Previous chapter Table of Contents Next chapter
JASON W. BRIGGS AND THE BELOIT AND WAUKESHA BRANCHES
At Potosi, Wisconsin, in 1841, William O. Clark baptized among others a young man of twenty by the name of Jason W. Briggs. By the following year he had been ordained an elder and had taken the gospel to his home in Beloit, Wisconsin, where he soon raised a small branch of perhaps twenty-five members. All the Briggs family became members, including the father, the mother, Polly Damon Briggs, the eldest son, Silas, the daughter, Mary (married to a Stiles), and perhaps others as well as neighbors and friends.
The Briggs family subscribed, as every Latter Day Saint family was encouraged to do, to the Times and Seasons, a marvelous paper in those times to come to this pioneer home. They read every word of it and usually they read it aloud in the evenings, so that all might hear. In that family was a lad of eight, and to him that wonderful paper, so precious that it was almost venerated by the family, was a source of never-failing delight. As soon as he had opportunity, he took it in his own hands and spelled out all that he could read, but alas, most of the words were too long and too complicated for him to understand, and he had to wait until the paper was read to the family assembled. He never missed any of it, but especially did he love to hear the "History of Joseph Smith" that was "running" serially through its pages. So strongly was the subject of these family readings impressed upon his mind that he remembered throughout his life the words and teachings as explained to him then, even when the imprint of later teachings had faded. That child was Edmund C. Briggs, destined to become the first, and at one time the only, missionary of the Reorganization.
Either that same year or the next, young Jason preached in the neighboring village of Waukesha, where some of the relatives of the Briggs family resided, and organized another branch in that locality. In 1843 the young elder went to Nauvoo, a long journey, to see things for himself, and came back well satisfied. The next year the family learned from their Times and Seasons that the Prophet had been killed! Jason was twenty-three by that time, and Edmund in his tenth year. The little branch struggled on, but gradually, from what they read in the Times and Seasons, became fearful that things were changed at Nauvoo.
The local branches of the church, often far apart, handicapped by difficulties in transportation and correspondence, were much more alone and independent than at later dates. When the President of the church was killed, these went on holding meetings, electing officers, preaching the same gospel they had preached since the church was founded. They did not consider that the church had been removed from the earth. They still believed they were part of the kingdom of God on earth, and that the priesthood with which their officers had been endowed was eternal, and would not be lost except by transgression.
I united with the church in 1841, [says Briggs], and I remained with it. I have accounted myself a member of that church from that time on, from 1841 to 1885, but I have been in different organizations at different times, as I have already stated; but when in each of these organizations I supposed I was under the church.
When I found out that they were teaching anything that was not authorized by the church before 1844, as the law is set forth in the Bible, the Book of Mormon, and the Book of Doctrine and Covenants, why, I left at once.
I always supposed when I belonged to those different organizations that they were the true and direct descendant of the original church, and as soon as my error was revealed to me, I left them--left them as soon as I found out they were not under the church.
These people with whom I was associated in Wisconsin were people who were contending for the original doctrine of the church, for the maintenance of the original doctrine of the church, in its purity.1
Having become convinced that the church as led by Brigham Young was in apostasy, the branch at Beloit renounced that organization in 1845 or 1846 and began to fellowship with the faction led by James J. Strang. During this period, Jason went again as a missionary, working in New York and much in Wisconsin, but he soon became satisfied he was following a false leader.
My reasons for leaving Strang [wrote Jason W. Briggs] were that I saw something better in the matter of faith and leadership--I should say in the form of leadership and faith. Then there were some of the doctrines of Strang that did not suit me, and some things that I considered objectionable. After we left Strang, myself and most of the branch at Beloit became associated with William Smith's organization, under the understanding that he claimed the right to lead as guardian for Young Joseph.
