A Mission to Young Joseph
The Story of the Church by Inez Smith Davis
Five years having passed, November of 1856 came, and still Young Joseph held aloof. The Saints in Wisconsin continued to send out missionaries and held two conferences a year. There was much happiness, a great deal of readjustment, and some sorrow. A few became tired of waiting and wanted to choose a president other than Joseph, but the growing majority still clung to their original plan. They would wait till the "due time of the Lord." Occasionally they were cheered by a message that the time was not far distant, but years went by.
Samuel Powers and his wife had joined the ranks. Long years before, these people had heard the gospel preached by Jehiel Savage in Canada, but for some reason had never joined the church. They finally moved to Wisconsin and lived near Beloit, where they again came in touch with the church and this time were baptized by Zenas H. Gurley. In July of 1854, Aaron Smith, James J. Strang's first convert, one of his chief witnesses and counselor, having heard of the new movement came down to Zarahemla (the name of the church for the branch or "stake" at Argyle, Wisconsin) and was there baptized.
William W. Blair
But as the time approached for the fifth anniversary of the first conference of the Reorganization, the people began to think that they should do something themselves to convince the expected successor. A proclamation was drawn up with much fasting and prayer. All the best rhetoric at the command of these men went into its making, and when it was finished and read to the faithful little group, it seemed truly a masterpiece. With hopeful hearts they outfitted two missionaries. They were young men, as the first missionaries of the church had been young. Samuel Gurley, eldest son of Zenas, was but twenty-five, and Edmund Briggs, Jason's young brother, was a few years his junior. These two young men made the trip from Wisconsin to Nauvoo with the highest of hopes, stopping on the way to visit other Saints of old time. One of those visited was a merchant in a country store near Amboy, in Lee County, Illinois. His name was William W. Blair. He was not a member of the old church but a son of an early pioneer of Illinois, James Blair, who had settled near Amboy as early as 1831, built a log cabin there, and sent for his family from New York. William Blair was, as he grew older, skeptical on religious matters, but finally became interested in the preaching of the Latter Day Saints, then engaged with William Smith, John Landers, Edwin Cadwell, Jason W. Briggs, Ira J. Patten, Aaron Hook, and Joseph Wood and was baptized on October 8, 1851, just a month before Jason W. Briggs became disgusted with this faction and withdrew. At first he was very happy in his new association, but as time went on, he began to feel he had made a mistake, and before he had been with them a year, he and Edwin Cadwell publically withdrew. He then investigated Baneemyism (the faction of Charles B. Thompson) but was soon satisfied it was not the work of God. In 1855 he united with the little group who with William Marks had determined to stand apart from all factions and teach the simple gospel principles as they had been taught before 1844, leaving the results with their Master. These men were John E. Page, John Landers, William Marks, John Gaylord, Russell Huntley, and some others.
It was shortly after nightfall in November of that year, as Mr. Blair was putting away his goods for the night, that two young men entered his store. The moment they came in, he was impressed that they were "Mormon elders," but they merely said they had come to make him a call. He invited them home with him for supper, and on the way they told him they were elders from Zarahemla, Wisconsin, sent to hunt up all the old Saints and tell them that the time was near at hand when the Lord was going to call Young Joseph Smith to take his father's place as president of the church.
