W. W. Phelps (Mormon)

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For other people of the same name, see William Phelps (disambiguation).
W. W. Phelps
Photo of W. W. Phelps
Personal details
Born William Wines Phelps
(1792-02-17)February 17, 1792
Hanover Township, New Jersey
Died March 17, 1872(1872-03-17) (aged 80)
Salt Lake City, Utah Territory
Resting place Salt Lake City Cemetery
40°46′37″N 111°51′29″W / 40.777°N 111.858°W / 40.777; -111.858 (Salt Lake City Cemetery)
Occupation Church printer
Title Scribe to Joseph Smith, composer of numerous LDS hymns
Spouse Stella Waterman

William Wines Phelps (February 17, 1792 – March 7, 1872) was an early leader of the Latter Day Saint movement. He was an assistant president of the church in Missouri,[clarification needed]]] scribe to Joseph Smith, Jr., and a church printer, editor, and song-writer

Early life[edit]

Born in Hanover Township, New Jersey, his father Enon Phelps and mother Mehitable Goldsmith moved the family to Homer, New York, in 1800. As a child, he attended public schools. As a young man, he traveled to Ohio, but soon returned to Homer, where he began publishing the Western Courier.

On April 28, 1815, he married Stella Waterman (later called Sally). He next moved to Trumansburgh, Tompkins Co. New York, where in 1823 he founded the Lake Light. In 1827 he relocated to Canandaigua, New York, where he began publishing and edited the anti-Masonic newspaper Ontario Phoenix through 1828. Phelps has been referred to by Dean Jessee as "one of [the] founders" of the anti-Masonic movement in New York.[1]:650–51

Joins early Latter Day Saint Church[edit]

Well educated as a young man, Phelps was an aspirant for the office of lieutenant governor of New York[2] at the time when he purchased a copy of the Book of Mormon on April 9, 1830—just three days after the early Latter Day Saint church was organized.[3] On December 24, 1830 he met Joseph Smith and was convinced he was a prophet. On April 29, 1831, he was imprisoned at Lyons, New York, by a "couple of Presbyterian traders, for a small debt, for the purpose, as I was informed, of "keeping me from joining the Mormons."[4]

He visited Kirtland in 1831, was baptized on June 10, 1831, and established a print house in Independence, Missouri, where he published the Evening and Morning Star. On July 20, 1833, while working to publish the church's Book of Commandments, a mob of vigilantes attacked Phelps' home, seized the printing materials, destroyed many papers, destroyed the press, and threw his family and furniture out of doors.

Phelps was present near Jackson County, Missouri on 17 July 1831 when, according to Phelps' later testimony, church leader Joseph Smith, Jr. received the first revelation about plural marriage.[5]

Joins Church leadership[edit]

In the early part of 1835, he and his son Waterman were called to Kirtland, where they made their home with the family of the Prophet Joseph Smith and assisted a committee appointed to compile the Book of Doctrine and Covenants. About this time, Elder Phelps subscribed US$500 toward the erection of the Kirtland Temple.[citation needed] Phelps was the author of eleven popular early Latter Day Saint hymns. In Kirtland, Ohio, he helped print the first Latter Day Saint hymnal in 1835, which included "The Spirit of God Like a Fire Is Burning", which was sung at the dedication of the Kirtland Temple. He was also instrumental in printing the 1835 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants.

From 1834 to 1838, Phelps was a counselor to David Whitmer in the presidency of the church in Missouri and in that capacity he helped found the town of Far West, Missouri. Phelps was called before the High Council on March 10, 1838 when he was accused of profiting from Far West land deals and reneging on a US$2,000 subscription to "the house of the Lord" that was not paid. On March 17 he was excommunicated from the church. In June 1838, Phelps, Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, John Whitmer, and Lyman E. Johnson were warned out of Far West "or a more fatal calamity shall befall you."[6]

Excommunicated and rebaptized[edit]

Unlike Cowdrey and the Whitmers, Phelps remained in Far West after "the dissenters" were warned to leave in June 1838. He appears to have had a short-lived détente with the Church leadership, and on July 8, 1838 Joseph Smith received a revelation saying that Phelps and fellow dissenter Frederick G. Williams could be ordained as elders and serve missions abroad. At the time of the Mormon surrender of Far West Phelps was one of the Mormon negotiators.[7] But during the Richmond hearings of November 1838, Phelps was one of several who bore witness against Smith and other leaders, aiding in their imprisonment in Missouri until April 1839. This led to his excommunication in Quincy on March 17, 1839.[7] In June 1840, Phelps pleaded for forgiveness in a letter to Smith. Smith replied with an offer of full fellowship, and ended with a variant of Charles Wesley's couplet, "'Come on, dear brother, since the war is past, For friends at first are friends again at last.'"[8]

