Ep 194 – King Follet pt. 2 The Myth
On this episode, we take on the remainder of King Follett from his internment in the Columbia, Missouri jail to his death in Nauvoo. He’s acquitted of his robbery charges, arriving in Quincy, Illinois in October 1839 in a completely overcrowded and destitute state. He works with the Mormon refugees to help build Commerce into Nauvoo, build public works projects, construct houses, staff on city committees, and a litany of other services. The Follett family become regular attendees of many active church leadership groups. Louisa Follett joins the Relief Society on its second meeting. Two of King and Louisa’s sons join important missions and the ranks of a Quorum of Seventies. King Follett donates his tithing of time to the Temple Building Committee in addition to being paid by the Temple Committee in vouchers for additional work on the Nauvoo Temple. He, like many others, exchanged his temple vouchers for goods at the Temple Store. Finally, we discuss King Follett’s untimely death at age 55 in March of 1844. He was a beloved member of the community with a funeral procession extending a mile and buried with Masonic honors. We briefly follow the lives of his surviving family after his death and read a bit from Louisa Follett’s small but consequential journal.
The Man Behind the Discourse: The Biography of King Follett by Joann
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King Follett is languishing in a Missouri prison. He, Morris Phelps, and Parley Pratt attempted a dangerous escape from the jail but King Follett was apprehended before he could get away. The nights are cold, the visitors are infrequent, the food is terrible, and the floors are hard. The worst part though, King Follett’s family made the trek from Far West, Missouri to Quincy, Illinois without him to help and he doesn’t know when he’ll be released.
King Follett was, however, optimistic about his future. While Parley Pratt, Morris Phelps, and most other church leaders were arraigned in on the heavy charges of treason and murder for the Battle of Crooked River, testimony from Reed Peck during the November 1838 Court of Inquiry which landed them all in prison in the first place, had exonerated King from those charges. That same testimony, though, placed him as the leader of the Regulator squad of Danites who’d ran their horses through the non-Mormon settlements and pillaged the towns before burning them to the ground. He was officially charged with robbery while nearly every other church leader who’d been charged with anything from the Missouri-Mormon War had escaped prison or been acquitted.
King Follett was one of the last remaining Mormons in Missouri only because he was behind bars. From Joann Follett Mortensen’s biography of King Follett describing the charges:
The charge of “robbery” is also somewhat ambiguous. Sympathetically, Pratt recounted that King “was dragged from his distressed family just as they were leaving the State, being charged with robbery, which meant that he was one of a possee who took a keg of Powder from a gang of ruffians who were out against the Mormons.” I have found no further details about where or when this powder keg incident occurred, although an owner is identified in King’s trial.
Reed Peck’s account of the Missouri experience in 1839 did not name the last two Mormon prisoners who were still in Richmond jail in July 1839 (other records show that these two were Luman Gibbs and King Follett), but did provide further information regarding possible charges against them: “Of all that were taken of the Mormons two only remain prisoners in Missouri and I am safe in saying that they are the least guilty. One of them is guilty of standing guard over the Mormon horses while the company marched to attack Bogart on Crooked river. The other is guilty of executing plans laid by S[idney]. Rigdon to make the traitors as he termed them service[e]able in defending the cause in Far West.” Gibbs was the horse guard, since another record identifies him as present at the Battle of Crooked River and admitting his assignment with the horses. The remaining individual is King. However, Peck does not explain what he meant by “traitors” or “serviceable,” so it does not clarify King’s role beyond what was already known: that he was willing and able to help defend Far West. Nor does it identify whether this occurred before the city’s surrender or afterward, when most Mormons were fleeing from the state.
Lousia and her 5 kids had made the journey to Quincy, Illinois by April of 1839 while King was being taken to jail. Like many families with husbands in prison after the Missouri-Mormon War, the Follett family likely hitched their proverbial wagon to another group of families to ensure safe travel the hundreds of miles and trek across the Mississippi. When Louisa and the kids arrived in Quincy, it was madness. Thousands of people occupying dozens of building led to sickness, starvation, and lean-to makeshift shelters from the cold and mud of the winter and spring.
With no reasonable options left to ameliorate the suffering, Joseph Smith and the apostles decided the best course of action was to petition the federal government for a bailout to save the Mormons from this destitution. Throughout 1839 the leadership gathered thousands of signatures on hundreds of petitions for redress from Mormons who’d lost their property during their time in Missouri dating all the way back to 1833 when the troubles first began during the troubles in Jackson County. The amount the Mormon members and leadership billed the government totaled a Dr. Evilesque $1.2 million or about $35.4 million in today’s money, or roughly the size of Bloody Brigham Young’s estate when he died in 1877. All of these statements were gathered into a file which Jo personally took with him to meet President Martin Van Buren and made a speech before congress asking for them to bailout the Mormons. The government did nothing for them. However, in this file, Louisa filed her grievances from their first settlement in Missouri all the way through the war of the previous year.
