Friday, February 5, 2016

Early Mormon Missionaries: John Tanner

The Church just announced the Early Mormon Missionaries database. I will highlight some of the people mentioned in the database. 

First, here is some new information about John Tanner's mission. 

In April 1844 the Prophet Joseph Smith called John Tanner and many others to preach the gospel and assist in his presidential campaign.

Although George S. Tanner searched for any account of John Tanner’s mission, he could not conclude anything in his book John Tanner and His Family (1974) but the following, “Nor is it known what John accomplished on his mission in New York that spring and summer” (107).

New digitization allows the discovery and sharing of information that was close to impossible to find just a generation or two ago, and a short account of John Tanner’s mission is among that information. 

The Journal History of the Church was a scrapbook compiled by Assistant Church Historian Andrew Jenson from newspapers and histories, and organized by date. Even in these computer days, it is still one of the valuable resources for the history of the Church. Here are two documents from the Journal History.

First, a list of the general conferences (more like our stake conferences) in 1844, and the elders called to preach the gospel and assist in the presidential campaign. Most of the states had two presidents appointed to head the missionary work. For the state of New York, it was Charles W. Wandell and Marcellus Bates. A few names of interest on this list are:

(New York) John Tanner, Martin H. Tanner 
(Ohio) Simeon Carter
(Indiana) Amasa Lyman (1st President), Nathan Tanner

Second, an account of a conference in New Trenton, Indiana on November 6, 1844, in which John Tanner’s missionary companion, David Pettegrew (1791–1863), gives a brief account of their mission. It leaves us wanting more, but this is the first account of what happened between the time John Tanner left his teenage sons Albert and Myron in charge of a large farm in Iowa, and when he returned in the fall, dismayed to see how the farm had run down in his absence.

This is what David Pettegrew said at the conference. Note that John Tanner was not with him at the time; he would have returned to Iowa.
Elder Pettegrew then arose and stated that he left Nauvoo the 28th of April 1844, in company with Elder John Tanner for the State of New York, proclaiming the everlasting gospel and bearing testimony of the truth of the Book of Mormon and the Prophet; much good has been done in the name of the Lord, numbers have been baptized, and many renewed their covenant under our administration, etc.
Although there may have been a political component to the mission, especially at first, they understood their mission to be to preach the restored gospel and testify to the truths of the Book of Mormon and prophet, and that is what they did.

David Pettegrew, from FindAGrave, courtesy Schott Family.

Now that we know that John Tanner served with David Pettegrew, we can look at whether he wrote anything about the mission. His journal is in the collections of the Church History Library, and is digitized. It turns out that it is more an autobiography than a journal, and this is what he had to say about the mission:
[Elder Wilard Snow and I] returned to Nauvoo in the month of May, 1843. This Season I Suffered much with Sickness, and also my son, James Phinas. We did not recover our health until the fall of 1844. When in the Spring of that year the conference met, I received my appointment for the State of New York, where I was much blessed in bearing testimony of the truth to Thousands of people. They will long remember my white head. I visited my relations in Vermont and New Hampshire, and the graves of my Father and Mother. I had grave stones put over their graves on the 8th day of July, 1844. It was while in that country that the Sad news of the death of Brothers Joseph and Hiram came to us. It was with deep, humiliating sorrow that we learnt of the assassination of our two brothers, but we Saw many that rejoiced to hear of their death, especially the ministers of different Sects. 
And that’s all. There are a few hints in there that could be worth pursuing, since some of the local newspapers may have mentioned the missionaries, and we know now that David Pettegrew, and perhaps also John Tanner, were in Weathersfield, Vermont (the place of his parents' graves) in July 1844.

What an exciting new collection of information. Next up: William John Glade.

(See an additional Pettegrew account at Early Mormon Missionaries: John Tanner (2).)

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