Ever since the organization of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in 1835, its members had spoken of England. It was their responsibility, they knew, to carry the gospel abroad; England was the logical place to begin. Until the Kirtland difficulties of 1837, the Apostles had thought in terms of a quorum mission, one lead by quorum president Thomas B. Marsh.
With the Prophet Joseph Smith under attack in the spring of 1837, it seemed that none of the Twelve could go. Then, in June, the Lord revealed to Joseph Smith that it was necessary “for the salvation of the Church” to expand the work by preaching abroad.1 Heber Kimball, alone of the Apostles, it appeared, must lead a mission to England.
As he contemplated the prospect of heading the mission to England, Elder Kimball’s lack of education and leadership experience seemed to him crushing liabilities. “The idea of being appointed to such an important mission was almost more than I could bear up under,” he wrote later. “I truly felt my weakness and unworthiness.”2
But he would accept the will of the Lord. In the temple early in June, 1837, the Prophet told Elder Kimball that the Spirit whispered he “should gow to England to open the dore … [and] hed the same.”3 Daily, Elder Kimball retreated to the attic story of the temple and poured out his soul in prayer for the power to succeed.
Elder Kimball himself had pronounced a blessing one year earlier that foreshadowed this mission. Encouraging Elder Parley P. Pratt to depart for Canada in spite of debts and a sick wife, Elder Kimball laid hands on him and prophesied: “Brother Parley, thy wife shall be healed from this hour. … the Lord shall supply you with abundant means. … Thou shalt go to [Toronto] … and there find a people prepared … and from the things growing out of this mission, shall the fulness of the gospel spread into England, and cause a great work to be done in that land.”4
All that he had prophesied came to pass—or soon would come to pass. British-born Canadian converts, eager for relatives to hear the message of the Restoration, provided a vital link to England. And Joseph Fielding, a native of England who was living in Kirtland, would accompany Elder Kimball on this mission—as would Elder Orson Hyde. When Elder Kimball met with the First Presidency June 11 to be set apart, Elder Hyde stepped in. Begging forgiveness for having briefly been with those who were critical of the Prophet. Elder Hyde asked that, if the First Presidency deemed him worthy, he could accompany Elder Kimball to England. The First Presidency, Elder Kimball wrote in his diary, “dedicated me to the Lord—and Elder Hidee to be my companion.”5
On June 13, Elder Kimball, Orson Hyde, Joseph Fielding, and Heber’s friend Willard Richards left Kirtland for England. In New York, on June 22, Canadians Isaac Russell, John Goodson, and John Snyder joined them. The seven missionaries then booked passage for Liverpool on the Garrick, the pride of the famed E. K. Collins Line of fast Atlantic packets. Instead of the five- to six-week journey common for sailing ships, or even the thirty-one days of fast packets, the Garrick, blessed by good weather, crossed the Atlantic in just over eighteen days.6
In Liverpool, the seven missionaries spent the three days waiting for their trunks to clear customs “in prair and council.” As they pleaded for assistance and direction, Elder Kimball felt the power of God upon them and we “felt greatly strengthened.”7
But the elders did not preach in Liverpool. Preston, a crowded, grimy manufacturing city of forty-five thousand people, was their destination. Preston had long been a center of religious and social reform. Heber Kimball probably knew little about the city. But he believed that the Spirit had indicated that the Canadian mission was the key to spreading the work in England. Relatives of Joseph Fielding (including a minister and two sisters married to ministers) in and near Preston appeared to offer the best opening. Prayer confirmed that Preston was the place to begin.
The missionaries arrived there on Saturday, July 22, a “public day” or holiday before a Monday parliamentary election under the new queen, Victoria. Factory hands thronged the streets, bands played, and with banners flying, partisans marched. While the missionaries unloaded trunks from the coach, Elder Kimball looked up to see before him a large flag with the motto, in gilt letters: “Truth Will Prevail.” Taking it as a sign from heaven of good things to come, with one voice the elders responded, “Amen, and amen.”8
While crossing the ocean, Brother Fielding had prayed continually that the Lord would prepare his brother and other relatives to hear the gospel. Once the missionaries found lodgings, Joseph Fielding left to look for his brother, James Fielding.
Joseph had reason to be hopeful. Following their 1836 conversion by Elder Parley P. Pratt, he and his sisters had written to their English relatives about the Restoration.9 Though cautious, the response had been favorable. Like their Canadian kin, they actively sought religious light and wanted to know more about the message from America.
