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GEORGE A. BLAKESLEE:, eldest child of James Blakeslee, and Louisiana Edmunds Blakeslee, was born August 22, 1826, at Ellisburg, Jefferson County, New York, and is of English and Scotch descent. His mother, Louisiana Edmunds, was a cousin of Judge Edmunds, of Ohio. Her father was a soldier of the Revolution, and was taken prisoner by the British. His father, Apostle James Blakeslee, whose biography will be found in volume 3 of this history, page 756, was an earnest, active, sacrificing minister of the gospel, during the early establishing of the work among the children of men in the nineteenth century. George A. with his parents moved to Perth, Canada, in 1835. After two years they went to St. Lawrence County, New York, and again in one year to Waterville, Oneida County, New York. Thence to Utica, where they remained until 1842. In 1843, they removed to Nauvoo, Illinois, but remained there only a short time, as indicated by the following taken from the diary of James Blakeslee: "At the time we arrived in Nauvoo in 1843, we were reduced in circumstances to that degree that we were almost destitute of both food and raiment, and my health was so impaired as to render it impossible for me to labor with my hands to support my family, and how to sustain ourselves in the city of Nauvoo, I did not know. We, therefore, thought best to move out into the country where we could get labor among the farmers, which we did, and where my family remained until they removed to Hampton, Rock Island County, Illinois, August 27, 1844. In 1848 they removed to Batavia, Kane County, Illinois. During all of these wanderings, Bishop Blakeslee stayed with the
family, laboring with all his boyhood's strength to provide raiment and food for the family, while his father was abroad preaching the gospel. At Batavia he worked on a farm the first year. In the fall of 1849 he engaged in the lumber business, which he continued until 1854, when he removed to Michigan, to what is now Galien, Berrien County, where he continued to reside during the remainder of his life.
At Galien he engaged in general merchandise, in connection with the lumber and manufacturing business. He held several minor public offices. He was justice of the peace from 1857 to 1880, and postmaster from 1856 to 1888.
February 12, 1848, he was married at Voree, Wisconsin, to Miss Lydia Alcott, an English lady who had come to America a few years before. There were born to them eleven children, two sons and nine daughters. One son, Edwin A., now counselor to the Presiding Bishop, E. L. Kelley, and the following six daughters are still living: Mrs. Eliza Emery, of Buchanan, Michigan; Mrs. Sara B. Fry, of Chicago, Illinois; Mrs. Georgianna Wright, of Detroit, Michigan; Mrs. Lydia Clark, of Galien, Michigan; Mrs. Viola Blair, of Kansas City, Missouri; and Mrs. Winnie Belle Smith, of Detroit, Michigan. One daughter, Ella, died in February, 1881, at 27 years of age; the other son, George Alma, died in November, 1888, at 28 years of age. Two children died in infancy. His wife survived him for several years, passing away at her home in Galien, on September 8, 1902.
In 1859 he united with the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and on April 8, 1860, at Amboy, Illinois, he was ordained to the office of elder. At the annual conference of 1862, he was appointed, with I. L. Rogers, William Aldrich, Philo Howard, and J. D. Heywood, a committee to procure a printing-press and printing material, and locate the same. On April 9, 1866, at the annual conference held at Plano, Illinois, he was ordained a high priest. At the annual conference of 1878, he was appointed on a committee with President Joseph and Apostle W. H. Kelley, to perform some important work towards the settlement of difficulties in Canada. This duty was performed
by this committee to the satisfaction of the church. At the April conference of 1879 he received a General Conference appointment to labor, as circumstances permitted, in Berrien County, Michigan. This appointment was continued the following year, since which we have no record of his being appointed as missionary by the General Conference.
At the same annual conference of 1879, together with William H. Kelley and Phineas Cadwell, he was appointed to examine the books and records of the Herald Office. This work was an arduous one, and resulted in bringing about better conditions, and possibly in saving to the church considerable means. At the same conference he was appointed a member of the Board of Publication.
