“Truth and Righteousness,” chapter 10 of Saints: The Story of the Church of Jesus Christ in the Latter Days, Volume 2, No Unhallowed Hand, 1846–1893 (2020)
Chapter 10: “Truth and Righteousness”
George Q. Cannon gripped his travel bag as he stepped into a stream winding through Maui’s verdant ʻIao Valley. It was March 8, 1851, near the end of Hawaii’s wet season. Four days earlier, he had left his home in Lahaina and started walking north along the shoreline. “I must push out among the Natives and commence preaching to them,” he had told his fellow missionaries. He was anxious to improve his Hawaiian and bear testimony. The Lord had revealed to him that there were people on Maui prepared to receive the truth. George did not know who they were, but he expected to recognize them as soon as he found them.
He had now traveled nearly forty miles without success. Glowering storm clouds and torrential downpours had left him wondering if he had picked the wrong time of the year to take his journey.
As George waded farther out into the stream, he slipped and tumbled into the water. Picking himself up, he clambered out of the water and climbed a nearby hill to Wailuku, a small town with a few houses, a women’s school, and a tall church made from lava rocks.1
Several Protestant missionaries lived in the town, and George wanted to bear testimony to them. But he was tired and embarrassed by his wet, filthy clothes. Maybe it was better to return to Lahaina, he told himself, than to try to share the gospel when the weather was so poor.
George found the road out of town and started for home. Just outside of Wailuku, while he paused to change his shirt and shave, he suddenly felt impressed to return to the town. He quickly retraced his steps, and as he passed the churchyard, two women emerged from a nearby house. “E ka haole!” they called back into the house. Oh, the white man!2
Three men appeared at the door behind them and approached the gate just as George was passing. One of the men asked where he was going. George explained that he was thinking about returning to Lahaina because of the weather. The man said it would be better to wait a few days and invited George to stay at his house.
The man’s name was Jonathan Napela. He was a respected judge in the area and one of the aliʻi, or island nobility. He and the two other men, William Uaua and H. K. Kaleohano, had been educated at the best school on the island. As George spoke with them, he knew at once that he had found the people God had prepared.3
The next day, George taught Napela about the Book of Mormon and the prophet Joseph Smith. “We do not take the Book of Mormon for the Bible,” he explained, “but prove one by the other.” Napela was interested in George’s message, but he said he wanted to know for himself if it was true.4
Soon George had to return to Lahaina. He promised to come back to Wailuku, however, to teach Napela and his friends. He testified that he had told them the truth and invited them to study the restored gospel further.
“Prove all things,” George said, quoting the Bible, “and hold fast to that which is good.”5
While George was returning to Lahaina, Brigham Young was bracing himself for changes in the Salt Lake Valley. After the Saints petitioned Congress for a territorial government, Thomas Kane, who had earlier befriended the Saints and helped them raise the Mormon Battalion, advised Brigham in a letter to petition for statehood instead. Unlike territories, which relied on the president of the United States to appoint some of their top officers, states allowed voters to elect their own leaders, giving the people more control in the government.6
The legislature quickly drew up a statehood petition. To ensure the petition reached Congress in time, the legislature created a record for a constitutional convention that never occurred and sent it with other documents to their delegates in Washington, DC.7 The First Presidency had hoped to send Oliver Cowdery to Washington to help lobby for statehood, but Oliver had become sick while staying with his wife’s family in Missouri and had died in March 1850. Phineas Young had been at his side when he passed away.
“His last testimony will never be forgotten,” Phineas had written Brigham soon after. “He said to his friend there was no salvation but in the valley and through the priesthood there.”8
When the statehood petition arrived in Washington, Congress was enmeshed in a long and contentious debate over slavery and its expansion into the western lands acquired after the war with Mexico. The debate overshadowed the statehood petition, and ultimately Congress organized a territory in the Great Basin as part of a broader compromise to pacify the warring factions within the government.
Congress rejected the name Deseret and called the new territory Utah, after the Ute Indians. Utah was much smaller than what the Saints had proposed, and it lacked an ocean harbor, but the territory still encompassed vast tracts of land. To the Saints’ satisfaction, the president appointed Church members to more than half of the top government positions, including Brigham Young as governor. The remaining appointments went to officers from outside the territory who were not members of the Church.9 These officers included two of the three members of the newly created territorial supreme court, limiting the Saints’ power to enforce their own laws.
