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November 27, 2012
Rambling Thoughts on Church History
“For the Salvation of His Church”: The All-important Mission of the Quorum of the Twelve in the British Isles, 1837-41
by James B. Allen

[Note: As you know, next year the course of study for the Gospel Doctrine Sunday School class will be the Doctrine and Covenants. For those who are seeking authoritative background material, an important new book is Dennis Largey, et al., editors, Doctrine and Covenants Reference Companion (Salt Lake City, Desert Book, 2012). It consists of numerous short articles that provide historical and doctrinal background for each of the revelations.

One of the articles I contributed deals with the all-important mission of Quorum of the Twelve in the British Isles. Due to space constraints, that article was limited in the number of words, which meant that I had to pare it down greatly from all I really wanted to say. Now I have a chance to beef it up again.

What follows is one of the early, much longer, versions of that article. It is still an all-too-brief summary of that mission. However if you are interested in the full story you might want to see James B. Allen, Ronald K. Esplin, and David J. Whittaker, Men With a Mission: The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in the British Isles, 1837-1841 (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book,1992. Our next column will deal in more detail with the activities of just one of those missionaries: George A. Smith, the youngest apostle in the history of the Church.]

On June 4, 1837, the Prophet Joseph Smith suddenly announced to Elder Heber C. Kimball of the Quorum of the Twelve that, “The Spirit of the Lord has whispered to me, ‘let my servant Heber go to England and proclaim my gospel and open the door of salvation to that nation.’”i

Elder Kimball was astonished that such a call would come at this particular time. The Church was in deep crisis: serious financial problems, intense persecution, criticism of the Prophet even from within the Church, and the apostasy or disaffection of several members of the original Quorum of the Twelve. To send a strong Church leader so far away during such troubling times could hardly help.

However, Joseph Smith had been told by the Lord that “something new must be done for the salvation of His church.”ii That “something” turned out to be Elder Kimball’s mission to England and the subsequent mission of the Twelve as a quorum to the British Isles.

Elder Kimball left Kirtland only nine days later, accompanied by three other missionaries: Elder Orson Hyde of the Quorum of the Twelve, Willard Richards, and Joseph Fielding, who had family in England. None had sufficient funds for the journey, but with help from friends and faithful Saints they made their way across the Atlantic and then to Preston, where they began their labors.

Working initially among members of the congregation of James Fielding, Joseph Fielding’s brother, they preached their first sermons on Sunday, July 22. The following Sunday afternoon nine converts were baptized in the River Ribble. A slightly humorous incident occurred when two coverts decided to race to the river to determine who would be baptized first. The winner was George D. Watt, who later became a clerk and scribe to both Joseph Smith and Brigham Young. Henry Clegg, Sr., came in second.iii

This was not only the beginning of the apostle’s memorable success but also the catalyst for bitter opposition. As several members of his congregation joined the Mormons, Reverend Fielding accused his brother and the other missionaries of sheep-stealing. He and other ministers lost little time in beginning to warn people against them.

Nevertheless the gospel message caught on quickly as the elders worked among working-class people in the towns and villages of Lancashire. The outpouring of love for the American missionaries was overwhelming, often bringing them to tears. The English converts, most of whom had little money, even raised the means to pay the passage home for Elders Kimball and Hyde.

By the time they sailed for America, on April 20, 1838, there were around 1600 members of the Church in Lancashire. The apostles left them under the leadership of a mission presidency consisting of Joseph Fielding, Willard Richards, and William Clayton, one of Elder Kimball’s converts.

Sadly, the apostles found the Church in America even more distressed than it was when they left. Joseph Smith had been forced to flee from Kirtland to Missouri. The Quorum of the Twelve was still riddled with dissent. Persecution had intensified in Missouri, and in October the governor issued his infamous “extermination order.”

Before the end of the year Joseph Smith was thrown into the gloomy dungeon of a Missouri jail and the Saints were brutally driven from the state.

