Vinson Knight (March 14, 1804 – July 31, 1842) was an early leader in the Latter Day Saint movement. He served as a counselor in the Bishopric in Kirtland, Ohio from 1835 to 1838, then as Bishop in Adam-ondi-Ahman in Daviess County, Missouri from 1838 to 1839, and finally as Bishop of the Lower Ward in Nauvoo, Illinois, having been called by revelation in the Doctrine and Covenants through the Prophet Joseph Smith, Jr. to that office in January 1841. Knight served as Bishop in Nauvoo until his sudden death at age 38.
Knight was born March 14, 1804 in Norwich, Hampshire County, Massachusetts to Doctor Rodolphus Knight and Rizpah Lee (daughter of American Revolutionary War Captain Sherebiah Lee). Following his father's death when he was just 5 years old, his mother moved the family to upstate New York. Here Knight married Martha McBride, daughter of itinerant pre-Campbellite minister Daniel McBride and Abigail Mead, on July 26, 1826. They initially resided near Martha's relatives in Perrysburg, New York, where their first 4 children (Almira Knight, born 1827; Rizpah Knight, born 1829; Adaline Knight, born 1831; James Vinson Knight, born 1833) were born. Here Knight acquired considerable wealth from his farm produce.
Starting in 1833, members of the McBride family began converting to the Latter Day Saint church. Vinson and Martha were baptized into the church soon thereafter, on March 24, 1834, after having been personally taught in their home by church founder Joseph Smith, Jr.
Kirtland and Missouri period
In June 1835 Knight moved his family to Kirtland, Ohio to gather with other Latter Day Saints. They resided in a fine home on the corner of Coudry and Joseph Streets near the Kirtland Temple (this home is still standing). Knight was called as a counselor in the Kirtland bishopric. Vinson and Martha received their patriarchal blessings on June 24, 1835 at the hands of Joseph Smith, Sr. Martha gave birth to one son in Kirtland, Nathaniel Knight, in 1835 (for whom the name was selected by Joseph Smith, Sr.); he died on October 31, 1836. On January 2, 1837 Vinson and Martha signed the new Articles of Agreement of the Kirtland Safety Society.
In September 1837, Knight left for Missouri with Joseph Smith, Jr., being gone for 2 months. Deep apostasy and persecution took hold in Kirtland during that period. The Knight family moved with other faithful Latter Day Saints in the spring of 1838 to Missouri, arriving at the end of May 1838 at Far West, Caldwell County, Missouri, Missouri. They settled in Adam-ondi-Ahman in Daviess County, Missouri where Knight was appointed Bishop on June 28, 1838. Very quickly persecution again descended upon the Knight family and others. Within a very brief period, Knight and his family, suffering greatly, were driven from their home by a mob. Knight later executed an affidavit in October 1839 itemizing a bill of damages against the State of Missouri for $10,000 in compensation for property lost and expenses incurred during the expulsion—one of the largest claims made by a Latter-day Saint family for damages suffered in Missouri.
Forced to flee Missouri following Governor Bogg’s Extermination Order, Knight and his family found refuge with some friends in Pike County, Missouri near the Mississippi River, where Martha gave birth to Martha Abigail Knight on February 9, 1839.
In April 1839 Knight traveled to Iowa to purchase land on which the suffering Saints could settle. He and his family moved to Commerce (later Nauvoo), Hancock County, Illinois. Here, on land that Knight helped select, he constructed a sturdy two-storey red brick home on Main Street, said to be the first brick house in Nauvoo, on the same block as the homes of Brigham Young and John Taylor (this home is still standing).
In Nauvoo Knight was actively involved in community and religious affairs. Soon after arriving in Nauvoo, Knight was designated aide-de-camp to Joseph Smith in the Nauvoo Legion. In January 1841 he was called as Bishop of the Lower Ward in Nauvoo. He also served as a member of the first Nauvoo city council and as Regent of the University of the City of Nauvoo. During the April 1841 General Conference, apostle Ezra T. Benson stayed with the Knight family.
Knight's wife Martha was equally involved in the key events of Nauvoo. She was a founding member of the Relief Society, being present at the organization meeting on March 17, 1842 in Nauvoo, which also happened to be her 37th birthday. Martha was purportedly told by Joseph Smith that she was the first woman to give her consent for her husband to enter into plural marriage. The story is told that Martha knew something was worrying her husband and he couldn’t seem to tell her about it. One evening as Martha was sitting in the grape arbor behind the house, Vinson returned home carrying a basket. He explained to Martha that he had taken some fruit and vegetables to Philindia Clark Eldredge Merrick (Myrick), widow of Levi N. Merrick, whose husband had been killed in the Haun's Mill Massacre. Vinson explained to Martha that he had been told to enter plural marriage and that, if he had to, this Sister Merrick would be the one he could help best. Martha’s reply is said to have been, "Is that all?" Philindia Merrick was also a founding member of the Relief Society.
Death and legacy
Just when he was increasingly involved in the affairs of Nauvoo, Knight suddenly took ill and died on July 31, 1842 in Nauvoo. Joseph Smith preached at the funeral, stating that Knight was the "best friend he ever had on earth." One month later, on September 3, 1842, Martha lost her and Vinson's youngest child, Rodolphus Elderkin Knight, who was less than one year old. Shortly before or after Knight's sudden death, Martha was sealed to Joseph Smith. After Smith's death, she was sealed to Heber C. Kimball.
Possible first Presiding Bishop
According to Orson Pratt and John Taylor, Knight was the first Presiding Bishop of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church). However, today the LDS Church does not include Knight in its list of church Presiding Bishops; Edward Partridge is recognized by the LDS Church as the first Presiding Bishop.
- D&C 124:74, 141
- Belnap Family Organization: Histories and Documents: Rodolphus Knight (1768-1809)
- Belnap Family Organization: Histories and Documents: Rizpah Lee (1774-1853)
- Belnap Family Organization: Histories and Documents: Daniel McBride (1766-1823)
- Belnap Family Organization: Histories and Documents: Abigail Mead (1770-1854)
- Quinn, D. Michael (December 1973), "I Have Question", Ensign: 32