The significance of what transpired at the dedication of the Kirtland Temple on March 27, 1836, is well established among Latter-day Saints. The historical record affirming an outpouring of divine manifestations is rich. Even so, precious few contemporaneous reports by observers are available. Recently, however, the richness of the historical record increased with the discovery of an eyewitness account of the miraculous Kirtland Pentecost penned by Benjamin Brown.
In November 2002, Mary Lee Burton, a descendant of Benjamin and Sarah Mumford Brown (fig. 1), learned that her mother, recently deceased, had possessed the document reproduced here. It had passed from Benjamin and Sarah Mumford Brown to their son Homer. He had entrusted it to his daughter Josephine Brown Quist, grandmother of Mary Lee Burton. Grateful readers may attribute access to this precious record of Pentecostal experience to Burton. “As I looked at the beautiful penmanship on the yellowing and fragile paper, I knew I was holding a priceless treasure,” Burton wrote, “and that [this document] needed to be in a safe place.”1 Another Brown descendant, Sharalyn Duffin, a staff member at the Historical Department Archives of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, arranged to transfer this document to the Archives.
Description of the Document
Much about the document(s) presented here remains uncertain, including whether it should be treated as two documents or one. On a sheet of weathered, now-torn paper measuring nearly 12 × 8 inches, Benjamin began to compose a letter to his wife, Sarah. Though undated, an internal reference to “the sol[e]mn assembly which will be called next Sunday,” meaning March 27, 1836, narrows its composition to the week beginning March 20. As it continues, the writing on this sheet begins to sound less like a letter and more like a chronicle of events of that marvelous week of dedication. A second sheet of paper in much better condition and almost an inch and a half shorter seems to continue this account. Generally, it reads more like a journal than a letter, and no formal epistolary closing is evident, but some internal evidence suggests that Benjamin is still addressing Sarah and intending to send the letter by way of a neighbor.
Although the handwriting appears consistent throughout, a third-person reference to B. Brown toward the end of the document suggests the possibility that Benjamin did not write all of it himself. Whether Benjamin Brown intended that the two sheets form a coherent single document cannot be determined. That they both stem from an effort to record his witness of a Pentecostal experience is certain. Millennial, thoroughly biblical, and informed by the Book of Mormon, Benjamin Brown’s document serves well as a window into early Mormonism. On the back of one page are details of accounts and addresses, information needed to function in earthly time and space. Some contemporaries of Benjamin Brown considered the mixture of the mundane and the miraculous characteristic of Mormonism—a feature some loathed and others, like Benjamin Brown, cherished.2 His documents, therefore, can be understood best, not only by assessing their physical characteristics, but by appreciating the world of their creator.
Benjamin Brown’s World
One spring morning in 1835, a “large assembly” gathered in a barn in Westfield, Chautauqua County, New York, to hear three Mormon preachers. Thomas Marsh edified the congregation for nearly two hours on the covenants of God. David Patten followed for an hour, using Hebrews 11 as his text. Elder Marsh administered the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. William McLellin baptized five souls, including a forty-year-old farmer named Benjamin Brown. Some mischievous boys “acted very wickedly” until “finally one little fellow fell into the water.”3 The whole scene might have appeared quite usual, if comical, to observers.4 Here were ordinary people engaged in apparently familiar pastimes. Preaching, worshipping, even baptizing and mischief were common occurrences in Chautauqua County. But to Benjamin Brown this was no ordinary day. Here were Apostles explaining restored truth and administering restored ordinances of salvation.5 These otherwise everyday events connected Benjamin Brown to the first Christians and annihilated intervening years. The Apostles collapsed time, associating their auditors with Abel, Enoch, the Israelite patriarchs, Moses, and the writer of Hebrews. Faith in Christ was their common bond, and in him they might be perfected together.6
Benjamin Brown had waited years for this day. His entire life pointed to it. The son of a Quaker father, Benjamin matured spiritually from his birth in 1794 until about his sixteenth year. “My ideas of religion,” he wrote reflectively in his 1853 autobiography, “were just those which are naturally instilled into the mind by the statements of Scripture, where no priestcraft exists to pervert them, diminish their force, or cloud their meaning.” His sincere prayers were answered. “The idea that revelation from God was unattainable in this age,” he wrote, “never entered my head, until I gathered the notion from the creeds of churches with which I became acquainted in after years.” But like so many of Benjamin’s contemporaries, uncertainties were foisted upon him in the form of evangelical competition for his faith. He responded first with an adolescent mixture of doubt, contrariness, and susceptibility to trendy ideas:
I soon began to lose my pure, simple ideas of God, and imbibe[d] those more generally received, and, shortly after, by listening to the contending opinions of these parties, I found the hitherto simple Bible a perfect mystery.
I had previously been seriously and religiously inclined, but the jarrings and uncertainty of my new ideas shook that simple faith which I had reposed in the Scriptures, and in God, until I began to mix with light or vain company.