Incredibly, however, the Prophet still had a far-reaching vision that would soon send Elder Kimball back to England. On July 8, 1838, he received a remarkable revelation concerning the Twelve as a quorum: “Next spring let them depart over the great waters, and there promulgate my gospel, the fulness thereof, and bear record of my name. Let them take leave of my saints in the city of Far West, on the twenty-sixth day of April next, on the building-spot of my house, saith the Lord (D&C 118:4-5).”

The revelation also named four new members of the Quorum: “Let my servant John Taylor, and also my servant John E. Page, and also my servant Wilford Woodruff, and also my servant Willard Richards, be appointed to fill the places of those who have fallen (D&C 118:6).” Earlier Joseph Smith had directed also that George A. Smith should become an apostle.

However, the Saints were soon driven from Missouri, and returning to fulfill the precise terms of the revelation would be dangerous for the apostles. Nevertheless, demonstrating the kind of determination that would characterize their entire mission, early in the morning on the appointed day and at the appointed spot seven apostles and several other Church members met, held a short service, placed a cornerstone for a temple, then quickly left before hardly anyone knew the apostles were there. Two apostles, Wilford Woodruff and George A. Smith, were ordained at that meeting. At age twenty-one, Elder Smith was the youngest modern apostle.

In the end, eight members of the Quorum of the Twelve fulfilled the mission to the British Isles: Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, Parley P. Pratt, Orson Pratt, John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff, George A. Smith, and Willard Richards (who was ordained in March 1840, in England). Another, Orson Hyde, passed through England in 1841, and met with his brethren while on his way to Palestine, where he had been sent by revelation to dedicate that land for the return of the Jews.

Two apostles, John E. Page and William Smith, declined the call. There were only eleven members of the Quorum at the time, though in April 1841, while the others were still in the British Isles, Lyman Wight was called and ordained.

All the Quorum of the Twelve were married except George A. Smith. Willard Richards was single when he accompanied Elders Kimball and Hyde on the first mission in 1837 and remained as a member of the mission presidency. However, on September 28, 1838, he married Jennetta Richards, one of the early converts. He proposed in a delightful way. Accompanied by one of the Saints, they were on their way to a meeting. Willard remarked “Richards” was a good name. “I never want to change it,” he went on, “do you?” With no hesitation Jennetta replied “No, I do not.” “I think she never will,” Willard recorded in his journal.iv

The apostles left for England in small groups, beginning in August 1839. Some were seriously ill, some were nearly penniless, and some left families who were also ill and without money. However, sustained by members of the Church as they traveled, the apostles made their way to New York City and, from there, across the Atlantic.

First to reach England were Wilford Woodruff and John Taylor, along with another missionary, Theodore Turley. They arrived at Liverpool on January 11, 1840. Elder Taylor and Joseph Fielding set up headquarters in the home of Elder Taylor’s brother-in-law, George Cannon, who was soon converted, while Elder Woodruff and Theodore Turley went to the Staffordshire Potteries.

“I feel the word of the Lord like fire in my bones,” said the ardent Elder Taylor as the missionaries began their work in Liverpool. On February 4, they baptized their first ten converts in the ice-cold waters of the Irish Sea. As expected, however, serious opposition dogged them as they continued their work, and after three months there were only twenty-eight members in Liverpool.

In the Potteries, Wilford Woodruff also found opposition, but by the end of February he had baptized about forty converts. At that point he was inspired by the Lord to go south, to Herefordshire. Taking with him a member of the Church named William Benbow, he went first to the home of John Benbow, William’s brother.

The John Benbow farm house in Herefordshire

The promise in the Doctrine and Covenants that “the field is white already to harvest (D&C 4:4)” was never more true than in Herefordshire. Elder Woodruff was immediately invited by John Benbow and his wife Jane to preach to friends and neighbors in their home, and the next day the Benbows and four friends were baptized.

Residents in the area flocked to hear the American missionary, and on the first Sunday he was there, March 9, he preached three different times to an estimated thousand eager listeners. He baptized seven more that day, including four preachers as well as a constable who had come to arrest him.

View from the Malvern Hills, in Herefordshire, where Wilford Woodruff often contemplated his work.

