Elijah Abel

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Elijah Abel
Photo of Elijah Abel
Third Quorum of the Seventy
December 20, 1836 (1836-12-20) – December 25, 1884 (1884-12-25)
Called byJoseph Smith
January 25, 1836 (1836-01-25) – December 20, 1836 (1836-12-20)
Called byJoseph Smith
Personal details
Born(1808-07-25)July 25, 1808
Frederick-Town, Maryland
DiedDecember 25, 1884(1884-12-25) (aged 76)
Salt Lake City, Utah Territory
Resting placeSalt Lake City Cemetery
40°46′37.92″N 111°51′28.8″W / 40.7772000°N 111.858000°W / 40.7772000; -111.858000

Elijah Abel, or Able or Ables[1] (July 25, 1808 – December 25, 1884)[2] was one of the earliest African-American members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He is considered by many to have been the first African-American elder and seventy in the Latter Day Saint movement.[3] Abel, although predominantly of Scotch and English descent,[4] appears by his African heritage to have been the first and one of the few black members in the early history of the church to have received the priesthood.[3][5] And it was his distinction to be the faith's first missionary to have descended in part through African bloodline.[3] Abel did not have his priesthood revoked when the Church began its priesthood ban for black men but he was denied by third Church President John Taylor a chance to receive his Temple endowment.[6] As a skilled carpenter, Abel often committed his services to the furthering of the work and to the building of LDS temples. He died in 1884, shortly after serving a final mission for the church (in his lifetime he officially served three) to Cincinnati, Ohio.[7][8]

Early life & conversion to the LDS faith[edit]

Elijah Abel was born in Frederick-Town, Maryland on 25 July 1808 to Delilah Williams, who was of Scotch descent, and Andrew Abel, an Englishman. A grandmother of Elijah was "half white," or Mulatto; his paternal grandfather, Joseph Abel, was a member of the English House of Commons.[1][4][9][3] Thus was Elijah considered to be "Octoroon," or one-eighth African.[4]

For many years there was apparent confusion regarding his birth-year. Some sources put the year at 1808, others at 1810.[10][9][11] However, the 1850 Census record appears to provide sufficient evidence for marking 1808 as the year of Abel's birth.[12] Moreover, both Elijah's patriarchal blessing and his grave marker record "1808" as his birth-year.[2][13]

Abel's mother, who died when he was 8 years old,[4] was purportedly a slave from South Carolina,[14] but the evidence for this has never been produced,[3] and that Abel's mother was Quadroon, or a quarter-part black, throws some doubt on the assertion. Some authors — both academics and fiction writers — have speculated (but based on the assumption Abel was the son of a slave) that he migrated to Canada, and probably by way of the underground railroad.[11]:2 But this assertion, too, apart from circumstantial evidence, remains entirely unsubstantiated, with William Kesler Jackson, Abel's biographer, indeed stating that, apart from the period of his later missionary service there, "this writer has been unable to find any evidence that Elijah Abel ever lived in Canada."[3]

One intriguing possibility behind young Elijah's removal from Maryland to Ohio, as Jackson and Stevenson both note, is that he may have had a sister, possibly even his twin — Nancy Abel Rousten (1807/8-1896) — who he may have followed to Ohio in 1832, when she moved and settled there (in Milton, Miami County, just a few miles northeast of Cincinnati) with her new husband, George Rousten — a white man of German descent born, remarkably, in Frederick County in 1808, just as Nancy and Elijah were.[3][7] If such be the case, Nancy more than likely shared with Elijah a one-eighth African bloodline heritage as well (even though census data list her as "Mulatto"). Were then these Marylanders, given such truly diverse heritage, slaves? One truth to consider is that, at least in the western regions of 1820-30s Maryland, as observed by its residents who were living in the counties of "Frederick, Washington, and Allegheny ... there are but few slaves."[7] But all of this aside, once in Ohio, the Roustens never transitioned again, but were lifelong residents of that state.[3][15]

Certain it is that young Elijah Abel eventually, by whatever means or motivation, did find his way west to Ohio, for, having now entered his 20s, he was baptized in September 1832 at Cincinnati[4] as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, the church restored by the prophet Joseph Smith, by local Mormon elder and blacksmith Ezekiel Roberts, a young father of two.[9][7][16] Soon after, Abel moved to the Kirtland, Ohio area, to join in fellowship with the main body of Latter-day Saints congregating there (Roberts — who possibly encouraged Abel to relocate as part of the Lord's mandate that His people "gather" at "the Ohio" — may have gone, too, particularly since Roberts is shown by civil records to have stayed connected with the main body of Saints, including being driven with them from Missouri and settling with them at Nauvoo: Roberts signed an 1839 affidavit for Missouri damages and his name appears on 1842 Nauvoo tax records).[3][7][17]:38

Priesthood ordination[edit]

Upon the Prophet Joseph Smith's January 1836 declaration that Elijah Abel was "entitled to the Priesthood and all the blessings,"[4] Abel — who had been, over the many preceding months, an active participant in the construction of the Kirtland Temple (1833–36) by which the Saints would be "endowed with power from on high"[3] — was ordained an elder of the church on 25 January (the five LDS offices in the Melchizedek Priesthood to which eligible men found worthy were ordained, in their order of ascending hierarchy, are: Elder, Seventy, High Priest, Patriarch, and Apostle). The officiator in that priesthood ordinance was Ambrose Palmer, a high priest who was also branch president in New Portage (now Barberton), Ohio, where Abel was then residing (the ordination was "licensed" at Kirtland on 31 March 1836 by the Prophet Joseph and second counselor in the First Presidency Frederick G. Williams).[1][4][11]:2[18]

Temple participation, patriarchal blessing & calling as a Seventy[edit]

Elijah was also at this time blessed to participate in the mighty spirit-filled "Pentecostal season" that accompanied the completion and springtime dedication of the Kirtland Temple, all of which made 1836 a particularly momentous year for him.[3] But then, at year's end, and only 11 months after his priesthood ordination, Abel was, under the hands of Seventies President Zebedee Coltrin, ordained a Seventy and inducted into that priesthood body's Third Quorum on 20 December (and later licensed to said priesthood office at Nauvoo in 1841 by Seventies Presidents Joseph Young, Brigham's brother, and Albert P. Rockwood).[4][11]:2

As if such an outpouring of heavenly gifts still weren't enough, Elijah also received at this time[19] his patriarchal blessing under the hands of the Prophet Joseph's father, Presiding Patriarch Joseph Smith, Sr (this ordinal revelation of, what is meant to be, a "declaration of lineage" through the church patriarch was recorded by Warren A. Cowdery, a church scribe and newspaper editor, but also a brother to Assistant President of the Church Oliver Cowdery).[3][10][17]:38 The Patriarch began: "Brother Able [sic] ... the Lord hast had his eye upon thee, and brought thee through straits and thou hast come to be rec[k]oned with the saints of the most High."[13] Important here to note, at the outset of this "father's blessing" which Father Smith "seals" upon Abel, is that the revelatory voice itself concedes that "Thou hast been ordained an Elder ... to secure thee against the power of the destroyer" and "thou shalt be blessed even forever" (italics added).[13]

The common practice when giving patriarchal blessings was to declare an individual to be a descendant of a specific tribe of Israel. Abel, however, was declared an "orphan" from a father who "hath never done his duty toward thee," but — just as if he were Father Smith's "own son"[4] — Elijah was promised "Thou shalt be made equal to thy brethren, and thy soul be white in eternity and thy robes glittering."[13][20]:131 In this way Abel was perhaps instead "adopted" into the House of Israel, for the recorded blessing does not specifically declare his tribal lineage (then, too, with Abel's diverse bloodline mixture, the predominant affiliation may have remained for the patriarch somewhat ambiguous or unclear). The glorious promises the blessing does reveal, including the pronouncement, "Thy name is written in the Lamb's book of life," are duly warranted, however, "because of the covenants of thy fathers" (which terminology does tend to imply for Latter-day Saints, however, an Abrahamic descent). Yet a realization of those promises are still declared contingent upon Abel's "seek[ing] first the kingdom of heaven" (i.e., living a righteous life that seeks to build up God's kingdom on earth while enduring faithfully to the end, to merit one's heavenly crown).[13]

