A Book of Mormons
by Richard S. Van Wagoner and Steven C. Walker

A

Elijah Abel was the first black elder; a personal friend of Joseph Smith; and builder on the Kirtland, Nauvoo, and Salt Lake temples. Photograph courtesy Harry PhillipsElijah Abel (1810-1884)
First Black Elder
Personal Friend of Joseph Smith
Builder on Kirtland, Nauvoo, and Salt Lake Temples

[p.2]Family Background
1810. July 25: Born in Washington County, Maryland. Married Mary Ann Adams; they had eight children.

First Black Elder
1836. March 3: Ordained an elder—the first black to hold priesthood office in the Church. At the time of his ordination, he was given a patriarchal blessing by Church Patriarch Joseph Smith, Sr.: “Thou has been ordained an Elder. … Thou shalt be made equal to thy brethren, and thy soul shall be white in eternity and thy robes glittering: thou shalt receive these blessings because of the covenants of thy fathers.”

First Black Seventy
1836. December 20: Ordained a member of the Third Quorum of Seventy in Kirtland, Ohio. His ordination was certified in Nauvoo. In 1902 President Joseph F. Smith recalled a seventies meeting held in Utah on March 4, 1879: “Bro Elijah Able [sic] gave an outline of his history and experiences during a period of forty years. Of his being in Kirtland. Of his appointment an[d] ordination as a Seventy, and a member of the 3rd Quorum. He related some of the saying[s] of the prophet Joseph who told him that those who were called to the Melchisadec [sic] Priesthood and had magnified that calling would be sealed up unto eternal life.”

First Black Missionary
1838. Listed as a “minister of the gospel” in an 1837 Messenger and Advocate, Abel served missions to Canada and New York in 1838, and another mission to Ohio shortly before his death.

His Canadian mission provoked concerns at a seventies conference in Quincy, Illinois, where Jedediah M. Grant “communicated to the council a short history of the [p.3]conduct of Elder Elijah Abel, and some of his teachings etc. such as … that in addition to threatening to knock down Elder Christopher Merkley on their passage up Lake Ontario, he publicly declared that the Elders in Kirtland made nothing of knocking down one another.”

Friend of Joseph Smith
While living in Joseph Smith’s Nauvoo home, he was given “the calling of an undertaker” by the Prophet.

When Joseph Smith was illegally detained by Missouri and Illinois lawmen near Quincy, Illinois, Abel and six others attempted unsuccessfully to rescue him.

Temple Builder
1841. A skilled carpenter, Abel and others formed a partnership called “The House Carpenters of the Town of Nauvoo.” He worked on the Kirtland, Nauvoo, and Salt Lake temples.

Missionary to Blacks
1843. Abel’s desire to engage in missionary work in Cincinnati, Ohio, presented special difficulties for a traveling high council comprised of Apostles John E. Page, Orson Pratt, Heber C. Kimball, and Lorenzo Snow. Despite their respect for “a coloured Bro.,” the brethren felt “wisdom forbids that we should introduce [him] before the public high council comprised of Apostles John E. Page, Orson Pratt, Heber C. Kimball, and Lorenzo Snow. Despite their respect for “a coloured Bro.,” the brethren felt “wisdom forbids that we should introduce [him] before the public … [but] Bro Abels [sic] was advised to visit the coloured population.”

Hotel Manager and Minstrel
After arriving in Salt Lake Valley with his family in 1853, Abel worked at many trades, including managing the Salt Lake Farnham Hotel. He also performed minstrel shows with his family while living in Ogden.

[p.4]Denied Sealing Privileges
1870s. Abel had received washings and anointings in the Kirtland Temple in 1836, before the complete endowment ceremonies had been established. Though he acted as proxy in baptisms for the dead in Nauvoo and Salt Lake City, Brigham Young denied his request to be sealed to his wife and family: that was a “privilege” he “could not grant,” a decision later reaffirmed by President John Taylor.

Death
1884. Died Christmas Day at the age of seventy-four, only two weeks after his return from a proselyting mission in Ohio, where he had become ill through exposure. He is buried in Salt Lake City Cemetery.

Sources
[p.417]Bringhurst, Newell G. “Elijah Abel and the Changing Status of Blacks within Mormonism.” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 12 (1979):22-36.
Bush, Lester E. “Mormonism’s Negro Doctrine: An Historical Overview.” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 8 (1973): 11-68.
Carter, Kate B. The Negro Pioneer. Salt Lake City: Daughters of the Utah Pioneers, 1965.
History of the Church, 4:365.
Jenson, Andrew. LDS Biographical Encyclopedia, 4 vols. Salt Lake City: Andrew Jenson Historical Company, 1901-1936.
Journal History, 20 December 1836, 2 January 1837, 1 June 1839.
Messenger and Advocate, 2:335.
Provo, Utah. Brigham Young University. Harold B. Lee Library. Adam S. Bennion Papers. “Council of Twelve Meeting Minutes,” 4 June 1879, 26 August 1908.
_____. John Nuttal, diary of August 1878-June 1879.
Salt Lake City. LDS Church Archives. A Record of All the Quorums of Seventy in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints 1859-1863.
_____. First Quorum of Seventies Minute Book, 6 June 1877.
_____. Book B. General Record of Seventies 1844-1847.
_____. Book B75:2955.  Index to Missionary Records:  1830-1970, 1883.
_____. Minutes of a Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints held in Cincinnati, 25 June 1843.
_____. Minutes of First Council of Seventy:  1859-1863, 5 March 1879.
_____. 6175, Part 1.  Missionalry Records:  1860-1906.  1883, p. 75.