Seldom has a place been so well prepared for the spread of the restored gospel as Herefordshire. The United Brethren, who had earlier broken from the Primitive Methodists, taught principles that, in almost every respect, were the same as those being taught by Wilford Woodruff. It was not a difficult leap for them to accept the rise of a modern prophet, the restoration of the priesthood, and The Book of Mormon.

So well prepared were the converted preachers that they were quickly sent back to their own congregations, this time to preach the fulness of the restored gospel. They also brought into the Church with them forty-two places legally licensed for preaching, including the Gadfield Elm chapel. As usual, however, success did not come without opposition, including mob activity. However, by the time he left for a meeting with the rest of the apostles in mid-April, Elder Woodruff had baptized 158 people, including forty-eight United Brethren preachers.

The Gadfield Elm chapel in Herefordshire

On April 6, 1840, the tenth anniversary of the organization of the Church, the other five apostles landed in Liverpool. “I gave a loud shout of hosanna,” Brigham Young later recalled. “I felt that the chains were broken, and the bands that were upon me were burst asunder.”v Though the harvest had begun, it was about to expand dramatically.

On April 14, the day Willard Richards was ordained, the eight missionary-apostles held their first official council meeting, in Preston. The next day they conducted the first general conference of the Church in England, after which they scattered to various assignments. They met in conference twice more that year, and again just before their departure from England a year later.

Elder Richards was very much aware of the unfortunate dissension that had plagued the Quorum of the Twelve earlier. The day he was ordained, therefore, he prayed fervently that he would be able to carry out duties in righteousness and then, no doubt reflecting his concerns about the Quorum itself, prayed that they might “be of one heart and one mind in all things.”vi Under the circumstances, it was a most appropriate prayer.

Sometimes working together and at other times separately, they conducted missionary work in various parts of the British Isles. Some, such as Brigham Young, also carried heavy administrative responsibilities. However, they could not carry out their missions without the kindhearted support of the Saints already there as well as the new converts. Even though many were poor, sometimes desperately so, the members donated generously to help feed, clothe, and house the missionaries and many became missionaries themselves.

Not all were poor, however, and some, such as John Benbow, were fairly well off. It was remarkable how willingly some of these Saints heeded Brigham Young’s call for money to help publish The Book of Mormon and, after the emigration program began, to help the poorer Saints pay for their passage to America.

The difficulties and challenges that confronted the apostle-missionaries were manifold. One was simply financial. Most had little or no money of their own, nor did their families at home, so they often relied on the new converts for food, clothing, and housing. Equally important, they desperately needed funds to publish The Book of Mormon, a hymnal, and other Church literature for the benefit of the Saints and for the use of missionaries. Again they relied on the donations of the Saints, especially the more wealthy among them.

They worried about their families, some of whom were still penniless and in ill health, and Elder Woodruff was dismayed when he learned of the death of his two-year-old daughter. He was in London at the time, having little success, but the news only strengthened his determination to succeed.

Another problem was the constant harassing, often fomented by angry ministers and sometimes resulting in being arrested by the police. Having stones and bricks as well as verbal abuse hurled at them was not uncommon.

They often said that such problems were the work of Lucifer and his demons, and on a few occasions they reported direct confrontations with the forces of the underworld. On their first mission in 1837, for example, Elders Kimball and Hyde had such a confrontation the night before their first convert baptisms. Wilford Woodruff also had such a confrontation, which he recorded in his diary, on October 17, 1840. The Prince of Darkness, he said, appeared to him, fought him, and nearly choked him to death until, in answer to a fervent prayer, three men in white appeared, prayed with him, and he was delivered from his trouble.

The dire poverty of many of the Saints and yet their eagerness to help in the work of the Lord tore at the heartstrings of the American apostles. In Staffordshire, for example, only a third of the 450 members of the Church were fully employed. Others worked only two or three days a week or had no work at all.

In some cases they had been laid off only because of their membership in the Church and many were suffering from lack of food. Yet they all did what they could to feed him, house him, and help in whatever way they could.

