Urim, Joseph Smith, Book of Abraham, King Follett, part 2. Polygamy and Apocalypse

The previous post (part 1) gives, more or less in facsimile, a letter from Howard Coray to one of his daughters, Martha Jane Lewis. Howard Coray converted to Mormonism in 1840. His account of meeting Henry Ward Beecher is instructive, it gives us some flavor both of Coray’s intellect and his independence in dealing with some of the religious hot-buttons of the time. Coray met and heard Joseph Smith preach at the April 1840 church conference in Nauvoo. He described this experience several times as pivotal for him.[1] The available reports for this conference are very brief and unremarkable, demonstrating again the unfortunate lack of information regarding much of Joseph Smith’s public instruction and remarks.

Coray’s wife had died several years previous to this letter (1881) and he was living at his son’s homestead in the Mormon colony of Sanford, Colorado when this letter was written.[2]

Martha Jane asked Howard several questions in her letter, one of which concerned her sister Mary who had married Orville Clark Roberts (no relation to B. H. Roberts). Roberts had a property dispute with some church leaders and was disaffected with Mormonism at the time. As Howard notes, Roberts had some other difficulties, which I will not discuss here.

The next question Martha asks her father concerns the crushing pressure that the federal government has placed on the church. The church had begun to wind down plural marriage and this caused Martha some soul searching about God’s support for the church – she was not alone in this – and similar feelings would eventually result in the establishment of outlaw polygamous groups after the “little manifesto.” Howard then proceeds with his own rather remarkable testimony of Joseph Smith and by extension the church and its current leadership at the time. I will discuss some of this material in part 3.

Finally, Martha asked her father about what had become a kind of underground belief in Mormonism. The belief stemmed from a statement made by Joseph Smith on several occasions regarding the answer to a prayer offered December 25, 1832. He repeated the gist of this revelation on a number of occasions, including February 14, 1835, April 2, 1843, April 6, 1843 and March 10, 1844. Joseph demonstrated an evolving view of this revelation (included in the Doctrine and Covenants at section 130:14-7). The March 10, 1844 sermon was given by Joseph Smith on the day of the funeral procession of King Follett and so makes the cut for being in the book. (However, there are other connections to Follett, blueprinted in part 3.) The relevant passage, from the report of James Burgess, reads

Revelation given through Joseph Smith in answer to a certain question Son of Man if you live until you are 85 years of age you shall see the face of the Son of Man and so long as you see the rainbow strethching across the heavens there will be seed time and harvest and the son of Man will not come that year.

Joseph Smith was born in the year


Burgess’ report and others like it came to mean to many Saints that the date 1890 (or 1891 depending on how the interpreter saw it) would be the date of the Parousia. This was especially true in the desperate circumstances of 1889. In a sense, the statements evolved into apocalyptic literature for the times. Hence, Howard’s reply concerning `91.

[1] In addition to his autobiography see Elizabeth Ann Anderson, “Howard and Martha Coray: Chroniclers of Joseph Smith’s words and life,” Journal of Mormon History 33/3 (2007): 83-113.

[2] Sanford is located near the New Mexico state line, roughly half-way between the eastern and western borders of Colorado.

4 Responses to Urim, Joseph Smith, Book of Abraham, King Follett, part 2. Polygamy and Apocalypse

  1. J. Stapley says:

    This is another great series, WVS. Thanks for taking us through this material.

  2. W. V. Smith says:

    Welcome J, and thanks.

  3. todrobbins says:

    WVS, how widespread have you found the belief in 1890/1 as a time of deliverance to the saints?

  4. W. V. Smith says:

    It was a fairly common speculation, I think. I believe someone wrote about this, but I cannot recall the author. I remember Max Parkin talking to me about this but that was a *long* time ago. Sorry I can’t be of much help. Burning the midnight oil at work tonight. It occurs to me that the A. H. Cannon journal might have something. Alexander’s book Mormonism in Transition might address this, I don’t recall now.

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