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When Joseph Smith first arrived in Far West, Missouri, in 1838, he had written a letter to the Saints in Kirtland, remembering many of them by name but to one he wrote a whole paragraph:
I would just say to Brother Marks that I saw in a vision while on the road, that whereas he was closely pursued by an innumerable concourse of enemies, and as they pressed upon him hard, as if they were about to devour him, and had seemingly obtained some degree of advantage over him, but about this time a chariot of fire came, and near the place, even the Angel of the Lord put forth his hand unto Brother Marks, and said unto him, "Thou art my son, come here," and immediately he was caught up in the chariot, and rode away triumphantly out of their midst. And again the Lord said, "I will raise thee up for a blessing unto many people." Now the particulars of this whole matter cannot be written at this time, but the vision was evidently given to me that I might know that the hand of the Lord would be on his behalf.1
November 15, 1854, William Marks sat in his new house at Shabbona Grove, Illinois, to write a letter to his old friend, J. M. Adams. He was sixty-two years of age, and he had not triumphed. Prosperity had blessed him with plenty, but he was lonely for the gospel and for his old friends. He wrote:
I feel that it would be policy for me to stand still for a short time. I have had it in my mind to try and form a settlement of brethren and try to live according to the law of God, but there have been so many attempts made to gather that I am almost discouraged to make any such attempt, although I should like to live where I could enjoy the society of friends and brethren, but I think we had better try to live and try to do as near right as we know how, and the time will come when we will be regarded for our works.2
William Marks was born in Rutland, Vermont, November 15, 1792. He united with the church in Portage, Allegany County, New York, in the early days of the church. We just hear of him when he took over the mortgage owned by the church on the Messenger and Advocate and gave Smith and Rigdon "power of attorney in Kirtland" over the interests of "Wm. Marks & Co." of Portage, Allegany County, New York.3 He was prominently mentioned as early as September, 1837, when he was on the third of that month chosen a member of the High Council at Kirtland. On the 17th of the same month he was appointed agent for Bishop N. K. Whitney, to transact the business of the bishop at Kirtland in order to liberate the bishop so that he might travel as provided in a revelation given September, 1832.4 Throughout his career in the church in Joseph's day, he was noted for his business ability and his wisdom in counsel.
Sometime in 1838, Brother Marks went to Missouri. After the trouble there, he with Elias Higbee and Edward Partridge opposed the settling of the Saints in a body anywhere. They thought it would be better for them to scatter for a time and build up homes individually where each should choose. It was with this idea of temporary dispersion in mind that in February, 1839, while Joseph Smith was still held a prisoner in Missouri, they refused the purchase of a two thousand acre tract, lying between the Des Moines and Mississippi Rivers, for the sum of two dollars an acre. After Joseph Smith came to Illinois, he and others strongly urged making another settlement together, and Marks and Partridge, though against their better judgment, acquiesced.
On October 5, 1839, a stake was organized at Nauvoo, and William Marks was chosen president of that stake, a position he held throughout all the period of Nauvoo history while Joseph Smith lived. He was also a city alderman and justice of the peace.
Though he held his office undisturbed during Joseph's lifetime, he was soon to find things changed when the Prophet was gone, for at the General Conference of October, 1844, a motion to sustain William Marks "in his calling as president of the stake" was lost by a large majority. In this connection, in a speech by Samuel Bent, it was stated that the High Council had already dropped him because he did not acknowledge the authority of the Twelve.
From that time, Marks began a series of spiritual wanderings that brought him disappointment and disillusionment wherever he turned. Driven from his comfortable home in Nauvoo, he succeeded, as had always been his fortune, quite admirably in a financial way, but he was never content without the church which had been so much of his life in the past.
For a time he favored the claims of Sidney Rigdon, but by April 6, 1847, he was in attendance at a Strangite conference at Voree, Wisconsin. He was appointed then to act as a member of the committee on church property. Even before this, March 6, 1846, he had been "called" by J. J. Strang to occupy in his presidency, but William Marks's habit of independent action evidently led him to question the call.