Brigham and the Saints cautiously welcomed the officers to Utah in the summer of 1851. They were ambitious eastern men who were nevertheless reluctant to move to the faraway territory. Their first meetings with the Saints were strained and awkward. Past persecution had made the Saints suspicious of outsiders, and the officers felt ignored and disrespected when they arrived. They also knew little about the Saints and their beliefs aside from rumors they had heard about plural marriage in the Church.10
At the time, the Saints had not yet publicly proclaimed their belief in plural marriage. When the Lord commanded Joseph Smith to practice the principle, an angel had charged him to keep it private and teach it only to Saints with unwavering integrity. Early Church members had honored monogamy as the only legitimate form of marriage, and any alternative to it would be shocking. But the Lord had promised to exalt these Saints for their obedience and sacrifice.
By the time of his death, Joseph had married some plural wives for time and eternity. He had been sealed to others for eternity alone, which meant their marriage relationship would begin in the next life. He had also taught plural marriage to his closest associates, and they had continued to keep the practice private after his death. For Joseph and the early Saints, plural marriage was a solemn religious principle, not a way to gratify lust.11
When the federal officers arrived in the territory in the summer of 1851, plural marriages had become more common in the Church, making it harder for the Saints to shield the practice from visitors. In fact, at parties and other social gatherings, the officers met the wives of Brigham Young and Heber Kimball, who made no effort to conceal their relationship to their husbands.12
On July 24, 1851, the officers joined the Saints in commemorating the fourth anniversary of the pioneers’ arrival in the valley. The celebration began with cannon fire, patriotic music, and a parade. General Daniel Wells, a prominent Church member and commander of the territorial militia, then spoke about the Saints’ past trials and predicted a day when the United States would be scourged for its unwillingness to help the Church.13 The Saints loved the speech, but it offended the officers.
Several weeks later, another officer, Judge Perry Brocchus, arrived from the eastern states. Brocchus had accepted his appointment to Utah hoping that the Saints would elect him to represent them in the U.S. Congress. When he came to the territory, though, he was disappointed to learn that a Church member named John Bernhisel had already been elected to the office. He was also alarmed and disgusted by what the other officers reported about Daniel Wells’s July 24th speech.
In September, Brocchus requested permission to speak at a special conference of the Church. He claimed that he wanted to solicit funds for a monument to George Washington, the first president of the United States. Brigham was wary of the request, but he agreed to let the judge speak.14
Brocchus began by praising the Saints’ generosity. He quoted from the Book of Mormon and spoke of his desire to serve and befriend them. But he was slow to arrive at his point. And when he finally invited the Saints to donate to the monument, he insinuated that plural wives ought to forsake their marriages before contributing to the fund.15 “You must become virtuous and teach your daughters to become virtuous,” he said.16
Insulted, the congregation demanded that Brocchus sit down. Yet the judge continued to speak. He condemned Daniel Wells’s July 24th speech and accused the Saints of being disloyal. “The government of the United States has not injured you,” he said. “Missouri is the place for redress, and Illinois also.”17
His words struck a nerve with the Saints. What did he know about their past suffering? Angry hissing and shouting erupted from the congregation as the Saints called on Brigham to respond to the insults.
Once Brocchus finished his speech, Brigham stood and paced back and forth across the stand.18 “Judge Brocchus is either profoundly ignorant or corruptly wicked,” he roared. “We love the government and the Constitution, but we do not love the damned rascals that administer the government.”19
Far from the turmoil in Utah Territory, the Church continued to grow in the South Pacific. After being detained for weeks, Addison Pratt and his companion, James Brown, finally received permission from the French governor of Tahiti to stay on the islands as long as they obeyed certain restrictions limiting how they shared the gospel and conducted the Church.
Under the new restrictions, Latter-day Saint missionaries could not preach against the nation’s established religion or interfere with political or civil matters. The restrictions also limited how the missionaries could support themselves, correct wayward Church members, acquire land for the Church, and hold meetings. If they failed to comply with these regulations, the missionaries could be expelled from the country.20
Addison assigned James to work with a nearby branch while he returned to Tubuai to reunite with his family and lead the mission. The voyage to Tubuai lasted seven days. As the island came in sight of his boat, he took out a spyglass and saw his daughters on the beach looking eagerly back at him with a spyglass of their own. Ribbons of smoke soon appeared on the island as the Tubuaian Saints began preparing a feast for his arrival.
When the boat drew closer to the island, a canoe came out to take Addison to shore. Anxious to reunite with his family, Addison was ready to jump into the canoe, but the ship’s chaplain stopped him. “Let no one leave the vessel till we have tendered thanks to the Lord,” he said.