Again, from the Follett biography:
Louisa’s affidavit documents losses amounting to $3,920, broken down by years.
In 1833, she listed three claims amounting to $170.00: “To loss of improvemants on land and buildings” ($100); “To loss of provision and wheat in the ground” ($50); “To loss of time and expence of moving from Jackson Co. to Clay Co.” 1835 cost them $150 in “loss of property, time & expence by being driven from Clay Co. to Caldwell Co.” The most detailed claims are cited for 1838-39, a total of $3,500. The indignation in her voice is almost audible: “To loss of land and buildings not gitting the value of them on the account of being obliged by the Mob to leave the state” ($800); “To loss of time and expences by moving from Missouri to Illenois, and being detained from business previous to removal by the unlawful proceedings of the Mob” ($200); “To loss of the company, and being deprived of the assistance of my husband (King Follett) who is now, and has ben for a long time kept in prison as I think contireary to the Laws of the land” ($500); and “To being deprived of rights of citizen ship in the state of Missouri, having ben driven by a mob under the order of Govener Boggs from that state to the state of Illenois” ($2,000).
While this was going on and Louisa was working to resettle her family and children, 2 of whom were adult age, King remained in the Columbia jail awaiting trial for robbery, although the charges were somewhat unclear. The Missourians knew he played a part in the war of the previous year but the Mormon problem had been dealt with and it was bad optics to convict King Follett while dozens of more guilty men from the war remained free. Plus, King Follett being convicted and serving years in prison would send a signal to the already agitated Mormons and the Missourians merely wanted the whole problem to be over instead of further agitating tensions between the groups. Beyond that, King Follett was older than most of his charged compatriots in the Missouri-Mormon conflict. The majority of men locked up and being tried for arson, robbery, treason, murder, etc., were all in their twenties and thirties. King Follett, on the other hand, was in his early fifties.
John W. Clark, who’d helped with the prison escape of Morris Phelps and P-Cubed Parley P. Pratt claimed that “Brother Follet [sic] is Bailable and the Brethren has gone to Bale him out.” That didn’t happen or the attempt to bail King out and extract him to Illinois away from Missouri law was turned down upon application. The fact of the matter was that King had participated in the conflict and he was one of the last Mormons in Missouri state custody. He had to wait for his trial.
Accordingly, King Follett was finally brought into the Boone County court on September 25, 1839, nearly a year after the conflict had reached its climax and after nearly 9 months in terrible Missouri jails.
Joann Follett Mortensen tracked down the court records and reprints the court documents with a little of her own commentary:
According to the original Caldwell County indictment presently in Boone County Circuit Court records, King “was accused of taking from George Walters of Caldwell County, Missouri, his wagon ($100), three horses ($200), a rifle ($20) and other personal goods. He was also charged with taking from Henry and Lucy Ann McHenry, also of Caldwell County, Missouri, two kegs of gun powder and one sword ($40).” The indictment dates the theft from Walters as October 24, 1838. Based on this date, the Walters theft was part of the original charge against King when he was first arrested in November of 1838, while the McHenry matter may have been the “robbery” charge that resulted in his second imprisonment the following spring. A Caldwell County history identifies Henry McHenry as one of the individuals commissioned by the Missouri State Legislature to distribute the $2,000 approved to provide aid to the Mormons in Caldwell and Daviess Counties after the Mormon War. The History of the Church confirms that a “Mr. McHenry” was on the commission but states that the actual items distributed consisted only of hogs, which already belonged to the Church members, being rounded up, shot and “cut up and distributed by McHenry to the poor, at a charge of four and five cents per pound; which, together with a few pieces of refuse goods, such as calicoes at double and treble prices soon consumed the two thousand dollars; doing the brethren very little good, or in reality none, as the property destroyed by them, (i.e. the distributing commission) was equal to what they gave the Saints.”
This description makes it clear how unhappy the Saints were about the use made of the small appropriation, how uncharitably it was distributed, and how those who needed it the most received little if none. I hypothesize that King may have voiced his opinion of this insult, added to injury, perhaps leading to a clash with McHenry, who retaliated by charging King with robbery.
The Boone County Court record of King’s trial reads:
This day came the attorney prosecuting for the state and the defendant being brought to the bar in the custody of the Sheriff, and it being demanded of him how he will acquit himself and whether he be guilty or not guilty of the charge in said indictment. Saith that he is not guilty and for his trial putteth himself upon the county as likewise does the attorney prose[sic]. Acting for the state and thereupon came a jury towit: [12 names] who being elected tried and sworn well and truly to try the issue joined herein upon their oaths do say as the jury find the defendant not guilty. Therefore it is considered and ordered by the Court that the defendant be discharged and go hence without [illegible] his costs…
A month later on October 26, 1839, the History of the Church, noted: “King Follett, the last of the brethren in bonds in Missouri, had his trial and was set free some time previous to this day.”
