excerpt – Lost Apostles
Latter Day Saints today enjoy a sense of continuity and stability that is a hallmark of Mormonism, whether in Utah or in any of the other major branches of Joseph Smith’s Restoration Movement. All of these churches choose individuals for leadership who have been proven over the years as church employees or prominent business heads, educators, or diplomats. It was not always so. In the early days, a charismatic convert might be promoted to the top of the hierarchy, fill a short and stormy tenure in office, and leave with as much speed as he appeared. There were public disagreements among the apostles. Joseph Smith tried to stem the chaos by making adjustments to the church structure and personnel in what was a fluid sea of shifting tides.
Compare that with the current situation where members of the Utah church rest assured that when a member of the hierarchy dies, his replacement will be announced at the next semi–annual general conference with the precision of a Swiss watch. The new apostle or president will generally be as steady and predictable as the last one. It is the same in the Missouri-based Community of Christ, even—or perhaps especially—in the case of the women who have been named apostles beginning in the late 1990s. The other churches that trace their origin to Joseph Smith include the Church of Jesus Christ in Monongahela, Pennsylvania, where a Quorum of the Twelve leads the church without the need for a separate presidency. The Remnant Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in Missouri has a president and seven apostles. All these men are reliable and tested even if they engage in experimentation in community planning. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints Strangite, headquartered in Wisconsin, and the Restoration Church of Jesus Christ in Missouri do not have quorums of apostles but nonetheless assume that the founding twelve in Joseph Smith’s day labored reliably to spread the Restored Gospel.
For those of us who were raised in the post-World War II world, it is hard to imagine the degree of uncertainty and turmoil that existed during the founding years of the Restoration. The first converts were opposed to dogmas and hierarchies. Joseph Smith was known as the First Elder, and Oliver Cowdery as Second Elder, and that was that. However, within two years Sidney Rigdon and Jesse Gause were named to a First Presidency that quickly overshadowed Cowdery. The office of Presiding Patriarch was created for Joseph Smith’s father, and Cowdery’s position was redefined in 1834 as that of an Assistant to the President, a position that was mostly ceremonial. When Cowdery was excommunicated, he was not replaced and the position was eliminated. As branches and stakes were created, they needed leaders. Joseph would become enamored with someone, become disillusioned with his performance, find a replacement, and leave bad feelings behind.
Consider the case of Jesse Gause, who was baptized in late 1831 and a few months later, in March 1832, appointed to the First Presidency. Only nine months transpired before he was excommunicated and disappeared from church history.1 Following a similar pattern was John C. Bennett except that he did not go quietly, instead choosing to publish a divisive report of his experiences. In 1837, after the fall of the Kirtland Safety Society Bank, Frederick G. Williams of the First Presidency left, joined by Oliver Cowdery and the entire Whitmer family. Another of the original founders, Martin Harris, left and stayed away for three decades. Polygamy tested the perseverance of William Law of the 1840s First Presidency. Like Bennett, he broadcast his dissatisfaction, this time by founding an alternative newspaper, the Nauvoo Expositor. When Joseph tried to quash this irritant, it was one of the snowballing events that led to his tragic incarceration and assassination less than a month later.
The original Twelve Apostles who were called in 1835 were asked to lead the missionary effort throughout the world but were forbidden by revelation from exercising any authority at the church’s headquarters or environs. The first twelve, ranked oldest to youngest, were Thomas B. Marsh, David W. Patten, Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, Orson Hyde, William E. McLellin, Parley P. Pratt, Luke S. Johnson, William Smith, Orson Pratt, John F. Boynton, and Lyman E. Johnson. Most of these men, with the exception of Heber and Brigham, clashed with Joseph Smith to the point of temporarily severing their relationship with him. Three of them—McLellin, Boynton, and Lyman Johnson—would not return to the fold. Two others—Marsh and Luke Johnson—returned to the Utah church but without being restored to their former standing as apostles. Joseph’s brother William would find his way back to church under the leadership of his nephew, Joseph Smith III. Five of William’s former colleagues would stay more or less together in Utah: Brigham Young, Heber Kimball, Orson Hyde (who returned in 1839), Parley Pratt, and Orson Pratt and would continue to argue over doctrine and standing as they had in Ohio and Illinois.
It is a matter of perspective that allows us to label six of these men as “lost” because they would not have described themselves that way, and from the perspective of the Reorganized LDS Church in Missouri, the Utah apostles were lost, and vice versa. Some readers will assume that we, the authors, have similarly lost our way, depending on where the reader stands. One of us, Bill, was born in a Strangite community in Burlington, Wisconsin, and has remained generally loyal to it. He is the church historian and trustee of the community land encompassing the most important areas of the settlement that was once called Voree. It was founded by James J. Strang a century and a half ago under Joseph Smith’s direction. Strang led the settlement on a separate but compatible journey to that of Brigham Young and Sidney Rigdon.
The other of us, Mike, converted to the LDS Church as a teenager growing up in San Francisco but now describes himself as an independent historian. The two perspectives should satisfy suspicions readers might have that we come to this project with an agenda and do not understand their viewpoint as either a believer or non-believer. One of us believes deeply in the divinity of the Restoration and the other harbors doubts. What we share in common, besides a long-standing friendship, is a passion for finding out new information about our shared past.
The purpose of this book has been first and foremost to report on what our research has turned up. Although we have a point of view, we do not insist on it. We would very much like to correct the injustice we feel has been done to the memory of these men, but the final judgment rests with the readers. Our disappointment is over the embarrassment the churches today feel over the apostles’ perceived betrayal, which makes it almost impossible to quote these men as authorities on doctrine or history. What little mention is made of them is usually in the service of cautionary tales about what happens if you disobey the prophet, exhibit pride, or fail to follow the commandments. Around the globe, Latter-day Saints of all stripes (those who put a hyphen in their name and those who don’t) shake their heads over these men, wondering how it is possible that they could have left the faith after everything they knew and experienced. And so they have been mostly forgotten and are scarcely understood.
