His father, Joseph, was born in Middlesex County, March 17, 1762.
His mother, Rhoda, the daughter of Phinehas and Susannah Howe, was born July 8, 1762.
They were married December 20, 1781, and had eleven children, viz.,–
|Joseph||September 29, 1782|
|Rhoda||August 8, 1784|
|Susan||August 13, 1786||April 11, 1830|
|Phinehas||November 15, 1788|
|Levi||December 7, 1790||June 17, 1795|
|Nancy||November 22, 1792|
|Hepsy||July 28, 1795||Sept. 30, 1838|
|Betsy||May 17, 1797||December 12, 1803|
|Levi||April 14, 1799|
|William||May 2, 1801|
|Willard||June 24, 1804|
His father served in the army of the Republic in the war of Independence. While in the army he had mercurial ointment administered to him by the surgeon to cure an eruption of the skin, and taking cold, his health was impaired during life.
He possessed 160 acres of land, and would be considered in medium circumstances as a New England farmer. He and his wife were professors of religion, and belonged to the Congregational Church in Hopkinton; had their children sprinkled, catechized and educated according to the prescribed forms of the Presbyterian directory.
Rhoda, Willard’s mother, died February 14, 1838. Joseph, his father, died March 29, 1840.
Willard fell from the scaffold of a barn on his head, when he was four years old, and received a severe hurt. Soon after he fell into a stream of water, and would have been drowned had not his brother Levi providentially rescued him.
When he was about nine years old, he removed with his father and family to Richmond, Berkshire County.
Until he was fifteen years of age, he attended good common schools; subsequently he attended the high school of Richmond.
The following extract from a letter to a Christian minister serves to show the state of feeling incidental to a conviction and conversion under the administration of the Presbyterian and other sectarian orders of priestcraft,–ministers ignorant, blind, distracted, without authority or knowledge from God, distract others by stirring up the imagination, exciting unnecessary fears and torture of mind and lead them blindly to the ditch:
“As it has pleased God in his providence to separate us at present, at some distance from each other, so that I cannot have the privilege of verbal conversation with you, I deem it not improper to hold some correspondence by means of pen and paper.
I address you, sir, as one whom I consider a friend, who I think will be willing to give advice and instruction to one who sincerely wishes it. Wishing to reveal the secrets of my heart to some friend from whom I may receive advice, I will attempt to do the same to you, being confident that you will keep whatsoever I may commit to you until you see or hear from me.
In taking a view of my past life, I will go no further back than the spring of eighteen hundred and nineteen, although I might mention feelings which I had a year before that, were they not too hard to name. Near the commencement of the revival of nineteen my mind became impressed with the importance of the things then called in question, and well had it been for me had I then listened to the calls of the gospel, forsaken all, and followed Christ. I was impressed with a sense of my sins; I attended meeting after meeting, but all, I fear, to no purpose until my feelings rose to such a height, that I lost all hopes of mercy, or of ever obtaining the one thing needful. Despair seized my whole soul; I concluded that I had sinned until it was too late for me to be pardoned. I forsook all meetings, thinking that my destruction was sure, and that all the calls of mercy would sink me deeper in everlasting misery. Night after night would I lay my head on my pillow, and close my eyes in sleep, wishing that I might never more open them in that world in which I should treasure up wrath against the day of wrath, and revelation of the righteous judgment of God.
Thus I was for a number of weeks with my feelings wrought up to the summit of terror and despair indescribable; I cared not what I did. Other books were as agreeable to me as the Bible, believing that all I read in that, and all the meetings I attended and all other privileges would sink me deeper in the labyrinth of woe. My feelings were wrought up to the highest pitch of despair, and I was ready to curse the day in which I was born, if I did not in my heart really do it. But they were of short duration for this time, for in a few moments I relapsed into a state of stupidity and insensibility and concluded my case was hopeless. I wanted to pray, but I thought it would be mockery as my sins were unpardonable.”
How easy it would have been for Peter, or any other man with authority from God, to have said, “Willard, repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, the Comforter, which shall lead you into all truth;” but instead of such a comforting declaration saluting his ears from a servant of God, he was left to believe he had committed the unpardonable sin.
He commenced teaching school in Chatham, Columbia County, New York, in November, 1820, and taught thirty scholars five months; he received a certificate from the inspectors of schools, Columbia County.
In 1821, he received the following:–
“This certifies that the bearer, Mr. Willard Richards, is a young man of fair moral character, and as such he is recommended in the capacity of a teacher, wherever he may find employment.
