The Apostasy in Kirtland 1836-1838
1837 was the worst year of apostasy this Church has ever known.
What is an apostate? ―A traitor‖
Five major problems in Kirtland:
1. Economic distress:
Many people were buying on credit and not paying it back. Joseph
had problems because of his trusting heart. He purchased $60,000
worth of goods (back east) to set up his store to provide an income for
his family. He kept giving things to people on credit. As a result he
went bankrupt. He was not a good business man.
2. Speculation in Kirtland on land sales:
In 1836-37 land sales increased 800%. People lost everything. Two
members of the twelve were involved. They bought land, homes, etc.
and sold it to members gathering in Kirtland and then called on the
note when the depression hit. The two members of the twelve were
John F. Boynton and Lyman Johnson.
There was a strong desire by some to become wealthy which led to
criticism of the Prophet. Associated issues such as immorality
centered around the rising questions about plural marriage.
In 1837 the United States experienced the worst depression up to that
time. The state of New York alone lost $100,000,000. The problems
were nation wide. Members who were wealthy found themselves
poor. John Tanner and William Huntington were two families who
4. The failure of the Kirtland Society:
Joseph was the treasurer and Sidney was the President. Oliver went to
Philadelphia to get plates made in order to make bank notes. Orson
Hyde went to Columbia to meet with the legislature in order to obtain
permission to open a bank.
Permission was refused. As a result the bank was called the Kirtland
Anti-Banking Safety Society. The Church was sued over it and lost.
Joseph fled to Ohio in January 1838 because of persecution. Warren
Parrish was the cashier when John F. Boynton and Lyman Johnson
took over $100,000 from the bank. When Joseph learned of it he
Boynton was excommunicated from the Church and never returned.
Lyman Johnson and Warren Parrish both followed Boynton’s lead.
In May of 1837, thirty prominent men met in the Kirtland Temple to
discuss replacing Joseph Smith as President of the Church. Joseph
was not in Kirtland because he was serving a mission in Michigan.
Most of the men wanted David Whitmer to be the new President.
The nomination fed David Whitmer’s ego and was probably the cause
of him later leaving the Church.
The only ones in that meeting who favored keeping the Prophet
Joseph were Sidney Rigdon, John Smith, and Brigham Young.
Brigham told them that if they were to leave the Church they would
cut the thread that ties them to God and they would sink their souls to
Allegations about Joseph Smith
Warren Parrish said,
―Joseph and Sidney lie by revelation,
swindle by revelation, cheat and defraud
by revelation, run away by revelation, and
if they don’t mend their ways, I fear they
will at last be damned by revelation.‖
Warren Cowdery accused the Prophet
of ―Making himself a monarch,
absolute and despotic, and ourselves
objects, slaves or phoning
sycophants‖ (self-seeking flatterers).
Parley P. Pratt charged the Prophet with ―covetousness, and taking advantage of his
brothers by undue religious influence.‖
Parley approached his convert – John Taylor on the street and complained
bitterly about Joseph Smith. John Taylor said, ―Why Parley, I’m surprised at
you, when you came to Canada you told me Joseph was a prophet of God and
the Holy Ghost had borne witness to you of that truth. Therefore, I suggest that
Evidently the Holy Ghost touched his heart because shortly after he went to the
Prophet in tears and asked for his forgiveness.
I’m sure John Taylor thanked Parley P. Pratt for what happened in Canada, but I
think Parley will thank John Taylor for eternity!
There are only two members of the Twelve who are not out of harmony with the
Prophet and they are Brigham Young and Heber C. Kimball. Even David W.
Patten was out of harmony for a short time. When David Patten returned from
his mission he was in the home of Warren Parrish and was soured against the
Prophet. He then went to the home of Joseph and complained that Joseph was
Without warning Joseph reared back and slapped him (David W.
Patton) as hard as he could. He then kicked him out of his house and
sent him down the path to the gate.
David later said it was the best thing that had ever happened to him
(Thanks, I needed that).
