Emily M. Austin
Life Among the Mormons
(Madison, WI: M. J. Cantwell, 1882)
LIFE AMONG THE MORMONS
-- BY --
EMILY M. AUSTIN
BEING AN AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH; INCLUDING AN
EXPERIENCE OF FOURTEEN YEARS OF
M. J. CANTWELL, BOOK AND JOB PRINTER, KING ST.
LIFE AMONG THE MORMONS 31true I now had, at an early age, learned a trade; and choosing not to eat the bread of idleness, and furthermore to let independence be my aim, and ever look upon avarice as my worst foe, I felt determined to start in the right path in pursuing the journey of life. To emulate the example of the good Samaritan effectually, one must be in possession of an independence.
My brother Esick Lyon lived in Pennsylvania, in the town of Sandford, Crawford county. I still remained with them, only making occasional visits at my fathers, in Guilford, and at Colesville; and it was optional with me where to commence when I should arrive at an age sufficient to do business for myself.
CHAPTER IX.Six months had elapsed, and we hear a rumor going around that Joe Smith, of whom we had often heard as a fortune teller, was at this time in Colesville, preaching a very strange doctrine, and that our sister and her husband were attentive listeners to his fanaticism. This rumor
32 LIFE AMONG THE MORMONSstaggered our wits to comprehend. The story was repeated in our ears almost daily. We knew this same Joe Smith had often been in Colesville, to visit his Universalist friends or brethren. I had even seen him two or three times, while visiting at my sisters, but did not think it worth my while to take any notice of him. I never spoke to him, for he was a total stranger to me. However, I thought him odd looking and queer. He also told his friends that he money in pots, under the ground. He pretended to foretell people's future destiny, and, according to his prognostication, his friends agreed to suspend their avocations and dig for the treasures, which were hidden in the earth; a great share of which, he said, was on Joseph Knight's farm.
Old Uncle Joe, as we called him, was a wool carder, and a farmer; yet he had abandoned all business, and joined with a number of others, to dig for money on his premises. While I was visiting my sister, we have walked out to see the places where they had dug for money, and laughed to think of the absurdity of any people having common intellect to indulge in such a thought or action. However, all of those things had long since become oblivious; for in the time of their digging for money and not
LIFE AMONG THE MORMONS 33finding it attainable, Joe Smith told them there was a charm on the pots of money, and if some animal was killed and the blood sprinkled around the place, then they could get it. So they killed a dog, and tried this method of obtaining the precious metal. Still, they dug and dug, but never came to the precious treasure. Alas! how vivid was the expectation when the blood of poor Tray was used to take off the charm, and after all to find their mistake, that it did not speak better things than that of Abel. And now they were obliged to give up in despair, and Joseph went home again to his father's, in Palmyra.
Some months after this fruitless enterprise he was married to Miss Emma Hale, a school teacher, a fine girl, of good repute and respectable, though poor parentage. It was at this time, which I have mentioned previously, that the rumor was in circulation concerning the strange doctrine which he was setting forth; and which, indeed, was creating quite a stir among the people, and it surprised us to hear of his return to Colesville with his wife, to meet again with his old money diggers. But now he had entered upon a new project. He declared an angel had appeared to him and told
34 LIFE AMONG THE MORMONShim of golden plates, which were hidden up to come forth on a certain day; and also that the plates were sacred, containing a history of a people who inhabited this continent in ancient days; also it was that which Isaiah the prophet had spoken of; a vision which should become as the words of a book that is sealed; which was delivered to one that was learned, saying "Read this, I pray thee;" and he said, "I cannot, for it is sealed;" and the book is delivered to one that is unlearned, saying: "Read this, I pray thee;" and he said, "I cannot, for I am unlearned; moreover, inasmuch as this people draw near me, with their mouths and with their lips do honor me, therefore I will proceed to do a marvelous work and a wonder; for the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent men shall be hid."
This is what was circulated throughout the country, and this is the rumor which was now afloat. Smith brought up many prophecies to show that the Lord was about to do a marvelous work in the last days. He also affirmed that he had seen the angel, and had talked with him face to face; and the angel told him at a certain time he would conduct him to the place where the plates could be obtained; also that he was a chosen vessel in the hands of God, to
LIFE AMONG THE MORMONS 35translate them, and bring them to the world. All this was heard and believed by a large number of persons in Colesville, among whom was my own dear sister and her husband.