In 1881, in company with William H. Kelley, he interviewed David Whitmer, at his home in Richmond, Ray County, Missouri, at which time Elder Blakeslee states that he was so moved by the divine power, while hearing Elder Whitmer relate the circumstances connected with the Book of Mormon, that he received additional confirmation and testimony of the truth of that record.
At the April conference of 1882, upon the resignation of Bishop I. L. Rogers, Elder Blakeslee was nominated, approved, and ordained Presiding Bishop of the church. He had for some time previous to this been acting as agent for Bishop I. L. Rogers in his home district. He chose as his counselors Elijah Banta and E. L. Kelley. In the capacity of Bishop he served the church the remainder of his life. Under his administration new life and vigor were infused into the financial department of church work. Together with his counselor, E. L. Kelley, he traveled largely throughout the church, expounding the financial law, and his interpretation of the financial law was accepted by the church as the correct interpretation of the law of God as touching those matters, and though meeting with some opposition in places, his teaching was quite generally received, and largely acted upon.
In 1882, in company with William H. Kelley, he visited Manitoba. During their short stay they did what they could to establish the work there.
In 1883, when the committee appointed by General Conference went to Washington for the purpose of presenting a petition to Secretary Frelinghuysen regarding the letter of former Secretary Evarts, they asking that discrimination be made between the Reorganization and the Mormons of Utah, Bishop Blakeslee accompanied them and rendered valuable assistance in the performance of the duties of the committee. As an active member of the Board of Publication, and Bishop of the church, he spent the remainder of his life serving the church in these capacities with zeal and fidelity.
On the evening of September 20, 1890, he died at his home in Galien, Michigan, after a very short illness. The Saints' Herald, the church organ, said of him:
"The death of Bro. George A. Blakeslee takes from the ranks of the living one of the rarest and best of men. It is entirely needless to praise him further than to write: He will be missed in every circle in which he has moved as a noble man, a conscientious and efficient workman in whatever he put his time and efforts to accomplish. He has raised a noble family and goes to his rest as one prepared to live."
BISHOP E. L. KELLEY.
BY W. B. KELLEY.
Edmund Levi Kelley was born near Vienna, Illinois, November 17, 1844, where with his parents he lived for about ten years, when they emigrated to Mills County, Iowa. His great-grandparents, Richard Kelley and Maria Gibbs, emigrated to America in the year 1773, and their son Benjamin Franklin Kelley was married to Miss Nancy Yancey, daughter of Colonel Austin Yancey of North Carolina in the year 1805. A family of seven children was raised by them, one of whom, Richard Yancey Kelley, was the father of the subject of this sketch.
In the introduction of the gospel message by the Latter Day Saints in Johnson County, Illinois, the grandfather, Benjamin Kelley, opened his house for the use of the ministers
in preaching, and carefully considered the message, with the result that himself and family received it as being in entire harmony with the truth taught in the Bible.
After the death of the Prophet in 1844, Richard Y. Kelley, who was at the time an elder in the church, and one of the leading members in Southern Illinois, continued in affiliation with the work under the Twelve until about the year 1847, when he visited the camp at Kanesville, Iowa, and made a special examination into the peculiar views adhered to by them at this time, which he was unable to approve of or indorse [endorse].
Subsequently to this, he examined the claims of Mr. J. J. Strang, Sidney Rigdon, Gladden Bishop, and Alpheus Cutler, giving elders of these various parties the hospitality of his home, with the result that he rejected many of the things taught by all. In the year 1859, he examined the claims of the Reorganization presented by Elders E. C. Briggs and W. W. Blair and pronounced their message in spirit and word that ministered and taught in the days of the Prophet. He at once accepted and began again to preach the word.
It was as a boy listening to the canvass of the claims of these various parties, and also the positions held by ministers of the Methodist Episcopal church, who discussed Bible topics in a friendly way with his father, that E. L. Kelley received his early tuition touching religious problems for although he could take no part in the controversy himself, he was a close and attentive listener and formed conclusions accordingly.
