by Martha Sonntag Bradley
and Mary Brown Firmage Woodward
The Huntington Sisters in Kirtland, 1836-38
“In Kirtland we enjoyed many very great blessings.”
—Presendia Lathrop Huntington (Buell Smith Kimball)
[p.51] William and Zina had worked hard to build up their Watertown farm and by 1836 were enjoying the fruits of their labors. They had never before experienced such prosperity when they decided to cast their fortunes with the Mormons.1 Fertile fields stretched in every direction from their comfortable rock farmhouse. A rugged wooden fence separated their farm—200 acres by then—from the next. In William’s own words, they had “two good barns, and other buildings; a large stock of cattle, horses, carriages, farming utensils.”2 Nevertheless, acting upon the counsel of Joseph Smith, Sr., and his brother John, in August 1836 they sold it all “for $3500 which was one thousand less than value,” William recorded stoically. “In two months time I disposed of my stock, produce, farming utensals, closed all my business and on the first of October 1836 I left My home, arrived at Sackett’s Harbor same day.”3
The unadorned simplicity with which William recounts these events is indicative of his character: intrepid and pragmatic. He and Zina had suffered privation and personal loss. Nine of their ten children had been [p.52] born in Watertown; William Dresser had been born in Burrville, New York; and three had died in Watertown. Both had lost parents and siblings and had struggled to reconcile themselves to the suffering woven into the fabric of their lives. The religious enthusiasm of the revivals was not a distraction or an entertainment but a serious pursuit to which they devoted the same energy and attention that William gave to their fields or Zina to her loom. While they listened attentively to the words of the preachers who paraded through Watertown, throwing up tents and putting on shows as captivating as any circus, or carefully studied tracts, the Huntingtons pondered the new religious messages that the ministers brought and measured them against their own spiritual desires. Although some of this appraisal was emotional, it was deeper than that. Only when Zina “felt” the messages they brought, would she decide for herself if they were right. For years before the first Mormon missionaries came into the area, the Huntingtons conducted this religious investigation based on scriptural as well as both emotional/social and rational/doctrinal criteria. By their own accounts, when they heard the story of Joseph Smith, they recognized the truth for which they had been seeking.
While it seems inevitable, in retrospect, that they would gather to Zion, it was not an easy decision. Zina and William had strong ties to their extended families. They had always lived with and around family members. In Zina’s case, though separated from them by 200 miles, she invested precious resources and even more precious time in maintaining contact through letters. The Huntington world was defined by a kinship network. They had helped build Watertown and were connected to its fields. Surely William and Zina must have recognized the temptation to cease their striving, to enjoy the hard-earned fruits of their labors, and to slip into old age in the comforts of an established place. Here they knew what was expected of them, where they fit. Here their place was secure, while a future with the Mormon Saints in an obscurely defined Zion in the West was unsettling at best, dangerous at worst.
Yet Jesus’ admonition to “sell that ye have … and give alms to the poor,” thereby proving his love (Luke 12:33), was the same counsel Joseph Smith, Sr., gave to William and Zina when he stayed with them in Watertown. We can only imagine Zina’s fervent prayers as she wrestled with the decision. Because she frequently described her solicitations of [p.53] deity for answers to even the most mundane concerns, it is certain she prayed long and hard on the matter. She had experienced the travail of birthing a new community and carving out a home in the wilderness. She knew what this move would demand on a personal level, and she was no longer young. Because Chancy had married Clarissa Bull in March 1831 and was established in his own home, it was unlikely he would join them. She might never see him or her grandchildren again. She would be leaving behind the graves of two daughters, a son, and a mother-in-law. She would be moving even farther away from the graves of her twin sister and her father. Dorcas was still alive. We can only imagine what an emotional price she had paid and might continue to pay with further isolation from her family.
Nevertheless, long dissatisfied with the condition of their spiritual lives, William and Zina unitedly embraced the change. Pulling them toward the future was a vision of Zion—saintly men and women newly baptized by the proper authority creating a community of righteousness and peace. What better place to finish rearing their children? And after a lifetime of anxiety, they had the promise of joining with the like-minded to do God’s work from a sanctuary where they would be safe from the influence of the world.
Having sold their real estate, large equipment, and livestock, they chose carefully what to take to Kirtland: household supplies, provisions for the journey, seeds to plant in a new garden, Zina’s loom, fabric for clothing, bedding, cooking utensils, musical instruments, and their precious books. Together they packed a lifetime into trunks, chests, boxes, and barrels. So the Huntingtons departed Watertown on 1 October 1836 as a party of six: fifty-two-year-old William, fifty-year-old Zina, eighteen- year-old William D., fifteen-year-old Zina Diantha, thirteen-year-old Oliver, and nine-year-old John.
(Presendia and Norman had arrived at the church’s Ohio headquarters four months earlier. Norman, while regarding Mormon claims with a skeptical eye, had sensed economic advantage and was perhaps drawn by adventure. They had taken six-year-old George, spent the winter of 1835-36 in Sackett’s Harbor, and departed for Kirtland in early June 1836 with Presendia six months pregnant. Dimick, Fanny, son Clark Allen, and daughter Margaret, born the previous 17 March, had accompa-[p.54]nied them. In Kirtland three days later, Norman had allowed Presendia to be baptized, but he himself had hesitated briefly before making the final commitment.)
Zina and William left just after dawn on a day with air so cool and crisp it could make one feel dizzy with autumn farewell. They traveled down roads they had made themselves—the lane that led to their house, the road that bordered their fields like a seam on a shirt. They passed neighbors and family, the barn in which they first worshipped, and the town they had helped establish. They journeyed beyond their landmarks. As Zina Diantha sat at the back of the wagon, she memorized the details of the landscape she was leaving forever. In later years, she would spin stories to her own daughter about the flowers that lined their walk, the streams that meandered across their meadows, the rich scene of a fertile earth, their happiness.