Onward hastened the time. The book was translated from the golden plates; it was called the Book of Mormon. Witnesses set their names to the book, testifying that they had seen the plates, and had handled them with their hands; also that they had the appearance of gold. Names of the witnesses: Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, Peter Whitmer. Finally, the books were sent out to a wondering people, and many believed in the new doctrine; some of undisputed respectability, taking in both rich and poor. On learning of our sister's conversion into this faith, we were doubtful as to the accuracy of the report; also believing her to be of an unshaken mind and principle, we therefore consoled ourselves with the thought of this being a probable mistake. At this time they had organized a church, which consisted of sixty members. They were also at the commencement baptizing and confirming by the laying on of hands, for the reception of the Holy Ghost. The same ordinance also was practiced to heal the sick and cast out devils; all of which was accomplished by the laying on
36 LIFE AMONG THE MORMONSof the hands of the ordained elders of the Church of Latter Day Saints.
I now visited my sister to try if possible to convince her of the error into which she had innocently been decoyed and deceived. However, this was of no effect whatever. She was as firm as the everlasting hills in the belief of Mormonism, and seemed to have the whole Bible at her tongue's end. She was of the belief that God had again visited His people, and again set His hand, the second time, to recover the house of Israel. She also was of the belief that this was the work, and warned me against condemning that which I did not understand, lest I should be found fighting against God's will.
By this time my faith had grown weak in regard to changing her mind, and I thought it best for me to go back to my brother's, and henceforth to let them alone. I considered it a deception and delusion; but as I was necessarily detained over the Sabbath, I attended services with my sister. The discourse was delivered by Oliver Cowdery, an elder of the Mormon church, and a witness to the gold plates. After preaching, several were baptized, and the converts were increasing rapidly. For some time, having meetings daily, and also evenings, the
LIFE AMONG THE MORMONS 37excitement was great, insomuch that many were overcome by the spirit, and were, seemingly, unconscious of all around them. On awakening from this trance, they would say they were happy, and had seen angels, and talked with them. However, I did not feel interested in this direction. It had hitherto appeared most simple of all things, and I was decidedly against such proceedings. I was still detained at my sister's. For some reason I could not get back to my brother's, in Sandford; and, at this time, I cannot remember the cause of my prolonged stay. While I tarried I attended church with my sister. Sidney Rigdon came into Colesville [and] preached to a numerous congregation. We did not class him as a Mormon, as we were informed that he was a Baptist minister, from Paynsville, Ohio. The words of his text -- "O foolish Gallatians, who hath bewitched you that ye should not obey the truth?" It was, indeed interesting, and great attention and silence prevailed; and it was acknowledged by all to be the best sermon ever preached in that vicinity. He stayed several days, seeming to have special business with Joseph Smith and the leaders of the new Mormon church. I mention these facts only because I think to this day that he had something to do in getting up the
38 LIFE AMONG THE MORMONSBook of Mormon, and we found, after his return to Ohio, that he was also a believer in the new doctrine.
This seemed rather strange, that a man of his talents should be a believer in anything so strange as this appeared to be; and, as I was now about to go back to my brother's in Sandford, my sister told me that God would give me a sure witness to the truth of this work, if I would only ask him; it was my custom to daily go to him. I therefore thought to make this an item to be remembered, and, in my feeble petition I humbly asked Him to show me the truth of this, least I should be found to rebel against His holy will. I had selected a retired place in the grove, and in an incident occurred which is to this day beyond my comprehension. It was three loud raps on a tree near me; so loud, and in quick succession, that I felt the jar and wind of the blows. I immediately arose to my feet and closely examined the place. All was silent, and nothing could be seen. I was somewhat frightened, and never thought of this as a witness to the truth of Mormonism. The excitement had now reached to a high pitch; and the old father of all mischief and disturbance, helped to circulate a report that I was intending to join the Mormon church on the
LIFE AMONG THE MORMONS 39Sabbath following. This false rumor reached the attention of my brother, and the church of which I was a member. A complaint was entered against me to the church; next, a course of gospel labor commenced. They visited me three times; each time I assured them I had no thought of joining them (the Mormons). This they did not seem to hear; and, to sum up the matter, their uncharitable actions drove me farther and still farther from believing in anything good. I was not yet eighteen years of age. My heart was stricken, and I could see no love manifested. In the advancement of time I perceived they still believed I intended joining that church, without listening to what I told them or trying to ascertain the truth in regard to it. They did not come to me in love and ask me to go with them to my brother's or my father's, but continued to come and see me. I had been homesick, and had had several hearty crying spells in secret, because I could not get back to my brothers. The team was always in use, or some other very essential thing to attend to. I acknowledged my feelings were not as pleasant as they probably might have been had I been situated in a more pleasing, cheerful, delightful attitude.
