The following biographical sketch is adapted from
the LDS Biographical Encyclopedia, the article being penned by Orson
F. Whitney, Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ and grandson of Bishop
Newell Kimball Whitney, the second presiding
Bishop of the Church, was born Feb. 5, 1795, at Marlborough, Windham county,
Vermont. Records of recent appearance give April, 1635, as the time of
his earliest American ancestor's departure from England for the shores
of the western world. The eldest son and second child among nine, whose
parents were Samuel and Susanna Whitney, he was the one destined to distinguish
his family in its relationship with the Latter-day cause of Christ and
to become, like Joseph of old, a savior to his father's house. The date,
or even the year, of his removal from his native town, is uncertain.
Like many another poor boy, with his fortune in the
little pack he carried on his shoulder, he bade farewell at an early day
to father, mother, brothers, sisters and the associations of boyhood At
the age of nineteen, he was engaged as a sutler, or merchant in a small
way, at the historic village of Plattsburg, N.Y., on the west shore of
Lake Champlain. It was in Plattsburg bay that the naval battle of Champlain
was fought, in which the British flotilla under Commodore Downie was defeated
by the American Commodore McDonough, Sept. 11, 1814; while the land forces,
amounting to fourteen thousand men, under Sir George Prevost, were defeated
by General Macomb. The writer had it from the late Rev. Samuel F. Whitney,
of Kirtland, Ohio, that his brother, Newel, took part in the engagement
Leaving Lake Michigan he located at Painesville,
Ohio, where he fell in with a merchant named Algernon Sidney Gilbert, who,
recognizing his business qualifications, and feeling a friendly interest
in him, took him into his store as clerk and gave him some knowledge of
bookkeeping. This was about the year 1817. Several years later we hear
of the prosperous mercantile firm of Gilbert & Whitney, with headquarters
at Kirtland, a few miles from Painesville and not far inland from Lake
Erie. Newel had steadily risen from the time he entered the merchant's
employ until now he was junior partner of the firm.
One of the reasons that may have induced this change
of residence from Lake Michigan to Ohio, was an acquaintance he had formed
with a young lady living in Kirtland—Miss Elizabeth Ann Smith, a native
of Connecticut (where her parents resided), who had come out west with
a maiden aunt to whom she was devotedly attached. A mutual affection springing
up between her and the young merchant, they were married Oct. 20, 1822.
"Mother Whitney," as she came to be widely known,
gives the following brief sketch of the man who made her his wife: "He
was a young man who had come out west to seek his fortune. He had thrift
and energy and accumulated property faster than most of his associates.
Indeed, he became proverbial as being lucky in all his undertakings. He
had been trading at Green Bay, buying furs and skins from the Indians and
trappers for the eastern market, and exchanging them for goods suitable
to the wants of the people in that locality. In his travels to and from
New York he passed through the country where we resided; we met and became
attached to each other, and my aunt granting her full approval, we were
married. Our tastes and feelings were congenial, and we were a happy couple
with bright prospects in store. We prospered in all our efforts to accumulate
wealth; so much so that among our friends it came to be remarked that nothing
of N.K. Whitney's ever got lost on the lake, and no product of his was
ever low in the market."
Up to this time neither had made any profession of
religion, though hers was eminently a spiritual nature, while he was more
of a business-like or temporal turn of mind. Though cherishing an unfaltering
faith in a future state, and believing an honest straightforward course
to be the only sure passport to its happy possession, he did not as quickly
as she recognize the necessity of putting on the outward armor of religion.
His eyes were open to the hypocrisy of the sectarian world, and it was
not in his nature to rush blindfold into anything. However, they made up
their minds to join the Disciples, or "Campbellites"—as they were commonly
called—the doctrines enunciated by that sect seeming to them to be most
in accordance with the Scriptures.
