Frederick Kesler papers, 1837-1899

Overview of the Collection

Kesler, Frederick, 1816-1899
Frederick Kesler papers
1837-1899 (inclusive)
7.5 linear feet, (10 boxes and 1 oversize folder)
Collection Number
MS 0049
The Frederick Kesler papers (1829-1985) consist of record books, daybooks, diaries, newspaper clippings, printed materials, photographs, books, and personal artifacts. Kesler was a mill-wright and bishop of Salt Lake 16th Ward. Click here to view the digitized items from the collection.
University of Utah Libraries, Special Collections
Special Collections, J. Willard Marriott Library
University of Utah
295 South 1500 East
Salt Lake City, UT

Telephone: 8015818863
Access Restrictions

The artifacts belonging to Mr. Kesler, kept in the record chest he built, include two beautiful canes, a Nauvoo Legion sword and scabbard, gold writing pens, and a tintype of Kesler in his Legion uniform, and a daguerreotype of Kesler in civilian dress. In order to view these items, please schedule an appointment with the Manuscripts Curator, Elizabeth Rogers, by calling 801-585-3076.

Twenty-four hour advanced notice encouraged. Materials must be used on-site. Access to parts of this collection may be restricted under provisions of state or federal law.


Historical NoteReturn to Top

Frederick Kesler (1816-1899) was born 20 January 1816, to Frederick and Mary Sarah Linsey Kesler, in Crawford County, Pennsylvania. He was of German and English descent. Mr. Kesler, Sr., was a trapper of fur bearing animals, and the family lived in small cabins located on streams and lakes and surrounded by dense forests. There were three boys and three girls in the family--Peter, Jacob, Frederick, Mary (?), Sally, and Polly. Mrs. Kesler died when her sixth child was born.

After the death of his wife, Mr. Kesler put his children in homes nearby and "went West" and was not heard from again. Frederick Kesler says "thus we were left orphans at tender years of age. We very seldom seen each other. One of my sisters I have not seen but once since we were thus seperated. We grew up amongst strangers and to a very great extent became strangers to each other and as we grew up scattering over the country and thus becoming lost to each other."

Frederick Kesler lived with the Edward Campbell family until he was nearly fifteen years of age, at which time he apprenticed himself to a millwright. At age nineteen he first contracted to build mills. In 1835 he built sawmills and a grist mill--the first flour mill in Iowa.

Frederick Kesler married Emeline Parker in 1836. Shortly after their marriage both became very ill of an unknown fever. When they were somewhat recovered he took Emeline to stay with her mother in eastern Ohio, and he went south by boat, leaving on 4 December 1837, and returning 5 May 1838. During this trip he built a large double sawmill and put into operation a corn mill, cotton gin, and cotton press in the vicinity of Vicksburg, Mississippi.

In 1839 Frederick Kesler first heard of the LDS Church. He visited Nauvoo and met Joseph Smith. Frederick and Emeline Kesler were baptized in June of 1840 and they lived in the Augusta Branch in Iowa. On October 2, 1841, Frederick saw Joseph Smith put the Book of Mormon manuscript in the southeast cornerstone of the Nauvoo House.

Frederick Kesler left Augusta on 2 September 1842, to "go East" to do missionary work. When he returned he brought Emeline's mother, step-father, and three small children with him. In 1845 Frederick moved to Nauvoo to work on the temple.

After the martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum Smith, the Kesler family left Nauvoo on 16 April 1846. They arrived at Council Bluffs on 11 June 1846, where Frederick Kesler built a ferryboat which ran day and night. Kesler worked six hours on and six hours off day and night while "hundreds of waggons and thousands of people crossed the river." In 1847 he built a mill to grind corn in Kansas City, Jackson County, Missouri.

Because he needed money for the trip west, in 1848 Frederick Kesler went to Texas to raise funds for this purpose. In 1849 he built a mill for the Pottawattomi Indians one hundred miles west of Kansas City.

In the spring of 1851, the Kesler family started toward Salt Lake City in the Orson Pratt Company. They arrived in Salt Lake on 1 October 1851.

Frederick Kesler planned to build a mill at Box Elder for himself, but President Brigham Young wanted him to build mills for the church, and he began immediately. He continued in this work until 1865 when an accident left him with a broken leg and hip which never healed. he continuted in an advisory capacity.

