"The time has now come for us to lose sight of our national and political feelings, and unite in one spirit and enterprise, men of every nation, kindred, tongue, and people," Elder Orson Hyde, president of the British Mission, urged 150 years ago as he counseled the British Saints to prepare to join their brothers and sisters in America.
Most Saints in America were at that same time preparing for winter, either in the new state of Iowa (Iowa gained statehood in 1846) or across the Missouri River in Indian Territory in present-day Nebraska. "Let the kingdoms of this world become the kingdom of our God," added Elder Hyde.1The success of the British Mission, functioning only in the previous seven years since its opening by Elders Heber C. Kimball and Orson Hyde, was of prime importance to President Brigham Young and his brethren of the apostles who presided over the Church still in late 1846 in his capacity as president of the Twelve. The Lord had not as yet directed the Twelve to establish a new First Presidency following the martyrdom of Joseph Smith.
In those seven years the success of the British Mission was miraculous and almost beyond belief. More than 16,000 souls had entered the Church by baptism from England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, the Isle of Man, and the Channel Islands. Approximately 4,700 of these had already immigrated to the United States and for the most part were among the approximately 12,000 Saints then engaged in the Exodus of 1846. What is also remarkable is that while many Church members had fallen away, some to schismatic groups, following the martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum Smith, only a very small percentage of the British immigrants fell away during this stressful period.
Following the death of the Prophet Joseph, Brigham Young and the Twelve decided that the British Mission would need powerful apostolic leadership. In August 1844 they dispatched Elder Wilford Woodruff to take over the helm of the mission. In his year-and-a-half presidency, Elder Woodruff traveled to each conference, or district, to strengthen the members and encourage the missionaries. Baptisms rose to nearly 2,000 in a year's time. Church membership in Britain soared to more than 11,000 souls despite emigration.
President Woodruff attached great importance to continuing Church publications from Liverpool. He promoted the monthly newspaper, the Millennial Star, and published the first British edition of the Doctrine and Covenants. He printed over 20,000 copies of an official proclamation of the latter-day work to kings and rulers of the world, thus fulfilling a divine mandate. (see D&C 124:2-11.)
In January 1846, Elder Woodruff returned to the States to join the Latter-day Saint exodus to the Rocky Mountains, leaving the British Mission in the hands of counselors Reuben Hedlock and Thomas Ward. Under their leadership, unfortunately, some misuse of authority in the British Mission took place. The pair administered a shipping agency to assist the British Saints in immigrating to America, but they mismanaged the funds and overextended the agency. They also used considerable money on private affairs. As a result, thousands of dollars worth of funds were squandered or lost.
Some word of irregularities reached Wilford Woodruff in America, and through him Brigham Young and the Twelve, once Elder Woodruff reached the Missouri River in June 1846. The full extent of the problem was not known, however. The Twelve met in council and decided to send three apostles - Orson Hyde, Parley P. Pratt and John Taylor - to take care of what they considered to be a potential crisis.
Elders Orson Hyde and John Taylor arrived on the ship Patrick Henry in Liverpool on Oct. 3, 1846. In a few days they were joined by Elder Parley P. Pratt. The trio moved swiftly to remedy the problems that had brought them to England. They conducted a thorough investigation. The two Church leaders who had mismanaged the funds were dismissed and disciplined.
Then the three apostles turned their attention to fortifying members and missionaries throughout the British Mission. Elder Hyde served as mission president and edited the Millennial Star. Elders Taylor and Pratt circulated throughout most of the mission conferences to calm any unrest and anxiety aroused by the unfortunate decisions and actions of the interim presidency. They found the Saints to be in good spirits and the work prospering. This was especially the case in the larger population centers of Manchester, Birmingham, Sheffield, and Glasgow. "The Saints and others convened from far and near at the sessions of our several conferences," reported Elder Pratt, "and vast crowds of strangers [investigators], as well as Saints, listened to us. Public feasts, tea parties, public dinners and all kinds of demonstrations of joy and welcome greeted us as we visited from place to place."2
Elder Taylor was especially pleased with his visit to Wales. There he met the Welsh Conference president, Dan Jones, with whom he had spent time in the past. The bold Elder Jones had been publishing tracts in his native Welsh and the missionaries were baptizing 100 people per month in Wales by late 1846.3
In the midst of these busy times, all three apostles also wrote a number of articles for the Star. Elder Taylor's "Address to the Saints in Great Britain" provided the British members with an update on their brothers and sisters in the gospel who had left Nauvoo that year as exiles. He wrote an interesting sketch of the evacuation of Nauvoo and the journey of his own company across Iowa to the Missouri River. Elder Taylor insisted that if the Saints had not left that year in 1846, as a result of provocation from outside enemies, they would have left for the West in any event sooner or later. "Many living witnesses," he declared, "can testify that we proposed moving to [the Great West], leaving the land of our oppression, preaching the gospel to the Lamanites, building up other temples to the living God, establishing ourselves in the far distant West. The cruel and perfidious persecutions that we endured, tended to hasten our departure, but did not dictate it. It jeopardized our lives, property and liberty, but was not the cause of our removal."4
While admitting that the Saints suffered from the fury of hail, wind, rain, and mud during the exodus, Elder Taylor, always showing his gratitude to a merciful God, wrote: "We sustained no injury therefrom; our health and our lives were preserved - we outlived the trying scene - we felt contented and happy - the songs of Zion resounded from wagon to wagon - from tent to tent; the sound reverberated through the woods, and its echo was returned from the distant hills; peace, harmony, and contentment reigned in the habitations of the Saints."5
Providing an assessment of the situation of the stranded Saints some 150 years ago, Elder Taylor concluded, "It is true that in our sojourning we do not possess all the luxuries and delicacies of old established countries and cities, but we have an abundance of the staple commodities. . . . We feel contented and happy in the wilderness. The God of Israel is with us - union and peace prevail; and as we journey, as did Abraham of old, with our flocks and herds to a distant land, we feel that like him, we are doing the will of our Heavenly Father and relying upon His word and promises; and having His blessing, we feel that we are children of the same promise and hope, and that the great Jehovah is our God."6
While on this mission, the three apostles also sought to obtain British parliamentary support for a plan to provide subsidies to the British Saints who might elect to migrate to Vancouver Island (claimed by Britain) or other parts of Oregon Territory that the British wanted as part of its empire. Elder Taylor published a petition in the Millennial Star requesting local British Latter-day Saint leaders to obtain as many signatures as possible. The apostle explained a plan whereby a tract of country be divided into sections of 640 acres and then numbered by acre. The Mormon emigrants would be entitled to settle on sections bearing even numbers, and the British government would retain the odd sections. The presence of the settlers and their improvements would give added value to the land, and when brought up for sale, would soon repay the government for the sum granted to the Saints for their emigration.7
Armed with his petitions and proposals, Elder Taylor sought an audience with young Queen Victoria to present his case. He was unable to speak with Her Majesty, but did meet with one of her subordinates, the Earl of Dartmouth. The latter listened patiently, but held out no hope, in large measure due to enormous unsettling tensions in Britain during the year 1846. Social unrest in the cities was brewing and was threatening revolution, which indeed broke out only three years later in 1849. Furthermore, the British claim to lands in Oregon was still not totally resolved with the United States, and war was still a real possibility between the two nations.