For William and Zina, this was a time of both spiritual hope and emotional stress. To John and Oliver, their trek was high adventure. To William D. and Zina Diantha, the move meant painful partings from friends, relatives, and familiar surroundings, but these older children were also sustained by the purpose which impelled their parents toward new beginnings.
They arrived at Sackett’s Harbor that same day and embarked with a group of Mormons led by Luke Johnson, Orson Pratt, and his young wife, Sarah Bates Pratt, a woman who had lived about twenty miles from the Huntingtons’ Watertown home.4 Their first effort to sail was thwarted by a horrific wind that drove the ship back. They waited out the storm for six long days. Much later, Oliver remembered the drama of the voyage. “The wind blowing a perfect gale,” he recalled. “We landed at Rochester the next morning before sunrise.” (William, in contrast, described the journey as taking several days.) Oliver found a cozy nook beneath the stairways on the upper deck. Although the raging wind was shifting the cargo below decks, he “felt all safe” in his “snug sleeping room, with trunks, chests, boxes and barrels piled high and deep around me.”5 The only problem was that he had neglected to inform the family of his find; and while he slept soundly, they searched the ship, believing he had fallen overboard. “Sorrow and sadness spread a mantle over the family,” he recalled. “I was mourned for as one dead, but for a short time, [p.55] for my nap being over and I awoke, made a loud outcry to get out of my confinement.”6
From Rochester, they boarded a canal boat to Buffalo. Canal boats were built to draw no more than four feet of water so that they could navigate the shallow canals, towed by horses or mules walking along a path on the bank. Typically the canal boat had a stable for animals, as well as a compartment for families or other passengers. Because of numerous locks along the way, progress was extremely slow, usually three miles an hour.
When the Huntingtons arrived in Buffalo, they searched for the nearest dock, then boarded a steamer to Fairport, Ohio, twelve miles from Kirtland. They sent their trunks and boxes “carrying all our best things” on ahead to Kirtland, but they never saw them again.7
From Fairport, they walked the twelve miles to Kirtland, reaching the city on 11 October. William reported, “We all walked the 12 miles with joy, rejoicing at the privilege of getting there no matter how; and O, what joy again came over every one of us as we came in sight of the Temple, as we were trudging along in a confused flock … [like the] tribes going up to Jerusalem to worship as anciently.”8
“The Lord’s own Temple!” William almost whispered in wonderment at the Saints’ new House of the Lord. We can only guess what emotion the others felt at the sight. They had given up most of their valued possessions to come to Kirtland, and the temple symbolized Mormonism’s strength and promise. The edifice was built in the center of town on the fork of a road opposite the Newell K. Whitney store. Enveloped thickly by trees and vegetation, it nevertheless dominated the landscape and proudly marked the land for the Mormon people. Undoubtedly that claim provoked local residents, reminding them of the challenge the increasing number of Mormons posed to their isolated rural village.
The Huntingtons had a happy reunion with Presendia and Norman, but Dimick and Fanny had already left four months earlier for Missouri, 700 miles farther west, designated as the new gathering place. It must have seemed that they had vanished into a void, far beyond the known frontier.
Presendia’s joy at seeing her mother was tempered by sorrow. She had given birth to her fourth child, Chancy D., on 8 September. Not quite a month later, he had died on 1 October. Zina postponed setting up [p.56] house while she cared for her grieving daughter, then living in rooms rented in Nancy Richardson’s house.
Joseph Smith designated Kirtland by revelation as a gathering place “for a little season” or as a way station to the new City of Zion in Missouri (LDS D&C 51:16, 64:21). By the fall of 1836, Kirtland had already played a prominent role in the formative period of the church. Here numerous revelations about church doctrine and administration had been given. Like the land the Huntingtons had left, the area of the Western Reserve on the northern edge of the Allegheny Plateau was heavily wooded. Legendary missionary and future apostle Parley P. Pratt wrote: “The forest-trees were of endless variety and of the tallest kinds. A thick growth of underbrush grew beneath, flowers of rare beauty blushed unseen, birds of varied plumage filled the air with their music, the air itself was fragrant and invigorating.”9
Pratt was one of four missionaries, sent by revelation to preach to the Native Americans on the western frontier in 1831. Stopping in Kirtland, they had found a fertile field in the congregation of Baptist preacher Sidney Rigdon, who espoused many Campbellite beliefs. When Joseph Smith and his wife Emma arrived in Kirtland with Sidney Rigdon and Edward Partridge during early February 1831, the Kirtland branch counted almost a hundred members. Among them were merchant Newel K. Whitney and his hospitable wife, Elizabeth Ann Whitney, who sheltered the Smiths for several weeks.
Initially, land was available from the Federal Land Bureau as part of nearly 4 million acres reserved in northeastern Ohio as a reward for those who had served during the Revolutionary War. But by the end of 1836, most of the land had been claimed, and a serious housing shortage forced newcomers to double up with Mormons who were already residents. When the Huntingtons arrived, the church had grown to 2,000 members, an ambitious temple had risen glistening on its hill, miraculous manifestations had accompanied its dedication earlier that year, and a Mormon newspaper, the Messenger and Advocate, proudly monitored the Saints’ efforts to build their holy community:
Our streets are continually thronged with teams loaded with wood, materials for building the ensuing season, provisions for the market, peo-[p.57]ple to trade, or parties of pleasure to view our stately and magnificent temple. Although our population is by no means as dense as in many villages, yet the number of new buildings erected the last season, those now in contemplation and under contract to build next season, together with our every day occurrences are evidence of more united exertion, more industry and more enterprise than we ever witnessed in so sparse a population so far from any navigable water and in this season of the year.10
Discouraged that their baggage had not arrived, William found forty acres of land a mile south of the temple with the help of the presiding brethren, paying $3,000 to Jacob Bump. They sealed the transaction informally but apparently without a contract. The farm included a good two-story house that was nearly finished. Norman Buell bought land from Uriah Powell soon afterwards.
