Zerah Pulsipher Autobiographical Sketch #1

There are three known manuscripts of autobiographies written by Zerah Pulsipher. The most famous autobiography is actually a combination of the second and third autobiography manuscripts. This earliest known draft of an autobiography seems to have been written by Zerah Pulsipher in the early 1850s. It recounts stories of Zerah’s ancestors as well as his conversion and early experiences in the Church in New York and Kirtland. It covers similar events to the ones in his more famous autobiography but in different ways, often going into greater depth. Unfortunately, only about eight pages, plus two inserts on smaller paper have been preserved, though it appears that the original document would have been longer, as it stops in the middle of a narrative.

Typescript prepared by Chad L. Nielsen, July 2014. Spelling, punctuation and paragraphs retained as presented in the original.

Zerah Pulsipher
Zerah Pulsipher


I was <born> June 24th AD 1789 the names of my Parents were John and Elizabeth Pulsipher My Grandfather Pulsipher removed from C.t. in New england in the year 1769 but a season Previous to that he came to Vt. To a Town afterwards <called> Rockingham near Bellows falls on Conneticut River an entirely new country five miles west of the falls before a blow was struck by a white inhabitant he saught a Location and Predicted where the site for Town business would be done and where the Meting house and bureing [burying] ground would be he then selected five hundred Acres of Land which to this day remains to be the inheritance of many of his posterity the Meting house Bureing [burying] ground and site of Town business has taken place to the Letter According to his prediction Eighty four years before My Great Grandfather is supposed to be a descendant from Ireland and as observed above he Grandsire established a settlement and constructed the b<u>ilding into a fruitful field Established a Large Publick house wich remained for many years[.] when <the> revelution commened [commenced] in the spring of =75 my father being [torn] years of of age one day being absent from <home> heard A [torn] Distruction of the Military stores at Concord [illegible] and Battle of Lexington saught for a recruting officer and enlisted for before he returnd home and informed his father what he had done the old man being about fifty years old  after deliberating upon it and being aquainted with the usages of war on account of his experience in the french war said to him John you ar[torn] [aren’t old] Enough to go alone I will go with you accordingly he [torn] [did, and they both went] together[.] in June following the Battle of Bun[torn] [Bunker Hill was] faught they stood and faught side and side [torn] time after the orders were given for retr[torn] [retreat, and] knowing it my father looking round an[torn] [and seeing them] selves nearly surrounded said father, Look [torn, ink splotch] tleman turning round and said to [torn] [p.[2]] there was but a small gap then left that was not surrounded by the Enemy and the ground in <that> was continualy with the plowing with Balls from the Britis shiping but as they were going out my grand father saw an american soldier wounded crawling away upon his hands & knees and a brittish soldier coming up pierced his Body with a bayonet my grandsire being fired with indignation at such ingratitude so contrary to the usuages of war s<t>oped amid all the dangers and Perrils which he was there surrounded and deliberately sounded his gun and shot him down before he left the ground and then attained a safe retreat I merely mention these things that my posterity may under stand that their ancesters had the Blood of Liberty and Judgement deliberately exercised in times of the most Emenent danger for the avenging of the Blood of the Inocent and putting [torn] [down] oppression but as I observed my grandsire procured a safe retreat and remained for some months till taken with [torn] cramp Rheumatism in the Breast and died but my father served the campaign out and then returned home to his friends[. He] soon married and raised seven sons and three daughters was always a firm promoter of the rights of the Constitution of the united states with an energetick for Liberty and Equal rights of man he was remarkably persevering in the things he engaged in but all with the most canded deliberation his government was absolute in his family kind and friendly to his Neighbors and especially to <the> poor at least once a year he would go to some expense to make a f[torn]vite [feast and invite] the poorest People there was in the Town and [torn] [received] them with the greatest pleasure. I always had great [torn] my father altho he was remarkably persevering [torn]ily authority I was allways taught to read the Bible [torn] [observe] the sabbath I recollect one circumstance when I w[torn] Probably not more than nine or ten years old [torn] [my father] was taken sick and remained dangerous [p.[3]] & for some months altho I was not appraised of it one day there  were a number of the neighbors in I heard them saying among them selves that Mr. Pulsipher must die It struck me with astonishment I wondered if my father must die then and leave a large family of <children> to the open world without a head I <thought> upon the dangerous circumstances we should be in and was very unwilling to have it so affter a little reflection a thought come into my mind that I must go immediately to the barn and pray for him to get well altho I had never prayed in my life except being taught to say the Lord’s prayer but I did not hesitate one moment but ran as fast as me legs could carry me and when I got to the place was about to kneel down something whispered in my ear that if I [illegible] [stayed] I should die in that place and should never rise again. I was so supprised that I ran back as fast as I came

from that I had many reflections relative to thing seen and unseen I became considerably acquainted <with the Bible> and generally knew when [torn] it repeated correct[.] as for the Doctrene of Eternal punishm[torn] [punishment] I did not comprehend as the sects taught it to me it [torn-seemed]  inconsistent to me with the attributes of god as it seem[torn] many thing that were taught by the <sects> after careful investigation I laid them aside for further consideration and desired more light I often thought upon the Blesed privilege that saints had in [torn] [p.[4]] and the glory of the Millenium  when light and truth would fill the Earth. At length the time came when god should bring to pass the things spoken by the Prophets Accordingly in the summer of 1830 I heard a Minister say in Public that a golden Bible on some ancient Peoples were found in Manches<ter> N.Y.[1] the sentence thriled through my sistem like a shock of Electricity I therefore watched the movement of things and in sept. <of> 1831 the Book of Mormon was brought into the Town I suceeded in Borrowing it I read it through then times and thought Posible it might be true in Jan.ry following Jared Carter came to town my<self, in company> with two other Preachers went to hear him preach. I watched him remarkably close and found he said nothing that would conflict with scripture he would frequently take up the book of Mormon and declare it a Revelation from heaven it had a very strong impression on my mind But I did not know it to be so myself I therefore arose before the Congregation and said we had been <hearing> strange things and if true was to us of the utmost importance and if not so it must be a great delusion And in as much as it purports to be a revelation from heaven I believed that I could learn from the same source whether it was or not so I gave them my determination that I would engage with all the energy of <my> soul till I <knew> whether it was from god or not I therefore continued praying mightily to god for a number of days. At length one [torn] [day] as I was threshing in my barn with the doors all closed a ray of light filed my mind remarkably upon the Principles of the gospel I nearly beheld that what I had heard was true but it soon left me to ponder upon it I assumed my labor again but of short duration. Another bright<er> light presented from above with such masterly rays of glory filled to the running over it came with such magestty and power from above that I looked up to see from whence it came and beheld as I thought the Angels of god with the Book of Mormon in their hands informing me that was the great work of god that was to commence in the Last days to fulfil all the all the Prophecies that had been spoken on on that subject. I At length felt such inexpresible Joy and gratitude to my heavenly <father> that he had Brought forth the preparation for that great glory in the day in which I lived that I walk through my barn <crying> glory Hallalujah to god and the lamb forever and ever And I will observed <here> that about twenty years have pased away since that time [p.[5]] and I <had> been through nearly all the wars and Persecution that the People called Latter day saints have past through and have not yet found any thing to shake my faith. But to return to <my> Record in the winter of =32, after receiving such a display of the mercy of of god [I] Informed Br. Carter that I believed in the Gospel that he Preached and [he] answered if I believed I should be baptised[.] I informed him that I was not ready that I was connected with a Large Church of very kind and friendly Breathren and that I wished to see them together and inform them of my calculation

Accordingly I caled a meeting and when they came together they wished to know the meaning of the same I informed <them> that I wished to withdraw form the Churc<h> they wanted to know my reasons I informed them that I had <found that> gospel that I had been ◊anting for many years and was now prepared to engage in it with many other remarks which I made to them they wished to know if I would still Preach [illegible] <to them> after I should with draw I informed <them> I would as much as I Could but wished <[illegible]> spread it all over the Earth and I thought that many would believe it they finally gave me a very handsome Letter of Commendation and I withdrew I then went home informed my family and neighbors of my resolution and my [torn] and only Child that was old enough to be Baptised with three of my Neighbors [torn] the Ordinance as a Church of Latter day saints Br Carter wished to ordain [torn] Elder but I at first refused but after he had Baptised 19 there Came up a [torn]tion and he said he must Leave and if I would not be ordained he must have [torn] were but there being no church that I knew of nearer <then> two hundred miles I consented and Continued in that place to Preach also in the regions surround from thereby to one hundred miles with some success Baptism and many in that place andd some in allmost every place where I preached with signs following them that believed in the spring O Heid [Orson Hyde] and S[amuel] Smith came throu<gh> that Country to my great Joy and satisfaction as I was much in need of instruction they preached a number of times Baptised some <gave me Presidency of the Branch> and went on to the East[2] But as I had for some years Previous to this been acquainted with <many> of People in various parts of the Country there Preachers of Baptist Methodist  Reformers Presbyterian preachers came to try to get me out of the delusion some of them would <manage> [illegible] others gave <me> up for lost while some believed Me and were baptized Among the rest was a Methodist Preacher thought by many to be of considerable importance Came to me saying he was sick and wished to be healed I saw the Church he was of and asked him if he believed that the Methodist were [p.[6]] of the body or Church of Christ he answered in the affirmative I next asked him why he had left <the body & Church of Christ> them and come to an imposter to be healed but was not troubled with his company any longer than while he could not answer and return but I understood the poor man could not preach at his [blurred-church ?] appointment. In the fall =33 there was some division in the Church in consequence of teaching from an Elder that went through there which Teaching I rejected. (the Teaching was that women should have the gift of seeing that they might be able to discover the Mistakes that the Elders might make from time to time and furthermore that they might actually see what was in <their> hearts and if <they> had <any> hypocrisy to declare it before the Church to <this> calling I understood he ordained a number of the sisters who made use of this power to the condemning some & satisfying others without any other testimony) This caused me a Journey to Kirtland Ohio 325 miles in <the> month Dec<ember> to get a council of high Priests that would be able to try the spirits to the satisfaction of all the honest in heart I went to Kirtland as quick as I could traveled in the mud by day and rode in the slay [sleigh?]  at night arrived at that place the Last of Dec<br>. they immediately Called a conference and sent R[eynolds] Cahoon and D[avid] Patten who came with Leonard Rich and set things in order. in March following I removed to Courtland Co [Cortland County, New York.] preached some and labored to support my family in March =35 removed to shanang Co. [Chenango County, New York.] Preached [torn] numerous parts of the Country in May =36 Took a company and moved [torn] Ohio there Labored to support my family and build the Temple which was [torn] the next winter Dedicated and I received my first Endowment in the Temple with about 300 others we also attended many feasts that winter of Bread and wine In the fall of =37 I went on a mission to Canada Broke new ground Baptized 29 Members returned home in the winter <and was ordained a president of the seventy> of =38 that winter a heavey time of persecution arose the first Presidency fled for their lives and went to [illegible] with Many to Missouri (The winter Previous to I was ordained to the first Council of the Seventies) Most of the Church that <could> to get away went of that winter when a large number of the Poor Class <was left> behind there were a number of the seventies that continued to Meet together and at one time when twenty or thirty of us were together we agreed to Put our Property together and all fare alike and move to Missouri helping each other with all we had till we got through and our agreement felt a great degree of the <◊◊◊◊◊t> of god other heard of it and flashed into our Meting desiring to be received into the company they continuously kept [p.[7]]coming and among them the poorst of the poor that had not even Clothing to their Backs suficient to leave home. But we soon found that we had got a Job on hand that was not so easily got along with becaus those poor were in as good felloship with the Church as those that had gone <and> probably got through. There were seven of us who were engaged as council of that Camp Pres. Joseph Young, Henry Heriman [Harriman], Z[erah] Pulsipher, Josiah Butterfield, James Foster, Elias Smith, & Benjamin Wilber.[3] This seven set themselves at work to remove the Poor from Kirtland to Missouri in time of the Kirtland persecution in =37 and =38 without means ourselves or knowing where it should come from there were at this time about six hundred that were of this <pact> to remove near one thousa<nd> <miles> and feeling ourselves as inadequate with<out> the assistance of some higher power that should interfere we therefore saught the Lord in Prayer in the Atick story of the Lords house from two to three times per week that the way might open for means to affect the purpose. At length at one time when we assembled in prayer a Bright Looking Mesenger stood before me drest in a white robe stood Before me while we were engaged in Prayer he was an old man but very tall and strait with long grey hair that hung over his shoulders [torn]th curld at the end with a grave penetrating countanance with grey eyes [torn]ed his eyes from me to the other breathren and then to me again [torn]t leaning his head and then spoke and said be one and you shall have Enough this gave great satisfaction to find that the Heavenly mesengers were interested on our behalf a short time from this a man sent word to us that he would lend us $300 Dollars and donate fifty more on our mission we therefore obtained all we could in addition to this and sent to Buffaloe and Bought Cloths at wholesale and Clothed the Peopple alittle better A little circumstance which took place about that <time> I will now relate the Mob <were> very hostile all the time while we were preparing for three months our constant practice was to meet in the Temple for prayer one evening after we had retired home late some persons set fire to a Methodist Meeting house which stood near our temple and burnt it down allso  threw a brand of fire attacht to straw in to the temple window but this went out[.] the next day the cry was made that the Council had burned the Meeting house this was done for a pretext to destroy us but we paid no attention to it but steadily pursued our way at length one of the strong leaders of the Mob had a Vision and saw [document ends here, but two small additions on smaller paper were attached] [p.[9]]