E. W. Dwight, Pastor of the Church.”
“Richmond, October 30, 1821.”
November, 1821.–He commenced teaching school in Lanesborough, Berkshire County, Massachusetts, and taught four months; average number of scholars, thirty. He received a good certificate from the board of examination at Lanesborough. In December, 1822, he was recommended by the minister of Hinsdale, and taught a school of six classes.
April 6, 1823.–The inspectors of common schools in Nassau, Rensselaer County, New York, gave him a certificate. He commenced a school there in April and continued until August, having an average attendance of about forty scholars.
He had constantly devoted his leisure time to the acquisition of knowledge.
In February, 1827, he commenced lecturing on electricity and other scientific subjects, which he continued to do at intervals, for several years, throughout the New England States. There are numerous testimonials preserved in favor of his lectures from men of high standing in the literary world.
For several years he devoted much of his time to the study of the healing art, and delivered many instructive lectures on that subject.
In 1834 he entered the Thompsonian Infirmary in Boston, and practiced under the direction and instruction of Dr. Samuel Thompson.
In 1835, at the request of Mr. Albert P. Rockwood, he went to Holliston, Massachusetts, and delivered lectures on the Botanic or Thompsonian practice of medicine, which created much excitement there and in the surrounding towns.
He removed to Holliston and practiced with success for one year, during which time he resided with Mr. Rockwood.
The following is from his journal:–
I was baptized at Kirtland by Elder Brigham Young, December 31, 1836.
January 8, 1837.–I partook of the sacrament, and was confirmed by Reynolds Cahoon. I received such a measure of the Spirit as to be sensible of the subject of a song of Zion, which was sung by Elder Lyman Sherman, in the gift of tongues, on the coming of Christ.
March 6.–I was ordained an elder by President Alvah Beeman.
–8.–Visited some friends in Newburgh. I bore them a faithful testimony, and returned on the 11th.
–13.–Received the prayers of President Joseph Smith, Jun., and Sidney Rigdon, with the laying on of hands for the recovery of my health, and was set apart to accompany Elder Brigham Young on a special business mission to the east.
–14.–Left Kirtland with Elder Young, and travelled by stage to Buffalo, and from thence to Utica; stopped one day at Canandaigua; continued travelling day and night till we arrived at my father’s in Berkshire County, Massachusetts; from thence proceeded by New Haven to New York.
April 2.–Attended meeting with Brother Fordham, at St. Paul’s Church.
–6.–Proceeded by way of Providence to Boston; arrived at Holliston on the 10th, and preached to Mr. A. P. Rockwood and family.
–11.–Went to Hopkinton, Southboro’ and Westboro’.
–12.–Went to Framingham, stayed at Uncle Nehemiah Howe’s.
–13.–Brother Brigham Young baptized Uncle Nehemiah Howe and his wife, and Miss Milton, and confirmed them; we then proceeded to Lyne.
–14.–I baptized Miss Towne, Boston, from whence I went round by Providence, New York, Rochester and Albany, back to Richmond.
–27.–Brother Brigham left me and started for Kirtland, and I remained during the month of May visiting my relatives and friends, bearing testimony of the Gospel to them.
June 5.–I received a letter from Elijah Fordham, New York, on business, and on reading it felt a strong desire to start to Kirtland immediately; but, wishing to know the mind of the Spirit, I submitted the case to the Lord, praying that my head might be relieved from pain immediately, if it was the Lord’s will I should start for Kirtland at daybreak, which prayer was answered. I started for Kirtland, and arrived on the 11th; had a pleasant and happy interview with Brother Brigham and his dear family, from whom I have received many favors (the Lord reward them), and my brothers Phinehas and Levi, and [my] sister Hepsy and others.
Evening, went with Brother Brigham to President Joseph Smith’s; Presidents Sidney Rigdon and Hyrum Smith and others were present. Elders Kimball and Hyde and Brother Joseph Fielding had been set apart to go on a mission to England, and President Smith was giving them counsel on the subject. I felt my heart burn within me, strongly desiring that I might be one of the number.
–12.–Met Elder Kimball in the street, when he said, “Elder Richards, I am now ready to fulfill my engagement with you. I start for England tomorrow, and you may go with me, so get ready;” but I saw no way to extricate myself or to procure means.
I walked with Brother Fitch Brigham to President Hyrum’s, and after closing my business, inquired if it was my privilege to take a foreign mission. He replied it was, if I wished it. With the approbation of the First Presidency I was set apart, Monday, p.m., 6 o’clock, to a mission to England, under the hands of Presidents Sidney Rigdon and Hyrum Smith. Brother Brigham agreed to take charge of our business.