But also in 1836, "to secure [him] against the power of the destroyer,"[13] Abel was among those who received the first of the church's revealed "higher" ordinances — that of the "Initiatory" — and he was thus "washed and anointed" in the Kirtland Temple, ostensibly by Judge Alvah Beaman and Ruben P. Hedlock (as is now corroborated by a document that in 2019 was catalogued by archivists of The Joseph Smith Papers project).[4] For although Zebedee Coltrin, some forty-five years after the fact and apparently in error, claimed to have washed and anointed Elijah himself, Abel informed then-Apostle Joseph F. Smith that Coltrin did not in fact perform this sacred ordinance,[3]:63 which now seems supported by evidence.[4][21]

Mission to Upper Canada[edit]

During the late 1830s, Abel labored as a missionary in New York and Upper Canada, an assignment which, for the Prophet Joseph's part, may have played into a safe-haven and proselyting solution for black slave refugees while also helping to create an effective deflection from perceived Mormon sympathies toward the abolitionist movement in the United States (a perception that agitated an already unfavorable situation for the Latter-day Saints as they sought to realize their dreams for a "Zion" community in Missouri).[7][17]:38[22]

In June 1838, while Abel was serving in St. Lawrence County, New York, he baptized 25-year-old Eunice Ross Kinney, who throughout her life and even after Abel's death remembered him as a "powerful" minister, one who had been "ordained [i.e., by proxy sanctioned, commissioned, sent forth with authority] by Joseph the martyr."[23][8][11]:3 Abel taught Kinney and others he baptized that "the time was drawing near for [Christ's] coming[22] but He would not come till God had a people prepared to receive Him, with all the gifts and blessings that adorned His church anciently,"[24][25][26] and Abel in his ministry oft-quoted the Apostle Peter: "Think it not strange, brethren, concerning the fiery trials[27] which are to try you..." (1 Pet 4:12).[3]

Due to civil unrest and rebellion in Upper Canada, Abel's missionary travels were not infrequently punctuated with perilous situations and persecutions; he was even falsely accused of the murder of a family of six and aggressively pursued by a mob bearing hot tar and feathers.[7] And yet such circumstances of unwarranted strife and even torment were certainly not unfamiliar to many Mormon missionaries of the time, nor to their leaders.[11]:3 In retrospect, Abel's providential escape from his enemies in his foreign travels to the East did seem to fulfill a patriarchal promise (while also foreshadowing a dreadful civil war[28] that would soon strike at the heart of his own country):

Thou shalt see [the destroyer's] power in laying waste the nations, & the wicked slaying the wicked, while blood shall run down the streets like water, and thy heart shall weep over their calamities. Angels shall visit thee and thou shalt receive comfort. They shall call thee blessed and deliver thee from thine enemies. They shall break thy bands and keep thee from afflictions.[13]

Nauvoo, temple building & civil marriage[edit]

Abel moved from Kirtland to Commerce (soon renamed Nauvoo), Illinois in 1839, upon returning from his Canadian mission. He may have settled on the property he came to own — Block 111, located northwest of the city "flats", on the banks of the Mississippi.[3] While living at Nauvoo, Abel continued to further immerse himself in church work and activity. One such duty was the sacred privilege of performing "baptisms for the dead" (the second of the church's "higher" ordinances to be revealed), of which Abel is known in his life to have performed at least two: one for a friend by the name of "John F. Lancaster", and one for his mother, Delilah.[7][11]:4 In this early period of the church, and before the full "temple endowment" or "celestial marriage" rites (among the church's highest) had been revealed, these hallowed ordinances for the Saints' departed loved ones were initially performed, not in temples as they would later be, but generally in the frigid waters of the Mississippi River, upon the winding banks of which their "City Beautiful" had been built. Soon, however, the performance of these rites for the deceased were transferred to more suitable and sacred settings amidst 12-oxen fonts, such as would grace the magnificent Nauvoo Temple then rising majestically on a high bluff above the city — in the splendid construction of which (1841–46) Elijah was blessed to employ his talents.

Another of Abel's duties included acting as an undertaker (for the most part, he was likely responsible for the fashioning of coffins and the digging of graves) at the request of Joseph Smith (this may have been in response to the area-sweeping Malaria epidemic of 1839-40).[3][17]:38 Abel continued, of course, to work in Nauvoo as a carpenter (he was a member of the group called the House Carpenters of the Town of Nauvoo), and it is clear that while Abel was at Nauvoo he was personally acquainted with the Prophet Joseph, whom he considered a dear friend.[3]

Joseph's high estimation of Abel is palpably evident in the Prophet's dictated phrasing of Elijah's priesthood license: Therein, after declaring his ordination as "an Elder" of the restored church of Christ, Joseph recommends Elijah as his "worthy brother in the Lord," one who is "duly authorized" to spread the gospel in a manner "equal to the authority of that Office" — a man of "good moral character," possessing "zeal for the cause of righteousness," with a "diligent desire to persuade men to forsake evil & embrace truth ... Praying for his success & prosperity in our Redeemer's Cause," the Prophet thus certifies Abel unequivocally, and "confidently" recommends him "to all candid and upright people" as "a worthy member of society" deserving of all "fellowship and esteem."[29]

In turn, Abel's love and devotion for the Prophet were palpably manifest when, on 6 June 1841, he and six other men, including Hosea Stout, quickly mobilized themselves as an expeditionary militia force to attempt the rescue of Joseph Smith after his unlawful arrest by Missouri and Illinois officers at Quincy, Illinois. By the time they reached Quincy, however, Smith having obtained a writ of habeas corpus had been returned safely to Nauvoo.[30][31]

In 1842 Abel gathered up his belongings (deeding his Block 111 property to Nauvoo Stake President William Marks)[3] and moved again, this time returning back to Cincinnati, Ohio, probably on assignment by Joseph Smith.[7] There he continued his carpentry and boarded for a time with a local painter, one "John Price" on Eighth Street, between Sycamore and Broadway.[3] But on 16 February 1847, thirty-nine-year-old Elijah married 16-year-old Mary Ann Adams[16] of Nashville, Ohio,[12][7][17]:38 who was also, in her heritage, one-eighth African-American, or Octoroon.[4][32] Abel acted as a leader of the church in Cincinnati, and was recognized as such by Joseph Smith, who pronounced to Orson Hyde and others, "Go to Cincinnati ... and find an educated negro, who rides in his carriage, and you will see a man who has risen by the power of his own mind to his exalted state of respectability."[33][20]:133 Not all church leaders were as accepting of Abel, however.

Meeting in Cincinnati, 1843[edit]

On 25 June 1843, a regional conference occurred in Cincinnati (then a hot-bed of conflict between what generally were viewed as Underground Railroad-escaping blacks and abolitionist-hating Irish Catholics) where the apostles John E. Page, Orson Pratt, Heber C. Kimball, and future-apostle Lorenzo Snow presided as part of a "Traveling High Council" to organize a Mormon branch there.[3]:77 During the conference questions regarding Abel and his membership were addressed, including those that touched upon recent complaints from some of the local "white" populace about Abel's public preaching activity.[10][7] Apostle John E. Page stated that while "he respected a coloured Brother, wisdom forbid that we should introduce [him] before the public."[3]:77 Pratt and Kimball supported Page's statements, and the leaders resolved to restrict Abel's activities as a member of the church.

At the conclusion of the conference, Abel was called to serve a second mission locally, but he was instructed to visit and teach only the "coloured population".[3]:77 In their deliberations, the leaders had also referenced some of Abel's potentially threatening actions that stemmed from his time in Upper Canada, where his activity to encourage flight to the American "Zion" from the civil uprisings there was viewed with disdain by his colleagues, for such activity ostensibly may have been seen by the British government as smacking of "pro-American sympathizing," or even treason in absentia — potentially inciting, or further exacerbating, continued revolt. The missionary associates who so accused him (e.g., John Beckstead, Christopher Merkeley, John Broeffle, and also some, incidentally, like Zenas Gurley and James Blakeslee, who later apostatized[34] from the church) cited also Abel's claims "that an elder ... had as much authority" as a high priest in the church and, most outrageously for them — in light of early Mormonism's millenarian worldview that espoused gathering to a "central" Zion[22] — "that there would be stakes of Zion in all the world."[7][15] Yet despite these allegations[35] of teaching what was, at the time, perceived by many to be "false doctrine," no disciplinary action was taken against Elijah.[3][7] Indeed, today, Abel's statements seem prophetic.