1st Addition

  1. Page Here, I had many Controversies with sectarian Priests in as much as I did believe in there manner of Preaching and Punishme<nt> Pronounced on the People that did receive their faith and they accordingly Pronounced on me Tracts of Infidelity which were some of the Principles of the Fulness of the Gospel which we now Practice and Believe

2nd Addition

As soon as I saw the Preacher again I informed him that I knew the work to be of god and that the Book of Mormon was True he then if you believe then be Baptised I said I was not quite Reaedy as I Belonged to a Large Church and wish<ed> to see them together & withdraw in a proper manner I Caled a Chruch meeting they wished to know the cause of their coming together I arose and informed them that it was on my account that they were Caled Together I said that I had many times informed that the True gospel was not on the Earth if so I had not heard it and if it should come in my day that I should [leave] the Baptist and go to them and that I had now found it I also in formed them of the Open Vision that I had and its effects on me and wished they would releas me that I might go free [p.[10]] The Deacon then ordered the Clark to write me a good Recommend which he did then Brother Older then myself arose and withdrew Accordingly six of us went forward and was Baptised I think in January 1832


Pulsipher, Zerah. “Zerah Pulsipher autobiographical sketch,” undated. MS 753.3. Church History Library of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah.

[1] Silas Hillman recalled that, “a man by the name of [Solomon] Chamberlain came there [Spafford] bringing the Book of Mormon. He gave a history of its origin, how it was obtained, and its translation.” (Journal of Silas Hillman, cited in Rhean Lenore M. Beck, Life Story of Sarah (King) Hillman and Her Husband, Mayhew Hillman [unpublished manuscript, 1968], 8.)

[2] The journal history of the Church records that:

Saturday, December 22, Elders Orson Hyde and Samuel H. Smith returned to Kirtland, Ohio, from their mission to the Eastern States: Elder Orson Hyde, in summing up his missionary labor in 1832 writes:

“I was sent on another mission in company with Brother Samuel H. Smith, a younger brother of the Prophet…. We journeyed early in the spring of 1832, eastward together, without “purse or script,” going from house to house, teaching and preaching in families, and also in the public congregations of the people….

“We hastened on to Spafford, NY where there was a small branch of the Church; and by our ministry added 14 members. We then hastened on to Boston, Mass.” (Journal History, 22 December 1832.)

[3] Elias Smith and Benjamin Wilber were only temporarily functioning as part of the council


Zerah Pulsipher and the Utah War

One of the most pivotal events in the history of Mormon Pioneer Utah was the Utah War of 1857-1858. For the Mormons, the Utah Expedition brought an end to their semi-theocratic kingdom in the Great Basin. For the United States, this “war” drained the treasury and shaped the president’s reaction to impending southern succession on the eve of the Civil War. Zerah Pulsipher was a witness of many of the events of the Utah War as they unfolded and left a few recollections of what occurred. Like many accounts of the Utah War written by nineteenth-century Mormons, we see reverence for Brigham Young combined with the common experience of persecution and mob violence against Mormons shaping Zerah’s portrayal of the war. Historian Will Bagley has noted that the tradition that formed in Mormon portrayals of the war was that it was “part of an epic conflict between good religion and bad government, a story of persecution and vindication, and the triumphant tale of righteous warriors who marched with orders to ‘shed no blood.’”[1] This seems to apply to Zerah as well as any other Mormon.

Zerah was convinced that Mormonism was the true religion, and stated later in life that since his conversion in 1832: “I <had> been through nearly all the wars and Persecution that the People called Latter day saints have past through and have not yet found any thing to shake my faith.”[2] Included in this faith was the belief that Joseph Smith, Jr. was a prophet of God and the leader of the Church and Kingdom of God on earth. After the Prophet’s death in 1844, however, the matter of who was his legitimate successor was brought into question. The strongest option that presented itself was the Quorum of the Twelve, with Brigham Young at its head. Zerah, along with his family, chose to follow Young’s leadership, leaving Illinois with him in February 1846 and remained faithful disciples until their deaths several decades later.

Joseph Smith and Brigham Young statue in Nauvoo, IL.
Joseph Smith and Brigham Young statue in Nauvoo, IL.

Zerah yielded obedience to Brigham Young as the prophet-president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day for most of his later life. One early example of Zerah’s loyalty to Young came in a sermon preached shortly before they left Nauvoo, in which Zerah spoke of the Lord preserving the Quorum of the Twelve, and affirmed his support for following them, stating that: “Certain principles are enjoined on us at this time—to uphold the heads [the Quorum of the Twelve]—let there be a universal awareness that there is perfect safety and that they will live to a good old age and go down to their graves like shocks of corn fully ripe.”[3] Later—after Brigham Young had officially become President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—Zerah recorded his conviction that Brigham Young “stood at the head on all power on Earth for the Church of Latter day saints,”[4] and consistently portrayed him as such.

As an early American convert to Mormonism, Zerah also shared many of the experiences that shaped the views the Latter-day Saints held about non-Mormons in the United States. The memories of persecution in Illinois and Missouri were burned deep into Zerah’s mentality, scarring him, causing a continuing fear of further mob violence, and leaving a distrust of non-Mormon intentions. As American historian Richard Lyman Bushman has noted: “For half a century, the war [in Missouri] poisoned Mormon memory.”[5] Over a decade after the events of the 1839 Mormon War, “Z. Pulsipher spoke on the pers[ecution] of L.D.S. in MO & exhorted there who [had] not passed thru the pers[ecution] to rejoice.”[6] In a sermon given January of 1851 in Salt Lake City, Zerah went as far as to state that Joseph Smith’s “blood was spilt & now those very men who shot him want to shoot us.”[7]

Hauns' Mill by C. C. A. Christensen. Image courtesy Wikipedia
Hauns’ Mill by C. C. A. Christensen.
Image courtesy Wikipedia

One sees a further hardening of feelings towards the United States as a whole due to the lack of support the Mormons received in their troubles due to continuing mob violence in Illinois. After the violent death of Joseph and Hyrum Smith in 1844 Zerah’s son John recorded that, “The Whole nation is accessory to their death, because the murderers have boasted thro’ the States of their heroic deeds, and the first one of them has never been punished for committing that murder! And what is still more strange, is no man has ever been punished in the United States for killing a Mormon.”[8] Within two years, the remainder of the Saints fled Illinois. Seen through John Pulsipher’s eyes, the Saints were blameless while the United States as a whole was responsible for this injustice: “Just because we were Saints—our enemies were allowed to rob mob plunder and drive us from the pleasant homes that we have worked so hard to make, not satisfied with that, they would kill without cause and without fear, all seemed combined from the head of Government down.”[9]

These feelings were such that, when the United States came to recruit what has since been known as the Mormon Battalion—a move meant by the President Polk of the United States to “conciliate them [the Mormons], attach them to our country, & prevent them from taking part against us” by providing a means of dispensing hard cash to the Mormons—that the Pulsipher, like many other Mormon families, regarded the move as a plot against the Mormons.[10] Zerah commented that he thought the recruitment came “through the influence of Old Tom Benton who was a noted mobber in the first Missouri persecution and was then in the senate” and noted that it was a hardship for the Saints because “this left the church with old men children and many poor women while there husbans were fighting the battles of the united states.”[11]

Winter Quarters by C. C. A. Christensen
Winter Quarters by C. C. A. Christensen

The first prolonged contact with the U.S. Army in Utah—the Edward J. Steptoe expedition of 1854-1855—did not improve Zerah’s perception of the United States government and army. In a later autobiography, Zerah wrote: “About year =54 or =55 an Army came from the united states to the Valey commited some little depredations but were held at bay.” The depredations Zerah spoke of included incidents of public drunkenness and riot as well as fraternization with Mormon women. Most vexatious to the Mormons was the fact that upon departure the army was accompanied by as many as one hundred married and single Mormon women seeking an exit from the Church. This has been considered by historian William P. MacKinnon to be a “watershed in what by the end of 1855 had become an accelerating, potentially violent deterioration in Mormon-federal relations.” By the time Colonel Steptoe’s detachment left the Salt Lake Valley for California in May 1855, Brigham Young had vowed to never again allow federal troops into Utah and in proximity to its women.[12] Pulsipher recalled this feeling in his own way by recollecting a friendly conversation with an officer at Camp Floyd after the arrival of the Utah Expedition in 1858. In this conversation, the officer asked: “What did your people think they could do with 3000 men armed as they were[?]” Zerah’s response was that: “Our people patience had been so perfectly worn threadbare in consequence of the various depridations that had been committed by the other soldiers and strangers upon both male and female that they were hard to hold.”[13]

On the Utah War

Zerah’s recollections of the Utah War are better understood when the foregoing discussion of his belief in the divinity of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and obedience to its leader, Brigham Young, combined with the experiences that created something of a persecution complex in Zerah are kept in mind. Throughout his autobiographies, Zerah portrays the events of the Utah War as a vindication of his religion and people against a corrupt, Gentile nation. Pulsipher’s coreligionists are generally portrayed as doing no wrong while the actions of the United States are portrayed as a series of blunders that worked to ultimately help the Mormons. In Zerah’s eyes, the initial cause of the conflict was that: “Br[other] Brigham gave some strong prophetic language relative to <the> united states of America,” following which “the President and Congress became very hostile to us and <seemed> to have a design <to> form us like themselves or destroy us[.] Therefore they sent an army to bring us too or destroy us.” To make his feelings clear that the expedition turned out to be a blunder, he noted that in time: “The President and Congress saw their mistak in sending the army here notwithstanding they had charged us with treason and many other offenses. They sent commissioners here forgave all our sins against them and wished peace and tranquility.”[14]

Zerah viewed the Utah Expedition as a blunder on the part of the United States
Zerah viewed the Utah Expedition as a blunder on the part of the United States

It must be noted that in reality, while accounts of atrocities and horrors in Utah that inspired the Utah Expedition were greatly exaggerated in the States at the time, the Mormons were not completely guiltless. Poor interactions with Federal officials; mob action in Salt Lake City that resulted in the destruction of property belonging to Federal Judge George P. Stiles; the bombastic and sometimes violent rhetoric of the Mormon Reformation of 1856-1857; and the murders of William, Beeson, and Orrin Parrish along with George Potter in 1857 were causes of considerable concern to the U.S. government.[15] Still, in retrospect, those events were probably not sufficient cause to pit nearly one-third of the U.S. Army against the country’s largest, most experienced militia on the eve of the Civil War, resulting in the near-depletion of the U.S. Treasury; the forced resignation of a secretary of war; the bankruptcy of the nation’s largest freighting company; and severe damage to the reputation of the president of the United States and his nerve for confronting southern secession.[16] Yet, the blameless appearance of the Mormons in Zerah’s writings says much about his about his feelings towards his own people and religion.

