Following the collapse of Sidney Rigdon’s church, people looked to William Bickerton to lead the flock. Dr. Daniel Stone tells us more details about William Bickerton’s prophetic vision and call to become prophet of a new church with a Book of Mormon foundation.
Daniel: [Bickerton] says that he was carried away in the spirit and placed on the highest mountain on the earth, he said. In one of the accounts it says that there was just room enough for him to stand on this mountain, and he’s basically told and shown, “Here you are in this mountain. You’re doing everything right.”
You kind of get the sense that he feels like God’s telling him “You’re on the right track. Stay where you are. Keep going. Keep doing what you’re doing, but if you leave this path that I’ve put you on, you’re going to fall and tumble.” And William Bickerton sees this chasm below. And he says that the Lord told him if he didn’t keep doing what he was doing, that he would fall into the chasm. And he said that the sight was awful at one part. In another account, he says that he would fall and be torn into bits. So, he saw and he felt that he didn’t have any other choice other than to stay on this path because he didn’t want to fall down that way. So, he starts preaching by himself.
Check out our conversation, as well as our other conversations with Dr. Daniel Stone!
Sidney Rigdon was a major impact on William Bickerton. Dr. Daniel Stone talks about how Bickerton lost faith in Rigdon.
Daniel: William Bickerton really had progressed, had become a major member of the Rigdonite movement, but didn’t know Joseph Smith. So, he ends up leaving Sidney Rigdon’s church pretty quickly. So, in June of 1845, William Bickerton joins. But then in August of 1845, Sidney Rigdon is kind of wanting to create another communal society because he wants to reenact the United Order. He was always into communal living. He was even into that when he was a Campbellite minister in Ohio when he met Joseph Smith. So, he wanted to kind of reenact that and he believes he’s having revelations that they should build the new Jerusalem in the Cumberland Valley of Pennsylvania. So eventually they are having these revelations. He’s presenting them to the church. And Sidney Rigdon had organized another School of the Prophets just like Joseph Smith had and William Bickerton as a member of that school, they are praying, and they read liberal arts, things like history, English, and this would have been really interesting to Bickerton because he was not well educated. He was a coal miner. So being able to be schooled and be able to talk with men that were learning as well, it would’ve probably been very interesting to him. And they’re also learning the gifts of the spirit, how to be good ministers for the Gospel. So, William Bickerton says that as a member of the school, they’re having revelations as members of the school of the prophets, that Sidney Rigdon is going astray.
We also discuss Bickerton joining the LDS Church under Brigham Young for a short time!
Daniel: William Bickerton is a devout LDS Mormon. And when you read the minutes, it’s quite interesting. I mean at one of the meetings that they have, he actually leads the vote to sustain Brigham Young and the Twelve in their offices. It’s kind of a ceremonial thing because obviously they don’t have power, but he’s showing their support for them and he’s a member of the LDS Church for 10 months. And so, when they start the West Elizabeth congregation, they appoint William Bickerton as the presiding elder and they go from nine members, by the end of 10 months they have 27 members. So, William Bickerton helps triple his congregation within less than a year. So, you know, he was busy preaching.
And what ends up happening is why he ends up leaving Brigham Young is because in March of 1852, there is a meeting that is held for all the Mormons in the area in Allegheny City, Pennsylvania, which is now the north side of Pittsburgh. And in that meeting they’re basically preparing the elders for the announcement that’s going to come later in the year in August for plural marriage. And this is what makes William Bickerton’s story so interesting.
Don’t forget to check out the Great Conflagration of Pittsburgh! How did Sidney Rigdon react when the town was on fire? Check out our conversation, as well as our previous conversation with Daniel!
In our next conversation, we’re going to talk to Dr. Matt Harris of Colorado State University-Pueblo. We will talk about the “one-drop rule.” How is it that Mormons determined blackness, especially if they were biracial families? We’ll also talk about a Supreme Court decision in the 1960s that legalized interracial marriage.
Matt: What is interesting about this is that depending on the state, these laws are very fluid in the early 20th century. I tell my students, we teach civil rights and we talk about this. In fact, we discuss the book Loving vs. Virginia, which is the Supreme Court case that strikes down these miscegenation laws, declares them unconstitutional. This is 1967.
But anyway, what’s interesting is that in the early 20th century these miscegenation laws are very fluid. One state might say it’s one-quarter. Another state might say it’s one-eighth, or one-sixteenth. I joke with my students sometimes that on Monday, a black man can marry a white woman because they fit within the parameters of the law, but then they change the law on Wednesday and now it’s no longer constitutional.