Apparently he was still wavering by April, for the conference held in Voree that month sustained him only conditionally: "Resolved that if William Marks will magnify his office according to the requirements of the revelation of January 7, we will receive, uphold, and sustain him by our faith, confidence, and prayers as one of the First Presidency."5
Some sort of adjusting probably was made, for his name is mentioned occasionally as one of the presidency until June 6, 1850.
On April 23, 1852, he wrote his friend James M. Adams, then living in Vienna, Wisconsin, that he had just come from Saint
Louis, where he had attended his first conference with another pretender, Charles B. Thompson, and had evidently determined to cast in his lot with him. "I went there," he says, "to meet in solemn assembly which convened on the 15th day of April. I arrived there on that day with but little understanding of the work, and about as much faith, and with a determination to be very inquisitive, for I have learned from experience it is a very easy thing to be deceived. I found when I arrived five brethren, and myself made six, and Brother Thompson, our chief teacher, which constituted about the same number that was present at the organizing of the church."6 He was hopeful that here at last was to be found the old-time gospel again.
In the same letter he tells of a revelation said to have been received by Thompson on March 9 appointing a committee to seek a location for the Saints to gather, and he was one of the "com-mitty." They planned on going "on or near the frontiers of the Lamanites." He planned to start on the mission to see such location sometime about the middle of May. There was to be another solemn assembly on August 15 in Saint Louis. He must be back for that.
His next letter to Adams said he had not heard from Thompson for a long time, but had made the trip to Iowa near the Bluffs and was busy answering letters about the chosen location:
I would say to you, Brother Adams, that the country is very new and we will have to undergo a great many privations. What buildings there are in the surrounding country are very poor. They were only put up for the present. I think it would be policy if a few families were going from a neighborhood to have someone go and make preparation. It will save great inconvenience. I think this spring will be good time to secure locations. I am expecting to start about the first of April. I have purchased a horse power sawmill and made an arrangement for a man to go with me and tend it. I found when I was there there was a great lack of lumber. . . . We have seen so much misery and distress by gathering in haste, I think we had better follow a different course with the present work.7
What happened to this location is not known. Marks did not go, but seems not to have lost faith in the work. He was again appointed on a locating committee on April 9, 1853. In June he writes to Adams, soliciting money for a press, and says he has just come from Saint Louis. Another letter in November tells of his illness, lasting throughout the summer. He had, however, sent money to Saint Louis to apply on the printing press and asked Thompson to answer at once, but he failed to do so until late in August and had "been negligent in doing so formerly."8 At length he wrote he had contracted for a press and would soon be leaving for the Bluffs.
And now on November 15 he had again reached the crossroads. "I received the June number9 from Preparation10 the other day, and I made up my mind that all intelligence had departed from that source," he said, and stated his determination to live right and affiliate with no organization, in spite of longing for old friends and associations.