When it comes to relating what Bagley referred to as a “triumphant tale of righteous warriors who marched with orders to ‘shed no blood,’” Zerah portrayed the Mormons as having the upper-hand throughout the conflict with the U.S. Army at their mercy. In relating the experience of the Mormon militia raiding the army companies and ensuring that they stayed the winter in Wyoming, he merely said that: “We found that it was not wisdom to let them [the Utah Expedition] come in that way” because they “had some appearance of hostility” and “we did not like their hostile spirit nor their habits.” So, he continued, “we were not willing to trust them to come in to our midst with those felings [and] we held them in the Mountains till we were ready to receive them.”[17] During the conversation with the army officer in Camp Floyd, he told the officer that:

It is my opinion that if the men of salt <lake> city were to fall upon you that they would dstroy you at a Breakfast spell and salt lake is but one city to a great many both north and south and west[.] I recollect at one time while in our Sunday meting while you were in the Mountains in the winter that <some> of the authorities wanted to let our men fall upon you but Brigham held them back and took that influence away saying that there were many in that army that were honest men and if we should destroy <them> we should do wrong therefore they were held back for further consideration and if they pleas they may thank Brigham Young for that.[18]

Snow march during the Utah War
Snow march during the Utah War

It is interesting to compare this confident assertion—written down after the War had concluded—with the journal entries of his eldest son, John Pulsipher, during the course of the war. At first, fear mixed with defiance shines through:

The news from this day [July 26, 1857] is that Hell is boiling over and the devil is mad. The US mail is stopped and an army is coming to kill us. Parley Pratt is murdered. . . .

August 16 . . . This looks like former times when we have had to leave our homes and hard earned possessions—but we are very willing to prepare for safety, for we have no confidence in the government officials.[19]

As events proceeded that fall, the Pulsiphers became a bit more confident: in late October, 1857, John “received a letter from brother Charles of the 17th. Says the U. S. Army, as they call themselves, are determined to come in—and say they are fully able to do so—yet he says we are whipping them without killing a man having taken their stock, burned their freight trains and now have burned Fort Supply and Bridger to save them from falling into their hands.”[20] When the army began to advance again the next March, however, John was not as confident about the situation: “The U.S. Army east of us have wintered very well and are threatening to come upon us and make a final end of all that will not join them. Truly this is a trying time, Destruction stares us in the face which ever way we turn.”[21] After an April 6 meeting with Brigham Young, though, John recorded that he “felt firstrate and perfectly satisfied as to the triumph of Israel.”[22] On his journal entries go, cycling through being fearful, defiant, and triumphant as events unfold. It seems that with the problem settled, Zerah was able to remember the triumphs more than the fear.

As the army arrived, Zerah—as a ranking official in the Church and as a city council member—remained in Salt Lake City to watch the army’s entrance into the city while the “women and children were moved to the south.” He owned property not far from the location of Camp Floyd, where the army settled after their arrival in the Territory. This was both a blessing and a curse for the Pulsiphers. It was a blessing because Zerah was able to meet a few officers in the army and found that “the[y] <were> disposed to be friendly” and that they “treated me very kindly.”[23] What is more, the Army provided economic opportunities and the chance to obtain badly-needed supplies. As Zerah recalled, after the army settled down and the Mormons were offered amnesty by the Federal government: “We all moved back to our possessions peacefully[.] In the mean time we were rather destitute of clothing but speculators followed the army and brought more goods to the Valey than was ever brought before so that this people were decently clothed[.] All this we considered direct from the hand of god to supply our wants.”[24] The capstone of this beneficial trading came when the camp was evacuated at the start of the U.S. Civil War in 1861. There followed what historian Leonard J. Arrington characterized as “probably the largest government surplus property sale yet held in the history of the nation.” Millions of dollars of property were sold for a fraction of their value.[25] Zerah recollections of this event were that: “After a short time they began to dwindle away Till they all left and left many thousand dollars worth of property which they <sold> for <a> trifling sums.”[26]

The Army Enters Salt Lake City
The Army Enters Salt Lake City

The army’s presence was also a curse in Zerah’s eyes because of poor behavior on the part of some of the soldiers and the moral influence they had on the people of Utah. He recalled problems with a Camp Floyd herdsman driving cattle onto the Pulsipher farm, causing some damage to his property, and noted “that a few [residents from Camp Floyd] would come into town some times and commit depredations for which <we> would chasten them.”[27] Historians James B. Allen Glen M. Leonard also observed that “the blessing was mixed  . . .  for all the vices of civilization also were introduced and nurtured by the army and its satellite community.”[28] On a similar note, Zerah commented—quite pointedly—that:

Evils have followed the army[—]such a herd of abominable <characters> have come in the wake that lying, horeing [whoring,] gambling, robing, stealing, murdering till it seemed as thoug they were determined to break up all law and order in the territory[.] They brought with them much spurious liquor which still furthered them in their abominations and <many> of our people who were weak joined with them in their wickedness especially the rising generation who imbibed their habits this gave us some trouble to labour and keep the church in order.[29]


This last statement seems to capture the motivations and drives that shaped Zerah’s portrayal of the Utah War quite well. Concern for preservation of private property, morality, and order in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with Brigham Young at its head caused Zerah to portray the Utah War as a tale of conflict between righteous faith and corrupt government. His belief in the leadership of his prophet-president Brigham Young and repeated experiences of mob violence colored his perceptions of the war as the persecution and vindication of a Godly but hated people. In this regard, Zerah Pulsipher’s recollections of the conflict match many other Mormon reminiscences of their glorious defeat of “Johnston’s Army.” Whether right or wrong, these portrayals reflect on both shared experiences of the Utah Mormons and their obedience to President Brigham Young.

President Brigham Young
President Brigham Young

For a slightly different version of this essay, which took first place in the 20th annual Arrington Writing Award competition held at Utah State University click here.


[1] Will Bagley, introduction to At Sword’s Point, Part 1: A Documentary History of the Utah War to 1858 by William P. MacKinnon (Norman, OK: The Arthur Clark Company, 2008), 13.

[2] Zerah Pulsipher, “Autobiographical Sketch,” undated, MS 753.3, Church History Library (Church Archives), Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah, 4.

[3] Minutes of 11 January 1846, Meeting of Seventies, notes by Thomas Bullock, in Historian’s Office general church minutes 1839-1877, CR 100 318_1_48_5, Church History Library (Church Archives), Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah.

[4] Zera Pulsipher record book, circa 1858-1878 MS 753 1, Church History Library (Church Archives), Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah, 2.

[5] Richard Lyman Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling, with the assistance of Jed Woodworth (New York: Vintage Books, 2005), 372.

[6] Minutes of 1 September 1850, Meeting in Bowery, Salt Lake City, in Historian’s Office general church minutes 1839-1877, CR 100 318_2_36_8, Church History Library (Church Archives), Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah.

[7] Thomas Bullock, booklet (#10), 12 January 1851, in Historian’s Office general church minutes;1846-1850, CR 100 318, Church History Library (Church Archives), Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah.

[8] John Pulsipher, Journal, 28.

[9] John Pulsipher, Journal, 29-30, emphasis added.

[10] John G. Turner, Brigham Young: Pioneer Prophet (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2012), 150.

[11] Zera Pulsipher record book, 24.

[12] William P. MacKinnon, At Sword’s Point, Part 1: A Documentary History of the Utah War to 1858 (Norman, OK: The Arthur Clark Company, 2008), 48-50.

[13] Zera Pulsipher Record book, 57.

[14] Zerah Pulsipher Record Book, 26-27.

[15] See Thomas G. Alexander Utah: the Right Place, revised edition (Salt Lake City: Gibbs-Smith Publisher, 1996) , 125.

[16] MacKinnon, At Sword’s Point, 17.

[17] Zera Pulsipher Record Book, 27, 56.

[18] Zera Pulsipher Record Book, 57-58.

[19] John Pulsipher, A Mormon Diary as told by John Pulsipher, ed. Donald Neil Burgess (Idyllwild, CA: M3RDPOWER Press, 2006), 100-101.

[20] John Pulsipher, A Mormon Diary, 105.

[21] John Pulsipher, A Mormon Diary, 109.

[22] John Pulsipher, A Mormon Diary, 110.

[23] Zera Pulsipher Record Book, 56-57.

[24] Zerah Pulsipher, Record book, 26

[25] Leonard J. Arrington, Great Basin Kingdom: An Economic History of the Latter-day Saints 1830-1900 (Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 1966), 197-199.

[26] Zera Pulsipher Record Book, 56-57.

[27] Zera Pulsipher Record Book, 58.

[28] James B. Allen and Glen M. Leonard, The Story of the Latter-day Saints, 2nd ed. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1992), 318.

[29] Zera Pulsipher Record book, 26-27.

The Zerah Pulsipher Trial

One aspect of Zerah Pulsipher’s life that has caused concern for his descendants over the years is his 1862 Church trial. The most famous account comes from his quorum president Joseph Young’s records on the Seventy:

Zera Pulsipher transcended the bounds of his priesthood in the ordinance of sealing, for which he was cited to appear before the First Presidency of the Church, and was dropped, by the instruction of President Brigham Young. He was subsequently ordained a Patriarch.”[1]

Assistant Church historian Andrew Jensen builds upon Young’s account and adds a few details:

He [Zerah Pulsipher] transcended the bounds of the Priesthood in the ordinance of sealing, for which he was cited to appear before the First Presidency of the Church, April 12, 1862. It was there voted, that he be rebaptized, reconfirmed and ordained to the office of a High Priest, or go into the ranks of the Seventies. Subsequently he was ordained a Patriarch. Elder John Van Cott was chosen as his successor in the First Council of Seventies…. He died as a member in full fellowship in the Church.[2]

Zerah Pulsipher Image courtesy LDS Church History Library
Zerah Pulsipher
Image courtesy LDS Church History Library

Some confusion has existed in the past on the subject, since neither of the accounts above explicitly state that Zerah was disfellowshipped or excommunicated—just that he was tried before the First Presidency, rebaptized, and given the opportunity to become a high priest. When one individual expressed his or her confusion about the subject and asked for information on Zerah being excommunicated on a family history site, one response was that:

Zera Pulsipher was not ex-communucated [sic]. He was released from the Qurom [sic] because it was found out that he was a Seventy. He later on was set apart as a Pariarch [sic] in St George area. There were also a few others in those early days that were made Seventies and had to be released but not excummicated [sic].[3]

On the other hand, however, Lyndon W. Cook—an expert in early Mormon history—concluded that Zerah had been “either disfellowshipped or excommunicated.”[4] So, was Zerah excommunicated, disfellowshipped, or simply released from office?

