The King Follet[t] Obituary

Many of us are aware of the General Conference address from April 1844 that summarized a variety of important doctrinal, metaphysical, and theological innovations of the Nauvoo period. The sermon, now called the King Follett Discourse, was inspired by Follett’s death and could appropriately be called an official eulogy. Few of us are aware of Follett’s obituaries.

Brother Follett died completing a well in Nauvoo on March 9, 1844 at age “55y 7m 14d,” his death “occasioned by the breaking of a rope and the falling of a tub of rock up on the disceased while men above were in the act of lowering it.” Baptized in 1831, Follett had survived Missouri, including militia and vigilante actions as well as a bout in prison, only to die of a workplace accident among friends, striving to make the city of Nauvoo blossom like a rose. Of any deaths in the city of Nauvoo, this one deserved an explanation.

So, in a newspaper that normally devoted 1-3 lines of spare text to any given death, the March 20, 1844 number of the Nauvoo Neighbor published two long obituaries to Follett. I have opted to share the second, apparently written by Lyman O. Littlefield (on the basis of similar writings for Ephraim Marks’s funeral and some death poetry he published as well as similarities in style–the identification is tentative) because it provides several important glimpses of life and religion in Nauvoo: the importance of martyrdom in explaining premature death, the nature of bereavement in antebellum culture, the vision of the heavenly society, the emphasis on family bonds (including that fateful word “sociality”), the use of Masonic rites for burial at this stage in Mormon history, and the description of the funeral procession. Without further ado, I turn the time over to Brother L.

In compliance with the secret promptings of my own bosom, and for the consolation of the bereaved family,–with whom I have often communed within the consecrated penetralia of domestic sociality,–I offer a few reflections upon the death of the deceased–Brother King Follet.

Brother Follet was a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints–firm and uncompromising in the doctrines and principles of eternal truth–and he died triumphing in the liberties of the gospel. He shared in the persecutions of Missouri–was ever at his post in defence of injured innocence and outraged law–ever ready to lay down his life, if necessary, for the cause and the ‘witness of Jesus.’ On his death bed, he might very appropriately have exclaimed, in the language of the Apostle Paul, ‘I have fought a good fight; I have finished my course; I have kept the faith; Henceforth is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day, and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.’

Awake!–you mourning bereaved ones:–awake to rejoicing! Let your minds engage a higher theme of contemplation; break forth into gladness, and anticipate the glories of the resurrection; until, swallowed up in excellence and hopes of sublime exaltations, your souls struggle to be released from the thralldom of encumbering clay, and leap into a world of happiness, contentment and joy. Behold him, who has fallen asleep, awake to glory and eternal youth, when the barriers of the tomb shall be burst asunder and the sleep of death be broken by the trump of God. He comes forth to immortality–his body quickened by the spirit of the Lord Jesus–no more to drink from the bitter cup of sickness and pain; but filled with the beatitude and power of Omnipotence,

‘Springs into Liberty and Light and Life.’

Why mourn for friends when they fall asleep in Christ? With that illustrious train of worthies who have been ‘beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God,’ they will come froth from the solitude of the grave, to live and reign, kings and priests with God, a thousand years, in the Millen[n]ium, when the curse will be removed from the earth–when all creation will be renovated, restored to its primitive state, and clothed in the habiliments of primeval bloom and pristine grandeur–as in the morning of creation when the ‘morning stars sing together;’ when the great diurnal illuminati forced from the Creator the divine declaration that the light He had made was good and all created things smiled under the full and benign jurisprudence of the Deity. To die is but complying with the edicts of heaven. Dissolution must ensue; the corporeal system of man must sink into torpidity and decay, in order that the mortal tenement can be regenerated, and all the corruptible particles of the human system be extracted in the grave, that both body and soul may be united in the resurrection in a state of immortality, free from sorrow, pain and distress, and endowed with minds refined and capacious, that they can enjoy the society of angels, comprehend the principles of Jehovah, and mingle in the beatitude of heaven.

Brother Follet’s funeral was attended with the highest honors and most marked respect. A procession a mile in length, followed his remains to the ‘narrow house.’ The emblems and paraphernalia of the ‘fraternity,’ that glittered along the lengthened line, showed that his ‘fidelity’ had entitled him to the benefits of Masonry, under the honors of which, in due Masonic form, he was consigned to the solitude of the grave.

Honored brother, rest in peace!


L., “Communicated,” Nauvoo Neighbor 1/47 (20 Mar 1844): 2.


  1. Kevin Barney says:

    We have a tendency to forget that that discourse was actually a funerary eulogy. I had never seen this one; thanks for posting it, Sam.

    I was interested in the expression diurnal illuminati, which taken as a unit renders zero google hits. In context it appears to be speaking of the sun and the moon, the great sources of daily light. The word diurnal derives from Latin diurnus, “daily,” and is the source for French jour and English journal.

