Life of a Mormon Apostle-Turned-Spiritualist Detailed in Diaries

Salt Lake City—When Amasa Lyman, an early convert to the Mormon Church, embarked on his first mission in 1832, he likely had little idea what the future held for him. He would participate in Zion’s Camp (a para-military march in Ohio), spend time in jail alongside Joseph Smith in Missouri, serve as an apostle inside and outside of the Quorum of the Twelve, work for the church in the gold fields of California, co-found San Bernardino with fellow apostle Charles C. Rich, and act as mission president in Britain—only to find himself suddenly cut off from the church for disagreeing with Brigham Young.

Thirteenth Apostle: The Diaries of Amasa M. Lyman, 1832–1877, carefully edited by his descendant Scott H. Partridge, details all of Lyman’s successes and struggles as he served assignment after assignment in far-away places. He was a close confidant of Joseph Smith who worked well alongside Young until the church president objected to Lyman’s management of the colony Lyman and Rich founded at San Bernardino in southern California. Then Lyman delivered a sermon in Dundee, Scotland, in 1862 that rankled Young because Lyman hinted that righteousness was perhaps all that was needed to enter heaven and not necessarily the atonement of Jesus, that men more or less saved themselves through decent living. When the sermon reached Young in 1867, he cut Lyman off from the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. By 1870, Lyman had accepted the leadership of a rival Mormon denomination called the Church of Zion, an arm of what was called the New Movement involving Utah business and political leaders who were opposed to Young. On being named president of the new church, Lyman was swiftly excommunicated—and that was when Lyman fully embraced spiritualism.

As a spiritualist, he routinely participated in séances, sometimes two or three times a day, and for a period he recorded in his diary the visits of spirits he and co-spiritualists contacted. According to Lyman’s notes in his diary, he spoke to his deceased children and to Joseph and Hyrum Smith, the martyred prophet and his brother. As the Church of Zion began to fade, Lyman retreated to rural Fillmore, Utah, where he created a more peaceful life for himself after decades of non-stop service in the Mormon faith, although with equal dedication to moral principles and religious life.

Retired professor and Lyman biographer Edward Leo Lyman found the diaries particularly engrossing, especially to see Lyman as an apostle “working to solve problems among the church’s untrained leadership and their congregants.” Jessie L. Embry, current editor of the Journal of Mormon History, commented, “The diaries remind me of Wilford Woodruff ’s journal, often cited as essential for LDS history.” David D. Busath, a biophysics professor at BYU and Lyman descendant, says the diaries are “an essential resource for historians, family members, and anyone interested in a firsthand account by someone so closely aligned with the leading elders of the church.”