Following James Strang’s prophetic call, he sought to gather people to his movement. Strang’s Mormon missions included trips to Kirtland, Ohio, home of the temple, and he tried to gather people to Wisconsin as the new promised land. Historian Bill Shepard will describe more about these missions by James Strang.
Bill: Strang is going to go to Kirtland, I think in September of 1846. They’re going to sweep Kirtland. The people are going to join him. They established a High Council of Presidency over there. Strang has keys to the temple, and so everything looks rosy.
GT: Oh, wow. So he was really making inroads in Kirtland.
Bill: Yes, in Kirtland and in the east, wherever he would go. [For] the Mormons, this fit the bill, because this was primitive Mormonism. Strang, in my view, unwisely dealt with some people that had been malcontents in Joseph’s church which was disastrous for his cause: John C. Bennett, William E. McLellin, George J. Adams, William Smith. So, in retrospect I would think he would look back and say, “Oh, why did I do this?”
GT: Martin Harris, didn’t he join with Strang for a while?
Bill: That triumphant mission of Strang out east, the three witnesses and most of the eight witnesses–now I realize that some of them would be dead–but they acknowledged Strang. They acknowledged him. So for a brief instant, and I would say it’s very short, Strang is going to make these grandiose [claims.] He is attracting a lot of people.
GT: People who didn’t like Brigham Young and polygamy.
Bill: Right. Exactly, and secret societies. Any of that. Many of them do not gather out to Voree, however. They choose to give their allegiance from a distance. Several things happened. One thing happened, I look at the picture, and the person did him the most damage was William E. McLellin. William E. McClellan had been cut off in 1837.
Were you aware of Strang’s early missionary successes? Check out our conversation…
I think Thomas Sharp should be the ultimate villain in Mormonism, but I’ll bet most people don’t know who he is. In our next conversation with Brian Stutzman, we’ll learn more about the man who incited a mob to kill the prophet Joseph Smith.
Brian: Thomas Sharp came from a Methodist family. In England, in the late 1700s, John and Charles Wesley started the Methodist movement….Thomas Sharp was 22 years old when he came to Warsaw in 1844 or 1840, rather, so he’s a rather young man. He tries his hand at the newspaper business with a partner named James Gamble. They spent six months, about, down on the river at the foot of Main. Then they move their press and change the name from Western World to the Warsaw Signal and they go up into an unknown location up on Main Street. Now some of the tour buses stop and point to building at 204 Main. They say, “This is where Thomas Sharp published.” That building wasn’t built till 1851, way after Thomas Sharp published there, but it was after the Mormon period.
But the turning point and Ben A. Marshall wrote a paper called the Turning Point of Thomas Sharp. There’s some discrepancy over some of the facts here. But when they set the cornerstone for the Nauvoo temple, in April six of 1841, Joseph Smith had a table up front for the dignitaries and some of the dignitaries, one of them was Chief Keokuk, from Iowa, who this town is named after, and he was up at the front table. He invited young Thomas Sharp, again, 22-23 years old to be up at the head table with him and they had this big feasts and a military parade and they set the cornerstone for the Nauvoo Temple.
GT: So at this time, Thomas is still friendly.
Brian: Yeah, neutral at best, neutral or friendly. Sometime after–now, people speculate that that day he turned against the church. There’s another historian and she’s kind of in my house with me and my wife. We’ve done some history, Brooke Lethar. She was at BYU. Now she’s studying at the University of Utah, and she has found research that it was awhile later before, Sharp turned negative. So there was a time where he was friendly and that he turned negative. So he goes up there and he starts writing terrible things in his paper. There was a term in in that area about Masons. If you were not a Mason, but you’re referring to Mason’s there was a term called Jack Mason.
Thomas Sharp is sitting there, seeing this bloc-voting going on up Nauvoo, and the two main political parties at the time were Democrats and Whigs. He says to his fellow people, fellow residents, he says, we don’t have a shot in heck of getting somebody elected unless we join together, put our differences aside, and maybe we can get somebody elected locally. So he and Aldrich, again, these are two guys stood trial, and the guy named William Roosevelt. William Roosevelt was the cousin to Teddy Roosevelt’s father. They’re living in Warsaw and they get together and they create this political party in 1841. It’s called the anti-Mormon political party. That wasn’t a mob. It wasn’t hostile, at least at first, but it was a political party to try to outvote the Mormons. Well, in 1842, Thomas Sharp decides to run for a seat in the state legislature. Well, who was he was he opposed by? The prophet’s little brother, William Smith, and William Smith beats him. In 1844 when Joseph Smith was running for President Thomas Sharp talks about running for the United States Senate, and then he learns that Hyrum Smith, the prophet’s brother was considering running for the same seat in the United States Senate and Sharp withdrew.
Following the martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum Smith, brother Samuel died within a month. Was Samuel poisoned?
Steve: You know, conspiracy theorists. Okay, fine. Was he poisoned deliberately? Who knows? There’s no way to know. The typical story had been that he, was [ill with] was it pneumonia or cholera or, I can’t remember what. In those days, in the Midwest, in the summer months, you had malaria, you had typhus, you had cholera. I mean, that stuff was rampant. Their food sanitation was different from what we would have today. It could’ve been any number of things, I think. There’s no way to ever know for sure now, even if we were to exhume his remains, there’s not enough left to do any of that kind of study, probably. Was he poisoned deliberately by somebody? Well, it could be, but why? Maybe I have a different view of Brigham young and his colleagues than some, I’m not willing to just write Brigham Young off and call him an evil, you know, usurper.
Were people out to kill the other prophet’s brother William?
GT: Back to William Smith. So he came to Nauvoo [in] September of 1844.
Steve: By the end of August, early September, he was back in Nauvoo, I’m pretty sure.
GT: And Brigham ordained him as patriarch.
Steve: He was called as patriarch and I presume they ordained him. I don’t know, because I’m not sure that all that ritual stuff had really been solidified at that early time. I don’t know. Today, of course we would always do that. Did they need to? He was already an apostle. Maybe he just needed to be designated that. I don’t know.
What about James Strang?
Steve: Within weeks of affiliating, William Smith was disaffiliated, and that was before Strang ever got involved, ever publicly announced polygamy. I’m not sure when he [William] got involved in it. Somebody knows those dates, I just can’t remember them.
William Smith was there long enough to write this hymn that was published in Strang’s paper at Voree, which is near Burlington, Wisconsin. Actually, it’s now part of the city limits, but it [the hymn] was an ode to Voree, and it has something like 15 verses.