Unfortunately for us all, the documentary record is just ambiguous enough that Joann Follett Mortensen provided her explanation without further showing her work or pointing us to explanatory documentation so I’ll similarly engage in some speculation. I believe the first robbery charge was for the Mormon depredations committed during the three-day period of October 24-26 by the Danites, of which King Follett was likely a member of the Regulator squad. The second charge of robbery against Henry McHenry was clearly interpreted through Mortensen’s believing lens which offers deference to the official history of the church with how McHenry appropriated the $2,000 of relief funds to the Mormons during their exodus. Yes, $2,000 for roughly 6-8,000 people is nothing and the state should be ashamed of itself, especially because it appropriated over $200,000 for the support of the state militias who kicked the Mormons out. Whether McHenry provided the $2,000 in reasonable ways can’t be ascertained from the available documentation. Whether he actually only used that money to sell back the Mormons their own hogs and goods can’t be verified beyond the claim from the History of the Church, which is understandably slanted. If we’re engaged in some healthy speculation, maybe the second arrest of King Follett which led to this second robbery charge was actually because he was stealing from state food provisions to help himself, his family, or some other Mormon families, which would merit a reasonable robbery charge. Gotta eat to live, gotta steal to eat. But the provisions is a different issue from King Follett stealing powder kegs and a sword from the state militia. That would be like me stealing a Humvee from my local military base; that’s robbery of a pretty terrible kind. But look, because the state of Missouri handled the Mormon issue in a terribly unethical and immoral way, all the lines we use to understand robbery in this case are a little muddy. My point is, King Follett didn’t stop being a Danite Regulator after the Missouri-Mormon war. The robbery he’d committed in October that got him arrested in the first place was for the support of the Mormons at the direction of the prophet. The robbery he likely committed against the Missouri agent, Henry McHenry, was probably likewise for the support of the Mormons at the direction of the prophet or one of his councilors. All of it seemed necessary because the people were starving and no other options seemed available.
Regardless of the circumstances, and our speculation concerning those circumstances, King Follett was acquitted of the charges and allowed to go to flee the state of Missouri as his Mormon brothers and sisters had done 9 months before. He arrived in Quincy, Illinois among the Mormon makeshift settlement sometime in early October 1839, probably having traveled mostly on foot for the journey to his family. The scene upon King’s arrival was not great. Joann Follett Mortensen describes it from a local contemporary:
By the time Louisa and her family arrived in Quincy, even with the help and understanding of local citizens, living conditions were still deplorable. A local historian described conditions in April of 1839: “They crowded together in barns, sheds, and many in huts and tents throughout the town. Some of them were almost entirely destitute.” Wandle Mace, a recent convert living in Quincy, described living conditions… “[I] went down to the riverside and found about 14 or 15 families camped on the river bottom in a most miserable condition. They had crossed the river and could get no farther. Some of them had tried to make a shelter from the wind by placing some poles in the ground and putting a sheet over them. The wind was blowing the snow about them so that the poor children who was hovering over a little fire could get little benefit from it. I returned as soon as possible and made known their situation and in a very short time they were moved into town and made comfortable.” Mace brought new arrivals into his own home so that “very many nights the floors, upstairs and down, were covered with beds so closely it was impossible to set a foot anywhere without stepping upon someone’s bed.”
These were the living conditions in which King Follett found his family upon his arrival in Quincy as the autumn progressed into winter, the nights got colder, the people sicker, and the provisions more scarce. What would you do? Put yourself in King Follett’s shoes; what would you do? You just got out of prison with no money, deeds, or notes to your name, traveled the hundreds of miles on foot through the cold nights of autumn in Missouri, then you find your wife and 5 kids huddling under a lean-to canvass or sleeping foot to head with 9 other families in the same cabin, and everybody is sick. There’s no work for income, no plan to provide for the thousands of refugees, and no answers to why this happened. What would you do?... How would your mind deal with this information? How would you believe the church isn’t true now that you’ve sacrificed EVERYTHING and been so horrendously persecuted for it?
Well, King Follett probably did about the only thing he could do upon finding his family in this sad, destitute state. At age 53, he probably picked up an axe to cut firewood and timber or a scythe to help harvest some crops.
The next record which recounts the Follett family in Quincy was the 1840 census where it lists the Follett family living with King and Louisa’s son-in-law and their two granddaughters. The third record listing the Follett family comes in the form of a rare happy occasion in June of 1840 where their second daughter, Nancy Follett, married a man named James Daley, another member of the Danites who’d participated in the Battle of Crooked River nearly 2 years previous.
