Friday, March 1, 2013

Samuel Shepherd and the RLDS Church

Tanner Family Line

This post is in response to an email from a Shepherd cousin wondering about the family's connection to the RLDS Church. As always, we enjoy hearing from cousins or others interested in the material on this blog.

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Vermont natives Samuel Shepherd and Roxalana Ray Shepherd joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Chagrin, Ohio, undoubtedly while living on land in the Western Reserve that they received due to Samuel's service in the War of 1812.

They moved to join the Church in Missouri, where Roxie died of cholera. Samuel remarried Charity Bates Swarthout, a woman with a large family whose husband had recently died.

The blended Shepherd and Swarthout family moved West with the Saints after Joseph Smith's death, three sons serving as members of the Mormon Battalion.

In 1851 a large group of Saints — mostly Southerners but also members of the large intermarried Tanner-Lyman-Shepherd family — moved across the Mojave Desert to create a settlement at San Bernardino.

In 1857 with a federal army marching on Utah to put down a non-existent rebellion, Brigham Young called the San Bernardino settlers back to Utah. Many of them sold their land and returned to Utah, settling in towns like Payson and Beaver. Samuel and Charity Shepherd returned to Utah but shortly afterward returned to California.

When they returned to California against Brigham Young's direction, for all intents and purposes the Shepherds left the Church. No explanation seems to exist in any of the family histories for why they returned to California, but part of the reason may have had to do with family. The 1860 and subsequent United States Censuses show Samuel and Charity living next to their daughter Lydia Shepherd Davidson and her family as well as members of the Swarthout family.

When Joseph Smith died, the Church had never before dealt with the transition to a new prophet. Many contenders arose for the control of the church including Sidney Rigdon, the Smith family, and the Quorum of the Twelve led by Brigham Young. Most of the members of the Church followed Brigham Young, but other groups formed, including the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (RLDS, now called Community of Christ) under the leadership of Joseph Smith III. 

Joseph Smith III.

The RLDS were colloquially called "Josephites," and the LDS "Brighamites," a label that Brigham Young rejected. He said, "I am a Josephite, or, in other words, I am a full believer in the mission and calling of Joseph Smith, Jun., as a Prophet of God to this world in this generation, and I wish the people everywhere to distinctly understand this fact."

Meanwhile, the Reorganized Church began international missionary efforts. One tireless missionary was James W. Gillen, later an Apostle in the RLDS Church. He headed across the continent and baptized a number of people in Salt Lake City before heading to California.

J.W. Gillen from RestorationBookstore.

One of the major differences between the LDS and RLDS was the question of polygamy. The RLDS did not believe that Joseph Smith had practiced polygamy, a position they have since abandoned, but one that they preached strongly in the 19th century. There were those in the early Church who didn't like polygamy. Sam's in-laws, the Tanners, may have had mixed opinions about polygamy in the early days since only one of the many Tanner sons, Nathan, married polygamously before the Mormon Reformation in 1856-1857. 

Sidney Tanner.

The book Sidney Tanner: His Ancestors and Descendants contains a hint that the Shepherds may have been opposed to polygamy. Julia Ann Shepherd Tanner, a daughter of Samuel Shepherd and Roxalana Ray, married Sidney Tanner after his first wife died. Sidney later also married widow Rachael Scott Neyman Fullmer. Julia Ann is said to have told her oldest daughter, also named Julia Ann, "to marry outside the Church because she [the mother Julia Ann] was very unhappy when she found that Sidney was taking a plural wife" (401).

Julia Ann Shepherd Tanner.

