When I was seven or eight years of age, my father concluded to move West to the state of Indiana where his father and most of his brothers lived at that time; accordingly he sold his property and started on his journey which was said to be five hundred miles. However, we finished it, without anything occurring worthy of notice, but my father soon became dissatisfied with the country, and one year from the time he left his home in Virginia, he returned to it.
At or about the age of ten years I was sent to school though previous to this time my mother had taught me to spell and read. My teacher’s name was John R. McClner. He took great pains to learn me and at the end of four months I stood head in the first class; the same teacher took another school near where my grandfather lived; I was boarded at Grandfather’s and went to that school, there I learned to write and cipher. I continued to go to school until I was fifteen years of age, and I have realized the value of my learning if it was but little. I also feel thankful to my parents and my Heavenly Father for so great a blessing.
About this time I began to work on the farm with my father and when I was sixteen years of age, two of my brothers were large enough to work with me. My father entrusted to us the management of the farming and worked abroad himself. We employed ourselves at this business for two years. When I went in company with my father to Scott County 75 miles from home to work on a turnpike road. I worked here three months and during that three months I heard the most profane swearing I ever heard in the same length of time. Some of the hands would lie and steal. My soul revolted at such things as these, being so contrary to what I had been taught.
When I returned home to Tazewell, the Methodist had got up a great revival in religion and as I naturally liked to go to meeting and hear them preach, I must say that I was influenced by them more or less and when I found all or nearly all the young men and girls of my acquaintance had attached themselves to the church, (for there was no other kind of religionists in that country but the Methodist) I concluded I would not be behind in doing good and joined them also. I confess I was not satisfied that all was right, yet I done the best I knew how, I lived up to the light and knowledge I was in possession of. I remained a member of the Methodist one year.
About this time a man by the name of Duncan came into our settlement and commenced to preach. He belonged to the Christian Baptist or Cambellites. He preached faith, repentance and baptism for the remission of sins. I had read a great deal in the scriptures and I knew this to be true and according to scripture. Another preacher came with Duncan, (when he came the second time) by the name of Lucas and they continued to preach and they got a good many to join them.
I had always believed in baptism by immersion, but the Methodist never would immerse me, because I had been sprinkled when a child. As I felt it to be my duty to submit myself to the ordinances of the gospel and as my mother and grandmother was going to join them, I concluded I would also. I did and was baptized. The reason I did this was because I believed they had more truth than the Methodist.
About six months after this an Elder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Brother Jedediah M. Grant) began to preach in our settlement and preached what I had been seeking for all the time. I thought he taught nothing but the truth. I began to understand the scripture and the more I gave my attention to hearing Mormonism and reading the Bible, the more I was convinced it was true. I was sorry I had ever embraced any religious system or doctrine. Some two or three months passed away and I still went to hear the Mormons preach, but I hated to change so often. It looked like there was no stability in me. I was satisfied, I should lose all my friends by embracing the truth, but I had set out to do right, let what would come. I knew my motives were pure, therefore I counted up the cost, as near as I could, and embraced this time, the Gospel of Jesus Christ. ((Foot-note) I was baptized by Samuel Carter the 20th of November 1843, on Blue Stone, Tazewell County, Virginia.)
Before I joined the Mormons, I had heard all the lies and evil that could be spoken against them, but truth is mighty and the Spirit bore testimony to me that these things were true and that it was my duty to obey them. But I had no sooner done so than my friends became my enemies and turned against me. My father and mother had not had much chance to investigate Mormonism and hearing one side of the question only, they were very much opposed to me. Father told me I should quit the Mormons or leave his house. This was unexpected to me. I had always obeyed my parents and they in turn had been good and kind to me. However, my parents did not know by what kind of principles I was influenced by. He did not believe I could be induced to leave my home. My mother had taken it so hard she was down sick. My feeling were so hurt I did not want to see any person. Therefore, I tied up a few clothes in a handkerchief and left my once beloved home. I proceeded to the house of one of my neighbors, by the name of Randall Holbrook, I thought I would remain with him until I could come to some conclusion what to do next.