Where the Folletts settled initially after their exodus from Missouri was Quincy, Adams County, Illinois. That was the landing place for the majority of Mormons. However, as 1839 progressed into spring, the Prophet escaped from the Missouri jail, Hingepin Sidney Rigdon, and Bloody Brigham Young set about counselling Jo on the land he should purchase for a new Mormon settlement. Quincy was already grunting under the weight of the Mormon refugees and Jo settled on a swampland just north of Quincy on the Mississippi called Commerce, in Hancock County. Jo purchased tens of thousands of acres in Commerce and across the Mississippi in the Iowa territory around the small settlement of Montrose. Commerce was a perfectly situated settlement and a clean slate for the Mormons to have a new beginning with very few citizens living near to bother or be bothered by. Commerce was a peninsula into the Mississippi, providing multiple launch and loading access points to the largest commercial river in America at the time. It also had a high-elevation area perfectly suited for a temple to crown the city, and the flats could be drained of the swamp water to create cheap land for the lower-income and commercial area of Commerce. It was to be named Nauvoo, the Beautiful.
After Jo’s return from the very unsuccessful petition to Congress and the President for redress, John C. Wreck-it Bennett joined the Mormon movement and used his extensive political connection to push through the Nauvoo City Charter, which was passed in December of 1840 to go into effect the following February. This made Nauvoo an official Mormon city and resettlement from Quincy accelerated.
From Joann Follett Mortensen’s The Man Behind the Discourse.
Church members living in Quincy accepted the call to make this next move. However, they had been accepted so well there, it was difficult for them to think of making another move. Helen Mar [Kimball Smith] Whitney, then about twelve years of age, wrote in 1881 that, although the move was difficult, “nearly everyone realized the Saints had to have a home of their own.” She continues: “We were two days on the way, and the journey was quite pleasant” but upon arrival she was quickly “homesick and sick of the country.”
We were surrounded with trees and hazel and other underbrush. The whole country was quite wild, and wolves being plentiful we were treated nightly to their serenades, commencing at sundown and continuing at intervals till morning… The contrast between that place and Quincy, where we had spent the spring and summer so pleasantly, and everything seemed so delightful to me that it made the dreary looking place anything but interesting; but the scene changed as it were by magic, through the persevering industry of the Saints, and soon instead of a forest the country was dotted over with houses, and gardens and flowers were under cultivation.
The Follett family again left no record of their lives during this period, but the parallel experiences of others provide suggestions of these early Nauvoo years.
The resettlement of thousands of people to a fetid swampland was a monumental endeavor. What made it even worse was the financial state of affairs for every single one of those people. They’d been run off their land and property in Missouri in 1839. They were waging a cold war of sorts through the latter half of 1838 meaning there were plenty of crops left in the ground to rot, taking the invested wealth with them. Most Mormons didn’t have two shillings to rub together for warmth and the only influx of cash they had was the credit folks were willing to extend to Jo and the Mormon leadership. That’s how Nauvoo was built and survived, credit.
A lot of people died from illness and malnourishment during this early era of converting Commerce into Nauvoo.
From Joann Follett Mortensen’s biography of King Follett:
A major challenge was the undrained swamp that lay along the river bank, fostered thousands of mosquitoes, and offered sluggish, impure water. Early arrivals had to immediately drain the land and clear away heavy vegetation before they could plant crops or construct homes. They did not understand the vector of the disease, so many, perhaps most, of them contracted malaria, characterized by cycles of chills and shaking, followed by sweating and high fever, which they called the ague. With little medical care available, they had to help each other; and mortality rates were high. During July, the Prophet himself became ill; but buoyed by the Lord’s spirit, he went among the members, laying hands on them and pronouncing priesthood blessings of healing.
Samuel Kendall Gifford, no doubt like many other members, interpreted such illness as a trial. Saints who met the challenge with faith could draw down the Lord’s blessings:
This was a very sickly place and none but Saints could live there and many of them died before they could subdue the destructive elements that filled the air in consequence of the low marshy land that lay right in the midst of the town. But through the perseverance of the Saints coupled with the blessings of God, the swamps were drained, and the land and elements were dedicated, and sickness and death became less frequent. Comfortable dwellings, fruitful fields, orchards gardens, mills and other improvements and comforts sprang into existence to the astonishment of all around.
Eliza R. Snow expressed similar feelings: “The location of the city of Nauvoo was beautiful, but the climate was so unhealthy that several efforts had been made to build it up and as many times abandoned. It seemed to have been held in reserve to meet the occasion, for none but Saints full of faith, and trusting in the power of God, could have established that city. Through the blessings of our Heavenly Father on the indefatiguable exertions of the Saints, it was not long before Nauvoo excited the envy and jealousy of many of the adjacent inhabitants.
Once again, it is incredibly notable that these thousands of people, including the Follett family, had suffered so much, been robbed, their homes pillaged, dragged from one state to the next to the next, fought in open rebellion against the government, driven to absolute poverty, were afflicted with unending illnesses, and altogether anguished under the insanely horrible leadership of Joseph Smith. The mind-control power granted through suffering may be the most powerful implement in the toolbox of a tyrant. Roman decimation is a stark example of suffering being utilized to engender unyielding fealty and the same concept is at play here. It’s like, the Folletts and every one of the Mormons suffering from this could have walked away at any point, right? But they wouldn’t. Suffering galvanizes. Suffering creates kinship more powerful than any rationality and Jo recognized this and successfully harnessed it for his own aggrandizement and the people thanked him for it. The people knew what they were doing was right because they were opposed at every turn. They sided with their abuser while staring in the face of unimaginable adversity caused by a choir of fawning sycophants following every whim of their conductor. These trends and human tendencies can be seen around us every day.
