“As the Spirit Dictates,” chapter 9 of Saints: The Story of the Church of Jesus Christ in the Latter Days, Volume 2, No Unhallowed Hand, 1846–1893 (2020)
Chapter 9: “As the Spirit Dictates”
On October 6, 1849, the first day of the Church’s fall conference, the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve announced the Church’s most ambitious missionary effort since the death of Joseph Smith. “The time is come,” Heber Kimball declared in his opening address. “We want this people to take an interest with us in bearing off the kingdom to all nations of the earth.”1
Since coming to the valley, the Saints had spent their strength on settlement and survival. But the harvest that year had yielded a large crop, producing enough food for the winter. After the Saints began moving out of the fort and building homes in the city, Church leaders organized them into twenty-three wards, each presided over by a bishop. New settlements also began to dot the Salt Lake Valley and the valleys to the north and south, and many Saints started constructing shops, mills, and factories. The gathering place was beginning to blossom as the Saints readied it to welcome the people of God.2
The Twelve would lead the new missionary effort. Earlier that year, Brigham had called Charles Rich, Lorenzo Snow, Erastus Snow, and Franklin Richards to fill vacancies in the quorum. Now the First Presidency sent Charles to California to assist Amasa Lyman; Lorenzo to Italy with Joseph Toronto, an Italian Saint; Erastus to Denmark with Peter Hansen, a Danish Saint; Franklin to Great Britain; and veteran apostle John Taylor to France.3
At the conference, Heber also spoke about the Perpetual Emigrating Fund, a new program designed to help the Saints keep the covenant they had made in the Nauvoo temple to help the poor. “We are here and are healthy and have plenty to eat, drink, and to do,” Heber said. Yet many impoverished Saints remained stranded in the Missouri River settlements, the Iowa way stations, Nauvoo, and Great Britain. Sometimes, these Saints became discouraged and left the Church.
“Shall we fulfill that covenant,” he asked, “or shall we not?”4
Under the new program, Saints donated money to help the poor gather to Zion. Emigrants then received loans to cover travel costs, which they were to pay back once they got settled in Zion. For the program to work, however, it needed cash contributions—something few Saints could provide in a barter economy. The First Presidency called on Saints to donate their surplus to the fund, but they also discussed the possibility of sending missionaries to dig for gold in California.5
Brigham remained wary of that option. He believed the hunger for gold corrupted and distracted good people from the cause of Zion. Yet gold could serve a sacred purpose if it helped to finance the Church and emigration.6 If he called missionaries to the goldfields of California, they could possibly gather much-needed funds for God’s work.
But such missionaries would have to be good, righteous men who cared no more for gold than they did the dust beneath their feet.7
At first glance, George Q. Cannon appeared no different from the gold seekers who were tramping through the Salt Lake Valley on their way to California. He was twenty-two years old, unmarried, and full of youthful ambition. But he had no desire to leave home. He loved the grand mountains and peaceful spirit of the valley. And he was not one to waste time digging for gold. Every minute mattered to him. He wanted to read books, build an adobe house on his city lot, and someday marry a young woman named Elizabeth Hoagland.8
George and Elizabeth had traveled west in the same company two years earlier. An orphan since his teens, George had come with his aunt and uncle Leonora and John Taylor to prepare a home for the rest of his family. His younger brothers and sisters were due to arrive in the valley any day. They were traveling with his oldest sister and brother-in-law, Mary Alice and Charles Lambert, who had taken them in when their parents died. George was eager to reunite with them.9
Before George’s family arrived, however, Church leaders called him on a mission to dig for gold in California.10 The assignment came as a shock, and Elizabeth was not happy. “I am only called for a year,” George told her, trying to be consoling. “Would you prefer that I went for perhaps three years to France?”
“I would rather you went to save souls than to find gold, even though the time be longer,” Elizabeth said.11
George could not disagree. As a boy in England, he had looked up to missionaries like his uncle John and Wilford Woodruff, anticipating the day when he would serve a mission as well.12 But a call to dig for gold was hardly what he had imagined.
After the first day of the October conference, George met with newly called missionaries and others. Brigham spoke to them at length about honoring the things of God. “A man must always live with the love of the priesthood in his heart,” he taught, “and not the love of the things of this world.”13
In the days that followed, George was busy preparing for his mission. On October 8, John Taylor, Erastus Snow, and Franklin Richards blessed him to prosper on his mission and be a good example to the other missionaries. They promised him that angels would watch over him and that he would return home safely.14
Three days later, sorrow and dread weighed on George as he left home with the other gold missionaries. He had moved several times in his life, but he had never been far from a family member for more than a day or two. He did not know what to expect.