“Hard times for these people,” George A. Smith once wrote. “I pray daily for the Lord to gather them up and send them to Zion.”vii Brigham Young had similar concerns in Manchester. As he wrote to his wife: “The Brotherin and Sisters would pluck out their eyes for me if it ware ne[ce]ssary. They due all they can for my comfort. They feed me and give me close and monny. They wash my feet and wate upon me as they would a little child, and may the Lord bless them for it and he will.”viii However, such sacrifices from the Saints only served to strengthen the determination of the missionaries.

What follows is a brief summary of each of their activities during the year following the April conference and then a consideration of their overall accomplishments as a quorum.

Heber C. Kimball spent the next three months working among the Saints of Lancashire, where he had labored so effectively three years earlier. Working especially well with Joseph Fielding, he saw many more converts join the Church. He also saw the growth of a desire among the British Saints to emigrate to America, where they could live among the major body of the Saints.

On June 1, he and Brigham Young organized the first official company of Saints to emigrate. This was the beginning of what became known as the gathering, which would have momentous consequences for the Church.

Wilford Woodruff went back to Herefordshire, taking Brigham Young and Willard Richards with him because the potential harvest was so great. Elder Young did not remain there long, however, for on May 20, as the three of them prayed and meditated atop a hill known as the Herefordshire Beacon, they felt inspired of the Lord that he should go immediately to Manchester to take charge of publishing The Book of Mormon as well as a hymnal. Already some of the Saints had donated a substantial amount of money for that enterprise.

From that time on, as leader of the Twelve, he was so involved in publishing and other administrative duties that he had little time for much else.

In Herefordshire, meanwhile, converts continued to flow in and by mid-June, only four months after Elder Woodruff first arrived, the Church had grown to thirty-three congregations and 534 members.

John Taylor remained in Liverpool after the April conference, where he organized many of the new converts for missionary work and where baptisms came frequently. He also made a brief trip to Manchester, where he helped proofread The Book of Mormon and also select and arrange hymns for the new hymnal.

George A. Smith was assigned to Staffordshire, where he found abject poverty but also where his deep sensitivity and humility helped him immediately win the hearts of nearly everyone he met. Our next column will tell his remarkable story in greater detail.

Parley P. Pratt spent most of his time in Manchester, where he became editor of the Church’s first official periodical in England, The Latter-day Saints’ Millennial Star. The first edition came off the press on May 24.

Orson Pratt made his way to Edinburgh, Scotland, where at first he had only moderate success but where he spent most of the rest of the mission. There, however, he prepared for publication an important thirty-one page missionary pamphlet, Interesting Account of Several Remarkable Visions. Published late in September 1840, it included the first published account of Joseph Smith’s First Vision.

Elder Pratt fell in love with the magnificent city of Edinburgh. He often climbed to the top of Arthur’s Seat, a steep hill from which he had a marvelous view of the resplendent city and its surrounding countryside. There he contemplated the breathtaking view before him and “lifted my desires to heaven in behalf of the people of the city.”ix Since then Arthur’s Seat has been known as “Pratt’s Hill” among Latter-day Saints.

Modern view from Arthur's Seat, in Edinburgh, affectionately dubbed “Pratt’s Hill” by Latter-day Saints

By the time all the apostles except Orson Pratt met at a conference in Manchester during the first week of July, there were more than 2500 members of the Church in forty-one congregations in England and Scotland. At that point the mission presidency was released, which added to the responsibilities of the apostles by making them more directly involved in managing the affairs of the Church in the British Isles.

After the July conference, Parley P. Pratt returned briefly to America to get his family, for it was decided that he should stay in England for some time after the rest of his quorum left. Brigham Young and Willard Richards remained in Manchester, taking over Elder Pratt’s publication responsibilities, carrying out other administrative duties, and preaching as time permitted.

John Taylor returned to Liverpool then extended his missionary work to Ireland and, eventually, to the Isle of Man. He had minimal personal success in Ireland, but the missionaries he left there soon began harvesting a few more souls. On the Isle of Man he faced bitter challenges from ministers determined not to let the Latter-day Saints get a foothold there, but by the time he left in mid-November he had organized a branch of the Church.