Where we find mention of the six is in the lists of early members. Their names are given but not their individual characteristics or backgrounds, and they are skipped over the way the New Testament treats Jesus’s disciples, as having been more important for their roles than for their backstories or pathways. Consider Doctrine and Covenants 64, where it states that Christ’s disciples (apostles) “sought occasion against one another” without sharing details behind this provocative statement. In the Bible and in church history, the attention is focused on the main character. The apostles provide anecdotes about human contrariness and are useful for drawing morals from bad behavior. In a college-level manual for LDS Institute of Religion classes, Luke Johnson’s baptism is mentioned but Lyman’s is not, probably because Luke rejoined the church and Lyman did not. There is a brief entry, “Several Deny the Work of the Lord,” that discusses apostates without affording them the respect one might think would be extended to founders. They are instead shown as destroyers of God’s work. Luke Johnson and Thomas Marsh, who later confessed their errors, receive some attention. Space restrictions preclude adding too much in the way of gray areas to a lesson manual, but the fact that the dissidents have been hidden from view is also obvious.2
Sometimes the apostles are openly ridiculed in Sunday school manuals. Thomas Marsh left in a huff, we are told, over his wife’s conflict with a neighbor over milk strippings. One could hope for a more balanced portrait of the senior apostle. Given the sheer number of men who clashed with Joseph Smith, perhaps the real question is why anyone would have joined the church in the first place, not why they would leave. What was the attraction behind the Restoration Movement? How did the prophet, whose visionary talent made him like an Old Testament figure, touch peoples’ hearts?
Things did not go exactly as we have been told. The impression we are sometimes left with is that the church brought peace and harmony to people’s lives. In most cases, the opposite is true! As an example, the Johnson family was by all accounts exemplary before they embraced Mormonism, and then they became quarrelsome and dissatisfied, engaging in rancorous arguments. One can detect this pattern in other converts. Nearly all the first apostles experienced extreme turmoil. Orson Pratt thought Joseph had seduced his wife and refused, for a time, to endorse the prophet. Pratt finally concluded that the church was more important than his own petty concerns. The outliers were Brigham Young and Heber Kimball, but this is not to say that they did not have their own, more private disagreements with Joseph Smith or with the church generally. Uncertainty and discontent were ubiquitous, and there was little harmony or peace.
It was no doubt the depth of feeling people had for Joseph Smith and his doctrines that created the degree of anxiety they experienced when they had honest disagreements with policies and teachings. This does not mean they moderated their affection for Joseph himself. It was often quite the contrary. Where LDS commentators have pointed to affirmations of faith by apostates to show the rightness of Joseph’s actions and correctness of the Book of Mormon, the statements are also testaments to the honesty and strength of character of the apostates themselves.
The seed for this book was a visit Bill received from LDS missionaries when they knocked on his door in Burlington one day and accepted his invitation to attend church. Afterward one of the missionaries mentioned that he had seen Lyman Johnson’s grave in Prarie du Chien on the other side of the state. Bill was intrigued enough that he drove two hundred miles east to that picturesque spot on the Mississippi River. It was easy enough locating Johnson’s badly weathered tombstone in Evergreen Cemetery, but the surprise was discovering, after laboring to read the date of December 20, 1859, that Lyman died three years later than traditionally assumed. This was the first of many object lessons in being cautious in accepting facts from official histories.
One thing led to another as we were drawn into an ever–expanding project, first looking into the life of Lyman Johnson and then researching his colleagues’ experiences. One conclusion we came to was that historical facts have value outside of interpretation—or at least that whatever conclusions one might draw, there is more to the story than meets the eye and that the more we learn, the less like their stereotypes the apostles seem to be. We wonder how anyone could have made so many assumptions about these men with so little evidence to go on. It is nice to be able to see the larger picture, the bad with the good. Each individual proves to be unique despite some obvious commonalities.
As we formulated a plan of attack, we realized that we had both visited the restored home of John and Elsa Johnson in Hiram, Ohio, and both of us were struck by the lavish praise the tour guides heaped on John Johnson Sr., patriarch of the Johnson family. His generosity helped facilitate the growth and stability of the Restoration Movement. We agreed that he had filled a key role, of course, and it is not that we were unaccustomed to the standard fare for simplicity and exaggeration at LDS visitor centers. But in this case, the guides seemed unable to moderate anything they said about the Johnson family’s involvement in the church’s founding. The Johnsons provided shelter and sustenance for Joseph and Emma Smith, as well as for Sidney and Phoebe Rigdon, in 1831-32. Elsa had lost the use of an arm that had become disabled by rheumatism, so Joseph healed it. The most famous vision in the church in the 1830s, that of the three degrees of heavenly glory in the afterlife, canonized as LDS and Community of Christ Doctrine and Covenants 76, occurred in the Johnson home in February 1832.3 Father Johnson supported construction of the Kirtland Temple. He defended Joseph and Sidney in March 1832 when they were tarred and feathered. As we have seen, John’s and Elsa’s sons, Luke and Lyman, were called as apostles in 1835. Their daughter Marinda would marry Apostle Orson Hyde and, according to her own statement, ultimately became one of Joseph Smith’s plural wives.
What we were not told at the visitor center was that John Johnson became a leading dissenter in the summer of 1837, losing his place on the high council. He died outside of the church in 1843. Nor did the guides mention that mother Elsa remained alienated for decades prior to her death in Pottawattamie County, Iowa, in July 1870. We believe these facts are as relevant to her history as her miraculous healing. Within two years of joining the Quorum of Twelve Apostles, Luke and Lyman became critics and were excommunicated in 1837 and 1838. The family followed the pattern set by Jesse Gause of a quick rise to prominence, a high level of trust, and sudden collapse in their relationship with the church.
