On Sunday, the 4th of June, 1837, as Heber C. Kimball was seated above the Communion table in the stand on the Melchisedec side of the Temple, Joseph Smith spoke to him quietly and said, "Brother Heber, the Spirit of the Lord has whispered to me: 'Let my servant Heber go to England and proclaim my gospel and open the door of salvation to that nation.'
Heber C. Kimball was one of the least educated of all the members of the Quorum of Twelve, but he was also at that time one of the most humble. He had been surprised at his call to the apostleship, for he had never considered himself worthy. Now he was completely overwhelmed, but he never faltered. Daily he went to the east room in the attic story of the Temple and poured out his very soul to God, asking for his protection and power that he might fulfill honorably the mission appointed him. "O Lord," he prayed, "I am a man of stammering tongue and altogether unfit for such a work. How can I go to preach in that land, which is so famed throughout Christendom for light, knowledge, and piety, and as the nursery of religion; and to a people whose intelligence is proverbial?"1
At that time another member of the Quorum of Twelve, Orson Hyde, was somewhat estranged by reason of the financial trouble in Kirtland. His brother-in-law, Lyman E. Johnson,2 had failed in a business attempted during the times of prosperity. Altogether, hard times had befallen most of the Saints. Some of them decided that Joseph Smith was a "fallen prophet." When Hyde heard of Kimball's preparations, he went to the Presidency and asked that he might accompany his brother apostle on the mission. Joseph Fielding,3 a priest who had relatives in England, was also ordained to accompany him.
Naturally, on so long a mission it took some time to get ready; therefore nine whole days were consumed in preparation. Heber and his companions (Willard Richards had determined to go on the day previous to Kimball's departure) accordingly left Kirtland on June 14, 1837, "without purse or scrip" on the first mission of the church to a foreign land. With them were Brother Kimball's faithful wife, Vilate, Joseph Fielding's sister, Mary, and some others of the church members who were to accompany them as far as Fairfield, the lake port of Kirtland. Mary gave them five dollars with which to pay the fare of the party from Fairfield to Buffalo, for they found a boat leaving for that port in about an hour. Leaving their friends to return to Kirtland, the three missionaries went aboard with young Robert B. Thompson and his wife,4 who were on a mission to Canada. At Buffalo they expected that there might be funds from Canadian Saints who were interested in the English mission, but were disappointed. They walked slowly down the tow path of the canal, talking over what they should do. There was but little money remaining, and they must make some plan for the future. Finally they definitely decided to go on, "believing that God would open the way." They accordingly took passage on a "line boat," a slow, local boat, where fare was cheaper than on a packet. At Utica they left the canal and took a train for Albany.
The money was now exhausted, but Willard Richards was close to his father's home in Richmond, Berkshire County, Massachusetts. Here he remembered that his brother William owed him forty dollars. Hoping he might be in a position to pay, Willard Richards and Heber C. Kimball started to walk the intervening thirty miles, arriving there on the 20th of June. They had now been one week on the way. Securing the money, they took passage in a steamboat for New York City, where they arrived on the evening of June 22. Here they met Fielding and Pratt, who had preceded them, also John Goodson, Isaac Russell,5 and John Snyder, who had come by way of Canada to join the mission.
There was a ship ready to sail to England but the missionaries had no funds, absolutely none. They hunted up the only Latter Day Saint in New York, Elder Elijah Fordham, who, as he had no house of his own, took lodgings for them with his sister-in-law. But they soon found they could not afford such expensive accommodations, or indeed any accommodations at all. They engaged a small room in an unfinished storehouse belonging to Fordham's father, who was said to be a wealthy man and paid for the building by assisting him for two days in raising another warehouse he was building. Here, on the floor, the prospective missionaries slept while waiting for the Lord to "open the way."
On Sunday, the 25th, they "fasted, prayed, administered Communion, held council for the success of the mission, and had a joyful time." Their afternoon was made none the less enjoyable by the visit of two "sectarian" ministers, and the time was passed in the occupation so dear to the heart of early missionaries of the church, discussion.