By January 1847 the short-term mission of the three apostles drew to an end. In a farewell to the British Mission Saints, Elder Pratt wrote, "We have been lodged, fed, comforted, and cheered as if we had been angels of glad tidings, and we feel the utmost satisfaction in expressing our most grateful thanks for all the kindness and assistance rendered unto us while in your midst; and, in the name of Jesus Christ, and by authority of the Holy Priesthood and Apostleship vested in us, we bless the congregations of the Saints throughout this land, with all the officers and members thereof, with the blessings of time and eternity in all their fulness. We also bless the Queen, ministers, magistrates, and people of this realm, while they continue to administer equal justice for the protection of every subject, without respect of persons; and we pray that Heaven's choicest blessings may rest upon the Saints, and upon all that fear God and work righteousness in this land. Ye sons and daughters of Zion, be of good cheer; for God will deliver you in due time, and gather in one the children of God. Pray for us and for the camp of the Saints in the wilderness."8
Elders Hyde, Pratt and Taylor made their way back to the Mormon camps in Iowa and on both sides of the Missouri River. Elders Pratt and Taylor arrived first and in tandem in early April 1847, just after Brigham Young and the Pioneer Company had embarked for its historic journey to the Valley of the Great Salt Lake. When President Young heard of the arrival of his apostolic colleagues, he called to him Elders Pratt and Taylor and received from them a positive report. President Young was pleased with the resolution of the crisis in the British Mission and that it was again prospering.
Furthermore, he was exceptionally delighted with the 469 sovereigns in gold collected from the British Saints in tithing and scientific instruments purchased by Elder Taylor in England to help in the overland trek: two sextants, two barometers, two artificial horizons, one circular reflector, several thermometers, and a telescope. With these instruments a few months later Elder Orson Pratt laid out Great Salt Lake City. President Young instructed Elder Hyde to preside over the Saints and their interests at the Missouri River and throughout Iowa. Elders Pratt and Taylor were instructed to prepare their families and wagons and proceed on their journey to the Rockies that summer which they did. Elders Parley P. Pratt and John Taylor were the only two apostles to spend the first winter of 1847-1848 in the Salt Lake Valley.
The British Mission was left in the able hands of President Orson Spencer and his counselor, Franklin D. Richards. Their presidency lasted until the summer of 1848, when Elder Orson Pratt, a member of the Twelve and the first Latter-day Saint to set foot in the Salt Lake Valley a year earlier in 1847, arrived in Liverpool as president. The British Mission swelled during this period from 10,894 members in 1846 to 30,747 in 1850. Elder Pratt instilled zeal among his growing corps of missionaries. He told them that it was their duty to warn every living soul in Britain within a year. He edited the Millennial Star that his brother Parley had started in 1840; it had a big circulation. Elder Pratt also wrote a series of pamphlets that the missionaries widely distributed. He oversaw the publication of 10,000 hymnbooks and new printings of the Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants.9
From 1846 to 1850 the Church organized passage for approximately 6,000 emigrants to New Orleans on 27 sailing vessels. Then in 1851, with the formation of the Perpetual Emigrating Fund Company (PEF), the Church was able to arrange for even greater emigration from the British Mission.10
The Twelve Apostles carefully nursed along the success of the British Mission. Missionary success and regular emigration continued phenomenally from the British Mission for another two decades following 1846. The converts from the British Mission provided the life blood for the growing Church from 1840 to 1870. Millions of present-day Latter-day Saints count individuals among their ancestors who joined the Church in the British Mission. Once again the hand of the Lord was evident in caring for the Saints in their hours of distress.
1Millennial Star 7 (15 October 1846):119.
2Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1985), 315.
3Francis M. Gibbons, John Taylor: Mormon Philosopher, Prophet of God (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1985), 89-90; Bruce A. Van Orden,
Building Zion: The Latter-day Saints in Europe (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1996), 48-49.
4As cited in Roberts, 179.
8Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt, 325-26.
9Van Orden, 50-51.
- Bruce A. Van Orden is a member of the Church Pioneer Sesquicentennial Committee and a BYU associate professor of Church History and Doctrine.