Rare Church Document from the Church’s Early Days in England Discovered
Contributed By Ryan Morgenegg, Church News staff writer
- A recently unearthed copy of the 1840 conference report was found in the possession of Wilford Woodruff’s descendants.
- The conference marked the beginning of an explosion of growth in England.
“The report is important because of the meeting and conference associated with it, in which a number of significant historical items were discussed, adopted, and announced.” —Ron Fox, photo historian
Recently, a well-preserved copy of the Church’s 1840 conference report was found in the possession of the descendants of the Wilford Woodruff family and acquired by Anthony Christensen of Anthony’s Antiques and Fine Art. The report indicates the original owner was Wilford Woodruff.
“The report is important because of the meeting and conference associated with it, in which a number of significant historical items were discussed, adopted, and announced,” said photo historian Ron Fox.
One hundred and seventy-five years ago, in Preston, Lancashire, England, the remaining six members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles arrived on April 6, 1840, and met up with other Apostles who were already laboring in Great Britain for a quorum meeting and Church conference.
Missionary activities in England had been ongoing since July of 1837, but the work would soon explode. On July 8, 1838, Joseph Smith received a revelation that the Quorum of the Twelve should go to England: “And next spring let them depart to go over the great waters, and there promulgate my gospel, the fulness thereof, and bear record of my name” (D&C 118:4).
The book Missions of the Twelve to the British Isles by David J. Whittaker and James R. Moss describes the situation of the leaders of the Church at the time of the conference. During 1838 and 1839, several members of the Quorum of the Twelve were excommunicated for apostasy, including the President of the Quorum, Thomas B. Marsh. After traveling to England, the first council meeting of the Quorum of the Twelve in Great Britain was held in Preston on April 14, 1840, at the home of Willard Richards, who was ordained as an Apostle at that meeting.
An article on ChurchofJesusChrist.org that was adapted from Elder Richard L. Evans’s bookA Century of Mormonism in Great Britain, published in 1937, states that at this meeting, Elder Brigham Young was unanimously sustained as President of the Quorum of the Twelve. The historical conference report supports these events.
The conference report also indicates that a general conference of all the Saints in the British Isles was held in Preston the following day, on April 15. Some of the things decided at the meeting were the production of a hymnbook, which hadn’t been done since Emma Smith had been tasked with creating a collection in 1835. This action was to be under the supervision of the Quorum of the Twelve, and a committee of Brigham Young, Parley P. Pratt, and John Taylor was assigned to assemble the hymns. This 1840 hymnbook was used into the 20th century.
Another thing decided upon at the conference, according to the report, was the production of the long-running monthly publication for members of the Church that would be given the name Millennial Star. The actual name of the publication wasn’t decided upon until the next day, April 16, and Parley P. Pratt was approved as editor. The Millennial Star wouldn’t cease publication until 1970, a 130-year run.
Additional things discovered in the rare conference report were the approval of the Doctrine and Covenants to be copy written and then printed and the selection of a Church patriarch to serve in England. Peter Melling was ordained patriarch the following day.
After the conference, the Apostles met again, then disbursed to go and preach the gospel. The conference report was written by William Clayton, and the meeting was conducted by Heber C. Kimball. The week of April 12–18 this year marks the 175th anniversary of the report and the 1840 conference.
It’s interesting to note that Wilford Woodruff wrote in his journal that on the day of the conference there were 1,671 Saints, 34 elders, 52 priests, 38 teachers, and eight deacons for a total of 132 holding a priesthood office.
“From 1839 to 1841, nine members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles labored in Britain and added another 4,000 converts to the Church,” states the book Missions of the Twelve to the British Isles. “These missions were extremely important. In a relatively short time, the Twelve Apostles established the foundation for the most successful missionary program of the Church in the nineteenth century, organized an extensive emigration program, and established a major publication program. In these activities, they also shared experiences that welded them together as a quorum.
“The spiritual and administrative dimensions of these missionary experiences prepared the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles to assume their key role in the leadership of the Church following their return to Nauvoo, and especially after the death of the Prophet Joseph Smith in 1844.”
Without the missionary efforts of the Quorum of the Twelve in England at this time, the history of the Church would be much different. Thousands of new English converts energized the Church and eventually settled in Utah.
According to a 2013 article showing the ancestry of every U.S. state, the dailymail.co.uk says of English Americans, “They are based predominantly in the northeast of the country in New England and in Utah, where the majority of Mormon immigrants moved in the middle 19th century.”
A quote by Brigham Young written in 1841 and found in the book A Century of Mormonism in Great Britain sums up the great work that occurred in England: “We landed in the spring of 1840, as strangers in a strange land and penniless, but through the mercy of God we have gained many friends, established churches in almost every noted town and city in the kingdom of Great Britain, baptized between seven and eight thousand, printed 5,000 Books of Mormon, 3,000 Hymn Books, 2,500 [copies] of the Millennial Star, and 50,000 tracts, and emigrated to Zion 1,000 souls, established a permanent shipping agency which will be a great blessing to the Saints, and have sown in the hearts of many thousands the seeds of eternal truth, which will bring forth fruit to the honor and glory of God, and yet we have lacked nothing to eat, drink or wear; in all these things I acknowledge the hand of God.”