Brigham Young said about those days,
He doubted the Prophet for about 30 seconds and then he told the
devil to keep his nose in his own business.
Remember, when Brigham Young died, his last three words were
―Joseph, Joseph, Joseph.‖
Brigham was loyal to the Prophet.
Orson Pratt and Lyman Johnson, both apostles, charged the
Prophet with lying and misrepresentation, extortion and for
speaking disrespectfully about Orson’s brother behind his
In 1837 Joseph was involved in 18 different lawsuits.
Persecution got so bad that in January 1838 he had to flee.
In one of the lawsuits he was tried for murder.
Nothing was ever proven against Joseph.
Conflict between the High Priests and 70’s!
The argument was who was the greatest in the Kingdom of God?
Some in the groups had been ordained both as Seventies and High Priests. They
said they were better than men in either group because they held both offices.
There was a fist fight between Jared Carter and Benjamin Winchester
On April 6th, 1837 Joseph called all the High Priests and the Seventies into a
meeting in the Kirtland Temple. He said, ―How many of you are ordained a High
Priest?‖ Those who were also ordained Seventies were released from the Quorum
of Seventy and told to take their place with the High Priests.
The problem with High Priests and Seventies was resolved in 1961 when David O.
McKay ordained the First Council of the Seventy as High Priests. Some people in
the Church were offended then too.
Mission to England
In June of 1837 Joseph was in the Kirtland Temple when he leaned over to Heber C.
Kimball and told him that it was time for him to go on a mission to England.
Heber asked him why? Joseph’s answer was to ―save this Church.‖
He then asked if he could take Brigham Young with him to which Joseph said no.
This was the first overseas mission for the Church.
Orson Hyde walked into the room and was so touched by what he felt that he
repented right then and there and asked if he could go as well. Joseph granted him
President Marsh who was President of the Twelve was offended because he thought
he should be the one who opened up England for missionary work.
The following were called to go:
Willard Richards, Levi Richards (Levi read the Book of
Mormon twice in 10 days.
Joseph Fielding, John Goodson, John Snyder and Isaac
The men introduced their family members in England to
the apostles and the door was opened.
Heber C. Kimball was the senior apostle on the mission.
On the way over to England there was a child on
board the ship that the ship surgeon had given up on
Heber C. Kimball took the child into his arms,
blessed the child and healed the child. It had a great
impact on those who were on board.
After arriving in England, Heber jumped into a little
boat and from there onto the docks and was the first
one to put his feet on British soil.
Heber C. Kimball saw a banner positioned over one of the
homes that said, ―Truth will prevail‖ and saw it as a good
omen. They started their mission and soon had nine people
That morning in Preston, the evil one made himself
manifest by trying to destroy the missionaries.
It was recorded by Wilford Woodruff and George A. Smith
that when Isaac Russell left Canada, a legion of evil spirits
left with him. They said that the evil spirits had followed
him to England. Night after night he would walk the decks
of the ship in great discomfort as the evil spirits would
Heber C. Kimball Overcomes the Power of the
(Preston, England --- July 1837, as related by Heber C. Kimball)
On Sunday, July 30th, 1837, about daybreak, Elder Isaac Russell (who
had been appointed to preach on the obelisk in Preston square that
day), who slept with Elder Richards in Wilfred Street, came up to the
third story, where Elder Hyde and myself were sleeping, and called
out, ―Brother Kimball, I want you should get up and pray for me that
I may be delivered from the evil spirits that are tormenting me to such
a degree that I feel I cannot live long, unless I obtain relief.‖
I had been sleeping on the back of the bed. I immediately arose,
slipped off at the foot of the bed, and passed around to where he was.
Elder Hyde threw his feet out, and sat up in the bed, and we laid hands
on him, I being mouth, and prayed that the Lord would have mercy on
While thus engaged, I was struck with great force by
some invisible power, and fell senseless on the floor.