Up until 1843, Abel had suffered very little discrimination from within the church. The results of the conference, however, marked a turning point for Abel and other colored, faithful adherents of the faith. For the first time, race was used as a criterion for limiting church activities.[20]:131 The leaders of the conference, however, made no statement that would suggest that the resolution of the meeting had been based on heaven-sent revelation or that it constituted any sort of doctrinal mandate, but rather, they deemed it an act of prudence to address the dynamic racial and politically turbulent climate of the times.[8][3]:77

The 1849 priesthood ban[edit]

As a leader in the church at Cincinnati and one of the three presiding area Seventies at a specially convened branch conference on 1 June 1845, Elijah Abel moved for the excommunication of three women — identified as "Mrs. Carter, Mrs. Evans, and Miss Jane Roberts" — for "speaking disrespectfully against the leaders of the church," a motion which was "moved and seconded."[3] The church, despite reorganization, still reeled in over the loss of its beloved Prophet-martyr, murdered at Carthage Jail, along with his brother Hyrum, by a mob less than a year before. But by overcoming previous dissent and discord, the Cincinnati branch of 32 members "all in good standing" could claim that it was, by mid-1845, more unified than it had been "for the last three years."[7]

The few black individuals adhering to the Latter-day Saint faith had the full fellowship of the early church, including entering into priesthood leadership positions, such as Abel had. In 1844 at Boston, Joseph T. Ball, for example, had been the first man of African descent to become a branch president — indeed, the first ever to preside over an LDS congregation; Ball had been earlier called in 1841 by the Quorum of the Twelve on a mission to South America.[3]:100

But then, in 1849, Brigham Young, who was the prophet of the church at the time (having succeeded Joseph to the church presidency after the Prophet's martyrdom), issued a church-wide ban on blacks from being ordained to the priesthood (although the policy's initial reveal by Young to the Twelve may have occurred up to two years earlier at Winter Quarters, Nebraska, possibly "between 8 and 14 April 1847"[36]). Young's pronouncements in 1849 constitute the earliest known statements which officially exclude blacks from an ordinal endowment or a wielding of priesthood power, stating in part, "The Lord has given [Cain's descendants] blackness, so as to give the children of Abel an opportunity to cult[ivate] [or 'keep' — i.e., preserve his "priesthood birthright" and maintain as separate] his place with his des[cendants] in the eternal worlds."[37][38][3]:88

This decision may have been brought about, in part, by the actions of William McCary, an African-American convert to the church with mixed Indian blood, living in Cincinnati, who believed he was a prophet and claimed on various occasions to be Jesus and Adam, father of the human race.[10][7] For in 1847, as the Saints paused at Winter Quarters on the banks of the Missouri, before continuing on to the Rocky Mountains, a seemingly penitent McCary had expressed to Brigham Young and members of the Quorum of the Twelve his anguish and confusion over his racial status, saying that he wished to be seen as "a common brother" despite being "a little shade darker," to which Brigham kindly reassured him: "We don't care about the color ... It's nothing to do with blood, for of one blood has God made all flesh ... We have one of the best Elders, an African in Lowell [Massachusetts] — a barber [referring to Q. Walker Lewis]."[39] President Young enjoined McCary to "shew by your actions" a genuine repentance before God, for, he said, the Saints have but "to serve the Lord with all our hearts" and "repent [to] regain what we have lost."[7][39]

Yet following this incident at the Mormon encampment, in which McCary had been offered forgiveness and church fellowship by Brigham and the Twelve (who had even, at Young's request, pooled together their private funds to assist him in securing a wagon and supplies to join the Saints in their westward trek),[7][39] McCary broke their trust and was promptly excommunicated.[3][10] It was discovered that McCary had performed, within his own house, polygamous "sealings" with Caucasian women that were clearly unauthorized.[3][7][15] In the wake of McCary's scandal and excommunication, the Brethren immediately distanced themselves from him[15] while encouraging the Saints, to ensure their own safety, to do the same. For his part, McCary made a "fast trot" from Mormon society and the surrounding settlements, fleeing to Missouri, but then later and finally to Canada.[3][7]

Some residents of Cincinnati, Winter Quarters, and other townships had entertained McCary's teachings,[7] including his promulgation of an "immediate consummation" sort of polygamous union, and upon whose adherents he was said to confer "priesthood blessings" using a "golden rod."[3]

But even after the 1847-49 official prohibition for all Latter-day Saint "brethren of color,"[40] Elijah Abel himself continued to remain involved in the church. As one who already held the priesthood, he continued to serve as a Seventy in Cincinnati (inclusively from 1842 to 1853)[41] and years later, in the autumn of 1883, also served yet another mission to this former hometown shortly before his death.[42]

As the church continued to migrate its members to the mountain-valleys of the West, however, Mormons were exposed to a larger population of blacks, and anti-black political attitudes continued to increase.[8][10][7] Even before moving West, other influential black members of the church had included "Black Pete"[43] — a member of the "Morley Family" who in the early days of the church at Kirtland, Ohio became notorious, by drawing from his Protestant revivalist "enthusiasm" and "slave shout" past, in appearing authentic to the area's new members (particularly its young people) as the "revelator" he claimed to be.[3] He was ultimately disfellowshipped by Joseph Smith because of his teachings and ecstatic demonstrations, disappearing from the community soon thereafter.[10] And the aforementioned Q. Walker Lewis from Lowell, Massachusetts, although "well respected by early Mormon leaders,"[3] also found himself under scrutiny during this period. Lewis was ordained an elder by William Smith, Joseph Smith Jr.'s younger brother who later apostatized.

And so it was, that by 1847, in the unfavorable light of these and other developments, Abel's authority had begun to be challenged, despite his being well-respected within his church community.[8][3]:99 In the immediate future span of only fourteen years this worsening social and political climate would culminate in national civil war.[28]

Trek west & family life in Utah[edit]

In May 1853, Abel and his family migrated as part of the Appleton M. Harmon pioneer company to Utah Territory, the new headquarters of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.[44] After the company's arrival in the Salt Lake Valley on 17 October and his family's initial move to Mill Creek just a few miles south of Salt Lake City, Abel continued to work as a carpenter as part of the LDS public works program.[3] One of his main projects, given his already-rich personal history in temple-building, was the labor he performed in the decades-long construction (1853-1893) of the Salt Lake Temple. By 1860 the Abel family had moved to Salt Lake City's Thirteenth Ward, and only a short distance from the Temple Block. For a short time a 43-year-old white schoolteacher by the name of Alex Warrender, who in 1858 had crossed the overland trail as a teamster, boarded with the Abel family.[3]

Abel himself remained a member of the Seventy and continued to be active in the church. Along with Mary Ann and their oldest son Moroni, Elijah was rebaptized on 15 March 1857 (by priesthood officiator and millwright Archibald Gardner; and confirmed by beekeeper Washington Lemmon) as part of the Brigham Young and Jedediah M. Grant-inspired "Mormon Reformation".[3][17]:39 In the Saints' storied "Move South" during the Utah War, to avoid conflict with Johnston's invading army in 1858, Abel stayed behind to "assist" his fellow "watchmen" to ensure, should the invaders make any false move, that the emptied city be set aflame and left in ashes. But the U.S. troops marched through Salt Lake City without incident.[7]

In addition to his carpentry, the Abels together managed the Farnham House hotel, located on 2nd South Street, which was advertised as a "first class" boarding house that boasted "good stabling and corrals." The Abels' establishment charged $11/week for room & board ($9/week or $2/day for board only) and 75¢ for a single meal.[3][45] By 1860, two more children were born to Elijah and Mary Ann,[44] and by 1862, as the War to Prevent Southern Independence raged in the East, their growing family had relocated to the Tenth Ward.[3]