It was one Sabbath day, beautiful and
40 LIFE AMONG THE MORMONSbright. We had been to church. Several had assembled at Newell Knight's, as was the general custom, for he was an elder. A message was sent to me that Esick Lyon wished to see me at the grove, which was some distance from the house; that he wished a friendly interview with me. I felt reluctant in granting his request, but through the advice of my sister I ventured to go. I at this time attempted to make plain to him my reason of my tarrying at my sister's, and I then believed he understood me perfectly. While in the midst of our conversation, who should come but the Rev. Mr. Sherer, pastor of our church in Sandford. He came and took my hand, and holding it so long and firmly I thought it odd. I had tried to disengage this unwelcome cordiality, but had no success. I then asked my brother's assistance; but he declined, saying I would do well to listen to Mr. Sherer's council. However, we were mot in the least surprised to find every member of the Mormon church on hand. My sister hastened to me, and soon wrenched off the hand that held mine. "What are you doing with my sister?" she asked with an authoritative expression. "What are you doing with my sister?" again she asked, her face looking white as snow as she uttered these words.
LIFE AMONG THE MORMONS 41There were about sixty Mormons now in close contest with my brother and Mr. Sherer. I left them to settle the matter as best they could; I cared not how if I only obtained my liberty. I then enjoyed a few moments of sweet, uninterrupted tranquillity, having the house to myself for at least one half hour. This might probably have been a little skirmish in the christian warfare; but if this the case, O, tell it not in Gath.
The members of the household were gathered in again from the field of strife, together with quite a number of elders, and also members, and were once more seated composedly, talking and singing, when my uncle rode up to the door on a white, stately, beautiful horse, and as he drew up he exclaimed, "You are happy now you have accomplished your purpose, and I hope you enjoy it; but this will not be of long endurance, let me tell you." "O, yes," said one of the elders, "you are an attorney, probably you will take steps in this matter, but not to-day." "Sir," said another Mormon elder, "you are mad; you look as white as the horse you are riding; to-day is the holy Sabbath, and you are a deacon; don't indulge in such a passion." Many hard words were used
42 LIFE AMONG THE MORMONSon both sides; and here the subject ended, by putting spurs to the white steed, under a two hundred and twenty burden, which seemed light and easy for the noble animal. That night was dark and rainy. A messenger was plodding through the darkness, mud, and rain, and dead of night, to my father's in Guilford, thirty miles distant. The messenger said he did not spare the horse. He arrived at Guilford some time in the night, and, waking them, told the story. After getting permission, he went to a lawyer and obtained a power of attorney. Arriving at Colesville, he came to me saying he now had authority to take me away. I told him "I could go without all that trouble, and did not think it necessary to use the law in the case; and now, as I have a good opportunity, I will speak a few words for myself -- this was my brother-in-law, whom I will call P--- T---. Probably you are somewhat unacquainted with the affair altogether; I will say, that I came here for the purpose of talking with my sister about the absurdity of believing in Mormonism, and finding it useless to say more on that subject, I concluded to return to my brother, Esick Lyon, and let her enjoy her own opinion. But Newell Knight was busy, and could not spare the
LIFE AMONG THE MORMONS 43time or the team either to take me home, and he desired me to tarry a few days, he would then go with me.
"Not long after this it was circulated that I intended to go into the Mormon church, and a copy of the complaint which was entered against me to the church in Sandford, was handed to me. It read as follows:
"To the Church of Christ, in Sandford:
"Whereas, E. M., a member of said church, embraces a most wicked and dangerous heresy; and whereas, we have taken with her the first and second steps of gospel labor, without obtaining satisfaction, we therefore make complaint to the church of which said E. M. is a member, praying that the brethren of said church would bring her to an account for her unchristian conduct; and, as in duty bound, your servants will ever pray.
H. M. E. L. B. S."
"Those are the names of the officers in our church who signed this copy of complaint. And now you are here with authority to take me away. What does all this bustle signify? Explain to me, if you can? It is all plain to me; I am willing, yes, more than willing, to go back to my brother's," "Can you go to-morrow?"
44 LIFE AMONG THE MORMONSasked P--- T---. "I can go to-day, if you like," I answered; "but let me ask, what did you understand in this affair? Probably you understood that I was obstinate in this matter, did you not?" "I did," said P--- T---, "and I believe what you have stated to be true as gospel. I also know who the instigator is, but I shall decline telling at present, for certain reasons." "I know who you allude to, but it would not be proper to mention his name; the church have great confidence in him, so let the matter rest."