Heber C. Kimball, Wilford Woodruff, and George A. Smith went to London where, during the first few weeks, they experienced perhaps the most discouraging period of the entire mission. They patiently walked the streets of England’s great capital city, visited churches, contacted individuals, preached at temperance meetings, and did whatever else they could to attract interest in their message. Their first baptism was finally performed in a public bath on August 31.

Elder Woodruff left London early in September, and by the time the other two left at the end of the month there were still only eleven members of the Church. Compared to their remarkable success elsewhere, such results were indeed meager. Rather than being discouraged, however, they were only impatient.

As Elder Woodruff wrote the day after the first baptism, “London is the hardest place I have ever visited for establishing the gospel. It is full of evry thing but righteousness, but we do not feel discouraged in the least. We are determined in the name of the Lord to set up the Standard of truth in this city & to seek out the honest in heart & the meek from among men & warn all as far as our power that the world may be left without excuse.”x

In Scotland, meanwhile, the work also went slowly for Orson Pratt, who began his labors there with a goal of gaining 200 converts in Edinburgh alone. By the time of the October conference, however, there were only 43 members in that city although, through the efforts of other missionaries, there were 193 in the Glasgow area.

Despite the discouragements, by the time six of the apostles met at the scheduled conference in Manchester on October 6, Church membership in the British Isles had grown to 3,636 — an increase of 44 percent in three months.

During the next six months, the apostles opened no new areas for missionary work but, rather, spent their time building up the Church in the areas where they had established it, carrying out administrative responsibilities, and strengthening the organization. Their leader, Brigham Young, spent most of his time in Liverpool and Manchester, the administrative and publishing centers for the Church in England. He had little time for personal proselytizing but was able to organize and direct the work of others.

In Manchester, for example, each Sunday morning he had priesthood holders scatter to various parts of the city, preach in the streets and then invite their listeners to the Church’s meetings in Carpenter’s Hall. There was, of course, heavy opposition, including efforts to stymie the Mormon street preachers.

On one Sunday morning in November, Elder Young felt impressed to tell the priesthood holders to return home instead of going out to preach. That day some twenty Methodist street preachers were arrested but when the police discovered that none were Mormons they were quickly released.

Also living in Manchester after the October conference were Parley P. Pratt, Willard Richards, and Heber C. Kimball. Most of Elder Pratt’s time was taken up with the important publication program of the Church, including the editorship of The Latter-day Saints’ Millennial Star. Elder Richards continued to do missionary work in the area, sometimes spending several days in nearby towns, but he was hampered by the continuing illness of his wife and newborn son.

At the end of November, Elders Young and Kimball went to London, to work with Elders Smith and Woodruff (who were already there), but he stayed only eleven days because of pressing duties back in Manchester and Liverpool. Among these duties was the indexing and publishing of The Book of Mormon, which he completed in January.

John Taylor spent most of the next six months in and around Liverpool, where he carried out an ambitious preaching schedule in that city’s Music Hall, said to be the largest and best hall in town. In addition, he worked closely with Brigham Young on Church publications and on organizing emigration. He also found time to visit Wales and other places, including a brief return to the Isle of Man, where he baptized more than a dozen people and left several others ready to join the Church.

After the October conference George A. Smith went directly back to London, and Wilford Woodruff followed him a week later. There, in a rented hall, they planned to hold preaching meetings each Sunday and give lectures each Tuesday and Thursday. That plan soon fell through, and the work continued to move slowly. At the same time, the London fog as well as pollution caused by the thick, black smoke from coal-burning stoves, fireplaces, and factories exacerbated Elder Smith’s already poor health to the degree that he was forced to leave early in November. He went back to Staffordshire, where he finished his mission.