Joseph found his brother and returned with news that he wanted to see the missionaries. Accordingly, Elder Kimball, Elder Hyde, Elder Goodson, and Joseph Fielding spent Saturday evening with Reverend James Fielding. Upon hearing the message the missionaries had to deliver, James proposed to let the elders speak from his pulpit on Sunday afternoon. Joseph responded that they would not abuse the privilege but be cautious “so that he might judge of it before he repeated that favor and that his people might not be influenced to an undue degree at first.” Events soon showed that the minister himself, though perhaps inadvertently, had already prepared his congregation to be influenced greatly.10
After his morning sermon, Reverend Fielding announced that a Latter-day Saint elder would preach that afternoon. This excited great interest, Joseph wrote to his sister, for the minister had earlier read to his congregation their letters announcing the Restoration. The letters had had such an effect that some members of the congregation had petitioned the Lord “to send them the word by his Servants,” continued Joseph, that “thus you see as we say they prayed us here, no wonder that we should come.” Joseph Fielding’s brother had raised expectations not only among the Church members but “through the town, so that when the news was circulated that the Elders were come many were read[y] to hear.”11
As he faced the audience that afternoon, Elder Kimball declared that an angel had come with the fulness of the everlasting gospel. Calling on the people to repent, Elder Kimball urged them to prepare for the Lord’s coming and explained “the way for them to Enter Into his Rest.” Elder Hyde then bore testimony. “It seam to have a grat effect on the congr[eg]ation,” Elder Kimball wrote in his diary, and “they cride glory to God to think that the Lord, had sent his servent to them.”12
In a second meeting that Sunday, Elder Goodson preached and Joseph Fielding bore testimony. In closing, Reverend Fielding announced that his chapel would be open again Wednesday for the elders—though, thought Joseph, he “did not seem to receive our Testimony himself.” On Wednesday the chapel was once again full. Elder Hyde “had great liberty. … People paid the most profound attention,” noted Joseph Fielding. “The power of god rested down on the congr[eg]ation and manny [were] pricked to the heart.”13
As James Fielding saw the effect of the message on the members of his congregation, he wished he had not been so liberal. “The people began to believe more and more,” noted Joseph, which “made Bro James begin to fear” and “to object.” But it was too late. Though James now closed his chapel to the elders, private homes were opened to them throughout Preston. They preached at two or three places a night. Many believed and asked for baptism. The door the elders had prayed for was now open.14
The night before the first baptisms, the elders were harassed and tormented by evil spirits. Elder Russell’s companions knew that he had long been troubled by spirits. During the night, Elder Russell awoke Elder Kimball and Elder Hyde to ask for a blessing. The result was a dramatic confrontation with forces of darkness, a confrontation that expanded their understanding of the powers of the unseen world. “It seames that the devels ar determined to distroy us and prevent the truth from being declared in England,” Heber C. Kimball wrote in his diary. When the Prophet Joseph Smith later heard of it, he rejoiced, for he “knew that the work of God had taken root in that land.”15
Early on Sunday morning the elders assembled at the River Ribble to perform the first baptisms. George D. Watt raced to the water’s edge to become the first person in England baptized into the Church. Elizabeth Ann Walmsley, a frail consumptive woman who was not expected to live, was probably carried to the water last. Elder Kimball had promised that if she would repent and be baptized, she would be healed. She began to improve immediately, later emigrated to Utah, and died among the Saints at the age of eighty-two.16
Though they had been in Preston only a week, Elder Kimball judged that the time had come to extend their reach by dividing up. Monday, July 30, was a day of fasting, prayer, and council. The following day, Elder Russell and John Snyder left for Alston and Cumberland. Elder Richards and Elder Goodson went to Bedford. That left Elders Kimball and Hyde, and Joseph Fielding, a priest, to preach the message in Preston and its surrounding villages.17
In Bedford, as in Preston, the missionaries already had a place to begin. Married to Joseph Fielding’s sister Ann, Reverend Timothy Matthews had learned of the Restoration by letter. Though cautious lest she be deluded, Ann had written that she was looking for “a revival of primitive Power.”
James Fielding had cautioned his brother-in-law about the elders, but Reverend Matthews nonetheless “received them very cordially believed all their testimony and Exhorted his Church to believe.” Then, professing doubts, he failed to show for his scheduled baptism and instead sought another minister to immerse him and members of his congregation. After this “strange conduct,” even some parishioners who had not received the elders left him. Many, including his “best member” and, eventually, most of his congregation, came to accept the restored gospel.18 Timothy Matthews thus became the second of three ministers who were instrumental in opening important fields of labor and contributing a nucleus of Latter-day Saint converts from his flock.
