie when he reached the States.

Annie’s date of death is not known, but she died before the summer of 1870 when her husband and son are listed alone on the census of Groveland. Her son was orphaned a few years later and was taken in by an uncle’s family.

Without Annie’s brief letter to Brigham Young, there would be no earthly record of Annie’s conversion and her faithful life. How many others of our early sisters are like Annie, forgotten and unknown to the records of the Church in mortality?

But although Annie may be unknown in this world, she was of course not forgotten by her Father in Heaven. Church members working in the extraction program in the 1970s and ’80s found civil records of her family and patiently copied the data, first onto cards and later into a computer.

Other Church members – in Ogden and Provo and Salt Lake City – went to the temples and performed proxy ordinances, all without knowing that they were acting on behalf of a Latter-day Saint who had contributed the little that she had to “some good purpose� more than a century earlier. Thanks to the service of these modern Church members, all of the temple work has been completed for Annie, her husband and son, her brother, her parents and grandparents, and more extended family members.

“All who have died without a knowledge of this gospel, who would have received it if they had been permitted to tarry, shall be heirs of the celestial kingdom of God,

“Also all that shall die henceforth without a knowledge of it, who would have received it with all their hearts, shall be heirs of that kingdom;

“For I, the Lord, will judge all men according to their works, according to the desire of their hearts.�

– Doctrine and Covenants 137:7-9

(originally published August 2006)

11 comments for “Annie Griffith Burbank: Amongst the Gentiles

  1. Phouchg
    November 5, 2006 at 2:37 am

    Georgetown is not on the Merrimack River, but is the next town over from Groveland, which is across the river from Haverhill. I know because I grew up in Haverhill. And yes, it is somewhat close (appox 10 miles) from the New Hampshire state line.

    The Georgetown Ward, Exeter New Hampshire Stake, currently serves much of Essex county. I don’t know when that ward was organized, but I do know that in 1900 Haverhill had a small RLDS branch (found it in a city directory when I was doing my own research).

    The area still has very very few members – it is predominately Catholic.

  2. Wilfried
    November 5, 2006 at 5:36 am

    Beautiful contribution, Ardis.

    “How many others of our early sisters are like Annie, forgotten and unknown to the records of the Church in mortality?”

    They may be in the records just as names of baptized members, but their devotion and sacrifices are not detailed. It’s only a simple letter, like the one from Annie, that reveals a glimpse of their world. We know little or nothing about early converts in isolated parts of the world, who never emigrated to Utah, who were not followed up as missionaries left and missions closed, but who kept the faith in their loneliness. Angels know, God knows.

  3. Julie M. Smith
    November 5, 2006 at 10:30 am

    Oh my. This is an amazing story well told. Thank you so much. Again, please don’t confuse number of comments with quality of post–I can assure you that your posts are beloved by many and that your contribution to building the kingdom through keeping these stories alive is not going unnoticed.

  4. November 5, 2006 at 11:02 am

    Yes, thank you, Ardis. And I hope it’s not presumptuous to suggest that there are still women in this situation who could use our prayers today.

  5. November 5, 2006 at 11:16 am

    These kinds of stories are important to remind us that being in “the center of Zion” or known by other Latter-day Saints because one writes books for Deseret Book, gives firesides, teaches at BYU, is in a stake presidency–or a General Authority–or any of a number of other things we take, at least implicitly, to be signs of our standing before God are, in the long run, pretty meaningless.

    Thank you.

  6. Wilfried
    November 5, 2006 at 2:16 pm

    Erica, your comment (4) reminded me of your situation in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. How is it going with the Church members over there?

  7. November 5, 2006 at 5:35 pm

    Wilfried, things aren’t going any better in Kyrgyzstan. The church is no closer to being recognized, there is a lot of political unrest, and all the expats have had to leave for various reasons, leaving the women there without any priesthood holders in the country (except those on the US air base, but those men aren’t allowed off base anymore). Even though the area presidency is very aware of those women, they are still almost as isolated as the woman in this story.

  8. mami
    November 5, 2006 at 7:15 pm

    I just want to ditto what Julie said.

  9. November 6, 2006 at 12:17 am

    Annie kept coming to mind ever since I first read her letter five or six years ago, but I couldn’t ever find enough detail to tell a story about her because no other Church record ever mentioned her — and then I finally realized that the story was that *there*was*no*story*. I’m glad so many readers responded to her and even find her representative of others, past and present. I think about shepherds like Leon Fargier, believed to be the only Melchizedek priesthood holder in France during World War II, who found a way to travel and bless as often as possible the mostly isolated sisters during those years in his region, and, similar to Wilfried’s thoughts, about sisters who are listed on the 1850s membership records of some Neuchatel, Switzerland communities I’ve been studying, who were left behind when missionaries and wealthier members emigrated. There must be so many.

    Erica, would you be willing to write to me at AEParshall at aol dot com? I’d like to hear about the Kyrgyz (is that the right form?) sisters. Maybe you’ve already written about them somewhere that I could read?

    And Phouchg, my apologies for geographical weaknesses. Across the width of a continent, a couple of miles don’t loom as large as they would to someone familiar with the area. Are you still in contact with anybody there? I wonder if a stake historian might be interested in knowing about Annie, or whether someone on the spot might have better success than I have had in tracking her death date.

    You all are so nice to sign in with comments.

  10. Karen
    November 6, 2006 at 10:27 am

    Ardis- I just want to join others in saying thank you for sharing these stories about lesser known(unknown?) lds women. I have enjoyed reading them and like to share them with my husband.

  11. maria
    November 7, 2006 at 2:49 pm

    I, too, wanted to thank you Ardis for these stories of LDS women. Each story has been so interesting to read. Like Julie said, don’t take the number of comments to be indicative of the influence your posts have had.

    Someone else suggested this earlier–but do you have plans to publish a book of these stories? I really, really hope so. I would love to be able to read it to my (future) children.

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