My father, a boot and shoemaker by trade, was a very talented man; quick, athletic, and naturally witty and cheerful. He was kind and affectionate, except when under the influence of strong drink (a habit to which he was somewhat addicted). After the death of my mother, my father enlisted into the army of the United States, and was in the campaign in Canada, under General Brown,–was in most of the battles fought there, several times slightly wounded,–was on the frontier along the line, and etc., in the war with Britain in 1812 and 1813. Some four or five years after, in attempting to swim a river in Derby, Connecticut, he was taken with the cramp and drowned.
After the death of my mother, the family was scattered abroad, and took their chances in life under no special protector or guide, save that of a kind Providence who ever watches, with care, over the lonely orphan and hears the plaintive cry of the young sparrows, bereft of their parent mother.
At this early age, I was placed in the care of a gentleman by the name of Nathan Wheeler, or rather, fell into his hands, residing in Derby in the same county. This was a very good family, but quite penurious. With Mr. Wheeler I continued until I was eighteen years of age, and would have continued longer; but from the consideration that suitable encouragement was not offered to me for education, and etc., I concluded that my services from seven to eighteen years of age, would abundantly repay Mr. Wheeler for his care and expense in rearing me up to that time.
In the meantime Mr. Wheeler removed and came to the Western Reserve in Ohio, having failed in business in Derby. He first visited the Western Reserve by himself, purchased a farm in Kirtland, and sent for me and his nephew, Nathan Wooster, to come out the next spring. Accordingly, Mr. Wooster and myself started early the next season (I then being fourteen years of age). This was a hard trip for a youngster to perform on foot, with knapsack upon the back, containing clothes, bread, cheese, and dried beef for the journey, and obliged to keep up with a strong man, travelling from 30 to 38 miles per day, until we had performed the entire distance of 600 miles.
Mr. W. [Wheeler] then sent to the east for the balance of his family, who came on the next season in the care of Captain Isaac Morley, a resident of Kirtland, where they arrived in safety. The farm being a new one, and heavily timbered, it was the hardest kind of labor to prepare it for cultivation. This being done, and Mr. Wheeler being again in easy circumstances, I concluded to strike out for myself, having had comparatively no chance for mental or literary improvement, and no very flattering prospects held out to me that I should be able to enjoy such opportunity at any future time, should I continue longer with Mr. W. [Wheeler], consequently, at the age of 18 years, in the face of the remonstrances of Mr. and Mrs. Wheeler, I made my first debut into the world with the following outfit: one suit of homemade woollen clothes (butternut colored,) two red flannel shirts, also homemade, two pairs of socks, one pair of coarse shoes on the feet, one old hat and six and a quarter cents in clean cash.
With this outfit and capital stock in trade, on the 8th day of January, 1823, I went forth from my old home to carve out my fortune and destiny under my own guidance, for ought I then knew. My first strike was to hire out for six months to Grandison Newel, at 6 dollars per month, to work in a small iron foundry. There I learned to mold clock bells, and irons, sleigh shoes and various other articles. My wages for this term of service, were carefully saved, together with some perquisites, and compensation for extra labor, which in the aggregate, amounted to enough to buy me a good suit of clothes, boots, hat, and etc. This being accomplished, I began to straighten up a little. I then hired for six months more to Mr. Orrin Holmes of Chagrin (now Willoughby) to card wool, and being a raw hand at the business, I could not get very high wages. The machines were in Kirtland.
I next went into the store of Gilbert and Whitney in Kirtland to serve as clerk, where I continued for a year or two, then hired two carding machines to run for one year, the same where I was engaged a year or two before. The proprietors being well acquainted with me took my own obligation for the rent without security. The carding season came on, and the machines (two in number under the same roof) being put in good running order, operations began. A new machine having been placed on the same stream, a few miles above, I feared that my business would be cut short. But unfortunately for the proprietors of the new mill, their dam broke way in a freshet, and they were unable to repair it during the carding season, which gave to me almost the entire carding of the country. During this season I paid my hired help, and also my rent, and cleared about 600 dollars in cash. This I thought was doing very well for a boy. When winter came on, I went into Gilbert and Whitney’s store again, under moderate wages, and continued there until the spring. Then in 1827, business being rather slack in the store, I went to work for the same parties, making pot and pearl ashes. This season there was a Methodist camp meeting about six miles distant from Kirtland, which I attended, and became a convert to that faith. I enjoyed myself as well as the light and knowledge I then had would allow me. I believe that God had mercy and compassion upon me, and that if I had died at that time, I should have received all the happiness and glory that I could appreciate or enjoy. The revival that began at that camp meeting spread much in Kirtland. A class was formed there, and I was appointed class leader.
