Ellen Parkinson was 5 years old, the sixth of 9 living children of John and Ellen Smalley Parkinson, when she traveled with her family in the Martin Handcart Company. In 1837, John and Ellen were among the first converts to the Church in Preston, England. John had served a full-time mission there from 1840-42.
The Parkinsons were a fairly well to do family. John owned his own shoemaking business and employed servants in his home. John had already paid for a wagon outfit to carry his family across the plains, but was not able to obtain it upon arriving at Iowa City, so the family discarded many of their belongings and traveled by handcart instead.
Ellen’s first memory of her emigration was of her father carrying her on board the ship Horizon, sitting her on a plank and giving her a sea biscuit. On their trek west, Ellen’s parents, brothers, Joseph (15) and William (infant), and sisters, Mary (3) and Esther (2) died. Her brother Samuel (18) left the family at some point and returned to Florence. Samuel and Joseph had often carried Ellen on their shoulders and she missed them terribly.
The night that Ellen’s father died, her mother took his coat to keep herself warm and had Ellen sleep next to her. Ellen became very cold and tried to wake her mother, but could not. She snuggled next to her mother’s body through the night and when morning finally came, Ellen’s mother was wrapped in a blanket and buried in a shallow grave with several others.
By 1889, Ellen’s four remaining siblings had also died, leaving Ellen the lone survivor of this large family. One day a gentleman representing the Perpetual Emigrating Fund Company approached Ellen and offered to pay her the difference for the wagon and team her father had purchased and the cost of the handcart journey. Ellen was hurt and offended and refused the money, giving the PEF representative “a most thorough scolding.”
Ellen married Hyrum Covey and they had 11 children. Her posterity wrote of her:
“She was a kind mother and friend. She never turned anyone away from her door. She had a keen sense of humor. She spent much time seeking information about her ancestors.”
It seems that the following statement from John Parkinson’s patriarchal blessing, given in England in 1840, was fulfilled in Ellen: “Thy posterity shall be blest and they shall rejoice even as they shall enjoy the good things of the Land of Promise.”