Three weeks later, Elders Young and Kimball arrived, much to the relief of Wilford Woodruff as well as several people who were anxiously awaiting Elder Kimball’s return so he could baptize them. After Elder Young’s departure, Elders Woodruff and Kimball continued their difficult assignment in what must have been one of the most discouraging places to do missionary work. As the months went on, however, baptisms slowly increased and the missionaries became more optimistic.

On February 14, they organized the London Conference, consisting of a branch in London and three small branches in nearby towns. “This is a day I have long desired to see,” Wilford Woodruff wrote in his journal, “for we have laboured exceeding hard to established the work in this city, & in several instances it seemed as though we should have to give it up but by claiming the promises of God & holding on to the word of God, the rod of Iron we have been enabled to overcome, & plant a church & esstablish a conference which we are enabled through the grace of God to leave in a Prosperous Situation which has the appearance of great increase.”xi

President of the new London Conference was Elder Lorenzo Snow, a young missionary who had just arrived from America and who took over missionary work in London. The two apostles left before the end of the month.

Orson Pratt, meanwhile, continued in his determination to have 200 members of the Church in Edinburgh before his final departure. But there were stumbling blocks, including the highly intellectual milieu of Edinburgh in which there was polite but not serious curiosity and much skepticism, but not the intense opposition faced by his colleagues elsewhere.

Elder Pratt actually craved more opposition for only then, he felt, could he attract the kind of attention that would result in greater interest and, eventually, more converts. In December, after he and George D. Watt had been preaching in the streets whenever weather permitted, the opposition finally came from angry and fired-up pastors. A number of new converts were baptized in the icy waters of the North Sea. By the time he left Scotland at the end of March, Elder Pratt could report that the Church was doing well in Scotland and that there were 203 members in Edinburgh alone.

However, building up the Church in the British Isles was not enough. By early 1841, a new spirit began to arise among the British Saints: an almost overwhelming desire to gather with the Saints in Zion (America). Their hope to escape their poverty was one factor, of course, but it was much more than that for even those with means were anxious to emigrate and willing to help those who had no money. In May, 1840, for example, Heber C. Kimball was delighted to find that the Saints in Longton were preparing to leave as a group and commented on the “celestial spirit” displayed by the rich who “love the poor so well that they cant leave them behind.”xii

The gathering was formally launched in June 1840, with the emigration of a company of forty-one Saints led by John Moon, two months before the policy was officially announced by the First Presidency of the Church. Planning, organizing, and coordinating the emigration program, however, soon became a large and complex enterprise and Brigham Young, John Taylor, and Willard Richards did much of the work.

They tried to organize it in such a way that would encourage the rich to help the poor. They also tried to assure that there would be enough skilled workers and people with means to help build up Nauvoo and surrounding settlements in order to make way for the unskilled workers and those in poverty who would soon follow.

The apostles took the responsibility of contracting for ships and negotiating the cost of passage. Since most ships provided their passengers, especially those in steerage, nothing but water for the voyage, they also had to purchase food and other provisions.. They also organized each emigrant company as a church unit under the direction of a presidency which they had set apart, thus assuring that each company would cross the Atlantic in an orderly and efficient manner.

In addition, they coordinated by mail with the apostles in other places in order to bring together at just the right moment all the emigrants, money, supplies and ships. It was an intricate process that had profound implications for the future of the Church.

It was no easy matter for families to give up their homes, leave behind them nearly all their belongings, and travel to a strange new land, but they were remarkably willing and anxious to do so. It was as if a revelation given to Joseph Smith in 1836 was being literally fulfilled: “And whatsoever city thy servants shall enter, and the people of that city receive their testimony, let thy peace and thy salvation be upon that city; that they may gather out of that city the righteous, that they may come forth to Zion, or to her stakes, the places of thine appointment, with songs of everlasting joy (D&C 109:39).”

The apostles were prepared to stay in the British Isles as long as Joseph Smith wanted them there, even though most were desperately homesick and missed their families. In December 1840, however, the Prophet wrote a letter instructing them to hold a conference in the spring, ordain more missionaries, and then return to Nauvoo.

