Joseph Smith received two revelations in January 1831 (Doctrine and Covenants 39 and 40) directed to one “James Covill.” Joseph and his scribes noted that Covill “had been a Baptist minister for about forty years.” Historians discovered nothing about a Baptist minister named James Covill, but documents unearthed by the Joseph Smith Papers Project revealed that he was actually a Methodist minister. This sliver of information opened the door to information about a very well-known Methodist minister in upstate New York by the name of James Covel.
Christopher Jones mines this Methodist vein productively and pieces together a short biography of Covel and shows why his Methodist background could have both attracted him to Mormonism and at the same time discouraged him from converting. Early Mormonism had much in common with Methodism, particularly regarding missionary work. But certain doctrines, such as baptism by immersion and priesthood authority located in the hands of a young prophet, may have troubled a man like Covel.