"These things were strange and somewhat novel to me," says Blair, "and I had no confidence whatever in their truthfulness." However, no sooner was supper out of the way than he took the visitors into the parlor, where he could be alone with them, and The Three Books were brought out. The two young elders and the young storekeeper (himself not yet thirty) canvassed the question of successorship until 3 o'clock in the morning, when they retired. It was Saturday night. There was no store to keep the next day, so immediately after breakfast they had prayer for guidance and continued the discussion. The entire morning passed; it was 11 a.m., and still Blair opposed them persistently. They were young and inexperienced and disappointed and crestfallen. Blair seeing this told them that they manifested a gentle and kind spirit, but he could not indorse their teachings:
I would not say they were wrong [said Blair], for I did not know. I only knew I could not as yet see their claims to be true. I felt and said that if their views and teachings were of God, then I hoped to be able to know it, but as yet I had no confidence in them. Soon after this, Elder Briggs rose up, took the Book of Mormon off the stand and opened it hastily, looking intently upon it as if he were reading it to himself. After a moment's waiting, his countenance and his entire being seemed highly animated, and he soon began speaking as if reading from the book. As soon as he began speaking, the Spirit came in mighty power—the same Spirit that bore witness to me of the truth of the gospel five years before—bearing testimony that they were the servants of God, and that their mission and tidings were of God. The first words uttered by Elder Briggs were these: "I, the Lord, will have mercy upon whom I will have mercy; and I will forgive whom I will forgive," words which are found nowhere in the Book of Mormon. Then he began speaking in prophecy, declaring the coming of Joseph, my future mission in the church, with many other things connected with the church and myself. When he ceased speaking, Elder S. H. Gurley arose and spoke in prophecy, testifying many things through the Spirit. My doubts were now dispelled and my mind was fully satisfied that the Lord would, in his own good time, call Young Joseph to the Presidency of the church.1
The young missionaries went on their way to Nauvoo, and though it would be December before they could make the trip, the Blairs made preparation to visit Zarahemla (Argyle, now Blanchardville) .
Of this unforgettable occasion, Blair spoke many years later:
I remember going up to Zarahemla in 1857, where I found a little band of Saints upon the bleak hills of Wisconsin. It was one of the poorest, most God-forsaken regions I ever did go to, I think. I had a very dreary time in getting there; a very cold time. But I found God among the Saints; the love of God was there; and the doctrines of eternal life were there with all their power. God gave the blessings of the Holy Spirit to that people. The gift of tongues in prayer, in singing, and in speaking were there. In various other ways was Christ among them, the gift of the prophecy and vision was among them; and it was like heaven on earth among that little band of Saints at Zarahemla.2
W. W. Blair continued acting with the church until October 7, 1857, when having become dissatisfied with his baptism under William Smith, he was rebaptized by Zenas H. Gurley and on the next day was ordained a high priest.
The mission of Gurley and Briggs to Nauvoo was not so successful, but at length the disappointment righted itself, faith triumphed, and they still believed that in "the due time of the Lord" Joseph would be called.
They found Young Joseph living on a farm near Nauvoo with his bride of a few months. Not more than three or four weeks before, the young man had been visited by George A. Smith of Utah, and Erastus Snow. Now at his door were two more men with a most strange story. They said they had been commissioned from the Reorganized Church at Zarahemla, Wisconsin, to deliver the word of the Lord to him. Here is the document which they brought with them:
Joseph Smith III
The Church in Zarahemla, Wisconsin, to Joseph Smith:
Our faith is not unknown to you, neither our hope in the regathering of the pure in heart enthralled in darkness, together with the means to the accomplishment of the same; viz., that the seed of him to whom the work was first committed should stand forth and bear the responsibility (as well as wear the crown) of a wise masterbuilder—to close up the breach, and to combine in one a host, who, though in captivity and sorely tried, still refuse to strengthen the hands of usurpers. As that seed, to whom pertains this right, and heaven-appointed duty, you cannot be unmindful nor indifferent. The God of Abram, Isaac, and Jacob covenanted with them and their seed. So the God of Joseph convenanted with him and his seed, that his word should not depart out of the mouth of his seed, nor out of the mouth of his seed's seed, till the end come. A Zerubbabel in Israel art thou. As a nail fasteneth in a sure place, so are the promises unto thee to make