    This also called to my mind the note I wrote on “daily” bread in the Lord’s Prayer at Matthew 6:11:

    The word “daily” is a rendering of an obscure GR word, epiousios. This word is rare in secular GR, and its meaning here is uncertain. Some of the possibilities include: (1) “necessary for existence” (deriving from epi + ousia); (2) as a substantivizing of epi tÄ“n ousan [hÄ“meran], meaning “for the current day, today”; (3) “for the following day” (in this sense perhaps equivalent to the LAT diaria, the daily ration of food given out for the following day (and the source of ENG diary); thus, one could render something like “give us today our daily portion”); and (4) “for the future,” understood in various senses, including an eschatological one, referring to bread for the coming kingdom and its feast.

  2. I agree, I think L. was referring to the “lights to rule the day.” These frontier auto-didacts are hard to pin down sometimes with their latinisms. The Illuminati are of course also a mythical European hermetic group which as I recall were invoked with varying degrees of sophistication in the 19th century, usually for conspiracy theorists.

  3. This is a great excerpt and I especially liked the details about the funeral. I’m not sure that calling the April 7th discourse a funeral eulogy is accurate, though. It seems like there is a bit of evidence that Joseph’s March 10th discourse on Elijah was the actual funeral sermon. It is further confused be History of the Church’s description the April 7th discourse: “President Joseph Smith delivered a discourse before twenty thousand Saints, being the funeral sermon of Elder King Follett.”

    The funeral was almost a month earlier. He just used the the circumstances of the death as an opportunity to speak on the eternities.

  4. What I found interesting is that the 9 March 1844 obituary appears to call for some explanation of a death so difficult to understand. Accidentally killed in the bottom of a well by friends holding a bucket full of rocks after all that he had gone through in Missouri. It appears that Joseph’s King Follett Discourse may have been in response to the obituary’s statement that “Of any deaths in the city of Nauvoo, this one deserved an explanation.” In other words, “God has a lot of explaining to do.” I wonder if Joseph decided to give a complete explanation of the status of the dead and of the eternites in response to the implication that such an event is just unacceptable for God to allow?

  5. Blake, the language you reference is mine and it reflects my belief, confirmed by the early language of what we have of the KFD, that Smith’s new expanded anthropology/theology were at least partially in response to these kinds of deaths.

    Stapley, there are clues in the actual KFD that it was meant to serve as a sort of eulogy, at least in the sense of an attempt to explain this kind of tragic death. Death from persecution could be understood as martyrdom and integrated into a Providential view, dying from a tub of rocks in the base of a well is much harder to explain.

    The first obituary devotes much of the time to explaining his suffering in the Missouri persecutions, as if trying to push toward a martyrological explanation of his death.

  6. This is the first obituary, no attribution, on the same page of the Neighbor.

    “Elder Follett was one of those who bore the burden, in common with others of his brethren, in the days when men’s faith was put to the test. He was a native of Vermont and moved many years since into the State of Ohio, county of Cuyahoga. There, for the first time he heard the gospel preached, and, like the Bareans of old, searched the scriptures to see if these things were so, regarding neither the scoffs nor threats of an opposing and gainsaying world, he united with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, in the spring of 831, and has been a sharer in the afflictions through which the saints have passed from that time until the time of his death. He shared in the violence of the Missour[i] persecutions; was cast into prison, and endured many months imprisonment; and after long delay, obtained a trial on the charges preferred against him, and honorably discharged, being acquitted of all the crimes that a band of wicked persecutors could charge him with.
    All the persecutions he endured only tended to strengthen his faith and confirm his hope; and he died as he had lived, rejoicing in the hope of future felicity.—Having united with the church in the forty-first year of his age, he filled up the prime of his life in the service of his God, and went to rest in his fifty sixth year; being fifty five years seven months and fourteen days old when he slept the sleep of death.
    So the righteous pass and so they sleep, until the mandate of Him, for whom they suffer, and in whom they trust, shall call them forth to glory, honor, immortality and eternal life.”

  7. penetralia of domestic sociality

    I challenge everyone to use this phrase in conversation at least once by the end of the week:

  8. Lionizing a recently deceased individual’s faithfulness in Missouri is not unique to Follett’s obit. It actually was quite common in the Nauvoo newspapers to include such sentiments in the obituaries of prominent Nauvooans. Follett’s obituary is actually a bit timid in comparison to Edward Partridges’s: “He lost his life in consequence of the Missouri persecutions, and he is one of that number whose blood will be required at their hands. As a church we deplore our loss, but we rejoice in his gain. He rests where persecutors can assail him no more” (Obituary of Edward Partridge, Times and Seasons, June 1840, 128). Here the martyrological connection is explicitly made between Partridge’s death and the Missouri persecutions, not implied as in the case with Follett.

  9. Subrosa: agreed, martyrology was hugely important to many deaths in Nauvoo. Follett was interesting because, as opposed to most of the other dead, whose death from natural causes could be attributed to a weakening of the organism related to persecution, rocks simply fell on his head. The attempt to maintain Missouri ties in this setting I think more emphatically demonstrates the martyrological impulse.