"We are not measured by the trials we meet -- only by those we overcome."
- - Spencer W. Kimball
December 19, 2012
The Youngest Apostle and His First Apostolic Mission
by James B. Allen

Our last column told of the all-important mission of the Quorum of the Twelve in the British Isles, 1837-41. Today we take a more detailed look at the truly remarkable, difficult, and heartwarming experiences of just one of those missionaries: the youngest apostle in the history of the Church, George A. Smith. (His full name was George Albert Smith, but he is always referred to in Church history a George A. in order to distinguish him from his grandson by the same name, who became a President of the Church.) When only twenty-one he was ordained an apostle and sustained as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve. Almost immediately he left for England as part of one of the most momentous missions in early Church history.

Born in the state of New York on June 26, 1817, George A. Smith was raised on a farm. Growing more rapidly than normal, as a youth he seemed gangly and awkward and this sometimes resulted in his being teased and bullied by other boys. However, he resolved to himself that in time he would whip every boy his age. Eventually he did just that, which stopped the taunting.

George had poor eyesight, which helped account for his rather scrawly handwriting. In a sense, his life, including the humility and absolute confidence in the success of his mission, suggests a kind of character that has become almost legendary in Mormon missionary stories: the overgrown, awkward farm boy, innocent in the ways of the world, not versed in fine language, but possessing a spirit that could bring the more sophisticated to their knees.

George was a cousin to the Prophet Joseph Smith but at first he was skeptical of Joseph’s claims. However, in the fall of 1832 he was converted and baptized. It was not long before his family moved to Nauvoo where, for the first time, he met his cousin. George soon proved himself to be an enthusiastic supporter of the Prophet and shortly before his seventeenth birthday he became Joseph Smith’s armor bearer and bodyguard during the march of Zion’s Camp from Kirtland to Missouri. He was ordained to the office of Seventy in 1835 and became an enthusiastic and effective missionary.

These were highly troubled times for the Church, not only because of bitter persecution from the outside but also because of internal dissent. Even some members of the Quorum of the Twelve turned away, leaving vacancies to be filled. However, Joseph Smith was remarkably far-sighted and optimistic. In 1837 he sent apostles Heber C. Kimball and Orson Hyde to England, telling them that the opening of missionary work in that country would be “the salvation of the Church.” The apostles returned a year later, only to find that the Prophet had still another British mission in mind. In July 1838 he received a revelation commanding the Twelve as a quorum to depart for the British Isles from Far West, Missouri, on April 26, 1839. This instituted the remarkable mission that soon brought thousands into the Church and instituted a far-reaching emigration to Nauvoo, and eventually to Utah, that would, indeed, contribute to the salvation of the Church.

However, in the winter of 1838-39 the Saints were driven from Missouri, there were vacancies in the Quorum of the Twelve, and Joseph Smith was imprisoned in Liberty, Missouri. He kept in close touch with Brigham Young and other leaders, and from prison sent word that young George A. Smith was to be ordained an apostle and fill one of the vacancies in the Quorum. Brigham Young presented his name to be sustained as one of the Twelve at a conference in Quincy, Illinois, on April 17, 1839. The vote was affirmative, though one member remarked that “there had been so much apostacy among the Twelve that he hoped the Saints would exercise faith to keep this one from flying [off] the track.”

By that time there was a serious question as to whether the Twelve would actually go back to Far West on the appointed date, for their lives would be in danger if the enemies of the Church knew they were there. Some felt that the Lord would accept the will for the deed, but the apostles were determined to carry out what they had been told to do. So it was that some time before dawn on the morning of April 26, just two months before George A Smith’s twenty-second birthday, Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, Orson Pratt, John E. Page, John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff, George A., and eighteen other Church members met at the designated spot. A short service was held and Wilford Woodruff and George A. Smith were ordained to the apostleship. After conducting a few other items of Church business those present quickly took their leave and made their way back to Illinois.

There is no space here to tell George A. Smith’s full story. Hopefully, however, this summary will illustrate the remarkable character of the Church’s youngest apostle who, while enduring all kinds of hardships, demonstrated a commitment and loving gentleness that endeared him to the Saints and made him a successful missionary.

The missionaries, including two who were not apostles, traveled in small groups, making their way to New York City where they would book passage to England. For most of them finding the means even to get to New York was highly difficult. George had little or nothing and often had to rely on the Saints along the way for room and sustenance. He rode when he could, walked when he could not, sometimes spent the night in an inn, and other times stayed with the Saints. For much of the time he was in the company of Brigham Young.

One of the near-miraculous things about George’s trip to New York was that he made it all. Like some of the other apostles, he was seriously ill when he left Nauvoo on horseback on September 21, and he remained ill throughout his journey. When he stopped to see his uncle, Joseph Smith Sr., the elderly man burst out laughing and asked “who has been robbing the burying yard?” But then he gave his nephew a powerful blessing, promising that he would indeed go on his mission, be restored to health, accomplish a great deal of good, and return safely home.