Very little is known about the personal lives of the Abel family. In 1870 they moved forty miles north to Ogden, Utah for a short time before returning to Salt Lake City.[11]:6 Of the known children born to Elijah and Mary Ann, three were born in Cincinnati — Moroni, Enoch, and Anna Rebecca, whom they named after Mary's mother[16] — and five more in Utah Territory, all by 1870: Delilah, whom they named after Abel's mother, Mary, Elijah Jr., Maggie, and Flora.[3][7] They also took into their home a young woman (about Moroni's age) from Ohio — Rola — whom they adopted.[7] Utah residents during this period remembered the Abel family as traveling up and down the Wasatch front (a mountain valley stretch of contiguous towns from Provo to Ogden) entertaining audiences with their "minstrel shows". Abel biographer W. Kesler Jackson:

It seems most likely that Abel played the fiddle or violin, while the family — including eight children between the ages of about one and twenty years old — acted, danced, sang, or played along with their father on other instruments. "There was a family of colored folks by the name of Able [sic]," remembered one Utah resident, "who went around from ward to ward and put on performances for the public."[3]

Tragedy struck the family in 1871 when firstborn Moroni — son of Elijah and Mary's youth who had crossed the plains with them and just entered manhood — died.[3] And only six years later, after the family had moved back to the territorial capital, Abel's dear Mary Ann herself, his 47-year-old wife of three decades, died of pneumonia on 27 November 1877 ... "Brigham Young died the same year," wrote Russell W. Stevenson, "and Ables [sic] approached John Taylor, his successor, again requesting his endowment," but it was again withheld from him.[7]:250

Yet notwithstanding the many years of repeated temple-ordinance denials for himself and his family from his honored Brethren (see below), Abel, ever-faithful, served a final mission to Ohio and Canada in 1883-84, during which period of service, however, he became ill. Further-declining health resulted in his returning to Utah in December 1884. Abel died only two weeks after his return, on Christmas Day — "in full faith of the Gospel," his last-day-of-the-year obituary read.[3][11]:8 His body was interred at Salt Lake City Cemetery alongside Mary (whose headstone reassured loved ones: "Only Sleeping") and where his original grave marker is inscribed with the words of a seemingly reconciled soul: "Elijah Able — At Rest."[46]

Denial of temple ordinances[edit]

Although Abel remained a faithful member of the church his entire life, he was not exempt from discrimination that existed in his church and state. His membership, participation, and leadership in the church both during and after his Illinois and Ohio years was frequently questioned and challenged. After moving to Utah Territory, Abel asked Brigham Young for permission to be sealed to his wife and children, which was denied.[8][17]:39 Abel again requested a sealing five years later to his deceased wife, son, and daughter, this time from President John Taylor, who then passed it on for the body of the Twelve to consider.[3][17]:39 But his request was again refused, and neither was he allowed to enter the temple to be endowed.[8][17][3]:100

1879 meeting on Joseph Smith's statements about blacks and the priesthood[edit]

While there were yet no attempts to take away Abel's priesthood authority, that authority was questioned by church leaders. In 1879, a meeting was held on Saturday, 31 May, at the residence of Provo mayor Abraham O. Smoot to discuss the conflicting versions of Joseph Smith's views on blacks and the priesthood in response to Abel's petition to be sealed to his recently deceased wife.[3]:96[33] President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles John Taylor, his secretary L. John Nuttall, mayor Smoot, apostle Brigham Young, Jr. (son of the late prophet), and Zebedee Coltrin were in attendance.[3][33] According to Nuttall, who detailed the meeting in his journal, Coltrin and Smoot made statements about all they could recollect Joseph Smith having ever said about blacks and the priesthood.

John Taylor recounted a story he had remembered and then asked Coltrin to confirm if the account was accurate. In this story, Coltrin had at one time remarked that black people should not have the priesthood, to which Smith had responded with the account of the Apostle Peter's vision in Acts 10, in which he was commanded by God to "not call any man common or unclean" and to teach the Gentiles despite being a Jew himself, implying that blacks should have the priesthood.[3]:97 However, Coltrin denied that this conversation had ever taken place. Though it would seem apparent that the Prophet himself related the story to Taylor, the recorded minutes of the meeting do not make it clear where Taylor originally heard the story.[3]:97

Smoot — a Southerner[47] from a line of slaveholder progenitors who had himself continued his practice of it in Utah[3] — stated that he, Thomas B. Marsh, Warren Parrish, and David W. Patten had asked Joseph Smith in 1836 and 1838 if blacks could have the priesthood, whereupon Joseph informed them that, while blacks could be baptized, including those who were enslaved (but solely with their master's consent), they could not hold the priesthood (it remains unclear, however, whether Smith's alleged priesthood reference was intended by him to apply only to blacks still in bondage).[3] According to Nuttall, Coltrin and Smoot both wrote down their respective accounts in the course of the meeting, then signed their names to them.[3]:98 The brethren would in their deliberations regarding Abel and the validity of his priesthood ordination adjourn for the present but would, following a brief recess, resume their discussion within a few days' time.

Some scholars of Mormon history describe the recollected statements given at the Smoot home in 1879 as "apocryphal"[48] or, collectively, as "an artifact [...] recorded forty-five years after the fact."[3]:98 In his biography of Abel, W. Kesler Jackson states that the two accounts given touching upon the doctrinal "priesthood and race" question contradict not only each other but also other historical records, just as the "facts" surrounding the actual priesthood ordination of Elijah Abel have long been contradictory, remaining for many years, until only recently,[1][4] in a rather confused state.[3]:108

Some sources, for example, state that Abel was ordained to the priesthood by Joseph Smith,[3][49] while other records indicate that he was ordained by Zebedee Coltrin.[50] He was in fact, as stated and documented above, first ordained to the priesthood by Ambrose Palmer in January 1836, then as a Seventy by Coltrin in December of the same year.[1][4] Coltrin claimed additionally, however, that Abel had been ordained to the Seventy in exchange for his work on the temples (at Kirtland and Nauvoo), but that Joseph Smith, after Coltrin later confronted him, and upon reflecting a moment on the matter, then realized his "error" and promptly "dropped" Abel, because of "his lineage", from the quorum.[17]:39[33] Coltrin reported that he had this conversation with Joseph Smith in 1834, yet Abel didn't receive the priesthood nor did Coltrin ordain him a Seventy until 1836 (thus making it impossible for Abel to have been "dropped" from any such ordinal capacity in 1834), nor was construction even begun on the Nauvoo Temple until 1841.[33] Joseph Smith's nephew and later-successor to the church presidency, Joseph F. Smith, contradicted Coltrin, in turn, by professing: "Coltrin's memory [is] incorrect as to Brother Abel being dropped from the quorum of Seventies to which he belonged" (italics added). Smith punctuated his statement by pointing out that he had verified as being in Abel's possession two certificates (which notarized the 1836/1841 priesthood licensings referenced above) that declared Abel to be a bonafide elder of the church and a Seventy.[3][17]:39

Even so, what the 'Smoot meeting' at the end of May 1879 accomplished — beyond suddenly bringing into "formal" question Abel's long-held authority in a high-profile (and for Elijah possibly humiliating) setting after more than 40 years — was simply a reaffirmation (though momentarily placed on hold) of the LDS Church's 1849-born policy of excluding blacks from receiving the priesthood. The meeting did not change the fact (as neither those meetings preceding or following it would) that Elijah Abel had long been granted by a prophet of God, and retained yet still, the Melchizedek priesthood.[33]

1879 meetings with Taylor, Smith, and the Seventy[edit]

Within a week after the meeting to discuss Joseph Smith's statements on blacks and the priesthood (a recess that surely afforded Joseph F. Smith the required time for his investigation that resulted in a documented personal interview with Elijah Abel),[1][4] the appointed brethren met again on 4 June to continue their discussion of the topic. Elijah Abel of course was there, and it may well have been for him somewhat reminiscent of a Salt Lake City Council House meeting he'd attended just two months earlier, on 25 March, consisting of 71 members from the church's 33 Seventies quorums. Abel had, on that occasion, stood and addressed the “general meeting of the Presidents and members of the Seventies," fondly reflecting upon his nearly 45-years’ experience as a priesthood-bearing Latter-day Saint. He had recounted there — as he now did for his brethren again, in the first days of June — “his appointment an[d] ordination as a Seventy, and a member of the 3rd Quorum." He recalled for them Joseph's personal words to him, "that those ... called to the Melchisadec [sic] Priesthood [having] magnified that calling would be sealed up unto eternal life."[51][8][3]:99

