“Thomas B. Marsh,” Church History Topics
“Thomas B. Marsh”
Born in Massachusetts in 1799, Thomas B. Marsh left home at age 14 and engaged in a series of short-lived professions in Vermont and New York. At various times he farmed, waited tables, groomed horses, sold groceries, and made printing-press type. Dissatisfied with existing religions, he withdrew from all churches, anticipating the day when a new church would arise with “the truth in its purity.”1 In 1830, he learned of the restored gospel and journeyed to Palmyra, New York, where he met Martin Harris and was given 16 pages of the Book of Mormon, just off the press. Marsh returned to Massachusetts and showed the pages to his wife, Elizabeth Godkin Marsh, who believed the translation to be the work of God.
The Marshes moved with their three children to Palmyra in September 1830 and were baptized into the Church shortly thereafter. After moving to Kirtland, Ohio, in 1831, Marsh was ordained a high priest. In November 1832, he moved to Jackson County, Missouri, and settled his family in a comfortable log house on the Big Blue River and began farming the land. After mobs drove the Saints out of the county, the Marshes settled in nearby Lafayette County, where Marsh taught school.
Marsh filled important callings during those years. Soon after joining the Church, he was called by revelation to be a “Physician unto the Church.” It is unclear whether Marsh, who had no formal medical training, was to serve as a medical doctor or rather as a spiritual healer.2 In Missouri, he served as branch president and, later, on the Zion high council. In April 1835, he was ordained a member of the newly created Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. At age 36, he was the oldest member of that body and was therefore sustained as the first president of the quorum in the Church’s history.
Marsh promptly led the Twelve on a mission to the eastern states. The quorum was made up of young men, all of them with just a few years of experience in the Church. In 1837, during a time of economic crisis and dissension in Kirtland, some of the Twelve questioned Joseph Smith’s leadership, and Marsh struggled to unify the quorum. Although four of the Twelve were excommunicated from the Church, Marsh was instrumental in helping others in the quorum, including Parley P. Pratt, to overcome their concerns and remain faithful.
Around that same time, Joseph Smith had sent Apostle Heber C. Kimball to open missionary work in England. Upon learning this, Marsh took offense, perhaps disappointed that as quorum president he had not been consulted about this assignment. “Be thou humble and the Lord thy God shall lead thee,” a revelation given through Joseph Smith told him. The Lord urged Marsh to be faithful and “rebel not against my servant Joseph.”3
Yet, after moving to Far West, Missouri, in 1838, Marsh grew critical of Joseph Smith and opposed Latter-day Saints using violence to fight mobs in Missouri.4 He and Orson Hyde signed an affidavit detailing their concerns about Mormon violence, which became one piece of evidence used against the Saints by Missouri officials. “I got a beam in my eye and thought I could discover a mote in Joseph’s,” he recounted years later, “though it was nothing but a beam in my eye.”5 He withdrew from the Church in October 1838, and he and Elizabeth raised their family in Missouri. Elizabeth died in 1854, and Marsh sought readmittance into the Church three years later. While assisting with Church emigration, he was soon rebaptized in Florence, Nebraska. Eventually settling in Utah, Marsh married Hannah Adams, taught school in Spanish Fork, and later moved to Ogden, where he died in 1862.
Related Topics: Quorum of the Twelve