While I was at Holbrooks, I had occasion to visit the store that was near where I met with a Mr. Henry McDowel and John White. The former was a constable and the latter was a sheriff. McDowel commenced to speak evil of the Mormons and said I had played the devil with myself, and if he was my father, he would whip the devil out of me. I saw he wished to get a quarrel with me, for I knew him to be a bad man. He was called a bully and was always fighting when he could get anyone to fight him and was always successful. I did not want any trouble with him and told him that I did not, but nothing but a row would satisfy him. He said that I believed the signs would follow me and he was going to test the matter by pitching me into the fire and see if I would come out like the three Hebrew children without the smell of fire on my clothes. He said Joe Smith was an imposter a murderer and everything bad and I would soon be as bad as Smith. When this came out, I hauled away and knocked him down. He got up and I knocked him down the second time after striking him three times. I struck him in the face and eyes and mouth until the blood poured from him, but he managed to get up with me (for he was a stout man and weighed 180 lbs.) and throwed me back over a chair into the corner of the counter among some nail kegs and castings. White see I was going to get up and he came and stood upon my feet and McDowel was getting out his knife to use on me, when I picked up an oven lid that happened to be near and I struck McDowel three time with it before White could get it away from me. This laid him out lifeless and just at this time Samuel Graham, the store keeper, came in and pulled White off my feet and I got up. I was not hurt a particle, but it was a long time before McDowel was brought to his right senses. He did not speak for two days and he did not get well for six months. Most all the people in the community were glad that I had used him up.
I stayed at Holbrooks a few days, when I came to the conclusion I would go to Nauvoo as soon as I could get means to pay my way, where I knew I would be in the midst of my friends.
I then left the place of my nativity and went thirty five miles south to the Rich Valley in Wythe county to work for money to take me to Nauvoo. I commenced to work for Brother Jesse Grosscloss for there was a branch of our church there. There I worked until the sixth of April 1844. I then attended a conference in Burk’s Garden where there were 23 Elders present. Some 14 of them were directly from Nauvoo.
At this conference I was appointed to go on a mission with Cebert C. Shelton, one of the Elders from Nauvoo. I then, in company with my colleague and Kinnaman, (an other Elder) visited the branch of the church where I was baptized and there I was ordained an Elder in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints under the hands of Kinnaman and Shelton, the 19th of April, 1844.
When my parents heard I had returned and was in the settlement, they sent for me to come home and see them. I did go and see them and took Brother Shelton with me. They acknowledged they had done wrong in opposing me as they had. We was well used and we remained there until we started on our mission. As we passed through Burk’s Garden we attended a two day meeting; we had a good meeting.
We then took our journey into Pittsylvania County, Virginia, about a hundred and fifty miles from Burk’s Garden in Tazewell County. Mormonism never had been preached there. We visited Brother Shelton’s relatives, gave out a meeting to be held in their neighborhood in one week from the time we arrived there (which was Sunday). We was well used by his people. They were kind and friendly. The time of our appointment came round and about 500 persons attended our meeting. The place was at a camp meeting ground in a grove. We had plenty of room and seats and a stand or pulpit. At 11 o’clock I repaired to the place appointed. Brother Shelton had not come yet. A Mr. Williams asked me if I was not going to preach if Mr. Shelton did [not] come. I said I did not know, that I never had attempted to speak in public in all my life. I knew I could not preach with[out] the Spirit of God to dictate me. I felt a great burden resting down upon and great embarrassment at the idea of trying to preach and yet felt it would be my duty to try if Brother Shelton failed to come. Therefore, I made up my mind I would get up and open my mouth, and whatever the Lord wished me to say to that people, he would give it to me.
Just at this time I saw Brother Shelton coming, which relieved me of a great burden. But he (Bro. Shelton) sang and prayed and called upon me to preach, it was unexpected. However, I thought it would not do to back out, so I got up and as it happened, I opened the Bible at the 3rd chapter of John’s gospel. I read a portion of the chapter and then preached to first principles of the gospel; Faith, Repentance and Baptism for the remission of sin, and the laying on of hands for the reception of the Holy Ghost. I never had such a flow of the Spirit of the Lord before that time and but seldom since. I thought if that was the way preaching came I would as leave preach as not. Then when I was called upon to preach again, all was dark to me. My mind was clouded so I could not think of what I knew naturally without the Spirit. Therefore, here in my beginning I was taught one of the most valuable lessons an Elder can learn, and that is to realize our weakness and to rely more fully upon the arm of our Father in Heaven.
I thought Brother Shelton rather over bearing and harsh in his manner of teaching. He would teach the baptism for the dead and many other things beyond the first principles of the gospel and then tell them they would all be damned if they did not believe and obey them.