George did not recover immediately, however, and by the time he arrived in Quincy, Illinois, his illness had so affected his eyes that he was nearly blind, unable even to distinguish colors. He continued to have eye trouble throughout his mission.

Some of the missionaries stayed in Springfield, Illinois for a few days early in October, but when they left on October 11 Brigham Young and George A. Smith were both so sick that they should not have left at all. Brigham was doing so poorly that he had to lay in a bed that had been prepared for him in the wagon by the Springfield sisters. In addition, some of the Saints had prepared some “tonic bitters” for George. This popular folk medicine was a bitter, aromatic, sometimes alcoholic solution concocted from various plant products. However, this caused a bit of a stir as they stopped for the night at the home of a Father Draper, eight miles outside of Springfield. As he warmed himself by the fire, George’s flask of bitters slipped out of his pocket and broke on the hearth. Astonished, Father Draper exclaimed “You are a pretty set of Apostles, to be carrying a bottle of whisky with you!” The elders quickly explained who had prepared it and why, which satisfied the indignant Saint and he allowed them to stay the night.

By the time they reached Kirtland, Ohio, on November 3, George was slowly recovering. His eyesight had improved to the point that by putting his nose close to the paper he was able to read an advertisement in large print. To him, that was a blessing.

After leaving Kirtland on November 22 the group George was with was detained by a snow storm and spent four days at Fairport, on Lake Erie. During at least one of the intimate discussions they had during that long wait, Brigham Young gave George some pointed suggestions with respect to a few things he had observed about his young colleague during the past two months. As George himself reported: “President Young reproved me for some of my unwise speeches in which I had hurt the feelings of some of my brethren previous to leaving Nauvoo, upon which I made satisfaction and felt thankful for the timely reproof.” Judging from how he performed in England, he must have learned his lesson well.

By the time the group reached Auburn, New York, Brigham Young and George A. Smith were out of funds. They stayed behind as the others went on, preached in the area, and stayed with the Saints in Moravia for about a week, then went on to East Hamilton. By this time George was more seriously ill and for seventeen days he lay in bed in the home of Joseph Murdock. Despite his misery, however, he kept his sense of humor. “I vomited phlegm by the wholesale,” he wrote, “and it altogether reduced me to a more reasonable size.”

On January 7, 1840, Brigham and George took a stage for West Strockbridge, Massachusetts, even though George was still ailing. His sickness had so affected his eyesight that he could not distinguish one dish from another when they were eating. Brigham had to select his food and put it on his plate for him. It probably made the twenty-two-year-old apostle feel even worse when he heard someone ask who that old gentleman was who was being waited on by the young man!

The two went on to Richmond where, despite George’s unrelenting illness, he and Brigham preached. He continued to suffer from fever and shakes but wrote laboriously in his journal: “Slow[?] going to England. Sick [and] poor but good courage. Truth will Prevail. Lord Remember thy servant. Give him wisdom.”

On January 27 a member of the Church took Elders Young and Smith in a sleigh to New Haven, Connecticut. There they were able to catch a boat to New York City. By the time they arrived John Taylor and Wilford Woodruff had already departed for England. For a month they preached in the area and tried to obtain the funds to book their own passage. A bit of young George A. Smith’s effectiveness, even though he was still suffering with a fever, was shown when he was invited to preach at a seminary near Philadelphia. When he was finished his listeners, mostly non-Mormons, gave him twenty-six dollars for his ocean voyage as well as sufficient money to pay traveling expenses back to New York. He ended up with enough to pay for two missionaries to leave on the packet ship Patrick Henry.

The five remaining apostles, along with Reuben Hedlock, finally set sail for England on March 9. They arrived at Liverpool on April 6, just ten years after the Church was organized.

The famous bottle ovens in the Staffordshire Potterieies.

After meeting with their brethren who had already been in England for three months, the missionaries scattered to various assignments. George’s first assignment was in the Stafforsdshire Potteries, where Wilford Woodruff had begun missionary work three months earlier and converted a few people before going to Herefordshire. The term Staffordshire Potteries is a generic term referring to the industrial area consisting of six towns: Tunstall, Burslem, Hanley, Stoke, Fenton and Longton. This was the center of England’s pottery industry and its towns were dominated by the huge bottle ovens where the earthernware and stoneware were fired.