"The chronological proximity of the Smoot meeting and Abel's defense at the Seventies meeting," observes Jackson, "seems to indicate that the status of blacks (as it related to priesthood and temple ordinances) was then undergoing deep scrutiny at the highest levels. It makes sense that Abel would be asked to weigh in — as a long-time black Seventy."[3]

Abel again now, in June, found himself personally defending his priesthood before his brethren, outlining especially for President Taylor and Apostle Joseph F. Smith its history — which was indeed precious to him[7] — and reaffirming that the "Prophet Joseph told him he was entitled to the priesthood."[52] Armored with these statements of personal testimony — and the promises he'd received not only from his revered patriarch, but more especially from Father Smith's prophet-son, who was the Lord's chosen mouthpiece on earth — Abel was defending his right to be sealed eternally to his family in the holy temple of God.[3]:99 Abel expressed to President Taylor his lifelong hope that his endowment of priesthood might prove one day "the welding link" (see D&C 128:18) to bond all of God's people together regardless of race.[7]

By meeting's end, John Taylor — concluding at last that Joseph Smith had made "an exception" and had given Abel the priesthood despite his race, perhaps because he was an Octoroon (or one-eighth black) and perhaps also, as per Coltrin's testimony, because he had further proved his worthiness by helping to advance and to build the early church — decided that Abel's priesthood would be "allowed to remain."[8][3]:99

Posthumous commentary on Abel's priesthood[edit]

Notwithstanding this seeming triumph for Abel, Church President Joseph F. Smith, in 1902, 1904, and 1908 (his memory perhaps in a state of failing recollection of his theretofore stoic defense of Abel and his former pronouncements of 1879 and 1895 to the contrary),[3][8][33] declared Abel's ordination to the priesthood as "null and void by [Joseph Smith] himself because of his blackness" — suggesting (based anew on Coltrin's antiquated testimony) that the Prophet Joseph before his death had, in realizing his "mistake", repented of his initial endorsement that Abel receive the priesthood.[8][20]

These statements just after the turn of the century, particularly astonishing by their posthumous nature (Abel having long-since expired from the world), were clearly inaccurate: for, from the moment of the Prophet Joseph's 1836 sanction of his priesthood ordination at Kirtland, Elijah Abel went on to faithfully serve for nearly half a century in the Third Quorum of the Seventy, until his death in 1884. Now, moreover, scarcely a score of years had passed since Joseph F. Smith had himself been the one to ordain Abel and to set him apart to serve a church mission immediately antecedent to the Mormon elder's death.[8][17]:24

President Smith's son who would later succeed him in the presidency, Apostle Joseph Fielding Smith, went so far as to suggest that there had been two Elijah Abels — one white and one black.[53][17]:39


Though Abel died in 1884, his life and in particular his ordination to the priesthood were a topic of conversation and debate long after his death. When questions concerning Blacks receiving the priesthood or temple blessings arose, the story of Elijah Abel was often told.[11]:8

All eligible men within the LDS Church were, of course (albeit more than a century after the 1849 ban), admitted to the priesthood beginning in 1978 — when all former "authority" restrictions based on race were lifted with the revelation received by then-prophet and President of the Church Spencer W. Kimball.

But long even before this, Abel's son and grandson, Enoch and Elijah, had both been ordained already to the Melchizedek priesthood: Enoch was ordained an elder on 27 November 1900; and Elijah to the same office on 29 September 1935.[8][54]

