Preaching in the Provinces: Lorenzo Barnes and Early Mormon Missions

Lorenzo Barnes (1812-1842)—early Mormon convert and perennial missionary—left some record of his preaching efforts in two small journals. Barnes was schooled in early Mormon ideas and mission work, and his methods probably mirrored what many lay-minister Mormons did to spread the word. I’ve been thinking more about Barnes lately and I’ve written a bit about him in something that appears in the most recent issue of Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought (though that piece is altogether different from this blog entry). Barnes ends out with a chapter in the sermon book (Every Word Seasoned with Grace: A Textual Study of the Funeral Sermons of Joseph Smith) since Joseph Smith preached a sermon in honor of Barnes in April 1843—Barnes died in mission service (December 1842, Idle, England). Here I’m just going to quote from one of Barnes’s journals about his 1835 preaching travels Barnes was in the Camp of Israel — Zion’s Camp — and subsequently was called as one of the original Seventy whose special duty was mission work. Spelling and punctuation as in the original.

Monday attended an appoint 4 mi from Town but fiew attended after which returned To Town agane Tues The 11th had a long talk with a Dr. Smith a presbyterion man & others in one of the stores in The villedge many of the people of The villedge gathered a round To hear what was said The people listened . . . much of there prejudise must hav been remooved for They generaly dsided in my favour The next morning I sw The Dr. agane he said he had conversed with a number & That They all gave me The preffernce Thought I had all The argement and gained the day That I had much learning &c but he still charged me with Teaching a fals doctrine but could not bring any Thing against it onley The reportes he had herd about our society & brother Joseph He being one of The Trustees of a schoolhous in the place I asked him for The privalege of holding a meeting in it but he was not willing But There being quite a number That were anzious for meeting some proposed geting the Court hous & as it hapened The High Sheref Mr Tuttle who had The charge of the Court hous was preasant and had been listening To some of The conversation & appeared well satisfied & pleased To have a meeting . . . .

While it’s typical that preaching content gets only a glancing reference, Barnes later mentions how he was barred from preaching at a subsequent gathering:

The went To an appointment in The evening at a Schoolhous 2 miles from knoxville when we came To The Schoolhous 2 men were standing in The door who dmanded our buisness in comeing There After Telling Them They declared That we should not preach in That house That evening I enquired The reason why They Then went on and made many fals accusations said many hard Things against brother Joseph & The book of Mormon &c and appeared much enraged ordering us away from The place & out of the neighbourhood making many Threatings &c. We endeavoured To reason The case with Them in meakness Told Them That we did not wish to preach To people That did not wish To hear but That every person ought To herar & judge for Them selves &c. as we were in a free contry but They Said The people There did not wish To here & forbid us making any reply but To go away amediatly We Therefore left Th went a away obeyed The comandment & went To Knoxville We understood That one of Those men who stood in the door was a professer of religion of the Episcopal Methodist order How can such persons expect To be rewarded with The ancients Saints who were percecuted from City To City & from Synegogue To Synegogue when he posesses The same Spirit of percecution They were percecuted with

Later, Barnes found an audience with a camp meeting overflow. In his sermon, he read from the Book of Mormon, quoting 2nd Nephi:

After I had given out The appointment some advised me not To Try To preach in That place That evening said The people were a hard set & much opposed To our doctrine & said They advised me as a friend To not go near The School hous but I could doo as I pleased but if I attempted to preac That evening it would be To my own perel I however went To The School hous of at the Time appointed feeling assured That not one hair of my head would fall To The ground unnoticed by my heavenly Father Quite a congregation gathered in of all classes & sects & I comenced by reading in the book of Mormon After I was Through reading I was interupted by a man known as Judge Wells he wished me To prove To The people before I went any farther That Nephi was a prophet of the Lord (as The portion of the book of Mormon I had read was from Nephis 2d book Another gentleman spoke & said he Thought There had beter be a Moderator chosen To keep order which was seconded by another I then Told The people I had some Things To lay before The people Them & would like To have order & when I was Through if I layd before Them a fals doctrine any person should hav the privalege of speeking & s[h]owing where in it was fals & expose it To The people &c. The people Then generaly listened with good attention while I preached to Them Them The gospel as in ancient days I then gave liberly But non arose One man Then observed That he would like To here The Jo Smith Story I then gave Them a history of The comeing forth of The book of Mormo & dismissed The congregation After which Some said one Thing and Some another Some said They would like To here me speak preach out of The book of Mormon & Some said if I would let The book of Mormon alone They Thought I would doo well enough would hav no fault To find for said They The doctrine which he has preached To night is according To The Bible I Was kindly invited home by with Mr Wells a Son of The Judge which I complyed with agreably Sabath Sep 6th held a meeting in Newtown in the Court hous but fiew attended by reason of a camp meeting near The place After I had delivered an adress To The audiance had considerable conversation with a Lawyer who asked a veriety of questions principly concerning The coming forth of The book of Mormon

Early Mormon preaching was not foreign to Bible readers, but it’s selection and emphasis could be startling. The passages Barnes used from the Book of Mormon probably mirrored that teaching and made it palatable to many Protestant auditors. Finally, Barnes notes some of the heckling traveling preachers might face.