An examination of the other Johnson children is equally interesting. Olmstead did not want anything to do with the church. John Jr. was involved in savagely assaulting Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon in March 1832. We found no evidence that Justin ever joined the church—not in Hiram or Kirtland or Nauvoo. Even though Alice Johnson Olney died as a Mormon in Nauvoo in 1841 and was eulogized for her faithfulness, her husband, Oliver, was excommunicated for publishing works the church disapproved of. It does not appear that Fanny Johnson Ryder was a member of the church. Nor is there a record of Emily Johnson Quinn being baptized.4 Fifteen–year-old Mary Beal Johnson died in Joseph and Emma Smith’s house in 1833, and of course, Marinda Nancy Johnson married Orson Hyde in 1834 and remained faithful all her life, even though she and Orson divorced in 1870. He dissented in 1838 and was censured for supporting Thomas Marsh’s denouncement of Mormon atrocities in the Mormon War in Missouri.
This amount of disunity and dissent is startling when contrasted to what seems to have been a smoothly working, united Johnson family prior to the arrival of Mormonism in Ohio. It seems the gospel message brought the sword rather than peace in intra—family fights and internal anxiety. Reconstructing this pattern and attempting to understand it are goals of this book.
Another objective has been to determine why these particular men were called. In the past it has been thought that they proved themselves during the paramilitary march on Missouri called Zion’s Camp, when in fact, they were not all involved in that event. More likely it was their service as missionaries that brought them to Joseph Smith’s attention as, time after time, the twelve men left their families to travel long distances to preach. After returning home and taking a brief break, they would leave on yet another difficult assignment. It is ironic to think this, but it may have been their perseverance that was most prized at the time. They sometimes became discouraged, sometimes returned home early or veered off track and had to be set straight, but they always went back to face another hostile crowd and to rely on the generosity of people they did not know, who put them up and fed them.
They were willing to stand up to respected ministers and say the existing churches were corrupt, to declare that events were in motion that would lead to the Second Coming of Jesus Christ in their lifetimes. As missionaries they testified that God had re-established his church on earth by calling Joseph Smith to be a seer and revelator and that Joseph’s translation of ancient writings clarified doctrine and provided a guide for eternal life. They preached, baptized, testified, warned people to prepare for prophetic events that would soon occur, and sealed up their congregations to eternal life.
When they were ordained, they covenanted to dedicate themselves entirely to God. Joseph Smith told them they would be expected to preach among gentiles until God told them to preach to Jews, and would begin in the eastern states on May 4, 1835. Their agenda would include ten church conferences (although one was later canceled) from May through August 28 in existing congregations in New York, Massachusetts, Vermont, Maine, and Upper Canada. Altogether it was an optimistic start, but forces were unleashed that would slowly eat away at the continuity, uniqueness, and harmony of the group. They were even criticized by the members of the existing congregations who thought it presumptuous that these men would assume to exercise authority over them.
Warren A. Cowdery, presiding high priest in Freedom, New York, said the apostles had an agenda that was wholly incompatible with the church’s mission. Based on his report, the First Presidency concluded that the Twelve were loose cannons, a type of “outlaws” without any direction, and as soon as they returned home they engaged in a verbal standoff with the First Presidency. Eventually the apostles apologized for having criticized Sidney Rigdon’s school in Kirtland, but they continued to complain about Joseph’s preferential treatment of his brother William. Demonstrating that there was no real love lost between them, Joseph and William got into a fist fight later that year.
Several of the apostles who were young unmarried men would see their priorities change once they got married. Being away from home and missing key events in Kirtland, they would return to a changed environment. Joseph was re-editing the revelations for publication and engaging in speculative financial ventures until the national banking crisis of 1837 took down the unchartered Mormon bank. It had been founded on revelation, so members had assumed it could not fail. But it did, and spectacularly so. Nobody in the church was qualified to run a bank, nor was anyone qualified to run a school or a church, for that matter.
In their introduction to Differing Visions: Dissenters in Mormon History, Roger Launius and Linda Thatcher commented that converts came from “essentially the same background” as Joseph Smith, meaning families of modest means and limited education who were unhappy with the social order but unqualified to do much about it. None of them had the training necessary to handle banking. They were not teachers. The result was that all felt equally qualified to perform any task they needed to. They felt entitled to have a say in church policy too and to receive revelation.5 Little wonder the apostles were so bold as to challenge Joseph Smith. Orson and Parley Pratt had disagreements with him in 1837. Thomas Marsh, president of the Twelve, witnessed the Mormon destruction of Gallatin and Mill Port in Missouri in October 1838 and separated himself from the church. He was excommunicated in March the next year. Orson Hyde sided with Marsh but recanted and was restored to fellowship in June 1839.
William McLellin was excommunicated in May 1838. David Patten verbally and then physically tussled with Joseph in mid-1837, and Luke Johnson was excommunicated that same year. John Boynton criticized the Kirtland Safety Society Bank and was disfellowshipped in September 1837, then restored to fellowship a week later, only to be excommunicated at the end of the year. Orson Pratt was ousted in August 1842 and restored in January 1843. William Smith was ousted in 1845.
In his ground-breaking book on James J. Strang, The Kingdom of Saint James, Milo M. Quaife commented on how the “worst accusations ever leveled” against Mormons by outsiders were “matched line for line” by “similar accusations made by the Saints” against each other. “The Saints have long complained, and with justice, that the world is ever ready to believe all manner of evil against them,” he wrote, “but they seem seldom to have realized that their own testimony against one another affords color to the worst of gentile accusations.”6Launius and Thatcher suggested that belief in revelation appealed to people who did not perceive shades of ambiguity, which implied an insistence on “capitulation rather than compromise.” Gordon D. Pollock, a non-Mormon historian quoted by Launius and Thatcher, perceived the existence of scapegoats on whom blame could be placed. As long as discontent was the result of “personal weakness and sin,” the church was saved from introspection.7
Through our research, we have uncovered previously overlooked documentation about the “great missionary period” from 1832-35 (see appendix A). This was the period during which missionaries crisscrossed the eastern states. Some of these accounts will bring to life in new ways this period of history and the sacrifices the apostles and other elders made. The gentile response included curiosity, hostility, acceptance, and respect.