Needless to say, Nauvoo in the early phases of settlement really sucked and the Folletts suffered along with thousands of other Mormon settlers. With King Follett in the presidency of the Second Quorum of the Seventy, he enjoyed slightly less turmoil than thousands of every-day average members, but those luxuries were minimal at best. The Follett family still struggled to make ends meet, put food on the table, and find work to provide for the family in the first place.
As Nauvoo advanced, cabins began to be replaced with brick buildings. Roads were made, ditches dug, public meeting houses established, barns raised, fences built, and public works projects provided income. The Temple was the primary project driving jobs in Nauvoo as the increased construction drew jobs and tourism. Folks, including King Follett and his two sons-in-law donated one day in every ten to constructing the temple. Raw materials were paid for with credit. The progress on the state-of-the-art white façade building became a source of pride and a symbol of the society’s collective recovery from the trauma they’d experienced in Missouri. King Follett probably marched in the Nauvoo Legion cornerstone laying parade when the construction for the building officially started. This should also be noted in conjunction with the Nauvoo Legion, Follett family folklore (that’s a fun phrase) claims King was one of Jo’s bodyguards. That term was pretty widely used and I’m sure many of you with ancestors who were in the Nauvoo church probably have similar family folklore, I know my family does. What did it mean to be a bodyguard of Joseph Smith? In Missouri that meant the man was a member of the Army of Israel or the Danites. In Nauvoo that meant they were in the Nauvoo Legion, the city police force, or the Danites, or maybe a member of multiple of those militia units. In the case of King Follett, there isn’t any documentation which explicitly places him in the Danites aside from the Reed Peck testimony. However, because he was charged with Danite-related crimes in Missouri, he was very likely a member. Beyond that, he was also an official member of the Nauvoo Legion, receiving the designation of Captain in the Second Battalion. But many men who were in the Legion who never met the prophet personally called themselves the prophet’s bodyguard because that was the actual function of the Nauvoo Legion. They didn’t serve the state, they served the prophet and would have been happy to engage in open warfare against state militias if doing so to protect their supreme leader. King Follett, because he wasn’t in the inner-circle of Mormon leadership, he was considered a bodyguard of the prophet but likely rarely every spoke with him and King certainly wasn’t privy to the inner-sanctum meetings that only the apostles, council of fifty members, or anointed quorum had access to. In many ways, King Follett was a pretty average dude in the church, the Follett family a pretty average family of members in the church, even though King himself was technically a general authority and bodyguard of the prophet.
Concerning the temple, King Follett spent many hours contributing to the construction labor. Members who donated their tithe to building the temple would get labor vouchers from the Temple-building committee to be used in the temple store, which started as Jo’s Red-Brick store but eventually became its own entity. In the daybooks for the Temple Building Committee, King Follett is recorded as having exchanged his labor vouchers for various goods to the tune of twenty-five separate entries ranging from $10 for a horse on March 9, 1842 to 2 ounces of oil on January 19, 1842, even including a $14 charge for a rifle on June 30, 1842. Members of the Nauvoo Legion, like King Follett, often supplied their own guns, which they purchased from the Red Brick Store or Temple Store, which were initially supplied by the Illinois state armory thanks to the political machinations of John C. Wreck-it Bennett. So, Jo would take a shipment of rifles from the state armory, then turn around and sell those guns to Nauvoo Legionnaires who purchased them with vouchers they received for donating time to building the temple. I think we’d call that theft of government property and embezzlement today. But, I have to clarify that this is only speculation.
I had to call on a few historian friends to see if they’ve ever seen any research on this and they simply hadn’t, which means I’m probably out on a skinny limb with this speculation. What Joe Geisner said that hadn’t occurred to me was that John Browning had moved to Nauvoo in 1842 and set up his gun shop, yes that Browning, the same Browning that manufactured my shotgun. Guns that Browning manufactured in Nauvoo were stamped with a metal plate which said “Holiness to the Lord – Our Preservation,” making them super duper pooper rare. So, rifles being sold through the temple store through these vouchers like King Follett had exchanged could have been guns that Browning manufactured and consecrated to the Temple Building committee, instead of being guns acquired from the state armory as I earlier speculated.
This required a little digging on the part of yours truly to see what I could find. It turns out that the guns the Mormons got from the state armory were pretty terrible, probably old guns overstocked from the War of 1812, making many of them half a century old when gun technology was accelerating rapidly. So, I was curious, how common was it for the Temple Committee to take guns in as tithing to be sold through the temple store to people like King Follett who’d earned temple store vouchers for working on the temple? That required a little dive into an artifact we recently discussed on the show, the Book of the Law of the Lord, the BoLoL.
