The Story of the Mormons, from the Date of Their Origin to the Year 1901

Author: William Alexander Linn

Chapter XII. Organization of the Church

The director of the steps taken to announce to the world a new Bible and a new church realized, of course, that there must be priests, under some name, to receive members and to dispense its blessing. No person openly connected with Smith in the work of translation had been a clergyman. Accordingly, on May 15, 1829 (still following the prophet’s own account), while Smith and Cowdery were yet busy with the work of translation, they went into the woods to ask the Lord for fuller information about the baptism mentioned in the plates. There a messenger from heaven, who, it was learned, was John the Baptist, appeared to them in a cloud of light, "and having laid his hands on us, he ordained us, saying unto us, ’Upon you, my fellow servants, in the name of Messiah, I confer the priesthood of Aaron, which holds the keys of the ministering angels, and of the Gospel of repentance, and of baptism by immersion for the remission of sins.’" The messenger also informed them that "the power of laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost" would be conferred on them later, through Peter, James, and John, "who held the keys of the priesthood of Melchisedec"; but he directed Smith to baptize Cowdery, and Cowdery then to perform the same office for Smith. This they did at once, and as soon as Cowdery came out of the water he "stood up and prophesied many things" (which the prophet prudently omitted to record). The divine authority thus conferred, according to Orson Pratt, exceeds that of the bishops of the Roman church, because it came direct from heaven, and not through a succession of popes and bishops.*

* Orson Pratt, in his "Questions and Answers on Doctrine" in his Washington newspaper, the Seer (p. 205), thus defined the Mormon view of the Roman Catholic church:—

Q."Is the Roman Catholic Church the Church of Christ?" A."No, for she has no inspired priesthood or officers."

Q."After the Church of Christ fled from earth to heaven what was left?" A."A set of wicked apostates, murderers and idolaters," etc.

Q."Who founded the Roman Catholic Church?" A."The devil, through the medium of the apostates, who subverted the whole order of God by denying immediate revelation, and substituting in place thereof tradition and ancient revelations as a sufficient rule of faith and practice."

Smith and Cowdery at once began telling of the power conferred upon them, and giving their relatives and friends an opportunity to become members of the new church. Smith’s brother Samuel was the first convert won over, Cowdery baptizing him. His brother Hyrum came next,* and then one J. Knight, Sr., of Colesville, New York.** Each new convert was made the subject of a "revelation," each of which began, "A great and marvelous work is about to come forth among the children of men." Hyrum Smith, and David and Peter Whitmer, Jr., were baptized in Seneca Lake in June, and "from this time forth," says Smith, "many became believers and were baptized, while we continued to instruct and persuade as many as applied for information."

* Hyrum wanted to start in to preach at once, and a "revelation" was necessary to inform him: "You need not suppose you are called to preach until you are called.... Keep my commandments; hold your peace" (Sec.11).

** Colesville is the township in Broome County of which Harpursville is the voting place. Smith organized his converts there about two miles north of Harpursville.

By April 6, 1830, branches of the new church had been established at Fayette, Manchester, and Colesville, New York, with some seventy members in all, it has been stated. Section 20 of the "Doctrine and Covenants" names April 6, 1830, as the date on which the church was "regularly organized and established, agreeable to the laws of our country." This date has been incorrectly given as that on which the first step was taken to form a church organization. What was done then was to organize in a form which, they hoped, would give the church a standing as a legal body.* The meeting was held at the house of Peter Whitmer. Smith, who, it was revealed, should be the first elder, ordained Cowdery, and Cowdery subsequently ordained Smith. The sacrament was then administered, and the new elders laid their hands on the others present.

* Whitmer’s "Address to Believers in the Book of Mormon."

"The revelation" (Sec. 20) on the form of church government is dated April, 1830, at least six months before Rigdon’s name was first associated with the scheme by the visit of Cowdery and his companions to Ohio. If the date is correct, it shows that Rigdon had forwarded this "revelation" to Smith for promulgation, for Rigdon was unquestionably the originator of the system of church government. David Whitmer has explained, "Rigdon would expound the Old Testament Scriptures of the Bible and Book of Mormon, in his way, to Joseph, concerning the priesthood, high priests, etc., and would persuade Brother Joseph to inquire of the Lord about this doctrine and about that doctrine, and of course a revelation would always come just as they desired it."*

* Whitmer’s "Address to Believers in the Book of Mormon."

