Grampa Bill's General Authority Pages
Newel K. Whitney Newel K. (Kimball) Whitney

1795 - 1850

  • Born 1795 Marlborough, Vermont
  • Married Elizabeth Ann Smith 1820; later practiced plural marriage; fourteen known children
  • Baptized 1830
  • Called as Bishop in Kirtland 1831
  • Appointed Bishop of Nauvoo 1839
  • Member of the Council of Fifty 1844
  • Sustained as First Bishop and Trustee in Trust of the Church 1844
  • Sustained as Presiding Bishop of the Church 1847
  • Died 1850 Salt Lake City, Utah

    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 Whitney.
     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 on land.

    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 together.

    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 June.

    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 earlier.

    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 man."

    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.

    Andrew Jenson, LDS Biographical Encyclopedia, Vol. 1, p.222
    Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Vol.4, Appendix 1
    Lyndon W. Cook, The Revelations of the Prophet Joseph Smith, page 102
    2005 Church Almanac, p.93

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