Meanwhile, in Preston, the baptizing continued. One of those baptized was a minister’s daughter from a nearby village. After discussing the principles of the gospel with Elder Kimball at length, then hearing him preach twice, she requested baptism. Because she was returning home, Elder Kimball confirmed her on the river bank—the first confirmation in England. (Other confirmations were delayed until the following Sunday, August 4, in a meeting away from curious onlookers. It was the first sacrament meeting held in England.) This was Elder Kimball’s introduction to Janetta Richards, who, a year later, would marry bachelor Willard Richards.19 It was through Janetta that Elder Kimball met the third minister, and congregation, that would be of great importance to his mission.
Janetta left Preston encouraged by Elder Kimball’s words of inspiration that her minister father would be an instrument for introducing the message into her community. Elder Kimball prayed “that the Lord would suften hur farthers hard and not find folt with hur and that he would open his chapel for me to preach.” The following week, Elder Kimball received a letter from the Reverend John Richards of Walkerford requesting that Elder Kimball preach there the next Sunday.
Again, he was cordially received. In addition to preaching on Sunday, he preached in Reverend Richards’s church on Monday and Wednesday. “Then thare was dores open in prived housses,” he wrote, adding, “The Lord was with me on my right hand and on my left.” In two weeks he preached thirteen times, baptized eight people, and found “menny more that believed on [his] words.” Then, instructed in a vision that he was needed in Preston, he hurriedly departed.20 Here began Elder Kimball’s pattern of traveling into the country to preach, returning to Preston, then going back to the villages.
In Preston, calls to preach exceeded the missionaries’ ability to respond. Each day they taught and baptized. Joseph Fielding noted that the converts included “the best of [his] Brother’s members,” adding that “others of them are still coming.”21 As the pace of preaching and conversion quickened, Elder Kimball noted simply in his diary, the work “is roling in myty power to the convinsing [of] menny.”22
He stayed with Elder Hyde until the Spirit moved him to go again to Walkerford. When he arrived there in September, he found that the members, most of them young like Janetta Richards, were being persecuted by their own parents. Some were even driven from their homes. Fearing to lose both members and salary, John Richards closed his chapel, though he remained friendly. Elder Kimball found new places to preach and wrote that “dores open in every direction.” In mid-September, Elder Kimball learned that a “litle branch of 19” had been built up in Bedford; there were at least 90 members now living in Preston and its vicinity. He wrote:
“The worke of the Lord is going on in power in preston and other whares but the prees are criing folts prophets and fals teachers and this only sturis up the people more to come to hear us out of curiosity and menny are pricked to hart and brought in to the kingdom in this way so evry thing that they dow it works for the advancing the caus of Christ.”23
Daily, people came forward to be baptized. Elder Kimball continued his pattern of going out to the countryside—Yorkshire, Ribchester, Longridge, Walkerford—and then returning to Preston. “The Standard is planted in the Land and they can’t Root it up for it has become so powerful, and it is spreding,” he wrote to his wife. Doubts and fears about his own abilities by now had fled, as he wrote: “Love casts out fear. I feel firm in the Lord, I never enjoyed myself better than I do now.”24
The Preston Saints held sabbath meetings in the open air at first, but growing numbers and the approach of cold weather made such outside meetings increasingly less practical. In September the brethren made arrangements to hold meetings in the “Cock Pit,” a centrally located hall large enough for nearly eight hundred people. Once used as an arena for cock fighting, the hall had been fitted out as a meeting hall for temperance gatherings and preaching.
Nearly 150 members attended a special conference in Preston on October 8. The elders ordained several to the lesser priesthood, organized the members into five branches, and gave instruction. Each branch, it was decided, would hold its own prayer meetings on Thursday. On Sundays they would all assemble together in the Cock Pit for the sacrament and for instruction.
