Newel Kimball Whitney was born in Vermont, USA, on February 5, 1795. He was a talented businessman and started up a friendship and business partnership with Sidney Gilbert. In their early business days, they traveled frequently. On one of these business trips, Newel met Elizabeth Ann Smith in Kirtland, Ohio. Newel and Ann courted for three years and married in 1823.
Together Newel and Ann sought for truth and, for a time, took part in the Campbellite movement, which professed to have restored ancient Christianity. One night Newel and Ann prayed “to know from the Lord how [they] could obtain the gift of the Holy Ghost.” Ann described the vision they received in answer to their prayer: “The Spirit rested upon us and a cloud overshadowed the house. … Then we heard a voice out of the cloud, saying: ‘Prepare to receive the word of the Lord, for it is coming.’”1
Shortly after this answer to prayer, in October 1830, Latter-day Saint missionaries came to Kirtland. In November, Newel and Ann were baptized. Only months later, Joseph and Emma Smith came knocking on the Whitneys’ door. When Joseph greeted Newel by name, Newel couldn’t say he knew the Prophet’s name, so Joseph responded, “I am Joseph the Prophet; you have prayed me here, now what do you want of me?”2 The Whitneys then housed the Smiths for several weeks and provided a home for them in September 1832.
In addition to providing the Smiths a place to stay, Newel also gave the Church full use of the upstairs space in his store. At the Whitney store, Church leaders held meetings and the School of the Prophets.
In December 1831, Newel was called as the second bishop of the Church and later served as the manager of financial operations of the Church, helping the Church manage its funds and get out of debt. In the fall of 1838, the Whitneys moved to Far West, Missouri, where Newel was again called as bishop, and 10 years later, he and his family crossed the plains to Salt Lake City, where he served as Presiding Bishop of the Church.
Newel died on September 24, 1850, in Salt Lake City from a respiratory condition.