In 1854 and again in 1858 Frederick Kesler made extensive trips east to purchase machinery and other manufacturing supplies for the church. During these trips he visited mills, factories, shops, and supply places in St. Louis, Pittsburg, Philadelphia, and New York. He observed and studied many operations and purchased large consignments of materials.

Frederick Kesler was active in church organizations--he served as bishop of the Sixteenth Ward from April 7, 1856, until his death on 12 June 1899. He was director of the penitentiary sixteen years and also served for a time as warden. He was a justice of the peace for eight years and district school trustee for many years.

Frederick Kesler had three wives--Emeline Parker, whom he married in 1836, Jane Elizabeth Pratt in 1853, and Abigail Snow in 1858. He fathered thirty children--fifteen sons and fifteen daughters. Seven girls died when less than two years of age; three children, two boys and one girl died as teenagers. Emeline and Abigail divorced Frederick in 1872. Jane Elizabeth survived him. He died in Salt Lake City on 12 June 1899, at age eighty-three.

(Biographical information was obtained from Frederick Kesler's Autobiography and Andrew Jenson, Latter-Day Saint Biographical Encyclopedia 4 vols., Salt Lake City: Deseret News Press, 1901-1936.)

Content DescriptionReturn to Top

The Frederick Kesler papers (1829-1985) consist of record books, daybooks, diaries, newspaper clippings, printed materials, photographs, books, and personal artifacts. Kesler's early years were spent in western Pennsylvania, Ohio, Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska, and Kansas. Click here to view the digitized items from the collection. He was part of the first half-centry of Utah history and his lifetime spanned nearly a century of pioneer life. He has recorded day-to-day events during most of this period and has ammassed a valuable LDS Church and Utah history collection.

Kesler began building mills in 1835 and upon his arrival in Utah was immediately set to work by Brigham Young to construct mills for the territory. His talents in building mills and the machinery to operatte them are attested to by the variety and number he built in the first ten years of his residence in Utah Terriroty. A nail factory, button machine, flouring mills, sawmills, sugar works, irom works, carding machine, smut machine (for cleaning wheat), oil mills, and numerous others were built upon request. His role as a mill builder made him a man of great economic importance. He mentions many of the mills in his diaries, but no detailed records or diagrams have been located.

Among the more unusual and valuable items in the collection is a half-page of the original Book of Mormon manuscript (14th Chapter of the First Book of Nephi) which was presented to Mr. Kesler by Joseph Summerhays in 1884. It was removed from the cornerstone of the Nauvoo House in 1882. General Joseph Smith's Views of the Powers and Policy of the Government of the United States, 1844; two different invitations to a "Pic-Nic Party" in Big Cottonwood Canyon, 24 July 1857; an address by Brigham Young entitled "A Series of Instructions and Remarks," given at a Special Coucil in the Tabernacle 21 March 1858; revelations of Orson Hyde and John Taylor; and correspondence that includes letters from Joseph Smith and Brigham Young are among the valuable items.

A chest, constructed by Frederick Kesler, contained these records and is part of the gift to the University. A beautifully bound book housed in a specially built compartment in the record chest, contains Frederick Kesler's autobiography and his family genealogical records.

There are daybooks, partriarchal blessings, and an address book of Kesler family heads (thirteen books), dating from 1837 to 1899 and twelve diaries written between 1857 and 1899.

The correspondence contains personal letters from relatives and friends over a period of sixty years as well as letters from LDS church leaders.

In the file of Frederick Kesler's personal papers there are biographical materials, tributes, records of his church appointments and ordinations, geneological records, his will, and an account of his record chest and its contents.

An additional file contains invitations, theater programs, certificates, contracts, receipts, tax notices, land agreements, recipes, and tithing and temple records.

Artifacts belonging to Mr. Kesler and kept in the record chest include two beautiful canes, a Nauvoo Legion sword and scabbard, gold writing pens, and a tintype of Kesler in his Legion uniform, and a daguerreotype of Kesler in civilian dress. In order to view these items, please schedule an appointment with the Manuscripts Curator by calling 801-585-3076.

A microfilm of Frederick Kesler papers owned by Huntington Library has been secured for inclusion in this collection. The Huntington Library collection contains correspondence from several people, but is mainly concerned with the divorce suits Kesler's wives, Emeline and Abigail, filed against him. Some of the letters are from Brigham Young who sanctioned the divorces and set the amount of financial settlement.

