Conference at Kirtland — Revelation of the high priesthood — Ordinations to the same — Appointment of missions through the western states — Return westward, accompanied by my brother Orson — Our success by the way — Arrival at the frontiers — Sickness — Remarkable conversion of Newel Knight — A dream
June 6, 1831–February 1832
On the sixth of June, 1831, a general conference was convened at Kirtland, consisting of all the Elders, far and near, who could be got together. 1 In this conference much instruction was given by President Smith, who spake in great power, as he was moved by the Holy Ghost; and the spirit of power and of testimony rested down upon the Elders in a marvelous manner.2 Here also were some strange manifestations of false spirits, which were immediately rebuked. 3
Several were then selected by revelation, through President Smith, and ordained to the High Priesthood after the order of the Son of God; which is after the order of Melchizedek. 4 This was the first occasion in which this priesthood had been revealed and conferred upon the Elders in this dispensation, although the office of an Elder is the same in a certain degree, but not in the fulness. On this occasion I was ordained to this holy ordinance and calling by President Smith.
After these things, and the business of the conference was over, myself and Orson Pratt were appointed by revelation to perform a mission together, through the Western States, and to meet the brethren I had left in Jackson County, Missouri; and many others also who were sent in a similar manner, two and two through the Western States, and who were all appointed to meet in Jackson County, Missouri, and hold the next conference. 5
Soon after the conference my brother and myself commenced our journey without any means to bear our expenses. We travelled through the States of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Missouri, in the midst of the heat of summer on foot, and faithfully preached the gospel in many parts of all these States. We suffered the hardships incident to a new and, in many places, unsettled country, such as hunger, thirst, fatigue, etc.
I tarried mostly with a branch of the Church commonly called the Colesville branch. They had removed from Colesville, in the State of New York, and settled on the borders of a fertile prairie, about twelve miles west of the village of Independence, and near the boundaries which divide the State of Missouri from the Indian Territory. They consisted of about sixty souls, and were under the presidency of a faithful and zealous Elder by the name of Newel Knight — an account of whose miraculous conversion we here record, as extracted from the life of Joseph Smith, published in the Millennial Star, Vol. 4, p. 116 [and 117]:
During this month of April, 8 I (Joseph Smith) went on a visit to the residence of Mr. Joseph Knight, of Colesville, Broom County, N.Y., with whom and his family I had been previously acquainted, and whose name I have above mentioned as having been so kind and thoughtful towards us while translating the Book of Mormon. 9 Mr. Knight and his family were Universalists; but were willing to reason with me upon my religious views, and were, as usual, friendly and hospitable.
We arrived in upper Missouri in September, having baptized many people and organized branches of the Church in several parts of Ohio, Illinois and Indiana. On our arrival we found a considerable settlement of the brethren from Ohio, who had immigrated during the summer and taken up their residence in Jackson County. President Smith, and many of the Elders, had been there and held a conference, and, having organized a Stake of Zion, pointed out and consecrated certain grounds for a city and temple, they had again returned to the East. 6 With them, the brethren whom I had left there the previous winter, had also returned.
I felt somewhat disappointed in not meeting with the brethren; but was consoled with the reflection that I had been diligent in preaching the gospel on my journey, while others had hurried through the country, perhaps, without tarrying to do much good.
I was now taken sick with the fever and ague, owing to the exposures of the climate through which we had travelled. 7 I suffered extremely for several months; being brought very low with fever, and with other afflictions.
We held several meetings in the neighborhood; we had many friends and some enemies. Our meetings were well attended, and many began to pray fervently to Almighty God that He would give them wisdom to understand the truth. Among those who attended our meetings regularly was Newel Knight, son of Joseph Knight. He and I had many serious conversations on the important subject of man’s eternal salvation.
We were in the habit of praying much at our meetings, and Newel had said that he would try and take up his cross and pray vocally during meeting; but when we again met together he rather excused himself. I tried to prevail upon him, making use of the figure, supposing that he should get into a mud hole would he not try to help himself out? And that we were willing now to help him out of the mud hole. He replied, ‘that provided he had got into a mud hole through carelessness, he would rather wait and get out himself than have others to help him, and so he would wait until he should get into the woods by himself and there he would pray.’