The first thing I recollected was being supported by
Elders Hyde and Richards, who were praying for
me; Elder Richards having followed Russell up to
my room. Elder Hyde and Richards then assisted
me to get on the bed, but my agony was so great that
he could not endure it, and I arose, bowed my knees
and prayed. I then arose and sat up on the bed,
when a vision was opened to our minds, and we
could distinctly see the evil spirits, who foamed and
gnashed their teeth at us.
When Heber C. Kimball placed his hands on his
head, he was knocked forcibly to the floor. He tried
again and this time was knocked out. Heber was
laying on the bed trying to re-cooperate when he
saw a legion of evil spirits coming at him.
He said they had whips, daggers, knives and pistols
in their hands. He said they used every filthy,
vulgar expression ever imaginable. He said they
would come right up to their faces and spit at them
and gnash their teeth in hatred.
We gazed upon them about an hour and a half (by Willard’s watch).
We were not looking toward the window, but towards the wall. Space
appeared before us, and we saw the devils coming in legions, with
their leaders, who came within a few feet of us. They came towards
us like armies rushing to battle. They appeared to be men of full
stature, possessing every form and feature of men in the flesh, who
were angry and desperate; and I shall never forget the vindictive
malignity depicted on their countenances as they looked me in the
eye; and any attempt to paint the scene which then presented itself, or
portray their malice and enmity, would be in vain. I perspired
exceedingly, my clothes becoming as wet as if I had been taken out of
the river. I felt excessive pain, and was in the feelings of horror; yet
by it I learned the power of the adversary, his enmity against the
servants of God, and got some understanding of the invisible world.
We distinctly heard those spirits talk and express their wrath and
hellish designs against us that day.‖
Elder Hyde’s supplemental description of that fearful scene
is as follows, taken from a letter addressed to President
―Every circumstance that occurred at that scene of devils is just as fresh in my
recollection at this moment as it was at the moment of its occurrence, and will ever
remain so. After you were overcome by them and had fallen, their awful rush upon
me with knives, threats, imprecations and hellish grins, amply convinced me that
they were not friends of mine. While you were apparently senseless and lifeless on
the floor and upon the bed (after we had laid you there), I stood between you and the
devils and fought them and contended with them face to face, until they began to
diminish in number and to retreat from the room. The last imp that left turned round
to me as he was going out and said, as if to apologize, and appease my determined
opposition to them, I never said anything against you! I replied to him thus: It
matters not to me whether you have or have not; you are a liar from the beginning!
In the name of Jesus Christ, depart! He immediately left, and the room was clear.
That closed the scene of devils for that time.‖
Heber and the others gazed upon them about an hour and a half (by
Willard’s watch). They saw the devils coming in legions, with their
leaders, who came within a few feet of them. They were like armies
rushing to battle.
They appeared to be men of full stature, possessing every form and
feature of men in the flesh, who were angry and desperate. Heber said
he would never forget the vindictive malignity depicted o their
countenances as they looked him in the eye. He said that any attempt
to paint the scene which presented itself or portray their malice and
enmity would be in vain.
Heber perspired exceedingly, his clothes becoming as wet as he had
taken them out of the river. He felt excessive pain, and was in distress
for some time.
Years later, narrating the experience of that awful morning to the
Prophet Joseph, Heber asked him what it all meant, and whether there
was anything wrong with him that he should have such a
manifestation. ―No Brother Heber,‖ he replied, ―at the time you were
night unto the Lord; there was only a veil between you and Him, but
you could not see Him. When I heard of it, it gave me great joy, for I
then knew that the work of God had taken root in that land. It was
this that caused the devil to make a struggle to kill you.‖
Joseph then related some of his own experience, in many contest he
had had with the evil one, and said: ―The nearer a person approaches
the Lord, a greater power will be manifested by the adversary to
prevent the accomplishment of His purposes.‖
An answer this, for the unbelieving and sophistical, who argue, with
the shallow reasoning of Job’s comforters, that they have sinned most
who suffer most, and are ever ready to ascribe spiritual
manifestations, good or evil, to madness, drunkenness or imbecility.