On the way to Staffordshire George spent a few days in Manchester, where there was a substantial branch of the Church. There he had an experience that revealed a potential problem for the youngest and only unmarried apostle. He was taken to Alice Hardman's boardinghouse. Blithely unaware that the Saints in Manchester took literally Paul's biblical comments about greeting one another “with an holy kiss,”2 he seated himself comfortably on a sofa. Almost immediately several young ladies filled the room. One of them, “decidedly a little beauty,” he reported, suddenly said “Brother Smith, we want a kiss of you!” while the eyes of the others flashed like “stars on a clear night.” The bachelor apostles was shocked. “I never felt so foolish in my life,” he wrote later, but he summoned up resolution enough to tell them that kissing was no part of his mission to England. The idea that there was no harm in such a greeting was being perpetuated by some of the elders in Manchester and, George wrote, “it required a very decided course, both in Manchester and other places to prevent evil corruption growing out of this custom, which might have been firmly established had not the Twelve put it down.”

Five days later George was in the Potteries, and for the next ten weeks he lived mainly in the home of a Church member in Burslem, Samuel Johnson, though he frequently spent the night in Saints and prospective Saints in other towns.

George soon found himself preaching in all kinds of settings. On his first day he went to Hanley where he preached in a flea-infested building that was recently used as a chicken house but rented by the Saints for their meetings. At other times he preached in the homes of the Saints, in public buildings, in marketplaces, in a temperance hall in Longton, in a field near Stoke-upon-Trent, in a silk-twisting shed in Leek, and in any other place where he could find an audience. On the evening of April 29, Mrs. Elizabeth Allblasters became the first person in England to be baptized by Elder Smith.

That same day, accompanied by Willard Richards, who was spending a few days with him, George visited Theodore Turley in the Stafford (the county town of Staffordshire) jail. Turley had been imprisoned on false charges of misconduct before he emigrated from England several years earlier.3 It seemed to George that this was a fulfillment of a prophecy by Joseph Smith, who had blessed them as they were leaving Nauvoo, saying, “Keep up good courage, boys, some of you will look through the grates before you come back.”

As they visited with Turley the two apostles learned something about the charity of the Saints of Staffordshire. The state did not provide food for prisoners like Turley, and, since he had no money, he had not eaten for about four days. When the sisters in the Potteries learned of his plight, several walked fourteen miles to take him some money. An elderly and poverty-stricken Saint from Hanley, Johnathan Locket, walked to Stafford several times, using a staff, to take Elder Turley some food.

Johnathan Locket died a little over a month later, not even leaving sufficient means to bury his body. George A. Smith was dismayed at the thought of this poor but generous Saint suffering the indignity of burial in a pauper's grave. He dipped into his own meager funds to make a contribution and then enlisted others to do the same in order to give Brother Locket a respectable burial. On June 4 some twenty Saints, including Elder Smith, followed his body to the grave, where a clergyman of the Church of England gave a sermon. Onlookers were clearly surprised that “so poor a man should have so many friends.”

George’s busy schedule and hard work is illustrated by what he did on Sunday, May 31. He preached at one place in the morning, at another in the afternoon, confirmed seven people after the afternoon meeting, and walked back to where he had been earlier to baptize two people. Then, still wet because he had no change of clothes, he preached in the evening and, clothes still drying on his body, walked ten miles to Burslem to spend the night. “I did not stay at Leek fearing the army of fleas which would attack me in every house where I stayed,” he commented wryly in his history. He became so involved in his work that for two and a half weeks he did not even write in his journal. He finally took a moment on his birthday, June 26, to comment on his hectic schedule:

For the last twenty days I have been so busy with preaching, counselling, baptizing, confirming, and teaching the people that I had not time to journalize any; and have seldom gone to bed before 2 o'clock in the morning, as people were constantly in my room enquiring about the work of the Lord.

His time in the Potteries was a rude awakening for young George. It made him painfully aware of the problems of working men and women that he had probably never thought of. He was impressed with the pottery industry, but he immediately saw that large numbers of people were out of work. There were more beggars in the area than he had seen in all his life and he was especially distressed when he saw “delicate females” gathering manure as a way of earning a living for their starving children. The high cost of living also startled him. “I never before realized the value of American institutions,” he wrote to a cousin in Ohio. He was keenly sensitive to the problems of those around him, which clearly helped endear him to the people of Staffordshire.

That endearment was enhanced by a kind of practical wisdom, shown by an assignment he gave to Daniel Bowers. This large, strong man living in Hanley was attending one of Elder Smith’s preaching meetings when John Jones, a Methodist preacher who was in the habit of disturbing Mormon meetings, rudely interrupted. Outraged at such a performance, Bowers picked up Jones bodily and carried him out of the house, saying, “These people pay the rent here, and you must not disturb them.” Not long after that Bowers was baptized, whereupon the young apostle ordained him a deacon and assigned him to keep order in the meetings.

