The First Converts At Kirtland

The four missionaries who had been sent to Ohio under Cowdery's

leadership arrived there in October, 1830. Rigdon left Kirtland

on his visit to Smith in New York State in the December

following, and in January, 1831, he returned to Ohio, taking

Smith with him.

The party who set out for Ohio, ostensibly to preach to the

Lamanites, consisted of Oliver Cowdery, Parley P. Pratt, Peter

Whitmer, Jr., and Ziba Peterson, the latter one of Smith's

original converts, who, it may be noted, was deprived of his land

and made to work for others a year later in Missouri, because of

offences against the church authorities. These men preached as

they journeyed, making a brief stop at Buffalo to instruct the

Indians there. On reaching Ohio, Pratt's acquaintance with

Rigdon's Disciples gave him an opportunity to bring the new Bible

to the attention of many people. The character of the Smiths was

quite unknown to the pioneer settlers, and the story of the

miraculously delivered Bible filled many of them with wonder

rather than with unbelief.

The missionaries began the work of organizing a church at once.

Some members of Rigdon's congregation had already formed a

"common stock society," and were believers in a speedy

millennium, and to these the word brought by the new-comers was

especially welcome. Cowdery baptized seventeen persons into the

new church. Rigdon at the start denied his right to do this, and,

in a debate between him and the missionaries which followed at

Rigdon's house, Rigdon quoted Scripture to prove that, even if

they had seen an angel, as they declared, it might have been

Satan transformed. Cowdery asked if he thought that, in response

to a prayer that God would show him an angel, the Heavenly Father

would suffer Satan to deceive him. Rigdon replied that if Cowdery

made such a request of the Heavenly Father "when He has never

promised you such a thing, if the devil never had an opportunity

of deceiving you before, you give him one now."* But after a

brief study of the new book, Rigdon announced that he, too, had

had a "revelation," declaring to him that Mormonism was to be

believed. He saw in a vision all the orders of professing

Christians pass before him, and all were "as corrupt as

corruption itself," while the heart of the man who brought him

the book was "as pure as an angel."

* "It seemed to be a part of Rigdon's plan to make such a fight

that, when he did surrender, the triumph of the cause that had

defeated him would be all the more complete."--Kennedy, "Early

Days of Mormonism."

The announcement of Rigdon's conversation gave Mormonism an

advertisement and a support that had a wide effect, and it

alarmed the orthodox of that part of the country as they had

never been alarmed before. Referring to it, Hayden says, "The

force of this shock was like an earthquake when Symonds Ryder,

Ezra Booth, and many others submitted to the 'New Dispensation.'"

Largely through his influence, the Mormon church at Kirtland soon

numbered more than one hundred members.

During all that autumn and early winter crowds went to Kirtland

to learn about the new religion. On Sundays the roads would be

thronged with people, some in whatever vehicles they owned, some

on horseback, and some on foot, all pressing forward to hear the

expounders of the new Gospel and to learn the particulars of the

new Bible. Pioneers in a country where there was little to give

variety to their lives, they were easily influenced by any

religious excitement, and the announcement of a new Bible and

prophet was certain to arouse their liveliest interest. They had,

indeed, inherited a tendency to religious enthusiasm, so recently

had their parents gone through the excitements of the early days

of Methodism, or of the great revivals of the new West at the

beginning of the century, when (to quote one of the descriptions

given by Henry Howe) more than twenty thousand persons assembled

in one vast encampment, "hundreds of immortal beings moving to

and fro, some preaching, some praying for mercy, others praising

God. Such was the eagerness of the people to attend, that entire

neighborhoods were forsaken, and the roads literally crowded by

those pressing forward on their way to the groves."* Any new

religious leader could then make his influence felt on the

Western border: Dylkes, the "Leatherwood God," had found it

necessary only to announce himself as the real Messiah at an Ohio

campmeeting, in 1828, to build up a sect on that assumption.

Freewill Baptists, Winebrennerians, Disciples, Shakers, and

Universalists were urging their doctrines and confusing the minds

of even the thoughtful with their conflicting views. We have seen

to what beliefs the preaching of the Disciples' evangelists had

led the people of the Western Reserve, and it did not really

require a much broader exercise of faith (or credulity) to accept

the appearance of a new prophet with a new Bible.

* "Historical Collections of the Great West."

While the main body of converts was made up of persons easily

susceptible to religious excitement, and accustomed to have their

opinions on such subjects formed for them, men of education and

more or less training in theology were found among the early

adherents to the new belief. It is interesting to see how the

minds of such men were influenced, and this we are enabled to do

from personal experiences related by some of them.

One of these, John Corrill, a man of intelligence, who stayed

with the church until it was driven out of Missouri, then became

a member of the Missouri Legislature, and wrote a brief history

of the church to the year 1839, in this pamphlet answered very

clearly the question often asked by his friends, "How did you

come to join the Mormons?" A copy of the new Bible was given to

him by Cowdery when the missionaries, on their Western trip,

passed through Ashtabula County, Ohio, where he lived. A brief

reading convinced him that it was a mere money-making scheme, and

when he learned that they had stopped at Kirtland, he did not

entertain a doubt, that, under Rigdon's criticism, the

pretensions of the missionaries would be at once laid bare. When,

on the contrary, word came that Rigdon and the majority of his

society had accepted the new faith, Corrill asked himself: "What

does this mean? Are Elder Rigdon and these men such fools as to

be duped by these impostors?" After talking the matter over with

a neighbor, he decided to visit Kirtland, hoping to bring Rigdon

home with him, with the idea that he might be saved from the

imposition if he could be taken from the influence of the

impostors. But before he reached Kirtland, Corrill heard of

Rigdon's baptism into the new church. Finding Kirtland in a state

of great religious excitement, he sought discussions with the

leaders of the new movement, but not always successfully.

