Justus Azel Seely was my fifth Great Grandfather. He was born on November 17th, 1779 and lived to be 80 years old. Justus was one of five children born to his Father of the same name, and his Mother, Sarah. He grew up in Connecticut, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Pennsylvania (where he met and married his wife Mehittabil, “Hettie”, Bennett in 1800), and then lived in Ontario where he was drafted into the military to fight in the war against the US. Justus fought in the war for about five months until he returned home to his wife due to complications with her pregnancy. His father replaced him in his military service and the timing of his death (from war wounds) occurred at the same time Justus Azel’s first child, named Rachel, was born. Justus and Hettie raised their six children together in the Ontario area where he operated a shipping business. They had 4 more children throughout their marriage. He also worked as a sailor, and because of his support of the independence of the Upper Canada Province from the rest of the nation, Canadian authorities sabotaged one of his sailing vessels. In 1838, Justus and Hettie (along with many of his other Seely family) were introduced and converted to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints by a Missionary who was serving there, named Almon Babbit. Justus had previously been a founder and member of the Broughton Christian Church.
As members of the Church were gathering in Zion, which was then located in Missouri, Justus and his family travelled there together but were driven out of state by angry mobs, so they relocated to Illinois where they lived for 9 years until they were again persecuted and forced to flee out of state. During their time living in Illinois, Justus and Hettie (and many of their children) received their endowments in the Nauvoo temple. This was in 1846 when the temple had not yet been dedicated, but 2 months were allotted for members to get their endowments and sealings completed. Although their sealing was planned for the same day as their endowment, mob violence broke out and prevented the completion of Justus and Hettie’s sealing. It was reportedly completed years later, after their deaths. They visited the Nauvoo temple many times while living in Illinois, so that they could listen to the Prophet, Joseph Smith prior to his death in 1844.
While living in Illinois, Justus was stricken with arthritis and he was not able to walk. Exercising great faith, Justus was carried to the Nauvoo temple on a blanket. He was baptized in the water 7 times and afterwards walked out of the temple on his own. Following the mob threat in Illinois, Justus and his family left the state, journeying alongside other members through the North American wilderness. They built a small house along the Missouri river to live in during the cold winter months. In 1847 they joined Edward Hunter’s 100 wagon train (of the John Taylor company) on their trek to Salt Lake City, Utah. They lived in a cabin in Pioneer Park where Justus opened up the first cooper shop (making barrels) in Salt Lake City. In the last years of Justus’ life, his wife and him resided with his son William in Pleasant Grove, Utah where William’s family operated a sheep and cattle farm. He died on April 1st, 1859 and was buried in the Pleasant Grove cemetery.
I am grateful to have had the opportunity to research and learn about early members of the Church in my family. The miracles and sacrifice and challenges that they were faced with contributed to my being raised in the Church. This was a lesson to me in faith, resilience, and obedience. As a child, I attended Seely family reunions in varying Alberta towns with my family, and I did not know the history that I have been able to read about in the Family Tree app, thanks to committed relatives who have found this information.
Fun fact: President Dallin H. Oaks and I are related through our Seely family history!
By: Courtney Anderson