The day following we started early, and before dinner time we reached Sandford. I met sober faces and cold hands on my arrival, but tried to choke down my feelings as best I could, knowing that a lane, though ever so long, must have a turn. I received daily visits from the pastor of the church, who gave me a prayer book and wished me to learn some of the prayers; but I returned the book, saying I wished to be led and taught by one who said, "Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me."
LIFE AMONG THE MORMONS 87one who had the power or authority to officiate in such matters.
In the year 1835 (as near as my memory serves me), in the latter part of June, the bishop of the church sent for Brother Joseph, as he was called, to come to Far West city immediately, on important business. At this period the bank of Kirtland was under good operations. However, Joseph made due arrangements in consideration of the banking business, and came to Far West, accompanied by Sidney Rigdon. They remained in Far West until after the fourth of July. Preparations were made for the dedication, and nothing remained excepting to roll the stone to its proper place; and this was to be accomplished on the day of the fourth of July. Independence day came; the Saints assembled at the bower. The speaker ascended to the stand accompanied by Smith. The speaker, which was no other than Rigdon, and his attendant, took their seats and awaited the assemblage. Our city was visited on this occasion by people from a distance, among whom were some of the broad-rims, as was noticed by the Saints. The speaker and attendant came down from the stand and proceeded to the place where the corner stone of the temple was to be laid. Joseph Smith made a
88 LIFE AMONG THE MORMONSprayer, after which the Saints sung a piece composed for the purpose. Then a few remarks were made by L. Pattrage [sic], the bishop of the church, and one of the high priests, and Parley Pratt, an elder in the church; then singing, and the benediction, pronounced by Joseph Smith. After which they proceeded to their respective seats. The constitution was read by P. P. Pratt. Sidney Rigdon followed by delivering an address on the liberty and freedom of the American people, and wound up by saying he defied the people of Caldwell county to drive us from Far West and the country adjoining; that the Great Jehovah would interfere and fight our battles for us. This was confirmed by the Saints, and three loud and long cheers and amens rent the air. At this, a very great excitement arose among the old settlers, and Rigdon's life could not have been insured for five coppers. The people were all crazy with excitement, running and rushing to and from, and tumbling one over another in every direction. I must say I was rejoiced to make exit with my two little children, with the help of my husband.
This remark from Mr. Rigdon was productive of much evil. We endured threatening on every hand. Troops were sent to Far West to
LIFE AMONG THE MORMONS 89keep down the insurrection. Our gardens and barns were plundered. The church tried in vain to secure their property, but found that nothing was safe from the hands of the militia. At this point I observed a secret Mormon meeting was called, and my conclusion was that they were forming a treaty. However, this was not the case. Their plan was to form a club called "Danites." Those were of the rough class of people; those who, through good fortune, rather than good management, escaped from the law of justice and found protection in the Mormon church. Of what the ceremony of initiating members consisted, I am not able to say, as this was a profound secret. This club formed their own laws and customs, and each officer and member was apprised of each one's success or defeat. The mission of Danites is to rob, murder and steal, or do any wicked act, especially to those who leave the church. Nothing is considered too hostile for one who leaves the Mormon church. "Better not to have known the way, than after they have known it to depart from it." This is their maxim, and general principle throughout the church; and this principle is just as unalterable as the laws of the Medes and Persians -- among the Mormons.
Another researcher of Mormon history who found Emily Austin's account of interest was the Rev. Wesley Walters, who wrote an article her pre-baptismal experiences with the Colesville Mormons: "The Abduction of Emily (Coburn) Austin." in the Gospel Anchor 10 (May 1984): 22-31. Walters' research on this incident and its context is summaried on pp. 180-187 of Marquardt & Walters' 1994 book, Inventing Mormonism.
From July 4, 2003 Susquehanna County Transcript:
Joseph Smith’s Susquehanna Years
While the Prophet Joseph Smith was detained by the court officers, Emma found some comfort at the home of her sister, Elizabeth Hale Wasson, who lived in the adjoining township of Windsor with her husband, Benjamin. We do not know for a certainty the exact building sites where the Prophet’s trials were held other than their taking place in the village of South Bainbridge and somewhere in the town of Colesville. Joseph was exonerated of the charges in both instances. Joseph Knight Sr. stated, "They could find no thing against him; therefore he was dismissed." The moment he was free to go his way, he went directly to the Wasson home in the town of Windsor and took Emma to the welcome shelter of their homestead in Harmony.