In 2002, a monument was erected in Salt Lake City over Abel's gravesite by the Missouri Mormon Frontier Foundation and the Genesis Group, to memorialize Abel, his wife, and his descendants.[7] The monument was dedicated by LDS Church Apostle M. Russell Ballard.[55]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Smith, Joseph F. (c. 1879). "Elijah Able". The Joseph Smith Papers Project. Salt Lake City, Utah. Retrieved 15 February 2019.
  2. ^ a b Grave Marker of Elijah Abel. (Inscribed front). File:ElijahAbelGraveFront.jpg
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai aj ak al am an ao ap aq ar as at au av aw ax ay az ba bb bc bd be bf bg bh bi Jackson, W. Kesler (2013). Elijah Abel: The Life and Times of a Black Priesthood Holder. Springville, Utah: Cedar Fort, Incorporated. ISBN 978-1462111510.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Smith, Joseph F. (c. 1879). "Joseph F. Smith biographical transcript for Elijah Able, Joseph F. Smith Papers" (PDF). The Joseph Smith Papers Project. Salt Lake City, Utah. Retrieved 15 February 2019.
  5. ^ Bowman, Matthew (2012). "Chapter 2: Little Zions: 1831-1839". The Mormon People: The Making of an American Faith. New York: Random House. p. 46. ISBN 978-0679644903.
  6. ^ 125: Elijah Ables' Attempt for Temple Blessings (Part 5 of 6 Russell Stevenson), retrieved 2021-05-21
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab Stevenson, Russell W. (2013). "A Negro Preacher: The Worlds of Elijah Ables" (PDF). Journal of Mormon History. 39 (2). Salt Lake City, Utah. pp. 165–254. Retrieved 17 February 2019.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Reeve, W. Paul (2015). "Chapter 7: Black, White, and Mormon: 'One Drop'". Religion of a Different Color: Race and the Mormon Struggle for Whiteness. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 194–210. ISBN 978-0199754076.
  9. ^ a b c Reasons; Patrick (15 July 1971). "They Had a Dream: Elijah Abel". The Troy Record. Troy, New York. p. 18. Retrieved 6 July 2016.
  10. ^ a b c d e f g Bringhurst, Newell G. (1984). "Chapter 4: Elijah Abel and the Changing Status of Blacks Within Mormonism". In Bush Jr., Lester E.; Mauss, Armand L. (eds.). Neither White nor Black: Mormon Scholars Confront the Race Issue in a Universal Church. Midvale, Utah: Signature Books. ISBN 9780941214223. Retrieved 18 May 2017.
  11. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Hawkins, Chester L. (4 December 1985). Report on Elijah Abel and His Priesthood. L. Tom Perry Special Collections; Harold B. Lee Library: Unpublished. Retrieved 12 July 2016.
  12. ^ a b 1850 Census. The census record registers Mary Ann Adams Abel as being 19 years old, and her husband Elijah Abel as being 42 years old, which effectively pushes back his birthdate to 1808.
  13. ^ a b c d e f g Patriarchal Blessing of Elijah Abel, c. 1836, recorded by W. A. Cowdery with penned preamble, "[Patriarchal] Blessing of Elijah Able [sic] who was born in Frederick County, Maryland, July 25th 1808." "Joseph Smith’s Patriarchal Blessing Record" (1833-1843), 88. LDS Church Archives.
  14. ^ Bush, Jr., Lester E. (1984). "Chapter 2: A Commentary on Stephen G. Taggart's 'Mormonism's Negro Policy: Social and Historical Origins'. Note 8". In Bush Jr., Lester E.; Mauss, Armand L. (eds.). Neither White nor Black: Mormon Scholars Confront the Race Issue in a Universal Church. Midvale, Utah: Signature Books. ISBN 9780941214223. Retrieved 18 February 2019.
  15. ^ a b c d Stevenson, Russell W. (2014). Black Mormon: The Story of Elijah Ables (self-published). CreateSpace. ISBN 978-1500843137.
  16. ^ a b c Mary Adams' Parents. The Ohio county of residence of Mary Ann's parents (John and Anna Weston Adams) at the time of their deaths — Hamilton, located just 15 miles north of Cincinnati — is, curiously, the home county of Ezekiel Roberts, the Mormon elder who baptized Elijah Abel in 1832. Stevenson (2014) suggests, therefore, that Hamilton County may have been where Elijah was baptized. But also, as Mary's family were erstwhile residents of Hamilton (perhaps moving there, to Mount Healthy township, after Mary's birth in Nashville), it may also have been where Elijah was first introduced to Mary. Hamilton County lies 60 miles south of Miami County, where lived, according to Jackson (2013), a possible sister of Elijah, Nancy Abel Rousten.
  17. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Embry, Jessie L. (1994). "Chapter 3: Impact of the LDS 'Negro Policy'". Black Saints in a White Church: Contemporary African American Mormons. Salt Lake City, Utah: Signature Books. ISBN 978-1560850441.
  18. ^ "Church History Digital Catalog | Assets". catalog.churchofjesuschrist.org. Retrieved 2019-02-20.
  19. ^ Jenson, Andrew (1936). Latter-day Saint Biographical Encyclopedia. 4. Salt Lake City, Utah: The Andrew Jenson History Company. p. 697 (4 volumes: 1901-1936). Jenson states that Abel's patriarchal blessing was given "at the time of his [priesthood] ordination." However, because the washing-anointing ordinance is, in Abel's blessing, referenced as having already occurred, it appears that the blessing was pronounced on or after 30 March 1836, when the "washing" ordinance was first introduced to the Saints and nearer the time of Abel's priesthood licensing on 31 March; or perhaps in December, at the time of his ordination as a Seventy. ISBN 978-1589580312.
  20. ^ a b c d Bringhurst, Newell G. (1981). Saints, Slaves, and Blacks: The Changing Place of Black People Within Mormonism. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press. p. 149. Reprint (2018) by Greg Kofford Books: Draper, Utah. ISBN 978-0313227523.
  21. ^ The historical record cites Zebedee Coltrin, in (what evidence now discredits as being) his temple "anointing" capacity on Abel's behalf, as claiming to have experienced "unpleasant feelings" — the most vile, in fact, that he'd ever felt in his life — when his hands came into contact with Elijah's less-than-white skin (Coltrin was 75-years-old when he gave this testimony in 1879, saying that he only "administered" the ordinance at the Prophet Joseph Smith's express direction, vowing thereafter to "never again anoint another person who had Negro blood in him, unless I was commanded by the Prophet to do so" — See Stevenson, "Negro Preacher," p. 176; Bringhurst, "Neither White nor Black," Ch 4, note 78). As a postscript to this ordinal occasion of 1836, then, it seems a curious fact that no such loathsome feeling of discomfort as was ostensibly felt by Coltrin was ever reported or intimated as having been experienced by Father Smith, when he boldly laid his hands on the crown of Elijah Abel's head to, as it were, bless him as he would his "own son." The prophetic words of warning, comfort, counsel and promise, moreover, which flowed on that occasion from the grand old patriarch's lips might well have been for this blessing's African-American recipient among the most glorious his young ears had ever heard.
  22. ^ a b c Underwood, Grant (1999) [1993]. The Millenarian World of Early Mormonism. Urbana: University of Illinois Press. pp. 26–36, 49–51, 63–72. ISBN 978-0252068263.
  23. ^ Kinney, Eunice. (5 July 1885). Letter to Wingfield Watson. L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University. Provo, Utah. See also Eunice Kinney, "My Testimony of the Latter Day Work". (c. 1885). Microfilm typescript, MS 4226. LDS Church Archives.
  24. ^ Concepts germane to an understanding of Mormonism's claim to a restoration of primitive Christianity and its promise of a paradisaical return to the Edenic "garden of the Lord" are informed by Underwood (1993), who frames eschatologically the faith's declaration of a dramatic reclamation of "pristine purity": "Primitivism focuses on what is to be restored, while millenarianism emphasizes when and how the former glory will be recovered. The link between primordium and millennium is well illustrated in Mormonism" (p. 140).
  25. ^ Hughes, Richard T., ed. (1988). The American Quest for the Primitive Church. Urbana: University of Illinois Press. ISBN 978-0252060298.
  26. ^ Bickmore, Barry R. (2013) [1999]. Restoring the Ancient Church: Joseph Smith and Early Christianity. Redding, California: FairMormon. ISBN 978-1893036161.
  27. ^ "Fiery trials" and affliction touched the lives of missionaries and potential gospel proselytes alike in the history of early Mormonism. As an illustration of this, and to provide a glimpse of Abel's exercise of priesthood power, Jackson (2014) presents instances of Abel's performance of ancillary priesthood ordinances while in the mission field. One was on behalf of Eunice Kinney, whose mind and spiritual sensibilities had become clouded by a spirit of darkness — her mind and soul "wracked" with doubt, frustration, and anger. Upon receiving in "vision" a revelation of her distress and being commanded by the spirit of God to do so, Abel immediately took leave to attend to her, whereupon he "rebuked" for her sake the oppressive spirit so afflicting her, explaining, after the evil had fled, that he had been commanded to "rebuke the power that was destroying" her. The other ordinal action was on behalf of Eunice's husband. But for Mr. Kinney it was not an ordinance of blessing but one, rather, of biblical cursing — referred to as a "dusting of the feet." The same was revealed by Christ to His apostles (see Matt 10:14-15; Luke 10:10-12; Acts 13:51), and it was an ordinal measure that in July 1830 had been restored through modern revelation to Joseph Smith (D&C 24:15; 84:92-95), and then directed and recommended, as prompted by the spirit of God, to ordained ministers of the gospel, of which Abel was one. Because Elijah could yet see salvational hope for his gospel reviler, this only "partial" invocation of the ordinal curse — to help assuage the railing disbelief of an "unbeliever" — could still serve as a "testimony" or witness against severe or scornful rejection and contempt for the gospel message. In this case, just such a mocking derision was made manifest in the behavior of Mr. Kinney, who bitterly and publicly renounced Abel's gospel teachings, demanding a "sign" of their truthfulness. As Elijah was scripturally aware that any miraculous sign must follow only "them that believe" (Mark 16:17) and that they who request such are of "a wicked and adulterous generation" (Matt 16:4), he declared to Mr. Kinney: "You shall have what you asked, but it will make your heart ache." Abel then, by his priesthood authority, invoked an ordinal cursing of "sore affliction" which would follow Mr. Kinney's disbelief "until you repent and humble yourself before God." Eunice thereafter reported that Abel's words were "fulfilled to the letter," their many subsequent joint afflictions culminating in the great anguish of seeing their three-year-old son at death's door with an illness beyond the skill of physicians. Humbled to tears, Mr. Kinney prayed for forgiveness, and the child soon thereafter returned to full health. The Kinneys, as Eunice later recounted in their conversion story, immediately recognized the hand of God in the literal fulfillment of Abel's words, and both "went down into the water and [were] buried with Christ in baptism." Abel then confirmed them members of the Church by the "laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost" (Jackson, pp. 64-67; Underwood, pp. 27, 49, 51, 71-72).