The following spring (1855) he again writes Adams a friendly letter and says:
I must express some of my views that have lately occurred to my mind, as regards my faith. I can see no more that can have any favorable claims to come out and claim to be a prophet. I think our minds can be at rest, and we can have a little peace on that subject. I think that we have followed the requirements of Saint Paul to prove all things and hold fast to that which is good, and I know of nothing better than the pure principles of the gospel. I have recently come to the conclusion to teach repentance and faith on the Lord Jesus Christ and baptism for the remission of sins and the laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Spirit. Don't believe in any church organization. Teach the pure principles of the gospel, and every man stand or fall. Be his own master. We read that all men that worketh righteousness in all nations shall be accepted of God. I received a letter a few days ago from a man living at Aurora, saying he wished me to come there. There were eight or ten wished to be baptized and were gathering a band of brethren. I do not know how this came, for I have said nothing of my views recently except to my wife. I have written to them today my views.11
Less than two weeks later he writes again:
As to the church departing from its foundation, I think that can be clearly shown, but the funeral sermon of the church was a thing quite foreign to my thoughts. If this [evidently some spiritual manifestation of Brother Adams] is from the right spirit, it has incalculable meaning. It seems to have put an end to so much false pretension and false prophets and foolery that has been going on for ten or twelve years. Oh, how it would rejoice my heart to see the true light break forth again, that we might know for a surety, for I have been long wandering in darkness and following false prophets until I have become tiresome and weary. I came to the conclusion in the forepart of last winter to reject all organizations and teach the first principles of the gospel and baptism for the remission of sins and the laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Spirit. I find recently there is quite a number in this region of the country have come to the same conclusion. John E. Page is one, and some eight or ten others at Aurora. They want me to baptize them, and I want you to advise on the subject. . . . I well remember what Oliver Cowdery told me here when on his way to Council Bluffs.12 He said the work was of God and the end would be accomplished, let men do or act as they pleased.13
The next month another letter reads:
I have waited with intense anxiety to hear from you, and I have perused it until I fully understand its contents as respects our views in relation to the course to pursue in teaching the gospel of the kingdom of Christ. I feel well satisfied and have enjoyed great peace of mind since I came to that conclusion. My mind has never been at rest since the breaking up of the church (or the death of Brother Joseph). I have always had fears that all was not right, but I am satisfied now that all the false prophets have arisen that can, with any degree of plausibility, and if there can be any system adopted that will be calculated to mitigate the condition of the faithful Saints that are scattered about on the face of the land, it will rejoice my heart.
I would state my views, and then I would like to get the views of my brethren on the subject, asking our Heavenly Father to direct us and claim the promise, if any man lack wisdom let him (ask] God.
I had in contemplation when I wrote you the last letter to look out a good location somewhere in the West and enter a large tract of land, if it was thought advisable by friends and brethren, and invite all of the honest in heart and as many as were so disposed to gather around where we could enjoy some society, for it is like living alone, living in the world as many of us do. I have mentioned my views to several of the brethren since I wrote you, and they seemed very much pleased with my views and hope that I would do it by all means, for they would gladly fall in with the idea.
And now, Brother Adams, I want your advice on the best course to pursue, asking our Heavenly Father to direct you in this matter, and I want your answer on this subject as soon as possible, for if I should conclude to make a location this fall it would be necessary to make a move before a great while, and your opinion about where to make the location of it should meet your views.
I am somewhat advanced in years, sixty-four years old, but my health was never better than at present, although I can't endure so much hardship. My strength has been greatly increased since I have come to the present conclusion. While under the influence of Baneemyism, I lost all my strength and former vigor. I never went on a mission without returning home sick and finally reduced so low as to despair of ever being able to do anything more.
Again in September he wrote a short letter, but his assurance in regard to establishing a colony was on the wane.
It looks like a long journey for me to undertake, and I have had some fears rise in my mind of late that possibly it might prove a failure, and if so it would be very mortifying to me, as there have been so many failures. I thought that I would defer it until spring; learn more of the feelings of my brethren on the subject this winter, as I have had little opportunity to see but few as yet. I have felt very much of late to claim the promise, if any lack wisdom let him ask of the Lord, and I feel if I ask in a right frame of mind he will instruct me. I want your faith and prayers that we may be instructed by the Spirit of truth, that we may not make any move that will not be pleasing in the sight of our Heavenly Father. . . . I had a letter from William Smith this morning from Kirtland. It was on business. Said he was preaching there but would not trouble about church matters, as there were so many, lo here and lo there!
By March, 1856, Marks had determined to call a conference at East Pawpaw, Illinois, to talk matters over. The seminary had been given them with the greatest freedom by the trustees, and a general anxiety was manifested to hear. The meeting was called April 10, at 2 p.m. Their idea was to meet and get "a starting point," not organize then, though he had an idea of eventually organizing as in Book of Mormon times with a high priest to preside, but wished to defer until he could get a more general expression of the brethren.