Having joined, they remained members of that church,
of which Sidney Rigdon was the local head, until
Parley P. Pratt and other "Mormon" Elders preached
in Kirtland the fulness of the everlasting gospel. To hear with Mother
Whitney was to believe; and to believe, to be baptized. Her husband, with
characteristic caution, took time to investigate, but entered the fold
a few days afterwards. This was in November, 1830. Some time before they
had been praying earnestly to the Lord to know how they might obtain the
gift of the Holy Ghost. The Campbellites baptized for the remission of
sins and believed also in the laying on of hands and the gifts of the Spirit,
but did not claim authority to confer the Holy Ghost.
"One night," says Mother Whitney, "it was midnight—my
husband and I were in our house at Kirtland, praying to the Father to be
shown the way when the Spirit rested upon us and a cloud overshadowed the
house. It was as though we were out of doors. The house passed away from
our vision. We were not conscious of anything but the presence of the spirit
and the cloud that was over us. We were wrapped in the cloud. A solemn
awe pervaded us. We saw the cloud and felt the Spirit of the Lord. Then
we heard a voice out of the cloud saying, 'Prepare to receive the word
of the Lord, for it is coming.' At this we marveled greatly, but from that
moment we knew that the word of the Lord was coming to Kirtland."
About the first of February, 1831, a sleigh containing
four persons, drove through the streets of Kirtland and drew up in front
of Gilbert & Whitney's store. The occupants of the sleigh were evenly
divided as to sex. One of the men, a young and stalwart personage, alighted,
and springing up the steps walked into the store and to where the junior
partner was standing. "Newel K. Whitney, thou art the man!" he exclaimed,
extending his hand cordially, as if to an old and familiar acquaintance.
"You have the advantage of me," replied the one addressed,
as he mechanically took the proffered hand. "I could not call you by name
as you have me."
"I am Joseph the Prophet" said the stranger, smiling.
"You've prayed me here; now what do you want of me?" Mr. Whitney, astonished,
but no less delighted, conducted the party (who were no other than the
Prophet Joseph Smith, his wife Emma, and two
servants, just arrived from Fayette, the birthplace of the Church) across
the street to his house on the corner, where he introduced them to his
wife. She shared fully his surprise and pleasure.
Joseph says of this episode: "We were kindly received
and welcomed into the house of Brother N. K. Whitney. I and my wife lived
in the family of Brother Whitney several weeks and received every kindness
and attention that could be expected, and especially from Sister Whitney."
Says she: "I remarked to my husband that this was
the fulfilment of the vision we had seen of a cloud, as of glory, resting
upon our house." To bring it to pass yet more literally during the time
the Prophet resided with them, and under their very roof, a number of the
revelations were given, now recorded in the Book of Doctrine and Covenants.
The appointment of Newel K. Whitney as Bishop of
Kirtland and the eastern branches of the Church, was the next important
event in his history. Joseph, who is said to have seen him in vision, praying
for his coming to Kirtland, recognized the part he was destined to play
in the great drama of the latter days. He was one whom he trusted implicitly,
not only in monetary matters, in which he often consulted him, but with
many of his most secret thoughts, which he could confide but to few. But,
though Joseph loved him as a bosom friend, he did not fail to correct him
whenever occasion required, and the candor of his rebuke, and the outspoken
nature of their friendship, served only to knit their souls more closely
Bishop Edward Partridge
was now presiding in Missouri, the land of Zion, and for several months
Elder Whitney had been acting as his agent in Ohio, the land of Shinehah.
The work having increased, and the importance of Kirtland as a Stake of
Zion having grown correspondingly, it had become necessary to "lengthen
her cords" and give her a Bishopric of her own. The revelation signifying
this to be the will of the Lord, was given December 4, 1831. (Doc. and
Cov., Sec. 72.) The thought of assuming this important responsibility was
almost more than he could bear. Though in natural gifts few men were better
qualified for such a position, he nevertheless distrusted his ability,
and deemed himself incapable of discharging the high and holy trust. In
his perplexity he appealed to the Prophet: "I cannot see a Bishop in myself,
Brother Joseph; but if you say it's the Lord's will, I'll try."
