1980
Who were the six who organized the Church on 6 April 1830?
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“Who were the six who organized the Church on 6 April 1830?” Ensign, June 1980, 44–45

Who were the six who organized the Church on 6 April 1830?

Richard Lloyd Anderson, professor of religion and history, Brigham Young University We can be fairly certain about the organizers, though no clear record remains. The minutes of Church organization are evidently lost. Thus, we must reconstruct the meeting through personal recollections. Analysis of those reports suggests that the six were Joseph Smith, Jr., Oliver Cowdery, Hyrum Smith, David Whitmer, Peter Whitmer, Jr., and Samuel H. Smith. Since there is some question on some of the names listed in these personal recollections, they must be evaluated for their probable worth.

The most important source is the “History of Joseph Smith,” composed under his direction and now printed in the first volume of the History of the Church. At first glance that record seems incomplete: though the Prophet mentions that those organizing the Church were “six in number,” he gives only two names—his own and Oliver Cowdery’s. He also notes the presence of “several persons” besides the central six, naming specifically his parents, Martin Harris, and “O. Rockwell” (see History of the Church, ms., 1:76–79).

Six other significant listings exist of the six organizers of the Church. All mention Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, and Hyrum Smith; and all but one name David Whitmer. Some confusion on the remaining two individuals is only to be expected in these personal recollections. All named on any list were certainly present at the organization of the Church, so it would have been easy to substitute another prominent leader for one of the six as memory faded.

Though Brigham Young was baptized two years after the organization of the Church, he recorded in his journal “the names of those present at the organization of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1830 on the 6 day of April” (see end journal entry before 3 May 1843, p. 43). Brigham Young obviously had to rely on some eyewitness for his information, perhaps Lucy Mack Smith or Orrin Porter Rockwell. Brigham Young’s record is the only one that names Joseph Smith, Sr., and Orrin Rockwell. While both were present 6 April 1830, Orrin Rockwell is most unlikely for the inner group—he was only sixteen and did not hold the priesthood. His father was also named Orrin, but he too is not significant enough a figure to be one of the six leaders. Brigham Young also names Samuel H. Smith.

The most familiar list comes from Joseph Knight, Jr. His statement was given in 1862 and has been recorded in the History of the Church (1:76). Knight replaces Orrin Rockwell and Joseph Smith, Sr., with Peter Whitmer and David Whitmer. A few days after making the above statement, Joseph Knight compiled a short autobiography wherein he again named the six—only this time he added a “Jr.” to Peter Whitmer’s name. (Early references to Peter Whitmer, Jr., leave the “Jr.” off frequently.) But neither of Joseph Knight’s documents speak from firsthand knowledge. He expressly names Oliver Cowdery as his source (History of the Church, 1:76), and Oliver Cowdery had been dead for twelve years.

The remaining four lists come from David Whitmer, fortunately a firsthand source, but unfortunately one who gave his information forty-seven to fifty-six years after the Church was organized. One feature of David’s recollections is calling the organizers “elders.” Though that term is accurate for most of the organizers, early minutes show that David is not precise in this detail. In his four lists, David Whitmer is consistent in naming Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, Hyrum Smith, and himself. In An Address to All Believers in Christ (Richmond, Mo., 1887, pp. 32–33), his most direct statement, he includes Samuel Smith. John Whitmer is substituted for Samuel Smith in 1877, 1881, and 1887 reports (Edward Stevenson, Journal, 22 Dec. 1877, 2 Jan. 1887; Kansas City Daily Journal, 5 June 1881). David Whitmer’s Address also names Peter Whitmer (no doubt the younger), in the interviews of 1881 and 1887. Yet Edward Stevenson’s 1877 interview with David Whitmer has Christian Whitmer in Peter’s place. One can only conclude that all of these men were prominent at the organization of the Church.

The above information may be simplified on a chart which gives the three sources of lists:

Brigham Young (1 list, 1843?)

Joseph Smith, Jr.

Oliver Cowdery

Hyrum Smith

Samuel H. Smith

Joseph Smith, Sr.

Orrin Rockwell

Joseph Knight (2 lists, 1862)

Joseph Smith, Jr.

Oliver Cowdery

Hyrum Smith

Samuel H. Smith

Peter Whitmer—Peter Whitmer, Jr.

David Whitmer

David Whitmer (4 lists, 1877–1887)

Joseph Smith, Jr.

Oliver Cowdery

Hyrum Smith

Samuel H. Smith—John Whitmer

Peter Whitmer—Christian Whitmer

David Whitmer

As mentioned above, all sources name the Prophet, Oliver Cowdery, and Hyrum Smith. All but one name David Whitmer. Thus, these four appear to be the leading organizers of the Church. In addition, Peter Whitmer is named five times, whereas Joseph Smith, Sr., and Christian Whitmer are only named once. So Peter Whitmer, Jr., was probably one of the six; he was an elder in the June 9 conference, while the Prophet’s father was a priest and Christian Whitmer was a teacher.

Choosing between Samuel H. Smith and John Whitmer is more difficult. Both are mentioned in about half the lists, though David Whitmer’s identification of Samuel in his personal writing is impressive. A late tradition from the Prophet’s sister Katherine also supports Samuel. (See Herbert S. Salisbury, “Things the Prophet’s Sister Told Me,” typescript, 30 June 1945, p. 1, in LDS Historical Department. This is minor supporting evidence, at best: it was recorded forty-five years after Katherine’s death, which occurred seventy years after the organization of the Church.) The evidence, then, favors Samuel, though John Whitmer remains a possibility. John was equally prominent and was an elder at the June 9 conference when Samuel was ordained to that office.

Those honored as first founders were also the pioneers in making personal covenants through baptism. Joseph Smith’s History details the first two baptisms—his and Oliver Cowdery’s—right after the miraculous restoration of the lesser priesthood on 15 May 1829 (History of the Church, 1:39). Ten days later Samuel Smith accepted baptism (History of the Church, 1:44). The next month Joseph and Oliver baptized Hyrum Smith, David Whitmer, and Peter Whitmer, Jr. (History of the Church, 1:51). Thus, in his record the Prophet stressed six who accepted baptism in the year prior to Church organization. Perhaps those first baptized were honored by being the organizers of the Church. Those names match the conclusions discussed above.

The rolls of the Church organizers and Book of Mormon witnesses are similar. In both cases the special contributions of the Smith and Whitmer families to gospel restoration are recognized. What the Prophet said of David, John, and Peter Whitmer, Jr., is true of the organizers as a group: they were “our zealous friends and assistants in the work” (History of the Church, 1:49).