About this time some vague reports came in the newspapers that a “golden bible” had been dug out of a rock in the state of New York. It was treated, however, as a hoax. But on reading the report, I remarked as follows–“Who knows but that this `golden bible’ may break up all our religion, and change its whole features and bearing?” Nothing more was heard of it for a long time in that section.
Not long after this, the Campbellite doctrine began to be preached in Mentor and in Kirtland. Elder S. [Sidney] Rigdon was its chief advocate there. Being forcibly struck with the doctrine of immersion or baptism for the remission of sins, and many other important items of doctrine which were advocated by this new sect, and which were passed over by the Methodists as not essential, I left the Methodists and became a convert to this new faith.
Feeling that one day I might be called to advocate it, and feeling my great deficiency in learning, I resolved to go to school. Accordingly, I took up my abode in Mentor, in the house of Elder Sidney Rigdon, and began the study of English grammar under his tuition. Elder Rigdon took unwearied pains and care to instruct me in this elementary science.”
“After spending several months in this way, studying day and night, I went two quarters to the Burton Academy and placed myself under the tuition of the preceptor, Reuben Hitchcock, Esq. (since judge of the court). Here I reviewed grammar, geography, arithmetic and rhetoric; then returned to Mentor and spent one season with a young man by the name of Matthew J. Clapp, at his father’s house, where the public library was kept. Here I read history and various other works, scientific and literary; and in the fall of the year was ordained an elder in this new church, and went on a mission with Elder Rigdon to Elyria, Loraine County, and also to Florence in Huron County. There we baptized a great number of people into the new faith, organized several branches of the Church, and returned again to Mentor. This I think was in the fall of 1829.
Early in the spring of 1830, I returned to Elyria and Florence, and became the pastor of the churches raised up the fall previous. During the fall and winter of 1830, I also taught school in Florence. During this fall, Samuel H. Smith, Zibar [Ziba?] Peterson, F. [Frederick] G. Williams and Peter Whitmer came along through that section, preaching the `golden bible’ or `Mormonism,’ I encountered them; but perceiving that they were mostly illiterate men, and at the same time observing some examples of superior wisdom and truth in their teaching, I resolved to read the famed `golden bible,’ as it was called.
Accordingly, I procured the book and read a portion of it, but came to the conclusion that it was all a fiction. I preached several times against the `Mormon’ doctrine or rather against the `Mormon’ bible. On one occasion, the people of Ridgeville, near Elyria, sent for me to preach against the `Mormon’ bible. I complied with the request, and preached against it. The people congratulated me much, thinking that `Mormonism’ was completely floored. But I, for the first time, thought that the `Mormon’ bible might be the truth of heaven; and fully resolved before leaving the house, that I would never preach against it anymore until I knew more about it, being pretty strongly convicted in my own mind that I was doing wrong. I closed up my school and my preaching in that section, and resolved to go to Kirtland on a visit to my old friends. Elder S. [Sidney] Rigdon, Gilbert and Whitney, and many others of my former friends had embraced the `Mormon’ faith. I ventured to tell a few of my confidential friends in Florence my real object in visiting Kirtland. The Prophet, Joseph Smith, Jun., had removed to that place. My object was to get away from the prejudices of the people, and to place myself in a position where I could examine the subject without embarrassment.
Accordingly, in the summer of 1831, I went to Kirtland, and under cover of clerkship in the old store of Whitney and Gilbert, I examined `Mormonism.’ Read the `Mormon’ bible carefully through, attended meetings of the `Mormons’ and others, heard the arguments pro and con., but was careful to say nothing. I prayed much unto the Lord for light and knowledge, for wisdom and spirit to guide me in my examinations and investigations. Often heard the Prophet talk in public and in private upon the subject of the new religion; also heard what the opposition had to say. Listened also to many foolish tales about the Prophet–too foolish to have a place in this narrative. I marked carefully the spirit that attended the opposition, and also the spirit that attended the `Mormons’ and their friends; and after about three months of careful and prayerful investigation, reflection and meditation, I came to the conclusion that the `Mormons’ had more light and a better spirit than their opponents. I concluded that I could not be the loser by joining the `Mormons,’ and as an honest man, conscientiously bound to walk in the best and clearest light I saw, I resolved to be baptized into the new religion. Hence, I attended the Saints’ meeting in Kirtland, Sunday, October 30, 1831, and offered myself a candidate for baptism, which was administered to me by the hands of Elder Sidney Rigdon; was confirmed and ordained an elder in the Church on the same day under the hands of Joseph Smith, the Prophet, and Sidney Rigdon. Not until about three days after did I receive any internal evidence of the special approbation of Heaven of the course I had taken. When one evening behind the counter, the Spirit of the Lord came upon me in so powerful a manner, that I felt like waiting upon no one, and withdrew in private to enjoy the feast alone. This, to me, was a precious season, long to be remembered. I felt that all my old friends (not of the `Mormons’) would believe me, and with a warm and affectionate heart, I soon went out among them, and began to talk and testify to them what the Lord had done for me; but the cold indifference with which they received me, and the pity they expressed for my delusion, soon convinced me that it was not wise to give that which is holy unto dogs, neither to cast pearls before swine.”