The youngest apostle’s humility and lack of pretension is seen in the effect he had and William W. Player, a Methodist preacher in Longton. On May 18 Player visited Elder Smith and asked him to explain such things as the beast in the book of Revelation and “leviathan” in Job. George said he did not know, to which Player responded: “What? Do you profess to be a preacher of the Gospel and not understand the Bible?” George responded quickly, though not necessarily diplomatically. “That's the difficulty with you preachers; you are not willing to acknowledge your ignorance, and consequently undertake to explain to the people things which you do not understand yourselves, and as blind leaders of the blind, you lead the blind, giving your own ignorant opinions instead of teaching the principles of truth.... I teach what I do know. What I do not know, I let alone.” He then told Player that if he would obey the first principles of the gospel and let the Holy Spirit guide, he would understand the passages in question as the men who wrote them did. This directness together with the spirit Elder Smith carried actually impressed Player, who then invited him to give a lecture on total abstinence in the Temperance Society's hall. George consented, the meeting was advertised by town criers, he gave an address that greatly pleased the audience, and as a result the Mormons were able to use the hall for three meetings each Sunday and three meetings during the week merely for the cost of cleaning. What’s more, Player himself was soon baptized and became the presiding elder of a branch of one hundred Saints in Longton.

The Longton potteries, about 1895.

On April 6-7 the apostles held a conference in Manchester, where it was decided that George A. Smith should introduce the gospel in London, along with Heber C. Kimball and Wilford Woodruff.

First, however, George and Wilford spent a little over three weeks back in the Staffordshire Potteries. Among the several people George baptized during that time was Richard Rushton Sr., a sixty-year-old silk manufacturer in Leek who thought of the unsophisticated young man from America as a spiritual giant.

George stayed in the home of the Samuel Johnson family. There his room was constantly crowded with “Saints and strangers,” all seeking to learn from him. Nearly every night someone would be baptized after leaving his room, and George seldom went to bed before 2:00 AM. Upon leaving the Potteries he was full of thanksgiving. “Sister Johnson attended me with all the care and kindness of a mother,” he wrote. She kept his clothes in order, did all she could to keep him in good health, and, when he left, cried as if her only son were departing.

Trafalga Square, London, in the 1840s.

Elders Kimball, Woodruff, and Smith arrived in London on August 18.Four days later they climbed to the top of Sir Christopher Wren's magnificent monument commemorating the great London fire of 1666. It was a clear day and, standing two hundred feet above the street, they had an extraordinary view of the city. It seemed resplendent and inviting as they marveled at its vastness and the hundreds of church spires they could see. They also talked to a world traveler from Berlin who said that no other spot on earth presented such a grand view.

Their initial idyllic image did not last long for they soon became acquainted not only with the poverty of London but also with the effect of pollution from all the coal-burning stoves, fireplaces, and factories. The pollution was especially intense during the bitter cold of winter.

For a week and a half the apostles walked the streets of London trying to find someone who would listen to their message. They contacted individuals, visited established churches, talked to preachers, and attended temperance meetings. During all that time, however, they were neither invited into a home nor given an opportunity to preach, except when George A. Smith lectured at a temperance meeting on August 25.

Finally, on August 29, things began to change. Henry Connor, a watchmaker, invited them into his home on Ironmonger Row. Receptive of their message, Connor told them that his house was available for preaching. Delighted, the missionaries set up a meeting for the following evening, a Sunday.

On Sunday morning things began to look even better. Hoping to hold a street meeting, they went with Henry Connor to Tabernacle Square. There they found a preacher standing on a chair and preaching to about four hundred people. When he finished and another preacher stood up Heber C. Kimball interrupted, pointed to George A. Smith, and told the first evangelist that an American was there who would like to preach. The fact that George was an American intrigued the preacher so he invited him to speak. He gladly did so, for twenty minutes, though he did not specifically identify himself as a Latter-day Saint. However, as the missionaries tried to make an appointment to preach that afternoon, the man in charge suddenly discovered who they were. Immediately he began to berate them publicly, and refused to let them use his chair to stand on. However, after the preacher left Elder Kimball Kimball simply told the people they would be back at 3:00 that afternoon. When they arrived a large crowd was there.

After that street meeting—the first such LDS meeting in London—the elders returned to Henry Connor's home but Elder Kimball was suddenly impressed to go back again. He did so and found a large group of people talking about what they had heard. He spoke to them again, and several invited him to their homes. Meanwhile, Elders Woodruff and Smith were at the Connor home, teaching the gospel to Connor and others. Connor offered himself for baptism. The next day, August 31, they went to a nearby public bath where Heber C. Kimball baptized Henry Connor, the first to be baptized in London.

London was not a healthy place for the apostles and Elders Kimball and Smith, especially, were frequently ill. Nevertheless, by the time these two left for their October conference in Manchester (Elder Woodruff had gone ahead of them) a total of eleven people had been baptized. In a rather humorous series of events a man called Father Biggs came to their quarters asking for baptism. The elders were, of course, willing to oblige, so they repaired to the public bath, paid their entrance fee, and went in. However, the water was so cold that Biggs was afraid it would take his breath away. He refused to be immersed. At that point, unwilling to waste the money they had paid to get in, Elders Kimball and Smith went swimming! Father Biggs was baptized six days later.