In the meantime, the pitiful plight of this great unwarned city solicited their attention. They bought postage with a small part of their funds and mailed one hundred and eighty tracts of Orson Hyde's A Timely Warning, to as many priests and ministers of New York City; gave many others away, and conversed about the gospel wherever they could get a listener. They told Brother Fordham that if he were only faithful, a branch would be "raised up" in New York City before their return.
At last enough money was obtained for their fare, eighteen dollars each. The passengers had also secured provisions which they would cook for themselves during the voyage, as was then customary.
The Garrick, upon which they had secured passage, was a new packet of the Dramatic Line, built for the Dramatic Company, of which E. K. Collins, who afterward made such a gallant fight to keep the Stars and Stripes on the Atlantic, was the moving spirit. Collins had ordered four new ships built in 1836, of Brown and Bell of New York, sparing no expense in material and workmanship. They were called (from whence came the name of the line) "Roscius," "Siddons," "Shakespeare," and "Garrick."6
On the first of July, the Garrick stood in New York Harbor, her crisp new house flag (blue over white with a white L in the blue) floating in the air. Not far away was the packet South America. This was the Garrick's maiden voyage, and a wager of ten thousand dollars was up on which was the faster vessel. The wager was a guarantee that the ships would not delay in getting to their destination. The missionaries were full of excitement, anxious to be off. There had been many inconveniences in New York; they had been compelled to spread their blankets upon straw on the floor, but they "did not feel discouraged, believing that God would open up the way."
The one Latter Day Saint in New York accompanied them to the dock and wished to go with them, but was told that since the Lord was about to open up the work in New York City, he might be more useful at home, so he pressed ten dollars into their hands, and the boat was off. It was a wonderful trip. Only two of them, Richards and Fielding, were sick for a day or two. Orson Hyde preached on the aft quarter-deck on the 16th to a congregation of from two to three hundred--English, Irish, Scotch, French, German and Jews.
Just at daybreak on the morning of July 20, the Garrick arrived in the River Mersey, opposite Liverpool, eighteen days and eighteen hours out from New York. The South America came in just a few lengths behind, every inch of canvas on both vessels spread. During the entire trip, she had not been out of sight of the Garrick but had never passed her. The race, as may be supposed, was the exciting feature of the voyage.
The mission had arrived in Liverpool. They had little money and no friends. For some time they wandered up and down the strange streets, watching the crowds and looking for a cheap place to lodge. At length Hyde, Richards, and Kimball found a small room belonging to a widow in Union Street, which they took for a day or two. All the time they were in Liverpool was spent in council and "in calling on the Lord for direction."
At length they said the Spirit of the Lord spoke to them, saying, "Go to Preston." They accordingly went. The place indicated was a large manufacturing town in Lancashire, thirty-one miles from Liverpool. It was four o'clock, election day, in Preston, the afternoon of July 22, 1837. Queen Victoria had just ascended the throne three days before the landing of the missionaries, and a general election had been ordered. Bands of music were playing, banners were flying, men, women, and children walked the street, decked with ribbons denoting their political choice. The elders watched the scene, feeling strangers indeed. At last a banner floated open as it passed them, and they read in gilt letters, "Truth Will Prevail." That seemed to them a prophecy of what was to come.
The elders took a room in Wilford Street with a widow by the name of Ann Dawson, as many widows earned a scanty living in that place by letting rooms. In the meantime young Joseph Fielding went in search of his brother James, who was pastor of a primitive Baptist congregation in Preston. He returned with an invitation for all the elders to visit his brother, who had already heard much about the church from his brother Joseph and two sisters, Mary and Mercy, who had not many years before left him for Canada.