About this time I had a dream. I thought I was among my relatives that lived 60 miles north of Pittsylvania, in Bottetourt County, on Sinking Creek and was preaching to them. I told Brother Shelton my dream and he advised me to visit them. Accordingly, I set out and in three days I arrived at my great uncle William McClanahans’, a brother to my father’s mother. Aunt McClanahan’s name before she married was Walker and of German parentage. They had four children grown, namely, G. Walker McClanahan, William, Martha and Lucy Ann. The younger children I do not remember their names, but there was two others, a boy and a girl. Then they had a cousin living with them by the name of George Reynolds and they were all well educated and Uncle was a rich man.
A part of the family were Lutherans and a part of them Methodists. Reynolds was a Methodist preacher. Altogether, they seemed to be a happy family. They received me kindly, I informed them what I was and my business was to preach the gospel. I retired to rest. While meditating upon my bed, I thought to myself, these people seem to be happy and if I can get them to believe and obey the gospel they may be more happy and more intelligent or if they reject the testimony that I will bear to them, will be left in their ignorance and be condemned.
Next morning Uncle told me he wished me to stay a month or two and that I could have this house to preach in, that I could preach round about the country and that I could make his house my home. He did not know the storm of persecution that awaited him for befriending me and me for preaching the truth.
I appointed a day to preach and there was goodly number turned out to hear me. I preached to them the best I could. They thought it was strange doctrine but most of them thought was true. I also preached in two other settlements or townships, I was well used and the people seemed to be well pleased with the doctrine. A spirit of enquiry began to be awakened in the minds of the community. My relatives began to be more interested. The Methodist priest Reynolds; I had flayed him out so often, his folly was manifest to Uncle’s family and he acknowledged our doctrine was according to the Bible and he gave up that I knew more about the gospel than he did. By the time I had preached in this section of country a month, there was a great many believers in the doctrine.
I remained in this part of the country all together a month and a half. I then had to leave to attend a conference that was to be held at Burk’s Garden in Tazewell County. I set out the 18th of July. 25 miles from my uncle’s I had an appointment to fill. At my meeting, there was some seven or eight priests of different faiths and some three or four hundred people.
News of Joseph Smith’s murder had reached us, accompanied with tales of horror of the burning of the city of Nauvoo, that the Mormons was slaying the people of Illinois by hundreds and that the towns of Carthage and Warsaw had been laid in ashes and their inhabitants had fled to Quincy and many other things, so that the papers were full of news of this kind. Some of it true no doubt. I felt depressed in my feeling. I had to meet all this flood of lies and false reports and all the prejudice that is generally excited against us on such occasions. I felt my weakness. I was but a boy and had but little experience. I asked the Lord to strengthen me with His Spirit and enable me to do honor to his cause. My prayer was answered for I had put my whole trust in Him. I had been refused the privileges of preaching in their church and had to speak in the open air. In the course of sermon I was interrupted by one of the priests (a Methodist) but he was silenced by a magistrate and put to shame for he had done contrary to the laws of the land. When I was done preaching, the priest got up again to oppose me and the congregation hissed and groaned and made such confusion, he was compelled to leave off. I had great liberty in speaking, the Lord blessed me, and the priest was utterly confounded and put to shame before all the people.
My youth and simplicity with the blessing of heaven had enlisted the sympathies of the multitude in my favor and I never was in any place where I had more friends than I ad in this place. When I closed the meeting, all hands wanted I should go home with them, but I could not stay with all of them. I stayed all night with a German and was well used.
The next morning I pursued my journey. That evening I stayed with my great uncle Abner McCorkle and preached in his house the same evening to about 30 persons with three Baptist priests. My uncle used me well, said he believed the doctrine and wanted I should stay longer with them. But I had no time to spare if I got to conference in time. So the next morning I pursued my journey. This day I had to cross New River. It was high and I could get no one to venture to take me across. They showed me a canoe and told me I could have it, if I would go alone. I ran a narrow risk in doing this I knew, but I wanted to go to conference and the river was still rising. So I struck out and finally reached the opposite shore, but I came very near going over the falls. I tied up the canoe and continued my journey and two days more I was among my relations.
They were glad to see me and used me well. I attended conference, there was 23 elders present 19 states to the conferred the favorable prospects in counties where I had been laboring. Brother Chapman Duncan was appointed by the conference to return to, with me to, my field of labor to assist me accordingly. In a few days we took our leave of the Saints to return. The second night we lay out under a pine tree because no one would keep us over night.