We learn a few things about the details of the trial from letters and journal entries made around the time of the event. Sometime around February of 1862, it seems that Brigham Young had been alerted to a few unauthorized polygamous marriages performed by Zerah Pulsipher and had requested more information on the matter from Zerah’s Bishop, Frederick Kesler. The bishop gathered details of the incidents and reported his findings in a letter to President Young. The letter states, in essence, that Zerah performed two polygamous marriages for a Wm Bailey. The first took place in the summer of 1856, when Zerah married a widow by the name of Hannah Hughes to Bailey, though that marriage later ended in a divorce. The second took place in November of 1861 with a girl named Harriet Pareter (possibly Porter). In both of these cases, Kesler noted that “all this marrying has been done over Jordan under the jurisdiction of the 16th ward with out my approbation or concent in the least.”[5]

The second of the two marriages seems to have been more problematic in the eyes of Church officials. Kelser stated that, “Wm Bailey asked me for a recommend to you [Brigham Young] fer to get another wife. I told him to call again, which he did accompanied with the girl which he intended to marry (a Harriet Pareter) they were on their way to your office. I did not feel justified in giving him a recommend & referred him to you in person. He accordingly saw you & returned home took the girl called on Zera Pulsipher & he married them on the 28th day of Nov. 1861.”[6] According to Zerah’s son-in-law, John Alger, what happened between Bailey’s visit to President Young’s office and the wedding was that, “Old man baly came to father [Zerah] Puslipher some time a go and told him that President Young told him to go to him father Pulsipher and that the he should marry a cirtain girl to him Baly which father Pulsipher done,” which Alger called an “over sight” on Zerah’s part.[7]

With the information in hand, the First Presidency called together a hearing for Zerah Pulsipher to determine his standing in the Church. Wilford Woodruff noted in his journal on 12 April 1862 that: “I went to the Seventies Hall and attended the trial of Zera Pulsipher, who had been sealing women to men without authority. He was required to be rebaptized and had the privilege of being ordained into the High Priests Quorum.”[8] The next day, John Alger wrote a letter to some of his family in which he noted that “I was at the Council & so was Thomas we were well satisfiede with the council on that ocasion as they shoed [showed] every respect towards him possible under the cercumstances”, though the Bailey sealings “caused him to loos his standing in the Presidency.” Alger went on to state that, “We are all very sorry that he commited such an over sight But it is as it is and cant be helped it is a very hard loss in his old age.”[9]

Interestingly enough, Zerah’s autobiographies barely mentions the trial at all, covering up what it was when it is mentioned. In his last known autobiographical sketch, Zerah merely states that: “I had much labor to attend to attend among the seventies . . . I discovered that with age that I had approacht to that it began to wair upon my constitution I was advised by some to give up my presidency and let a younger man tak it that would be better qualified to attend to the labours that involved upon it I therefore gave it with the prilege of remaining in the body of the seventies or join the high priest chorum.”[10] Here we have a different view of the trial and the results—that Zerah was released, at least in part, due to his age and health. We know from the other, more contemporary records that that wasn’t the only reason he was released from his presidency, but it does seem to play into it, something we’ll consider later in greater detail.

In approaching the question of excommunication or disfellowshipment, there are a few different points to examine, including the nature of Zerah’s transgression and the nature of the ruling of the trial—specifically his ordination as a high priest and his rebaptism. The first of these to look at, perhaps, would be the nature of his transgression and how it was viewed at the time. Polygamy and the sealing ordinance have a long and complex history in the Mormon movement. It seems that Joseph Smith, Jr. had some idea of plural marriage in the early 1830s and developed the idea during the Nauvoo era, when he began to introduce the principle to other men. Apostle Amasa Lyman once said about the early attempts to practice plural marriage, “We obeyed the best we knew how, and, no doubt, made many crooked paths in our ignorance.”[11] Indeed, during Joseph Smith’s lifetime, the practice of plural marriage was performed in secret and sometimes even involved sealings to women who had previously been wed to other men. These conditions bred a situation of confusion and discord that, in large part, led to Joseph Smith’s death. Some men, such as John C. Bennett, took advantage of this confusion to seduce some Mormon women in Nauvoo, claiming that they were following Joseph Smith’s lead. Even after Joseph’s death and the subsequent migrations to Winter Quarters and Utah, a few instances of this sort continued to happen.

John C. Bennett
John C. Bennett

Perhaps in an attempt to prevent the confusion that occurred in Nauvoo, Joseph Smith outlined that, “there is never but one on the earth at a time on whom this power [the sealing power] and the keys of this priesthood are conferred” and that Joseph Smith was the one to hold the power in his time.[12] Even Hyrum Smith—Joseph’s brother, associate president, patriarch, and right-hand man did not have the right to use this power without permission, even though he had been given the authority “that whatsoever he shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever he shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”[13] According to Brigham Young, when Hyrum officiated in some plural marriages without the Prophet’s approval, he was chastised by Joseph, who said that if Hyrum did it again without authorization, “he would go to hell and all those he sealed with him.”[14]

After the Quorum of the Twelve assumed leadership of the Church, they again asserted that “no man has the right to Attend to the ordinance of sealing except the President of the Church or those who are directed by him so to do.”[15] This belief would continue in the Mormon movement during the Utah period. For example, Albert P. Rockwood of the First Seven Presidents of the Seventy instructed a group of men in Provo, Utah, that, “[I]f you whant a wife, you first ask Brigham, then the Perants & next the female.”[16] During the Mormon stay in Winter Quarters, Brigham Young taught that this line of authority was used, in part, to reduce occurrences of Mormon men going

to some woman that does not understand which is right or wrong and tell her that she cannot be saved without a man and he has almighty power and can exalt and save her and likely tell her that there is no harm for them to sleep together before they are sealed, then go to some clod head of an elder and get him to say their ceremony, all done without the knowledge or counsel of the authority of this church.

“This,” Brigham stated, “is not right and will not be suffered.”[17]

Brigham Young
Brigham Young

With this in mind, it is not surprising to find that, as Young’s biographer John Turner wrote, “In numerous instances, Young disciplined followers for performing sealings without his blessing.”[18] For example, in 1847, Brigham Young complained that apostles Parley P. Pratt and John Taylor had committed adultery by marrying plural wives without his permission. He declared that they had “committed an insult on the Holy Priesthood.”[19] This so incensed Young that after Pratt had been murdered while serving a mission in Arkansas ten years later, he stated that when “Bro. Parley’s blood was spilt, I was glad for it for he paid the debt he owed, for he whored.”[20] Pratt and Taylor seem to have believed that since they held the sealing keys and acted as members of the Quorum of the Twelve (the Quorum, at the time, governed the Church without a First Presidency), they were allowed to perform sealings as they deemed necessary and right, even without express permission of President Young. Their view, however, had lost out to Brigham Young’s view of only the President being able to authorize plural marriages long before Zerah was tried for performing unauthorized sealings.

As for how such incidents were managed, there seems to have been inconsistencies in procedure. Both Parley P. Pratt and John Taylor were held as guilty of adultery because of unauthorized marriages on November 16, 1847, however, they got off with a sever chastisement while William W. Phelps was excommunicated on December 5, 1847 for the exact same offence.[21] The present author has had difficulty in discovering other sources that indicate how similar infractions of plural marriages performed without receiving President Young’s permission were handled, particularly during the era Zerah was put on trial.

It is significant that in the Kesler letter, Zerah’s bishop noted quite pointedly that, “all this marrying has been done over Jordan under the jurisdiction of the 16th ward with out my approbation or concent in the least,”[22] indicating that a break in procedure over lines of authority was a part of the problem. Interestingly, the Alger letter indicates that Bailey told Zerah that Brigham Young had authorized the marriages (even though Young apparently had not done so). This complicates the situation, since it indicates that Zerah was somewhat unwittingly conned into performing the sealings, but was still dropped from the presidency and rebaptized. It is also worth asking, if Zerah’s infractions were serious, why would he have been ordained a high priest right away? Unfortunately, the solution to understanding the incident in light of these considerations isn’t entirely clear. It seems that Zerah’s two main oversights were not approving the sealings with the bishop and not checking in with President Young to make sure that he had authorized the marriages. Perhaps in releasing Zerah, Church leaders were following standard procedure or felt they and to release him to avoid a scandal. It is also possible, given those oversights and Zerah’s age, the First Presidency simply felt that Zerah could no longer handle his duties in the presidency and released him, as Zerah indicated in his own records. Again, the reasons are not clear—we just know the reason the trial was convened and that as a result, Zerah was rebaptized, ordained a high priest, and dropped from the presidency of the seventy.

Looking closer at the Zerah’s suggestion that he was released because of his age, it is worthwhile to examine the nature of his calling and release. The family forum commenter referenced at the start of this essay stated that Zerah was released from the quorum because it was found that he was a seventy. In and of itself, the statement doesn’t quite made sense—it was probably understood that one of the First Seven Presidents of the Seventy would be a seventy—however; there is some validity to the idea behind the statement. During the 1830s, Joseph Smith, Jr. directed that Seventies “may preside over a church or churches, until a High Priest can be had. The Seventies are to be taken from the quorum of Elders, and are not to be High Priests.”[23] Some bickering had occurred before Joseph made the above statement as to whether high priests or seventies were greater in authority, and a council was held on 6 April 1837. Rather than determining which was the greatest, President Smith seems to have decided to just separate the high priests and seventies, inviting all seventies who had previously been ordained high priests to return to the high priests quorum and fill their place in the seventies with other men.[24] The records state that on this occasion:

It was ascertained that all but one or two of the presidents of the Seventies were High Priests, and when they had ordained and set apart any from the quorums of the Elders into the quorum of Seventies, they had conferred  upon them the High Priesthood also. This was declared to be wrong, and not according to the order of heaven… and such of the Seventies as had been legally ordained High Priests were directed to unite with the High Priest’s quorum.[25]

Joseph Smith, Jr.
Joseph Smith, Jr.

Brigham Young indicated that this decision was meant “to satisfy the continual teasing of ignorant men who did not know what to do with authority when they got it,”[26] but it became solid policy until the 1960s—if a man was ordained a high priest, he could no longer be a seventy.

Several times throughout his ministry as a seventy, Zerah was pushed towards being released either so he could be made a high priest or so that a younger, more serviceable man could be called to his place. On 28 November 1845, the Quorum of the Twelve decided to release him and have him enter the high priest’s quorum, but for some reason, the action was not carried out.[27] During the infamous Mormon Reformation of 1856, both Jedediah M. Grant and Heber C. Kimball of the First Presidency threatened to drop Zerah Pulsipher along with several others of the First Seven Presidents of the Seventies for perceived underperformance in their duties.[28] The day after President Kimball’s remarks, Wilford Woodruff, along with “Brother Snow and Brother Richards… all advised the First Presidents of the Seventies to go forward and present a resignation of the Presidency to President Young and let some man take that place who could magnify it. Hancock and Z. Pulsipher said they would.”[29] This sort of thing wasn’t uncommon during the Reformation (several members of the Quorum of the Twelve did the same),[30] and Zerah later recorded that:

I with the associates of my Council went before Brother Brigham and informed him that if he knew of any others that would take our places better, magnify it for the interest of the Kingdom than we could, he was perfectly at liberty to do so, but he told us to go and magnify our calling ourselves.[31]

As referenced above, for the time being, Zerah “had much labor… among the Seventies remaining councilor,” but noted that,

I discovered that with age that I had approached that it began to wear upon my constitution, I was advised by some to give up my presiding and let a younger man take it that envoked upon it. I therefore gave it with the privilege of remaining in the body of the Seventies of join the High Priests Quorum.[32]

While the infraction of rules and subsequent trial were probably embarrassing to Zerah, and it would be understandable that he would leave those details out, his statement may be accurate in that it indicates the trial’s outcome had as much to do with being an opportunity to release Elder Pulsipher from his duties in the seventies quorum as any transgressions he had committed.