The gold missionaries planned to meet up with Addison Pratt and Jefferson Hunt and follow them to California. On their way out of the valley, the missionaries stopped at a party for the elders headed to Europe. Around a hundred Saints had gathered to see them off. Some were feasting at tables spread with all kinds of foods while others were dancing beneath a large tent made from wagon covers. As George rode up to the party, he saw Brigham Young’s carriage coming toward him.
The carriage stopped, and George dismounted to shake Brigham’s hand. Brigham said he would remember George and pray for him while he was away. Grateful for the prophet’s kind words, George enjoyed the good humor and camaraderie of his fellow Saints for one more night. In the morning, he and the gold missionaries mounted their horses and headed south for California.15
In March 1850, Brigham’s wife Mary Ann visited Louisa Pratt to see if she needed any help from the Church. Louisa did not know how to respond. Friends like Mary Ann often offered help or invitations to dinner, but life without Addison was as lonely as ever, and nothing seemed to change that.
“Have you a desire to go to your husband?” Mary Ann asked.16
Louisa told her that a friend had already volunteered to take her family to California if the Church ever decided to send them to the Pacific Islands. In confiding this to Mary Ann, Louisa worried that she sounded too eager to go. Staying in Salt Lake City would likely keep her and Addison apart another five years. But joining him on the islands came with risks as well. Ellen and Frances would soon be old enough to marry. Was now the best time to take them away from the valley?
She prayed often to learn the Lord’s will. But part of her simply wanted Addison to write her a letter asking her to come. Knowing what he wanted would make her decision easier. But another part of her wondered if he even wanted her to join him at all. Had he accepted this latest mission call simply because he wanted to go away again?
“Were I an elder,” Louisa told Willard Richards one day, “I would never consent to stay so long from my family.” She said she would fulfill her mission as quickly as possible and then return home. Willard smiled and said nothing, but Louisa thought he agreed with her.17
Louisa attended conference on the morning of April 7. George A. Smith spoke for nearly two hours. When he finished, Heber Kimball took the stand. “Here are a few appointments of elders to the nations,” he said. Heber called two men to the Pacific Islands, but he said nothing about Louisa and her daughters. He then said, “Thomas Tompkins is proposed to go to the islands where Brother Addison Pratt has been laboring and take Brother Pratt’s family to him.”18
An indescribable sensation shot through Louisa, and she heard little else of the meeting. After the session, she sought out Mary Ann in the crowd and urged her to ask Brigham to consider calling her sister and brother-in-law Caroline and Jonathan Crosby to the mission as well. Mary Ann agreed, and the Crosbys received the call the following day.
Shortly before they left, Louisa and her daughters visited Brigham. He told Louisa that she was called and set apart to go to the islands and assist Addison in teaching the people. He then blessed her that all her wants would be supplied and that she would have power over the adversary, do a good work, and return from her mission in peace.19
As the Pratts and Crosbys set out for the islands, the newly called missionaries to Europe disembarked in England and the apostles took a short tour of the British mission, which included branches in Wales and Scotland. Thirty-one-year-old Danish missionary Peter Hansen, meanwhile, was eager to continue on to Denmark, despite instructions from Erastus Snow not to go there until he and the other Scandinavian missionaries could join him.
Peter respected his mission president, but it had been seven years since he had been in his homeland, and he greatly desired to be the first missionary to preach the gospel there. A steamship bound for Copenhagen was in a nearby harbor, and Peter decided that he could not wait a moment longer.
He arrived in the Danish capital on May 11, 1850. Walking along its streets, he felt glad to be back in his native country. Yet he was troubled that no one there enjoyed the light of the restored gospel. When Peter left Denmark seven years earlier, the nation had no laws protecting religious liberty and forbade the preaching of all doctrines but those of the state-supported church.20
Growing up, Peter had bristled under these restrictions, so when he learned that his brother in the United States had embraced a new faith, he had made every effort to join him. The decision angered his father, a stern man with rigid beliefs. On the day of Peter’s departure, his father smashed his suitcase and burned its contents.