Accordingly he deferred praying until next morning, when he retired into the woods, where, according to his own account afterwards, he made several attempts to pray, but could scarcely do so — feeling that he had not done his duty, but that he should have prayed in the presence of others. He began to feel uneasy, and continued to feel worse both in mind and body until, upon reaching his own house, his appearance was such as to alarm his wife very much. 10
He requested her to go and bring me to him. I went and found him suffering very much in his mind, and his body acted upon in a very strange manner. His visage and limbs distorted and twisted in every shape and appearance possible to imagine; and finally, he was caught up off the floor of the apartment and tossed about most fearfully. His situation was soon made known to his neighbors and relatives, and in a short time as many as eight or nine grown persons had got together to witness the scene.
After he had thus suffered for a time, I succeeded in getting hold of him by the hand, when almost immediately he spoke to me, and with very great earnestness requested of me that I should cast the devil out of him; saying, ‘that he knew that he was in him, and that he also knew that I could cast him out.
‘ I replied, ‘if you know that I can it shall be done,’ and then, almost unconsciously, I rebuked the devil, and commanded him in the name of Jesus Christ to depart from him; when immediately Newel spoke out and said, ‘that he saw the devil leave him and vanish from his sight.’
The scene was now entirely changed; for as soon as the devil had departed from our friend his countenance became natural; his distortions of body ceased; and almost immediately the Spirit of the Lord descended upon him, and the visions of eternity were opened to his view. He afterwards related his experience as follows:
“I now began to feel a most pleasing sensation resting upon me, and immediately the visions of Heaven were opened to my view. I felt myself attracted upward, and remained for some time enrapt in contemplation, insomuch that I knew not what was going on in the room. By-and-by I felt some weight pressing upon my shoulder and the side of my head, which served to recall me to a sense of my situation, and I found that the Spirit of the Lord had actually caught me up off the floor, and that my shoulder and head were pressing against the beams.”
All this was witnessed by many, to their great astonishment and satisfaction, when they saw the devil thus cast out and the power of God and His Holy Spirit thus made manifest. So soon as consciousness returned, his bodily weakness was such that we were obliged to lay him upon his bed and wait upon him for some time. As may be expected, such a scene as this contributed much to make believers of those who witnessed it; and, finally, the greater part of them became members of the Church. 11
This Colesville branch was among the first organized by Joseph Smith, and constituted the first settlers of the members of the Church in Missouri. 12 They had arrived late in the summer, and cut some hay for their cattle, sowed a little grain, and prepared some ground for cultivation, and were engaged during the fall and winter in building log cabins, etc. The winter was cold, and for some time about ten families lived in one log cabin, which was open and unfinished, while the frozen ground served for a floor. Our food consisted of beef and a little bread made of corn, which had been grated into coarse meal by rubbing the ears on a tin grater. This was rather an inconvenient way of living for a sick person; but it was for the gospel’s sake, and all were very cheerful and happy.
We enjoyed many happy seasons in our prayer and other meetings, and the Spirit of the Lord was poured out upon us, and even on the little children, insomuch that many of eight, ten or twelve years of age spake, and prayed, and prophesied in our meetings and in our family worship. 13There was a spirit of peace and union, and love and good will manifested in this little Church in the wilderness, the memory of which will be ever dear to my heart.
It was during my long illness in this dreary winter 14 that I had the following dream or vision: I thought I saw myself dressed in a clean and beautiful linen robe, white as snow, and extending from the neck downward in beautiful folds. On either breast were lines of golden writing, in large Roman letters, about a third of an inch in length, and the lines extending from the center of the breast on each side six or eight inches long. The upper line on each side appeared larger and more beautiful or conspicuous than the others; one of these lines was: “H oly Prophet ,” and the other was: “N ew Jerusalem .”
On awaking from this dream I immediately called to mind the words of the Saviour to John the Revelator: “Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the City of my God, which is new Jerusalem.” 15
This dream certainly encouraged me, and enabled me to bear my sickness, privation and long absence from my wife and former friends more patiently. 16
1 This conference was held from Friday, June 3, to Monday, June 6, 1831, on the Isaac Morley Farm in a small log schoolhouse.
2 During this conference, Joseph Smith, Lyman Wight, and Harvey Whitlock received a vision of God the Father and his Son, Jesus Christ. “Levi Hancock recorded that the Prophet was speaking to the elders when he ‘stepped out on the floor and said, “I now see God, and Jesus Christ at his right hand, let them kill me, I should not feel death as I am now”’” (Anderson, Joseph Smith’s Kirtland, 107–8).