Zina Baker Huntington struggled to keep house with no bedding, no kitchen utensils or supplies, and no furniture. With their scarce cash, they had bought a loom in the fall of 1836. Zina and Zina Diantha began weaving yards and yards of fabric for clothing, bedding, and towels. When spring came, they planted seeds in their kitchen garden, herbs skirting the foundation of the house, and sunflowers to mark the boundary between the garden and the fields beyond.
As members of a religious community, family members frequently broke their work routines for social activities. The line was blurred between the secular and the sacred in Kirtland, and the Saints joined together often and enthusiastically for both social and religious gatherings.
Because no member of the family kept a contemporary journal and Zina’s letters to her mother, if any, have not survived, we do not know the extent to which the Huntingtons participated in the social and ecclesiastical life of Kirtland. We know from later reminiscences by Oliver that Zina and Zina Diantha carded, spun, wove, and sewed, laboring hard from morning until late at night. The mother and daughter baked bread from corn meal and rye flour, which Oliver, remembering a boy’s appetite, later dubbed “‘Rye’n injun’ more sweet and healthful than fine wheat our flour bread.” “White flour bread” was a treat reserved for “Sundays and when visitors came.”11 He also recalled tapping syrup from their own maples.
Zina had been raised in the long shadow of the protestant work ethic [p.58] that defined idleness as a sin. The exigencies of the frontier economy made it requisite that women weave, spin, manufacture lace and soap, shoes and candles. It was also left to them to care for their households and families. The economy demanded such a division of labor because there was no other source for such goods and services. In a way, the frontier economy established a rough egalitarianism challenging long-established concepts of propriety. In the frontier family, women were just as indispensable as men. The frontier moved the Huntingtons into a changing world where the capabilities of women were tested and led to far-reaching results.
Little in the lives of this pioneering generation could remain static. The forces that pulled them with the dream of Zion would render much of their former lives obsolete. Yet despite the fertilizing ideas of the new church, much remained the same, including traditional ideas about the special sensitivity of women to religious stirrings and their responsibility to transmit spiritual values to their children.
Zina would have been familiar with the body of pervasive ideas about the proper sphere of women in nineteenth-century America. Perpetuated in “Lady’s” literature and prescriptive handbooks, these ideas detailed a woman’s responsibilities and limitations. The message was clear—women were to be above all else: pious, pure, domestic, and submissive.12 Zina’s experience in frontier communities would test these expectations and cause aberrations of them in each new situation, but clearly Zina knew what was expected of her as a mother, wife, and sister. Hers was a world of relationships and she made sure that those around her were well fed and clothed, disciplined, and taught about God.
Her son Oliver also remembered that Zina did not relax her moral and social vigilance because of their rough new surroundings, but taught them strict manners and a sense of right and wrong. “We children were not allowed to roam in the fields or play in the street on a Sunday,” he remembered. They would be “reproved if we met an old person and did not make a nice bow to him or her.”13
During the winter of 1836-37, when her work schedule permitted, Zina Diantha attended the school held for 135 students in the attic of the Kirtland temple. This school had begun the previous November 1835; and the Messenger and Advocate proudly reported the results of the trustees’ [p.59] examination in January: “Never did we witness greater progress in study in the same length of time and in so great a number of scholars.”14 By spring, younger students were attending grammar classes in local homes, while older students continued penmanship, arithmetic, English grammar, and geography in the temple. In the spring, the school was further divided into three sections: classical instruction in language, traditional educational subjects like English and geography, and a Juvenile Section for elementary students.15 Oliver, however, attended Evan Green’s school during the fall and winter of 1836-37.
William, Zina, and their children gathered with the Saints several times a week for religious instruction and worship. Religious meetings filled many of the functions of social life and community entertainment as well, providing meaning, a structure for activities, and a guiding set of assumptions about existence. William and Zina had jointly decided to cast their lot with the Mormons; however, some dynamics in the church worked against their partnership from that point on. Because William was ordained to the Mormon priesthood, he had the responsibility of attending meetings from which women were excluded and of performing duties assigned by his ecclesiastical leaders. Zina’s role as wife was to encourage her husband and enable him by taking on more domestic duties in his absence. Two weeks after the Huntingtons occupied their new home, on 7 October 1836 Hyrum Smith baptized John and Oliver. William D. was ordained an elder and, just before Christmas on 20 December 1836 when the Third Quorum of Seventies was organized, the presidency, Hazen Aldrich, Joseph Young, and Zebedee Coltrin, ordained William a seventy in the temple. According to Wilford Woodruff, William was one of twenty-seven.16 Even though Zina had been in Kirtland barely two months, she must have known that William would probably be called on a proselyting mission in the spring. Another Kirtland wife, Caroline Barnes Crosby, recorded sentiments that may have also crossed Zina’s mind: “Shortly after our arrival my husband was ordained to the office of an elder and chosen into the second quorum of seventies. I realized in some degree the immense responsibility of the office and besought the Lord for grace and wisdom to be given him that he might be able to magnify this high and holy calling.”17
The call did not come—perhaps because of their extreme poverty; [p.60] but William proved his faithfulness and was made a high councilor in the Kirtland Stake in the fall of 1837, and participated in numerous rituals including washings and anointings in the temple.18 William returned to Watertown in the fall of 1837 to visit their oldest son Chancy, who had chosen not to join the Saints, for what turned out to be the last time and possibly to make one final effort to convert him to the Mormon message.