“A few days after this, I attended a conference in the town of Orange, at which I was ordained a high priest under the hands of Joseph Smith, and appointed on a mission to Elyria and Florence in connection with Brother Hyrum Smith. In these places we were the means of converting and baptizing many of my old Campbellite friends, raised up and organized two or three branches of the Church, laid hands on several sick persons and healed them by prayer and faith. After confirming the Churches and bearing a faithful testimony to them and to all people, in the midst of much opposition, we returned again to Kirtland. I found Brother Hyrum a pleasant and an agreeable companion, a wise counsellor, a father and a guide.
Soon after our return to Kirtland, I was sent on another mission, in company with Brother Samuel H. Smith, a younger brother of the Prophet, who was a man slow of speech and unlearned, yet a man of good faith and extreme integrity. We journeyed early in the spring of 1832, eastward together, without `purse or scrip,’ going from house to house, teaching and preaching in families, and also in the public congregations of the people. Wherever we were received and enter- tained, we left our blessing; and wherever we were rejected, we washed our feet in private against those who rejected us, and bore testimony of it unto our Father in Heaven, and went on our way rejoicing, according to the commandment.
When in Westfield, New York, we preached to a crowded audience. I was speaker. After the discourse, a gentleman rose up and requested that a brief history of Joseph Smith be given to the people previous to his finding the plates. I remarked that I was not acquainted with the early history of Joseph Smith, and consequently was unable to comply with the request, but observed that his younger brother was present who might, if he felt disposed, favor them with an account of the early life of his brother.
Samuel arose and said, that as it was the early history of his own brother that they required, it might be thought that, in consequence of his near kin, his statements might not be free from partiality, and respectfully declined the task.
The gentleman who first made the request then stated that he had been acquainted with Joseph Smith from his boyhood. It was then observed that he was a suitable person to give his history. Accordingly he began to do so. He soon came to where he said Joseph did some mean act and ran away. Another gentleman in the congregation, knowing that the speaker had recently run away from his former place of abode for his mean acts and come there, here interrupted the speaker by asking him how long it was after Joseph ran away till he started? This question so discomfited the speaker that he sat down amid the hisses and uproar of the multitude. So, but little of the history of Joseph Smith was given at that meeting.
From this place we hastened on to Spafford where there was a small branch of the Church; and by our ministry added 14 members. We then hastened on to Boston, Massachusetts, preaching and teaching by the way and baptizing some. We raised up a branch in Boston of some 25 or 30 members. Preached also in Lynn and baptized a few, who were attached to the Boston Branch. Also raised up a branch of some thirty in Bradford, Massachusetts.
Then proceeded on to Saco, in Maine, where we preached several times. From thence proceeded to Farmington where we raised up a branch of about 20 in number. Returned by way of Bradford and Lowel; called on my sister, Mrs. North. Although separated from her for 25 years she received me very coolly on account of my religion. I told her that the Lord had had particular respect for her–had not sent her this message by a stranger–a man whom she knew not, and consequently one in whom, she had no confidence; but has taken your own mother’s son–dandled upon the same knee, nursed at the same breast and like Joseph in Egypt, separated from his kinsfolk and compelled to make friends among strangers. This brother comes to you with this message in the name of the Lord. She replied: `If the Lord had sent you I should think he would have prepared my heart to receive your message, which he has not done.’
This answer filled my heart with sorrow for her unbelief. Indeed, I could hardly restrain my feelings on the occasion; still I did, and replied to my sister by the following interrogatives: `Laura, do you think that God sent his Son with a message to the Jews?’ `Yes;’ was the reply. `Did he, or did he not, prepare their hearts to receive it?’ She was silent; and with a heart ready to burst with grief, I turned away from my sister, being confident that her heart was fully set to reject my message, and bade her adieu, resolving to be slow to call upon anymore of my relatives that I might be exempted from the duty of washing my feet against my own kindred in case of being rejected, leaving them to be warned and dealt with by strangers.