George left for the Manchester conference on September 29, passing through the Potteries en route. There he was warmly received by the Saints, who “brought in their mites to furnish me money to pay my passage to Manchester.” Another evidence of the love and confidence this gangly, unsophisticated farmer from America had earned.

On October 24, after returning to London, George and Wilfred rented a hall. There they planned to hold preaching meetings each Sunday and to give lectures on Tuesday and Thursday. Disappointingly, attendance was sparse and they kept the building open for only four days. Opposition seemed to dog them everywhere, their handbills were torn down, newspaper articles denounced them, and Elder Woodruff wrote to Willard Richards that “the devil is dreadful fraid the work will get set up in London.”

Among the problems in London was the fact that living expenses were very high and most of the small number of Saints in the city were so poor they could not help sustain the elders. Thankfully, however, they received support from Saints elsewhere, particularly from those in the Potteries and Herefordshire—this despite the fact that many in the Potteries were also nearly destitute. “We are extremely sorry to hear of your hard living in London,” Richard Rushton Sr., wrote to George A. Smith on October 27, “but what to say to you with respect to money we do not know as many of the Saints at Leek are destitute of work and others are very poor indeed but we will do all that we possibly can to collect you a little.” The missionaries were able to pay their October month-end bills only after receiving a money order from Willard Richards. The next month Thomas Kington sent them a donation but either it was lost in the mail or, as Wilford Woodruff suspected, it was stolen.

Despite his poor eyesight, George A. Smith maintained contact with the Saints in the Potteries, and particularly the Rushton family, by mail. He had baptized Richard Rushton Sr., in July. Rushton's wife, Lettie and a son, Richard Jr., soon followed him into the water. Richard Jr. quickly took up missionary work himself, probably at the urging of Elder Smith.

Richard Rushton Jr., four years older than George A. Smith, felt inadequate as a missionary and sought counsel from the young apostle he so admired. Elder Smith advised him in one letter that the more often he stood before the people to “warn” them, the greater the blessings he would receive. Rushton soon wrote to his mentor that “you[r] words have been verified for I receive greater blessings and Power every time I get up to Speak even so as to astonish myself.” Then, in a fervent burst of appreciation he suggested the powerful effect Elder Smith had on the people of the Potteries: “Dear Brother I cannot discribe the Love and gratitude I feel towards you for the great Blessings you have been instrumental in the hands of God of bringing upon our Family and Neibourhood. We can never repay your kindness towards us. But God will Bless you for your Labour. Dear Brother we Should be happy to see you again soon.”

The Staffordshire Saints looked forward to every communication from George A. Smith. For example, a letter he wrote on October 12, reporting on his activities in London and of his improving health, was read aloud to the Staffordshire Saints by Richard Rushton Jr. On October 15 Rushton responded to that letter: "Dear Brother your kind Letter give me great Encouragement for when I think of your Labours your persecutions your trials your Sufferings in your journeyings . . . it spurs me on to fresh Exertions and makes me every day more diligent in warning the people and exhorting my Brethren to do the same." Several days later Richard Sr., wrote and commented gratefully on how much his son had improved in preaching, just as Elder Smith had promised. Moreover, the father said, "many come to him to be healed of their sicknesses and thay all return home healed rejoicing in the Lord, praise be unto his Holy name for this great blessing added to the church."

In another letter Richard Jr. expressed the kind of humility that undoubtedly pleased George A. Smith greatly: “Dear Brother your kind advice and instruction is very acceptable to me as I have often needed it since I saw you Last For I feel that when I am strong in myself then am I weak in the Lord and when I am weak in myself then I am strong in the Lord for when I Exalt myself then I am sure to be abased But when I humble myself then do I get Exalted.”

However, George’s poor health continued, and not long after he got back to London he began to suffer with cold and ague. A thick fog on October 14 affected his lungs, and on October 23 he spat up blood. Five days later another cold in his head caused his face to swell so badly that it almost closed one of his eyes. But he stubbornly continued working until, on November 9, instructions came from Willard Richards that he should return immediately to the Potteries.

That day, reflecting on his time in London, George wrote in his journal:

From the time I continued laboring in London to the present, I used every exertion consistent with my health and strength to plant the Gospel standard; every visit I made, or call, or association was one continued effort to bear testimony; to teach, to warn the people, and thereby fulfill my calling; and, I believe, I can truly testify before the Lord, that my garments are clean of the blood of the inhabitants of the British metropolis, and I can also testify the same of the labors of Elder Kimball, and Woodruff. . . . I regret having to leave Brother Woodruff, but necessity seems to require it.

One man who was especially distressed at George’s leaving London was Henry Connor Jr., son of the first London convert. Even though Henry Jr. could not accept Latter-day Saint teachings, the two had became close friends. The day after George left, he wrote the apostle a poignant letter expressing both his disappointment and his admiration. “I must confess that I was loath to part with you for I feel for you all the affection of A brother,” he declared. He also said that if George was right and he was wrong, he hoped he would soon be convinced. He was baptized a little over a month later.