The family of Richard Y. and Sarah E. F. (Ballowe) Kelley, consisted of seven boys and one girl, to-wit: Benjamin E. F., John Smith, William H., Mary J. H., Edmund L., George T., Parley P., and James M. Five of these united with the church and three did not. Those who became members are all living. Those who did not have all passed over on the other side. This is not to be taken that the three died because they did not unite with the church, and that they were therefore not permitted to live; but rather that those who survive do so by the special blessings and promises of the Lord, through special help received
when under the afflictions and perils of life; thus proving that it is better after all to serve the Lord and seek first the interest of his work than not to serve him.
In early life E. L. Kelley was engaged in the occupation of farming, and received his first schooling in a country schoolhouse. When eighteen years of age, he taught his first term of school in the neighborhood where he was raised. During portions of the years 1863 and 1864, he attended school at the University of Iowa, furnishing his way by his own efforts, his father having died June 10, 1861, leaving a widow and a large family of children.
On the 23d of May, 1864, he united with the church at the semiannual conference held near Council Bluffs, Iowa, Elder George Sweet officiating at the baptism and Elder W. W. Blair in the confirmation. He attended a general conference of the church first in April, 1865, near Sandwich, Illinois, and from there went to Poughkeepsie, New York, and attended the Eastman Business College. After finishing a commercial course of study he tried to get a position in New York City, but did not succeed and hired to work as a boat hand on the steamer, Herald, one of the Thomas Cornell line of steamers, running between New York City and Rondout on the Hudson River, and worked at this till December 22, 1865.
The first of January, 1866, he was given the principalship of the boys' high school in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, and at the close of the term returned West and worked for Edwards & Greenough, on the Chicago city directory.
In the fall of 1866, he began teaching again and took a school near Clinton, Illinois. While here he passed through a severe siege of typhoid fever, a disease prevalent at times in Central Illinois. His friends who cared for him were greatly alarmed at his condition at this time, but he recovered and returned to his home in Western Iowa, and in the spring and summer of 1867, taught a school at Crescent City, Iowa.
From the fall of 1867 to March 1870, he was in the drug business in Logan, Harrison County, Iowa. In April, 1870, he again attended the University of Iowa, but in the fall began teaching in his old school near Clinton, Illinois. While
teaching here in the winter of 1870, he had a vision representing the work of the Son of Man, the impressions of which changed materially his work in life. His own report of it is as follows:
"In the vision the Savior was shown to be making what appeared to be the last of a long and devoted effort to reclaim the world from evil, and the statement was made, 'He is traveling the circuit of the earth for the last time.' While intently looking upon the scene I was asked to follow, and promised to do so."
At the close of his term of school he went to the April conference at Plano, Illinois, and stated that if the church wanted his services it could have them, otherwise he would return to his work of teaching.
After consideration of the matter by the conference he was ordained to the priest's office, and given a mission under Elder E. C. Briggs in the state of Michigan. Going at once to his field of labor by private conveyance, he preached his first sermon on the way near Wilmington, Illinois, the first part of May, 1871.
He continued missionary labor in Michigan from the first of June, 1871, till the 15th of September, 1872, when he quit this work for a time, to further pursue his studies, and began a course of law in the University of Iowa. In June of the following year he completed this work and returned to Mills County, in which he was raised, and opened a law office at the county-seat, Glenwood, where he practiced state law during the week and preached divine law on Sundays.
During this year he was also elected superintendent of schools of Mills County. Under this situation he notified President Smith and Bishop I. L. Rogers of his prospective work, and stated that while he was thus engaged he was at the direction of the church and would not hesitate to answer a call to other duties at any time, and received a reply to the effect that for the present, considering the fact that he was already preaching locally and in a position to do much good in a general way as a public officer, it would be best to remain where he was until further developments.
On the 21st of December, 1876, he was married to Miss Cassie Bishop, daughter of Mr. John and Mrs. Mary J. Bishop, of Malvern, Iowa. From this union they now have a family of eight children, five boys and three girls.