–13.–I bade my Kirtland friends farewell, and started for a foreign shore at 9 a.m., in company with Brothers Heber C. Kimball, Orson Hyde and Joseph Fielding. Several friends accompanied us to the lake shore, among them Sister Rhoda Greene, who gave me 25 cents–the Lord reward her.
–19.–Elder Kimball accompanied me to Richmond, Massachusetts.
–20.–We visited Uncle Leadbetter, Sisters Wealthy Richards and Nancy Pierson.
–21.–11 a.m., I bade my dear parents and friends farewell, and went to Albany.
–22.–Left in the steamer Rochester, and arrived at New York at 5 p.m. Found Elders Hyde, Goodson and Russel, and Brothers Snyder and Fielding. They felt somewhat disappointed at our late arrival, by which we lost the chance of a passage in the ship United States.
–23.–Engaged passage in the ship Garrick, in the second cabin.
–24.–This day I am thirty-three years old. Removed to Mr. Fordham’s store, and took lodgings on the floor.
–29.–Went on board the ship Garrick, and hauled out of the dock.
July 1.–7« a.m., weighed anchor, and was out of sight of land at 2« p.m.
–7.–On the banks of Newfoundland.
–12.–Strong wind–much rocking through the night.
–16 (Sabbath).–Elder Hyde preached on the aft quarter deck. I heard the sermon, though severely afflicted with pain. Elders Kimball and Hyde laid their hands on me and prayed, then Elder Kimball took me by the hand and told me, in the name of Jesus Christ, to arise, which I immediately did, and found myself quite comfortable. Thanks be to the Lord for his healing power, which has been repeatedly manifested towards me.
–18.–At 4« p.m., saw Cape Clear and entered St. George’s Channel; just eighteen days since we lost sight of land below New York.
–19.–Looking east with cheerful hearts.
–20.–Awoke this morning in the utmost horror. It appeared to me that evil spirits or devils had fastened on every muscle of my body, pinching it so severely as to completely stop the circulation of the fluids, and Satan himself held me so close by the throat, that I was gasping for breath. Doubtless it would have gratified the prince of the power of the air if he could have strangled me, but the Lord suffered him not.
We anchored in the Mersey, took the small boat, and Elders Kimball, Hyde and myself were the first who landed, after a prosperous voyage of twenty days from New York. We sought the first opportunity to unite our hearts in thanksgiving to our Heavenly Father for his protection.
–22.–We went to Preston.
–23 (Sabbath).–Brother Heber opened the mission in Mr. James Fielding’s meetinghouse, followed by Brother Hyde. In the evening Brother Goodson preached, and Brother Fielding bore testimony.
–26.–Elder Hyde preached in the evening, and I bore testimony.
–31.–Met in council. It was decided I should go to Bedford with Elder Goodson.
–August 1.–We went to Bedford.
–2.–We took lodgings at the Swan Inn, and called upon the Reverend Timothy Mathews. Brother Goodson preached in the evening in Mr. Mathews’ chapel, also on the eves of the 3rd, 4th and 5th.
–6 (Sabbath).–I attended Mr. Mathews’ meeting.
–7 and 8.–We preached at a private house, which we hired for one week.
–9.–We called upon Mr. Mathews, and received a letter from Brother Hyde.
–10.–Elder Goodson baptized five.
–12.–I baptized one.
–13.–Elder Goodson baptized one. In the afternoon administered the sacrament at Sister Braddock’s.
–18.–Elder Goodson baptized Sister Page at 10 p.m. Quite a commotion prevailed on our way home, created by scoffers, but the most perfect composure reigned in the breasts of the disciples.
–20.–Preached at Kempson in the morning; afternoon, administered the sacrament at Sister Braddock’s; evening, met at Kempson, Brother Goodson baptized two. I began to address the company, but was interrupted. On our return I was pelted with turnips, and etc., by the multitude; “the Lord forgive them.”
–22.–Baptized William W. Smith.
–23.–Elder Goodson started for London.
–24.–I preached under a shed–disturbed by noise.
–27.–Preached at Kempson at 10« a.m.; sacrament at Sister Braddock’s at 2 p.m.; preached in the evening at Brother Gaunt’s to a full house. I felt the influence of the Spirit of God upon me, so that I spoke with ease.
–28.–Preached under the shed again–disturbed by talking; visited Mrs. Thorpe, and answered fourteen questions.
September 3.–Preached in the eve.