Mr. North, her husband, a very good man in the estimation of his acquaintances, loving popular religion and money also, gave me to understand that I was welcome at his house on account of relationship, but that he did not care to entertain my colleague, Brother Samuel H. Smith. Oh, thought I, that you were worthy before God to entertain him! I cared not for his invitation, as I thought more of Samuel than of anyone in his house, and stayed only long enough to discharge my duty, and never again voluntarily returned.
From Lowel we returned to Boston; and from thence we went to Providence, Rhode Island, and there baptized some ten or fifteen persons amid most violent opposition. We had to flee in the night, sleep under the fence and under an apple tree. Went back to Boston and then started for home, where we arrived late in December.
This was one of the most arduous and toilsome missions ever performed in the Church. To travel two thousand miles on foot, teaching from house to house, and from city to city, without purse or scrip, often sleeping in schoolhouses after preaching–in barns, in sheds, by the wayside, under trees, and etc., was something of a task. When one would be teaching in private families, the other would frequently be nodding in his chair, weary with toil, fatigue and want of sleep. We were often rejected in the afterpart of the day, compelling us to travel in the evening, and sometimes till people were gone to bed, leaving us to lodge where we could. We would sometimes travel until midnight or until nearly daylight before we could find a barn or shed in which we dare to lie down; must be away before discovered least suspicion rest upon us. Would often lie down under trees and sleep in daytime to make up loss.
In the spring of 1833, I, in company with Hyrum Smith, went on a mission to Elk Creek township, Erie County, Pennsylvania, where we labored several weeks, and baptized a number of persons into a branch of the Church, previously raised up there by the ministry of John F. Boynton and others. We also preached considerably in North East Township, Ohio, and in other places while passing to and fro, baptizing some few by the way. Returned to Kirtland in the summer.”
“During this same summer I was appointed to go up to Jackson County, Missouri, in company with Elder John Gould, with special instructions to the Saints there from the Prophet Joseph in Kirtland. We started on foot with our valises on our backs, a distance of about one thousand miles. We travelled about forty miles per day through a sickly fever and ague country, swimming rivers, and pushing our clothes over on a log or raft before us. We arrived in Jackson County about the beginning of the Saints’ troubles there. We delivered our letters and documents, and were sometimes surrounded by the mob, who threatened to wring our heads off from our shoulders. Several little skirmishes took place while there, and some few were killed and wounded.
Times began to be warm, and expulsion seemed inevitable. The Saints began to flee over the river to Clay County, and we, having done all we could, took a steamer for St. Louis on our return home. We arrived home in Kirtland in the month of November 1833.
In the winter and spring of 1834, I took another mission to Pennsylvania, Elk Creek, in company with Elder Orson Pratt, to preach the gospel and to call a company to go up that summer to Missouri. We went as far east as Genesee, New York.
In the month of May, the company started from Kirtland for Missouri. I went round by Florence to collect some money due me there, for the benefit of the camp. I obtained between one and two hundred dollars, met the camp near Dayton, and turned in myself and my money to strengthen the camp.
On our way up on the north side of the Missouri River, when nearly opposite Jefferson City, the place of residence of Governor Daniel Dunklin, governor of the state, I, with Brother Parley P. Pratt, was deputed to go and see him, and ascertain if he could not do something towards reinstating our people upon their lands and take some steps to punish our persecutors. But he referred us to the courts of the respective counties in which our aggrievances [grievances] originated, and said that he entertained no doubt but that these courts, that had full jurisdiction, would do us ample justice in the case. He knew better. He knew that both magistrates, constables, judges and sheriffs were engaged in the mob, and were sworn to destroy us. He well knew that to refer us to these courts for justice, was like referring us to a band of thieves to sue for the recovery of stolen property. The courts would do nothing–the governor would not if he could, and the President of the United States, at the head of all political power, could not correct one error in any branch below him, neither redress us in any way. Heaven blot out such a government from the records and family of nations. We were compelled to return with the same knowledge and comfort that we had before–God with us, and everybody else against us.
Returned from Missouri the same summer.
On the 4th day of September following, I was married, in Kirtland, to Miss Marinda N. Johnson, daughter of John and Elsa Johnson, by Elder Sidney Rigdon.
