In the early part of November, 1838, the wolves being unusually destructive to my sheep, I resolved to take most of them into the adjoining state of Missouri (I was then living in McDonough County, Illinois) and sell them.
While I was ferrying my sheep over the Mississippi, at Quincy, Illinois, I met a young man who had been in the town to get armed and equipped to enter the “Mormon War,” as he pleased to call it. This declaration of the ignorant young man was indeed news to me.
By the time I got home, the Mormons expelled from Missouri began to cross the Mississippi River in a poor and distressed condition.
During the winter, I found my health very much declining. I had concluded to rent my farm and move into the village. I had 300 acres tillable land, between 5,000 and 8,000 bushels of grain that I had no market for, a large quantity of bacon and lard, about 250 head of hogs, about 100 head of cattle, together with sheep and poultry, and fourteen well-selected horses, well suited for the saddle or harness; also three yearling colts.
The encumbrance of this property was greatly in the way of my resolution to move to the village. I resolved to seek out some poor Mormon families, and establish them as farmers on my homestead, as I was well supplied with house room.
I had a friend in Quincy who had in one of his houses the families of Joseph Smith, Sen., Samuel H. Smith, Don Carlos Smith, Jenkins Salsbury, and a Brother Henry Hoit. He said they were all destitute and he thought gentlemen, and would suit my purpose.
I waited on the venerable patriarch and those under his roof. He frankly said that his sons would take charge of my farm and effects, and praised God that I had been sent in answer to his prayers.
I arrived home and the Brothers Smith came as was agreed upon. I told them to inform all the destitute Mormons to come and get provisions, and they could be had without money or price.
About this time news reached us that the Prophet Joseph Smith had escaped from prison, and arrived in Illinois, and was making an effort to buy the village of Commerce. I had great anxiety to see him, but Don Carlos informed me that as soon as a place was fixed for the gathering of the Saints, Joseph would be at my place to pay them a visit.
One bright morning I prevailed on my wife to ride on horse-back to visit our tenants on the farm. On our return home. I perceived that a carriage containing a number of persons was meeting us. As we neared it, the appearance of a large man sitting in front driving seemed to be familiar to me, as if I had always known him. Suddenly the thought burst on my mind that it was none other than the Prophet Joseph Smith.
My whole frame was in a tremor with the occurrence of the thought, and my heart seemed as if it were coming up into my mouth.
Getting in speaking distance, he suddenly reined up his horses as making ready to speak. I was much agitated as the words came from his mouth: “Sir, can you tell me the way to the farm of a Mr. Miller, living somewhere in the direction I am going?”
Instead of answering him directly, my reply was, “I presume sir, that you are Joseph Smith, Jr., the Mormon Prophet?”
“I am, sir,” he said, adding, “I also presume that you are the Mr. Miller whose farm I inquired for?”
“I am, sir,” I replied.
He then introduced me to his wife and family.
I solicited him to preach. He excused himself as not feeling like sermonizing, having just escaped from prison; that he felt like a bird uncaged and was more disposed to reconnoiter the country and visit his friends and people.
Upon my urging the matter, he suddenly turned to me, saying that he did think of some one of the elders preaching for me, but he was now resolved on doing it himself; that it had been whispered that a Samaritan had bound up the wounds of his bleeding friends, adding that he would do the best he could in the way of preaching. Accordingly the time and place was fixed upon, and I went to notify the people of the appointment of the Mormon Prophet to preach.
The appointed time arrived. The house and dooryard were filled with people, apparently anxious to hear more for the purpose of fault finding than seeking after truth. He took for his text the chapter in the writings of Luke where a certain man fell among thieves when journeying from Jerusalem to Jericho, and was taken and ministered to by the Samaritan.
He took an extensive latitude while treating on this text, and took up a long time. Notwithstanding it was a rainy day, those outside of the house stood in the rain sheltered by umbrellas until the service was over. I had no remaining doubts left in regard to the truth of the Prophet Joseph, and the doctrine of the gospel as taught by the Latter-day Saints. Shortly thereafter I was baptized by Elder John Taylor, and here a new era of my life was fully ushered in. 1
Benjamin F. Johnson
Previous to the dedication of the Temple, on the 27th of March, 1836, all who had labored upon it were called together, and in the public congregation received their blessings under the hands of the First Presidency. I felt a great joy in these prophetic words that filled and thrilled me. Yet all the time I was thinking that these blessings would only be for those who had labored with their hands upon the Temple. As I had not myself worked upon it, not being strong enough for such labor, I felt that I would not receive any blessing and it grieved me exceedingly. On the last day of blessings, I was standing by the door in the crowded congregation. How I did yearn for a blessing! As the last blessing was given, the Prophet earnestly looked towards the door where I was standing and said to his brother Hyrum, “Go and see if there is not one more yet to be blessed.”
Brother Hyrum came to the door and put his hand upon my shoulder, and asked me if I had not worked upon the Temple.
I said, “No sir,” but it seemed like passing a sentence upon my fondest hopes.
He then asked if I had done nothing towards it.
I then thought of a new gun I had earned and given as a donation, and of the brick I had helped to make. I said, “I did give often”
“I thought there was a blessing for you,” he said; and he almost carried me to the stand.
The Prophet blessed me with a confirmation of all his father had sealed upon me in my patriarchal blessing, and many more also. I felt then that the Lord had respect for my great desire.2
Mercy R. Thompson
I received my endowments by the directions of the Prophet Joseph, his wife Emma officiating in my case. In his instructions to me at that time, he said, “This will bring you out of darkness into marvelous light.”
I saw him by the bedside of Emma, his wife, in sickness, exhibiting all the solicitude and sympathy possible for the tenderest of hearts and the most affectionate of natures to feel. And by the deathbed of my beloved companion, I saw him stand in sorrow, reluctantly submitting to the decree of Providence, while the tears of love and sympathy freely flowed.
This indeed was a time of sorrow, but I can never forget the tender sympathy and brotherly kindness he ever showed toward me and my fatherless child. When riding with him and his wife Emma in their carriage, I have known him to alight and gather prairie flowers for my little girl.
At another time—a time never to be forgotten—I was present at a meeting when Joseph knelt down with the small congregation surrounding him, when every sentence he uttered seemed to convey to my mind, and to the minds of others present, the impression that this was our last meeting together—and so it was.
It seemed to me that there was nothing forgotten or omitted by him, at that time, which pertained either to himself or the Church generally.
A few days after this, he called at his brother Hyrum’s to take leave of the family previous to their crossing the Mississippi River, intending to go west to the Rocky Mountains to seek out, if possible, a place of peace and safety for the Saints. His parting words to my sister Mary, as she wept at their going, were these: “Sister Mary, don’t feel bad. The Lord will take care of you, and He will deliver us, but I do not know how.”
The two brothers then started to cross the river, not knowing whether they would ever see their homes again or not. But on account of the feelings expressed by some of the brethren, who should have been their truest friends, and by their urgent request, sent after them, they returned to Nauvoo the following day. Although I did not know that the brothers had returned home to be taken as “lambs to the slaughter,” my feelings were indescribable, and the very air seemed burdened with sorrowful forebodings. 3
- Correspondence of Bishop George Miller with the Northern Islander, pp. 1-6.
- The journal of Benjamin F. Johnson, Church Historian’s Library, Salt Lake City, Utah; “An Interesting Letter,” from Patriarch Benjamin F. Johnson to George S. Gibbs, 1903; Benjamin F. Johnson file, Church Historian’s Library, Salt Lake City, Utah.
- The Juvenile Instructor, XXVII, (July 1, 1892), pp. 398-400.