–10.–Preached at Sister Brown’s; no one present but the members of the Church, and in the evening at Brother Gaunt’s.
–12.–Saw Brother Goodson on the stage at a quarter past one in the morning, on his way towards Manchester. I feel that it is not the will of God that he should go home at present. Evening, met with the members of the Church at Sister Braddock’s and gave some instructions on Enoch’s prophecy.
I have reason to thank the Lord for potatoes and salt the past week; and this one, a loaf of bread and slice of meat from Sister Smith.
–13.–Preached at Kempson.
–14.–Kept this as a day of fasting; felt much strengthened and refreshed. Laid hands on Jane Braddock at noon, and by night she was well; also laid hands on Sisters Lavender and Brown; preached at Brother Smith’s.
–15.–Visited Mr. Thorpe. Preached in the evening at Sister Braddock’s; laid hands on Brother Smith.
–17.–Preached in the morning at Brother Smith’s; administered the sacrament in the afternoon; held meeting at 6 p.m.; we had four or five new hearers this day, and I felt somewhat encouraged.
–18.–Kept this as a day of fasting and prayer, that God would restore me to perfect health, give me humility, meekness, wisdom and the spirit of prophecy, and wholly prepare me for his will and service, and that he would make known to me his mind and will about the people of Bedford.
4 p.m., much refreshed by the Spirit. The Lord’s name be praised forever. Preached at Brother Smith’s.
–19.–Church came together at Sister Braddock’s; I read them the account of the angel’s appearance to Joseph.
–20.–Visited Brother Gaunt’s; preached at Brother Smith’s.
–21.–Kept this as a fast day; read Nehemiah and part of Ezekiel with much interest. I praise the Lord for much of his Spirit this p.m.
–24 (Sunday).–Preached morning and evening at Brother Smith’s
–26.–Baptized William Smith at Bedford. Attended meeting at Sister Braddock’s in the evening. –28.–Church fasted. A time of love and union, much of the Spirit of God felt by all; the Saints were truly encouraged.
–29.–Baptized Ellen Smith; meeting in the evening at Sister Braddock’s.
October 1 (Sabbath).–Meeting in the morning at Brother Smith’s.
Having been moved by the Spirit for a week to attack Satan in his stronghold, I this day preached repentance and baptism to the congregation at St. Paul’s Church, as they came out of the door at 1 o’clock.
Evening, met at Brother Smith’s. Retired to rest with the assurance that God had accepted my labors.
–2.–Preached at Brother Smith’s.
–3.–Fasted, much to the joy of my soul. Meeting at Sister Braddock’s; baptized James Lee.
–5.–Fasted and prayed that I might be humble, get wisdom, and receive the gifts of prophecy and discerning of spirits, and know the mind of God concerning this people and myself.
Glory to God that he has given me so much of the influence of his Spirit; I have prayed to him that he will tell my counsellors Heber and Orson what his mind is concerning me and this people.
Evening, attended meeting.
–14.–I received a letter from Brothers Kimball and Hyde, giving me counsel and direction, in answer to my prayers. Brother Kimball advised me to go out into the country without purse or scrip, and preach to the surrounding villages. I immediately visited the regions round about, and preached the Word, conversing with the people incessantly.
November 8.–I baptized William Pierce, William Emmons, Mrs. Elizabeth Emmons, Charlotte Cowne, Sarah Chrismas, and Mrs. Mary Charter, at Bassingbourn.
–9.–Met at Mr. Ingra’s, and confirmed those baptized. During the night my lodgings were surrounded by hundreds of persons, yelling and howling.
I preached in Codicot, Kempson, Wilmot Green, New Mile End, and several other places.
December 14.–I baptized John Field and confirmed Mrs. Rebecca Cooper and Sophia Dunham at New Mile End.
–22.–Baptized two in Bedford.
–25.–The Church fasted, and I baptized James Lavender.
January 1, 1838.–I baptized Sarah Lavender.
–3.–I procured license to preach from the court of Quarter Sessions.
–7.–I baptized two.
–12.–I baptized one.
–20.–I baptized Alfred Braddock and Bevill Covington.
–24.–I baptized one, and another on the 29th.
February 16.–I received a letter from my brethren in Preston, telling me to prepare for home in a month.
I continued to labor against much opposition in Bedford, and the region round about, until the 7th of March, when I left about forty members in charge of Elder James Lavender, and returned to Preston and met Elder Hyde.
–10.–Elders Kimball and Fielding arrived in Preston from Ribchester.