By October, Preston ministers, concerned about Latter-day Saint inroads, banded together in opposition. But the ministers’ warning that it was “sure deth” to hear the American elders preach, and that those who did would “surely be caut in the Snare,”25 actually helped fill the Cock Pit weekly, as the curious attended to see if the ministers’ charges were true. On this subject, Elder Kimball summarized the elders’ feelings: “The Lord has sed Evry wepon that is formed againt us should not prosper and this we have found to be fulfill in evry instance.” In Preston, with the aid of the priests, “we have baptized fifty in about eight days.”26
Though Elder Kimball’s diary records certain ailments, his ill health did not prevent him from preaching. In Preston, he noted, the Apostles had “ten cales whare we cant fill one.” But it was in the villages that Heber enjoyed his greatest success. He wrote to his wife about traveling on one journey to country towns a dozen miles from Preston because he had been asked to preach in them. Tired and weak from illness, he paused along the route for breath. He finally arrived and preached to the large congregation awaiting him. Two miles farther on, he preached again. At his next stop, even before the people had gathered to hear him speak, “five presented them Selves for baptism.” Before he left (after three sermons), he had baptized ten people—including two Methodist preachers. He baptized another nine people at Walkerford.27 He also felt constrained to visit a particular home “and they sed that they had been praying for me to come … and the Lord hurd thare prairs.” He stayed with them half a day and baptized six people.28 On another occasion he preached once and baptized twelve.
In his history, Elder Kimball summarized that during a four-week period he had baptized more than 100 and had helped build up churches in Eccleston, Wrightington, Askin, Exton, Daubers Lane, Chorly, Whittle, and Laland Moss. These villages all were convenient to Preston, so he remained close enough to aid Orson Hyde there. The next month he and Joseph Fielding (who had been ordained an elder at the end of October) traveled northeast of Preston and baptized people in Ribchester, Thomly, Soney Gate Lane, Waddington, Downham, and even at the large market town of Clitheroe.29
Although many people in the Preston region clearly were prepared for the message of the Restoration, not all of the missionaries proved as effective as Elder Kimball. The better educated and more polished Orson Hyde was extremely effective in Preston,30 but others struggled and were frequently discouraged.31 What made Heber Kimball so remarkably successful?
To sons in England serving as missionaries twenty-five years later, he wrote: “I was humble, knew nothing else but to trust in God alone … and his angels truly went with me.” His diary records promptings that guided him. In letters to his wife he rejoiced that “the Lord … warns me of almost every thing before hand,” and that he felt God’s hand both day and night, “teaching [him] the things of the kingdom both in dreams and in vissions.”32
His associates in the ministry also noted his spiritual power. Elder Fielding called him “mighty in tongues and in Prophesying” and “mighty in Faith and also in Preaching.”33 These gifts, combined with Elder Kimball’s homespun, common approach, proved especially effective. His personality was much like that of the unrefined, humble people with whom he worked. He identified with and was easily accepted by workman and villager. “The Lord appointed me to that work because I was willing to be the simplest,” he concluded later. Even as he called those he preached to higher things, he was one of them and one with them.
Brigham Young once described how Heber’s warm, comfortable way put people at ease so he could teach them. “Come, my friend, sit down,” he would invite, “do not be in a hurry.” Then he preached the gospel in “a plain, familiar manner” that made his hearers believe. He gently led them: “You see how plain the Gospel is?” At the right moment he put his arm around them and said, “Come, let us go down to the water.”34
Most of those who joined the Church in 1837 were common folk with very little material wealth. Orson Hyde noted that those baptized in Preston were mostly manufacturers and mechanics. Men and women of open hearts and strong faith, they were also extremely poor. But their hearts proved as full as their pockets were empty: “The brethren will frequently divide the last loaf with us, and will do all in their power for us,” Orson Hyde testified.35
On Christmas Day, Elder Kimball, Elder Hyde, and Elder Fielding presided over a general conference of all the Latter-day Saints in England. More than three hundred people—Preston Saints and representatives from branches throughout Lancashire—gathered in the Cock Pit. The Apostles blessed one hundred children, ordained priesthood officers, “and did much other bisness.”36
Because Elder Kimball and Elder Hyde planned to depart for America in early spring, the new year introduced their last season of preaching and baptizing. In addition, they had to organize and strengthen existing branches of the Church in preparation for their coming departure. With an eye to leaving Elder Fielding behind to preside, Elder Kimball took him this time as a companion on the village circuit to “Regulate the churches.”37
No visit pleased Elder Kimball more than their unusually long stay with “the little Branch” at Walkerford. Members there “have gone through much Persecution, but remain very firm,” recorded Elder Fielding. Crossing the frozen river as they traveled to their lodgings after a late-night meeting in Walkerford, Elder Kimball thought he had never felt better in his life. They paused on the ice for him to pray for the Walkerford Saints and “give glory to God for we felt as though all heaven was please with what we had don that night.”38
In addition to strengthening existing branches. “We could not fill the calls we had from day to day, for the work kept spreading,” Elder Kimball recalled later. From every direction came invitations and urgent pleas for the elders to preach.39
On a short mission to the country, Elder Kimball and Elder Hyde baptized more than a hundred people. At Longton, where Elder Hyde had earlier preached but no one had yet been baptized, they “preached once a peas [piece] and baptized ten.” The weather was so cold that they baptized in the sea because fresh water was frozen. The travel continued: village to village, village to Preston, and back. “We would baptize as many as fifty in Preston in a week,” Elder Kimball later remembered.40
But probably nothing Elder Kimball witnessed in England surpassed his experiences in the villages of Downham and Chatburn in March of that year. For thirty years, he had been told, ministers of several persuasions had attempted without success to establish churches there. Yet he felt that he and Elder Fielding should try.