Zina Diantha’s conviction that Joseph Smith’s message was true was absolute; her response to Mormonism intuitive rather than a reaction to his charisma. Years later she remembered when, as a young girl of fifteen, she first met the prophet on 10 November 1836.
On the 10, I saw the Prophet’s face for the first time. He was 6 feet, light auburn hair and a heavy nose, blue eyes. … When he was filled with the spirit of revelation or inspiration to talk to the saints his countenance would look clear and bright. … When warning the saints of approaching danger if we forsook the path of truth and right … it was truly affecting and any one that ever herd, I should think, could never forget.19
Zina Diantha’s faith became the defining element of her belief system through her long life. “He could not be a true prophet of God and only cry peace where there was danger,” she said. “Truth is no fiction and the Father of our spirits has a right to speak to his children [through his prophet].” Zina Diantha yearned for closeness to God; following Joseph’s leadership brought her that intimacy. Coupled with her belief in God was a conviction that revelation was continuing, thus rendering religion relevant to the lives of each new generation.
Zina Diantha found in the religious community of Kirtland women who would become central to her life—Eliza R. Snow, sisters Emily and Eliza Partridge, Mary Elizabeth Rollins Lightner, Louisa Beaman, and Emma Hale Smith, wife of the prophet. These strong women designed in large measure the role women would play in building the Mormon kingdom by how they responded to Joseph’s words, how they undertook the tasks of the building of their physical community, and perhaps most importantly in their exercise of spiritual gifts. Women and children in Kirtland moved through the spiritual domain as naturally as they walked through its streets. The line between the spiritual and the physical often seemed indistinguishable, as spiritual enthusiasms spread like wildfire. [p.61] Nancy Naomi Alexander Tracy remembered the Kirtland period as a time when “blessings were poured out. Solemn assemblies were called. Endowments were given. The Elders went from house to house, blessing the Saints and administering the Sacrament.”20 When the gates of heaven were opened to Joseph, a flood of new revelations burst forth.
The Huntington women were known for their spiritual sensitivity, and stories of their spiritual gifts became defining myths within their family. These stories, also told in public, were the richest, fullest experiences of their lives, just as the interior spiritual life that Zina Baker Huntington lived transformed her letters from housewifely reports to spiritual dramas. “In Kirtland we enjoyed many very great blessings, and often saw the power of God manifested,” Presendia reported.
On one occasion I saw angels clothed in white walking upon the temple. It was during one of our monthly fast meetings, when the saints were in the temple worshipping. A little girl came to my door and in wonder called me out, exclaiming, “The meeting is on the top of the house!” I went to the door, and there I saw on the temple angels clothed in white covering the roof from end to end. They seemed to be walking to and fro; they appeared and disappeared. The third time they appeared and disappeared before I realized that they were not mortal men. Each time in a moment they vanished, and their reappearance was the same. This was in broad daylight, in the afternoon. A number of the children in Kirtland saw the same.21
Presendia’s story reveals much about Kirtland’s religious ambience. It is significant, to begin with, that she immediately believed the girl’s story. Although the child did not identify the figures as angels, Presendia did on third sight of their disappearance. She did not question that angels existed, that they could appear and disappear, and that they could come to Ohio. There is also the suggestion that both Presendia and the child merited the heavenly vision because of their faithfulness. In fact, many children recounted similar experiences—speaking in tongues, seeing visions, and experiencing other spiritual promptings. Women recognized the spiritual sensitivity of children, seeing them as living closer to the veil dividing heaven and earth.
Most Saints looked forward to fast and testimony meetings in the [p.62] temple on the first Thursday of each month with what Oliver described as “hallowed anticipation.”22 Joseph Smith, Sr., usually opened the meeting with a greeting and prayer, then divided the temple’s main chamber into two or four separate rooms by dropping curtains which hung from wires fixed to the tops of the wooden columns and pulled from the side. Father Smith appointed a leader for each room, then quietly passed among them performing blessings and giving counsel. At one meeting, Zina Diantha heard a “whole invisible choir of angels singing; there seemed to be myriads of melodious voices, whose sweet and tuneful harmony filled the spacious building.”23 Presendia also recalls kneeling in prayer with the congregation, everyone praying aloud softly but without confusion.24 Her memory of the angelic voices reinforces Zina Diantha’s: They both heard from a corner of the room a “choir of angels singing most beautifully. They seemed to be united in singing some song of Zion, and their sweet harmony filled the temple of God.”25
Many recalled the force of the Spirit at other Thursday meetings. Once father Smith opened with a prayer which caused the power of God to rest “mightily upon the saints.”26 He prayed that the Lord would pour out “His spirit upon that meeting as He did at the day of Pentacost of old; that the spirit should fill the house as with a rushing mighty wind.”27 Many stood to speak in tongues, sing inspirational messages, or express personal revelations and prophecies. For Presendia and Zina Diantha, the moment was rich:
The Holy Ghost filled the house; and along in the afternoon a noise was heard. It was the sound of a mighty rushing wind. But at first the congregation was startled, not knowing what it was. To many it seemed as though the roof was all in flames. Father Smith exclaimed, “Is the house on fire?” A voice from the audience called, “Do you remember your prayer this morning, Father Smith?” Excitedly, and in good humor he slapped his hands over his head. Joseph’s father had said, “The spirit of God, like a mighty rushing wind!”28
Members of the congregation recognized this as more than coincidence and “rejoiced that God had manifested Himself in their behalf.”29 “These blessings cheered and rejoiced our hearts exceedingly,” echoed young Caroline Barnes Crosby. “I truly felt humble before the Lord. … They [p.63] led me to search into my own heart, to see if there was any sin concealed there, and if so, to repent, and ask God to make me clean, and pure, in very deed.”30 Wilford Woodruff, later fourth LDS church president, described another such meeting:
Spent this day in the house of the Lord in prayer and fasting with the congregation of the Saints. Much of power, gifts, and graces of the gospel was poured out upon us. Speaking and interpreting of tongues was manifest in the congregation one brother sung a lengthy song in tongues and sister Hide [Hyde] interpreted the same it was great and glorious much of it was respecting the fame of Joseph and his magnus works.31
In addition, on Sundays the assembly room of the temple filled with men, women, and children. Zina Diantha was a member of the Kirtland Choir, which rehearsed Sunday evenings under the direction of L. Carter and J. Crosby, Jr. On Monday evenings William met with the Third Quorum of Seventies to conduct business, receive instruction from quorum leaders, discuss doctrine, sing hymns, join in prayer, and “talk of the goodness and power of God.”32 William D. met with the elders quorum for similar instructional meetings.
