26083

Letter from Oliver Cowdery, 12 November 1830

directly to this place. On the fourth after attending a public meeting we came to the place where we had prophesied tarrying a few days. It is where several families had united themselves as a band of brethren and put all their property together determining to live separate from the world as much as possible,2

Known as “the Family” or “Morley’s Family,” this group of Sidney Rigdon’s followers lived communally on Isaac Morley’s farm in the township of Kirtland, Ohio, in an effort to replicate the New Testament ideal of having “all things common.” Of the Family’s origin, Lyman Wight wrote, “I went to Kirtland, about twenty miles, to see Bro. I[saac] Morley and—[Titus] Billings, after some conversation on the subject we entered into a covenant to make our interests one as anciently. In conformity to this covenant I moved the next February [1830] to Kirtland, into the house with Bro. Morley. We commenced our labors together with great peace and union. We were soon joined by eight other families. Our labors were united both in farming and mechanism, all of which was prosecuted with great vigor. We truly began to feel as if the millennium was close at hand.” (Acts 2:44; History of the Reorganized Church, 1:152–153; see also De Pillis, “Development of Mormon Communitarianism,” 58–62; and Backman, “Non-Mormon View of the Birth of Mormonism in Ohio,” 308.)  


and when we had returned we held a meeting with these brethren, and seventeen went immediately forward and were baptized

An ordinance in which an individual is immersed in water for the remission of sins. The Book of Mormon explained that those with necessary authority were to baptize individuals who had repented of their sins. Baptized individuals also received the gift of...

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, be [p. 208]
directly to this place. On the  fourth after attending <a public> meeting  we came to the place where  we had prophesied tarrying  a few days. It is where several  families had united them selves as a band of brethren  and put all their property  together determining to  live separate from the  world as much as possible,2

Known as “the Family” or “Morley’s Family,” this group of Sidney Rigdon’s followers lived communally on Isaac Morley’s farm in the township of Kirtland, Ohio, in an effort to replicate the New Testament ideal of having “all things common.” Of the Family’s origin, Lyman Wight wrote, “I went to Kirtland, about twenty miles, to see Bro. I[saac] Morley and—[Titus] Billings, after some conversation on the subject we entered into a covenant to make our interests one as anciently. In conformity to this covenant I moved the next February [1830] to Kirtland, into the house with Bro. Morley. We commenced our labors together with great peace and union. We were soon joined by eight other families. Our labors were united both in farming and mechanism, all of which was prosecuted with great vigor. We truly began to feel as if the millennium was close at hand.” (Acts 2:44; History of the Reorganized Church, 1:152–153; see also De Pillis, “Development of Mormon Communitarianism,” 58–62; and Backman, “Non-Mormon View of the Birth of Mormonism in Ohio,” 308.)  


 and when we had returned  we held a meeting with these  brethren, and seventeen  went immediately forward  and were baptized

An ordinance in which an individual is immersed in water for the remission of sins. The Book of Mormon explained that those with necessary authority were to baptize individuals who had repented of their sins. Baptized individuals also received the gift of...

View Glossary
, be [p. 208]
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Oliver Cowdery

3 Oct. 1806–3 Mar. 1850. Clerk, teacher, justice of the peace, lawyer, newspaper editor. Born at Wells, Rutland Co., Vermont. Son of William Cowdery and Rebecca Fuller. Raised Congregationalist. Moved to western New York and clerked at a store, ca. 1825–1828...

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sent this letter to his “brethren” in New York

Located in northeast region of U.S. Area settled by Dutch traders, 1620s; later governed by Britain, 1664–1776. Admitted to U.S. as state, 1788. Population in 1810 about 1,000,000; in 1820 about 1,400,000; in 1830 about 1,900,000; and in 1840 about 2,400,...

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two weeks after arriving in Kirtland

Located ten miles south of Lake Erie. Settled by 1811. Organized by 1818. Population in 1830 about 55 Latter-day Saints and 1,000 others; in 1838 about 2,000 Saints and 1,200 others; in 1839 about 100 Saints and 1,500 others. Mormon missionaries visited township...