A gravy bowl: a piece of Staffordshire pottery manufactured about 1840.

Back in Staffordshire on November 17, Elder Smith set to work immediately, holding a meeting with the Saints the evening he arrived. He preached whenever and wherever possible, sometimes to rather rough audiences. On December 2, for example, he spoke to “as vile a set of ruffians as I ever saw anywhere.”

His health still did not improve and as winter set in he had very serious coughing spells. He was nevertheless as relentless as ever in his determination to do the work he had been called to do. “Preached three times today and broke bread,” he wrote in his journal on December 20. “My cough is much better today. I confirmed four persons. The Lord seems to have given me strength today, for I have not performed a day's labor so easily for some weeks.” But that night he became worse and the next day he could hardly speak for his lungs were so painful and his throat so sore. He spent most of that day in bed.

Severe colds continued to plague him and in February he was afflicted with the discomfort of rheumatism in his shoulder. Despite all this he was glad for one thing: his eyesight had improved enough that even though he could read very little he could write if he had a strong light.

However, compared to the pain he felt for the Saints of Staffordshire, George A. Smith’s personal discomfort seemed almost inconsequential to him. He estimated that only a third of the 450 Saints in Staffordshire were fully employed, others worked only two or three days per week, and some had no work at all. He saw Church members suffering from hunger, and he was furious when he learned that some had been fired from their jobs simply because they were Latter-day Saints. “Hard times for these poor people” he wrote. “ I pray daily for the Lord to gather them up and send them to Zion.” But there was little he could do personally for, despite their poverty, he was still dependent upon them.

In addition to his missionary work, the youngest apostle constantly found himself giving advice and counsel to the many Saints who sought him out. He seldom went to bed before midnight and sometimes lay awake until 2:00 AM, pondering how it was that a young, untutored person such as he should be called upon to teach so many people with much more learning and experience. He felt his lack of sophistication deeply, as he wrote to his younger brother:

you cannot think how foolish it makes me feel to Be Looked up to with So much Earnestness by Persons Who have been Professers of Religion and Preachers of the Different Sects. I thank the Lord for the Wisdom he has given me and the Success I have had in the teaching thes Men for thire is Now in this District No less than 88 official Members in the Church and they all Look to me for instruction as Children to A Father and this Makes me feel vary Small indeed and Causes me to cry unto my father Who is in heaven for Wisdom and Paetence to do my fathers Work and Sound his gospel to the World Which may the Lord grant.

As much as George A. Smith was loved by most of the Saints in the Potteries, not all his relationships were perfect. Human weaknesses such as envy and jealousy, as well as differences in perspective, occasionally caused tension. In Hanley, for example, a man named Mason, who claimed that he had talked with God, accused the apostle of lying and hypocrisy and began to curse him. In a letter written near the end of January Mason charged that he was no more than a pretending priest and that, in reality, his god was gold.

It seems incredible that anyone who knew young George A. Smith could believe such charges. No doubt he and his associates had their failings, or they would hardly be human. But whatever their weaknesses were they were nothing like the motives ascribed by Mason to Elder Smith. His proven devotion as he labored among the poverty-stricken Saints makes such charges nearly laughable if they were not so serious. In any case, the Saints at Hanley would have none of it and immediately withdrew fellowship from the “nonprophet,” as George labeled him.

Another misguided attack on Apostle Smith was the result of personal jealousy of at last two Saints in Leek. On March 18, during a conference meeting, it was proposed that Steven Nixon be ordained an elder. However, a Brother Jackson objected, registering several complaints that may seem trivial today but were serious to this recent convert: Jackson was the oldest priest and therefore he should have the office; Elder Smith had never visited him at his home; it had been given in tongues that Nixon should be ordained, but tongues did not govern the Church; and he had been offended by Richard Rushton, who was pressing him about the rent money for the room in which they met. Despite Jackson’s harangue the conference approved the ordinations and after a long discussion it was decided to suspend Jackson until he publicly acknowledged his error. But that did not end the matter. When they met the next day to perform the ordinations a Brother Clowes also objected, accusing Elder Smith of partiality. “Brother Nixon has taken you to his house, fed and treated you like a gentleman,” he said, and “that is the reason you have called him to be an Elder and his calling was not by the spirit of God.” At that point the rest of those in attendance unanimously rallied around their young leader and Clowes was suspended for “publicly and falsely” accusing him. Such tensions among the Saints were unfortunate, but they illustrate the way human foibles inevitably affect any organization, including the Church.