During the next three months they wound up their affairs wherever they were, usually with sadness on the part of the Saints they were leaving as well as on their own part, and on April 1, 1841, they converged in Manchester. They were joined by Orson Hyde, who was on his way to Palestine.

During the ensuing conference the membership tally showed a total of 5,864 members of the Church in the British Isles, a dramatic increase of more than 250 percent from the 1600 members Elders Woodruff and Taylor found when they arrived in England fifteen months earlier. This was in addition to nearly a thousand who had emigrated.

That week all nine apostles met together, happy with the work they had accomplished and unified as they had never been before. As Wilford Woodruff wrote in his journal: “To meet once more in council after a long separation and having passed through many sore and grieveous trials exposing our lives & our characters to the slander and violence of wicked & murderous men, caused our hearts to swell with gratitude to God for his providential care over us.” xiii

Seven of the nine apostles, along with a company of emigrating Saints, sailed for home on April 20, 1841. Parley P. Pratt remained, with his family, where he continued preaching, directing emigration, and supervising Church publications, and Orson Hyde continued on his way to Palestine. The seven arrived in New York a month later and then took various routes back to Nauvoo. Brigham Young arrived on July 1. Eight days later he was visited at home by Joseph Smith, who received the following revelation:

Dear and well-beloved brother, Brigham Young, verily thus saith the Lord unto you: My servant Brigham, it is no more required at your hand to leave your family as in times past, for your offering is acceptable to me.

I have seen your labor and toil in journeyings for my name.

I therefore command you to send my word abroad, and take especial care of your family from this time, henceforth and forever. Amen. (D&C 126:1-3)

Little did Heber C. Kimball realize, in 1837, how literal would be the fulfillment of Joseph Smith’s promise that the mission to the British Isles would contribute to the salvation of the Church. In the end, however, the consequences of the 1837-41 missions of the Twelve had just that effect.

For one thing, the apostles’ work in laying the foundation for the gathering and in organizing emigration had far-reaching consequences. Over 4600 arrived in Nauvoo before it was abandoned,xiv and before the end of the nineteenth century around 50,000 British Saints emigrated to America.xv This swelled the ranks of the Church in America just at the time it was needed most to help build up the main body of the Church, first in Nauvoo and then in Utah.

British immigrants also played a vital role in providing leadership. Many important leaders in the nineteenth and early twentieth century were British immigrants, including George Q. Cannon, John R. Winder, Charles W. Penrose, Charles W. Nibley, George Teasdale, James E. Talmage, Charles A. Callis, and B. H. Roberts. On the local level, 29 percent of all the bishops and presiding elders in the United States between 1848 and 1890 were born in the British Isles.xvi

Another vital contribution to the salvation of the Church was the foundation laid by the publishing activity of the Twelve in 1840-41. Brigham Young, Parley P. Pratt and John Taylor selected the hymns for the first Latter-day Saint European hymnal, published in Manchester in 1840. It included seventy-eight selections from the 1835 hymnal prepared by Emma Smith plus another 193 hymns, forty-four of which were written by Parley P. Pratt. It then became the basis for all other LDS hymnals published that century.

The British edition of The Book of Mormon, published in 1840, had an important influence on all subsequent editions. In 1842 Parley P. Pratt moved his publishing office to Liverpool, which soon became the center for LDS publishing and the Church publications supply depot for the world. It supplied missionary literature not only for missionaries in the British Isles and continental Europe, but also for those in the United States, Hawaii, Australia, India, and South Africa.

It was here, too, that the first edition of The Pearl of Great Price (canonized as one of the standard works of the Church in 1880) was published in 1851. The Latter-Day Saints’ Millennial Star, which first appeared in May 1840, became a tremendously important periodical because of the doctrinal and historical information that filled its pages and was distributed to Church members in many parts of the world. The longest-running periodical in the history of the Church, it did not cease publication until 1970. Without it, much of the history of the Church could not be written.

Great Britain became the base for the extension of missionary work to the rest of Europe and other parts of the world, including South Africa, India, Australia, and Asia. In addition, much of the Church literature taken by the missionaries to these distant places originated during the mission of the Twelve.

