“Can you tell me more about Dan Jones?” Ensign, Mar. 1982, 19–21
Rex L. Christensen, Principal of Columbus Seminary, Salt Lake City. Captain Dan Jones was a close friend to Joseph Smith and indeed was one of the most successful missionaries the Church has ever produced.
Little is known of Dan’s early life. We know he was born to Thomas and Ruth Jones in Flintshire, Wales, 4 August 1810 and that he spent part of his boyhood in Abergele, Wales. On 3 January 1837, in Denbigh, Wales, he married Jane Melling. She bore ten children, only two of whom lived to maturity.
Dan had a college education designed to prepare him for the ministry, but he evidently spent time as a sailor. He lived in New York before coming to Nauvoo and the Mississippi River, where in 1841 he was licensed to operate a steamer called the Ripple.
His name is first mentioned in Church history when in April 1843 he brought a company of Saints up the Mississippi to Nauvoo on the Maid of Iowa. It was on this occasion that he first met Joseph Smith, who had come to greet the new English members. Dan was so impressed that he investigated the Church and was baptized within a few weeks. He lived in the home of Joseph Smith for a time, during which his admiration and esteem for Joseph grew and deepened. Converts in Wales later testified that Jones often shed tears when he spoke of Joseph Smith.
In May of 1843 Joseph Smith bought half interest in the Maid of Iowa and became half-owner of the steamboat. (See History of the Church, 5:418.)
One of the most colorful episodes in the life of Dan Jones was an attempted rescue of Joseph Smith in July of 1843. Joseph Smith and other Church leaders had been arrested in 1838 in Missouri on trumped-up charges, and after being held in Missouri jails for about six months with no real trial were allowed to escape. By 1843 Missouri was being heavily criticized in Congress for her treatment of the Mormons, and some Missouri officials wanted Joseph back to be tried again.
Considering trial in Missouri to be a travesty of justice, Joseph Smith allowed himself to be arrested at Dixon, Illinois, hoping for a fair trial in Illinois; but the posse, led by Sheriffs J. H. Reynolds of Missouri and Harmon T. Wilson of Carthage, Illinois, headed for the Illinois River, where they planned to meet the Chicago Belle, a steamboat from Missouri. According to one report, about 100 armed men were on board the Chicago Belle to extradite Joseph Smith.
Hyrum Smith and some friends quickly conceived a strategy to bring the Prophet back to Nauvoo, where he could appear before a friendly court. Wilford Woodruff donated a barrel of gunpowder, and General Charles C. Rich with Sheriff Campbell of Illinois and some 175 volunteers on horseback set out in pursuit of the Wilson-Reynolds posse. Meanwhile, Hyrum Smith and Dan Jones provisioned the Maid of Iowa to blockade the Illinois River, and 75 volunteers came aboard. Early Monday morning, the Maid steamed off to battle.
On Wednesday Dan’s Maid caught up with the Chicago Belle, but she was aground and deserted. By this time, the Missourians were aware that the Maid was in position to block the Illinois River. Changing their plans, they headed west toward Shokoquon and the Iowa territory to try to take the Prophet to Missouri from the north. With the Missourians now off the river, Dan and his crew headed back toward Quincy.
Later that day, the volunteers led by General Rich caught the posse, and Sheriff Campbell arrested Sheriff Reynolds. The Prophet was later tried and freed by the municipal court of Nauvoo.
Dan Jones also had a part to play in the Prophet’s experiences in Carthage Jail, only hours before the martyrdom. When Joseph, Hyrum, and thirteen others submitted themselves to arrest on 24 June 1844, Dan Jones accompanied them and helped raise $7,500 required for their bail. Later, when Joseph and Hyrum went to visit Governor Ford about the matter, they were arrested for “treason” and jailed without legal examination.
Dan was sent to Governor Ford to protest their second arrest and appeal for their release. When the Governor rejected his appeal, he erupted in futile anger, then went to stay in jail with the Prophet Joseph during the last two nights of his life. The next day, June 25, he helped escort the Prophet through a threatening mob, and with Stephen Markham spent most of the morning “hewing with a penknife” to get the warped door of the cell to latch, “thus preparing to fortify the place against any attack.”