In the account and daybooks in this collection are found more than in the diaries, the full extent of Frederick Kesler's genius. These daybooks were kept during the period of his greatest productivity, before the accident that permanently crippled him, and list in more detail the mills and machinery he built and for whom.

As mentioned previously, the record chest constructed by Frederick Kesler in 1889 was part of the gift to the University. This is a utilitarian piece, designed to securely contain records, books, and other objects. Despite its not being designed as a piece of furniture, its proportions are excellent and give a sense of strength and security without massiveness.

Several features of construction mark this as the work of a skilled craftsman, but not a cabinetmaker. The chest reflects well the background and purpose of its maker. Refinishing and restoring the chest were done in Western Americana in 1972 by Dr. W. W. Newby, professor of biology, emeritus, Univesity of Utah. It now houses some of the Kesler papers and memorabilia.

Use of the CollectionReturn to Top

Restrictions on Use

The library does not claim to control copyright for all materials in the collection. An individual depicted in a reproduction has privacy rights as outlined in Title 45 CFR, part 46 (Protection of Human Subjects). For further information, please review the J. Willard Marriott Library's Use Agreement and Reproduction Request forms.

Preferred Citation

Collection Name, Collection Number, Box Number, Folder Number. Special Collections, J. Willard Marriott Library, The University of Utah.

Administrative InformationReturn to Top

Acquisition Information

Gift of Kesler family in 1972.

Separated Materials

Photographs were transferred to the Multimedia Division of Special Collections (P0049).

Processing Note

Processed by Della L. Dye in 1975.

Detailed Description of the CollectionReturn to Top

Diaries (Originals in Reserve. Patrons to use copies in Box 7) and Daybooks, 1857-1858Return to Top

The diaries contain numerous references to Frederick Kesler's activities as a mill builder, as a family man, and as an associate of Brigham Young and other LDS leaders.

Container(s) Description Dates
Box object
1 1 November 1859 - June 1874
1 2 June 1874 - November 1877
1 3 November 1877 - July 1881
1 4 July 1881 - January 1885
1 5 January 1885 - May 1888
1 6 May 1888 - November 1890
1 7 December 1890 - June 1893
1 8 June 1893 - January 1896
1 9 January 1896 - August 1898
1 10 August 1898 - June 1899
Daybooks 1-13
Daybooks 14-17

Subjects - Autobiographies to Mining Stock, 1829-1985Return to Top

Container(s) Description Dates
Box Folder
3 1
Autobiographies - Frederick Kesler
1890; 1974
3 2
Biographical Sketch by E. D. Roundy - Frederick Kesler
3 3
Birthday Tributes - Frederick Kesler
3 4
Book of Mormon - Page from Original Manuscript
3 5
Buchanan, President James - A Proclamation
3 6
Cemetery Lot Certification - Frederick Kesler Family
3 7
Chest Dedication - Kesler Family Gathering and Program
3 8
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints - Kesler Family Memberships, Ordinations, Baptisms, Etc.
3 9
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints - Official Communications
3 10
Contents of Kesler Record Chest - List of All Items
3 11
City Creek Canyon
3 12
Court Summons - Kesler and Others, Iowa Territory
3 13
Deed of Land
3 14
Fourth of July - Program
3 15
Funeral - Frederick Kesler
3 16
Genealogical Materials - Kesler Family
3 17
Hyde, Orson - Revelation, Nauvoo
3 18
Hyde, Orson - A Voice from Jerusalem: or a Sketch of the Travels & Ministry of Elder Orson Hyde
3 19
Indenture - Frederick Kesler to Abram Clark
3 20
1854; 1857
3 21
Jesus Christ Letter - A Letter Purported to have been Written by Jesus Christ
3 22
Manti Temple Dedication - Program
3 23
Mills - Liberty Park - Statement and Publication
3 24
Mills - Potawatomie Indian Reservation
3 25
Mills - Smut Machine
3 26
Mills - The Trans Mississippian
3 27
Mills - Frederick Kesler Business Accounts with Brigham Young
3 28
Mills - Sawmill, Augusta, Iowa
3 29
Mining Stock - Gold and Silver Mining Company Certificates