The greatest problems the apostles encountered occurred when they returned home and found things changed and themselves to be in a purgatory of diminished status and influence. The financial issues in Kirtland cannot be overstated. Ten of the twelve apostles decided they had had enough when they heard of reported misuse of funds. This was during the period when Father Johnson was dropped from the high council and Martin Harris was excommunicated. The Joseph Smith Sr. family was forced to leave the city for fear of their safety and relocated to Missouri where the Mormon War soon forced the membership to leave, this time to Illinois. The non-Mormons did not act, however, prior to the church setting an example by forcing dissidents out of the state.
Where did the apostles go when they were kicked out of the nest? They ended up in Iowa, New York, Missouri, and Utah. In some ways their subsequent paths are as interesting as their time in the church. One of them became an inventor, another a respected lawyer. We will look at their origins and families, as well as at their general environment at different stages of their lives.
We wish to acknowledge the assistance of the following individuals: Lavina Fielding Anderson, John and Carol Cluff, Elaine Goodell, Michael W. Homer, Erin Jennings Metcalfe, Joseph Johnstun, David Sean Muttillo, Connell O’Donovan, Ronald E. Romig, Elaine M. E. Speakman, Mark Lyman Staker, and Kyle R. Walker.
1. Despite good but brief treatments of Gause in D. Michael Quinn, The Mormon Hierarchy: Origins of Power (Salt Lake City: Signature Books and Smith Research Associates, 1994), 40-42; Erin B. Jennings, “The Consequential Counselor: Restoring the Root(s) of Jesse Gause,” Journal of Mormon History 34, no. 2 (Spring 2008): 182-227, Gause still remains a mystery.
3. The First Vision had not yet been announced to the church. See, e.g., Kathleen Flake, The Politics of American Religious Identity: The Seating of Senator Reed Smoot, Mormon Apostle (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004).
4. The information on Fanny Johnson Ryder comes from family tradition that Fanny had already married and moved out of her parents’ home before the Smiths arrived. Our thanks to John and Carol Cluff for this insight.
A Quorum of Twelve Apostles
Joseph Smith was not officially responsible for choosing the original Quorum of the Twelve, so he might be spared credit or blame for the selections except that he influenced at least one of them directly and others indirectly. Oliver Cowdery and David Whitmer were directed by revelation in June 1829, before the church had been founded, to search out twelve good men for this honor. The modern-day apostles would, like those in the Bible, take on Christ’s errands “with full purpose of heart,” preaching the gospel in “all the world.”1 It would take almost six years, but eventually the witnesses to the Book of Mormon completed their task, and in February 1835 Joseph Smith asked Brigham and Joseph Young to gather the Zion’s Camp veterans together so he could bless them and, at the same gathering, make an announcement on who the apostles would be.
Joseph Smith told the Youngs that the “twelve Special Witnesses” would be ambassadors who would “open the door of the Gospel to foreign nations.”2 Accordingly, on February 14, a large number of Saints came together for what they had been assured would be a momentous occasion.3 The veterans were seated together “in one part of the house by themselves” when Joseph announced that by inspiration from the Holy Spirit and a vision from God, he would be ordaining men, from among those who “went to Zion,” to the new office in the priesthood, that of apostle. Twelve would be chosen to “go forth to prune the vineyard for the last time, or the coming of the Lord.” The Second Coming was “nigh,” he said, and would be realized in little more than half a century. “Even fifty six years, should wind up the scene,” he confidently declared. The twelve would “feel the whisperings of the spirit” and would receive “power from on high,” he explained.
Would the congregation accept the appointment of twelve apostles? he asked. He wanted to see confirmation from the men in the Zion’s Camp group and asked them to stand if they were in agreement, which they did. He then asked the rest of the congregation to raise their hand if they agreed, which they also did.4 After a one-hour intermission, the meeting resumed:
President J[oseph] Smith Junr. arose and said: The first business of the meeting was for the three witnesses of the Book of Mormon to pray, each one, and then proceed to choose twelve men from the Church as Apostles to go to all nations, kindred, tongue[s] and people. The three Witnesses united in prayer (viz.) Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer & Martin Harris. These three witnesses were then blessed by the laying on of the hands of the Presidency. They then according to a former commandment proceeded to make choice of the twelve.5
Joseph was personally impressed by the Zion’s Camp participants who had remained loyal to him through adversity. Yet despite the pressure to succumb to Joseph’s influence, the three witnesses disregarded this display of militia zeal and drew instead upon missionary veterans, some of whom had not been in the militia. They gravitated toward men who were strong-willed and had independent spirits, who were forceful speakers. Off stage, the men they chose had less confidence than when preaching and had not found success in life generally in farming or business, for instance. In fact, it was a surprisingly diverse and ragtag group. But for all that, they were ready and willing to make whatever sacrifice was necessary in this instance. They knew that they would be accepting a lifetime missionary assignment.