The "revelation" now announced defined the duty of elders, priests, teachers, deacons, and members of the Church of Christ. An apostle was an elder, and it was his calling to baptize, ordain, administer the sacrament, confirm, preach, and take the lead in all meetings. A priest’s duty was to preach, baptize, administer the sacrament, and visit members at their houses. Teachers and deacons could not baptize, administer the sacrament, or lay on hands, but were to preach and invite all to join the church. The elders were directed to meet in conference once in three months, and there was to be a High Council, or general conference of the church, by which should be ordained every President of the high priesthood, bishop, high counsellor, and high priest.

Smith’s leadership had, before this, begun to manifest itself. He had, in a generous mood, originally intended to share with others the honor of receiving "revelations," the first of these in the "Book of Doctrine and Covenants," saying, "I the Lord also gave commandments to others, that they should proclaim these things to the world." In the original publication of these "revelations," under the title "Book of Commandments," we find such headings as, "A revelation given to Oliver," "A revelation given to Hyrum," etc. These headings are all changed in the modern edition to read, "Given through Joseph the Seer," etc.

Cowdery was the first of his associates to seek an open share in the divine work. Smith was so pleased with his new scribe when they first met at Harmony, Pennsylvania, that he at once received a "revelation" which incited Cowdery to ask for a division of power. Cowdery was told (Sec. 6), "And behold, I grant unto you a gift, if you desire of me, to translate even as my servant Joseph. "Cowdery’s desire manifested itself immediately, and Joseph almost as quickly became conscious that he had committed himself too soon. Accordingly, in another "revelation," dated the same month of April, 1829 (Sec. 8), he attempted to cajole Oliver by telling him about a "gift of Aaron" which he possessed, and which was a remarkable gift in itself, adding, "Do not ask for that which you ought not." But Cowdery naturally clung to his promised gift, and kept on asking, and he had to be told right away in still another "revelation" (Sec. 9), that he had not understood, but that he must not murmur, since his work was to write for Joseph. If he was in doubt about a subject, he was advised to "study it out in your mind"; and if it was right, the Lord promised, "I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you"; but if it was not right, "you shall have a stupor of thought, that shall cause you to forget the thing which is wrong." To assist him until he became accustomed to discriminate between this burning feeling and this stupor, the Lord told him very plainly, "It is not expedient that you should translate now." That all this rankled in Cowdery’s heart was shown by his attempt to revise one of Smith’s "revelations," and the support he gave to Hiram Page’s "gazing."

Cowdery continued to annoy the prophet, and Smith decided to get rid of him. Accordingly in July, 1830, came a "revelation," originally announced as given direct to Joseph’s wife Emma, instructing her to act as her husband’s scribe, "that I may send my servant Oliver Cowdery whithersoever I will." This occurred on a trip the Smiths had made to Harmony. On their return to Fayette, Smith found Cowdery still persistent, and he accordingly gave out a "revelation" to him, telling him again that he must not "write by way of commandment," inasmuch as Smith was at the head of the church, and directing him to "go unto the Lamanites (Indians) and preach my Gospel unto them." This was the first mention of the westward movement of the church which shaped all its later history.

A "revelation" in June, 1829 (Sec. 18), had directed the appointment of the twelve apostles, whom Cowdery and David Whitmer were to select. The organized members now began to inquire who was their leader, and Smith, in a "revelation" dated April 6, 1830 (Sec. 21), addressed to himself, announced: "Behold there shall be a record kept among you, and in it thou shalt be called a seer, a translator, a prophet, an apostle of Jesus Christ, an elder of the church through the will of God the Father, and the grace of your Lord Jesus Christ"; and the church was directed in these words, "For his word ye shall receive, as if from mine own mouth, in all patience and faith." Thus was established an authority which Smith defended until the day of his death, and before which all who questioned it went down.