"You need not take my word alone," answered the Prophet,
kindly, "Go and ask Father for yourself."
Newel felt the force of this mild rebuke, but determined
to do as he was advised. His humble, heartfelt prayer was answered. In
the silence of night and the solitude of his chamber he heard a voice from
heaven: "Thy strength is in me." The words were few and simple, but they
had a world of meaning. His doubts were dispelled like the dew before the
dawn. He straightway sought the Prophet, told him he was satisfied, and
was willing to accept the office to which he had been called.
On the first day of April, 1832, Bishop Whitney left
Kirtland, in company with President Smith, on the latter's second visit
to Missouri. They arrived in safety at their destination, and having transacted
the business which took them thither, started from Independence on their
return, the 6th of May ensuing. Between Vincennes, Indiana, and New Albany,
near the falls of the Ohio, the horses of the coach on which they were
traveling, took fright and ran away. While going at full speed, Bishop
Whitney and the Prophet leaped from the vehicle. The latter cleared the
wheels and landed in safety, but his companion, having his coat fast, caught
his foot in the wheel and was thrown to the ground with violence, breaking
his leg and foot in several places. This accident delayed them four weeks
at a public house in Greenville. Dr. Porter, the landlord's brother, who
set the broken limb, remarked, little thinking who the travelers were,
that it was "a pity they did not have some 'Mormons' there, as they could
set broken bones or do anything else." Joseph administered to his friend,
and he recovered rapidly.
They had fallen, it seems, into suspicious if not
dangerous hands. In walking through the woods adjacent to the tavern, the
Prophet's attention had been attracted by several newly-made graves. His
suspicion, though not thoroughly aroused, was brooding over this circumstance
when an incident occurred to emphasize it. After dinner, one day, he was
seized with a violent attack of vomiting, accompanied by profuse hemorrhage.
His jaw became dislocated through the violence of his contortions, but
he replaced it with his own hands, and making his way to the bedside of
Bishop Whitney, was administered to by him, and instantly healed. The effect
of the poison, which had been mixed with his food, was so powerful as to
loosen much of the hair of his head. It was evident that they could remain
there no longer in safety.
The Bishop had not set his foot upon the floor for
nearly a month, and, though much improved, was far from being in a fit
condition to travel. But Joseph promised him that if he would agree to
leave the house next morning, they would start for Kirtland, and would
have a prosperous journey home. The sick man consented, and they accordingly
took leave next day of the place where they believed their murder had been
planned. They experienced the fulfilment of the Prophet's words most remarkably,
and after a pleasant and prosperous journey, reached Kirtland some time
In September of that year, a revelation was given,
in which the following passage occurs: "And the Bishop, Newel K. Whitney,
also, should travel round about and among all the Churches, searching after
the poor, to administer to their wants by humbling the rich and the proud;
he should also employ an agent to take charge and to do his secular business,
as he shall direct; nevertheless, let the Bishop go unto the city of New
York, and also to the city of Albany, and also to the city of Boston, and
warn the people of those cities with the sound of the gospel, with a loud
voice, of the desolation and utter abolishment which awaits them if they
do reject these things; for if they do reject these things, the hour of
their judgment is nigh, and their house shall be left unto them desolate.
Let him trust in me and he shall not be confounded, and an hair of his
head shall not fall to the ground unnoticed."
Concerning one of these missions, the Prophet's record
says: "I continued the translation, and ministering to the Church through
the fall, excepting a rapid journey to Albany, New York and Boston, in
company with Bishop Whitney, from which I returned on the 6th of November
(1833), immediately after the birth of my son Joseph Smith, 3rd."