In connection with the issue of Zerah’s priesthood, we must also consider Andrew Jensen’s statement that Zerah was reconfirmed. In considering the question of Church discipline, the present author is not aware of reconfirmation being associated with anything other than excommunication, even in the early days of the Church. It is very possible, however, that the Jensen account may be inaccurate—it is the only account that mentions reconfirmation, and it is the last of the main sources available to have been written—being written 30 or 40 years after the event. While Jensen was meticulous in his work in the Church history department, he was not perfect and may have misunderstood Pulsipher’s ordination to the high priesthood as a reconfirmation of priesthood and membership. If it is true that Zerah was reconfirmed, however, it would be a strong indication of a temporary excommunication. Even if such a thing did take place, it did not seem to have been a major deal, asides from being released from the presidency of the seventy. After the trial, Zerah was still honored and given the chance to serve in a variety of priesthood offices and callings over the remaining ten years of his life, including that of a high priest, a presiding elder in the town of Hebron (roughly equivalent to a branch president today), and as a patriarch, dying as a member in full fellowship and honor in the Church.

The Seventies Hall in Nauvoo
The Seventies Hall in Nauvoo

A final point that must be discussed when it comes to understanding the results of the trial is why Zerah was required to be rebaptized. Today in Mormonism, rebaptism is an ordinance associated with excommunication—a member is entirely cut off from the Church and must go through the entrance ordinance again to be restored to membership. This was not always the case, however—during the 19th century, Mormons often viewed rebaptism as an ordinance for repentance, recommitment, and health. For example, the members of the 1847 pioneer brigade that began settling the Great Salt Lake City were all rebaptized in City Creek, with the explanation that, “[W]e had as it were entered a new world and wished to renew our covenants & commence in newness of life.”[33] During the Mormon Reformation, repentant Saints were encouraged to renew their covenants by rebaptism. In fact, when President Jedediah M. Grant died during the middle of the Reformation (probably from pneumonia), it was suggested that his death was at least partly due to his willingness to baptize so many penitent sinners in winter waters.[34] Again, when President Young began to institute the United Order of Enoch in Utah, he and hundreds of his followers were rebaptized to show their commitment to this order, with the words, “I baptize you for the remission of sins [and the] renewal of your covenants with a promise on your part to observe the rules of the United Order.”[35] So, while Zerah was rebaptized after the trial, it was not necessarily a sign that he had lost his membership. It could have simply been a sign of repentance for his transgression and recommitment for the future.

In summary, in 1862, Zerah Pulsipher was put on trial for performing unauthorized polygamous marriages for a man by the name of William Bailey. As a result of the trial, Zerah was dropped from his position as a general authority, required to be rebaptized, and given the privilege of being ordained a high priest. The nature of his offense seems to have been based on an oversight in the proper procedure for approving polygamous marriages. His release from the presidency, however, may have been more due to his age and ability to perform his calling than his to transgression, though whether Zerah was actually excommunicated or disfellowshipped remains unclear. In light of the forgoing evidence, though, I suggest that he was not stripped of his membership, even temporarily.

Post updated 16 December 2014

[1] Joseph Young Sr., Pamphlets, History of the Organization of the Seventies, [Salt Lake City: Deseret News Steam Printing Establishment, 1878], 6.

[2] Jensen, Andrew. L.D.S. Biographical Encyclopedia. Vol. 1. [Salt Lake City: Deseret News Press, 1901], 194. [Online] http://contentdm.lib.byu.edu/cdm/compoundobject/collection/BYUIBooks/id/3527, accessed 13 Nov 2012

[3] https://familysearch.org/learn/forums/en/showthread.php?t=5952, accessed 13 Nov 2012.

[4] Lyndon W. Cook, The Revelations of the Prophet Joseph Smith: A Historical and Biographical Commentary of the Doctrine and Covenants (Provo, Utah: Seventy’s Mission Bookstore, 1981).

[5] Frederick Kesler letter to Brigham Young, February 7, 1862, Brigham Young office files, LDS Church History Library, Salt Lake City, Utah.

[6] Frederick Kesler letter to Brigham Young, February 7, 1862, Brigham Young office files, LDS Church History Library, Salt Lake City, Utah.

[7] John Alger letter, 13 April 1862, in Zerah Pulsipher Papers, circa 1848-1874, MS 753 fd 2, Church History Library, Salt Lake City, Utah.

[8] Wilford Woodruff, Wilford Woodruff Journal, 12 April 1862.

[9] Alger, Letter, 13 April 1862.

[10] Zerah Pulsipher, Autobiographical sketch #3, p. 29, in Zera Pulsipher record book, circa 1858-1878 MS 753 1, Church History Library (Church Archives), Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah

[11] Amasa Lyman, discourse of 5 April 1866, JD 11:207.

[12] D&C 132:7

[13] D&C 124:93-94

[14] Brigham Young to William Smith, August 10, 1845, Brigham Young Collection, LDS Church Archives. Cited in Irene M. Bates & E. Gary Smith, Lost Legacy: The Mormon Office of Presiding Patriarch [Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press: 1996], 67.

[15] Wilford Woodruff Journal, 24 July 1846. Cited in Waiting for the World’s End, ed. Susan Staker [Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1993], 93.

[16] Cited in Turner, Brigham Young, 240.

[17] John D. Lee Journal, 16 February 1847 in Journals of John D. Lee, ed. Charles Kelley (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1984), 80

[18] Turner, Brigham Young, 159.

[19] Cited in Gary James Bergera, Conflict in the Quorum: Orson Pratt, Brigham Young, Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2002), 58.

[20] Cited in Turner, Brigham Young, 271.

[21] D. Michael Quinn, The Mormon Hierarchy: Origins of Power (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1994), 660.

[22] Frederick Kesler letter to Brigham Young, February 7, 1862, Brigham Young office files, LDS Church History Library, Salt Lake City, Utah.

[23] D.H.C. 2:477.

[24] James N. Baumgarten, “The Role and Function of the Seventies in L.D.S. Church History,” Master’s Thesis (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University, 1960), 21-22.

[25] D.H.C., 2:476.

[26] Brigham Young in Deseret News, 26 (June 6, 1877): 274.

[27] D. Michael Quinn, The Mormon Hierarchy: Origins of Power (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1994), 574.

[28] President Grant stated that, “they are asleep and ought to be dropped. I think that Brother Joseph [Young] ought to Cut them off & prune the trees around him…. When I vote for Rockwood, Pulsipher, Harriman & Levi Hancock I do it very reluctantly, & I have done so for years.” (Wilford Woodruff Journal, 7 October 1856.) President Kimball stated that, “here are brother Pulsipher, Herriman and Clapp, members of the first Presidency of the Seventies, sitting here as dead as door nails, and suffering these poor curses to live in our midst as Seventies. As the Lord God Almighty lives, if you do not rise up and trim your quorums, we will trim you off, and not one year shall pass away before you are trimmed off.” (JD 4:139-140.)

[29] Wilford Woodruff Journal, December 22, 1856.

[30] See, for example, Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Lorenzo Snow (Salt Lake City: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2012), chapter 8.

[31] Zerah Pulsipher, “History of Zerah Pulsipher,” in Thomas S. Terry Lund, et al, Pulsipher Family History Book (Privately Published, 1953), 22-23.

[32] Pulsipher, History, 23.

[33] Erastus Snow, cited in in John G. Turner, Brigham Young: Pioneer Prophet (Cambridge, MA and London, England: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2012), 169-170.

[34] Turner, Brigham Young, 255-256.

[35] Turner, Brigham Young, 397.

Zerah Pulsipher’s Conversion

In early January of 1832, Zerah Pulsipher stood in the barn-like Baptist building in Spafford, addressing the members who had gathered at his request to hear about his recent experiences. He told them of angels appearing to him to tell him that Mormonism’s Gold Bible was “the great revelation of the last days” and that he intended to join the newly-organized Church of Christ. Not long afterwards, he stood in the frigid waters of a New England river with Jared Carter—a Mormon missionary—who stated, “Having authority given me of Jesus Christ, I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen”,[i] following which Zerah was immersed in the icy stream and came up baptized as a Mormon. Many others from his family and congregation had or soon would join him in doing so. What led this devote Christian to be rebaptized? How did this affect his life immediately afterwards? What changes came to the community because of Jared Carter’s visit?

A Baptist Church similar to the one in Spafford stood in Rockingham, Vermont—Zerah’s birthplace. That community building was constructed on lands at least partly donated by Zerah’s grandfather David Pulsipher.[ii] David was one of the original nineteen members of that church and was a large man of great energy, deeply interested in public affairs, in the education of his children, and in the church. These interests were passed on to David’s son, John, who was another founding member of the Baptist church in Rockingham and was also a leading man in public affairs. [iii]

The Rockingham Chapel. Image courtesy of familysearch.org.
The Rockingham Chapel.
Image courtesy of familysearch.org.

Born into a religious family, Zerah was—at times—contemplative and given to serious reflection. When he was fourteen or fifteen years old, he had an experience that seems to have played an important part of his spiritual journey. According to his account: “One evening as I was sitting by the fire-side in my father’s kitchen alone, a sudden influence over-powered my mind to such an extent that I lost sight of everything on earth for some time, I never knew how long.” He seems to have considered this some sort of near-death experience, since his next comment in his autobiography was that, “it was necessary that more preparation should be made before I should be willing to pass the Vale of Death.” This event seems to have been that it caused him to think about religion and life after death more than before, because his next statements dwell on his religious thoughts.[iv]

It was an actual death in the family that caused more serious reflections on his faith. His first marriage ended not long after it began, as his wife died in December of 1812, just two years after he married her. Although he wasn’t able to reconcile himself to the idea that souls would be left in Hellfire to all Eternity, he still “had some anxiety about her state and condition” in the afterlife. A few weeks after her death he had a special manifestation to comfort him in his grief:

 She came to me in vision and appearing natural looked pleasant as she ever did and sat by my side and assisted me in singing a hymn—beginning thus: “That glorious day is drawing nigh when Zions Light Shall Shine.” This she did with seeming composure. This vision took away all the anxiety of my mind concerning her in as much as she seemed to enjoy herself well…. My mind became calm as respecting her condition in the spirit world.[v]

Not only did this vision calm his concerns about his wife, but he also noted that, “this hymn which she introduced and sang with me applied to the great work of the Last Dispensation of the Fullness of Times”—a reference to the future Mormon movement.

Cultural Preparation

In addition to his religious upbringing, Zerah was well-prepared by the culture he lived in to join the Mormon movement when missionaries did come to his community. Like many of the early Mormon converts, Zerah grew up during the time of the Second Great Awakening—a fervent effort to restore righteousness and religious zeal in America, characterized by circuit-riding preachers, fiery-tongued evangelists, new grass-roots religious movements, and fervent emotionalism. As this movement worked its course in the six decades leading up to the Civil War, sporadic spiritual revivals erupted throughout the United States, causing an increase in active Christian church membership. The “ecclesiastical storm center” of this movement was western New York—an area that was in an almost constant state of revivalism. Revivals were so habitual in this region that historians have labeled it the “Burned-over District.” The grand climax of this religious zeal occurred between 1825 and 1837—the time period that the Pulsiphers lived in the area.[vi]

Painting of the Second Great Awakening.
Painting of the Second Great Awakening.