Some of the few persons who at this time expressed a willingness to join the new church showed a repugnance to being baptized at his hands, and pleaded previous baptism as an excuse for evading it. But Smith’s tyrannical power manifested itself at once, and he straightway announced a "revelation" (Sec. 22), in which the Lord declared, "All old covenants have I caused to be done away in this thing, and this is a new and everlasting covenant, even that which was from the beginning."

Five days after the formal organization, the first sermon to the Mormon church was preached in the Whitmer house by Oliver Cowdery, Smith probably concluding that it would be wiser to confine himself to the receipt of "revelations" rather than to essay pulpit oratory too soon. Six additional persons were then baptized. Soon after this the first Mormon miracle was performed—the casting out of a devil from a young man named, Newel Knight.

The first conference of the organized church was held at Fayette, New York, in June, 1830, with about thirty members present. In recent "revelations" the prophet had informed his father and his brothers Hyrum and Samuel that their calling was "to exhortation and to strengthen the church," so that they were provided for in the new fold.

The region in New York State where the Smiths had lived and were well known was not favorable ground for their labors as church officers, conducting baptisms and administering the sacrament. When they dammed a small stream in order to secure a pool for an announced baptism, the dam was destroyed during the night. A Presbyterian sister-in-law of Knight, from whom a devil had been cast, announced her conversion to Smith’s church, and, when she would not listen to the persuasions of her pastor, the latter obtained legal authority from her parents and carried her away by force. She succeeded, however, in securing the wished-for baptism. All this stirred up public feeling against Smith, and he was arrested on a charge of disorderly conduct.

At the trial testimony was offered to show that he had obtained a horse and a yoke of oxen from his dupes, on the statement that a "revelation" had informed him that he was to have them, and that he had behaved improperly toward the daughters of one of these men. But the parties interested all testified in his favor, and the prosecution failed. He was immediately rearrested on a warrant and removed to Colesville, amid the jeers of the people in attendance. Knight was subpoenaed to tell about the miracle performed on him, and Smith’s old character of a money-digger was ventilated; but the court found nothing on which to hold him. Mormon writers have dilated on these "persecutions", but the outcome of the hearings indicated fair treatment of the accused by the arbiters of the law, and the indignation shown toward him and his associates by their neighbors was not greater than the conduct of such men in assuming priestly rights might evoke in any similar community.

Smith returned to his home in Pennsylvania after this, and endeavored to secure the cooperation of his father-in-law in his church plans, but without avail. It was four years later that Mr. Hale put on record his opinion of his son-in-law already quoted. Failing to find other support in Harmony, and perceiving much public feeling against him, Smith prepared for his return to New York by receiving a "revelation" (Sec.20) which directed him to return to the churches organized in that state after he had sold his crops. "They shall support thee", declared the "revelation"; but if they receive thee not I shall send upon them a cursing instead of a blessing". For Smith’s protection the Lord further declared: "Whosoever shall lay their hand upon you by violence ye shall command to be smitten in my name, and behold, I will smite them according to your words, IN MINE OWN DUE TIME. And whosoever shall go to law with thee shall be cursed by the law." This threat, it will be noted, was safeguarded by not requiring immediate fulfillment.

Smith returned to Fayette in September, and continued church work thereabouts in company with his brothers and John and David Whitmer.

Meanwhile Parley P. Pratt had made his visit to Palmyra and returned to Ohio, and in the early winter Rigdon set out to make his first open visit to Smith, arriving in December. Martin Harris, on the ground that Rigdon was a regularly authorized clergyman, tried to obtain the use of one of the churches of the town for him, but had to content himself with the third-story hall of the Young Men’s Association. There Rigdon preached a sermon to a small audience, principally of non-Mormons, annoucing himself as a "messenger of God". The audience regarded the sermon as blasphemous, and no further attempt was made to secure this room for Mormon meetings. Rigdon, however, while in conference with Smith, preached and baptized the neighborhood, and Smith and Harris tried their powers as preachers in barns and under a tree in the open air.