In five days we reached the place of our destination and commenced our labor, but in a few weeks Brother Duncan concluded to go to his native land Vermont to visit his relations . I was very unwilling to part with him. But I could not prevail with him to stay any longer. So I was alone again, to get along the best I could having more calls than I could fill.
I labored here until Christmas during which time I baptized 4 persons and there was many more believing. At this time I returned to Tazewell again where I prevailed upon Brother Robert Hamilton to accompany me to my field of labor. He was a good speaker. Here we labored until March, but the people was slow to obey. A great many believed and when we returned to Tazewell to be at the April conference there was 30 persons promised to obey the gospel as soon as we could get back. But when we arrived in Tazewell we met two elders from the Presidency for all the elders to gather home to Nauvoo. Accordingly, I bid farewell to my kindred and the land that gave me birth with all that was once near and dear to me and set out for Nauvoo, in company with Richard Kinnamon and lady, Stephen Lytts, Jacob Biglar and Robert Hamilton.
I had to stop on the Ohio River and work for money to bear my expenses through. I worked for a man by the name of John Smith that lived in Lawrence County, Ohio, opposite the mouth of Sandy River, two months.
I then continued my journey. Nothing of any consequence took place until we reached the mouth of the Ohio River, where we turned up the Mississippi which was very high at the time. The drift timber almost covered the whole surface of the stream. It looked almost like a floating bridge. In coming up this river, slowly making headway against the current of the stream, the boat had to force its way through a labyrinth of floating timber, which, in the dark, it was often impossible to see beforehand or avoid. During the whole night the bells kept ringing, scarcely ever silent five minutes at a time and after every ring the vessel reeled again. Sometimes, beneath a dozen dealt in quick succession, the lightest of which seemed as though it would break through her frail keel, when I would look down upon this filthy stream after dark, it seemed to be alive with monsters, as the black masses rolled upon the surface, or came starting up again head first. When the boat, ploughing her way through a host of such obstructions, drove a few of them under water for a moment, sometimes the engine stopped during a long interval and then before her and behind her, gathering in upon all sides, were so many of these ill favored obstacles, that she was fairly hemmed in the center of a floating island and was compelled to stop until they parted somewhere as dark clouds will do before the wind, or open by degrees a channel out.
For two days we toiled up this foul stream, striking constantly against the floating timber or stopping to avoid those more dangerous obstacles, the snages or sawyers, which are the trunks of trees hidden below the tide. However, we escaped all the dangers and arrived safe at St. Louis where I changed boats. I had a pleasant passage from the mouth of the Missouria to Nauvoo where we arrived the 25th of June 1845. I put up at the Stone House Hotel, kept by Brother Ludington. I soon commenced harvesting and continued to harvest for 24 days at one dollar per day.
August 1845. During the month of August, I was laboring on a road above the city of Nauvoo some four miles. The Church had contracted to do for 400 dollars for the county. This labor was done on tithing. We finished it the first of September. The day we finished up the road, I was taken sick with the ague and fever. This was a sore affliction . I stayed at Brother Stephen Lytt’s for three weeks, I then stayed at Richard Kinnamon’s three weeks. All of this time I had been very ill. It was not supposed I would ever recover. At this time the October conference came off, and as I never had attended a general conference, I was very anxious to get better so I could attend but was disappointed. At this time also the mob was raging without the city, burning the houses and grain of the Saints, leaving destitute, afflicted, tormented and exposed to weather.
Mr. Kinnamon’s family being in a situation that would not admit of my staying there any longer, I was moved to Brother Jacob Biglar’s. I stayed there a few days and in consequence of another family. Moving into the same house, I could not be there without being a great deal of trouble to them, but I was well used. My old colleague Brother Shelton came to see me about this time. He lived in MacDonough County about forty miles from Nauvoo. He undertook to take me home with him, in his wagon he proceeded with me six miles when I became so much worse he was compelled to leave me at Mr. Baum’s. Here I was left on Sunday 12th of October. Baum’s folks took no more care of me than good people would of a dog. I remained there till Sunday the 19th of Oct., during half of which time I was out of my right mind. Baum took me in his wagon and to the city. He asked me where I wished to be left. I told him to see if Bishop Miller would not take me in. He made the inquiry and Brother Miller took me in and administered to me and got better. The Bishop told me to feel at home and I did feel at home for I was well used. They dealt kindly with me. I remained unwell and unable to do any kind of labor.
The 17th of January, 1846, I went through the ordinances in the Temple the 6th of February. Following, I crossed the Mississippi River with Brother Miller on our journey to the far distant West.