thee a restorer in Zion—to set in order the house of God. And the Holy Spirit that searcheth the deep things of God, hath signified to us that the time has come. For, through fasting and prayer, hath the answer from God come unto us, saying, Communicate with my servant Joseph Smith, son of Joseph the Prophet. Arise, call upon God and be strong, for a deliverer art thou to the Latter Day Saints. And the Holy Spirit is thy prompter. The apostles, elders, and Saints who have assembled with us, have beheld the vacant seat and the seed that is wanting. And like Ezra of old with his brethren, by the direction of the Holy Spirit have we sent faithful messengers to bear this our message to you, trusting that you will by their hands notify us of your readiness to occupy that seat, and answer to the name and duties of that seed. For this have our prayers been offered up without ceasing for the last five years. We are assured that the same Spirit that has testified to us, has signified the same things to you. Many have arisen perverting the work of the Lord. But the good and the true are throughout the land waiting the true successor of Joseph the Prophet, as President of the church and of the priesthood. In our publications—sent to you—we have shown the right of successorship to rest in the literal descendent of the chosen seed, to whom the promise was made, and also the manner of ordination thereto. We cannot forbear reminding you that the commandments, as well as the promises given to Joseph, your father, were given to him, and to his seed. And in the name of our Master, even Jesus Christ, as moved upon by the Holy Ghost, we say, Arise in the strength of the Lord and realize those promises by executing those commandments. And we, by the grace of God, are thy helpers in restoring the exiled sons and daughters of Zion to their inheritances in the kingdom of God and to the faith once delivered to the Saints.
Holding fast that which is good and resisting evil, we invoke the blessings of the God of Israel upon thee and upon all Saints, for whom we will ever pray.
J. W. BRIGGS,
Representative President of the Church
and the Priesthood in Zarahemla.
Zarahemla, November 18, 1856.3
Joseph, telling of it, says that the conversation was stormy, and that he told them firmly that he would discuss religion with absolutely no one; he would tolerate politics, weather, anything else, but they must not bring up the subject of religion in his house. He says:
The reception that these brethren met with was not a flattering one. Elder Gurley stated their mission and presented the document containing the message to me. I heard what he had to say; I read the message that they brought, but could not accept it as they had hoped. It was not to me the word of the Lord. Elder Briggs vehemently urged the matter upon me, and announced the culmination of the message in tones of thunder, and almost dictatorily directed me to accept the message and do as directed therein or reject it at my peril.
I met his vehemence indignantly, and almost turned these messengers out of doors. But, through the calmer, humbler efforts of Elder Gurley and the interposition of my wife, the storm abated; I invited them to stay over night, and that when the morning came, I would accompany them to town and would give them a final answer. In the morning I went with them to Nauvoo, introduced them to my mother and stepfather, went with them into a room, where quietly and peaceably Elder Gurley and I talked the situation over. I gave them my answer which was this: What they came to bring might be the word of the Lord; I could not say that it was not. I had, however, no testimony that it was. That I was prepared to do what God required of me, if he would make it known to me what it was; that I believed that he could reveal himself if he would; that I believed that my father was called of God to do a work; and that I was satisfied that that work was true, whether I ever had anything to do with it or not; that I did not then know whether I should ever be called to take any part in that work; but that if I were, I was ready, and that it would have to be made clear to me, in person, as well as to others what that work was; that I could not move upon the evidence given to others only. That they might be assured that I should not go to Salt Lake to affiliate with them there. And finally, that if it should be made clear to me that it was my duty to cast the fortunes of my life and my labor with the work and the people that they were representing, I should without hesitation do it, but that I could not then do so.4
With that understanding they parted. Gurley returned to Zarahemla. Briggs stayed in the vicinity of Nauvoo, preaching and working his way at farm work. He had resolved not to return to Wisconsin until Joseph came to the church.
1 "Biography of W. W. Blair," Church History, Volume 3, page 726.
2 Sermon of William Wallace Blair, in the Saints' Chapel in Lamoni, Iowa April 6, 1886. Saints' Herald, Volume 33, page 279.
3 Church History, Volume 3, pages 260, 262.
4Life of Joseph Smith the Prophet, pages 756–769; Church History, Volume 3, pages 262. 263.