Elder Kimball first baptized several in Downham. As he prepared to leave for an evening appointment in Clitheroe, a “very pressing invitation” reached him from Chatburn. So urgent was the plea that he finally sent Elder Fielding to Clitheroe and walked to Chatburn.
In Chatburn a large barn served as a meeting place. Elder Kimball sat himself in the center surrounded by villagers, and proceeded to speak. “My remarks were accompanied by the spirit of the Lord and were recieved with joy,” he noted. People represented as “obdurate, were melted down into tenderness and love … such a feeling I never saw before.” He then offered to administer the ordinances of the gospel. Into the night he continued, baptizing twenty-five people.41
“These towns seemed to be affected from one end to the other,” declared Elder Kimball of Chatburn and Downham. “The hearts of the people seemed to be broken.” As Elder Kimball and Elder Fielding prepared to leave the next morning, villagers lined the streets “weeping and looking after us.” Deeply moved, the Apostle “left his Blessing on them and the Whole place, walking with his hat off.” Even those who had not been baptized stood watching until the two missionaries were out of sight. During one week in the area they baptized eighty-three people.42
With only a couple of weeks left before they were to leave Preston for Liverpool and home, the two members of the Quorum of the Twelve announced a general conference for April 8. As word spread that they would be leaving, great numbers flocked to hear them preach. They also taught privately in Preston, “going from hous to hous calling upon all to Repent.” They witnessed the sick healed and baptized as many as twenty people in a day.43
On April 2, Elder Kimball, accompanied by Elder Fielding, walked to Chatburn and Downham for a last farewell. In Chatburn, the people left their work and flocked to the streets to greet them. Children followed them from place to place, singing. “Some of them said that if they could but touch us they seem better. They evidently believe there is Virtue in Brother Kimball’s Cloake,” Elder Fielding wrote. “Such gratitude I never witnessed before,” noted Elder Kimball.44
More than six hundred Latter-day Saints from Preston and the surrounding villages assembled in the Cock Pit the morning of Sunday, April 8, for a conference session that stretched through the afternoon. Elder Joseph Fielding, with Willard Richards and British convert William Clayton as counselors, was sustained to preside over the members of the Church in the British Isles. Elder Fielding felt overwhelmed, writing: “My heart is ready to sink at the Thought. … but I know that my Strength is in the Lord, and I intend to be faithful, if I die under it.”45
The two members of the Quorum of the Twelve delivered their farewell addresses at an evening service. They affirmed that after visiting their families, they hoped to return to England with others of their quorum. Then, immediately following the public meeting, the officers of the Church (nearly eighty had by now been ordained) met in a private home to be instructed. The council closed sometime after midnight, “in great Peace and love.”46
Though poor, the English members paid the passage to Liverpool for the two members of the Twelve and gave them a bit of spending money and some provisions for their sea voyage. At noon on 9 April 1838, thronged by well-wishers, many of whom offered tearful good-byes, Heber C. Kimball and Orson Hyde boarded the coach for Liverpool.
Only eight months earlier, Elder Kimball had been a stranger in a strange land. Now he had “hundreds of brethren”—to whom, he recalled later, “I was united in bonds the most endearing and sacred, and who loved me as their own souls.” The gospel message had reached thousands. Perhaps two thousand—most now organized into more than twenty branches, had accepted baptism.47 And, as Elder Heber C. Kimball humbly testified, the honor for teaching the gospel to so many did not belong to him. “I could not discover in all of this that it was me,” he wrote. “I know that it was an invisible power and that it was of God.”48