The most surprising choice was that of William McLellin, who already had a checkered past in terms of devotion to church leaders. He had been a dynamic and effective missionary when he wasn’t AWOL, but at the time of the February meeting, he was employed as a teacher at a Kirtland school. Historian Richard P. Howard postulated that McLellin’s relationship with David Whitmer influenced the choice because Whitmer was impressed with McLellin’s intellect and teaching experience.6
In the behind-the-scenes negotiations, Joseph Smith had rejected one nomination: Phineas Young, Brigham Young’s brother, in favor of Joseph’s own brother, William. Cowdery wrote to Brigham Young on February 27, 1848:
At the time the Twelve were chosen in Kirtland, and I may say before, it had been manifested that brother Phineas was entitled to occupy the station as one of that number; but owing to brother Joseph’s urgent request at the time, Brother David and myself yielded to his wishing and consented for William to be selected, contrary to our feelings and judgment, and to our deep mortification ever since.7
About two decades later in 1854, Phineas spoke to a group of church leaders in Salt Lake City about how his call to the quorum had been cancelled. According to Wilford Woodruff, “Phineas Young said that He was the first that was Chosen in the organization of the quorum of the Twelve Apostles but Brother Joseph said He wished I would let Wm. Smith have that place so I gave way to him.”8 Some fifty years after the formation of the quorum, in an interview that Zenas Gurley conducted with David Whitmer in January 1885, Whitmer corroborated Cowdery’s and Young’s recollections and confirmed that Phineas was the man who was originally selected for the position.9
On the same day their names were announced publicly, three of the men, Lyman Johnson, Heber Kimball, and Brigham Young, were ordained by the three witnesses in reverse order by age. Lyman Johnson was ordained first because he was the youngest. The following day John Boynton, Orson Hyde, Luke Johnson, William McLellin, David Patten, and William Smith were ordained. Of the remaining three, Parley Pratt was ordained on February 21, while Thomas Marsh and Orson Pratt did not receive their ordinations until April 26 (see Appendix B for transcripts of the ordinations).
Oliver Cowdery told the newly called apostles they had been chosen after years of prayerful search: “You have been ordained to the Holy Priesthood, you have received it from those who had their power and authority from an angel.” He advised them to carry the “gospel to the ends of the earth” and testify to the Book of Mormon. He emphasized that this would necessitate “a long farewell to Kirtland,” with compensating success in converts as long as they demonstrated faith, humility, and love. They would need to seek independent confirmation from heaven, he said, promising that if they did so they would see God “face to face”; if they honored their calling, they would also witness the second advent of Jesus Christ. First they would need to receive their “endowment of power” in the temple, then they could leave the shores of the United States for foreign climes. He admonished them to not forfeit their crowns of glory and, taking each by the hand, elicited from them a solemn pledge that they would devote themselves to the ministry, heart and soul.10
Nine of the apostles met with Joseph Smith on February 27. He told them to maintain good records. Two of them did. He also outlined their duties as enumerated, he said, words from heaven:
They are the Twelve Apostles, who are called to the office of Traveling high council, who are to preside over all the churches of the Saints among the Gentiles, where there is no presidency established, and they are to travel and preach among the Gentiles, until the Lord shall command them to go to the Jews. They are to hold the keys of this ministry, to unlock the door of the kingdom of heaven unto all nations, and to preach the Gospel to every creature. This is the power, authority and virtue of their apostleship.11
In short, they were to be missionaries, who would preside over all the loosely organized congregations outside Ohio and Missouri. They were not to be administrators within organized stakes, but rather ministers to spread the gospel throughout the world.
From the beginning, Joseph assumed a supervisory role over the Twelve. He informed them on March 12 that their first assignment would be to visit the branches (“churches”) in the east beginning May 4, to speak in worship services and solicit money for the Saints in the west.12 Prior to leaving the orbit of Kirtland, they were to accompany Joseph on a short speaking assignment to Huntsburg, about seventeen miles away, on March 28. While there, Elder McLellin baptized Jotham Gardner and his wife. The next day, “on Sunday, President J. Smith Jr. delivered a discourse in the same house of about three hour’s length.”13
The apostles were already familiar with missionary work, but their elevation as apostles caused no short amount of self-doubt. Meeting together on April 28, they asked God to forgive them their sins, which they acknowledged were “light minded and vain.” In humility they asked Joseph for confirmation of the “mind and will” of God “concerning our duty the coming season.”14 Accordingly, Joseph received a revelation in their presence that has since been canonized. They were to function as a quorum of the priesthood under the prophet, as follows:
The twelve traveling counsellors are called to be twelve apostles, or special witnesses of the name of Christ, in all the world: thus differing from other officers in the church in the duties of their calling. … The twelve are a traveling, presiding high council, to officiate in the name of the Lord, under the direction of the presidency of the church, agreeably to the institution of heaven; to build up the church, and regulate all the affairs of the same, in all nations: first unto the Gentiles, and secondly unto the Jews.15
There was another gathering of the Twelve with Joseph Smith on May 2 in what they called a “grand council.” Joseph told them “it will be the duty of the twelve when in council to take their Seats together according to their ages. The oldest to be seated at the head, and preside in the first council, the next oldest in the Second, and so on until the youngest has presided.”16 Thomas Marsh was presumed to be the oldest apostle, although Marsh was unable to correctly remember his birth date, thinking it was 1799 when it was actually 1800.17 David Patten was, in fact, the oldest. In any case, Marsh sat at the head of the table, with Patten next to him, followed by Brigham Young, Heber Kimball, Orson Hyde, William McLellin, and the rest. The prophet told them they were forbidden from entering any of the stakes of Zion, from serving in any stake capacities, and from regulating the affairs of the high councils. Conversely, he said, the standing high councils would have no authority over the Twelve outside of the stakes. He said:
The Twelve will have no right to go into Zion or any of its stakes and there undertake to regulate the affairs thereof where there is a standing High Council. But it is their duty to go abroad and regulate all matters relative to the different branches of the church. When the Twelve are together, or a quorum of them in any church, they will have to do business by the voice of the Church. No standing high council has authority to go into the churches abroad and regulate the matters thereof, for this belongs to the Twelve. No High Council will ever be established only in Zion or one of its stakes.18
The apostles were reminded that their ultimate duty was “to go abroad and regulate and Set in order all matters relative to the different branches of the church of the Latter Day Saints.”19 Interestingly, the first thing the Twelve did rather was to fill vacancies on the Kirtland High Council, the very thing they were advised against. On October 29, five of the apostles were temporarily placed on the high council to adjudicate a particular problem. In December seven of them were asked to serve on the council, and they accepted. Luke Johnson, who had been on the Kirtland High Council from the beginning, continued to function there until January 13, 1836, when he was replaced.20 The apostles must have seen no harm in helping out where they could during this transitional period as they prepared to launch their careers abroad. It may also be significant that they shied away from any supervisory capacity on the high council in Kirtland, only as counselors.