It is needful, we are told, to experience opposites, to be enabled to
choose intelligently between them; and to those who have this
experience, and who ―take the Holy Spirit for their guide,‖ the way to
judge is as plain ―as the daylight from the dark night.‖
So was it with the Apostles and Elders in Preston, after their terrible
encounter with the powers of evil, at Sunday day-break, July 30,
1837. The Spirit of the Lord, with peace and joy that ―passeth
understanding,‖ dawned with the Sabbath sun upon their souls. They
had tasted of the bitter, and would thenceforth more fully know the
sweet; encompassed about by the ―horror of darkness,’ they hailed
with ecstasy till then unknown, the glory of the golden morn (Life of
Heber C. Kimball, Orson F. Whitney, 129-132).
“A Marriage Proposal”
One day Heber came up to Willard Richards and said, ―Willard, I just
baptized your wife for you.‖
Her name was Janetta Richards. Willard was certainly interested.
Willard wrote to Janetta and said,
―Dear Janetta Richards, I have always liked the last name Richards
and would not want to change it. How do you feel about it?‖
She wrote back and said, ―I also have always liked the name Richards
and I don’t think I would ever like to change it.‖
That was the proposal and the acceptance.
(See, you guys make everything too difficult!)
Another family brought into the Church by Heber was named the
Smithies. They had a baby girl who was ill and it looked like she
would not survive.
Heber blessed her and promised that she would live to be a faithful
member of the Church and a mother in Israel.
She was healed and later became a wife to the man who had blessed
her as a baby.
She was the last wife of Heber C. Kimball. They lived in Utah and
had five children together.
Heber also baptized a man name Alexander Nichols who was a
German Jew who later fixed Joseph’s broken tooth in Nauvoo.
Alexander Nichols later testified in the Salt Lake Valley that he saw
After 10 months in England, the brethren
began to return home.
Joseph Fielding and Willard Richards stayed
in England and were left in charge of the
mission along with another convert named
The First Baptisms in the River Ribble
Word spread quickly that there was going to be a baptism and it was estimated that
7,000 – 9,000 people showed up to watch.
Nine people were baptized that day and there was a friendly wager between them as
to who would be baptized first.
They settled it with a foot race which George Watt’s won.
Unfortunately he was later excommunicated and died outside of the Church.
A lot of the people who were baptized had seen Heber in a vision before he came to
England and the Spirit had testified to them that ―he would teach them the truth.‖
In just 10 months the missionaries had baptized over 2,000 people. Heber C.
Kimball baptized 1,500 of them himself.
Heber told some of the converts that he felt impressed to go to Chatburn. His
convert friends warned him not to go. They said the people in Chatburn had driven
all the ministers out of their town.
Heber C. Kimball responded that the Spirit drove him there and that he had to go.
After he arrived he baptized nearly the entire town and also a couple of the other
A few months later when he re-visited the area, the little children came out to greet
him, encircled him and sang songs of Zion.
―As I passed down the streets of Chatburn, women came out of their homes and
cried and waved hankies in respect. Men took off their hats in reverence as I passed.
I felt as though I were on sacred ground and should have removed my shoes.‖
Later, when Heber shared that
experience with Joseph, Joseph told
him that ancient Apostles had stood
on that very spot and had prepared it
for Heber’s coming.
Some have said it was Paul and
Simeon, others - James and John.
Back to the Apostates in Kirtland
In August of 1837 the ―Parish Gang‖ was organized. They claimed that the Church
was out of harmony by adding the title ―of Latter-day Saints.‖ They formulated
―The Church of Christ‖ and tried to take over the temple by force and violence.
John F. Boynton (one of the twelve) and others in the gang rushed onto the floor
armed with bowie knives and pistols. Women were screaming and John said, ―any
man that touches me I will blow his brains out!‖
The police eventually arrived and restored peace and order.
Every day the Parish Gang would show up at the temple in order to try and get
Joseph. On one occasion one of the gang members was so determined to get to
Joseph that he started running on top of the seats because there were so many people
in front of him.
Joseph calmly told Vincent Knight who was a rather small man to throw him out.
Vincent stood up, grabbed the man, threw him over his shoulder and walked out
with the man bawling like a baby.