But when in October, 1851, he attended a conference at Palestine, Illinois, held by William Smith and others, Jason became thoroughly dissatisfied with their claims. He was discouraged and depressed. He believed with all his heart that the principles he had embraced in 1841 were those of the true Church of Christ, but now thrice since the death of Joseph Smith he had been misled and disillusioned. Brigham Young had gone into polygamy, so had Strang, and now he believed that William Smith was tending the same way.2 There were other discouraging features in all of these branches. What was there now, but to do as Joseph Smith had done in his perplexity many years before, ask the Lord. On the 18th day of November, 1851, he was praying on the prairie, "about three miles northwest" of Beloit, when he says he received a revelation:
Therefore, let the elders whom I have ordained by the hand of my servant Joseph, or by the hand of those ordained by him, resist not this authority, nor faint in the discharge of duty, which is to preach my gospel as revealed in the record of the Jews, and the Book of Mormon, and the Book of Doctrine and Covenants; and cry
repentance and remission of sins through obedience to the gospel, and I will sustain them, and give them my Spirit; and in mine own due time I will call upon the seed of Joseph Smith, and will bring one forth, and he shall be mighty and strong, and he shall preside over the high priesthood of my church; and then shall the quorums assemble, and the pure in heart shall gather, and Zion shall be reinhabited, as I said unto my servant Joseph Smith; after many days shall all these things be accomplished, saith the Spirit. Behold, that which ye received as my celestial law is not of me, but is the doctrine of Baalam. And I denounce it and proclaim against it....And the Spirit said unto me, Write write; write; write the revelation and send it unto the Saints at Palestine, and at Voree, and at Waukesha, and to all places where this doctrine is taught as my law; and whosoever will humble themselves before me, and ask of me, shall receive of my Spirit a testimony that these words are of me. Even so. Amen.3
After two days' thought and study, Elder Briggs presented this document to several friends, among whom were David Powell, H. Lowe, and John Harrington. But, Brother Harrington reminded him, did not the Doctrine and Covenants say that no one save a prophet, seer, and revelator should receive revelations for the church? This was a real obstacle, and after much discussion Brothers Lowe and Harrington determined, in spite of his difficulty, to put it to a test as indicated in the last sentence of the purported message. Another brother and his wife asked to join in prayer with them. All received the testimony of the truth of what had been given Brother Briggs.
During the remainder of the week following, the little group of Saints in Beloit were filled with suppressed excitement, for it had been whispered about, as secrets usually are, and everyone knew that something unusual was happening, and therefore all made sure to attend church the following Sunday, November 24, 1851, at the home of Sister Polly Briggs. There Latter Day Saint meetings had been held for many years. There were thirty members present when church assembled that morning, and Jason proceeded to preach as usual, though as some afterwards remarked "with unusual liberty."4 When he had finished, he read to them the communication received the Monday previous, and told them that he now saw light where before only darkness had reigned. He says there were only "one or two instances of levity" as he made this statement for to the average mind a revelation from God is cause for levity. Briggs was gratified to find only unusual solemnity and intense feeling among the majority.
His announcement was followed by the appointment of another meeting for the evening at the home of John A. Williams. That night, after the usual opening exercises, the meeting was declared open for "consultation and testimony" and soon "took on the character of an investigation," and "many facts relative to the erroneous teaching of William Smith and Wood were brought out." One or two of the membership made what seemed to Briggs to be a feeble effort to defend them, but when a motion was made to "withdraw the hand of fellowship from them," the vote was almost unanimous in the affirmative, only two dissenting.
The next day or two were spent by brothers and sisters alike, as they had time, in the arduous labor of copying in long hand the document presented by Briggs, ready to send to each of the places particularly mentioned. In time, on account of the reference therein to polygamy, it was also sent to all they knew who believed in this doctrine, which was particularly odious to Briggs. Shortly after, a statement was drawn up to accompany the message and was signed by all the branch officers and several of the membership.
Soon after, Lowe, Harrington, Powell, and Briggs met at the home of Jason W. Briggs for consultation. They all knelt together in earnest prayer to know what should be their next step and immediately experienced the gifts of tongues, interpretation, and prophecy, and more than all, "increased light." It was determined to send Elders Lowe and Harrington to visit all the branches eastward as far as Waukesha, and then northward, delivering to each branch of former Latter Day Saints a copy of the message and the statement explaining it, and also to communicate to each of them the stand taken by the church at Beloit and the reason for it, which was as stated by Jason W. Briggs:
A withdrawal of confidence in any and all organizations and pretended leaders or successors to the Presidency of the church, entertaining a belief that the true successor of Joseph Smith would be his eldest son, who would in the "due time" of the Lord be called to act in that capacity, and for which we would wait; and in the meantime preach the gospel, baptize, and form branches, and nothing more. Such a position was believed the only tenable one. And every day and at every interview with each other, this view of the case became more apparent, and the resolution to pursue that course became stronger.5
Imbued with these convictions, the men appointed went to each near-by branch, most of whom had been misled by one or more leaders, and wherever they went and had prayer with their brethren of old time, they found the same spirit of which they had partaken in Beloit in the hearts of the people. New hope seemed to arise as it had with themselves, and new courage and confidence took possession of them all. The branches visited on this trip were the Nephi Branch in Walworth County, one at Voree, and one in Waukesha County. Young Joseph was not consulted; there was no need that he should be, for the promise in the revelation to Briggs was definite enough. He would be called; they were to wait for that. They still had faith, remarkable faith, after years of disillusionment.
1 Jason W. Briggs in the Temple Lot Suit, pages 401, 402.
2 William Smith always denied this.
3 The Messenger, edited by Jason W. Briggs, Volume 2, page 1.
4 The Messenger, Volume 2, page 5.
5 The Messenger, Volume 2, page 5.
Previous chapter Table of Contents Next chapter