At a general assembly in Kirtland on August 17, 1835, when Joseph Smith was in Michigan and the Twelve Apostles were in the eastern states on their first mission, the Doctrine and Covenants, which included the Lectures on Faith, the Article on Marriage, and an Article on Governments and Laws in General, was approved and recognized as church law. William Phelps read “the written testimony of the Twelve,” that the commandments given by Joseph Smith were “verily true.” Although the minutes of the general assembly do not contain a signed statement by the apostles, Brigham H. Roberts, a church historian in Utah, presented the “Testimony of the Twelve Apostles to the Truth of the Book of Doctrine and Covenants” in his editing of the History of the Church, volume two, published in 1904, as if it had been signed.21 Based on Roberts’s claim, the LDS Church added this testimony to the book, followed by the names of the apostles as though they signed the document. It was added in 1921 and retained in additional printings of the Doctrine and Covenants through 1981. The wording came from an 1831 revelation given on November 1, 1831, about the Book of Commandments.22 Since no signed document has been found linking the apostles with the 1835 testimony, the 1981 LDS edition lists the names of the apostles without specifically claiming that they endorsed the statement. It is probable that the Twelve did not know that some of the revelations had been modified.
First Mission of the Twelve, May 4-September 26, 1835
McLellin recorded that the apostles departed from Kirtland by wagon on Monday, May 4, in the early “morn[ing] at 2 O’clock.” Riding through the predawn darkness to Fairport, Ohio, they boarded the steamboat Sandusky at 6:00 a.m. and sailed across Lake Erie to reach Dunkirk, New York, at about 4:00 p.m. Then they paired up and went separate ways to different destinations.23 Some of them left more evidence of their activities than others. The most interesting details come from the journals of William McLellin and Orson Pratt.
The missionaries continued on by pairs and converged at a common spot in the Westfield area for a conference beginning Saturday, May 9. On Sunday there was “a large assembly of peopl[e] … in bro. Lewis’ barn and Elder Marsh preached about two hours in the forenoon on the covenants of God … The sacrament was administered by Elder Marsh.” McLellin baptized five.24 Following the conference, the pairs of apostles continued on, rendezvousing occasionally for branch conferences, baptisms, and to preach to non-Mormons in rented halls.
Examples of McLellin’s experiences include staying on May 19 with a Mr. Drune, “a lame man who treated us with the best that he had,” after which McLellin wrote in Taylor shorthand, “but his wife was a great slut, very nasty.”25According to McLellin, in June they “attended an app[ointment] about six miles toward Watertown in a neighborhood of the Christian Order and J[ohn] F. Boynton preached to a small cong[regation].” His topic was “the plain simplicity of the Gospel, and I think,” McLellin wrote, “that I never heard a better discourse for its length—it was forcible.”26 The next month in Dolton, New Hampshire, McLellin baptized Ethan Barrows and his mother, Amelia.27
Luke Johnson served alongside the others but left no known record of his labors. William Smith similarly left a light documentary footprint but was paired with Heber Kimball, so we know something of his general movements, if not his frame of mind or other activities beyond the fact that he occasionally delivered a sermon. In any case, some of the apostles traveled to Boston, where they “held forth to that people this important truth, that the Son of Man will appear in this generation, calling upon them to repent and prepare for the day, when the Lord shall cause the foundations of the earth to shake, and his glory eclipse all the bright luminaries of day and night.”28
Also in June three of the apostles, Orson Hyde, William Smith, and Brigham Young, left their apostolic mission and traveled back to Ohio, to Chardon and Kirtland. A trial was scheduled to be held at the courthouse in Chardon before the Geauga County Court of Common Pleas. The case was the State of Ohio vs. Joseph Smith Jr. on a charge of assault and battery upon his brother-in-law Calvin Stoddard, which occurred on April 21.29 The Painesville Telegraph explained that Stoddard “could not be obtained as a witness” at that time. On June 20, Joseph was tried and Calvin Stoddard said that Joseph “struck him on the forehead with his flat hand—the blow knocked him down, when Smith repeated the blow four or five times, very hard—made him blind—that Smith afterwards came to him and asked his forgiveness.”
When William Smith was examined, he said he “saw Stoddard come along cursing and swearing—Joseph went out—Stoddard said he would whip him, and drew his cane upon Joseph—Joseph backed the cane off, and struck Stoddard with a flat hand—Stoddard fell down—Joseph struck him once or twice.” Mother Lucy Smith testified that she heard “Stoddard talking loud—called Joseph ‘a d—d false Prophet, and a d—d one thing another.” The court said the injured party was satisfied and “the assault might perhaps be justified on the principle of self-defence. The accused was then acquitted.”30
After the court indicated that Joseph was not guilty as charged, William returned to his missionary work. Brigham Young was absent almost three weeks before catching up with the other apostles.31
Lyman Johnson and Orson Pratt walked long distances from conference to conference, preaching wherever they could find an audience in a home, schoolhouse, or public building. In some instances, when they arrived for a branch conference in Maine, New York, or Vermont, they were overjoyed to see the other apostles and to have the opportunity to resolve common issues, as well as to speak to a branch. Sometimes only a few of the apostles arrived at a given conference, but Johnson and Pratt, as examples, attended four gatherings in New York, two in Maine, and three in Massachusetts, Vermont, and Upper Canada over the space of four months, walking a total of over 1,500 miles.32
At the conferences the apostles presented a united front and drew upon each others’ experiences to mediate disputes, enforce discipline, reinforce controversial doctrines, and perform church ordinances. They made a point of preaching about Joseph’s and Sidney’s vision of the three degrees of glory, as Orson Pratt recorded on May 17, 1835: “Elder Johnson preached in the forenoon & I in the afternoon upon the vision of Joseph & Sidney.”34 Following the Pillar Point conference, Johnson delivered a sermon on the same topic. When he preached in Dalton, Coos County, New Hampshire, in July, Ethan Barrows, an eighteen-year-old youth, listened carefully and later reported that Johnson, once again, recounted a personal visitation of an angel, which underscored his credentials as an apostle:
I had the privilege of hearing a lecture from Elder Lyman E. Johnson, a Mormon elder, who preached in my father’s house. From that time I was convinced that Mormonism was true. He reasoned from the Scriptures in a most powerful manner and showed the constituent parts of the church of Christ, and the errors of the world and its condition at the present time, together with the beauty of Christ’s kingdom and of the gospel. In conclusion he testified to the truth of the Book of Mormon. He said that an holy angel had ministered with him and had shown him the plates from which the Book of Mormon was translated, and commanded him to testify to all the world that it was true.35
Perhaps the most significant event during the first apostolic mission occurred at a conference in St. Johnsbury, Vermont, in mid-summer. On Friday and Saturday, July 17-18, the apostles demonstrated their ability as administrators over the scattered branches when they tried Gladden Bishop, a schismatic elder whose divisiveness, argumentation, and refusal to submit to authority had created a significant problem in the eastern branches. The apostles considered his case, and even though they did not have all the evidence they wanted, decided to withdraw his preaching license in order to keep peace and maintain the authority of the branch presidents.36
Following this, the Twelve were invited to preach to a large audience, after which they baptized several people. Orson Pratt wrote: “The 12 set in council & transacted such business as came before us. Publick meetings were held in the same <place> on the 2 days following. 9 came forward & were baptized.”37 McLellin recorded that “on Saturday Elder O. Hyde & Ly[man] Johnson preached to quite a large congregation. Sunday I preached in the forenoon to about 1500 persons on the rise and government of the church of christ & P[arley] Pratt preached in the afternoon on the Kingdom of christ, 9 were baptized during the meeting.”38 Brigham Young, although not the easiest diarist to understand, thought the congregation was larger than his colleagues had estimated: “[July] 19 Sunday the barn and yard was crow[d]ed it was thought their ware betwene 2 and 3 thousand People their was 144 cariges that was counted by the Brotherin.”39
One gentleman in attendance wrote to describe the atmosphere on July 20 and documented the two interesting discourses he was privileged to hear:
An Old barn, standing by the road-side, has been fitted up as a temporary place for assemblage, and on entering it, we found quite a numerous audience collected, the majority of which were females. On the scaffold of the barn were seated the twelve Mormon Apostles, so called by believers, from Ohio. They looked fresh from the back-woods. A brother [William] of Joe Smith, the chief prophet, composed one of the number.40
Though the observer wrote with a dismissive tone about some of the content of the sermons, his candidness allows us to gauge the reaction of the audience and provides an excellent summary of the content of what William McLellin and Parley Pratt conveyed. It is a rare, and we think essential, glimpse into the major concerns of the apostles and their preaching style.
After singing two or three hymns, one of the Apostles arose and commenced murdering the King’s English, in an address on the abuse of gifts. He said that God in his mercy, had vouchsafed “to the church of the latter-day saints,” i.e. the Mormons, certain peculiar gifts—and among these were “the gift of tongues,” and “the gift of healing.” It was considering the abuse of these two gifts, especially, that he wished to address the audience, at the present time; inasmuch, as that through the abuse of them, by the saints, great harm had resulted to the church.
For instance, “if a saint had the gift of tongues come upon him,” he would at once speak out, without regarding the time or place; sometimes half a dozen saints would be moved by the gift at one time, and all would speak out together. This, said the Apostle, is wrong; it creates confusion, and affords the ungodly an opportunity to taunt the church with speaking “unmeaning gibberish.” No saint, he continued, however strongly moved by the gift of tongues, should speak out, unless the occasion warranted it, and not even then, if an interpreter were not present.
After having lectured the church sufficiently on the abuse of the gift of tongues, the Apostle proceeded to speak concerning the gift of healing, which he said had been abused by the church to as great an extent as the first mentioned gift—even some of the Apostles were deserving of reprehension for their abuse of this gift. They had attempted to exercise it on “adulterous people”—on persons devoid of faith, and therefore had failed—thus bringing disgrace upon themselves and subjecting the whole church to the derision of the unrighteous.
The speaker gave caution about over-using this gift, then the second apostle, Parley Pratt, proceeded to defend the Latter-day Saint faith:
He said the latter-day saints believed the bible to be a divine revelation, and that so far as its precepts extended, it was sufficient and worthy of all observance. But the old revelations were not suited to the present condition of mankind. The state of society had [been] altered—manners and customs had changed—-mankind had become more enlightened, and had new wants. To meet the wants engendered by a more civilized state of society, said the speaker, fresh revelations were needed, and these in mercy to man had been gracefully supplied. In doing this, continued the speaker, the Almighty had but granted us the same which he had bestowed on mankind in former ages. Every successive generation, said he, from the creation of the world to the time of Christ, has had its prophet, its revealer, to make revelations suited to the condition, or conditions of mankind at these periods. He would urge this fact as argument against those who said that the old revelations were sufficient, and that it was contrary to the designs of Providence to give new revelations for the instruction of the people.
The speaker then proceeded to read from the Book of Mormon various passages, the purport of all which was, that the Almighty had set apart a tract of country in the “westward bounds of Missouri,” for the inheritance of the latter-day saints; that it was to be called “the New Jerusalem”—that although it belonged to the saints by right, yet they were to obtain the lands by purchase, in order that they might rest in quiet. Here, said he, the latter-day saints are to be gathered from all quarters, and they are commanded to dispose of their flocks and herds, purchase land, and take up their abode in the New Jerusalem. These revelations, said the speaker, were made in the year 1831, “and I am witness that they were made.”41
The dedication and talent demonstrated by these men on their first mission together as a quorum are altogether impressive. Each man had individual shortcomings, as noted by the critical commentator, but collectively communicated sincerity of message and gravity of mission. It was a good start, although conflicts would soon arise, resulting in mutual charges, counter-charges, suspicions, investigations, and trials, both metaphorical and literal.