The Pulsiphers were a product of this time in several of their beliefs. Among those was the conviction that the time was that Christ’s Second Coming was coming soon. For example, Zerah’s father said that the signs of Christ’s second coming were often seen and that He would come before many years should pass away. “And if he did not live to see it, likely his children would.”[vii] The American and French revolutions had spurred speculation about the forthcoming coming of Christ and Millenarians saw the two revolutions as signs of the coming Millennium. Others, such as William Miller, created chronologies of millennial events by matching historic occurrences with scriptural predictions.[viii] Strange signs in the sky were also taken as indicators that the Millennium was close.  When Zerah saw “the most extraordinary Northern Lights that I had ever saw” in the fall of 1814, he noted that “it was the cause of many speculative notions among the people” and that his father said that it was the signs of the last days and Christ’s coming. Zerah regarded his father’s remarks as “specimens of good sense.”[ix]

Aurora Borealis
Aurora Borealis in Finland.

Another impulse that was common among the religious movements of the time was a desire for the restoration of the practices and teachings of the New Testament church. For example, Roger Williams—the founder of Providence, Rhode Island—stated that there was “no regularly-constituted Church on earth, nor any person authorized to administer any Church ordinance; nor could there be, until new apostles were sent by the great Head of the Church, for whose coming he was seeking.”[x] Solomon Chamberlain—a Methodist who became an early convert to the Church of Christ—reported that an angel told him in vision that there were “no people on the earth that were right; but that the Lord would in his own due time raise up a church, different from all others, and he would give power and authority as in the days of Christ.”[xi] Those who looked forward to a restoration of that church were known as “seekers,” “restorationists,” or “primitivists.”[xii]

Although Zerah was involved in the local Baptist church and felt that “there were some things among the Sects that appeared reasonable,” he was indeed a seeker. For years, he had contemplated the principles of religion and commented many times that “if the pure church with its gifts and graces was…on the earth… I had not found it. But I should be happy enough to find it in my day.” He felt that existing churches lacked “the principles of the ancient gospel with all its gifts belonging to it” and—as mentioned above—doubted that God would condemn souls to Hell for all eternity. Further, the vision of his first wife fueled his belief that a glorious day was drawing nigh when a new religious movement that had those gifts and principles would soon be founded.

Zerah’s wife Mary also had her doubts about the religion she had embraced. When she joined the Methodist church she was initially not baptized—the preacher just never suggested it. After being a member for a year, she approached the preacher and asked if believed baptism was a duty to obey. When he responded it was not a saving ordinance, she countered that, “I see by reading the New Testament, I consider it a duty—a command” and that it must be done by immersion. The preacher did not agree that it was to be done by immersion, but agreed to baptize her to settle her conscious, and had her baptized by kneeling in water and then pouring a little water on her head from the bank. Mary was unsatisfied and felt it was mockery, but pushed her minister no further at that time.[xiii]

For the time being, however, the Pulsiphers remained actively involved in the local Protestant churches, much like Zerah’s father and grandfather before him. While living in Spafford, Zerah was one of four members of the board of trustees at the Free Will Baptist church at the time a new church building was constructed in 1828. This sturdy building—the only church building in town—was jokingly called “God’s Barn” when it was first constructed, and with its large and respectable membership it gave promise of a long and useful career. After a Mormon proselyting wave struck the region, however, the church’s nickname proved painfully prophetic.[xiv]

The Gold Bible

The answer to Mary and Zerah’s religious concerns (and the death knell to the Free Will Baptist church in Spafford) came in the form of a very strange book: “in the summer of 1830 I heard a Minister say in Public that a golden Bible on some ancient Peoples were found in Manches<ter> N.Y. the sentence thriled through my sistem like a shock of Electricity.” Zerah later recalled that: “At the same time [I] thought it might be something that would give light to my mind upon principles that I had been thinking of for years.” [xv] One of the Pulsipher’s neighbors—a man by the name of Silas Hillman—also recalled that:

In the year 1831, a man by the name of Chamberlain came there bringing the Book of Mormon. He gave history of its origin, how it was obtained, and its translation. A young man by the name of Joseph Smith was visited by an Angel of the Lord, who informed him that a record of an ancient people that once inherited this land was hid up unto the Lord in a certain hill in Palmyra, New York. He was informed that if he would obey the instructions of the Angel, that in the due time of the Lord, he should have power to obtain record and have power given him to translate them which was fulfilled. And the men spoken of had the said translation printed and bound and it was called the Book of Mormon.[xvi]

Dan Jones preaching with the Book of Mormon in Wales. Image from Preach My Gospel.
Dan Jones preaching with the Book of Mormon in Wales.
Image from Preach My Gospel.

The timing of the minister’s arrival is somewhat uncertain (hence the discrepancy of dates in the quotes above), though late 1830 seems most likely from the various accounts, but this book—which would have an immense impact on Zerah’s conversion to Mormonism—was a central part of the message of early Mormon missionaries. The Book of Mormon functioned most importantly as a sign that God had restoring the gifts and powers that the New Testament spoke of early Christian believers having—most notably through the seership of the young man mentioned by Chamberlain—Joseph Smith, Jr.

According to Joseph Smith’s own account, as a young boy he had “become seriously imprest with regard to the all importent concerns for the welfare of [his] immortal Soul” and through searching the scriptures and becoming acquainted with the “diferant denominations” in the town he lived in, came to the conclusion that “mankind did not come unto the lord but that they had apostatised from the true and liveing faith and there was no society or denomination that built upon the gospel of Jesus Christ as recorded in the new testament.” He was also “convicted of [his] sins.” Smith reported that during his distress over his religious questions that, “I cried unto the Lord for mercy for there was none else to whom I could go and obtain mercy and the Lord heard my cry in the wilderness.” He spoke of a vision where the Lord appeared to him, forgave his sins, and confirmed that, “none doeth good no not one they have turned asside from the gospel and keep not commandments.”[xvii]

Following this formative experience, Joseph reported several years of silence from God. Then, he recalled, “When I was seventeen years of age I called again upon the Lord and he shewed unto me a heavenly vision for behold an angel of the Lord came and stood before me and it was night.” In this vision, the angel reveled that, “In the Town of Manchester Ontario County N.Y. there was plates of gold upon which there was engravings which was engraven by Maroni [Moroni—the name of the angel] & his fathers the servants of the living God in ancient days and deposited by th[e] commandments of God… and that I should go and get them.”[xviii]

The Hill Cumorah by C.C.A. Christensen.
The Hill Cumorah by C.C.A. Christensen.

After four years of preparation, Joseph Smith was able to take the plates and with material support from friends and the help of a few scribes dictated a manuscript that would be published as The Book of Mormon in 1830. The book was written in biblical style as a record of a family of Israelites that the Lord led away from Jerusalem to the Americas about 600 years before Christ. The primary history spanned 1000 years, covering the ministries of many prophets who believed in and taught their people about Christ, Bible-like narratives of both righteous and wicked individuals, a personal visit from the resurrected Jesus Christ, and the wars and difficulties that the colony faced as it grew and split into two opposing factions. Ultimately, in the record, the righteous believers were exterminated by war and apostasy, but not before a prophet-historian named Mormon and his son Moroni abridged the history of his people and recorded it on golden plates that were preserved for the future. The book dwelt much on theological themes such as redemption through Christ, the scattering and gathering of Israel, and that the power and gifts of God are always available.

In addition to translating the Book of Mormon, Smith reported that he and his primary scribe—Oliver Cowdery—had received special authority to baptize, to confer the Holy Ghost, and to ordain priests and teachers from a series of angelic visitors. Further, they recorded a revelation in March 1829 wherein the Lord promised His people to “work a reformation among them, and… establish my church, like unto the church which was taught by my disciples in the days of old.”[xix] Shortly afterwards, Smith recorded another revelation wherein the Lord reiterated this promise, stating, “If this this generation harden not their hearts, I will establish my church among them” (D&C 10:53). Thus, Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon became wedded to the formation of a new religion.

During the process of dictating the Book of Mormon, Smith began to gather a following, particularly among the families of those who were assisting in the translation process and a few other individuals believed that he was a prophet doing the work of God. These converts began to spread the news of Joseph Smith’s work, not even waiting for the Book of Mormon to be fully printed and published. Christian Whitmer, “Copied from the manuscripts the teachings and the doctrines of Christ, being the things which we were commanded to preach.” Thomas Marsh journeyed from Lyons, New York, to inquire about the “Golden Book” and left with the first sixteen pages of the Book of Mormon, fresh off the press.[xx]

E. B. Grandin Shop where the Book of Mormon was published.
E. B. Grandin Shop where the Book of Mormon was published.

One of the more enthusiastic and eccentric investigators at this time was a man by the name of Solomon Chamberlin—presumably the same Chamberlain who first taught the people of Spafford about the Book of Mormon. Chamberlin was a visionary man who had joined the Methodists when he was 19 years old after having a “vision of the night” in which he saw the damned in hell “blowing up the flames and preparing red hot iron to lay their faces on to all eternity”, but later decided that “they (the Methodists) were wrong in many things.” After an 1816 vision of a meeting house, he attended a Reformed Methodist quarterly meeting and “saw the same house of worship.” Here, he experienced further visions of both Satan and Jesus, achieved sanctification and “went home rejoicing.” After living with these Reformed Methodists for a short while in a common stock system, he states that, “We found we were mistaken in many things” and he, “Felt very anxious to know whether there were any people on the earth whose principles were right in all things; for I was tired of all orders unless they had the true principles of God.”[xxi] He experienced a visitation from a deceased member of the Methodist society and was shown a vision wherein, he records,

The state of the society was now opened to my view, and I had a spirit of discernment, and could discern the sandy foundation that many of them were building on. I now fell on my knees and gave thanks to God for his condescention to unworthy me, and while lifting up my soul to God it appeared to me that I saw my Saviour stand before me with the bible in his hand, and said to me this is the book–live in the spirit that this was wrote and you shall shine in the enternal world on high.[xxi]

For the time being, Chamberlain wandered through various religions and regions, ending up in Wayne County in the fall of 1829, where he described himself as “living about 20 miles east of where the gold record was found, on the Erie Canal.” He heard about the Smiths and the “gold bible” while on a journey through Palmyra and visited Joseph Smith, Sr.’s household to learn more. After visiting for two days with Hyrum Smith—Joseph Smith, Jr.’s older brother—he learned about the “gold record” and obtained sixty four pages of the Book of Mormon at the printing office. Excited, Chamberlain rushed off to Canada to preach about this book. After travelling six or seven hundred miles and telling people about the “gold bible so called” and telling them to “prepare for the great work of God” he returned home.[xxi]

Around the time that Solomon Chamberlain returned home, the publication of the Book of Mormon was complete and on 6 April 1830, Joseph Smith, Jr. gathered 40 or 50 of his followers, six of whom acted as the charter members of a new church they formally incorporated and called the Church of Christ (the name was later changed to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1838). Sometime afterwards, Chamberlain “took eight or ten” copies of the Book of Mormon, and “started off to sell and to preach; for you could not sell one without a great deal of preaching.” It was towards the end of this journey that Chamberlain’s path crossed with the Pulsiphers: “I returned home and on the way preached it to the Free Will Baptist Church, and they received it.”[xxii]

An artist's interpretation of the gold plates Joseph Smith, Jr. had.
An artist’s interpretation of the gold plates Joseph Smith, Jr. had.

Since Zerah “thought it might be something that would give light to [his] mind upon principles that [he] had been thinking of for years” he had a deep interest in getting his hands on the Book of Mormon to find out more. As he would later recall: “In the fall of 1831 there was a Book of Mormon brought into town[.] I succeeded in getting it[.] I directly read it through twice[,] gave it a thorough investigation and believed it was true.”[xxiii] His son, John, would later recall that Zerah would get together “with the neighbors Elijah Cheney, [Shadrach] Roundy and others would sit and read and talk day and night ’till they read it through and through. They believed it was brought forth by the power of God, to prepare the way for the second coming of the Son of Man—it was just what they were looking for.”[xxiv] Zerah’s wife added that they, “Believed it, but did not know anything more about it. We were very anxious to know more about it.”[xxv] They were able to find out more from a missionary by the name of Jared Carter.