The spirit of revelation was again manifest at Harmony as the voice of the Lord was given through His servant Joseph Smith unto "Emma Smith, my daughter" in July 1830. The Lord addressed Emma as an "elect lady" and called her to the work. Amidst the blessings and admonitions that followed, Emma was given the charge to "make a selection of sacred hymns, as it shall be given thee, which is pleasing unto me, to be had in my church," a command which was later carried out in 1835 during the Kirtland period.
Because the evening meeting which followed the Colesville baptisms was interrupted by the arresting constable, Emma Smith and Sally Coburn Knight were among those who had not yet been confirmed members of the Church. In early August, Newel and Sally Coburn Knight made a personal visit to the Prophet’s home at Harmony, where the two couples and John Whitmer held a special confirmation service and partook of the sacrament. It was on this occasion that the Prophet was met by a heavenly messenger as he went out to procure wine for the sacrament. He was given the instruction "that it mattereth not what ye shall eat or what ye shall drink when ye partake of the sacrament, if it so be that ye do it with an eye single to my glory - remembering unto the Father my body which was laid down for you, and my blood which was shed for the remission of your sins." The Prophet was also told not to purchase wine of enemies but to "partake of none except it is made new among you." Newel said, "We confirmed the two sisters into the church, and spent the evening in a glorious manner. The spirit of the Lord was poured out upon us. We praised the God of Israel and rejoiced exceedingly."
Once again the clamor of Joseph’s enemies in Harmony became such that he and Emma responded to the invitation of the Whitmer family to stay with them. At the end of August 1830 they made their move. For Emma it was a particularly heartrending moment. As circumstances developed this proved to be the last time that she would share the embrace of her parents or visit the grave of her infant son.
The Prophet did return briefly one last time to the Susquehanna area as an outgrowth of an assignment from the Lord that he and Sidney Rigdon not go to the Ohio "until ye have preached my gospel in those parts, and have strengthened up the church withersoever it is found, and more especially in Colesville; for, behold, they pray unto me in much faith." In January 1831 the Prophet and Sidney Rigdon went to Colesville and held several gatherings at Joseph Knight Sr.’s home. John Whitmer informed us that "they held prayer meetings, among the disciples, and they also held public meetings but it was all in vain, they [enemies of the Church] threatened to kill them." Joseph Knight Sr. said that the Prophet and Sidney not only came to Colesville but also made a hurried trip "down to Harmony to settle some business." This was the last visit of the Prophet to the Susquehanna area.
Joseph Knight Sr., a great friend and benefactor of the Prophet Joseph, continued to assist. He took the Prophet and Emma from New York to Kirtland, Ohio, during January-February 1831. He also conveyed his own wife and an unmarried daughter, Polly, with him. Brother Knight never looked back but said good-bye to his Colesville property with its "one hundred and forty-two acres... two dwelling houses, a good barn, and a fine orchard," linking himself unequivocally with the Prophet Joseph and the earliest scenes of the Restoration. Some 68 members of the Colesville Branch followed him to Ohio in April-May 1831.
Years later, while seeking seclusion from his enemies near Nauvoo, the Prophet greeted Emma, who had come to be by his side. On that occasion he looked in retrospect on their early experiences together in Pennsylvania, New York, and elsewhere. A flood of poignant memories filled his mind as he reflected: "With what unspeakable delight, and what transports of joy swelled my bosom, when I took by the hand, on that night, my beloved Emma - she that was my wife, even the wife of my youth, and the choice of my heart. Many were the reverberations of my mind when I contemplated for a moment the many scenes we had been called to pass through, the fatigues and the toils, the sorrows and sufferings, and the joys and consolations, from time to time, which had strewed our paths and crowned our board. Oh what a commingling of thought filled my mind for the moment, again she is here, even in the seventh trouble - undaunted, firm, and unwavering, unchangeable, affectionate Emma!"
There is still a spirit of peace that lingers over the banks of the "great bend" of the Susquehanna and its environs. The lives of those Saints who embraced the unpopular new religious cause in that quarter were irreversibly changed. During the call to "assemble together at the Ohio," it is sad that for a multiplicity of reasons some members fell by the wayside and remained behind. However, the majority chose to ally their fortunes with the Church, and they and their numerous posterity now enjoy the everlasting blessings of the covenants they kept with the Lord.