  28. ^ a b Joseph Smith's Christmas Day 1832 prophecy at Kirtland, Ohio (D&C 87) foretelling a great war and even greater ones to follow antecedent to the Lord's Second Coming seems to be, in the declaration of Elijah Abel's patriarchal blessing four years later, referenced quite vividly by the Prophet's father, Joseph Smith, Sr. That war, as section 87 of the book of Doctrine & Covenants boldy anticipates, was to begin with "the rebellion of South Carolina" and proceed in its "sore vexation" of both the "Northern States" and "Southern States," who would "call on ... the nation of Great Britain, as it is called" and on "other nations" for aid in their defense. This great war between North and South would "terminate in the death and misery of many souls" (verses 1, 3). As the Prophet warned in the final year of his life: "I see, by the visions of the Almighty, this nation, if she continues to disregard the cries and petitions of her [oppressed people] ... that God will come out of his hiding place and vex this nation with a sore vexation — yea, the consuming wrath of an offended God shall [with] distress and woe ... smoke through the nation" (Underwood, pp. 47-48). But this great civil conflict would only serve, the Lord declares through His prophet, as the starting point — for it would initiate, as Jackson aptly describes the future advent, "a whole series of wars 'poured out upon all nations', an uncanny prediction of the rise of total war and the total state," which would literally, as Father Smith prophesied to Elijah, "lay waste the nations" (Jackson, pp. 56-58; 93; 113).
  29. ^ Priesthood License of Elijah Abel. (31 March 1836). Recorded by Joseph Smith, Jr. and Frederick G. Williams. Michael Marquardt Papers, box 6, folder 1. Special Collections, J. Willard Marriott Library, University of Utah. See also a scanned image of the certificate at the online document repository of The Joseph Smith Papers Project.
  30. ^ Prince, Stephen L. (2017). "Chapter 7: Rising Through the Ranks". Hosea Stout: Lawman, Legislator, Mormon Defender. Logan: Utah State University Press. pp. 87–88. ISBN 978-1607326403.
  31. ^ History of the Church, 4:365.
  32. ^ Mary Adam's Ancestors. Though little else is known, Mary's paternal grandmother was Asenath Bartlett (1779–1872) of Townsend, Massachusetts, whose mother and grandmother shared a first name: "Submit."
  33. ^ a b c d e f g Givens, Terryl L.; Barlow, Philip L., eds. (2015). "Chapter 24: Mormons and Race". The Oxford Handbook of Mormonism. Oxford Handbooks. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0199778362.
  34. ^ After the Smith brothers' martyrdom and the church's succession crisis, Zenas Gurley, now a Seventy, became disaffected and apostatized, thereafter joining with the "Strangites" and their leader James Strang, who excommunicated Gurley after his 1852 break with them over their practice of polygamy. Gurley, who had led a branch of Strangites in Wisconsin, went on to help establish and to lead what later became known as the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, serving, as would his son, as one of its apostles. Together with Elijah Abel's old stake president, William Marks (who had also apostatized), Gurley ordained Joseph Smith III (the Prophet Joseph's eldest surviving son) as the new church's president in 1860 (see Stevenson, 2013 and 2014; Jackson). Gurley's son reported that it was through a very affecting sermon his father heard preached in Ontario by Mormon elder James Blakeslee that he was converted to the restored gospel, "absorbed," as he was, "by the wonderful but glorious news of communication being once more opened between the heavens and the earth." It is possible, too, that Elijah Abel in some way participated with Blakeslee in Gurley's conversion and baptism; what is certain is that there was an association of Blakeslee with Abel in their proselyting labors in Canada and upstate New York (Stevenson). As for Blakeslee, he, like Gurley, eventually defected to the lure of Strangism and apostatized from the church. Baptized as Elijah Abel was, in 1832, Blakeslee went on to organize, ten years later, a branch of the church in Utica, New York, where he helped to shelter the Saints fleeing from the dangerous chaos and civil strife born of the Upper Canada Rebellion. And just as Gurley had done, Blakeslee ended up renouncing the Prophet of the Restoration — in May 1844 — after the esoteric Latter-day Saint doctrine of "plural marriage" had begun to show a more public face. Along with Francis Higbee, Charles Ivins, and Austin Cowles, who all embraced, as it were, the same spirit of disillusionment and apostasy, Blakeslee was excommunicated. He continued in this wayward vein, just as Gurley had done, by adopting the philosophies of James Strang. And later, both men, having abandoned the Strangites, adopted the teachings of William Smith, the Prophet's apostate brother. Smith had begun his own movement in 1847, attracting the likes of fellow apostate (and former apostle) Lyman Wight. But when William, too, announced his own new version of polygamy, both Gurley and Blakeslee became fully disenchanted. Their joint exit from their affiliations with all of these groups that had gone the way of polygamy was the catalyst that gave birth to what later became known as the Community of Christ. Together with Joseph Smith III, Gurley as a member of that church's First Presidency, and Blakeslee, as a member of its Council of Twelve Apostles, the leadership of this breakaway LDS faith would likewise be required to confront the question of blacks in relation to priesthood. That moment came in 1865, with the end of the American Civil War — which unfathomable devastation the Prophet Joseph Smith had prophesied would strike at the very heart of the nation, to answer (by "feel[ing] the wrath, and indignation, and chastening hand of an Almighty God") for its centuries-long sins against God and against His oppressed children, arising as that terrible conflict would "through the slave question" (D&C 87:6; D&C 130:12-13 - 2 April 1843). This governing body confessed candidly at that time that they did not yet feel they possessed wisdom sufficient to address such a delicate, complex issue. But in 1889 a freed slave living in Upper Canada became the first black member to be ordained to the RLDS priesthood (Stevenson, 2013 and 2014).
  35. ^ The "missionary" allegations against Abel had originally surfaced in a 1 June 1839 meeting convened at Quincy, Illinois — precisely during the time when Joseph Smith, now escaped from his bitter Liberty Jail confinement, was laboring with the struggling Missouri-driven Saints in establishing their new home at Commerce (Nauvoo), 47 miles to the north, on the banks of the Mississippi. As such, Smith was not present at the hearing, nor therefore does the degree of priority for addressing its concern, nor even perhaps its ascertained validity based on reports and information, appear to have been very high in the Prophet's estimation (consumed as he surely was with worries for food and shelter for his people). Nevertheless, convened at the Quincy meeting were quorum members and presiding officers of the Seventy. Also attending was a young 23-year-old elder visiting his brother, who lived about two miles from the town. He had, only two weeks earlier, arrived from Commerce, where he had spent three days among "the elders of the church" in counsel with "the presidents of the church" — Joseph and Hyrum Smith, and Sidney Rigdon — from whom he had received "much instruction" (Sessions). His name was Jedediah M. Grant. The energetic young elder had come with a petition from North Carolina requesting that he be granted re-appointment to return to continue his missionary labors there. The request was granted, but before he left, he was asked to fulfill one last assignment: for somehow it was Grant, an elder, whom the presiding officers had selected as the priesthood representative they wished to have convey to the body of the Seventy the complaints brought before them by Elijah Abel's missionary associates. And so, with Elijah himself strangely in absentia (for there is no mention in the minutes of his presence), Jedediah Grant performed this parting duty on the day before he boarded a return-steamboat headed for North Carolina to there begin a second mission for the church (one which historians have described as "three legendary years") in the southern states (Sessions). As for Abel's accusers, Zenas H. Gurley was a new member of the church – a poverty-stricken Wesleyan Methodist from Ontario – who had been baptized and ordained an elder by late spring 1838, after Abel had been laboring in upstate New York and Canada for some months. But it appears the two were in some sense "companions," as together, in mid-to-late June, they ordained to the priesthood one Captain William Riley of Williamsburg. One of the participants at the Quincy hearing who sat amidst the gathered Seventy, and who heard the testimony of Abel's missionary "accusers" — indeed, one who included himself as one of the "testators" — was not, however, one of Abel's missionary colleagues — for his name was Zebedee Coltrin. But as one of the Seven Presidents of the Quorums of Seventies, Coltrin was there, it seems, to preside as well. Also testifying at the hearing were John Broeffle (who in his correspondence consistently referred to his fellow missionary Abel as "the Negro") and his cousins John & George Beckstead, Robert Burton, and Moses Smith. It had been to the home of the Beckstead brothers' father, Alexander (an LDS leader in the Ontario region), that a violent mob once had