- Historic Sites
She Who Shall Be Nameless
“It’s a picture of your father’s mother’s mother’s mother,” was my mother’s explanation when at twelve I asked about the faded daguerreotype in the breakfront. But she would not say any more
February 1965 | Volume 16, Issue 2
It was three weeks later, in Nauvoo, that Young was married to Sister Cobb and to Sister Harriet Cook. After that, there are only two more references to Sister Cobb in Brigham Young’s letters and diaries. The first, in a letter that Young wrote in 1844 to his fourteen-year-old daughter Vilate, who had gone to stay with a Mormon family in Salem, Massachusetts, shows that Augusta went back East after the Nauvoo marriage: “See Sister Cobb often and hearken to her instruction. She is a good woman and will not tell you anything wrong.” In Salt Lake City, one of the Young family told me that Vilate, as an old lady, used to reminisce about her trip to Salem, chaperoned by Sister Cobb: on the train, Sister Cobb had made Vilate crouch down low in the seat so that the conductor would not suspect her of being over twelve. The second mention of Augusta is contained in a letter that Young wrote to Harriet Cook in 1847, while he was leading the first party of Mormon pioneers across the plains and mountains to Salt Lake: “Tell Sister Augusta Cobb I hope she will be blest. I want to see her again but it is a mater (sic) of doubt whether I due (sic).”
As “a mater” of fact, he did. We know that Augusta and her daughter Charlotte were in Salt Lake at least by September 1, 1852, because church records show that on that date Charlotte, aged sixteen, was “blessed” in the Temple.
A Mrs. C. W. Waite, who visited Salt Lake City during the i86o’s and wrote a book about it, The Mormon Prophet and His Harem , has left us this account of Augusta:
Mrs. Augusta Adams Cobb Young is a large, fine-looking person with dark hair, gray eyes, and a clear complexion. She is very stylish in appearance and of dignified demeanor. She was converted to Mormonism at Boston, left her husband and a very interesting family of children, and with one little girl, Charlotte, came to Utah and took up her residence at the Harem, as a plural wife of Brigham Young.
She is high-spirited and imperious. She once returned to her family and remained two years, but was too deeply involved in the meshes of Mormonism to be satisfied away from Zion. She now lives in a neat little cottage near the Lion House, and is supported by Young. Her son, James Cobb, after finishing his course of study in the East [Dartmouth] came to Salt Lake, and after some years, through the influence of his mother, joined the church. Previous to becoming a Mormon, he expressed much anxiety about his mother and sister Charlotte—now an interesting young lady —and used many arguments and entreaties to induce them to leave, but finally himself yielded to the seductive influences which surrounded him.
Charlotte at one time enjoyed the proud title of “the belle of Salt Lake.” She has steadfastly opposed polygamy, and hence has remained unmarried.
Mrs. Cobb formerly occupied Room #3 of the Lion House (the second room behind the parlor, on the ground floor). A three-ply carpet, red and yellow, common bedstead, standing in a recess, fall-leaf table, chairs of painted oak, oilshades with white curtains, a small mirror, also a small closet and a fireplace, constitute the furniture of this room. This was the home of a woman who had lived in a comfortable and commodious house in Boston, as its mistress and head, with a large and interesting family around her.
James Cobb confined himself to one wife at a time. By his second wife he had nine children. James, who is said to have been handsome, dashing, and impecunious, kept up a correspondence with Oliver Wendell Holmes, whom he had known when they were both young men in Boston. As for Charlotte, “the belle of Salt Lake,” she overcame her objections to plural marriages and became one of two wives of the leader of a small splinter group of Mormon heretics. She later divorced him and married again, this time to become the one and only wife of one of the wealthiest men in Salt Lake City, who was twenty years younger than herself. Belle she must have been, indeed.
When Brigham Young died, in 1877, he was a millionaire and provided generously for each one of his surviving wives and children. The widow Augusta’s share was a valuable piece of property in the center of town and seventy-five dollars a month (then a substantial sum) for life. In Salt Lake City, I talked to a very old lady who had been a little girl when Augusta Adams Cobb Young was a very old lady in a wheel chair.
“She was a beautiful woman, even then,” said my informant. “And proud! Oh, my! How she and Charlotte used to talk about their blue blood. Nothing was too good for them. Every first of the month, when Grandma Cobb got her regular check, Charlotte would cash it and order in the very best steaks and things like oranges from California and fancy preserves from S. S. Pierce way back in Boston. And, oh, the two of them had lovely clothes. She’d always be wearing a fresh lace cap and a lovely cashmere shawl and a lovely brooch with diamonds in it. Grandma—that’s what everyone called her—she couldn’t move from her wheel chair and everyone had to run round waiting on her.”
The same old lady told me that Augusta’s son James (“Handsome and a perfect gentleman”) had a daughter who grew up to marry the eldest son of Brigham Young.
Augusta was buried in Brigham Young’s cemetery plot, along with the other wives. But some years later, Charlotte, who objected to the constant coming and going of tourists visiting Young’s grave, bought another plot and had her mother’s body removed to it. And so, even in death, this determined woman has gone her own way.