Meanwhile, the youthful apostle had another concern that carried throughout his mission: Bathsheba W. Bigler, the seventeen-year-old girl he left behind when he rode out of Nauvoo. He wrote to her several times, with great longing. On December 5, 1840, for example, he wrote with great emotion:

I keep you Still in Memory and the Pleasante hours which I have Spent in your Society are also Remembered. . . . And the Lord willing We Shall See Each other again & talk Over Matters. I am Determined Never to take another Mission across the Ocean without Leaveing a Rib at home unless the Lord So orders it.

The good-natured comment on not leaving a “rib” at home was, of course, a clever and heartfelt allusion to Adam’s wife, Eve.

George and Bathsheba had planned to get married on January 21, 1841, but the extent of his British mission postponed that longed-for event. He pined for her, especially as the former wedding date approached, and just three days earlier he wrote her from Staffordshire: “I am thinking the time will come When We Shall be One. The Lord knows and Will make known in Due time. . . . if I could Enjoy your Society I Should be Well Satisfied but the Lord called and I have to Obey.” He also confided in Orson Pratt, telling him in a letter of his loneliness. Elder Pratt replied with a bit of tough reality about the life of an apostle’s wife. “She will get a little annured to disappointments,” he wrote, “so that it will not be entirely new for you to leave her thereafter.”

Bathsheba never left George’s mind. In March, 1841, as he prepared to return home, he penned a love poem:

While I am abroad I spend my Breath
in Prayer for her I Love in truth
In a Distant Land I call to Mind
my true and faithful friend So kind
When I Return From this Distant Land
I will take her by the Lovely hand
and Raise my voice in Humble Prayer
that God Would Make us A Heavenly Pair.

Meanwhile, in Nauvoo, Bathsheba eagerly waited to hear from her missionary beau, but the wait seemed endless. He left Nauvoo in September 1839 but, she recalled later, by January 1840 she still “had not heard from the man I loved.” She was thrilled when, sometime later, a neighbor came to the house with a letter postmarked Liverpool and addressed to her. Bathsheba knew who it was from but, as she “danced and sang for joy,” the neighbor teased her by holding the letter out of her reach. Her pleading finally softened him, even drawing a few tears, and he gave her the long-awaited communication. Before George A. returned the following year, she had six such letters tucked away among her most "precious belongings.”

George was in England just over a year when it came time for the apostles to leave. On March 6 he wrote of his plans to Bathsheba. Still not sure how he would finance his trip, he quipped, “When I get to New York I Expect to have to Preach my pasage home.”

The next three weeks were extremely busy as he prepared to leave the Potteries. He wrote letters, held conferences, appointed and ordained more Church officers, and made final visits to the various towns where he had so many friends. Some of them gave him presents, and when he took leave of the Saints at Leek on March 22, most were in tears. Elder Woodruff joined him at Hanley three days later, and on March 27 the two met with the local Church council which, among other things, raised £4 to help George A. get home.

On April 11, 1841, George wrote a final, heartfelt letter to the Saints. Published that month in the Millennial Star, it included a beautiful summary of how he, and no doubt all the apostles, felt as he recalled the year gone by:

Although I have suffered much bodily affliction during the past year, the Lord has blessed my labours abundantly, and I can say I never enjoyed myself better in the discharge of my duty, than I have on this mission. Among the greatest blessings I have enjoyed, has been the privilege of attending four general conferences, and meeting in council with the 12. I can assure you that a meeting with those in whose company I have suffered so much tribulation for the gospels sake, both at home and abroad, by land and sea, is to me a privilege indeed.

On April 20 George and six apostles, along with a company of emigrating Saints, sailed for America aboard the ship Rochester. Parley P. Pratt remained in England to preside over the Church and continue its publication program.

The Rochester arrived in New York Harbor on May 20. A few days later, after meeting with the Saints there, they separated and took various routes to Nauvoo. George A. Smith did not have the funds to take him all the way immediately, so he did some preaching along the way. Interestingly enough, in Philadelphia he met the two apostles, William Smith and John E. Page, who had refused to accept the call. He tried to persuade Elder Page to go to Europe immediately and overtake Orson Hyde on his mission to Palestine. Page had the funds to do so, but he refused.

George A. Smith, about 1865.

George arrived in Nauvoo on July 13 and immediately went to visit Bathsheba. Twelve days later they were married. George was twenty-four years old and she was nineteen.

Thus ended the first apostolic mission of the Church’s youngest apostle ever. For a time after that he continued with missionary work, traveling some six thousand miles as a missionary in 1843 alone. In Utah, his apostolic calling led him into other activities. In 1850 and 1851 he led the first colonizing mission to southern Utah, becoming known as the father of the southern Utah settlements. Saint George, Utah, was named in his honor. In 1854 he became Church Historian. Working with Wilford Woodruff, he helped complete the history of Joseph Smith for publication. In 1868 he became first counselor to Brigham Young in the First Presidency of the Church. He held this office until his death in 1875.