Upon the day after the arrival in Preston, they all went to hear the Reverend James Fielding discourse in his own pulpit in Vauxhall Chapel. While the missionaries sat and prayed that they might be given a hearing, the Reverend Fielding went on with his sermon, closing by speaking of their brethren from America and inviting them to occupy his pulpit that afternoon. So it happened on July 23, his first Sabbath Day in England, Heber C. Kimball spoke in Vauxhall Chapel, Preston, the first sermon of the Restoration in a foreign land. A large congregation gathered at three o'clock that afternoon, perhaps prompted partly by curiosity, but they kept on coming. Orson Hyde followed him with a short testimony. That evening John Goodson and Willard Richards spoke, and the next Wednesday night Orson Hyde and Willard Richards. By this time people had begun to be convinced of the truth of the message and ask for baptism. Then it was that the Reverend James Fielding, his hospitality strained to the breaking point, refused them the further use of the chapel. From then on meetings were held each night in private homes until on Saturday night when it was decided to baptize those who had requested it the following morning in the River Ribble, which ran through Preston. Reverend James Fielding, when he heard of this, worked himself almost into a frenzy, even calling at the lodgings of his erstwhile friends and "forbidding" them to baptize those from his congregation. He was told they were of age and must choose for themselves. At nine o'clock in the morning of the second Sunday in England, nine persons were baptized in the River Ribble, a young man by the name of George D. Watt being the first. Among the group was Ann Elizabeth Walmsley and her husband, Thomas. Ann Elizabeth had been a victim of that dread malady, consumption, and was wasted to a mere skeleton, but at her baptism she was healed and lived to be a very old woman.
Well started now on their mission, they felt need of further direction. The day after the first baptism they met in council at their lodging, and "continued in fasting and prayer, praise and thanksgiving," until two o'clock in the morning. It was determined at this meeting that Elders Richards and Goodson would go to the city of Bedford; Russell and Snyder to Alston in Cumberland, Isaac Russell's birthplace, where he still had relatives; and Kimball, Hyde, and Fielding would remain in and around Preston. In two or three days all had departed on their missions.
It happened that on the 2d day of August, Elder Kimball in visiting the new members, the Walmsleys, met a young girl by the name of Jeannette Richards, a very intelligent young lady, the daughter of an independent clergyman in Walkerfold. She attended the services and two days later was baptized in the Ribble and confirmed at the water's edge, the first confirmation in England, for others had not yet received this rite.
On the 6th of August in the morning, Orson Hyde preached in the market place, and in the evening at the home of his landlady, Ann Dawson, now a member of the church. Some twenty-eight who had been baptized were confirmed and organized into a branch. Thus was passed the third Sabbath Day in England.
As the end of the week neared, Kimball received two letters from Walkerfold, one from Jeannette Richards, the other from her aged father, inviting him to visit them and speak in Reverend Richard's church. Accordingly on Saturday afternoon he took the coach for Walkerfold, arriving there about dark. He was cordially met by all the family, had tea, and talked with them until a late hour. The old gentleman was much loved in his parish, having ministered to the people there for over thirty years. In the morning, Brother Kimball went into the pulpit with the Reverend John Richards, who prayed and gave out the hymns, and then presented the speaker from America. Soon after the elder began, the congregation was in tears. Similar meetings were held on Monday and Wednesday, but on Thursday, when six of his young people gave in their names for baptism, Reverend Richards told the elder kindly that he must close his church to him.
Heber C. Kimball then started preaching in private homes. The old minister continued his kindness and cordiality and even attended the meetings, torn between his devotion to the church in which he had spent his life and his love for his daughter, Jeannetta. The next Sabbath morning Kimball, not to be outdone in cordiality, attended the church and listened once more to the Reverend Richards. He was surprised at the conclusion of the sermon to hear the old minister give out another appointment for him at the church. The next day he baptized two more of the congregation.
Eventually a branch was organized in Walkerfold.
Willard Richards was unmarried when he went to England, but not even zealous young missionaries are immune to the arrows of Cupid.
Two entries in Richards' journal tell a part of the story, time, March and September, 1838:
"I took a tour through the branches and preached. While walking in Thornley, I plucked a snowdrop, far through the hedge, and carried it to James Mercer's and hung it up in his kitchen. Soon after, Jeannette Richards came into the room, and I walked with her and Alice Parker to Ribchester and attended meeting with Brothers Kimball and Hyde at Brother Clark's.