During Joseph Smith’s last night in the Carthage jail, Dan lay beside him on the floor to avoid the bullets fired through the windows. When all had become quiet, Joseph turned to Dan and whispered, “Are you afraid to die?” Dan replied, “Has that time come, think you? Engaged in such a cause, I do not think that death would have many terrors.” Then Joseph promised Dan, “You will yet see Wales and fulfill the mission appointed you before you die.” (DHC, 6:601.) It was the last recorded prophecy made by the Prophet.
When Dan left the prison the next morning at Joseph’s request to ask about the shooting during the previous night, he overheard one of the soldiers boasting of a plan to kill Joseph Smith that day. Dan Jones again called on the Governor and demanded protection but met with no success. The guards refused to readmit him to the jail, so he waited outside in the street until the Prophet directed him to carry a letter to lawyer O. H. Browning. While Dan was gone, Joseph and Hyrum Smith were killed.
The promise the Prophet made to Dan was fulfilled in January 1845, when Dan and his wife arrived in Liverpool, England, where they were immediately assigned to labor in Wales. The first LDS missionaries had come to Wales in the spring of 1840. Only six are mentioned in the records of the first five years, but by 14 December 1845 they had baptized 493 people. On 15 January 1846, Wilford Woodruff, president of the British Mission, put Dan Jones in charge of all Welsh missionary work. President Woodruff stated that Dan was the only person in England who could speak, read, write, and publish in the Welsh language. (See the Millennial Star 7:7.) He was credited with being a fluent, rapid, intelligent speaker in both Welsh and English, exhibiting an astounding power to touch the hearts of his audience. (See the Millennial Star, 5:170.) Witnesses have recorded that he could hold audiences in rapt attention longer than seven hours. (See Thomas C. Romney, The Gospel in Action, pp. 87–92.)
Under Dan’s direction, the American missionaries (ten or so), assisted by short-term Welsh missionaries, established twenty-nine branches of the Church, and brought a great deal of public excitement to the missionary activity. In at least one case, an entire congregation had been baptized. The Millennial Star reports that the missionaries “had lately baptized the only remaining two of an entire church … they had now the chapel, priest, and hearers.” (7:187.) By February 1847, the Church had over 2,000 converts in Wales. And when Dan left Wales in February 1849, the records show a total of seventy-two branches in operation and a total LDS population of 4,645 members. Nearly a thousand persons entered the Church each year Dan was there.
Captain Jones did extensive writing and publishing during these four years. He edited and published a monthly periodical in Welsh entitled Prophwyd y Jubili (Prophet of the Jubilee), the first Mormon periodical published in a language other than English. Dan published over two million pages of tracts and books in Welsh during his first three years in that country. (See Rex L. Christensen, The Life and Contributions of Captain Dan Jones, USU, master’s thesis, 1977, p. 24.)
On 28 August 1852, after less than three years in Utah, Dan was called on a second mission. Leaving his family in Manti, he spent four more years in Wales. Opposition to the Church had increased in Wales, but over 2,000 converts were baptized by 1856. Dan was made a counselor to the mission president and acted as editor of the Church magazine, Udgorn Seion, until he became president of the mission in 1854.
Dan Jones lived only eight years in Utah, between his missions and after his second mission, but he crowded his short life with many activities. He shepherded to America converts who formed the nucleus of the first Tabernacle choir. With fifty other men he explored 700 miles of Southern Utah during the winter of 1849. He directed the construction of the Salicornia, used by Captain Howard Stansbury to explore the Great Salt Lake. He was elected the first mayor of Manti. He served as captain of the Timely Gull, one of the few commercial boats on the Great Salt Lake. And he continued to teach and guide the Welsh people in Utah. By the time he died of tuberculosis in Provo at the age of fifty-one, he had helped to bring some 5,000 Welsh colonists to the Great Basin.
As a missionary in Wales, Dan Jones was pugnacious and energetic. He sensed the opportunities in Wales and contended mightily for the Lord. He had a field white for the harvest, a circumstance unusual in history. The Welsh people were disenchanted with previous religious and economic circumstances and flocked to his standard, perceiving him one of their own. Then, once converted, they became a great force for conversion in their own right.