King Follett exchanged his vouchers for a rifle on June 6th, 1842 so I decided to look for the few preceding days to see if Jonathan Browning had consecrated any guns to the Temple Committee as tithing. I didn’t find any entries, although my search was far from exhaustive because the BoLoL hasn’t been transcribed and isn’t searchable. However, in the scores of pages I read before that June 6th entry I found a few examples of members donating guns or rifles. On March 4th, A guy named Lyman Stoddard donated a rifle valued at $12. On May 31st, a guy named Sylvester Hulett donated 1 Rifle valued at $12. A guy named James Bennett, no relation to John C. Wreck-it Bennett, donated what seems to read like a hand gun valued at $7 on May 28th. The page with that entry also includes an entry above it for John Follett donating $12 to the temple committee on behalf of King Follett. So, my search led me to understand that it was very common to give guns to the church as tithing and to purchase them from the church with temple work vouchers. Imagine if church was like that today. I mean there have to be some fundamentalist sects out there trading AR-15s for construction on their churches, right? All said, it’s a super interesting window into the Nauvoo economy of the time. Members would donate things to the temple building committee, then they’d work on the temple and get vouchers, which they’d trade for goods at the temple store.
Joann Follett Mortensen believes the temple vouchers were issued to King Follett for work that was in addition to the tithing days he donated to temple construction.
From this information regarding purchases at the temple store, it looks as if King worked often on the temple in 1842, donating his labor, probably in addition to his usual tithing day. I have found no extant record that establishes King’s specific hours worked. His individual labor would be recorded in some small time book from which the store vouchers were issued, most of which have not survived. This donated labor is impressive, considering that he was building a home for his family, planting and raising crops to feed them, and engaged in other civic, religious, and personal activities.
King Follett also purchased a lot in Nauvoo from the Horace Hotchkiss land parcel. This was an elect chunk of land less than a mile from the docks, the red brick store, the Nauvoo House, and Jo’s personal home on the flats of the city. It was sold to King Follett by Joseph Smith, who’d initially purchased the land on credit, for two installments of $250 payable over the following 8 years. This may or may not have been done with a down payment of $500; the documentary evidence is a bit ambiguous. Likely a cabin was built there, but King Follett and Joseph Smith had died before the first of the two payment was due on April 1, 1845 so the property was never officially transferred and no deed was ever issued. The tax records for Hancock County for 1841-43 reveal that the Follett family were in a very poor situation.
Also of note, King Follett and 93 others signed a petition to the Mayor, John C. Wreck-it Bennett at the time, about cleaning up the city water supply. This is an interesting document and we’ll discuss it after reading through it from Joann Follett Mortensen’s biography of King Follett.
To the Mayor, Alderman and Counselors of the City of Nauvoo—The undersigned citisons of the City of Nauvoo—ask leave to represent to your honourable body, that we believe the health of the City is verry much impuned by consequence of the many rafts of logs, wood, timber etc. that are suffered to lay in the eddies, coves and along the river for weeks and months; which caused stagnant water, which when stired by babbling[?] or other ways produses a verry offensive affluvia which [is] injurieous to health—besides it verry much impeads navigation of falt Boats Skifts etc which are almost con[s]tantly passing and repassing—We therefore request your honourable body to take immediate measrues to protect the city against the evle; by passing an audinence to that effect.
People may not have known that malaria was passed by mosquitoes, but they were well aware of the fact that standing water caused mosquito breeding grounds and made the water stagnant and fetid. This being signed by King Follett taps into something we discussed on the first part of this series in his early life. King Follett was no stranger to politics and city ordinance work. Back in St. Lawrence County, New York he’d been on the road commission as an overseer for road construction and maintenance. It seems the skills he’d acquired during those years were utilized to help with Nauvoo city affairs in this matter of standing water from logs being shipped down the Mississippi to the city. Very few records survived history bearing the name or signature of King Follett, this is one of the few and reveals a person who engaged in the social contract of civil service when occasion required. In addition to being a very average family in church leadership, this document evidences that King Follett was also an active contributor to society.
Doctrinal developments also drove a wave of interest in the church, both for outsiders and members seeking greater knowledge and understanding. 1842 marked a crucial year for Mormon doctrine. The Book of Abraham, claimed to have been translated from the 1835 Egyptian Papyri, the endowment ceremony, the anointed quorum, the Relief Society, baptisms for the dead, and litany of other less consequential developments morphed Mormon theology into a more distinct American religion further divorced from its earlier Protestant roots.
The Female Relief Society of Nauvoo was formed in March of 1842. At the second meeting on March 24, 48 women were inducted into the sorority. This was the first and last time the hand of Eliza R. Snow would pen the name Louisa Follett, marking her first and only appearance in an official church book for the entirety of her 12-year association with the church. She was inducted at the age of 44, close to the median age for women in the society ranging from ages 15 to 76.