"While walking with these sisters, I remarked, 'Richards is a good name; I never want to change it; do you, Jeannette?' 'No, I do not,' was her reply, 'and I think I never will.'
"September 24, 1838, I married Jeannette Richards, daughter of the Reverend John Richards, independent minister at Walkerfold, Chaidgely, Lancashire. Most truly do I praise my heavenly Father for his great kindness in providing me a partner according to his promise. I receive her from the Lord and hold her at his disposal. I pray that he may bless us forever. Amen."7
At that time in England much excitement was caused in the religious world by one Robert Aiken, who had been for years preaching very successfully against "the corruptions of the established church." In his crusade against the Anglican Church, he had established chapels in many communities, in Liverpool, Preston, Manchester, Burslem, London, and elsewhere. Strangely enough, his preaching on the ancient prophecies and their latter-day fulfillment was suggestive of Alexander Campbell and Sidney Rigdon in the Western Reserve. He even predicted a latter-day church rising in fulfillment of the prophecies.
Soon after the missionaries came to England, many of the "Aikenites" united with the church, and Robert Aiken himself came to Preston to lecture against the "Mormons." The elders answered in their own meeting, and as Kimball says in his journal, "This discourse seemed to have a very good effect, and that week we had the pleasure of baptizing fifty into the kingdom of Jesus, a large number of whom were members of Mr. Aiken's church." Soon after, Aiken surprised even his own followers by returning to the orthodox Episcopal fold.
Wherever the missionaries went, they were in demand for preaching in the temperance halls, for temperance workers soon saw that "as soon as men obeyed the gospel they abandoned excesses in drinking; none of us drank any kind of spirits, porter, small beer, or even wine; neither did we drink tea, coffee, or chocolate."
On the first Sunday in September, 1837, the Saints in Preston commenced holding meetings in what was known as the "Cock Pit." It was a large place, capable of seating eight hundred persons. It had formerly been used for the purpose indicated by its name, but had been converted into a hall.
Heber C. Kimball was much pleased with the new quarters. He describes it:
The space for cock fighting was an area of about twelve or fifteen feet in the center, around which the seats formed a circle, each seat rising about a foot above another, till they reached the walls of twenty-five feet from the Old Church, probably the oldest church in pied by the singers, and our pulpit was the place where the judges formerly sat who awarded prizes at cock fights. We had to pay seven shillings per week for the use of it and two shillings per week for lighting, it being beautifully lit up with gas. The building was about twenty-three feet from the Old Church, probably the oldest church in Lancashire.8
Sometime in September, John Snyder returned from Cumberland, where he had been with Isaac Russell, and reported thirty baptisms there, though they had met with considerable opposition. In a few days he and Elder John Goodson left for America, leaving five of the seven missionaries to carry on. The church continued to grow at an almost incredible rate. On one occasion Fielding and Kimball took a five-day trip away from their headquarters at Preston and baptized one hundred and ten persons. They organized four branches, Dunham, Chatburn, Waddington, and Clithero. The first night Kimball preached at Chatburn, standing on a barrel in a barn, he baptized twenty-five after the services. In confirming them and conversing with them, the service was continued until after midnight.
On Christmas Day, 1837, three hundred Saints convened in conference at Preston. One hundred little children were blessed. At length the time approached for the first missionaries, with the exception of the two younger men, Willard Richards and Joseph Fielding, to leave England. The last conference was to be held on April 8, 1838. By nine o'clock in the morning six or seven hundred people had assembled, there being about two thousand members in all England, the result of eight months' missionary effort. There were branches at Preston, Walkerfold, Penwortham, Thornley, Ribchester, Chatburn, Clithero, BarsheLees, Waddington, Leyland Moss, Leyland Lane, Eccleston, Hunter's Hill, Buxton, Whittle, Dauber's Lane, Bamber Bridge, Longton, Southport, Dunham, Burnley, Bedford, Alston, Brampton, Bolton, and Chorley. The branch in Preston numbered about four hundred, that in Bedford forty, and the one organized by Isaac Russell in Cumberland sixty.
