On May 2, 1786, Oliver and Dorcas Dimick Baker welcomed twin daughters, Zina and Lina, into their home in Plainsfield, New Hampshire. In the Baker household, Dorcas, who would ultimately give birth to twelve children, focused on domestic tasks, while Oliver worked as one of the first physicians in the state.
Zina and Lina grew up assisting their mother with chores. Cooking, cleaning, sewing, spinning, weaving, and needlework certainly shaped a significant part of their daily routine. But Zina’s life, at least, was not consumed entirely by such work. She developed intellectual as well as practical skills and cultivated family and social relationships. Reading, writing, and religious engagements, which were both private and public activities in early New England, allowed young women such as Zina to form reading circles and other groups that fostered friendships and promoted intellectual engagement.1
Religion also played an influential role in young Zina’s life. By the 1790s, New England churches experienced what scholars have called a Second Great Awakening.2 Because the religious revivals that permeated society during that time spread from location to location, conversion became a common phenomenon. Young women in particular accepted religion following a growing sense of conviction.3 This environment, which encouraged spiritual seeking, fed Zina’s early religious interests.
On November 28, 1805, nineteen-year-old Zina Baker married William Huntington Jr., son of William and Presendia Lathrop Huntington, and moved about three hundred miles from her parents’ home in Plainfield, New Hampshire, to the Huntington home in Watertown, New York.4 In Watertown, Zina created a home of her own, established a social network, and attended church meetings. Like her mother, she would spin, weave, plant and cook; she also assisted her husband in his farm business. Zina taught her children—she eventually gave birth to ten—to read the Bible, sing hymns, and play musical instruments.5
Though busy with her growing family, Zina found time to worship and to reflect upon religious topics. She attended Sunday services, as well as the Baptist and Methodist revivals that prospered in upstate New York in the early nineteenth century. Deaths in her family, particularly those of some of her own children, enhanced her desire to attain salvation. Zina cultivated religious belief in the lives of her husband and children as well, and the family eventually joined the Presbyterian church. Over time, however, scripture study convinced Zina and William that Presbyterianism was not the same gospel as the one they read about in the New Testament. As a result, they again became active religious seekers.6
In the early 1830s, Latter-day Saint missionary Joseph Wakefield stopped at the Huntington home and gave the family a copy of the Book of Mormon. Both Zina and William became convinced of its truthfulness and were baptized in the spring of 1835.7
The Huntington family left their livelihood and their home in Watertown behind to gather to Kirtland, Ohio, with other Church members. Persecution mounted in that area, and they departed, despite their destitute circumstances, for Far West, Missouri, where they lived from 1838 to 1839. Zina and her daughters (by then young adults) reestablished a home: Cooking, cleaning, gardening, and socializing again became their norm. Nonetheless, that period of peace would soon come to an end. Forced from yet another settlement when the Saints were driven from Missouri, the Huntington family made their way to Illinois, arriving in Nauvoo on May 14, 1839.
Shortly thereafter, Zina became ill with a “congestive chill,” and in the early morning hours of July 8, 1839, she passed away.8 Her daughter Zina Diantha wrote:
Thus died my martyred mother! The prophet Joseph often said that the Saints who died in the persecutions were as much martyrs of the Church as was the apostle David Patten, who was killed in the defence of the Saints, or those who were massacred at Haun’s Mill. And my beloved mother was one of the many bright martyrs of the Church in those dark and terrible days of persecution.9
Zina Baker Huntington, who discovered in the Book of Mormon the answers she had been searching for, died knowing she had found the truth, peace, and purpose she had longed for.
1. Mary Kelley, “‘The Need of Their Genius’: Women’s Reading and Writing Practices in Early America,” Journal of the Early Republic 28, no. 1 (Spring 2008): 3–7.
2. The Second Great Awakening (1790–1840s) was a period of great religious revival in the United States. It resulted in widespread Christian evangelism and conversions.
3. Nancy F. Cott, “Young Women in the Second Great Awakening in New England,” Feminist Studies 3, nos. 1 and 2 (Autumn 1975): 15–18.
4. Watertown, in northern New York state, was settled just four years before Zina’s arrival. It became the seat of Jefferson County. It was in Adams, Jefferson County, New York, where famed revivalist Charles G. Finney had his conversion experience in 1821. See The Memoirs of Charles G. Finney: The Complete Restored Text, ed. Garth M. Rosell and Richard A. G. Dupius (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1989), 16–26; Marianne Perciaccante, Calling Down Fire: Charles Grandison Finney and Revivalism in Jefferson County, New York, 1800–1840 (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2003).
5. Martha Sonntag Bradley and Mary Brown Firmage Woodward, Four Zinas: A Story of Mothers and Daughters on the Mormon Frontier (Salt Lake City, UT: Signature Books, 2000), 5–9.
6. Perciaccante, Calling Down Fire, 15–31; Edward W. Tullidge, The Women of Mormondom (New York: Tullidge & Crandall, 1877), 206–7; Bradley and Woodward, Four Zinas, 39–47.
7. Bradley and Woodward, Four Zinas, 44.
8. Tullidge, Women of Mormondom, 207–14; Bradley and Woodward, Four Zinas, 100–104.
9. Tullidge, Women of Mormondom, 214.