Highlights from Upcoming Papers of the 2013 Mormon History Association Conference


SALT LAKE CITY (Mormon Newswire)

Mormon Newswire is highlighting some particularly interesting and even groundbreaking papers to be presented at this, the largest and oldest of Mormon academic conferences. Titles and abstracts follow below.

“Walk This Way: Brigham Young’s Jewish Humpbacked, One-legged Personal Secretary and the Development of Mormon Doctrine” by Benjamin Jones

Abstract: Little has been written about Brigham Young’s obscure personal secretary, Martin Feldman, a Jewish convert with a humpback and only one leg, John C Bennett’s one known convert, also known as “Brigham’s Henchman.” This paper explores Feldman’s profound influence on Young’s teachings and church governance. I explore in particular that Feldman was probably the sole source of Adam-God teachings (originating as a bet with Young that he wouldn’t dare preach it from the pulpit) as well as the short-lived though widespread practice of Mormon grave-robbing. Also not well-known is that Feldman was the most prolific polygamist in the Mormon colonies, accruing over 450 wives before his death, and marrying his last wife just days before his death at the age of 117.

“Bodged and Blinkered in the British Isles: The Hilarious yet Disastrous 1834 British Mission” by Kris Stapley

Abstract: Though history has assigned July 19, 1837 as the first LDS mission to the British Isles, commencing in Liverpool, in fact Joseph Smith sent David W Patten, John Whitmer, and Amasa Lyman to England 3 years earlier, in 1834, arriving in Brighton on July 29. For reasons still unclear, Whitmer thought it a good idea for the missionaries to adopt British accents and conventions, to hilarious yet disastrous results. The 2 month mission yielded only one convert, John Black, who, the record is reasonably clear, was only baptized in order to continue to be entertained by the missionaries’ increasingly awkward mannerisms. Quite literally laughed out of England, the three immediately reported to Smith who is said to have bound them by covenant to “never speak of this again.” 3 years later an entirely different group was selected and instructed to land in “a port far from the city of Brighton.”

“Another Pillar of Light: The Life and Times of Henry Lancaster, Almost-Prophet” by Amanda Johnson

Abstract: This paper explores the brief life and quasi-prophetic career of Henry Lancaster, a 17-year old boy who claimed to have had a vision of the divine in the grove adjacent to what is now known as the Sacred Grove. According to Lancaster, the vision wasn’t particularly significant, mainly consisting of a blurry personage who told him that his methods for digging up tree stumps were arcane and time-consuming, to be a good boy, and did he know of a shortcut to Rochester from there (he didn’t). Against his will, “Lancasterites” (as his fervent followers would become known), inspired by this seemingly mundane theophany, repeatedly tried to raise him as a prophet. Lancaster resisted, citing his simple desires to apprentice as a carpenter and learn to properly play checkers. Tragically, he would be killed at the age if 19 in a rare (and ironic) altercation between Lancasterites and a local Quaker group over appropriate methods of demonstrating Christian non-violence.

” ‘I’m Telling You, It’s Just Common Sense’: Emily Richards and the 1844 Succession Crisis” by Claudia Shipps Ulrich

Abstract: Following the deaths of Joseph and Hyrum Smith, several men competed to become leaders of the Latter-day Saint movement. Most of this “succession crisis” has been fairly well-documented, but we have only recently learned of a diary containing the minutes of a meeting in which most of the competitors gathered to discuss who would lead the church. Present at this meeting was Emily Richards, Willard Richards’ 16-year old niece. Emily argued that Emma Smith should become president of the church, by virtue of the fact that she had been the first maritally sealed to Joseph Smith and had been given the fullness of the priesthood with Joseph, on top of which she was the president of the Relief Society. The record shows that the rest of the men scoffed at this idea, though Emily pointed out that the complicated formulas and strange claims proposed by Sidney Rigdon, James Strang, and others were no less muddled or absurd.  “I’m telling you, it’s just common sense,” she is recorded as saying. The one thing the men would all agree upon was to have Emily’s words stricken from the record, but they were preserved in the diary of one Gerrit Smith, who was in attendance.