Thursday The 10th I Started for The church in Springville Susquehanah Co. Pa. There being but little prospect for preaching in These parts at preasant leaving Elders Steephens in Newtown who expected soon To go To Otsego Co. for The purpas of Transacting Temporal business we Therefore mutualy aggreed To part at least for a season Fryday morning Took breakfast with brother Stoel near bridge and received of him Two books of Mormon To sell and make returns To brother Joseph Smith Jr.

Arived at The church in Springville Saturday evening

On The Sabath preached before The church Subject The Kingdom of God 16th Wed Started for Deleware co Ny

Preached in The Court H. in Montrose in The evening had quite a large congregation– Some young men and boys behaved bad Throwing apels and making noise &c. Put up with Dr. Denison

Thursday arived at Chenany point stayed with brother chro Crocker

Fri 18th Traveled 26mi. Stayed in N Bainbridge with a Methodist class leader Enquired diligently Through These parts for Hophnie Barnes my Uncle fathers brother but found him not

Satturday & Sunday was unable to get a meeting notwithstanding many endeavours

Monday evening 21st. held meeting inn Franklin had quite a congregation who listened attentively and I had good liberty in laying before Them The fullness of The gospel

Lorenzo Dow Barnes[1] led a remarkably dedicated life in the service of the New Dispensation. Never married, he died engaged to a twenty-two year old convert of Philadelphia, PA. Her story is as fascinating as Lorenzo’s but you’ll need to read the article for that.


[1] Named for the unconventional but wildly popular Methodist itinerant, Lorenzo Dow. Thousands of male children of the era shared the name out of reverence for the traveling prophet.


  1. John Mansfield says:

    Through whom were Brother Barnes’ journals passed down?

  2. J. Stapley says:

    “We Therefore went a away obeyed The comandment “

    Is this a euphemism for washing their feet?

  3. Kevin Barney says:

    Fascinating stuff; thanks for sharing.

  4. John, they appeared in church possession either in Nauvoo or early Utah. Historian’s office ledgers show that the church held them very early. I’m guessing Woodruff’s package made it to headquarters in some form. [Woodruff visited Barnes’ gravesite in 1845 and collected his personal effects from the home where he died, then boxed them up and ostensibly shipped them to Nauvoo—I can’t find a specific notice that they arrived, but the journals were in church possession by the 1850s at least.]

  5. J., that was my thought.

  6. Thanks for this WVS. Barnes led the first group of missionaries into the Philadelphia area (Chester County PA), se he’s quite important for my research there. Unfortunately his journal of that time ends by saying something like: “We got to Chester County: doors opened on the right and the left.” And then just a bunch of blank pages. His letters to the Times and Seasons said they were all so busy there they hardly had time for anything, including journal writing it would appear.

    Also interesting about his engagement. I’ll have to read your article. He was seen as the go to leader by the members there even after he left. There’s letters to him from Elijah Malin and Edward Hunter asking for advice while he was in England.

  7. Steve, he was famous in Chester County as you know. The apostles couldn’t get him out of there to get to his (fatal–as it happened) 1839 assignment to England until early 1842. Ditto on his Penn. journal. Frustrating.

  8. My great-great-great-grandfather, a prominent Methodist minister who baptized thousands of “the great unchurched” of Middle Tennessee, personally expelled numerous Mormon missionaries from various locations in Middle and Eastern Tennessee during the 1840s and 1850s. I wonder if Barnes was one of them.

  9. Fascinating APM.

  10. One thing that distinguished settlement of “virgin” (i.e., soon to be or recently rid of its Native inhabitants) land in the North in the first half of the 19th Century from the way it was done in the South is that the former was much more likely to be done by coordinated groups. The model for this was how the Puritans had colonized New England. In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, Germans in particular frequently came to set up entire towns or at least villages in much of the Northwest Territory (WI-IL-IN-MI-OH) and western Pennsylvania. (Generations later, settlement of the Intermountain West by Mormon pioneers was done in groups of ten families or more.) By contrast, the South was settled mostly one household at a time. (So was much of the North, to be sure: Abraham Lincoln’s family fell into this category, and so did Joseph Smith’s and Brigham Young’s.)

    Group settlers started having religious services almost as soon as they arrived at their newly purchased lands, and tended to establish schools fairly early on. In areas settled by solitary homesteaders, by contrast, it could be decades before religion and schools arrived. Circuit riders like my GGGGfather frequently encountered families where the parents’ marriage was common-law, none of the children had been baptized (and frequently none of the parents), and nobody could read the family Bible–if they even had one.

    The mobs that assailed the Church in Missouri and then Nauvoo were groups of these solitary settlers, both culturally and economically isolated. They tended to be illiterate, with decidedly irregular patterns of church attendance. A huge group of educated (or at least aspiring to be), coordinated settlers was genuinely frightening to them; it took very little provocation for them to move into violent action.

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