Alfred Milnes was born in Bradford, England, in 1844. He and his parents and several siblings emigrated to the United States, landing at New Orleans in 1854; after a few years of wandering, during which time his mother and two of his little brothers died, Milnes settled in Coldwater, Michigan. He attended public school, served in the Michigan Infantry throughout the Civil War, and went into business in Coldwater, becoming a banker, postmaster, and dealer in real estate.
Milnes was active in Republican party politics, casting his first vote for Abraham Lincoln in 1862. He served his neighborhood as a delegate to numerous state conventions; was elected as alderman once and mayor of Coldwater twice; became a state senator for two terms; was elected as Michigan’s Lieutenant Governor; and in 1894 was elected as a representative to Congress.
Theophilus Mantle, or “Lee” Mantle as he preferred, was born in Birmingham, England in 1851. His father died before Mantle was born, and his widowed mother brought Mantle and his siblings to the United States in 1864. Life was harder than she expected, and the children were forced to seek labor as soon as they were able. Mantle worked as a farm hand from the time he was 14 or 15 years old, then found work with the Union Pacific Railroad. This work took him to Idaho and then to Montana, where he learned to be a telegraph operator and a line repairman.
Like Milnes, Mantle had political ambitions. He published a newspaper at Butte in the interest of the Republican party; served as his city’s representative at Republican state conventions numerous times; was elected as an alderman once and as a member of Montana’s territorial House of Representatives three times; and became the mayor of Butte. The Montana legislature failed to elect a senator in 1893, and Mantle was appointed by the governor to fill the vacancy; the United States Senate refused to seat him, however, because of machinations involved in his appointment. He was regularly elected the following year and served in the Senate from 1895 to 1899.
Alfred Milnes and Lee Mantle – two emigrants from England who were recognized as leaders in their communities and served responsibly in the highest levels of American government, their federal service overlapping.
I wonder if these two men knew each other, and if they did, whether they knew what else they had in common?
You see, the parents of both men were converted to Mormonism while still in England. Both boys came to the United States aboard LDS emigrant ships, with the help of the Perpetual Emigrating Fund; both boys crossed the plains with LDS overland companies. Milnes’s father became discouraged by the deaths of his wife and children, and he left the church and Utah in 1859, taking his surviving children first to Iowa and then to Michigan. Mantle’s difficult adolescence, and the nomadic life he led while seeking employment, led him away from the church; he eventually made a home for himself in Montana and brought his mother there to live with him.
Part of me wants to wave Milnes and Mantle as examples – See! Mormonism did not appeal solely to the dregs of English society as so many critics have said – here are two boys with talent and ambition, if not stellar congressional careers. If they were the dregs, they were good enough for government work.
And part of me wonders what their ambition and talent might have contributed to Mormonism, had they had the guts (parental or personal) to stick with it.
Mostly, though, I wonder if their paths ever crossed in Washington, and if either knew the other’s secret.