"At five o'clock in the evening of that day," says Kimball, "we brought the conference to a close, having continued without interruption from nine o'clock in the morning, and appointed seven o'clock the same evening to deliver our farewell addresses. At the appointed time we repaired to the 'Cock Pit' which was crowded to excess."9
At nine o'clock on the morning of the 9th, the three, Kimball, Hyde, and Russell, took train from Preston to Liverpool, amply provided by the English Saints with money enough to take them back to Kirtland. The vessel upon which they sailed was their old friend the Garrick. Here Kimball won the lasting favor of the captain. For although Heber had become a successful preacher, he was still very much the farmer, and when the steward's very fine Durham cow, which was on the ship to furnish milk for the cabin passengers (a great luxury), took ill, Heber, by the application of home remedies, restored her to health, and the cabin passengers to their milk diet. "From that time forth, the steward sent us turtle soup, wine, and every luxury the ship afforded, and made us many presents," he tells us.
The Garrick's record as a fast sailer was still challenged, this time by the packet New England. As they passed Sandy Hook the New England was four or five miles ahead but the Garrick ran in an hour ahead of her, so that the word was passed out that it was lucky to have Latter Day Saint missionaries on a boat.10 The Garrick came in sight of New York on May 12, after a voyage of twenty-two and a half days.
Arriving in New York, they went in search of Elijah Fordham and found Orson Pratt also, who with his brother Parley had been busy in New York. They had organized a branch of eighty members since the missionaries sailed for England.
Many of those converted on this first mission to England are well known to the church. James Whitehead, whom many living still remember, was baptized in the River Ribble by Heber C. Kimball on October 18, 1837.11 In a fortnight after, he was ordained a teacher, and before a month passed was a priest and sent out to preach and baptize. The descendants of those who joined the church on that first English mission who are still in the church, would probably make quite an army could all be assembled.
The mission in England continued, during the lifetime of the Prophet, to be a fertile field for missionary work. On the 19th of December, 1839, Apostles John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff, Elder Theodore Turley, and others sailed for England, followed three months later by Apostles Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, Parley P. Pratt, Orson Pratt, and George A. Smith, and Elder Reuben Hedlock. Their work was something like a repetition of that of their predecessors. In 1840 the first number of the Millennial Star was published in England, and for many years it was one of the main publishing places, first of the church and then of the faction in Utah, who still, after over ninety years' continuous publication, issue the Millennial Star.
After the church became well established in Nauvoo, the Saints in England flocked to "Zion" in large numbers.
1 Heber C. Kimball's Journal, page 10.
2 Lyman Johnson, one of the Twelve.
3 Joseph Fielding, see page 234, also Mary Fielding.
4 Mercy Fielding, see page 234.
5 Isaac Russell, son of Wm. Russell, was born April 13, 1807, at Windy Hill, Cumberland County, England. Emigrated to Canada with his parents at the age of ten years; baptized in the spring of 1836 by Parley P. Pratt in the Charlton settlement about eight miles north of Toronto. After listening to Pratt's first sermon there, he arose suddenly and said, "This is the gospel I wish to live and die by." Isaac Russell died September 25, 1644, near Richmond, Missouri.
6 A Century of Atlantic Travel, by Bowen, page 23,
7 Upon the first visit of the author to Nauvoo, Illinois I saw a broken tombstone by the side of the walk, and examining it read: "Jeannetta Richards, daughter of Reverend John Richards of Walkerfold, Chaidgely, Lancashire." Old residents told me she had "been buried in her bridal clothes" soon after she came to Nauvoo. Whether or not the tradition is correct, I do not know.
8 Life of Heber C. Kimball, page 166.
9 Ibid., page 206.
10 Preachers on a boat are usually accounted an ill omen by old sailors.
11 From a sermon by James Whitehead in Lamoni, Iowa, May 22, 1887, reported by D. F. Lambert for the Lamoni Gazette and later printed in Autumn Leaves, Volume 1, page 199.