3 John Whitmer recorded: “Joseph Smith, Jun., prophesied the day previous that the man of sin should be revealed. While the Lord poured out His Spirit upon His servants, the devil took occasion to make known his power. He bound Harvey Whitlock and John Murdock so that they could not speak, and others were affected but the Lord showed to Joseph, the seer, the design of this thing; he commanded the devil in the name of Christ, and he departed, to our joy and comfort” (Whitmer, The Book of John Whitmer, 28–29). “Zebedee Coltrin, who was also present, said that an evil power seized Harvey Whitlock. ‘Joseph rebuked the power that had seized [Harvey], and it left him, and he testified, as Lyman [Wight] had done, that he saw the heavens open, and Jesus standing on the right hand of the Father’” (Anderson, Joseph Smith’s Kirtland, 108).
4 Those ordained to the Melchizedek Priesthood included Parley, Lyman Wight, Sidney Rigdon, John Murdock, Reynolds Cahoon, Harvey Whitlock, and Hyrum Smith (Whitmer, The Book of John Whitmer, 28). See explanation on the name of the priesthood in D&C 107:1–4.
5 The revelation comprising D&C 52 was likely given the day after the conference on June 7, 1831, in the log schoolhouse. Fifteen pairs of elders were called in this revelation to go on their journey to Missouri, preaching the gospel along the way.
6 Joseph Smith, in company with Sidney Rigdon, Martin Harris, Edward Partridge, William W. Phelps, Joseph Coe, Algernon S. Gilbert, and Elizabeth Van Benthusen Gilbert, departed from Kirtland, Ohio, on June 19, 1831. They arrived in Jackson County, Missouri, around the middle of July 1831. The Prophet received four revelations (D&C 57–60) during his visit to Jackson County, laid the foundation for Zion, and dedicated a spot for a temple. He left to return to Kirtland on August 9, 1831 (Smith, History of the Church, 1:188–203).
7 Ague (pronounced a-gyü) is a severe malarial fever marked by sudden attacks of chills, fever, and sweating that recur at regular intervals.
8 April 1830.
9 The family of Joseph Knight Sr.
(born 1772) consisted of his wife, Polly Peck (born 1774), and seven children: Nahum (born 1796), Esther (born 1798), Newel (born 1800), Anna (born 1804), Joseph Jr. (born 1808), Polly (born 1811), and Elizabeth (born 1817). Members of the Knight family were contemporaries with the Joseph Smith Sr. family, Joseph Sr. having been born in 1771, Lucy Mack in 1775, and their children from 1796–1821. Joseph Knight Sr. had provided some provisions for Joseph and Oliver during the translation of the Book of Mormon, including a barrel of mackerel, some lined paper for writing, ten bushels of grain, several bushels of potatoes, and a pound of tea (Jessee, “Joseph Knight’s Recollection,” 29–39).
10 Newel’s wife was Sally Colburn (1804–34).
11 The Prophet Joseph refers to this as “the first miracle which was done in the Church, or by any member of it; and it was done not by man, nor by the power of man, but it was done by God, and by the power of godliness” (Smith, History of the Church, 1:83). This miracle was one of the subjects of a court trial against the Prophet during which Newel Knight was called as a witness (Smith, History of the Church, 1:88–96).
12 Joseph Knight Sr.’s wife, Polly, suffered failing health through the whole of the journey from Colesville, New York, to Ohio, and on to Missouri. “She was very ill during her journey from Kirtland to Missouri,” reported son Newel Knight, “yet, she would not consent to stop traveling; her only, or her greatest desire was to set her feet upon the land of Zion, and to have her body interred in that land. I went on shore and bought lumber to make a coffin in case she should die before we arrived at our place of destination — so fast did she fail. But the Lord gave her the desire of her heart and she lived to stand upon that land” (Smith, History of the Church, 1:199n). Polly died on August 6, 1831; her funeral was held the next day. Following the Sabbath funeral, the Prophet received D&C 59.
13 When Jesus Christ visited the Nephites, a similar scene occurred: “And it came to pass that he did teach and minister unto the children of the multitude of whom hath been spoken, and he did loose their tongues, and they did speak unto their fathers great and marvelous things, even greater than he had revealed unto the people; and he loosed their tongues that they could utter” (3 Nephi 26:14).
14 The winter of 1831–32.
15 Revelation 3:12.
16 Parley believed in the power and divine nature of dreams (“A Dream! What have not dreams accomplished?”), and he outlined their use by the Lord throughout the scriptures (see Pratt, Key to the Science of Theology, 123–24).