“Persephone’s Demise: The Rise and Fall of the First Mormon Women’s Periodical” by Joanna Haglund

Abstract: Until recently little was known about the first Mormon women’s magazine, but recently unearthed archival documents  have allowed us to piece together some of the details. Founded underground in Nauvoo in 1845 by “Aphrodite,” “Hera,” and “Demeter” (all its contributors assumed Greek goddess pseudonyms, though there is some evidence to suggest “Hera” was Emma Smith) Persephone’s Demise produced 14 issues during its sporadic 6-year run. In what was possibly the most radical feminist periodical in US history, Persephone’s Demise advocated for female legislators and governors, open and competitive polyandry, scriptural justifications for birth control, the mass proliferation of prophetesses and priestesses, and even national parks and wilderness preserves, among other things. “Demise” was attached to the name because the editors were certain that eventually they would be censored and shut down, which did in fact happen under orders of Brigham Young in the Spring of 1851. Thus, the magazine was considered by its authors to be martyrological from the beginning. It inspired and gave birth to The Woman’s Exponent, among other early Mormon feminist literatures and activities. It’s motto was, “Mulierem ex omnibus” (“From woman, all”).


  1. .

    Well. Time to buy a plane ticket.,

  2. J. Stapley says:

    Hilarious. I actually am in Brighton right now.

  3. I think I might prefer this MHA lineup to the one I’m actually going to hear. Any of these are better than my paper.

  4. Kudos to MHA for putting together such a power-packed list of papers.

  5. Jjohnson says:

    Jacob- I can’t believe you scooped Persephone’s Demise.

  6. If I were going to be a polygamist, I would want to be married to a Jewish humpbacked, one-legged man – especially if he were a secretary to Joseph Smith.

  7. Jjohnson – My sources are impeccable, so no surprise. What’s sad is that the actual journal is no longer extant. It only survives in bits and pieces and diary entries. Luckily, Shipps Ulrich is a first-rate scholar and has pieced together a fascinating narrative.
    Amanda HK – Brigham Young, actually. Joseph Smith’s personal secretary was a one-armed Irishman albino with full-bodied alopecia universalis. As is well-known.

  8. Er, Haglund. Easy to mix up the superstars, amiright?

  9. Kevin Barney says:

    I especially love the names of the presenters.

  10. I understand that Amanda Johnson’s paper on Lancaster and his unfortunate run-in with the Quakers will be chaired by Gordon Gee, President of Ohio State University, who will comment on his own research in Quaker Non-Violence. His upcoming paper, “Quaker/Shaker: Don’t Turn Your Back on Them” will be the highlight of the fall edition of the Journal of Historical Malapropisms.

  11. Kevin Barney says:

    I hope Joanna Haglund is going to point out in her presenation on Persephone’s Demise that the good sisters somewhat misconstrued their motto “Mulierem ex omnibus.” Those words derive from the Vulgate of Ecclesiastes 7:29, and rather than “From woman, all” mean instead “a woman among them.” I theorize that they did this intentionally so as to obscure their true purpose. The “them” was an allusion to the leading brethren, and the motto “a woman among them” was a subtle allusion to their desire–one by one–to infiltrate the Patriarchy.

  12. johnturner says:

    The first several sentences of the first post made me intensely worried that I had missed an important Brigham Young storyline.

    The entire batch was hilarious!

  13. kevinf, yes her piece is scheduled to anchor the inaugural issue of that journal. Good catch.

    Kevin Barney — Joanna Haglund clearly didn’t make use of Google Translate — Latin. Of course a Latinist would have to show up.

    John, your bio was clearly written with a sequel in mind, so hopefully Feldman makes an appearance. He didn’t die until 1904, after all.

  14. Skillet Chitlins says:

    Martin Feldman was born in Baltimore Ma the year 1810.
    His parents were very poor and had to indenture him to a carnival show where he apprenticed for a one eyed axe thrower, this is how he lost his leg.
    While the carnival was on tour in Palmyra New York he was compassionately taken in by Joseph Smith and being taught to read and write was recommend for a position with Brigham Young.
    Another little known fact is that later he became a film actor and was slated to star in one of the last silent movies in 1927.
    The title of this movie was to have been Young Doctor Frankenstein; unfortunately Mr. Feldman died of a heart attack during its filming in Mexico City.
    The movie project was revived years later as a talkie by Mel Brooks staring an actor with fewer deformities.

  15. Angela C says:


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