This winter the Twelve Apostles were chosen, and I, being one of that number, was appointed, with the entire quorum, to take a mission through the states, and hold conferences in all the churches. In the spring of 1835, the Twelve started, and went through to the states of Vermont and New Hampshire, preaching and baptizing, holding conferences and strengthening the churches, regulating and putting them in order. Returned to Kirtland in September of the same year.
In the spring of 1836, I took a mission to the state of New York, in company with several others of the Apostles. I labored in the vicinity of Rochester. Fell in with Joseph and Hyrum at Buffalo, on their way to Canada, and took dinner with them at a hotel. I next proceeded to Canada to join Elder Parley P. Pratt, who had previously gone there, and had called for help. Elder Pratt and myself labored in company for a season.
At one meeting a learned Presbyterian priest came in just at the close, and bade us a challenge for debate. We, at first, declined, saying that we had all the labor we could attend to without debate. But nothing would answer the priest but debate. We then said, debate it should be. Accordingly, time and place were agreed upon, and also the terms and conditions. Before the debate came off, Elder Pratt was called home as a witness in a case at law, and left me to meet the champion alone. The time arrived, and about one acre of people assembled in a grove, wagons arranged for pulpits opposite each other, and presently the priest came with some less than a mule-load of books, pamphlets and newspapers, containing all the slang of an unbelieving world. The meeting was duly opened by prayer. All things being ready, the battle began by a volley of grape and canister from my battery, which was returned with vigor and determined zeal. Alternate cannonading, half hour each, continued until dinner was announced. An armistice was proclaimed, and the parties enjoyed a good dinner with their respective friends.
After two hours, the forces were again drawn up in battle array. The enemy’s fire soon became less and less spirited, until, at length, under a well directed and murderous fire from the long `eighteens’ with which Zion’s fortress is ever mounted–to wit: the Spirit of God–the enemy raised his hand to heaven and exclaimed, with affected contempt, `Abominable! I have heard enough of such stuff.’ I immediately rejoined, `Gentlemen and ladies, I should consider it highly dishonorable to continue to beat my antagonist after he has cried enough,’ so I waived the subject. The priest did not appear to think half so much of his scurrilous books, pamphlets and newspapers, when he was gathering them up to take away, as when he brought them upon the stand. Their virtue fled like chaff before the wind. About forty persons were baptized into the Church in that place (Scarborough) immediately after the debate. Jenkins was the name of the priest. It is highly probably that he has never since challenged a `Mormon’ preacher for debate.
When Elder Pratt returned to Canada, my wife came with him, and joined me in that country. We continued to labor in Markham, Scarborough and Toronto during the season, and returned to Kirtland in the fall, after raising up several branches of the Church. Engaged this winter in reading Hebrew.
Spring of 1837, went on a mission to England, in company with Elders Heber C. Kimball, Willard Richards, John Goodson, Isaac Russel, John Snider and Joseph Fielding. Labored in Lancashire and Yorkshire, and baptized about fifteen hundred souls by our united labors, and returned again to Kirtland, May 21, 1838. This summer I removed with my family to Far West, in Missouri, where I was taken sick, soon after my arrival, with bilious fever, and did not fully recover until the spring of 1839.
Few men pass through life without leaving some traces which they would gladly obliterate. Happy is he whose life is free from stain and blemish.
In the month of October, 1838, with me it was a day of affliction and darkness. I sinned against God and my brethren; I acted foolishly. I will not allude to any causes for so doing save one, which was, that I did not possess the light of the Holy Ghost. I lost not my standing in the Church, however; yet, not because I was worthy to retain it, but because God and his servants were merciful. Everlasting thanks to God, and may his servants ever find mercy. Brothers Hyrum Smith and H. [Heber] C. Kimball, men of noted kindness of heart, spake to me words of encouragement and comfort in the hour of my greatest sorrow. But Hyrum is gone! Peace to his ashes and blessings upon his posterity. Heber lives, and may he and his posterity live to tread upon the necks of the enemies of God. I seek pardon of all whom I have offended, and also of my God, in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.
I located with the Saints in Commerce, since Nauvoo. Here I took the ague, which lasted me for months, and which came well nigh killing me and also my family. At the April conference in 1840, reduced to a mere skeleton, I was appointed, in company with Elder John E. Page, to go on a mission to Jerusalem, and started–gone nearly three years. Performed the mission, but Elder Page did not. Returned to Nauvoo latter part of December, 1842, the particulars of which, and my subsequent history, are contained in the general records of the Church.”