Addison knelt down with the other passengers, and the chaplain offered a prayer. As soon as he heard “Amen,” Addison leapt into the canoe and was soon brought to the arms of his family and friends. Once again Addison was surprised by how much his daughters had grown. Everyone appeared well and ready to celebrate his safe arrival. And Louisa was relieved to have him back.
“I was brought down to the verge of seasickness on the passage from California,” she told him matter-of-factly, “but am now in good health and spirits.”
Addison moved into his family’s home, which had a fence and a small garden. Benjamin Grouard and the other elders were building a ship, the Ravaai, in a nearby town so they could visit the far-flung islands of the mission. Addison soon started making sails for the ship.21
Louisa, meanwhile, taught school with her sister Caroline in the Saints’ meetinghouse, a breezy room with six large windows on each wall. Classes started early in the morning, and Louisa drilled fidgeting boys and girls in the English language, teaching them their numbers, the days of the week, and the months of the year. The Tubuaian Saints, in turn, spent their evenings tutoring Louisa and the other missionaries in the Tahitian language.22
The faith of the Tubuaian Saints impressed Louisa. They took pleasure in prayer and reading their Bibles. They often rose before dawn, calling their families together for morning devotions. A bell would clang every Sabbath morning at seven o’clock, and around one hundred Saints would assemble at the meetinghouse with Bibles tucked beneath their arms. For the sacrament, they sometimes used fruit and coconut water.23
Many Tubuaian Saints were anxious to gather with the Saints in the United States, but no one could afford the costly voyage. When one missionary family, the Tompkinses, decided to return home after eight months on the island, Addison asked them to raise funds to gather the island Saints to southern California.24
When the Saints completed the Ravaai, the missionaries spread throughout the islands. Ellen joined Addison on his voyage while Louisa stayed behind to continue the school. Addison and Ellen returned six weeks later, and Louisa often joined her husband in ministering on the island, giving her opportunities to practice the language and reflect on the Lord’s work.
Sometimes she wondered if she was making a difference. “I hope much good will arise from my coming here, though it may not be realized at present,” Louisa wrote. “I have endeavored to sow good seed; the fruit may be gathered up after many days.”25
Back in the eastern United States, news of Brigham Young’s thundering rebuke of Judge Brocchus caused an uproar. Newspapers accused the Church of being in open rebellion against the nation. One editor recommended sending the military to occupy Utah and maintain peace.26
The source of the news was Brocchus himself. Although Brigham had tried to make peace with him after the conference, Brocchus refused to apologize to the Saints and penned a scathing account of Brigham’s reaction to his speech. “The ferment created by his remarks was truly fearful,” Brocchus wrote. “It seemed as if the people (I mean a large portion of them) were ready to spring upon me like hyenas and destroy me.”27
The Deseret News, the Church’s new newspaper, dismissed the charges as baseless. Realizing the harm Brocchus’s account could do to the Church, however, the First Presidency asked Thomas Kane for help, hoping his talents as a lobbyist and writer could prevent a scandal.28 Brocchus and two other officers, meanwhile, left Utah and immediately began sharing their stories, turning public opinion against the Saints.29
Thomas Kane agreed to help, and he worked closely with John Bernhisel, Utah’s representative in Congress, to share the Saints’ side of the story with the president of the United States and other government officials. Brigham also sent Jedediah Grant, the outspoken mayor of Salt Lake City and a trusted Latter-day Saint, to help Thomas in Washington, DC.30
Jedediah arrived ready to defend the Church. With the public decidedly against the Saints, many people were calling on the president to remove Brigham from the governor’s office. Brocchus and the other officers, moreover, had written a detailed report of their tenure in Utah to the president. The report claimed that Brigham and the Church dominated the region, controlled the minds and property of Church members, and practiced polygamy.31
After the report was published, Jedediah took a copy to Thomas and they reviewed it together. Thomas read the claims about polygamy and dismissed them outright. They were nothing but absurd rumors, he believed.
Jedediah grew uncomfortable. The rumors were not all false, he told Thomas. In fact, the Saints had been practicing plural marriage for as long as Thomas had known them.32
Thomas was stunned. For five years, he had loved and defended the Saints, often putting his reputation on the line for them. Why had they never told him that they practiced plural marriage? He felt betrayed and humiliated.33
Thomas agonized for days over the knowledge, unsure if he could continue to help the Saints. He assumed that polygamy disadvantaged women and threatened family unity. He worried that defending the Saints might forever associate his name with the practice.34
Yet he also admired the Saints and valued their friendship. He wanted to aid oppressed and misunderstood people in their times of trouble, and he could not abandon the Saints now.35
On December 29, Thomas wrote to John Bernhisel with a plan for counteracting the officers’ report. “As I still recognize the relations of personal respect and friendship toward you,” he stated, “I will be ready to assist you if you desire me to.”