Subjects - Miscellany to Brigham Young, 1833-1949Return to Top

Container(s) Description Dates
Box Folder
4 1
4 2
Missionary Certificates - Frederick Kesler
4 3
Patriarchal Blessings - Kesler Family
4 4
Penitentiary - Report and Certificate
1866; 1890
4 5
Pioneer Jubilee - Program
4 6
4 7
Programs - Theater
4 8
Property and Land Agreements - Frederick Kesler Family
4 9
4 10
4 11
Schools - Establishment of Church Schools
4 12
Sixteenth Ward Chapels - Histories
4 13
Smith, Joseph - General Smith's Views of the Powers and Policy of the Government of the United States
4 14
Taylor, John - Funeral Program
4 15
Taylor, John - Revelation
4 16
Tax Notices - Jane E. Pratt Kesler
4 17
Temple Ordinance Record - Performed by Frederick Kesler Family
4 18a
Temple Work - Correspondence
4 18b
Young, Brigham - Letter
4 19
Times and Seasons
4 20
Tithing - Frederick Kesler Family
4 21
Will and Testament of Frederick Kesler and Power of Attorney for Jane E. Pratt Kesler
4 22
Woodruff, Wilford - Vision
4 23
Writings of Frederick Kesler
1874; 1896
4 24
Young, Brigham - A Series of Instructions and Remarks by President Brigham Young at a Special Council

Correspondence, Photographs, Newspaper Clippings, and Archie B. Kesler Materials, 1831-1975Return to Top

Container(s) Description Dates
Box Folder
5 1-3
Correspondence - Polly Adams to Frederick Kesler
5 4
Correspondence - Mr. and Mrs. D. A. Burnett to Frederick Kesler
1881; 1885; 1889
5 5
Correspondence - Abram Clark to Frederick Kesler
5 6
Correspondence - William McKay Dougan to Frederick Kesler
5 7
Correspondence - Orson Hyde to Frederick Kesler
5 8
Correspondence - Archie B. Kesler to Clara Kesler
5 9
Correspondence - Emeline Parker Kesler to Frederick Kesler
5 10
Correspondence - Frederick Kesler from His Children
5 11
Correspondence - William Weeks to Frederick Kesler
5 12
Correspondence - Alexander Lindsey to Frederick Kesler
5 13
Correspondence - Nieces and Nephews to Frederick Kesler
5 14
Correspondence - Miscellaneous Letters
5 15
Correspondence - Joseph Smith to Frederick Kesler
5 16
Correspondence - John Taylor to Frederick Kesler
5 17
Correspondence - Wilford Woodruff to Frederick Kesler
5 18
Correspondence - Brigham Young to Frederick Kesler
5 19-20
Photocopies of Photographs Which Were Removed to Multimedia Archives
5 21
5 22
Newspaper Clippings
5 23
Archie Kesler Materials - Miscellaneous Business Records
5 24
Archie Kesler Materials - Walker Bank and Trust Company
5 25
Archie Kesler Materials - Raymond, Alberta, Canada - Auction Sale
5 26
Archie Kesler Materials - Bill of Sale for Horse
5 27
Archie Kesler Materials - Cove Fort

Newsletters and Beehive Exhibition, 1980Return to Top

Container(s) Description Dates
Box Folder
6 1
Kesler Family Organization
6 2
Beehive Exhibition
6 3
Article on Frederick Kesler

Diary TranscriptsReturn to Top

Container(s) Description Dates
Diary Transcripts
Diary Transcript Sheets 1-6 (Restricted - Not for Patron Use)
Diary Transcript Sheets 7-12 (Restricted - Not for Patron Use)

Books and General MaterialsReturn to Top

Container(s) Description Dates
Box Folder
10 1
The Book of Mormon
10 2
LDS Sacred Hymns and Spiritual Songs
Genealogical Records
This is a photocopy of the geneological record in the Kesler Chest.

Names and SubjectsReturn to Top

Subject Terms

  • Divorce--Religious aspects--Latter Day Saint churches
  • Flour mills--Utah
  • Milling machinery
  • Mills and mill-work--Utah
  • Polygamy
  • Sawmills--Utah
  • Sugar factories

Personal Names

  • Kesler, Abigail Dow Snow, 1837-1907
  • Kesler, Archie Bowman, 1878-1966
  • Kesler, Emeline Parker, 1818-1896
  • Kesler, Jane Elizabeth, 1835-1912
  • Smith, Joseph, Jr., 1805-1844
  • Young, Brigham, 1801-1877