The time had now arrived to establish the United
Order in Kirtland. The firm of Gilbert & Whitney had been dissolved,
as to Kirtland, the business they formerly carried on being superseded
by that of N. K. Whitney & Co. The Church had become a large owner
in the establishment, as was doubtless the case at Independence, Mo., where
a branch store, under the old firm name, was conducted by Bishop Whitney's
partner, A. S. Gilbert, now also a member of the Church.
nbsp; The Kirtland Saints having entered the Order, in the distribution
of stewardships which took place, the "Ozondah," or mercantile establishment,
fell to the lot of Newel K. Whitney, or as he was named in the revelation,
"Ahashdah." (Doc. and Cov., Sec. 104.) Among the blessings realized by
Bishop Whitney was the conversion of his father, whom he brought to Kirtland,
where he joined the Church and died. His mother and other near relatives
also came into the fold and she too died there.
The following is a paragraph from the Prophet's autobiography:
"Thursday, January 7, 1836: Attended a sumptuous feast at Bishop N. K.
Whitney's. The feast was after the order of the Son of God—the lame, the
halt and blind were invited, according to the instruction of the Savior.
Our meeting was opened by singing, and prayer by Father Smith; after which
Bishop Whitney's father and mother, and a number of others, were blessed
with a patriarchal blessing. We then received a bountiful refreshment,
furnished by the liberality of the Bishop. The company was large, and before
we partook we had some of the songs of Zion sung, and our hearts were made
glad while partaking of an antepast of those joys that will be poured out
upon the heads of the Saints when they are gathered together on Mount Zion,
to enjoy each other's society forevermore, when there will be none to molest
or make us afraid."
This Feast for the Poor, says Mother Whitney, "lasted
three days, during which all in the vicinity of Kirtland who would come,
were invited and entertained. The Prophet Joseph and his counselors were
present each day, talking, blessing and comforting the poor by words of
encouragement and their most welcome presence. He often referred to it
afterwards and testified of the great blessing he felt in associating with
the meek and humble whom the Lord 'delights to own and bless.' He said
it was preferable and far superior to the elegant and select parties he
afterwards attended, and afforded him much more satisfaction."
Among those who stood true to the Prophet during
the troubleous times, of the apostasy at Kirtland, from which place Joseph
and other leaders were finally compelled to flee, was Bishop Newel K. Whitney.
He also left Kirtland in the fall of 1838, for Missouri, whither the great
body of the Church had preceded him. His destination was Adam-Ondi-Ahman,
where many of the Saints were settling, and where he had been summoned
by revelation to preside.
Before he could reach there the mob troubles in Caldwell
county arose, Far West fell a prey to their fury, and the Saints, numbering
fifteen thousand men, women and children, were driven from the State. The
Bishop and his family continued on their way as far as St. Louis, where
the terrible reports of these outrages were confirmed. They returned northward
to Carrollton, Greene county, Illinois, where the Bishop settled his family
temporarily, and then went back to Kirtland to wind up some business for
the Church and await further instructions from the Prophet, who with other
leading Elders had been thrown into prison.
Bishop Whitney returned to Carrollton in the spring
of 1839, and was just in time to join his family in their flight across
the Mississippi, an anti-"Mormon" mob, headed by a man named Bellows, who
had known them in Kirtland, having formed against them. Aided by kind friends,
they made their escape in the night time.
We next hear of them at Quincy, in the same State,
at which place and in its vicinity, the main portion of the scattered Saints
had congregated. Agreeable to an appointment made at a conference held
there May 6, 1839, Bishop Whitney arrived at Commerce (afterwards Nauvoo)
on the seventeenth of June. His mission was to act in unison with the other
Bishops in locating and settling the Saints upon the lands purchased by
them in that locality.
On the fifth of October of that year, he was appointed
Bishop of the Middle Ward, and officiated in that capacity until called
to be the Bishop of the Church. A prophecy of Joseph's in relation to the
Whitney family, uttered in Kirtland, nine years before, was fulfilled soon
after they removed from Quincy to Commerce, in the spring of 1840. They
at first resided in a very unhealthy neighborhood, and all fell sick with
chills and fever. Joseph, on visiting them and witnessing their condition,
was touched with compassion. He remembered how kindly they had received
him and his family, when they were homeless, and at once urged them to
come and occupy a comfortable cottage on his own premises, in a much healthier
locality. His generous offer was accepted, and the change soon restored
them to wonted health. Joseph had said to Sister Whitney, at Kirtland,
that even as she had opened her house to him, he would do a similar act
in her behalf in a day when circumstances would require it.