The Saints also gathered in homes for frequent prayer meetings. Mary Fielding, in a letter to her sister Mercy Fielding Thompson, described how the power of God “melted” the hearts of the people in one meeting and “rested upon us in a remarkable manner.” She told how during this fast meeting many spoke in tongues, while others prophesied and interpreted. Some, she wrote, described this time as one of love and refreshing like none had known before. “Some of the sisters,” she continued, “while engaged in conversing in tongues their countenances beaming with joy, clasp[ed] each others hands and kissed in the most affectionate manner. They were describing in this way the love and felicity of the celestial world.”33
One of Zina Diantha and Presendia’s cousins visited the Huntingtons in 1837. The sisters’ stories of visits from angels, speaking in tongues, and ecstatic behavior startled her. Even though skeptical of her cousins’ honesty, she accompanied them to a meeting so she could see for herself. There a man rose and sang in tongues. Presendia later told how she stood and joined him, singing the identical words in tongues, “beginning and [p.64] ending each verse in perfect unison, without saying a word. It was just as though we had sung it together a thousand times.”34
Presendia and Zina Diantha were known among the Saints for their spiritual endowments and piety. Zina Diantha recalls: “The first time I ever sang in tongues after being baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, around me was a light as the blaze of a candle [and] I was surrounded by a heavenly influence.”35 One contemporary described her as having
as perfect a gift of interpretation of tongues as any person in the Church, for although her opportunities for education in language have been limited, and she is not a learned woman, yet she gives the interpretation of hymns, psalms, and sacred songs in the most musical and happy manner, without thought or hesitation. There is something divinely beautiful in thus rendering, by the gift of inspiration, words uttered in an unknown tongue.36
These gifts caused a joyous realignment within the family, with the special blessings of the daughters setting the standard of family spirituality. William, Zina, and Dimick have not left contemporary accounts of how they appraised this change of their lives, but young Oliver has. “In them days we were humble and prayed every chance we had and for everything we wanted. We were full of pious notions, but our piety began to be a little different from the old way,”37 he wrote. “I used to delight in religious conversation in and among the family; and we finally obtained the gift of tongues, all of us, and Zina the gift of Interpretations, and we all became exceedingly happy even in the midst of our scarcities and deprivations.” Despite economic want, Oliver never heard his parents doubt the church or Joseph’s message, “neither was the faith of any one lessened; but as the work of God, all was joy and content and satisfaction.” Oliver’s words tell us as much about his respect for his parents as about his own new set of values: “They bore everything that came upon them as saints worthy of the reward laid up for those that do not murmur; and worthy are they, and from my mouth shall they ever be blessed.”
Throughout their lives, Zina Diantha and Presendia explained these sometimes intense scenes of religious drama as manifestations of the Spirit—tangible evidence of the presence of the living God. However, [p.65] these experiences were not emotional free-for-alls. Assumptions and codes about what was appropriate and authentic religious behavior and what was not set their boundaries. Joseph Smith himself had defined true spiritual gifts—wisdom, knowledge, healing and other miracles, prophecy, discerning of spirits, and the gift of tongues and interpretation of tongues. He warned against exaggerated or outlandish behavior and dictated a revelation from Jesus Christ: “Behold, verily I say unto you, that there are many spirits which are false spirits, which have gone forth in the earth, deceiving the world. And also Satan hath sought to deceive you, that he might overthrow you” (LDS D&C 50:2-1).
Like other Saints, Zina Diantha loved to hear Joseph teach. Instead of giving lengthy sermons, he sometimes admonished listeners to live better lives. Frequently he would open the scriptures, select a verse, chapter, or principle, and explain it in words they could comprehend. Frightening sermons evoking the pains of hellfire were not part of his repertoire. Instead, he would focus on a principle, showing how adherence to it fulfilled and blessed their lives. They felt a pleasing spirit as Joseph illuminated their minds. For Zina Diantha, it must have been a fulfillment of the apostle Paul’s description to the Galatians of the fruit of the Spirit: “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness [and] temperance” (Gal. 5:22-23). Avoiding both the somberness of ascetic privation and the extravagance of religious hysteria, Zina Diantha identified this soul-filling, joyous tranquillity and comfort as the hallmark of the Spirit’s presence.
When the Huntingtons came to Kirtland, they joined others in creating a godly community dedicated to the Lord, a concept that imbued all they did with heightened meaning. Theirs was to be an orderly universe with predictable rules governing behavior, respectful of the laws of the land and responsible for teaching the gospel. Consistent with their New England congregationalist heritage, the Huntingtons and all Mormons were to seek education—good books, history, geography, languages, and other subjects. This obligation for learning and service was to extend to their neighbors, including the poor and needy. All talents given to them by God were to be consecrated to the building of the kingdom of God on the earth. To this end, Joseph created a hierarchy of priesthood officers, [p.66] calling and ordaining bishops, counselors, presidencies, patriarchs, high councils, seventies, and apostles.