3. Oliver Cowdery to Brigham Young, Feb. 27, 1848, qtd. in Stanley R. Gunn, Oliver Cowdery: Second Elder and Scribe (Salt Lake City: Book-craft, 1962), 268. See also Zenas H. Gurley Jr., interviewed by David Whitmer, Jan. 14, 1885, microfilm, LDS Church History Library; Lyndon W. Cook, ed., David Whitmer Interviews: A Restoration Witness (Orem, UT: Grandin Book. 1991), 157.Roger D. Launius, Zion’s Camp: Expedition to Missouri, 1834 (Independence: Herald House, 1984), 163. Launius indicated that the meeting was held in “the unfinished temple,” while Milton V. Backman Jr., The Heavens Resound: A History of the Latter-day Saints in Ohio, 1830-1838 (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1983), 198, countered that “members of the priesthood crowded into the new schoolhouse next to the rising temple.” Fred C. Collier and William S. Harwell, eds., Kirtland Council Minute Book (Salt Lake City: Collier’s Publishing, 1996), 70, indicated that both “brethren & sisters” attended this meeting.
7. Oliver Cowdery to Brigham Young, Feb. 27, 1848, qtd. in Stanley R. Gunn, Oliver Cowdery: Second Elder and Scribe (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1962), 268. See also Zenas H. Gurley Jr., interviewed by David Whitmer, Jan. 14, 1885, microfilm, LDS Church History Library; Lyndon W. Cook, ed., David Whitmer Interviews: A Restoration Witness (Orem, UT: Grandin Book. 1991), 157.
8. Scott G. Kenney, ed., Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 1833-1898, typescript, 9 vols. (Midvale, UT: Signature Books, 1983-85), 4:275. Woodruff added: “The above shows Phineas Young’s feelings. There is not a word of truth in this Statement.” The entry, including Woodruff’s comments, was later crossed out in the journal, perhaps because Woodruff remembered that he attended a meeting on March 28, 1848, when Cowdery’s letter was read. “We he[a]rd a letter read from Oliver Cowdery expressing his feelings Concerning some matters connected with the first calling of the Twelve,” he wrote. Ibid., 3:335.
12. The apostles’ schedule was published in “Bro. O. Cowdery,” Messenger and Advocate, Mar. 1835, 90. Conferences were to be held in Westfield, Freedom, Lyonstown, and Pillow Point, New York, on May 9, 22, June 5, 19; West Loborough, Upper Canada, June 29; St. Johnsbury, Vermont, July 17; Bradford, Massachusetts, Aug. 7; Dover, New Hampshire, Sept. 4 (later canceled); Saco and Farmington, Maine, Sept. 18, Oct. 2 (Saco later changed to August 21 and Farmington changed to August 28).
14. Collier and Harwell, Kirtland Council Minute Book, 111. These 1835 minutes were copied in 1836, and the Mar. 28, 1836, date should have been April 28, 1835, the same day the minutes of the Twelve give for asking forgiveness.
17. ”Acton Births, Deaths, Marriages, 1738-1844,” 129, in Jay and Delene Holbrook, Massachusetts Vital and Town Records (Provo: Holbrook Research Institute, 1999), available online at www.ancestry.com.
19. “Record of the Transactions,” May 2, 1835; Joseph Smith Jr., et al., History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2nd ed. rev., ed. B. H. Roberts, 7 vols., 1902-12, 1932 (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1959), 2:220. See also Ronald K. Esplin and Sharon E. Neilsen, “The Record of the Twelve, 1835: The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles’ Call and 1835 Mission,” BYU Studies Quarterly 51, no. 1 (2012): 27.
21. History of the Church, 2:245n. Roberts thought it was “proper” to insert the names and the word “signed” in parentheses to accompany the published testimony, all based on his assumption that the 1835 testimony was signed by the Twelve.
22. Donald Q. Cannon and Lyndon W. Cook, Far West Record: Minutes of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1830-1844 (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1983), 26-27. Also present at this meeting were future apostles Orson Hyde, Luke and Lyman Johnson, and William E. McLellin.
23. Jan Shipps and John W. Welch, eds., The Journals of William E. McLellin 1831-1836 (Provo and Urbana: BYU Studies and University of Illinois Press, 1994), 171; holograph in LDS Church History Library.
32. “Record of the Transactions.” It was about 300 miles north to York (Toronto); 500 miles from there to Farmington, Maine, to the east; another 200 miles south to Massachusetts; and 600 miles back home again. All of the Twelve were in attendance at Farmington; St. Johnsbury, Vermont; and Westfield and Freedom, New York.
36. “The Twelve Write,” Messenger and Advocate, Aug. 1835, 167. The best accounts of this mission are “Dear Brother,” ibid., Oct. 1835, 204-7; Watson, Orson Pratt Journals, 60-72; Orson F. Whitney, The Life of Heber C. Kimball, 2nd ed. (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1945), 79-84; Shipps and Welch, Journals of William E. McLellin, 171-210; and Esplin and Neilsen, “Record of the Twelve,” 4-52. For information about Gladden Bishop, see Richard L. Saunders, “The Fruit of the Branch: Francis Gladden Bishop and His Culture of Dissent,” in Roger D. Launius and Linda Thatcher, eds., Differing Visions: Dissenters in Mormon History (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1994), 102-19.
39. Brigham Young journal, July 19, 1835, LDS Church History Library. McLellin thought there were about 1,500 people in attendance, while the minutes mentioned over 1,000. Orson Hyde to Messenger and Advocate, Aug. 1835, 167, similarly estimated 1,000-1,500.
40. “Mormonism in New England,” Maine Farmer and Journal of the Useful Arts, Oct. 9, 1835, 288; reproduced in appendix 3. Local residents remembered that the “Snow barn” was used as a meeting house. See Edward T. Fairbanks, The Town of St. Johnsbury, Vermont (St. Johnsbury: Cowles Press, 1914), 218-19.