But he urged the Saints to do two things: stop concealing plural marriage and explain the practice to the public.36
After a year on Tubuai, Louisa Pratt and Caroline Crosby felt comfortable enough with the Tahitian language to hold regular prayer meetings with the women of the Church. At these meetings, the women sang hymns together and discussed the gospel. Louisa and Caroline grew fond of the women of the Church, especially Queen Pitomai, the wife of King Tamatoa of Tubuai.
Since Ellen Pratt had quickly mastered the language, her mother and aunt often depended on her to translate for them at the prayer meetings. At the October 30 meeting, however, Caroline sang the opening hymn in Tahitian with two Tubuaian women, and Louisa gave a sermon in the language.
Louisa’s subject was the Book of Mormon. Before the meeting, she had written out her talk and Benjamin Grouard had translated it into Tahitian. As Louisa read the talk, the women in the room appeared to understand her, and afterward they asked her to tell them more about the ancient Nephites.
As her confidence with Tahitian increased, Louisa grew more eager to share the gospel. One day, shortly after her forty-ninth birthday, she taught a group of women about baptisms for the dead, surprising herself at how well she did. “Little do we know what we can do till we make a thorough trial,” she reflected. “Past the meridian of life, I learned a new language.”37
Several weeks later, on November 29, the Ravaai stopped at Tubuai on its way to visit other islands. One of the missionaries on board was James Brown, who was again a prisoner of Tahiti’s French government. He had been arrested on the Anaa atoll after French priests overheard him encouraging the Saints there to gather to the United States. Deeming his words political, French officials arrested him for sedition and banished him from the country.
James thought he had to stay on the Ravaai, subsisting on bread and water, until the crew dropped him off on an island outside French jurisdiction. But Queen Pitomai boarded the ship and invited him on shore. “This is my island,” she said. “I will be responsible for all the trouble that may arise.”
James remained on Tubuai for ten days, then left to serve on an island just outside of French jurisdiction. His banishment was evidence that the French government was growing stricter, making it almost impossible for foreign missionaries from many faiths to do their work. Discouragement and frustration, coupled with homesickness, soon beset the Saints from the United States, and they decided it was time to return home.38
Louisa knew many of the faithful Tubuaian Saints wanted to go with them to the United States. Telii, the Pratts’ closest friend, planned to make the journey, but family responsibilities on the island prevented her from going. Louisa also wanted to bring some of her students to Salt Lake City, but their parents would not let them go. Others who wished to go lacked money to pay their way.
“We shall intercede to have you removed to the Church when we get home,” Louisa told the women at their March 11 prayer meeting. “In the meantime, you must pray for yourselves and for us.”39
Three weeks later, the Tubuaian women gathered for their final prayer meeting with Louisa and Caroline. Knowing this was their last meeting together affected Caroline deeply. She could see that some of the women were sad to see them go. Yet the Spirit filled the meeting, and the women spoke and prayed together until late in the evening. Louisa said goodbye to her students and left Telii in charge of them. Caroline gave a quilt she had made to Queen Pitomai, who gave her a beautiful dress in return.40
On April 6, 1852, the missionaries on Tubuai boarded the Ravaai. The island Saints came to the beach to bid them farewell, bringing food for the voyage. “Be comforted,” Louisa told them. “I will pray that at some future time you might come to the Church of Christ in America, even to Zion in the valley of the Rocky Mountains.” Everyone wept, and they shook hands for the last time.
The Ravaai set sail at about four o’clock in the afternoon. The Tubuaian Saints waded into the ocean alongside the boat for as long as possible, blessing the missionaries. As the ship moved quietly across the still waters, and the island receded from view, the missionaries could hear the faint farewell of the Saints on shore.
“‘Ia ora na ‘outou.” Peace be with you.41
A few months later, Brigham met with his closest advisers in Salt Lake City. Thanks to Thomas Kane, John Bernhisel, and Jedediah Grant, the controversy with the territorial officers was over for now. Brigham remained the governor, and new federal officers were sent to replace Brocchus and others who had left Utah. Yet Church leaders had still made no official statement about plural marriage, as Thomas had urged them to do.