I took a tour through the branches and preached.
While walking in Thornly, I plucked a snowdrop, far through the hedge, and carried it to James Mercer’s, and hung it up in his kitchen; soon after Jennetta Richards came into the room, and I walked with her and Alice Parker to Ribchester, and attended meeting with Brothers Kimball and Hyde at Brother Clark’s.
While walking with these sisters I remarked, `Richards was a good name–I never want to change it, do you, Jennetta?’ `No, I do not,’ was her reply, and I think she never will.
April 1.–I attended a general conference of the churches in England, held at Preston, where I was ordained a high priest, and appointed first counsellor to Elder Fielding, who was appointed president of the mission. Elders Kimball, Hyde and Russell were returning to America.
–12.–I went to 29, Union Street, Liverpool, with Brother Fielding, to visit with Elders Kimball, Hyde and Russell, who were detained at that port till the 20th, when they sailed for New York.
When Elder Fielding and I returned to Longton, we found the Reverend Richard Livesey’s tract against the Latter-day Saints; it was a condensation of lies and filth from the American papers, and was the first pamphlet published in England against the Work.
September 7.–I was very sick, and called on the elders, who administered to me, and I obtained relief, but grew worse than ever towards night, when the elders were called again; and after each had prayed several times, one of the elders prophesied that I should be relieved in one hour, and it was so. Truly it was a day of trial; I passed through all the bitterness of death. Sister Dawson was very kind.
–24.–I married Jennetta Richards, daughter of the Reverend John Richards, Independent minister at Walker Fold, Chaidgley, Lancashire. Most truly do I praise my Heavenly Father for his great kindness in providing me a partner according to his promise. I receive her from the Lord, and hold her at his disposal. I pray that he may bless us forever. Amen.
“Sister Alice Hodgin died at Preston, September 2, 1838, and it was such a wonderful thing for a Latter-day Saint to die in England, that Elder Richards was arraigned before the mayor’s court at Preston, October 3rd, charged with `killing and slaying’ the said Alice, with a `black stick,’ and etc., but was discharged without being permitted to make his defence, as soon as it was discovered the iniquity of his accusers was about to be made manifest.”
During the month of May 1839, I visited the brethren in Cumberland, and went to Carlisle; preached in several towns, and baptized one in Brampton.
In June I visited Manchester, Bolton, Salford, and the brethren in that region.
July 17.–Jennetta bore to me a son; he was named Heber John.
In August and September, I labored with Elders Clayton and J. Moon in Burslem, with some success. A small church was planted in Burnley by Elder Thomas Richardson, and many were added during the summer in the older branches, through the instrumentality of the local elders and priests, who were generally very faithful. In August, Jennetta took her son and went to Walker Fold, where she remained at her father’s till November 7th.
I continued preaching in Preston and vicinity, also in Manchester and surrounding country.
December 17.–My son Heber John became sick; up to this date he had been a sound, healthy child, of a lovely disposition, never angry; on the 19th, many spots of the small pox broke out upon him.
–28.–While the child was lying on Sister Susannah Liptrot’s knees, and I was giving him a drink, he suddenly and unexpectedly died. He was buried at Elswick on the 30th.
January 13, 1840.–Elders Wilford Woodruff, John Taylor and Theodore Turley, arrived in Preston from America.
–17.–I attended a general council in Preston. It was “voted unanimously that Elders Woodruff and Turley go to the Potteries, Elders Taylor and Fielding to Liverpool, Elder Clark to Manchester with Elder Clayton, and Elder Richards go where the Spirit directs, and that the elders communicate with the presidency at Preston, once a month, for the time being, and Elder Richards write to Brothers Mulliner and Wright in Scotland.”
April 9.–Having visited the surrounding branches, I returned to Preston at 4 p.m., and found Brothers Brigham Young and Heber C. Kimball in my room. Brother Brigham was so reduced by his long sickness and fatigue with travelling, that I did not know him.
–14.–With the Twelve in council at my room in Preston, I was ordained to the Apostleship by President Young, under the hands of the quorum present.
O my God, I ask thee to enable me to execute the duties of the office in righteousness unto the end, with my brethren the Twelve, that we may ever be of one heart and one mind in all things, and be saved with thee in thy kingdom, in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.
–15.–A general conference was held of the Church in Britain.
–16.–The Quorum of the Twelve met in council; decided on publishing the Millennial Star, hymn book, and etc.
–18.–I accompanied Elder Kimball to Chaidgely and the branches surrounding Preston. We found Jennetta sick, and administered to her; she recovered.