During his law-practice in the year 1878, while considering certain matters which were urged by some of the leading elders of the church touching the life and character of Joseph Smith, the prophet, and the authenticity of a few of the revelations in the Book of Doctrine and Covenants, he was greatly impressed by an experience one evening at his home in the month of October, which brought him, as he states, so far at least as having a sensation of the reality, into the presence of the Creator and Judge of all, where he was instructed, according to his own report as follows:
"Men should be judged by their public acts and not by their private lives. If I were to pass upon men according to their merits, you nor no other man would stand before me. The revelations in the Book of Doctrine and Covenants I gave to my servant, Joseph Smith."
This, the second evening after it was given, was rehearsed to Jason W. Briggs, President of the Quorum of Twelve, who had made a visit to the home of Mr. Kelley and with whom he was considering these questions.
Elder Briggs seemed considerably perplexed at the statement and suggested that it was possible for men to go too far in trying to pry into the private business of others in which they were not rightfully concerned. The experience, with the subject of this sketch, served the purpose of cutting off any possible association with those who were trying to build themselves up by parading what they regarded as faults in the private life of Joseph Smith, and also confirmed him as to the correctness of the revelations given to govern the church, and has been one of the suggestive points used in determining the proper procedure in meeting in a fair way serious problems which have arisen in his work both as a lawyer and preacher.
No request for special church work came to him till the fall of 1881, when he was placed upon a committee with Zenos H. Gurley of Decatur County, Iowa, to present to the Congress
of the United States the claims of the Reorganized Church touching the innovation of polygamy by certain parties claiming to be Latter Day Saints. This work was entered upon in December, 1881, by the committee and completed and due report made to the first annual conference held at Independence, Missouri, on April 6, 1882. During the session of the conference in 1882, at Independence, E. L. Kelley was ordained an elder of the church, also a counselor to George A. Blakeslee, presiding bishop of the church. This position he continued to fill until the death of Bishop Blakeslee, September 20, 1890. His work of teaching and urging the fulfilling of the law relating to finances in connection with the Bishop was not without considerable opposition and criticism from numbers of the Saints and eldership for a time, so much so, that in the May following the annual conference of 1885, he was seriously considering the situation as to whether he was not too persistent in contending for his exposition of the law touching temporalities, and was contemplating resigning his office as counselor to the Bishop, when he was spoken to by the Spirit according to his report of the experience, as follows:
"I have called you to teach the law contained in the Book of Doctrine and Covenants, and it is my will that you do this. You will also be called to fill more important positions of trust than you now hold."
This will doubtless explain in some degree at least, why he has not hesitated to present and urge what he has believed to be the law of God to govern the church.
Upon the death of Bishop Blakeslee in 1890, he was appointed acting Bishop by the First Presidency of the church until the ensuing annual conference. On the 10th day of April, 1891, he was called and ordained to the office of Presiding Bishop of the church (having first been ordained a high priest), which position he occupies at the present time. His counselors in the Bishopric, George H. Hilliard and E. A. Blakeslee, were called, elected, and ordained at the same conference and have also continued to act in these offices. He has also acted as president of the Herald Publishing House since May, 1891. On the 9th of April, 1897,
he was called to act as counselor to the President of the church until a counselor should be chosen to fill the vacancy occasioned by the death of President W. W. Blair, which position he filled in connection with his other duties until the 18th of April, 1902.
The special financial work of the Bishopric since its present organization in April, 1891, in addition to the general work of furnishing the ministry and poor, has been as follows:
1. The fitting up and furnishing of offices for the general officers of the church for use in the transaction of its business.
2. Purchasing land and building the Saints' Home at Lamoni, Iowa, to aid in caring for the enfeebled and aged of the church.
3. The building of the Evanelia, a boat to aid the missionaries in their work in the Society Islands.
4. The building of Graceland College, an educational institution under the supervision of the church.
The purchase of lands as means could be spared from the treasury in the interest of the work of redeeming the waste places of Zion.
In addition to this work, the subject of this sketch has traveled and. preached extensively in the United States and Canada; held fifteen public discussions, one of which was published and has been extensively circulated; filled a special mission to the British Isles in the year 1901, at which time he also visited the countries of France and Italy.
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