1. This column is drawn, in a few instances verbatim, from James B. Allen, Ronald K. Esplin, and David J. Whittaker, Men With a Mission: The Quorm of the Twelve Apostles in the British Isles, 1837-1841 (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book,1992. The reader is referred to that book for the full story of that remarkable mission. In this case I have chosen not to add footnote citations for the quotations, but they are all available in Men With a Mission.

2. See Romans 16:16; 1 Corinthians 16:20; 2 Corinthians 13:12; 1 Thessalonians 5:26.

3. Turley had emigrated to Canada seventeen years earlier, but it was alleged that he still owed money in England. The charge arose from that fact that Turley’s business partner was guilty of a series of financial misdeals, leaving Turley with no means to pay whatever they owed. John Jones claimed he as one of Turley long-standing creditors, but he was also a bitter enemy of the Church. Jones was responsible for the warrant that landed Turley in jail on March 16, He languished there until May 8. The apostles believed, apparently with good cause, that he was really in jail unlawfully and that the main reason for the warrant was to hinder Mormon missionary work. See Theodore Turley, “Theodore Turley Mission Journal 1839-40,” ed. Richard Eyring Turley Jr. (senior honors project, Brigham Young University, 1982), 40-49.

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About James B. Allen

JAMES B. ALLEN, Professor of History, Emeritus, Brigham Young University

James B. Allen was born June 14, 1927, in Ogden, Utah. He married Renée Jones, April 16, 1953. They have five children, twenty-one grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren . He received his bachelor's degree in history form Utah State University in 1954, a master's degree from Brigham Young University in 1956, and the Ph.D. from the University of Southern California in 1963.

Active in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints all his life, he has served in numerous positions, including bishop of two BYU wards and a member of 5 different BYU high councils. In 1999-2000 he and Renée served as missionaries at the Boston Institute of Religion.

He has also been active in the Republican party and twice served as a delegate to the state convention.

In his professional career, he taught in the LDS Seminary and Institute program from 1954-63, after which he was a member of the faculty at Brigham Young University until his retirement in 1992. From 1972 to 1979 he also served as Assistant Church Historian (splitting his time between BYU and the Church Historical Department). He was chair of the History Department from 1981-1987 then, during his last five years at BYU, he was honored to hold the Lemuel Hardison Redd, Jr. Chair in Western American History. After his retirement he became associated with the Joseph Fielding Smith Institute for Latter-day Saint History at BYU, where for several years he held an appointment as a Senior Research Fellow.

He has also been active in various professional organizations, including the Western History Association (served on various committees, and as chair of a program committee) and the Mormon History Association (president, 1971-73). He has been on various boards of editors and advisory committees and presented numerous papers at the meetings of various historical associations.

As a researcher and writer he is the author, co-author, or co-editor of fourteen books or monographs and around 90 articles relating to Western American history and Mormon history, as well as numerous book reviews in professional journals. Some of his books include the following:

The Company Town in the American West (University of Oklahoma Press, 1966)
The Story of the Latter-day Saints (with Glen M. Leonard; Deseret Book Company, 1976; 2nd edition 1992)
Trials of Discipleship: The Story of William Clayton, a Mormon (University of Illinois Press, 1987). Revised and republished in 2002 by BYU Press under the title No Toil Nor Labor Fear: The Story of William Clayton. In 1986, while still in press, this book won the prestigious David Woolley Evans and Beatrice Cannon Evans Biography Award.
Men With a Mission: The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in the British Isles, 1837-1841 (with Ronald K. Esplin and David J. Whittaker, Deseret Book Company, 1992)
Studies in Mormon History 1830-1997: An Indexed Bibliography (with Ronald W. Walker and David J. Whittaker; University of Illinois Press, 2000). Allen was the lead investigator for this important work. It lists, and provides an index to, all the significant books, articles, doctoral dissertations and master's theses on Mormon history produced between 1830 and 1997. It has been widely hailed as one of the most important aids to finding LDS history ever published. In 2001 the Mormon History Association awarded the authors a special citation for the publication of this book. After that, working with J. Michael Hunter, Allen continued to update the bibliography database. Hunter has now taken over the updating, and the database is online at mormonhistory.byu.edu.
Mormon History (with Ronald W. Walker and David J. Whittaker, University of Illinois Press, 2001). This book is a history of the writing of Mormon history, from the days of Joseph Smith until the present time.

Over the years he has received various awards, honors, and recognitions, besides those indicated above. Among them were several "best article" awards; the Karl G. Maeser Research and Creative Arts Award, Brigham Young University, 1980; named Distinguished Faculty Lecturer, Brigham Young University, 1984; named a Fellow of the Utah State Historical Society, July 15, 1988; the Leonard J. Arrington Award for a Distinctive Contribution to the cause of Mormon History, awarded by the Mormon History Asociation, 2008.

James and Renée have enjoyed living in Orem, Utah since 1963.

He currently serves as Sunday School President in his ward, and he and Renée have been officiators in the Mt. Timpanogos Temple since 2004.

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