Brigham contemplated the best way to announce the practice. With its headquarters in Utah securely established, the Church had never been stronger. Also, plural marriage now had a central role in the lives of many Saints, greatly affecting how they understood their covenant relationship to God and their families. Keeping the practice private for much longer seemed both impossible and unnecessary. The time was right to make plural marriage public, and they decided to explain the practice more fully to the Saints and the wider world at an upcoming two-day conference on missionary work.42
The conference began on August 28, 1852. On that day, the First Presidency called 107 men to missions in India, Siam, China, South Africa, Australia, Jamaica, Barbados, and other places across the globe. “The missions we will call for during this conference are, generally, not to be very long ones,” George A. Smith quipped. “Probably from three to seven years will be as long as any man will be absent from his family.”43
As missionaries, they were expected to carry the gospel of Jesus Christ to the peoples of the world. “Let truth and righteousness be your motto,” Heber Kimball counseled, “and don’t go into the world for anything else but to preach the gospel, build up the kingdom of God, and gather the sheep into the fold.”44
The next day, Orson Pratt stood to deliver the sermon on plural marriage to the Saints. His words would be published in the Deseret News, and other newspapers across the world would quickly reprint its report. Orson designed the sermon to teach missionaries the doctrinal foundations of plural marriage so they could teach and defend the practice while serving in the mission field.45
“The Latter-day Saints have embraced the doctrine of plurality of wives as part of their religious faith,” Orson declared from the stand. “We shall endeavor to set forth before this enlightened assembly some of the causes and whys and wherefores.”46
He spoke for the next two hours, drawing on his own understanding of the practice. The scriptures offered few doctrinal statements on plural marriage. The Bible told of righteous men and women, such as Abraham and Sarah, who followed the principle but revealed little about why they did so. The Book of Mormon, however, explained that God sometimes commanded people to practice plural marriage to raise up children unto Him.47
Orson taught the congregation that plural marriage was not about sexual indulgence, as many people outside the Church assumed, but rather about helping to carry out God’s eternal work on earth. At times, Orson suggested, the Lord asked His people to practice plural marriage to multiply and replenish the earth, share the promises and blessings of the Abrahamic covenant, and bring more of Heavenly Father’s spirit children into the world. In these families, such children could learn the gospel from righteous parents and grow up to help establish the kingdom of God.48
Orson also noted that the Lord governed the practice with strict laws. Only the prophet held the keys to the marriage covenant, and no one could perform a plural marriage without his consent. Those who practiced plural marriage, moreover, were expected to keep their covenants and live righteous lives.49
“We can only just touch here and there upon this great subject,” Orson stated as he concluded his remarks. Faithful Saints were heirs to all that God possessed, he declared. By making and keeping eternal marriage covenants, they could nurture families as numerous as the sands upon the seashore.
“I feel to say hallelujah to His great and holy name,” Orson said, “for He reigns in the heavens, and He will exalt His people to sit with Him upon thrones of power, to reign forever and ever.”50
Later that day, Brigham spoke to the Saints about revelation. He noted that some of the Lord’s revelations were difficult to accept when they were first revealed. He recounted his own struggle, twenty years earlier, to accept Joseph Smith’s vision of the afterlife and the three kingdoms of glory.51
“When that first came to me, it was so directly contrary and opposed to my education and traditions,” he admitted. “I didn’t reject it, but I could not understand it.” His faith in the revelation grew as he sought clarity from the Lord. “I would think and pray, read and think, pray and reflect,” he told the Saints, “until I knew and fully understood it for myself, by the visions of the Holy Spirit.”52
Brigham then bore witness of the Lord’s revelation to Joseph Smith on eternal marriage, testifying that God still revealed His words to the Church. “If it was necessary to write them, we would write all the time,” he said. “We would rather the people, however, would live so as to have revelations for themselves, and then do the work we are called to do. That is enough for us.”53
Afterward, Brigham’s clerk, Thomas Bullock, read the Lord’s revelation on plural marriage to an overflowing congregation. Most of the Saints, including those who practiced plural marriage, had never read the revelation before. Some rejoiced knowing that they could finally proclaim the principle freely to the world.54
Immediately following the conference, the newly called missionaries met to receive instruction before they set out to preach on every inhabited continent. Excitement filled the room as the men thought about the work of the Lord rolling forth with new momentum. With the summer almost over, they had little time to waste.
“I want you to go as quick as possible,” Brigham told the missionaries, “and get over the plains before snow falls.”55