William Bickerton Faction

(RLDS History of the Church 3:74–77)

William Bickerton for a time had quite a large following, the most of whom settled in Pennsylvania. There is a settlement of them now near Fayetteville, Pennsylvania, under the presidency of William Cadman. Mr. Bickerton’s followers also formed a settlement at St. John, Kansas, where some of them now remain.

William Bickerton was not a member of the church during the lifetime of Joseph Smith, but was converted to the faith under Sidney Rigdon, in 1845. From a pamphlet called the Ensign, published by Mr. Bickerton and others at Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, in 1863, we glean the following items. He says:—

I entered the church under Elder Rigdon’s organization. I was called by the Holy Spirit to be an elder. I received ordination, and the power of God came down and sealed that office upon me. I went forward preaching to all that would hear. I was afterwards called into the quorum of the seventies. I received ordinations the second time, but the church became disorganized. Here I was left to myself. I paused to know what course to pursue. I knew my calling was from Heaven, and I also knew that a man cannot build up the Church of Christ without divine commandment from the Lord, for it would only be sectarianism, and man’s authority. But the Lord did not leave me; no, he showed me a vision, and in the vision I was on the highest mountain on the earth; and he told me that if I did not preach the gospel I would fall into a dreadful chasm below, the sight thereof was awful. I moved with fear, having the Holy Spirit with me. Here I was, none to assist me, and without learning, popular opinion against me, and the Salt Lake Mormons stood in the way. I could not turn back unto Methodism again. No, I knew they had not the gospel. I stood in contemplation. The chasm was before me, no other alternative but to do my duty to God and man. I went ahead preaching repentance towards God, and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Some believed my testimony and were baptized, and we met together, the Lord met with us, and we could many times sing with the poet, the Spirit of God, like a fire, is burning, the latter day glory begins to come forth. The visions and blessings of old are returning. The angels are coming to visit the earth.—The Ensign, p. 10.

He then gives accounts of other manifestations and revelations:—

And again, in conference, July 9,1861, the power of God was made manifest in the gifts and callings, for there were twelve of our number chosen and called by the Holy Spirit to be apostles of Jesus Christ in this the last dispensation, and the power and Spirit of God accompanied their callings, for we were made to rejoice with that joy that is unspeakable and full of glory. Hear also the word of the Lord given previous to the vision. Hear ye the word of the Lord God of Hosts to-day. I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; I sent forth my servant Joseph with a message of glad tidings to this generation. Him have they slain, saith the Lord; my people they have persecuted, scattered and driven out; yet once again I have raised up another like unto Joseph, to lead forth my people; him shall ye hear in all things. I decreed that I would set up an ensign, and raise up a standard. That ensign has been lifted, that standard raised, and now I have called forth my servant William Bickerton to lead forth my people, and they shall go in and out and find pasture, and the world shall know that there is a God in heaven; therefore, touch not mine anointed, saith the Lord; amen.—The Ensign, p. 13.

At a conference held at Greenock, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, July 5-8,1862, the following twelve men were ordained apostles:—


The Ensign, p. 15.

Other ordinations were also performed as follows:—

Moved by the President, seconded by Counselor Brown, that Elder John Stevenson be called and ordained into the Quorum of the Seventies, and also John Ashton, John Dickerton, William Menzies, James Louttit, John Caldwell, Charles Cowan, John McPherson, James Thompson, Thomas Stevens, and Hugh Scott.—The Ensign, p. 15.

While in conference in January, 1863, a revelation was presented, referred to as follows:—

Yes, we might fill up pages with an account of the dealings of God towards us as his people; and as he has declared that the world shall know that he has loved us by the power he will make manifest through us, his servants, therefore we hope that all who may read these pages will consider that they are living in the last dispensation, or the dispensation of the fullness of times, when God will gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth, even in him; having made known unto us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself, that while we were assembled in conference again, that his servant William Bickerton shall be called a seer, a translator, a prophet, an apostle of Jesus Christ, an elder of the church, through the will of God and the grace of your Lord Jesus Christ; and also it was felt to be the will of God that the two counselors, Charles Brown and George Barnes, should have the same calling laid upon them; and as soon as the calling was laid upon them, and they set apart, the Spirit and power of God came down and sealed that high and holy calling upon them; so much so that the glory of God filled the house, and we had to exclaim, "Surely the Lord God will do nothing but what he revealeth unto his servants the prophets;" and it also brings to pass the saying of the Prophet Isaiah, "I will restore thy judges as at the first, and thy counselors as at the beginning.”—The Ensign, p. 16.

Their declaration on doctrine was not materially different from that of other factions. Their declaration on marriage was as follows:—

We believe that a man shall have but one wife, and concubines he shall have none; for I, the Lord God, delighteth in the chastity of women, and whoredoms are an abomination before me: thus saith the Lord of hosts. Again in the second chapter of Malachi, verse 15: "And did not he make one? Yet had he the residue of the Spirit. And wherefore one? That he might seek a godly seed. Therefore take heed to your spirit, and let none deal treacherously against the wife of his youth.”—The Ensign, p. 20.

Under date of November 23, 1863, Mr. Bickerton wrote to Mr. John McKenzie, now of Jefferson City, Missouri, from West Elizabeth, Pennsylvania, as follows:—

The Lord has given us a commandment to organize his church with apostles and prophets, etc., so that they have been ordained; and several have been sent out on missions, and have pretty good success.