The friendship and intimacy existing between the
Prophet and Bishop Whitney was strengthened and intensified by the giving
in marriage to the former of the latter's eldest daughter, Sarah, in obedience
to a revelation from God. This girl was but seventeen years of age, but
she had implicit faith. She was the first woman, in this dispensation,
given in plural marriage by and with the consent of both parents. Her father
himself officiated in the ceremony.
The revelation commanding and consecrating this union
is in existence, though it has never been published. It bears the date
July 27, 1842, and was given through the Prophet to the writer's grandfather,
Newel K. Whitney, whose daughter Sarah became the wife of Joseph Smith
for time and all eternity. The ceremony preceded by nearly a year the written
document of the revelation on celestial marriage, first committed to paper
July 12, 1843. But the principle itself was made known to Joseph some years
Among the secrets confided by him to Bishop Whitney
in Kirtland, was a knowledge of this self-same principle, which he declared
would yet be received and practiced by the Church; a doctrine so far in
advance of the ideas and traditions of the Saints themselves, to say nothing
of the Gentile world, that he was obliged to use the utmost caution, lest
some of his best and dearest friends should impute to him improper motives.
The original manuscript of the revelation on plural marriage, as taken
down by William Clayton, the Prophet's scribe, was given by Joseph to Bishop
Whitney for safe keeping. He retained possession of it until the Prophet's
Wife Emma, having persuaded her husband to let her see it, on receiving
it from his hands, threw it into the fire and destroyed it.
Bishop Whitney, foreseeing the probable fate of the
manuscript, had taken the precaution before delivering it up, to have it
copied by his clerk, the late Joseph C. Kingsbury, who executed the task
under his personal supervision. It was this same copy of the original that
Bishop Whitney surrendered to President Brigham Young at Winter Quarters
in 1846-7, and from that document "polygamy" was published to the world
in the year 1852.
Passing by the terrible tragedy which deprived the
Church of its Prophet and its Partiarch, and the almost incessant storm
of persecution that raged until culminated in the exodus of the Saints
from Nauvoo across the frozen Mississippi, in the winter of 1846, we next
find the subject of this memoir at Winter Quarters, officiating as presiding
Bishop and Trustee-in-Trust for the Church. To the latter of these offices,
he, in conjunction with Bishop George Miller, had succeeded at the death
of President Joseph Smith. Bishop Miller apostatizing, the office continued
with Bishop Whitney until his death.
From Winter Quarters in the spring of 1847, two of
his sons, Horace K. and Orson K., went west with the Pioneers. He himself
remained where his services were most needed, having charge in conjunction
with Isaac Morley, of emigrational matters on the frontier. The year following
he led a company of Saints across the plains to Salt Lake valley, arriving
on the eighth of October.
As his wagons rolled into the settlement, the general
conference of the Church was just closing. But one more incident remains
untold. It is the morning of Monday, September 23, 1850. An anxious group
is gathered about the doorway of an unpretentious abode on City Creek,
in what is still known as the Eighteenth Ward. Presidents Brigham
Young, Heber C. Kimball and others are there,
exerting their faith that God will spare the life of one who lies within
stretched upon a bed of suffering.
Two days before he had returned from the Temple Block,
where the labors of the Bishopric occupied much of his attention, complaining
of a severe pain in his left side. It was pronounced bilious pleurisy.