pursued "the Negro preacher" with tar and feathers and a trumped-up accusation of a family's mass-murder, but Beckstead safely hid Abel away. Brother Beckstead later professed that he had triumphed in dispersing the mob by getting "his wife to shoot them" (Stevenson, 2013, p. 200). What seems most to have agitated Elijah's colleagues was Abel's presumption of his status within the church but also the confident, lofty views he seems to have espoused regarding his priesthood office and, especially, that he viewed himself — a black elder of the restored Church — as perhaps helping to create a "welding link" between the races, bringing them together in a "bond" of love and mutual understanding. Abel was correct in his view that the offices of elder, Seventy, and high priest within the church possess the "same authority," for they do — the Melchizedek Priesthood. And in the absence of a higher office, an elder officiates with the same authority and in lieu of that office. But Abel's aspirations for equality, misinterpreted perhaps in various ways, clearly did not sit well with his missionary "brethren." Neither, in his millenarianist zeal, did Abel's encouragement of the Ontario Saints (a large number indeed following his advice) to flee over the St. Lawrence river from the rifle-fire, danger and chaos of their civil strife (for many were seen falsely as "subversives" and "rebels") to the relative safety of the American "Zion." But even as Abel involved himself in this "Moses exodus" type of adventure, seen by his accusers to be of itself risky and dangerous on many levels, Abel simultaneously continued also to profess that "stakes of Zion" would one day be found "in all the world." One accuser, Christopher Merkeley, who also may have been a companion of Elijah's, complained that Abel had, moreover, at one point, threatened to knock Merkeley down during a water passage up Lake Ontario. But all of this aside — with the Ontario Saints being vilely persecuted, dragged to the courts, thrown into prison, and chased by mobs amidst an explosive civil war involving Brits, French-Canadians, and Americans — Abel biographer Russell W. Stevenson concludes that Abel's advice to leave Canada, thereby avoiding the violent skirmishes, possible arrest and even death, "was sound; the St. Lawrence Riverway had become a war zone." Even so, the Saints, by in fact heeding Abel's advice in looking to the American "Zion" as a refuge, hadn't realized "that it [Missouri] was a second powder keg" (see Stevenson, 2013 and 2014; Jackson; D&C 57:1-4).
  36. ^ Esplin, Ronald K. (1979). "Brigham Young and Priesthood Denial to the Blacks: An Alternate View". BYU Studies Quarterly. 19 (3). Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University. pp. 394-402. Esplin's argument that a priesthood revelation banning blacks may have come as early as 1845 at Nauvoo is not generally accepted, not only in light of Joseph Smith's 1836 priesthood sanctioning and licensing of Abel (who Esplin does not mention or reference) but, more critically, given Young's conciliatory and apparently open views on the issue as evidenced in his March 1847 remarks to William McCary. Esplin does point out, however, that Young — in his remarks of 5 February 1852 to the Utah Territorial Legislature (the day after slavery had been codified into Utah law) — promised that there would be a future general bestowal of the priesthood to blacks: "That time will come when they will have the privilege of all we have the privilege of and more". Retrieved 4 March 2019.
  37. ^ Meeting Minutes, 13 February 1849. "Selected Collections". LDS Church Archives. The first official LDS Church documentation of Priesthood denial was this 13 February statement by President Brigham Young included in his "Manuscript History" (a companionate statement to the "Cain's descendants" quotation above), given in response to an enquiry by newly called apostle Lorenzo Snow regarding Priesthood redemption for black Africans: "Because Cain cut off the lives of Abel to prevent him and his posterity [from] getting the ascendency over Cain and his generations ... the Lord had cursed Cain's seed with blackness and prohibited them the Priesthood, that Abel and his progeny might yet ... have their dominion, place, and blessings ... in the world to come." But whereas Joseph Smith who, in his 1844 campaign for the U.S. Presidency, had come to view slavery as "an evil" to be eradicated via slave-owner compensation, Brigham Young saw it as a Godly "sentence" upon "the seed of Ham" that the abolitionist proponents of the Civil War, in their attempts to "destroy the decrees of the Almighty" and to free the slaves, could not and would not undo — see Journal of Discourses 10:250. But what seems most peculiar today about the 19th century Latter-day Saint stance with respect to race is that, according to the pseudepigraphic work Joseph and Aseneth, first brought to light in 1890, modern Josephites (which Latter-day Saints claim themselves predominantly to be) share bloodline relations with the Egyptians through Asenath, daughter of Pentephres, a royal Egyptian priest and, therefore, a descendant of the Canaanite Egyptus, according to LDS scripture (Abr 1:23-27).
  38. ^ Bringhurst, Newell G.; Harris, Matthew L., eds. (2015). "Chapter 3: Brigham Young, the Beginning of Black Priesthood Denial, and Legalization of Slavery in Utah, 1844-1877". The Mormon Church and Blacks: A Documentary History. Urbana-Champaign: University of Illinois Press. p. 36. ISBN 978-0252081217. Retrieved 15 February 2019.
  39. ^ a b c William McCary meeting with the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. (26 March 1847). Recorded by Thomas Bullock. "Minutes" (1839-1877). LDS Church Archives.
  40. ^ Utah Territory Black Slavery Code enactment, January–February 1852. Negro-slave policy in the Territory of Utah (together with a formal reiteration or official declaration of LDS Church policy regarding the 1849 priesthood ban) was codified into law by Utah's territorial legislature on 4 February 1852, one month after Governor Brigham Young appeared before that body on 16 January to formally petition for the policy's codification. Young's gubernatorial remarks on that occasion were recorded by then-Apostle Wilford Woodruff. See Lester E. Bush, Jr. (1984). Chapter 3: "Mormonism’s Negro Doctrine: An Historical Overview," in Lester E. Bush, Jr. and Armand L. Mauss (eds). Neither White nor Black: Mormon Scholars Confront the Race Issue in a Universal Church. Midvale, Utah: Signature Books.
  41. ^ Meeting Minutes, 25 June 1843. "Conference of Elders of the Church," Cincinnati, Ohio. LDS Church Archives.
  42. ^ "Deaths," Deseret News, December 25, 1884.
  43. ^ Staker, Mark L. (2009). "Chapter 1: Black Pete & Chapter 8: Black Pete and Early Mormonite Religious Enthusiasm". Hearken, O Ye People: The Historical Setting for Joseph Smith's Ohio Revelations. Draper, Utah: Greg Kofford Books. ISBN 978-1589581135.
  44. ^ a b Coleman, Ronald Gerald (1980). A History of Blacks in Utah: 1825–1910. Harold B. Lee Library; Provo, Utah: Unpublished. p. 59.
  45. ^ "Elijah Abel". www.blacklds.org. Retrieved 11 July 2016.
  46. ^ "Cemeteries and Burials Database: Burial Information: ABLE, ELIJAH and ABLE, MARY". Salt Lake City, Utah: Utah Division of State History. Retrieved 8 April 2018.
  47. ^ Smoot, as a slaveholder of the South, "once refused," writes W. Kesler Jackson, "to hand out campaign literature for Joseph Smith's bid for the [U.S.] presidency because part of Smith's platform included a denunciation of slavery and a plan for compensated emancipation" (Jackson, p. 107).
  48. ^ Stories considered by some to be "apocryphal" in nature continue to persist in collective memory, not only within Mormon culture generally (as the same may hold true in other faiths), but also as drawn from Elijah Abel's life specifically (Jackson). These stories include the much-repeated anecdote that Elijah lived for a time with Joseph Smith and his family at the Prophet's Nauvoo "home" — which, if the tale holds merit, most likely refers to the Joseph Smith log Homestead near the Mississippi river shore (Bringhurst, 1981, pp. 82; 100, note 23; Jackson, p. 62). There is also the story that Elijah was present at the Mansion House bedside of the Prophet's father at the time of the elder Smith's death in 1840 (which death was the result of lingering complications stemming from the Commerce, Illinois Malaria epidemic of 1839-40). However, this last oft-quoted tradition (Arave, 2002) appears actually to carry some validity by virtue of Abel's well-documented "undertaker" role at Nauvoo in providing caskets for the bodies of the dead (and perhaps even interment services). A degree of credence is lent to the tale also by the "paternal" connection Elijah shared with his patriarch, who in 1836 laid his hands upon Abel's head and pronounced a most cherished "patriarchal blessing" upon the young elder (Jackson).
  49. ^ "Gospel Topics: Race and the Priesthood", churchofjesuschrist.org, LDS Church
  50. ^ Minutes of the Seventies Journal, Hazen Aldrich, entry for 20 December 1836. LDS Church Archives, as cited by Alma Allred, "The Traditions of Their Fathers, Myth versus Reality in LDS Scriptural Writings," in Newell G. Bringhurst and Darron T. Smith, eds. (2006). Black and Mormon. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.
  51. ^ "A Record of all the Quorums of Seventies in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints". (5 March 1879). CR3/51, box 3, folder 2. LDS Church Archives.
  52. ^ "Council Meeting Minutes". (4 June 1879). Lester E. Bush papers, Special Collections, J. Williard Marriott Library, University of Utah.
  53. ^ Letter of Joseph Fielding Smith to Mrs. Floren S. Preece, 18 January 1955. S. George Ellsworth Papers, Utah State University, Logan (see also Letter from Joseph Fielding Smith to Joseph H. Henderson, 10 April 1963).
  54. ^ Bringhurst, Newell G.; Smith, Darron T., eds. (2006). "The 'Missouri Thesis' Revisisted: Early Mormonism, Slavery, and the Status of Black People". Black and Mormon. Urbana: University of Illinois Press. pp. 13–33, at p. 30. ISBN 978-0252029479
  55. ^ Arave, Lynn (30 September 2002). "Monument in S.L. erected in honor of black pioneer". Deseret Morning News. p. B3. Retrieved 30 June 2009.


Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

  • Elijah Abel Black LDS site
  • Mormon Central Catalogued LDS Church documentation and correspondence regarding blacks and the priesthood