The resolution to meet together for religious services was carried into effect, but the effort was not a success, "for it seemed the needed favor of God through the Holy Spirit was sadly lacking," said W. W. Blair, who participated in the movement. Organization was never effected, or even contemplated.
On April 6, 1859, William Aldrich and J. C. Gaylord, who were close friends of Brother Marks, were at a conference held near Beaverton, Boone County, Illinois, and became interested in the Reorganization movement.
They visited William Marks and urged him to attend a conference at a schoolhouse near Edwin Cadwell's in the vicinity of Amboy. He did not want to go. He felt he had definitely abandoned hope of finding what he sought and preferred not to risk another disappointment. They insisted; he yielded, though "doubtfully and reluctantly."
The services on the tenth consisted of Communion, prayer, and testimony. The meeting was one of the most notable for spiritual gifts in the history of the movement. William Marks had been invited to the pulpit with Elder Gurley. A little twelve-year-old girl spoke in tongues. Then a young married woman by the name of Helen Pomeroy arose and, coming directly in front of Marks, lifted up her hands to him and said:
Thus saith the Lord; O thou man of God! In times past thou hast sat with my servant Joseph, the Seer; and in times near to come thou shalt sit in council with his son. When I called my servant Joseph, he was as a lone tree; but when I shall call his son he shall be as one of a forest.14
Thereupon William Marks arose, weeping, and said:
This manifestation I know is by the Spirit of God. It is the same Spirit the faithful Saints ever enjoyed when I first received the gospel in the State of New York, and which we also enjoyed in Kirtland, Missouri, and at Nauvoo, when we lived uprightly before the Lord. I know by the evidences I see and feel here today that God loves and owns this people and the work they have in hand.15
When he sat down, Zenas H. Gurley explained the position Marks had held in the church formerly, and he was received into fellowship with his former priesthood. From that moment of decision, William Marks threw his all into the movement, living a life of "consistent self-sacrifice and unswerving devotion to truth. His sacrifice included loss of his wealth, and the failure of his family (except two of his children) to go with him into the church. The testimony of this unusual man was the same to the last. He died at Plano, Illinois, on May 22, 1872, at the age of seventy-nine. By his side in his last hours, "Young Joseph," now president of the church, watched tenderly, and his were the hands that closed his eyes "after the light of the valiant spirit had departed from them."16
1 Millennial Star. Volume 16, page 131.
2 Letter from William Marks to James M. Adams, Magnolia, Iowa. James Marvin Adams was born at Sandisfield, Berkshire County, Massachusetts, May 11, 1806, baptized by John Knapp, December 4. 1836, at Andover, Ashtabula County, Ohio, ordained an elder on January 29, 1837, and appointed to preside over the church at Andover; ordained a high priest February 21, 1841; with his family, he started for Nauvoo, May 30, 1844, arriving after the death of the prophet.
3 Historical Record, Volume 8, page 844; see also masthead of Messenger and Advocate, after Volume 3, No. 6.
4 Doctrine and Covenants 83:23.
5 Gospel Herald, Volume 5, page 17.
6 Letter to James M. Adams, Vienna, Wisconsin.--Private collection of Heman C. Smith.
7 Letter to James M. Adams, June 25, 1853.--Private collection of Heman C. Smith.
8 Letter to James M. Adams, November 12, 1853.--Private collection of Heman C. Smith.
9 Preparation News and Ephraim's Messenger, perhaps.
10 Name of Thompson's community in Monona County, Iowa, upon the Soldier River.
11 William Marks to John M. Adams, May 20, 1855.--Private collection Heman C. Smith.
12 In October, 1848.
13 Letter to J. M. Adams, June 11, 1855.
14 Memoirs of W. W. Blair, page 16.
16 Ibid.--Preface by Joseph Smith.
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