The endowment ceremony being introduced in spring of 1842 created a new rank of leadership in the church. According to Joann Follett Mortensen:
There is no record that King Follett received these new ordinances before his death in 1844. However, Louisa and the adult surviving children participated in the endowment ceremony in the Nauvoo Temple in 1846 before the Saints left Nauvoo.
Since King did not experience the temple endowment while he was alive, it was necessary for him to receive it by proxy after his death. Church and family records give several dates for his proxy endowment. The first and earliest of these dates in family and Church temple records is November 2, 1877, in the St. George Utah Temple. The relative/proxy for King is his son, William Alexander Follett. This was thirty-three years after King’s death and was the first year that endowments for the dead by proxy were performed after the Church members left Nauvoo.
Just prior to the endowment being introduced, the Masonic Lodge of Nauvoo was formed under the cavalier hand of Grand Master Abraham Jonas. This is a fascinating issue in early Mormon history because many of the men who joined the Nauvoo Lodge were already Masons. Joann Mortensen hasn’t found any record that King Follett was a Mason prior to Nauvoo but people like Heber the Creeper Kimball and Bloody Brigham Young were already Masons prior to Mormonism being a thing and they also ascended to the sublime degree in the Nauvoo Lodge. This could have been because the Nauvoo Lodge was essentially setting itself up as its own rite of Masonry because I can’t wrap my mind further around the subject.
Notably, after his death, King Follett was buried with Masonic honors. Whether he’d been a member for decades or had only just ascended for the first time in the Nauvoo Lodge in 1842 is a matter of speculation.
We’ll get to his death in a moment, but something worth mentioning is the nepotism within church leadership that began to influence the Follett family. While King Follett himself was in the presidency of the second Quorum of the Seventies, one of his sons, William Alexander Follett was one of the 156 men given the extremely important mission of acquiring timber for the Nauvoo Temple. He went with the Wild Ram of the West, Lyman Wight, to the Wisconsin territory on the Pineries mission and helped cut over a million feet of lumber to be shipped down the Mississippi where it was picked up at Nauvoo and hauled to the temple construction site. Another of Kings’s sons, John W. Follett, was inducted into the 29th Quorum of Seventies in October of 1844 after his fathers death and the deaths of Jo and Hyrum Smith. All of the Follett men had donated time to help construct the temple and had likely helped with the construction of the Seventies Hall, one of the largest buildings in Nauvoo established as a meeting hall and completed in July of 1844. Nepotism has been a long-running trend in Mormonism and we can see how trusted Mormon elites like King Follett provided an expeditious path to leadership for their sons.
Why this is particularly relevant here is because the schism crisis in the wake of the deaths of Jo and Hyrum Smith caused deep division in the Follett family. Had King survived the Smith brothers, it’s unclear where his allegiances would have lain. Would he have made the trek to Utah like one of his sons? Would he have defected from the leadership of the Quorum of Twelve like his wife Louisa and majority of his kids did in 1847, briefly joining the Cutlerites, only to later join the RLDS under Joseph III after 1860? Would he have followed the prophetic decree of James J. Strang and taken the Follett family to Wisconsin or Michigan? Suffice it to say, the death of King Follett and the deaths of the Smith brothers soon after sent the Follett family into a spiral of turmoil and division.
So, let’s talk about his death. Everything I can find from the record leads me to believe that King Follett was generally a good person. Even in his 50s he was doing heavy manual labor construction projects, whether it was the temple, or building log or brick homes for members, or working on community projects like the Seventies Hall and community center. King Follett was someone with a big heart who wasn’t afraid to pick up a shovel or brick trowel to help a brother or sister in the covenant. He’d even helped when Daniel Avery was arrested and taken to Missouri on horse-theft charges we discussed back on episode 171. King Follett sacrificed everything for the church and his fellow Saints to build Zion. He was one of the true soldiers on the front line.
On February 27th, 1844, King Follett was helping to dig a well in the center of some houses in Nauvoo. Now, how wells were dug before hydraulic cylinders and diesel engines was quite interesting and very tedious. You’d start by digging a wide-open area, 10-15 feet in diameter. You’d dig and dig throwing the dirt out of the hole until you could no longer throw the dirt high enough out of the hole. Once that depth had been achieved, probably about 15 feet deep, a second, smaller hole would be started at the bottom of the larger diameter hole. This would be the hole for the actual well, which was about 4-5 feet in diameter. So the person digging the well would dig that smaller hole in the center of the shallower, larger-diameter hole and throw the dirt up to the large hole, while a second worker would throw that dirt out of the larger hole. When you were done, it would look like a funnel but with layered sides instead of gradual sloping sides. Then, once the desired depth was achieved, the person at the bottom would lay bricks in a circle to actually build the well. They’d continue building upwards and dirt would be filled in by other workers as they continued upward to the surface. Once all the bricks were laid, a bucket would be placed on a string with a lowering mechanism above the wellhead and then boom, you got your well.