The Parrish Gang accused the Prophet of training a
dove to come into the temple.
They said the dove would land on Joseph’s shoulder
and converse with him. They said that Joseph
would claim the Holy Ghost made things known to
him by the actions of the dove.
Lies were being told about him all the time.
In July Joseph had been sick and the Parrish Gang
spread the rumor that the reason he was sick and
dying was because he had desecrated God’s Holy
Warren Parrish, Jared Carter and Oliver Cowdery were guilty of adultery.
Oliver came to the Prophet one day and said, ―We know it is true, let’s live it.‖
Joseph told Oliver that he did not have permission from God to live the law. Oliver
saw himself as Joseph’s equal and began to live plural marriage without Joseph’s
Brigham Young later said of Oliver, ―He ran before he was sent.‖
Just because you know the law does not give you permission to live the law.
It was not until 1843 in Nauvoo that Joseph gave permission for people to live that
In January 1838 the Kirtland printing press was destroyed by apostates. They also
tried setting the Temple on fire.
Wilford was preparing to say his prayers when an angel came through
the wall, sat down in a chair and said, ―Wilford you are a faithful man.
Because of your faith, the Savior has sent me to show you the end of
Wilford saw all the events leading up to the Second Coming and
Wilford also saw the resurrection.
As the events would go before his eyes, the angel would stop and
explain them so he could understand.
If we were to pick out a man in this dispensation who was a visionary
man, who approached Joseph, but not his equal, it would be a teacher
in the Aaronic Priesthood named Wilford Woodruff.
April 1836 — January 1838
To this point, the Church had suffered little internal contention. Joseph’s most
virulent critics had been newspaper editors and lapsed Mormons. By the winter of
1837, however, factions in Kirtland, believing Joseph had fallen, were trying to
depose him. Joseph was accused of false steps in the promotion of a Kirtland Bank
and of moral transgression in taking an additional wife — or worse.
Unfortunately, Joseph’s own words are rarely heard in this dark time.
Between the dedication of the Kirtland Temple in the spring of 1836 until the
prophet fled Kirtland in early 1838, only two brief revelations were recorded. From
then until the end of his life, only twenty more were added to the canon. His
speeches are known only from notes by listeners. On the large issues of the next
eight years — plural marriage, the temple endowment, the plans for the Kingdom of
God — we hear virtually nothing from Joseph himself. He moved behind a screen
of other minds: those of clerks who wrote his diaries, hearers who took notes on his
sermons, enemies who charged him with dire crimes, official letters written by
others, sensational reports by newspaper editors, and later remembrances of loyal
old comrades and embittered former friends.
There is evidence that Joseph was a polygamist by 1835. In an angry letter written in
1838, Oliver Cowdery referred to the ―dirty, nasty, filthy, affair‖ of Joseph Smith
and Fanny Alger (Fanny would have been 18 or 19).
No one intimated in 1835 that Joseph’s actions caused the rumors. The sources
written before 1839 indicate that most Church Leaders knew nothing of a possible
marriage. Cowdery believed that Joseph did have an affair and that his insinuations
were not lies but the truth as he understood it.
David Patton, who made inquiries in Kirtland, concluded the rumors were not
untrue. Joseph never denied a relationship with Alger, but insisted it was not
adulterous. He wanted it on the record that he never confessed to such a sin.
Presumably, he felt innocent because he had married Alger.
Alger disappeared from the Mormon historical record for a quarter of
a century. Her story was recorded as many as sixty years later by
witnesses who had strong reasons to take sides. Surprisingly, they all
agreed that Joseph married Fanny Alger as a plural wife and her
parents were supportive of it.
One of the few tales that appeared in more than one account was of
Oliver Cowdery experimenting with plural marriage himself, contrary
to Joseph’s counsel.
The date plural marriage began remains uncertain.
It seems possible that he received the revelation on plural marriage in
1831 while working on the Old Testament. Joseph did not explain
plural marriage as a love match or even a possible relationship. Only
slight hints of romances found their way into his proposals. He
understood plural marriage as a religious principle.