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, Ohio, with his fellow missionaries en route to Missouri

Area acquired by U.S. in Louisiana Purchase, 1803, and established as territory, 1812. Missouri Compromise, 1820, admitted Missouri as slave state, 1821. Population in 1830 about 140,000; in 1836 about 240,000; and in 1840 about 380,000. Mormon missionaries...

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. The text of this letter was copied into another letter sent by JS and John Whitmer

27 Aug. 1802–11 July 1878. Farmer, stock raiser, newspaper editor. Born in Pennsylvania. Son of Peter Whitmer Sr. and Mary Musselman. Member of German Reformed Church, Fayette, Seneca Co., New York. Baptized by Oliver Cowdery, June 1829, most likely in Seneca...

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to members of the church living in Colesville

Area settled, beginning 1785. Formed from Windsor Township, Apr. 1821. Population in 1830 about 2,400. Villages within township included Harpursville, Nineveh, and Colesville. Susquehanna River ran through eastern portion of township. JS worked for Joseph...

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, New York.1 The letter from JS, including Cowdery’s communication, was then copied into Newel Knight

13 Sept. 1800–11 Jan. 1847. Miller, merchant. Born at Marlborough, Windham Co., Vermont. Son of Joseph Knight Sr. and Polly Peck. Moved to Jericho (later Bainbridge), Chenango Co., New York, ca. 1809. Moved to Windsor (later in Colesville), Broome Co., New...

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’s autobiography by an unknown scribe at a much later date, providing the only known surviving copy.
En route to the Indian territory in present-day eastern Kansas, one of the four missionaries, Parley P. Pratt

12 Apr. 1807–13 May 1857. Farmer, editor, publisher, teacher, school administrator, legislator, explorer, author. Born at Burlington, Otsego Co., New York. Son of Jared Pratt and Charity Dickinson. Traveled west with brother William to acquire land, 1823....

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, called on Sidney Rigdon

19 Feb. 1793–14 July 1876. Tanner, farmer, minister. Born at St. Clair, Allegheny Co., Pennsylvania. Son of William Rigdon and Nancy Gallaher. Joined United Baptists, ca. 1818. Preached at Warren, Trumbull Co., Ohio, and vicinity, 1819–1821. Married Phebe...

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, who was his “former friend and instructor, in the Reformed Baptist Society.”2

Pratt, Autobiography, 49.  


The letter below suggests that the group had planned before their arrival to stop briefly in the Kirtland

Located ten miles south of Lake Erie. Settled by 1811. Organized by 1818. Population in 1830 about 55 Latter-day Saints and 1,000 others; in 1838 about 2,000 Saints and 1,200 others; in 1839 about 100 Saints and 1,500 others. Mormon missionaries visited township...

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area and seek out Rigdon. The missionaries found Rigdon and many of his parishioners ready recipients of their message, and the letter describes their success.
For nearly a decade prior to meeting the missionaries, Rigdon

19 Feb. 1793–14 July 1876. Tanner, farmer, minister. Born at St. Clair, Allegheny Co., Pennsylvania. Son of William Rigdon and Nancy Gallaher. Joined United Baptists, ca. 1818. Preached at Warren, Trumbull Co., Ohio, and vicinity, 1819–1821. Married Phebe...

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was affiliated with Alexander Campbell

12 Sept. 1788–4 Mar. 1866. Teacher, minister, magazine publisher, college president. Born near Ballymena, Co. Antrim, Ireland. Son of Thomas Campbell and Jane Corneigle. Raised Presbyterian. Moved to Glasgow, Lanark, Scotland, 1808. Immigrated to Buffalo ...