It was decided that Phelps, along with Frederick G. Williams, could be ordained as elders and serve missions abroad. Phelps served a brief mission in the eastern United States in 1841. Phelps moved to Nauvoo, Illinois where on August 27, 1841, he replaced Robert B. Thompson (who had died) as Joseph Smith's clerk. Beginning in February 1843, Phelps became the ghostwriter of many of Smith's important written works of the Nauvoo period, including General Joseph Smith's Appeal to the Green Mountain Boys of November 1843, Smith's theodemocratic presidential platform of January 1844, and The Voice of Innocence which was presented to and unanimously approved by the Relief Society in February 1844 to rebut claims of polygamy in Nauvoo arising out of Orsimus Bostwick's lawsuit accusing Hyrum Smith of polygamy and other sexual misconduct with the women of Nauvoo.[9]

Phelps was endowed on December 9, 1843,[10] received his "second anointing" promising him godhood on February 2, 1844,[11] and was also made a member of the Council of Fifty[citation needed]. In Nauvoo, Phelps spoke out in favor of the destruction of an opposition newspaper, the Nauvoo Expositor. He believed that the city charter gave the church leaders power to declare the newspaper a nuisance. Shortly afterwards, the press and type were carried into the street and destroyed[citation needed]. Phelps was summoned to be tried a witness at the treason hearing of Joseph Smith at Carthage, Illinois.[citation needed]

During the Mormon Succession Crisis in 1844, Phelps sided with Brigham Young and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. He was again excommunicated on December 9, 1848 for entering into an unauthorized polygamous marriage, but was rebaptized two days later.[citation needed] He took part in the Mormon Exodus across the Great Plains and settled in Salt Lake City in 1849. He served a mission in southern Utah Territory (as counselor to Parley P. Pratt) from November 1849 to February 1850. There he served in the Utah territorial legislature and on the board of regents for the University of Deseret (now the University of Utah).[citation needed] Phelps died on March 7, 1872 in Salt Lake City, Utah Territory. He was buried at Salt Lake City Cemetery.

William W. Phelps' grave marker. The back is inscribed with the words "There is no end to matter/There is no end to space/There is no end to spirit/There is no end to race. There is no end to glory/There is no end to love/There is no end to being/There is no death above," from the hymn "If You Could Hie to Kolob".

Hymns[edit]

Today, William W. Phelps is probably best known for his legacy of LDS hymns, many of which appear in the current edition of the LDS Church hymnal.[12]

Phelps also reworded popular hymns turning them into uniquely Latter Day Saint hymns.

* Included in the first Latter Day Saint hymnal in 1835.

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Phelps, Oliver Seymour; Andrew T. Servin (1899). The Phelps Family of America and their English Ancestors. Pittsfield, Massachusetts: Eagle Publishing Company. 
  2. ^ Walter Dean Bowen, "The Versatile W.W. Phelps—Mormon Writer, Educator, and Pioneer," Ph.D diss., Brigham Young University (1958): 22.
  3. ^ The Deseret News, 11 April 1860, pp. 45, 48.
  4. ^ "William W. Phelps (1792–1872)". Mormon History 1830-1844. Saints Without Halos. Retrieved 2009-10-20. 
  5. ^ W. W. Phelps to Brigham Young, 12 Aug. 1861, LDS church archives, quoted in Fred C. Collier, comp., Unpublished Revelations of the Prophets and Presidents of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Salt Lake City: Collier’s Publishing Co., 1979), 57-58.
  6. ^ Richard S. Van Wagoner (1994). Sidney Rigdon: A Portrait of Religious Excess (Salt Lake City, Utah: Signature Books) pp. 218–219.
  7. ^ a b Alexander L. Baugh. "A Community Abandoned: W. W. Phelps’ 1839 Letter to Sally Waterman Phelps from Far West, Missouri." Nauvoo Journal, 10:2, 1998. p. 23
  8. ^ Richard Green, Works of John and Charles Wesley, accessed on books.google.com 12/7/2013; letter July 22, 1840, from Joseph Smith, Nauvoo, IL, in History of the Church,vol.4, pg 162-64
  9. ^ Samuel Brown, The Translator and the Ghostwriter: Joseph Smith and William Phelps,” Journal of Mormon History 34, no. 1 (2008): 26-62.
  10. ^ Anderson & Bergera 2005, p. 41
  11. ^ Anderson & Bergera 2005, pp. 63–64
  12. ^ "Hymns of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints". Retrieved 2009-10-20. 

References[edit]

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