On occasion Joseph addressed the idea of community. While his vision of the good society reflected issues central to other radical utopian movements, it was also idealistic in unique and intriguing ways. So were his experiments with communalism—specifically the “law of consecration and stewardship,” his millennial vision, and finally the doctrine of plural marriage, all teachings intended to create a new society of enlightened men and women. Joseph’s ideas blended the old and new, the radical and traditional. In Kirtland the Saints attempted to build not only a physical community, but a spiritual community of ideas and interrelationships.
Most of the prophet’s teachings, including celestial marriage, were already in the formative stages in Kirtland.38 The events of this period speak of Joseph’s intensifying exploration of marriage, sexual relations, and family, ideas later articulated in what is now Doctrine and Covenants section 132. As Smith began an ambitious revision of the Bible as early as the summer of 1830, he sought revelation on the matter of plural marriages among Old Testament prophets and began to discuss with his most trusted confidants the relationship between a plurality of wives and community building. Apostle Orson Pratt later quoted fellow apostle Lyman E. Johnson as saying, “Joseph had made known to him [Johnson] as early as 1831 that plural marriage was a correct principle,” but, he said, “the time had not yet come to teach and practice it.”39 According to Mary Elizabeth Rollins Lightner, a later plural wife of Joseph Smith, the prophet told her in 1831, when she was twelve years old, that she would become his wife. He “told me about his great vision concerning me. He said I was the first woman God commanded him to take as a plural wife.”40
Coupling the concept of eternal union with plural marriage may have made this departure from traditional marriage easier to accept. On 26 May 1835, for example, one faithful Saint wrote to his wife: “If you and I continue faithful to the end we are certain to be one in the Lord throughout eternity; this is one of the most glorious consolations we can have in the flesh.”41
A second precursor to the developing concept of plural marriage was [p.67] Smith’s growing belief in a literal kingdom of God. Loyalty to this theocratic idea justified a disregard for the rules and ceremonies performed by civil or other ecclesiastical agencies. Smith refused to recognize the legitimacy of baptisms performed in other churches and taught that the only authentic ordinances were those performed by priesthood holders in the restored church. He and Sidney Rigdon, first counselor in the First Presidency, organized on 8 March 1831, both set aside civil marriages and performed religious ceremonies for which they claimed validity. It is likely that Zina Diantha witnessed several of these ceremonies. Joseph even recorded the form of the ceremony: “The ceremony was original with me,” he wrote of a wedding he performed. “In substance as follows—You covenant to be each other’s companions through life, and discharge the duties of husband and wife in every respect, to which they assented. I then pronounced upon them the blessings that the Lord conferred upon Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden, that is, to multiply and replenish the earth, with the addition of long life and prosperity.”42 Smith asserted his right to perform marriages: “I have done it by the authority of the holy Priesthood, and the Gentile law has no power to call me to an account for it.”43
Although spiritual pursuits were primary to the Huntingtons, kingdom building did not play out in a vacuum, and the season of spiritual feasting was brief. Pressures on Kirtland were all too temporal. In December 1837, Joseph, speaking at a conference, explained problems caused by the unplanned gathering of the Saints to Kirtland:
Whereas the Church in this place being poor from the beginning, having had to pay an extraordinary price for their lands, provisions, etc; and having a serious burthen imposed upon them by comers and goers, from most parts of the world, and in assisting traveling Elders and [their] families, while they themselves have been laboring in the vineyard of the Lord, to preach the Gospel; and also having suffered great loss in endeavoring to benefit Zion, it has. … become a serious matter. … A stop [must be] put to churches or families gathering or moving to this place, without their first coming or sending their wise men to prepare a place for them, as our houses are all full, and our lands mostly occupied, except those houses that do not belong to the Church, which cannot be obtained without great sacrifice, especially when brethren with their families are crowding in [p.68] upon us, and are compelled to purchase at any rate, and consequently are thrown into the hands of speculators, and extortioners, with which course the Lord is not well pleased.44
As was true for much of the land of the Western Reserve, Kirtland’s inflationary economy was built on speculation. Building lots had jumped in price in a matter of a few years from $50 to $2,000 an acre. Members of the church had incurred heavy debts to non-LDS lenders in the effort to build private as well as community holdings. They had constructed a steam sawmill, tannery, print shop, and the temple largely on credit. Joseph Smith himself went heavily into debt to purchase land and merchandise. During 1837-38, members of the church, along with other western settlers, felt the strains of a national agricultural depression.
Due partly to economic pressures, but also because they could not secure loans from banks in the area, Joseph directed that the church create its own banking unit—the Kirtland Safety Society—in January 1837. He sent Apostle Orson Hyde to Columbus, Ohio, with a petition to the state legislature for an act of incorporation and Oliver Cowdery to Philadelphia to purchase plates for printing currency.
The anti-banking wing of the Democratic Party, then in control of the Ohio legislature, rejected the Mormon petition on the grounds that too many new banks had recently begun. The church responded by organizing the bank as a joint stock company that could legally issue notes and take in money. From the beginning, opponents of the plan questioned its legality; and within three weeks, the United States government ordered it to stop redeeming notes in gold coin, a signal that the enterprise was doomed. This regulation, on top of the growing effects of the depression, splintered Kirtland’s economy. Many blamed Joseph Smith when the bank closed its doors in November 1837, and Kirtland’s continued existence as an economically viable Mormon settlement was put into serious jeopardy.
