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.
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.
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).
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.