Beyond all this, one of the most important consequences of the 1840-41 mission was the impact it had on the Quorum of the Twelve itself and, as a result, the Church as an institution. First organized in 1835, through much of its short history the Quorum had been contentious, divided, and sometimes concerned about personal prerogative rather than united, humble service.

In addition, the Quorum had few administrative responsibilities beyond doing missionary work and setting in order the affairs of the Church outside the organized stakes. Nor did it seem capable of taking on heavy Church-wide responsibilities, despite the fact that an 1835 revelation declared them “equal in authority” to the First Presidency (D&C 107:24).

Under the leadership of Brigham Young, however, and because of the unusual challenges of the British mission, the eight apostles who fulfilled their assigned mission to the British Isles, along with Orson Hyde who fulfilled his mission to Palestine, became a remarkably humble, unified, and effective group of leaders.

Joseph Smith must have been deeply gratified when he received a letter from John Taylor, dated February 3, 1841, that said, in part, “I am happy to state that we have been united in our councils to the present time: that there has been no discordant feeling, nor jarring string.”xvii

As a result, after their return to Nauvoo the Quorum was given important new leadership responsibilities, sharing much of the ever-increasing leadership burden with Joseph Smith. For the first time they were given authority over fully organized stakes in the Church. The time had come, the Prophet told a special conference of the Church on 10 August 1841, that the Twelve should stand in their place next to the First Presidency.

From then on, Joseph Smith increasingly relied on the Twelve not only for administrative help, but also for advice and counsel. Further, the nine apostles who filled their foreign mission assignments were among the select group to whom the Prophet introduced the sacred temple ordinances before his death.

Then, in an extraordinary meeting in March 1844, in what has sometimes been called the “last charge,” Joseph Smith instructed the apostles that the burden of the Kingdom was about to roll onto their shoulders, and that they were to assume the burden of leadership should anything happen to him. They had the keys to the Kingdom.

All this, of course, had tremendous consequences for the future of the Church, for it was now more clear than ever before that it was the Quorum of the Twelve who should succeed in the leadership of the Church, that it could choose its own successors, and that it held all the keys and authority necessary to administer the affairs of the Church in all the world.

Significantly, only the nine apostles who fulfilled their foreign missions remained faithful to the Church. The other three (William Smith, John E. Page, and Lyman Wight) never caught the spirit of their assignment, and each of them soon left, or were excommunicated from, the Church. The 1837-41 missions of the Twelve did, indeed, contribute much to the salvation of the Church.


i. Heber C. Kimball, “Synopsis of the History of Heber C. Kimball,” Deseret News, 14 April 1858.

ii. Joseph Smith, Jr., History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, ed. B. H. Roberts (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1971) 2:489.

iii. See Garth N. Jones, “Who Came in Second?” Dialogue : A Journal of Mormon Thought 21 (Summer 1988):149 54.

iv. Willard Richards, Diary, LDS Church Archives, March 22, 1838.

v. The Latter-day Saints’ Millennial Star, v. 25 #45 (November 7, 1863), 712; Journal of Discourses 13:211-12.

vi. Richards, Diary, April 14, 1840.

vii. As quoted in Allen, et al., Men With a Mission, 227.

viii. Ibid., 207; spelling as in the original.

ix. Ibid., 164.

x. Ibid., 192.

xi. Ibid., 225-26.

xii. Ibid., 229.

xiii. Ibid., 300.

xiv. Richard L. Jensen, “Transplanted to Zion: the Impact of British Latter-day Saint Immigration upon Nauvoo,” BYU Studies 31 (Winter1991), 77-88.

xv. The most accurate statistics seem to be reported in Tim B. Heaton et al., “the Making of British Saints in Historical Perspective,” BYU Studies 97:2 (1987), 119-33.

xvi. See “Immigration and Emigration” in Encyclopedia of Mormonism, ed. Daniel H. Ludlow (New York: Macmillan, 1992).

xvii. As quoted in Allen, et al., Men With a Mission, 310.

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