William Huntington, whose labor had provided a living that was beginning to be comfortable, had faithfully invested his scanty savings in the new bank and, like others, lost it all. “We expected to become poor,” Oliver lamented. “But not quite so quick.”45 In the wake of the banking crisis, Kirtland became a refugee camp. Many, left with virtually [p.69] nothing to support their families, struggled to survive. Oliver described the anguish of discouraged parents: “It was a torment to each, to see the other in want and still more to see their children cry for bread and have none to give them nor know where the next was coming from.”46 Even those who had money could find few provisions in town to buy. Most of Kirtland’s non-Mormons refused to sell provisions to the Mormon people.
Fourteen-year-old Oliver and his younger brother John recalled their simple faith: “Though small, [we] felt for them [their parents] as much as our age would and could be expected; we often would kneel beside each other in the woods, and in the barn, daily, and pray to God to have mercy and bless father and mother, that they should not want nor see us want for bread. We used to pray three times a day as regularly as Daniel, and often more than three times.”47 Zina and William often went without so that their children could eat.
Jacob Bump, who had lost his faith as well as his money, reneged on the mortgage he held on William’s land. Oliver recalled that the mortgage
was in the hands of Brother Bump and we thought all the brethren were honest then, for we did not think that some had come in for the loaves and the fishes; in fact never once thought of the possibility of a Mormon being dishonest or ever denying the faith. One year had not rolled away and brother Bump had denied the faith and refused to lift the mortgage, and father could not, having bestowed all his surplus money upon the bank and the poor, so when the bank broke we were broken and as poor as the best of the Mormons.48
The Huntingtons’ trust thus exploited, it is nonetheless unclear if Bump’s unfaithfulness or dishonesty was to blame. Brigham Young remembered Bump as an apostate and troublemaker, and recalled Bump’s objections to Young’s support of Joseph Smith: “Jacob Bump was so exasperated that he could not be still. Some of the brethren near him put their hands on him, and requested him to be quiet, but he writhed and twisted his arms and body saying, ‘How can I keep my hands off that man?’ I told him if he thought it would give him any relief he might lay them on.”49
Oliver’s melancholy reminiscence continues:
[p.70] We all worked hard, and had to live for that spring  was the hardest time we, as a family ever seen, or ever have for provisions and stuff to save life. That spring was a general time of severity of all kinds of eatables; and it was the more with us in consequence of having but a short time before come from a farm of everything, and had spent all our money, and did not know how to beg, neither wanted to know.50
According to William, this was the final blow. “In conciquence of a mortgage which was on the farm I boat [bought] of Jacob Bump who failed in property or in conciquence of his becoming a dissipated dishonest Decentor I lost my land which Cost me three thousand dollars. In this situation I was suddenly reduced to a state of poverty.”51 Oliver noted the irony of William’s turn of fortune. “My poor old father who but six months ago was in affluent circumstances, and surrounded with everything to make him comfortable and render life desirable that a farm of upwards of 230 acres, a good stone house and comforts and conveniences, in six months he was brought to live by days works, and that but very poorly, still my mother was the same angelic mother and the same wife.”52
The Huntingtons had come to Kirtland to join the flood of pentecostal drama, visions, spiritual gifts, and revelations. The people had sacrificed to build the temple, to clear their fields, and erect frame houses, but now found it difficult to get along together. Living peaceably in the kingdom was apparently more complicated than building it. Dissension racked the Saints, accompanied by great poverty and bitter apostasy. “There are persons in this place whose manners are good and who know and practice the rules of politeness,” Hepzibah Richards wrote to her sister Rhoda; “but in general there is so little refinement that those who bring any with them must be constantly on their guard not to adopt the manners of this people so far as to lose it all. I have heard the inhabitants speak of persons having lost their refinement by living with them.”53
During the disaffection that followed the closing of the bank, an increasing number of Mormons became openly critical of church policies and practices. Early in 1838 Oliver Cowdery, who had been closely associated with Joseph during the organization of the church, joined other dissenters in expressing disdain for those who still believed. Desdemona [p.71] W. Fullmer remembered: “During that time a greater number of members turned against the Church. Oliver Coddery [Cowdery] with others would say to me, are you such a fool as to go to hear Joseph the fallen Prophet. I said the Lord convinced me that he was a true profit [sic] and he has not told me that he is fallen yet.”54 Cowdery was excommunicated on 12 October 1838 in Far West, Missouri.
John Smith described this critical time as “a pruning” in a January 1838 letter, when between 200 and 300 members apostatized, about 10 percent of Kirtland’s Saints.55 Widespread persecution made the Mormons fearful of their safety, wondering what would happen next. An informal economic boycott made the purchase of grain and supplies almost impossible. According to Caroline Crosby,
Times became very hard. … It seemed that our enemies were determined to drive us away if they could possibly, by starving us. None of the business men would employ a mormon scarcely, on any conditions. And our prophet was continually harassed with vexatious lawsuits. Besides the great [apostasy] in the church, added a [double] portion of distress and suffering to those who wished to abide in the faith, and keep the commandments.56
Oliver Huntington was confused by the persecutions. “It was the life and glory of the apostates to hatch up vexatious lawsuits and strip the brethren of their property and means of removing,” he wrote. “It seemed as though all power was given them to torment the saints. The real Mormons were designated by the appelation of Lick skillets, and every Lick skillet had to suffer; the princip[al] ones left were hunted like rab[b]its and foxes who sculk and hide in holes, and so did they.” Kirtland’s remaining faithful cooperated in their efforts to dodge persecution. “Numbers lay concealed in our house day after day, until their families could be got out of the place, one after another would come and go until we had served a variety with the best we had, and was glad of the privilege of showing favor to the righteous … and even the mummies [artifacts purchased from a traveling lecturer] were secreted there to keep them from being destroyed.”57
Not unexpectedly, especially as a poignant symbol of the church’s unity, theology, and truth claims, the temple became a focal point of [p.72] efforts to drive the Mormons out of Kirtland. Oliver later described the violence that occurred during Sunday meetings there.