The Proselyting Wave Strikes

About the time that Zerah first had the chance to read the Book of Mormon, Jared Carter was preparing to leave form Kirtland, Ohio—the headquarters of the Church of Christ at the time. In Jared Carter’s journal, we read that: “After I had been to Kirkland[,] when I received the authority of an apostle [elder] commenced a mission to the east on 22nd day of Sept 1831 with Brother Eben Page.”[xxvi] Prior to this time, Jared had come in contact with the Book of Mormon, and “became immediately convi[n]ced that it was a revelation of God.” He,

concluded that I should go to See them [the Mormons] as soon as expedient…. Accordingly I went from Shenango a town in Broom County state of N.Y., where we lived to the town of Coalsville… & having an interview with them I felt it my duty to separate from Babylon and baptized[.] accordingly I was baptized by hyrum Smith about the 20th of February [1831].”[xxvii]

Jared was ordained a priest in June of that year and elder (as mentioned above) in September, prior to leaving on his mission. During this mission, he traveled with his companion through Ohio and New York, and then separated to take care of requests for missionaries to visit a few areas. He ended up working in Benson, Vermont, where he had previously lived. Then, Carter writes, “After it appeared that my work was done in this plase [Benson, Vermont] for the preasant I went on to the west to Spafford[,] a town in york state[,] onondaga County[,] where I commenced laboring in the ministry & the Lord began immediately to bless my labors.”[xxviii]

Jared and Simeon Carter in Treasure in Heaven: The John Tanner Story.
Jared and Simeon Carter in Treasure in Heaven: The John Tanner Story.

When Carter arrived in Spafford, New York in January 1832, there were several individuals in the community who were eager to hear what he had to say. They had “a great many questions to ask” about the Book of Mormon and his beliefs. As soon as Carter arrived, Zerah and two Methodist ministers came to him and, after proper introductions were given, began to question Jared about his beliefs. Zerah watched to see if he could find fault with the young missionary and asked about “the principles of the ancient gospel with all its gifts belonging to it.” When Jared answered that he believed in them, Zerah pressed further and asked whether he had ever laid hands on the sick and they had recovered. To this, the missionary responded that he had done so in many instances.[xxix]

Impressed, the Pulsiphers attended a service the following evening where Jared Carter preached to a crowded congregation. Mary recalled that Jared told them that baptism by immersion was the only right way and that it was for the remission of sins, which sounded right to her. He also told them how the Book of Mormon was found and translated by Joseph Smith. The missionary held up a copy of the Book of Mormon and declared it to be a revelation from God. Even though Zerah had been watching to find fault with this Mormon elder, he stated that “I could not gain-say anything he had said.”

When Carter sat down and gave liberty for remarks, Zerah perceived that those present seemed to be in a daze. He arose and stated that:

We had been hearing strange things and if true[,] they were of the utmost importance to us. If not true[,] it was one of the greatest impositions and as the preacher had said that he had got his knowledge from heaven and was nothing but a man and I the same, that I had just as good a right to obtain that blessing as he, therefore I was determined to have that knowledge for myself.

Zerah considered it his privilege from that time to make it a matter of fervent prayer. He did so for about a week and received a witness that the Book of Mormon and “Mormonism” were of God. According to his account:

As I was thrashing in my barn with the doors shut, all at once there seemed to be a ray of light from heaven which caused me to stop work for a short time, but soon began it again. Then in a few minutes another light came over my head which caused me to look up. I thought I saw the Angels with the Book of Mormon in their hands in the attitude of showing it to me and saying “this is the great revelation of the last days in which all things spoken of by the prophets must be fulfilled.” The vision was so open and plain that I began to rejoice exceedingly so that I walked the length of my barn crying “Glory Hal-la-lu-ya to the God and the Lamb forever.”

Artist's depiction of Zerah's vision.
Artist’s depiction of Zerah’s vision.
Image from The Pulsipher Family Book.

This vision had a powerful impact on Zerah’s life, as well as other members of the Free Will Baptist Church he attended. He recalled:

For some time it seemed a little difficult to keep my mind in a proper state of reasonable order, I was so filled with the joys of heaven. But when my mind became calm I called the church together, and informed them of what I had seen. I told them of my determination to join the Church of Latter Day Saints, which I did and a large body of my church went with me.[xxx]

On 11 January of 1832, Zerah and his wife, Mary, were baptized along with all their children who were old enough to do so (Almira, Sarah, and Mariah). Jared Carter recorded that “there was some displays of the healing power of god in this plase while I was here,”[xxxi] one of which occurred during the Pulsiphers’ baptisms. Mary recalled that:

I wanted to be [baptized] at the first opportunity, but Satan thought he would hinder it. The night before baptism, I was taken very lame with rheumatism or something. I was so sick I could not get around much. As they were fixing to go, Brother Carter said to me, “Sister Pulsipher, if you will do your duty, you shall be healed.” I took a cane and hobbled to the water and went in. It was a very cold day, but I came out well, left my cane, and went away rejoicing.

There were other meetings with the missionary and other requirements for full admission to the Pulsiphers’ new faith. The gift of the Holy Ghost is described in both the New Testament and in the Book of Mormon, and in many instances is depicted as having been given by the laying on of hands. In the early Church, priesthood holders laid their hands on the heads of new converts and generally made a brief statement along the lines of “in the name of Jesus Christ, receive ye the Holy Ghost.” This ordinance was also considered a confirmation of Church membership and, as such became known as confirmation.[xxxii] Mary later wrote that at the time of her baptism:

I was very ignorant. I had not heard anything about being confirmed, or receiving the Holy Ghost. The next evening [we] went to [a] meeting and the six that were baptized were there. When he [Jared Carter] put his hands upon my head, he said, “Sister Pulsipher, by the authority of the Holy Priesthood and in the name of Jesus, I lay my hands on your head to bless you and to confirm you a member of the Church of Jesus Christ. I say unto you—receive the Holy Ghost.” He promised great blessings if I would be faithful. The spirit of the Lord was there. We sang, prayed, and praised God together.[xxxiii]

Soon, other members of the community were baptized. Shadrach Roundy traveled to Kirtland, Ohio and was baptized by William McLellin on 30 January.[xxxiv] Reverend John Gould—who served as a minister at the Free Will Baptist Church in Spafford—was baptized in December of that year by Reynolds Cahoon.[xxxv] Uriah Roundy, Daniel Pulsipher (Zerah’s nephew), Elias Humphrey, Mayhew Hillman, James Oliver, Elijah Cheeney, the Ensigns, and their respective families in addition to a Mrs. Maxson, Mariah Ripley, and Mariah Brown would also join the new faith.[xxxvi] In total, a number of around 20 neighbors were baptized before Jared Carter left, and Zerah was ordained to be the presiding elder of this new branch of the Church of Christ.[xxxvii]

Over the next two years, the local branch continued to grow, and, in order to follow what they felt was the will of God, migrated to the headquarters of the Church of Christ in the Ohio. The results for the Free Will Baptist Church in Spafford were catastrophic. As one historian observed:

It was not possible for this church to recover from this exodus of membership into a movement like this, so the church went quickly into decline. After the church building had stood open for a long time to the weather and been a place where cattle in the fields had found shelter, it was finally sold in the early forties to Captain Asahel Roundy, who moved it near the Homer road, south of the ” Corners,” and converted it into… [a] dwelling house.[xxxviii]

While causing “God’s Barn” to fall into disuse (at least by humans), and while largely destroying the Free Will Baptist Church, these conversions marked a new phase of life and new opportunities for the newly-Baptized Mormon. Some would leave their new faith within the next few years while others would stay with the movement until the ends of their lives, but life would never be the same for these residents of Spafford.

[i] See Gregory A. Prince. Power from on High (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1995), 84.

[ii] Zerah Pulsipher, “History of Zerah Pulsipher,” in Pulsipher Family Book, ed. Thomas S. Terry, Terry Lund, N. H. Lund, and I. L. Holt (1953), 10-24.

[iii] Juanita Brooks. “Juanita Brooks Record Book.” MS 9291. Church History Library of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, UT.

[iv] Zerah Pulsipher, “History,” 11.

[v] Zerah Pulsipher, “History,” 11.

[vi] Milton V. Backman, Jr. “Awakenings in the Burned-over District: New Light on the Historical Setting of the First Vision.” BYU Studies 9, no. 3 (1969), 1.

[vii] “Zerah Pulsipher, “History,” 11..

[viii] See Rough Stone Rolling, 165-166.

[ix] Zerah Pulsipher, “History,” 12.

[x] See William Cullen Bryant, ed., Picturesque America; or, the Land We Live In, 2 vols. (1872–74), 1:502.

[xi] Dean C. Jesse, ed., “The John Taylor Nauvoo Journal, January 1845-September 1845,” BYU Studies 23 (summer 1983): 45.

[xii] For more information on the Great Awakening and restoration movements, see James B. Allen and Leonard, Glen M. The Story of the Latter-day Saints (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book Company, 1992), 13-19.

[xiii] Mary Brown Pulsipher, “Autobiography of Mary Brown Pulsipher,” in Pulsipher Family Book, ed. Thomas S. Terry, Terry Lund, N. H. Lund, and I. L. Holt (1953), 26-32, p.28.

[xiv] Collins, George Knapp, Spafford Onondaga County, New York (Onondaga, NY: Dehler Press, 1917), 47-49.

[xv] Autobiography of Zerah Pulsipher, 12; Autobiographical Sketch of Zera Pulsipher, 4.

[xvi] Cited in Rhean Lenora M. Beck, Life story of Sarah (King) Hillman and Her Husband, Mayhew Hillman, and Their Children. (independently published, 1968).

[xviii] Ibid.

[xix] Book of Commandments (Independence, Mo.: 1833), 4:5.

[xx] Terryl L. Givens, By the Hand of Mormon: The American Scripture that Launched a New World Religion (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002), 56.

[xxi] Larry C. Porter, “Solomon Chamberlin’s Missiong Pamphlet: Dreams, Visions, and Angelic Ministrants,” BYU Studies 37, no. 2 (1997-98): 113-140; Brent Ashworth, “The John Taylor Nauvoo Journal, January 1845-September 1845,” BYU Studies 23, no. 3 (1983).

[xxii] Brent Ashworth, “The John Taylor Nauvoo Journal, January 1845-September 1845,” BYU Studies 23, no. 3 (1983), 40-41.

[xxiii] Zerah Pulsipher, “History,” 12.

[xxiv] John Pulsipher,“John Pulsipher’s History”, in Pulsipher Family Book, ed. Thomas S. Terry, Terry Lund, N. H. Lund, and I. L. Holt (1953), 47-63, p. 47

[xxv] Mary Brown Pulispher, “Autobiography,” 29.

[xxvi] Carter, Jared. “Jared Carter Journal, 1831 January-1833 January 20.” MS1441, Church History Library of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, p. 35.

[xxvii] Carter, “Jared Carter Journal,” 2-3.

[xxviii] Carter, “Jared Carter Journal,” 45-46.

[xxix] The bulk of the account is found in the “History of Zerah Pulsipher,” 12. Also, “Autobiography of Mary Brown Pulsipher”. Another bit of information is found in a sermon by Brigham Young on 6 April 1860, recorded in JD 8:38. He stated: “Brother Pulsipher said that he watched to see if he could find fault with the Elder who preached the Gospel to him. I did not take that course, but I watched to see whether good common sense was manifest; and if they had that, I wanted them to present it in accordance with the Scriptures.”