Peter left anyway and did not look back. He moved to the United States and joined the Church. He then began translating the Book of Mormon into Danish and traveled in the advance company to the Salt Lake Valley. In Denmark, meanwhile, lawmakers had granted all churches the right to circulate their beliefs.21
Hoping his labors would benefit from this new climate of religious freedom, Peter sought out members of churches that shared some beliefs with the Saints. In speaking with a Baptist pastor, he learned that the state church still persecuted people for their religious convictions, despite the new law. Peter sympathized with them, having experienced persecution for his beliefs in the United States. He soon started sharing the restored gospel with the pastor and his congregation.
Out of a sense of duty, Peter also searched for his father, who had learned of his arrival as a missionary. One day, Peter spotted him on the street and greeted him. The old man looked at him blankly. Peter revealed who he was, and his father raised his hand to brush him away.
“I have no children,” he said. “And you, you have come to disturb the public peace in this land.”
Peter returned to his labors, unsurprised and unfazed by his father’s anger. He sent letters to Erastus in England, informing him of his activities in the mission, and continued to work on his translation of the Book of Mormon. He also wrote and published a Danish pamphlet and translated several hymns into his native language.
Erastus was not happy with Peter’s decision to disobey his instructions, but when he arrived in Copenhagen on June 14, Erastus was pleased that Peter had laid a foundation for the Lord’s work to move forward.22
On September 24, 1850, apostle Charles Rich rode into a central California mining camp in search of the gold missionaries. It was evening, the time when gold seekers returned to their tents and shanties, lighted lanterns and stoves, and changed their wet clothing. Along the riverbank where they worked, the land looked torn apart by a thousand shovels and pickaxes.23
Almost one year had passed since the gold missionaries left Salt Lake City. So far no one had struck it rich. Some missionaries had found enough gold to send small quantities of it back to Salt Lake City, some of which was melted down and minted into currency. But they had used most of what they found to cover the high cost of food and supplies.24 Some local Saints who had grown wealthy during the gold rush, meanwhile, offered little assistance. Sam Brannan was quickly becoming one of the richest men in California, yet he had stopped paying tithing and disavowed any connection to the Church.
Charles found the gold missionaries in their camp. When he had last visited the mining camp, several months earlier, the missionaries and other gold seekers had been damming the river, hoping to expose the gold in its silty bottom. Most of them still spent their days working on the dam or searching for gold. George Q. Cannon ran the camp store.25
In the morning, Charles spoke to the men about the future of the mission. Prime mining season was almost over, and the mission’s lack of success had confirmed Brigham’s reservations about gold seeking. Rather than stay the winter in California, where the cost of living was high, Charles proposed that some of the missionaries finish their missions on the Hawaiian Islands. The missionaries could live cheaply there while preaching to the many English-speaking colonists.26
George told Charles he was ready to do whatever Church leaders thought best. If they wanted him to go to Hawaii, he would go. Besides, the goldfields were a rough place for a young Latter-day Saint. It was not uncommon to hear about theft and even murders taking place in the camps. George himself had once been assaulted by some miners who forced whiskey down his throat.27
Before leaving camp, Charles set the missionaries apart for their new mission. “When you arrive at the islands,” he told them, “act as the Spirit dictates in regard to your duties.” He said the Spirit would know better than he did what course they should take when they got to the islands.28
The missionaries soon returned to the river to finish the dam and pan for more gold. A few weeks later, they found enough gold for each to receive more than $700. After that, they did not find any more.29
They left the mining camp soon after and headed for the coast. One night they held a meeting for California Saints and others interested in the gospel. George was anxious. Missionaries were expected to speak at such gatherings, but he had never preached to nonbelievers. He knew he would have to speak eventually, but he did not want to go first.
After the meeting started, however, the elder conducting asked him to preach. George stood reluctantly. “I am in the harness,” he told himself, “and it will not do for me to balk.” He opened his mouth, and words came easily enough. “How professedly anxious the world is to get hold of truth,” he said. “How thankful we ought to be that we are in possession of it, and of the principle whereby we might progress from one truth to another.”
He spoke for five more minutes, but then his thoughts became jumbled, his mind went blank, and he stammered through the rest of his sermon. Embarrassed, he took his seat, sure his first experience as a preaching missionary could not have gone worse.
Yet he was not completely discouraged. He was on a mission, and he was not going to back down or fail in his charge.30
Around this time, fifteen-year-old Frances Pratt sighted the island of Tubuai from the deck of a ship carrying more than twenty American Saints to the South Pacific mission. Frances, who had been unhappy and withdrawn for most of the voyage, brightened instantly. She explored the island through a spyglass, hoping to catch a glimpse of her father on shore. Her older sister, Ellen, was sure he would board the ship as soon as it landed.