After leaving Kirtland in 1836, Alger, reportedly, amiable person had
no trouble remarrying. She married Solomon Custer, a non-Mormon
listed in the censuses as grocer, baker, and merchant. Alger remained
in Indiana with her husband. She bore nine children. After Joseph’s
death, Alger’s brother asked her about her relationship with the
Prophet. She replied: ―That is all a matter of my — own. And I have
nothing to communicate.‖
On August 19, Joseph wrote Emma that, “we have found the
house since Bro. Burgess left us, very luckily and providentially,
as we had one spell been most discouraged.” They were plotting
how to get possession. “The house is occupied and it will require
much care and patience to rent or buy it.” Joseph said they were
willing to wait months if necessary, but by September, the party
was back in Kirtland with no treasure for their pains (D&C 111).
Joseph had run up debts over $100,000. To raise more capital,
Church leaders planned a bank. Like stores and mills, banks were
multiplying in the 1830’s. Twenty banks had been chartered in Ohio
On November 2, 1836 the Kirtland Safety Society back was organized
and began selling stock. As usual, Joseph thought big. In actuality,
the Safety Society was a partial ―land bank,‖ a device New
Englanders had once resorted to in their cash-poor, land rich society.
The disappointment began almost immediately. Cowdery brought
back the plates and printed notes, but Hyde failed to obtain the charter
from the Ohio legislature. The Mormons adjusted by organizing
themselves into an ―anti-banking‖ company and, spiting the
legislature, stamped the word ―anti‖ before the word ―banking‖ and
began issuing notes.
In a simpler and more isolated society, where mutual trust was high, the scheme
might have worked. In Kirtland, the bank failed within a month. Business started
on January 2, 1837. Three weeks later, the bank was floundering. All of the
investors lost their capital, Joseph as much as anyone. He had bought more stock
than eighty-five percent of the investors. In June, faced with complete collapse,
both Sidney and Joseph resigned as treasurer and secretary.
Meanwhile, Joseph’s enemies attacked. The bank episode not only hurt the Saints
financially, it tried their faith. Widespread apostasy resulted. The stalwarts Parley
and Orson Pratt faltered for a few months. David Patton, a leading apostle, raised so
many insulting questions Joseph ―slapped him in the face and kicked him out of the
yard.‖ Joseph’s counselor Frederick G. Williams was alienated and removed from
office. One of the Prophet’s favorites, his clerk Warren Parrish, tried to dispose
Heber C. Kimball claimed that by June 1837 not twenty men in Kirtland believed
Joseph was a prophet.
Wilford Woodruff’s Kirtland
Apostasy was rife, but the Church was not near collapse. As leaders
defected, men of equal ability rose to take their places. By 1837,
Mormonism had developed such momentum that the loss of a few
high-placed men could not slow it down. While Joseph was fending
off critics in Kirtland, the Missouri Church leaders were building a
Zion in Far West. Elsewhere, the traveling elders were gathering
converts faster than Joseph’s opponents could make apostates.
Wilford Woodruff did not feel the bank trouble threatened Joseph’s
authority. Paradoxically, the trials of 1837, instead of tearing Joseph
down, built him up.
The bank failure, suspicions and Joseph’s morals, and economic stress combined to bring on
the apostasies of 1837. It took months for the Pratt’s to recover their composure and return to
In June 1837, Joseph called Heber C. Kimball to lead a band of seven to England. On June
13, they set out to begin a work that over the next fifteen years would yield 51,000 converts.
Three weeks later, 1,500 Saints in Far West broke ground for a new temple in Missouri.
During the conference, 109 elders accepted calls to serve missions.
In late December, twenty-eight men were cut off from the church, bringing the total to more
than forty that year. But excommunication did not silence the group. The ―old standard‖
faction was determined to hold their meetings in the temple even ―if it is by the shedding of
blood.‖ They claimed to be the legitimate Church, making Joseph the apostate. They called
themselves the Church of Christ, the Church’s first name.