King Follett was the mason in the bottom of the hole laying bricks to wall in the well. He was probably 25-30 feet down in this hole, or 8-10 meters for our non-freedom unit users. The bricks were being lowered down in a bucket or tub attached to the end of the rope. As construction was early on in the day, one of these loads was possibly too heavy for the rope to hold and it snapped, thus sending a load of bricks and the bucket used to carry them tumbling the 20 feet down the well and crushing King Follett. This could have been as much as a couple hundred pounds of bricks falling 15 to 20 feet in a very confined area. Even if he was warned by the sounds of the snapping rope or the shouts of those loading the brick bucket down to him, there was nowhere for King to go.
Somehow, his head was not crushed by the accident, although that may have been a better fate. Instead it was his body that was crushed, buried under hundreds of pounds of bricks. The men surrounding the well worked quickly in a panic to pull King out, probably only injuring him further as they worked to remove bricks and drag him out by his arms and legs. No doctor or surgeon of the day could remedy King’s terminal condition of broken bones, internal bleeding, and crushed organs. King was taken to his home and suffered unimaginable pain for 11 days. On March 9th, 1844, King Follett gave up the fight his consciousness waged against his broken body, leaving his wife, Louisa, 5 children , 2 sons-in-law, and 2 grandchildren behind.
Exhibiting how well-loved King Follett was in the community, two obituaries were published for him in the Nauvoo Neighbor, and one in the Times & Seasons. The Nauvoo Neighbor obituary even includes a personal sermon written by a friend of King Follett.
It says, in part:
He shared in the violence of Missouri persecution, was cast into prison, and endured many moths’ imprisonment; and, after long delay, obtained a trial on the charges preferred against him, and was honorably discharged, being acquitted of all the crimes with which a band of wicked persecutors could charge him.
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…
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…
Brother Follett’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.
During his funeral, Joseph Smith conjured his greatest and most fully documented theological sermon in the history of Mormonism, known as the King Follett Discourse. Now that we know about the man behind the discourse, we can finally discuss the discourse. Let’s wrap today with talking about Louisa Follett after King’s death.
She was broken to pieces. In a rare moment that historians delight to see come through the preserved record, Louisa’s mourning drove her to writing a journal. She didn’t keep it very regularly with breaks of weeks and months between entries and she only kept it for one year, but she did keep a journal which reveals her inner turmoil resulting from the death of her husband. It was a small 4x6” notebook and it was preserved in the archives of the Iowa State Historical Society. Beginning June 5th, 1844, she journeyed to her home state to visit her siblings and elderly father. Her entry for June 16th provides a brief window into her tumultuous mind.
I am now fifteen hundred miles from Nauvoo a stranger in a strange land, without money, and no kind friend that is acquainted with my circumstances, to take an interest in my welfare,--the earth to me is a tiresome place and when it will assume a different aspect I cannot tell.
During the journey she received news of Jo and Hyrum’s deaths which shows us acute pain built on the foundation of an already aching heart. She wrote her thoughts in verse.
Oh wretched murders!??? For human blood
You’ve slain the Prophets of the living God
Who’ve borne oppression from there erly youth
To plant, on earth, the principles of truth
Oh Illinos thy soul has drank the blood
Of Prophets marterd for the Cause of God
Now Zion mourns—she mourns an earthly head
The Prophet and the Patriarch are dead.
This little notebook of Louisa Follett’s journal is truly an amazing artifact to have been preserved in a state archive for over a century. And now, the most crucial and heartfelt entry is the first in the notebook, written on the day of King’s death in the form of a poem, the only words written under that date.
The Last Farewell written by “The Exile of Missouri”
Farewell Father—Oh how tende,
Are the chords that bind is here,
Jesus help me to surrender,
All I love without a tear.
Farewell Sister—do no press me,
To thy tender, throbing heart,
Oh; no longer now distress me,
Sister—Si[s]ter we must part.
Saccred to the memory of a Friend
Farewell pale and silant Brother,
How I grieve to pain you so,
Father—Father Sister Brother,
Jesus calls Oh; let me go.
If distance e’re should us devide
And we no more each other see
If friends more dear with you abide
I pray the still remember me.
Should e’re thy futer hours of joy
By sorrows stormes o’er cloud[i]ed be
If brightened hope thy peace destroy
I pray the still remember me
The world may promis bliss secure
But trust it not—twill soon decay
Then seek for pleasures which endure
And never, never fade away
Thank you, Louisa.
Terence Hirsch email
Rerecord outro for aloststateofmind.bandcamp.com
This podcast is produced with the help of Julie Briscoe as social media manager and Brian Ziegenhagen as audio engineer. Music is written and produced by Jason Caomapwoeiru of aloststateofmind.bandcamp.com and used with permission. Legal counsel is provided by Andrew Torrez of the Law Offices of P. Andrew Torrez and the Opening Arguments Podcast. Naked Mormonism is a production of GG LLC copyright 2020 all rights reserved.
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