[xxx] Zerah Pulsipher, “History,” 13.

[xxxi] Carter, “Jared Carter Journal,” 45.

[xxxii] Prince, Power, 94.

[xxxiii] Mary Brown Pulispher, “Autobiography,” 29.

[xxxiv] Jan Shipps, and John W. Welch, eds. The Journals of William E. McLellin, 1831–1836. (Provo, UT: BYU Studies; Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1994), p. 70. Another version of Shadrach’s conversion story says that he sought out Joseph Smith while he was at Fayette, New York and baptized by him following their first interview in January 1831. See History of the Church / Smith, Joseph, et al. History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Edited by B. H. Roberts. (Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1902–1912 [vols. 1–]), 1932 [vol. 7]), 2:298.

[xxxv] http://josephsmithpapers.org/person/john-gould; see also LeRoy W. Kingman (ed.), History of Candor, NY, From Our County and Its People, A Memorial History of Tioga County, New York, (W. A. Fergusson & Co., N. Y., 1897), 444.

[xxxvi] Collins, George Knapp, Spafford Onondaga County, New York (Onondaga, NY: Dehler Press, 1917), 48.

[xxxvii] John Pulsipher, “John Pulsipher’s History,” 47.

[xxxviii] Collins, Spafford, 48.

Wilford Woodruff Conversion

During December of 1833, Zerah Pulsipher was at work, threshing grain in his barn when he felt a strong prompting that he needed to travel north because the Lord had something for him to do there.[1] One account from Zerah’s son Charles Pulsipher outlines the events that occurred in his home in relation to this prompting:

Father was ordained an Elder & set apart to… travel & preach as the spirit might direct & while working in the field the spirit moved upon him to start out & go North & preach the gospel, he stoped & thought on it & finely conclouded to work on untill night & then he would more think more about it but the spirit soon told him to go north on a mission so he quit work & went home & told Mother to get his clothes ready for he was going on a mission in the morning. where are you going. I don’t know, only I am to go north. How long will you be gone? I don’t know that.

He got Bro. Cheney who had been ordained a decon to go with him. They travled two days, about 80 miles from home & just before sundown father looks ahead of them & said, do you see that little house in the clearing? Yes, well, that is where we are to stop.[2]

Zerah and Mary Brown Pulsipher. Image courtesy of the Daughters of the Utah Pioneers museum, Salt Lake City, Utah.
Zerah and Mary Brown Pulsipher.
Image courtesy of the Daughters of the Utah Pioneers museum, Salt Lake City, Utah.

Two brothers lived at this house in Richland, but they weren’t home at the time. The wife of one of the brother was, however, and she let the elders in. They informed her that they were Mormon elders who felt they had been called of God to go north and preach about the restored gospel of Christ and that they had “traveled sixty miles on foot… in deep snow, and the first place they felt impressed to call upon was the house.”[3] They then asked “can you keep t[w]o travleing preachers of the great Later Day Gospel? Well yes she said, I guess so. We never turn away preachers. So they went in & she prepared supper for them.”[4] When they explained what they were preaching, she told them that her husband and brother-in-law would be interested in hearing what they had to say. When her husband came home, Zerah asked him, “Do you think we cant get a meeting tonight?” The husband’s response was, “I guess so. I will go out & see about it.” Accordingly, “He gave out the word & lit up the school house.”[5] The elders set up a meeting in the schoolhouse on the farm, and circulated notices throughout the village that they were to preach that evening.[6]

Little did the missionaries know then that one of those brothers would become, in the words of historian Thomas G. Alexander, “arguably the third most important figure in all of LDS church history after Joseph Smith, who began Mormonism, and Brigham Young, who led the Saints to Utah and supervised the early colonization of the intermountain west.”[7] For the time being, however, the two brothers—Wilford and Azmon Woodruff—were young seekers living in rural New York State.

The reason Azmon’s wife knew that the two men would be interested in what Zerah and Elijah had to say was that it was a lifelong quest of theirs to find the restored primitive church with apostles and prophets and had often discussed it at their home.

Young Wilford Woodruff.
Young Wilford Woodruff.

Wilford had grown up in Connecticut under a strict Presbyterian upbringing. Through studying the New Testament and the tutelage of a visionary man named Robert Mason, Wilford came to believe that “it was necessary to have prophets, apostles, dreams, visions and revelations in the church of Christ, the same as they had who lived in ancient days” and that “the Lord would raise up a people and a church, in the last days, with prophets, apostles and all the gifts, powers and blessings, which it ever contained in any age of the world.”[8]

Wilford thought much upon this subject, especially while he was a teenager and in his early twenties. When he was 23, he resolved to seek out the truth. He “attended the meetings of almost every demonization there was,” but had no desire to join any existing church, feeling that they were incomplete and that the Lord would one day bring His church back upon the earth. Yet, he wasn’t afraid to express his views to other religious people when given the opportunity. On one occasion he attended great meeting with ministers from all sorts of denominations present. He arose and stepped into the aisle and asked, “My friends, will you tell me why you don’t contend for the faith once delivered to the Saints? Will you tell me why you don’t contend for that Gospel that Jesus Christ taught, and that His Apostles taught?” Then he proceeded to name off the gifts he felt were necessary to the Church of Christ.

In response, the leader of the convention responded that,

My dear young man, you would be a very smart man, and a very useful man in the earth, if you did not believe all those foolish things. These things were given to the children of men in the dark ages of the world, and they were given for the very purpose of enlightening the children of men in that age, that they might believe in Jesus Christ. Today we live in the blaze of the glorious gospel light, and we do not need those things.

To this, the young Wilford simply stated, “Then give me the dark ages of the world; give me those ages when men received these principles.”[9]

Wilford still felt this way when he came home from drawing logs from the shores of Lake Ontario on the 29th of December 1833. He recorded that,

Upon my arrival home my sister-in-law informed me of the meeting. I immediately turned out my horses and started for the schoolhouse without waiting for supper. On my way I prayed most sincerely that the Lord would give me His spirit, and that if these men were the servants of God I might know it, and that my heart might be prepared to receive the divine message they had to deliver.

When I reached the place of meeting, I found the house already packed. My brother Azmon was there before I arrived. He was equally eager to hear what these men had to say. I crowded my way through the assembly and seated myself upon one of the writing desks where I could see and hear everything that took place.

Elder Pulsipher opened with prayer. He knelt down and asked the Lord in the name of Jesus Christ for what he wanted. His manner of prayer and the influence which went with it impressed me greatly. The spirit of the Lord rested upon me and bore witness that he was a servant of God. After singing, he preached to the people for an hour and a half. The spirit of God rested mightily upon him and he bore a strong testimony of the divine authenticity of the Book of Mormon and of the mission of the Prophet Joseph Smith. I believed all that he said. The spirit bore witness of its truth. Elder Cheney then arose and added his testimony to the truth of the words of Elder Pulsipher.[10]

A depiction of the meeting where Zerah Pulsipher and Elijah Cheney preached.
A depiction of the meeting where Zerah Pulsipher and Elijah Cheney preached.

Wilford later stated that he “truly felt that it was the first gospel sermon that I had ever herd . I thought it was what I had long been looking for. I could not feel it my duty to leeve the house without bearing witness to the truth before the people.”[11] He got his chance to do so very quickly:

Liberty was then given by the elders to any one in the congregation to arise and speak for or against what they had heard as they might choose. Almost instantly I found myself upon my feet. The spirit of the Lord urged me to bear testimony to the truth of the message delivered by these elders. I exhorted my neighbors and friends not to oppose these men; for they were the true servants of God. They had preached to us that night the pure gospel of Jesus Christ. When I sat down, my brother Azmon arose and bore a similar testimony. He was followed by several others.[12]

The Woodruff brothers invited Zerah and Elijah to come to their home that evening and visited with them. Wilford borrowed the Book of Mormon and read it all that night. While reading, the Spirit bore witness to him that this volume was a true record.[13] Wilford later wrote, “Brother Pulsipher Continued labouring with us for several days and on the 31th of Dec I with my Brother Azmon Woodruff with two young females… went forward in baptism.”[14] Zerah performed the ordinance, even though conditions were not ideal for a baptism at the time—there was about three feet of snow on the ground, the day was very cold, and the water was mixed with ice and snow. Despite all this, Wilford later recalled that he did not feel the cold.[15]

A depiction of Wilford Woodruff's baptism in the video "The Great Apostasy."
A depiction of Wilford Woodruff’s baptism in the video “The Great Apostasy.”

The Mormon missionaries continued to labor in the area and baptized several other people in the following days and weeks. On January 2, Zerah established a branch of the Church of Christ in Richland that contained twelve members. Wilford was ordained a teacher while Azmon and Noah Hatton were ordained elders in this branch.[16] After this, Charles recalled, that, “Then they felt their mission was filled & they returned home.”[17]

Wilford Woodruff would later serve as a member of the second quorum of the seventies and as an apostle, serve several successful missions bringing hundreds of people into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and later served as president of the Church. While serving in this last position, Wilford Woodruff issued the Manifesto (published in the Doctrine and Covenants as Official Declaration 1), which declared that the Church was “not teaching polygamy or plural marriage, nor permitting any person to enter into its practice.” While this statement would not be completely true until a few years later, this statement marked the beginnings of an era of transition that would reshape Mormonism. As Thomas G. Alexander stated while arguing that Woodruff was, perhaps, the third most important figure in Mormon history,

A man for his season, Woodruff shepherded Mormonism out of a morass of persecution and isolation. He marked the path which led the Latter-day Saints to come to terms with the separation of the temporal and spiritual and to acceptance and respectability; and he reclaimed and deepend the reservoir of spiritual water that nourished the Saints through trying times.[18]

Wilford Woodruff
Wilford Woodruff

[1] Wilford Woodruff, “The Birthday Reception,” Deseret Evening News, 1897, March 1, p. 1.

[2] Charles Pulsipher Autobiography and Journal. Copy in possession of author.

[3] Woodruff. “Birthday Reception,” 1.

[4] Charles Pulsipher, Autobiography and Journal.

[5] Charles Pulsipher, Autobiography and Journal.

[6] Woodruff. “Birthday Reception,” 1.

[7] Thomas G. Alexander, Things in Heaven and Earth, the Life and Times of Wilford Woodruff, a Mormon Prophet, [Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1991], 331.

[8] Wilford Woodruff, Leaves From My Journal, 2nd ed. (Salt Lake City, UT: Juvenile Instructor Office, 1882), 1-2.

[9] Wilford Woodruff, and A. Winter (ed.), “Discourse,” Deseret Weekly, 1889, April 6, pp. 449-450.

[10] In Matthias F. Cowley, Wilford Woodruff, Fourth President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: History of His Life and Labors as Recorded in His Daily Journal (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret News, 1909), 33

[11] Wilford Woodruff Journal introduction. Quoted in Wilford Woodruff, Waiting for the World’s End, ed. by Susan Staker. (Salt Lake City, UT: Signature Books, 1993), 2

[12] Cowley, p. 33.

[13] Cowley, p. 34.

[14] Woodruff, Journal Intro in 1993, 1-2.

[15] Cowley, p. 35.

[16] Wilford Woodruff journal intro. For other accounts of Wilford’s conversion, see Woodruff, W. (1897, March 1). The Birthday Reception. Deseret Evening News, p. 1; Jensen, A. (1886). Wilford Woodruff. The Historic Record vol. 5. Salt Lake City: Andrew Jensen, p. 93

[17] Charles Pulsipher.

[18] Alexander, Things, 331.

The Life and Times of Zerah Pulsipher