When the RLDS missionaries reached San Bernardino, they found a body of former Saints to whom the teachings and the practices of the early RLDS Church would have sounded much like those the members had known in the early days of the Church while Joseph Smith was still alive. Elder William Anderson wrote:
We now have commenced a course of lecture in this place; our congregations are large, and much interest is manifested. There are many old saints here, and some are far in the dark, and nothing but the power of God can ever affect them. The laborers are few in California. My prayer to God is that he will call many good, faithful, and obedient servants to the ministry, that the many calls may be filled, and that we may be relieved of some of the burden that is resting upon us. My prayer is for Zion and her converts, that God's work may roll on in power over the head of all opposition, and that she may put on her beautiful garments, and appear "fair as the sun, clear as the moon, and terrible as an army with banners."

The 1870 Census showing Samuel and Charity Shepherd living among their children and grandchildren.

The book Early Members of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints notes that Charity Shepherd "was baptized a member of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints on 28 March 1870 by James W. Gillen." Samuel Shepherd "was baptized a member of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints on 22 May 1870 by J. W. Gillen." Their daughter Lydia Shepherd Davidson was baptized on June 5, and their son-in-law J. J. Davidson was also baptized. Another early member was Emma Smith Tanner Swarthout, a daughter of Sidney Tanner also living in San Bernardino, along with other Swarthout relatives.

Emma Smith Tanner Swarthout. San Bernardino Public Library.

Somewhat earlier to join the RLDS were Simeon and Sarah Whitney Crandall, noted in the records to have been baptized in 1864 by H. H. Morgan, but the earliest baptisms in California may have been in 1867, so the date might not be accurate. After Charity Bates Swarthout Shepherd died in 1877, widow Sarah Whitney Crandall and Samuel Shepherd were married by Alma Whitlock, an official of the RLDS Church.

From FindAGrave.

Samuel Shepherd died in San Bernardino on October 23, 1877. A few years later, members of his family (presumably) had him sealed to Roxy Lany Ray in the St. George Temple, and as with so many of these old pioneers, their temple work has been redone over and over again in the years since, so their descendants should have no further concerns about that.

Selected Sources
Black, Susan Easton. Early Members of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Provo, Utah: Religious Study Center, Dept. of Church History and Doctrine, Brigham Young University, 1993.

California Census, 1852.

DeBrouwer, Elizabeth. Sidney Tanner, His Ancestors and Descendants: Pioneer Freighter of the West, 1809-1895. Salt Lake City, Utah: Sidney Tanner Family Organization, 1982.

Dodd, Jordan. Missouri Marriages to 1850. [Database on-line.] Provo, Utah:, 1997.

Family Tree. FamilySearch.

"James W. Gillen." Restoration Bookstore.

San Bernardino Public Library Digital Archives.

The History of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Vols. 3-4.

United States Census, 1830-1870.

War of 1812 Pension Application Files Index.

Young, Brigham. "Paying Tithing—Fasting and Prayer—Keeping the Sabbath Holy—Selling Grain—The Judgments of God, Etc." Journal of Discourses, Vol. 10, 282.


  1. Hi Amy
    "The book Sidney Tanner: His Ancestors and Descendants contains a hint that the Shepherds may have been opposed to polygamy. "

    I ran across biography of Samuel's son Marcus Lafayette. He practiced polygamy and was imprisoned in Utah. See his bio and Photo in

    It gives some great info on Samuel and family.

    - Jed

  2. Thanks for the suggestion, Jed. Yes, I am familiar with MdLShepherd's history. Note the date of his first plural marriage (1869), and the number of his additional wives (one). Both significant, in relation to this history, particularly since he was in church and community leadership for so many years. In other words, his first plural marriage was a surprising thirteen years after the Mormon Reformation, and he only had one additional wife, unusual for someone in his position in the community.

    It's important not to downplay what a great struggle plural marriage was for those who entered it, particularly for the women. It does neither them, nor us, for that matter, any justice to smooth over their lives and pretend they did not suffer and struggle in regards to their faith as well as their life circumstances.

    For additional thoughts on the topic, including a reminder not to forget the women in the family, see the following post and comments about the family situation of someone the Shepherds knew very well, Amasa Lyman:

    Eliza and Caroline Lyman Plead for Child Support