Remembering Hiram, Ohio


Restoration of the John Johnson home focuses our attention on the watershed events that took place when Church headquarters was in Hiram, Ohio.

In 1818, John and Alice (known as Elsa) Johnson came to Hiram, Ohio, about 31 miles southeast of Kirtland. The family lived in several log cabins while they built a home directly across the road. The Johnsons had 15 children; 9 lived to adulthood: Alice, Fanny, John Jr., Luke, Olmstead, Lyman, Emily, Marinda, and Justin.

After Sidney Rigdon baptized John and Elsa’s 19-year-old son, Lyman, in February 1831, the couple read the Book of Mormon and believed. Elsa, who had suffered from chronic rheumatism in her arm for years, asked John to take her to Kirtland so the Prophet Joseph Smith could heal her. When the Prophet blessed her, she was completely healed. By May, all members of the Johnson family were baptized except Olmstead, who had moved to Mexico.

Later that year, the Prophet, seeking a peaceful, secluded place in which to continue his work of translating the Bible, accepted an invitation from the Johnsons to live in their home. Joseph and Emma came on 12 September 1831 with their four-month-old adopted twins, Joseph and Julia. Converts Sidney and Phebe Rigdon settled with their six young children across the road in a log cabin.

The Johnson home served as a haven in which the Prophet could live and work in peace. With the assistance of Sidney Rigdon, he labored diligently on the translation of the Bible. In the fall of 1831, a series of historic conferences were held in the home, and seven sections of the Doctrine and Covenants were received at this time.

In all, 17 sections of the Doctrine and Covenants were received in Hiram. Among them was one of the greatest doctrinal revelations given in this dispensation—section 76, a vision of the three degrees of glory. The Prophet noted that “the sublimity of the ideas … are so much beyond the narrow-mindedness of men, that every honest man is constrained to exclaim: ‘It came from God’ ” (History of the Church, 1:252–53).

Many in the area were baptized. By March 1832, more than a hundred Latter-day Saints were preparing to gather with the Saints in Missouri. This planned migration as well as differences in religious doctrine clearly troubled some local residents, who formed a mob. On the night of 24 March, the mob attacked Joseph and Sidney and dragged them into a nearby field, where they were beaten, tarred, and feathered.

Four days later, the Rigdon family moved to Kirtland. The Prophet left on a previously planned trip to Missouri. He returned in July and spent the summer working on the translation of the Bible. On 12 September 1832, exactly one year from the day they first arrived, the Smiths moved back to Kirtland.

Early Church Leaders with Ties to Hiram

Sidney Rigdon was a key figure in the Church from 1830 to 1838. Baptized on 14 February 1830, this former minister was an eloquent and powerful speaker. In Hiram, he proved to be a great support to the Prophet. On 18 March 1833, he was set apart as first counselor to the Prophet Joseph.

Two years later, in the spring of 1835, the Prophet organized the first Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in this dispensation. Five of the Apostles had connections to the Johnson family: Luke and Lyman Johnson; Orson Hyde, husband of Marinda Johnson; William McLellin, husband of Elsa’s niece, Emeline Miller; and John F. Boynton, close friend and business partner of Lyman Johnson. Amasa Lyman, who had worked as a farmhand on the Johnson farm in 1832, became an Apostle in 1842.

Lorenzo and Eliza R. Snow—Faithful Future Leaders

Oliver and Rosetta Snow of nearby Mantua and their children, including Lorenzo and Eliza, were among those who listened to the Prophet Joseph preach on the front stoop of the Johnson home. Lorenzo, a childhood friend of Luke and Lyman Johnson, became the fifth President of the Church in 1898. Eliza, a natural leader and master organizer, became the second president of the Relief Society in 1866. She also wrote hundreds of poems and several songs, including “O My Father” (Hymns, no. 292).