Corrill started home with a "heart full of serious reflections."

Were not the people of Berea nobler than the people of

Thessalonica because "they searched the Scriptures daily; whether

these things were so?" Might he not be fighting against God in

his disbelief? He spent two or three weeks reading the Mormon

Bible; investigated the bad reports of the new sect that reached

him and found them without foundation; went back to Kirtland, and

there convinced himself that the laying on of hands and "speaking

with tongues" were inspired by some supernatural agency; admitted

to himself that, accepting the words of Peter (Acts ii. 17-20),

it was "just as consistent to look for prophets in this age as in

any other." Smith seemed to have been a bad man, but was not

Moses a fugitive from justice, as the murderer of a man whose

body he had hidden in the sand, when God called him as a prophet?

The story of the long hiding and final delivery of the golden

plates to Smith taxed his credulity; but on rereading the

Scriptures he found that books are referred to therein which they

do not contain--Book of Nathan the Prophet, Book of Gad the Seer,

Book of Shemaiah the Prophet, and Book of Iddo the Seer (1 Chron.

xxix. 29; 2 Chron. ix. 29 and xii. 15). This convinced him that

the Scriptures were not complete. Daniel and John were commanded

to seal the Book. David declared (Psalms xxxv.) "that truth shall

spring out of the earth," and from the earth Smith took the

plates; and Ezekiel (xxxvii. 15-21) foretold the existence of two

records, by means of which there shall be a gathering together of

the children of Israel. It finally seemed to Corrill that the

Mormon Bible corresponded with the record of Joseph referred to

by Ezekiel, the Holy Bible being the record of Judah.

Not fully satisfied, he finally decided, however, to join the new

church, with a mental reservation that he would leave it if he

ever found it to be a deception. Explaining his reasons for

leaving it when he did, he says, "I can see nothing that

convinces me that God has been our leader; calculation after

calculation has failed, and plan after plan has been overthrown,

and our prophet seemed not to know the event till too late."

The two other most prominent converts to the new church in Ohio

were the Rev. Ezra Booth, a Methodist preacher of more than

ordinary culture, of Mantua, and Symonds Ryder, a native of

Vermont, whom Alexander Campbell had converted to the Disciples'

belief in 1828, and who occupied the pulpit at Hiram when called

on. Booth visited Smith in 1831, with some members of his own

congregation, and was so impressed by the miraculous curing of

the lame arm of a woman of his party by Smith, that he soon gave

in his allegiance. Ryder had always found one thing lacking in

the Disciples' theology--he looked for some actual "gift of the

Holy Spirit" in the way of "signs" that were to follow them that

believed. He was eventually induced to announce his conversion to

the new church after "he read in a newspaper, an account of the

destruction of Pekin in China, and remembered that, six weeks

before, a young Mormon girl had predicted the destruction of that

city. "This statement was made in the sermon preached at his

funeral. Both of these men confessed their mistake four months

later, after Booth had returned from a trip to Missouri with


Among the ignorant, even the most extravagant of the claims of

the Mormon leaders had influence. One man, when he heard an elder

in the midst of a sermon "speak with tongues," in a language he

had never heard before, "felt a sudden thrill from the back of

his head down his backbone," and was converted on the spot. John

D. Lee, of Catholic education, was convinced by an elder that the

end of the world was near, and sold his property in Illinois for

what it would bring, and moved to Far West, in order to be in the

right place when the last day dawned. Lorenzo Snow, the recent

President of the church, says that he was "thoroughly convinced

that obedience to those [the Mormon] prophets would impart

miraculous powers, manifestations, and revelations," the first

manifestation of which occurred some weeks later, when he heard a

sound over his head "like the rustling of silken robes, and the

spirit of God descended upon me."*

* Biography of Snow, by his sister Eliza.

The arguments that control men's religious opinions are too

varied even for classification. In a case like Mormonism they

range from the really conscientious study of a Corrill to the

whim of the Paumotuan, of whom Stevenson heard in the South Seas,

who turned Mormon when his wife died, after being a pillar of the

Catholic church for fifteen years, on the ground that "that must

be a poor religion that could not save a man his wife." Any

person who will examine those early defences of the Mormon faith,

Parley P. Pratt's "A Voice of Warning," and Orson Pratt's "Divine

Authenticity of the Book of Mormon," will find what use can be

made of an insistence on the literal acceptance of the Scriptures

in defending such a sect as theirs, especially with persons whose

knowledge of the Scriptures is much less than their reverence for


Professor J. B. Turner,* writing in 1842, when the early

teachings of Mormonism had just had their effect in what is now

styled the middle West, observed that these teachings had made

more infidels than Mormon converts. This is accounted for by the

fact that persons who attempted to follow the Mormon argument by

studying the Scriptures, found their previous interpretation of

parts of the Holy Bible overturned, and the whole book placed

under a cloud. W. J. Stillman mentions a similar effect in the

case of Ruskin. When they were in Switzerland, Ruskin would do no

painting on Sunday, while Stillman regarded the sanctity of the

first day of the week as a "theological fiction." In a discussion

of the subject between them, Stillman established to Ruskin's

satisfaction that there was no Scriptural authority for

transferring the day of rest from the seventh to the first day of

the week." The creed had so bound him to the letter, "says

Stillman, "that the least enlargement of the stricture broke it,

and he rejected, not only the tradition of the Sunday Sabbath,

but the whole of the ecclesiastical interpretation of the texts.

He said, 'If they have deceived me in this, they have probably

deceived me in all.'" The Mormons soon learned that it was more

profitable for them to seek converts among those who would accept

without reasoning.

* "Mormonism in all Ages."

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