I remember one Sunday of seeing men jumping out of the windows, I ran to see what the fuss was, and found the apostates had tried to make a real muss, as they had frequently tried before, but on this occasion I saw a dagger, the door keeper held, that was wrenched from one of their hands whilst making his way to the stand. I heard the women scream and saw the men jump out of the windows, them that had chickens hearts, and I shall always remember the sensation that came over me.58
On 16 January 1838, someone set fire to the schoolhouse and printing office. The temple and other nearby buildings were also damaged. Four months later a bunch of straw was thrown through a window of the temple in another attempt to destroy it.
When Joseph Smith and his companions left Kirtland in January 1838 for Missouri, they did so to escape mob violence.59 There he attempted to dissipate hostilities among locals and Mormon settlers, including Dimick and Fanny Huntington who had begun to “establish Zion” after leaving New York two years earlier. Each time Joseph returned to Kirtland that year, it was to an increasingly chaotic situation. Economic trouble, rumors of plural marriage, and schism among both members and leaders created social and ecclesiastical instability. Some attempted to replace Joseph as the head of the church. Hepzibah Richards, sister of Apostle Willard Richards, wrote to friends, telling them how anxious she was to leave Kirtland’s troubles behind. “I care not how soon I am away from this place. I have been wading in a sea of tribulation ever since I came here. For the Last three months we as a people have been tempest tossed; and at times the waves have well nigh overwhelmed us.”60
Although some interpreted Joseph’s removal as an attempt to escape the Saints’ troubles, he made some effort to clear outstanding accounts. For the Huntingtons, knowing that Dimick, Fanny, and their children were already in Missouri, the pull was strong. Norman and Presendia— pregnant with daughter Adaline Elizabeth—left with eight-year-old George on 22 January 1838, accompanied by Levi Richards, Lorenzo Young, and their families. Fleeing the wrath of an angry mob, uncertain of what lay ahead, the group traveled on snowy roads for sixty miles be-[p.73]fore resting. Ahead were Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon who had left a few days earlier. In Joseph’s words, “Elder Rigdon and myself were abliged [sic] to flee from its [Kirtland] deadly influence, as did the Apostles and Prophets of old, and as Jesus said, ‘when they persecute you in one city, flee to another.’”61 Presendia’s and Norman’s party arrived in the sparsely settled town of Far West on 2 March 1838.
Four days later, the seventies quorums met in the Kirtland temple to organize the Kirtland Camp, a mass migration of the faithful to Missouri, which Joseph Smith had previously announced as the permanent location of the City of Zion (LDS D&C 57). Over the next two weeks, seven such meetings were held. The seventies, under the direction of Joseph Smith’s brother Hyrum, prepared a camp constitution—a set of rules and regulations governing all relationships and policies during the migration. Under the constitution, tent-men (supervisors over groups of men) were to insure good order and obedience. Setting a precedent for the Saints’ western migration a decade later, the group divided into companies of tens, each presided over by a captain.
Their planning was impeded by continued harassment from Mormon dissenters and critics. Debtors trying to collect monies owed them further hampered the Saints. And mob action continued unabated. Still, after nearly four months of preparation and anticipation, the plan went into action and the Kirtland Camp left on 6 July 1838. The exodus included everyone who was still loyal to Joseph Smith, including the poor. By the time camp members arrived in Missouri, the Huntingtons—Zina and William, and their children, William, now twenty, seventeen-year-old Zina, fifteen-year-old Oliver, and eleven-year-old John—would have already established their own camp in the tiny Mormon enclave of Adam-ondi-Ahman.
17. Caroline Barnes Crosby, qtd. in Kenneth W. Godfrey, Audrey M. Godfrey, and Jill Mulvay Derr, eds., Women’s Voices: An Untold History of the Latter-day Saints (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1982), 48.
18. Jenson, LDS Biographical Encyclopedia (Salt Lake City: Andrew Jenson Memorial Association, 1936), 1:369. Ceremonial washings, anointings, and sealings were first administered in the Kirtland temple beginning in January 1837. These ordinances were patterned after Old and New Testament examples. See Lev. 8; Mark 6:13; Luke 4:18, 7:38, 7:44; John 13:1-16; 1 Tim. 5:10; James 5:14. Additional temple rituals were added in Nauvoo, Illinois, beginning in 1842.
39. Orson Pratt, “Report of Elders Orson Pratt and Joseph F. Smith,” Latter-day Saints Millennial Star 40 (16 December 1878): 788. Initially Joseph appeared to publicly endorse strict monogamy by announcing a revelation dated March 1831: “Whoso forbiddeth to marry is not ordained of God, for marriage is ordained of God unto man. Wherefore, it is lawful that he should have one wife, and they twain shall be one flesh, and all this that the earth might answer the end of its creation; and that the world might be filled with the measure of man, according to his creation before the world was made” (LDS D&C 49:15-17).
42. Joseph Smith, Jr., et al., History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, edited by B. H. Roberts (Salt Lake City: Deseret News Press, 6 vols. published 1902-12, Vol. 7 published 1932; reprinted by Deseret Book Co., 1976, paperback issue, 1978), 2:320.
43. Newell Knight, “Sketch,” 6, LDS Church Archives. On 20 January 1836, Joseph married John F. Boynton and Susan Lowell. After a prayer and song, he read the language of the marriage document which granted a minister the privilege of solemnizing the rights of matrimony. He reminded the couple of the ancient order of marriage, then enunciated the blessings of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob upon them. In Joseph’s words, “I doubt whether the pages of history can boast of a more splendid and innocent wedding and feast than this, for it was conducted after the order of heaven, which has a time for all things.” History of the Church, 2:377-78.