The Johnsons after 1832

Antagonists continued to menace the Johnsons after 1832, but Father Johnson and Luke kept working the land. In December 1833, the Lord commanded that “all the churches gather together all their monies” to help purchase land in Missouri (see D&C 101:72–73). Father Johnson sold most of his 160 acres the following spring and donated the $3,000 to the Church. Once again the Johnsons had willingly laid all they had at the feet of the Lord. The family moved to Kirtland and took over the operation of an inn near the Newell K. Whitney store.

Despite the significant impact the Johnson family had on the early Church, some family members became caught up in the financial speculation and apostasy that took hold in Kirtland in 1837–38. Father Johnson and his sons Luke and Lyman were among those who left the Church, as were John F. Boynton and William McLellin. Of these, only Luke returned. He was rebaptized in 1846 in Nauvoo and traveled to the Salt Lake Valley in 1847 with the first company of Saints. Although never reinstated as an Apostle, he served faithfully as a bishop.

Alice Johnson Olney and Justin Johnson died in Nauvoo, faithful.

Marinda Johnson Hyde died in Utah, also faithful to the end. Her husband, Orson Hyde, briefly left the Church during the troubles in Missouri, but he repented and was restored to the Quorum of the Twelve on 27 June 1839.

[photos] Photography by Craig Dimond and Welden C. Andersen, posed by models

[photos] Above: Elsa Johnson (copied by Larry Carver). Right: The Prophet Joseph Smith often taught the gospel from the front steps of the Johnson home. In order to accommodate the many visitors, the Johnsons built a bowery in their front yard. Note: Black-and-white images superimposed over color photographs of the John Johnson home help us envision important historical events that took place there.

[photos] Sidney Rigdon; William McLellin; John F. Boynton; Amasa Lyman

[photos] On Saturday, 24 March 1832, with Joseph’s help, Emma spent her day caring for 11-month-old twins Joseph and Julia, both suffering from the measles. By nightfall, Emma went to bed with baby Julia. Joseph remained up with little Joseph, who was the more ill of the two children. Later Emma, concerned about her husband, suggested he and little Joseph lie down on the trundle bed (pictured here) near the door. He did so and quickly fell asleep.

During the cold night, a group of men with black-painted faces burst through the door. Emma screamed as they dragged the Prophet from his bed. During the attack, baby Joseph was left uncovered long enough to catch a severe cold and died a few days later.

Sidney Rigdon was also a target of the mob that night. The men dragged him by his heels, his head thumping upon the frozen ground. They also threw tar on him. Sidney suffered severe head injuries and was delirious for days afterward.

[photos] Inset, top: Entryway of the Johnson home. Inset, bottom: Weaving room on the second floor.

[photos] Above: Eliza R. Snow; left, Lorenzo Snow

[photos] After the mobbing, Joseph pulled the tar from his mouth so he could breathe. He made his way back to the house, where several neighbors had gathered upon hearing the commotion. When Emma saw the beaten and tarred Joseph, she fainted. She managed to recover enough to join Elsa and others in the kitchen (pictured here), where they scraped Joseph’s skin clean, using lard to soften the tar and ease the pain.

The sun arose a few hours later. Though the Prophet had lost a tooth, received a severe injury in his side, was missing a patch of hair, and had nitric acid burns, he preached a sermon at the usual Sunday worship service. Among the Saints gathered there were at least four members of the mob. Afterward, the Prophet baptized three members of the congregation.

[photos] Insets: Above left: kitchen pantry; right: loft bedroom.

[photos] Luke Johnson; Lyman Johnson; Marinda Johnson; Orson Hyde

[photos] The brightly colored trim in the upstairs bedroom (top inset), the teal doors and trim in the upper hallway (bottom inset), and the painted checkered floor on the first level (pages 34–35) reflect the flair for color that was popular during the time among those who could afford it.

[photos] This room, originally John and Elsa Johnson’s second-floor bedroom, was the nicest room upstairs. When it became obvious that the Prophet needed more space to accomplish his work of translation, the Johnsons allowed Joseph to use this room. He also held conferences here. John and Elsa simply divided another large room with a wall and used half of it for their bedroom.

Mark L. Staker is a member of the West Bountiful Sixth Ward, West Bountiful Utah Stake.