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in a mutual quest to reclaim “the ancient order of things.”3

Campbell wrote, “A restoration of the ancient order of things is all that is necessary to the happiness and usefulness of christians. . . . [T]he thing proposed, is to bring the christianity and the church of the present day up to the standard of the New Testament.” (Alexander Campbell, “A Restoration of the Ancient Order of Things, No. I,” Christian Baptist, 7 Feb. 1825, 49; see also Rollmann, “Early Baptist Career of Sidney Rigdon,” 48–49.)  


Campbell and his colleagues were known for their teaching, based on Acts 2:38, that baptism, rather than being an “experience” of grace, was the divinely appointed means of receiving a “remission of sins.” Yet, as an early follower clarified, their call to reform Christianity “did not begin nor end in baptism

An ordinance in which an individual is immersed in water for the remission of sins. The Book of Mormon explained that those with necessary authority were to baptize individuals who had repented of their sins. Baptized individuals also received the gift of...

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. It saw as its end, and sought nothing less, than the de-organization of sect, and the re-organization of the saints . . . in the express terms and conditions divinely set forth in the Holy Scriptures.”4

Hayden, Early History of the Disciples in the Western Reserve, 67–70, 158.  


Many reformist congregations in northeastern Ohio

French explored area, 1669. British took possession following French and Indian War, 1763. Ceded to U.S., 1783. First permanent white settlement established, 1788. Northeastern portion maintained as part of Connecticut, 1786, and called Connecticut Western...

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eventually severed denominational ties and by the early 1830s reorganized under Campbell’s leadership as the “Disciples of Christ.”5

See Harrell, Quest for a Christian America, chap. 1; and Hayden, Early History of the Disciples in the Western Reserve.  


Not long before his reunion with Pratt

12 Apr. 1807–13 May 1857. Farmer, editor, publisher, teacher, school administrator, legislator, explorer, author. Born at Burlington, Otsego Co., New York. Son of Jared Pratt and Charity Dickinson. Traveled west with brother William to acquire land, 1823....

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, Sidney Rigdon

19 Feb. 1793–14 July 1876. Tanner, farmer, minister. Born at St. Clair, Allegheny Co., Pennsylvania. Son of William Rigdon and Nancy Gallaher. Joined United Baptists, ca. 1818. Preached at Warren, Trumbull Co., Ohio, and vicinity, 1819–1821. Married Phebe...

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parted theologically with Campbell

12 Sept. 1788–4 Mar. 1866. Teacher, minister, magazine publisher, college president. Born near Ballymena, Co. Antrim, Ireland. Son of Thomas Campbell and Jane Corneigle. Raised Presbyterian. Moved to Glasgow, Lanark, Scotland, 1808. Immigrated to Buffalo ...

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. (This occurred at a meeting where ministers of the Mahoning Association, a reform-minded branch of the Baptists of which Campbell and Rigdon had been key members, voted to dissolve.) The rift was caused by Campbell’s refusal to agree that a full restoration of biblical truth also included re-creation of communal conditions described in the book of Acts.6

See Hayden, Early History of the Disciples in the Western Reserve, 298–299; and De Pillis, “Development of Mormon Communitarianism,” 58–64; see also Acts 2:44; 4:32–35.  


About two months later Pratt and his associates arrived at Rigdon’s home proclaiming a restoration of ancient truth and divine authority. His prior commitment to Christian primitivism enabled Rigdon, as well as his followers, to listen closely to the missionaries. Later, an editorial in a Mormon newspaper looked back with gratitude on the Ohio

French explored area, 1669. British took possession following French and Indian War, 1763. Ceded to U.S., 1783. First permanent white settlement established, 1788. Northeastern portion maintained as part of Connecticut, 1786, and called Connecticut Western...

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converts’ connection to Campbell, affirming that their minds “were prepared for the work through the belief and reception of many of the principles propagated by [Alexander] Campbell . . . and we will even go further and acknowledge that the Lord permitted the propagation of those principles as a forerunner to the fulness of the gospel, though its advocates knew it not.”7

“Caswall’s Prophet of the Nineteenth Century,” LDS Millennial Star, Apr. 1843, 3:197.  


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