He never recovered, but grew rapidly worse during the remaining thirty-six
hours of his mortal existence. Eleven o'clock came, and as the final sands
of the hour passed, the immortal spirit of Newel K. Whitney, freed from
its coil of clay, soared upward to the regions of the blest. A post mortem
tribute in the "Deseret Weekly News" of Sept. 28, 1850, says: "Thus in
full strength and mature years, has one of the oldest, most exemplary,
and most useful members of the Church fallen suddenly by the cruel agency
of the King of Terrors. In him, the Church suffers the loss of a wise and
able counselor and a thorough and straightforward business man. It was
ever more gratifying to him to pay a debt than to contract one, and when
all his debts were paid he was a happy man, though he had nothing left
but his own moral and muscular energy. He has gone down to the grave, leaving
a spotless name behind him, and thousands to mourn the loss of such a valuable
The following assemblage of factoids is from Lyndon
W. Cook, The Revelations of the Prophet Joseph Smith, page 102.
Son of Samuel Whitney and Susanna Kimball. Born 5 February 1795 at Marlborough,
Windham County, Vermont. Located in Painesville, Ohio, about 1817; there
employed by merchant A. Sidney Gilbert. Later became junior partner to
Gilbert at Kirtland. Married Elizabeth Ann Smith (born 1800 in Connecticut)
20 October 1822. Eleven children: Horace K., Sarah Ann, Franklin K., Mary
Elizabeth, Orson K., John K., Joshua K., Ann Maria, Don Carlos, Mary Jane,
and Newel Melchizedek. Associated with Sidney Rigdon in Campbellite movement
before 1830. Baptized November 1830. Appointed by revelation to be ordained
bishop's agent in Kirtland area 31 August 1831. Ordained agent 1 September
1831. Appointed by revelation to be bishop in Kirtland 4 December 1831.
Member of United Firm 12 March 1832. Appointed by revelation to travel
with Prophet and others to Missouri March 1832. Left Kirtland 1 April 1832.
Arrived in Independence 24 April 1832. Left for Ohio 6 May 1832. Detained
four weeks in Indiana after breaking leg. Arrived in Kirtland July 1832.
Appointed by revelation to take mission to Albany, New York City, and Boston
22 September 1832. Left Kirtland September 1832. Returned 6 November 1832.
Attended School of Prophets 1833. Appointed to take charge of Peter French
farm 4 June 1833. Left for New York City to purchase goods to replenish
store 1 October 1833. Returned to Kirtland about 1 December 1833. Worked
on Kirtland Temple. Received blessing 7 March 1835 for working on Kirtland
Temple. Received patriarchal blessing 14 September 1835. Left for New York
City with Hyrum Smith to purchase goods for store 7 October 1835. Returned
late October 1835. Offered sumptuous feast for Prophet's family 7 January
1836. Participated in dedication of Kirtland Temple March 1836. Charter
member of Kirtland Safety Society January 1837. Appointed by revelation
to move to Missouri 8 July 1838. Left for Missouri in fall of 1838. Reached
St. Louis; there learned of extermination order. Located family temporarily
in Carrollton, Greene County, Illinois, 1838. Returned to Kirtland to finish
up business during winter of 1838-39. Returned to Carrollton, Illinois,
in spring of 1839. Settled in Nauvoo 1839. Appointed bishop of Nauvoo Middle
Ward 6 October 1839. Elected alderman for City of Nauvoo 1 February 1841.
Received endowment 4 May 1842. Member of Council of Fifty 11 March 1844.
Appointed to assume responsibilities of trustee-in-trust for Church 9 August
1844. Married plural wife, Emmeline Belos Woodward, 24 February 1845. Two
known children: Isabel Modalena and Melvina Caroline Blanch. Sealed to
wife, Elizabeth Ann, on 7 January 1846. Married Olive Maria Bishop 7 January
1846. No known children. Married Anna Houston 7 January 1846. One child:
Jethro Houston. Married Elizabeth Mahala Moore 7 January 1846. No known
children. Married Elizabeth Almira Pond 7 January 1846. No known children.
Married Abigail Augusta Pond 7 January 1846. No known children. Married
Henrietta Keys 26 January 1846. No known children. Left Nauvoo for West
1846. Located in Winter Quarters 1846. Arrived in Salt Lake Valley 8 October
1848. Elected justice of peace 12 March 1849. Bishop of Salt Lake Eighteenth
Ward. Died 23 September 1850 in Salt Lake City, Utah.