Louisa longed to reunite with Addison as well, but she had been seasick the entire voyage, and she could think of little else but solid ground, some decent food, and a soft bed. Her sister Caroline suffered by her side, nauseated and barely able to walk.31
After two days of battling contrary winds and dangerous reefs, the ship dropped anchor near the island, and two Tubuaian men paddled out to greet them. When they climbed aboard the ship, Louisa asked if Addison was on the island. No, replied one of the men. He was being held on the island of Tahiti as a prisoner of the French governor, who was suspicious of any foreign missionaries who did not belong to the Catholic Church.
Louisa had steeled herself against bad news, but her daughters had not. Ellen sat down and folded her hands in her lap, her face like stone. The other girls paced the deck.
Soon another boat arrived, and two American men climbed on deck. One of them was Benjamin Grouard. When Louisa last saw him in Nauvoo, he had been a lively young man. Now, after seven years as a missionary in the Pacific, he looked solemn and dignified. With eyes wide with joy and surprise, he greeted the newcomers warmly and invited them ashore.32
On the beach, Tubuaian Saints welcomed Louisa and the other passengers. Louisa asked if she could meet Nabota and Telii, Addison’s friends from his first mission. A man took her by the hand. “‘O vau te arata‘i ia ‘oe,” he said. I will lead you.33
He set off into the island and Louisa followed, trying her best to communicate with him. The rest of the crowd trailed close behind, laughing as they went. Louisa marveled at the tall palm trees towering overhead and the lush vegetation that covered the island. Here and there she saw long, low dwellings plastered over with white lime made from coral.
Telii was overjoyed when she met the new missionaries. Though recovering from sickness, she rose from her bed and began preparing a feast. She roasted pork in a pit, fried fish, prepared bread from flour made from an island root, and set out an array of fresh fruit. By the time she finished cooking, Saints from all over the island had gathered to meet the new arrivals.
The company feasted as a full moon rose high in the sky. Afterward, the Tubuaian Saints crowded into the house and sat on grass mats while the American Saints sang hymns in English. The island Saints then sang hymns in their own language, their voices loud and clear in perfect harmony.
As she enjoyed the music, Louisa glanced outside the house and admired the stunning scenery. Tall shade trees with brilliant yellow flowers surrounded the house. Moonlight filtered through the branches in a thousand different shapes. Louisa thought of the distances her family had crossed, and the suffering they had experienced to come to such a beautiful place, and she knew God’s hand was in it.34
Two months after Louisa arrived in Tubuai, the gold missionaries climbed up a mountainside overlooking Honolulu on the island of Oahu and dedicated the Hawaiian Islands for missionary work. The next evening, the mission president assigned George Q. Cannon to work on the island of Maui, southeast of Oahu, with James Keeler and Henry Bigler.35
Maui was a slightly larger island than Oahu. Lahaina, its principal town, lay along a flat stretch of beach and had no harbor. From the ocean, most of the town was obscured by palm trees and heavy foliage. A tall mountain range loomed in the distance behind it.36
The missionaries went to work, but they soon discovered that there were fewer white settlers than expected on the island. George grew discouraged. The gold missionaries had come to Hawaii expecting to teach English-speaking settlers, yet none of them seemed interested in the restored gospel. If they preached only to the white population, they realized, their mission would be short and unfruitful.
One day, they discussed their options. “Shall we confine our labors to the white people?” they asked themselves. They had never been instructed to preach to the Hawaiians, but neither had they been told not to. In California, Charles Rich had simply counseled them to rely on the Spirit to direct their mission.
George believed their call and duty was to share the gospel with all people. If he and the other missionaries made an effort to learn the language of the land, as Addison Pratt had done on Tubuai, they could magnify their calling and touch the hearts and minds of more people. Henry and James felt the same way.37
The Hawaiian language, the missionaries quickly discovered, was difficult for them to understand. Each word seemed to run into the next.38 Yet many Hawaiians were eager to help them learn. Since there were not many textbooks on Maui, the missionaries ordered some from Honolulu. George’s desire to speak was very strong, and he never missed an opportunity to practice the language. Sometimes he and others spent all day at home, reading and studying it.
Gradually, George began to use the language more confidently. One evening, as he and his companions sat at home talking in Hawaiian with their neighbors, George realized all at once that he understood most of what they said. Leaping to his feet, he placed his hands on the sides of his head and exclaimed that he had received the interpretation of tongues.
He could not distinguish every word they said, but he caught their general meaning. Gratitude filled him, and he knew he had been blessed by the Lord.39