A well-authenticated story of the manner in which one of the Palmyra Mormons received his call to preach is told by Tucker* and verified by the principal actor. Among the first baptized in New York State were Calvin Stoddard and his wife (Smith’s sister) of Macedon. Stoddard told his neighbors of wonderful things he had seen in the sky, and about his duty to preach. One night, Steven S. Harding, a young man who was visiting the place, went with a companion to Stoddard’s house, and awakening him with knocks on the door, proclaimed in measured tones that the angel of the Lord commanded him to "go forth among the people and preach the Gospel of Nephi." Then they ran home and went to bed. Stoddard took the call in all earnestness, and went about the next day repeating to his neighbors the words of the "celestial messenger," describing the roaring thunder and the musical sounds of the angel’s wings that accompanied the words. Young Harding, who participated in this joke, became Governor of Utah in 1862, and incurred the bitter enmity of Brigham Yound and the church by denouncing polygamy, and asserting his own civil authority.**

* "Origin, Rise and Progress of Mormonism," pp. 80, 285

**Stoddard and Smith had a quarrel over a lot in Kirtland in 1835, and Smith knocked down his brother-in-law and was indicted for assault and battery, but was acquitted on the ground of self-defence.

AS a result of Smith’s and Rigdon’s conferences came a "revelation" to them both (Sec. 35), delivered as in the name of Jesus Christ, defining somewhat Rigdon’s position. How nearly it met his demands cannot be learned, but it certainly granted him no more authority than Smith was willing to concede. It told him that he should do great things, conferring the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands, as did the apostles of old, and promising to show miracles, signs, and wonders unto all believers. He was told that Joseph had received the "keys of the mysteries of those things that have been sealed," and was directed to "watch over him that his faith fail not." This "revelation" ordered the retranslation of the Scriptures.

The most important result of Rigdon’s visit to Smith was a decision to move the church to Ohio. This decision was promulgated in the form of "revelations" dated December, 1830, and January, 1831, which set forth (Secs. 37, 38):—

"And that ye might escape the power of the enemy, and be gathered unto me a righteous people, without spot and blameless:

"Wherefore, for this cause I give unto you the commandment that ye should go to the Ohio; and there I will give unto you my law; and there you shall be endowed with power from on high; and from thence whomsoever I will shall go forth among all nations, and it shall be told them what they shall do; for I have a great work laid up in store, for Israel shall be saved.... And they that have farms that cannot be sold, let them be left or rented as seemeth them good."

A sufficient reason for the removal was the failure to secure converts where Smith was known, and the ready acceptance of the new belief among Rigdon’s Ohio people. The Rev. Dr. Clark says, "You might as well go down in the crater of Vesuvius and attempt to build an icehouse amid its molten and boiling lava, as to convince any inhabitant in either of these towns [Palmyra or Manchester] that Joe Smith’s pretensions are not the most gross and egregious falsehood."*

* "Gleanings by the Way."

The Rev. Jesse Townsend of Palmyra, in a reply to a letter of inquiry about the Mormons, dated December 24, 1833 (quoted in full by Tucker), says: "All the Mormons have left this part of the state, and so palpable is their imposture that nothing is here said or thought of the subject, except when inquiries from abroad are occasionally made concerning them. I know of no one now living in this section of the country that ever gave them credence."


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Chicago: William Alexander Linn, "Chapter XII. Organization of the Church," The Story of the Mormons, from the Date of Their Origin to the Year 1901 in The Story of the Mormons, from the Date of Their Origin to the Year 1901 Original Sources, accessed February 27, 2024,

MLA: Linn, William Alexander. "Chapter XII. Organization of the Church." The Story of the Mormons, from the Date of Their Origin to the Year 1901, in The Story of the Mormons, from the Date of Their Origin to the Year 1901, Original Sources. 27 Feb. 2024.

Harvard: Linn, WA, 'Chapter XII. Organization of the Church' in The Story of the Mormons, from the Date of Their Origin to the Year 1901. cited in , The Story of the Mormons, from the Date of Their Origin to the Year 1901. Original Sources, retrieved 27 February 2024, from