Decades after split over polygamy and Mormon beliefs, the Jessop family throws a big Utah reunion

Millville — The former spokesman for the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints gave the blessing before lunch.

Three sisters from the Apostolic United Brethren walked along tables displaying the Jessop family tree — it looks more like a game of Tetris — and some black-and-white photos of their ancestors.

And the reunion’s organizer, Terry Jessop, whose family stuck with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints all those years ago, greeted everybody with a handshake and a big smile.

The Jessop reunion at a city park here Saturday was an only-in-Utah event five or six decades in the making. Terry Jessop says it’s the first time the whole family has gotten together since the middle of the 20th century, when some Jessops decided to be polygamists or practice so-called Mormon fundamentalism and leave Cache County.

(Trent Nelson  |  The Salt Lake Tribune)  Terry Jessop, organizer of the Jessop Family International Reunion in Millville Saturday August 12, 2017.(Trent Nelson  |  The Salt Lake Tribune)  Terry Jessop's name tag, showing his lineage, at the Jessop Family International Reunion in Millville Saturday August 12, 2017.

Other Jessops decided to remain with the Salt Lake City-based LDS Church, which officially abandoned polygamy in 1890 and excommunicates any members now found practicing it.

“They were wonderful people that had strong differences of opinions,” Terry Jessop, 70, explained, “and sometimes that makes it really hard to interact.”

Most Utah Jessops descended from three brothers — Richard, Thomas and Edward Jessop — who emigrated from England in the 19th century. They settled in Cache County. Terry Jessop estimates those three brothers produced thousands of descendants.

The Jessops drifted apart in the 1950s and ’60s. Those Jessops who wanted polygamy and fundamentalism went to Hildale, Utah, and adjoining Colorado City, Ariz., to join what would become the FLDS, or to Salt Lake County to join the Apostolic United Brethren, also known as the Allred Group.

(Trent Nelson  |  The Salt Lake Tribune)  Sisters Jeryl Jenson, Donna Thompson, and Genevieve Lewis at the Jessop Family International Reunion in Millville Saturday August 12, 2017.

There was no dramatic turning point or big argument, said Donna Thompson, 70, a Jessop descendant and a wife of Apostolic United Brethren leader Lynn Thompson. The family factions just agreed to disagree, she said.

“We still love the [LDS] Church very much,” she said. “We embarrass them, but we love them.”

The Jessop reunion was promoted on Facebook and on road signs across northern Utah for months. Some 100 to 200 people attended. It looked like a typical family reunion.

People brought dishes for a potluck. A bluegrass band played folk songs. Young children climbed on the playground equipment. Teenagers and 20-somethings tossed beanbags into a corn hole target.

(Trent Nelson  |  The Salt Lake Tribune)  Lunch is served at the Jessop Family International Reunion in Millville Saturday August 12, 2017.

And the older folks visited and shared stories. Reunell Jessop Bankhead, 70, who lives in Cache County, asked one of her distant relatives for a recipe for the spudnut doughnuts that the Jessops used to sell at a shop in Logan. The relative gave her part of the recipe, she said, and vowed to track down the rest and send it to her.

Bankhead said the reunion was possible because society has gotten more tolerant of religious differences, including polygamy.

Her polygamous relatives “don’t feel like they have to be hiding,” she said. “This is the first time they don’t have to feel ashamed to say, ‘I’m from …’ ”

(Trent Nelson  |  The Salt Lake Tribune)  The family portrait at the Jessop Family International Reunion in Millville Saturday August 12, 2017.

About 1:30 p.m., Terry Jessop called everyone together to take the family photo. The photographer snapped a few shots.

Thompson and her two sisters had been in a different part of the park and didn’t hear the summons for the picture. When they arrived, the other Jessops made room for them to get into the photo.

from The Salt Lake Tribune http://www.sltrib.com/news/polygamy/2017/08/12/decades-after-split-over-polygamy-and-mormon-beliefs-the-jessop-family-throws-a-big-utah-reunion

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