Influenced by skepticism of scripture, Brown tended toward, but did not join, Universalism. He vacillated during his early adulthood between periods of “folly” and “deep anxiety . . . to find the truth.”7
Farming and his marriage to Sarah Mumford8 at age twenty-five gave Benjamin more to think about than salvation, but he remained preoccupied with spiritual matters. A vision of his deceased brother foreshadowed the Restoration. Benjamin envisioned his brother praying “with regard to the restoration of the Gospel gifts, the great work of gathering the Saints of all nations in the last days, and the fulness of the Latter-day glory.”9 Thereafter, Benjamin’s spiritual senses sharpened. His Bible was clearer. He had prophetic dreams at irregular intervals. Years passed, he wrote, “and I was still unconnected with any religious party.”10
Determined to follow the Lord’s leading, he tested the popular revival meetings but remained unfulfilled. He felt moved to reprove a minister, which prompted him to embark on an informal ministry of preaching, punctuated by powerful spiritual experiences:
A knowledge was given me that the ancient gifts of the Gospel—speaking in tongues, the power to heal the sick, the spirit of prophecy, &c., were just about to be restored to the believers in Christ. The revelation was a perfect knowledge of the fact, so sure and certain, that I felt as though the truth had been stereotyped upon me. I knew it from the crown of my head to the sole of my foot—in the whole of my system, being filled with the Holy Ghost!11
Benjamin Brown’s Introduction to the Church
Benjamin shared his knowledge with a local minister but was rebuffed. “A few days after,” he wrote, “curiosity led me to visit the Latter-day Saints, amongst whom I witnessed a fulfillment of the prediction, for I beheld a manifestation of the gifts of prophesy and tongues.” Benjamin resisted an invitation to join the Church but “procured a Book of Mormon, and took it home to read, determined to investigate until [he] was fully satisfied.” He rejected the Book of Mormon “ere [he] had read ten pages” and “felt a similar dislike seize [him] towards the Bible.”12 A foreboding sense followed, strong enough to persuade Benjamin to read the Bible again. He felt impressed to “behave as fairly” to the Book of Mormon and “soon reprocured it.”13 Benjamin willed himself to read most of the book:
I came to that part where Jesus, on visiting the continent of America, after his resurrection, grants the request of three of the twelve whom he had chosen, to permit them to live until his second coming on the earth (like unto John spoken of in the Bible). Here my mind half yielded to the belief which arose within me, that perhaps it might be true, whereupon I took the book and laid it before the Lord, and pleaded with Him in prayer for a testimony whether it was true or false.14
The answer came in the form of two of the three Nephite disciples. They subsequently rebuked Benjamin for snubbing the gift of tongues (their tongue, he now recognized) he heard in his first meeting with Mormon missionaries. “Such a rebuke,” he wrote, “with such power, I never had in my life before or since, and never wish to have again.”15 This was evidence sufficient for Benjamin: “Thus I do know the truth of the Bible, as well as of the Book of Mormon, and I am a witness for both!” Still he deferred baptism, hoping Sarah would “comply with the same ordinance.”16 She did not until a confirming spiritual experience resolved her prejudice against unsophisticated Saints, but Benjamin could resist no longer. He overcame a last-minute attempt to dissuade him and submitted to baptism at the hands of Apostle William McLellin on May 10, 1835.17
Spiritual gifts and signs continued to follow Benjamin Brown, resulting in Sarah’s conversion and his miraculous healing at “the hands of the Elders”18 and culminating in the Pentecostal season centered in the Kirtland Temple. “There,” Benjamin wrote, “the Spirit of the Lord, as on the day of Pentecost, was profusely poured out. . . . We had a most glorious and never-to-be forgotten time.”19 For Benjamin Brown as for Joseph Smith, the renewal of biblical revelation solidified faith in the Bible. As the larger culture increasingly doubted the possibility of biblical miracles in modernity and, finally, even in antiquity, the Saints believed in the gifts of the Spirit and Pentecostal outpourings because they experienced them.
The Religious and Historical Context
One somewhat useful tendency of historians is to situate Benjamin Brown’s account of the “many Miracilous Experiences” and “many Visions told” as one example of a visionary subculture in the early American republic.20 Brown’s faith can be understood in part as a believing response to skepticism, confirmed by intense personal experience with God. But Benjamin Brown and his fellow Saints also considered themselves exceptional. They believed they had more in common with the cast of Hebrews 11—with Israelite patriarchs and New Testament Apostles—than with contemporary visionaries. To them the Kirtland Temple made them heirs of the ancient covenants and the Apostolic Church, not a subculture defined by American time and space. Benjamin Brown and his fellow Saints regarded their experiences as a continuation of the Pentecostal experience recorded in the Acts of the Apostles.
If anything, what occurred in the Kirtland Temple was, as Benjamin writes in this letter, “even greater than at the day of Pente[cost].” From this perspective, even criticism seemed to testify of the connection. John Corrill wrote of a meeting in the Kirtland Temple, “The sacrament was then administered, in which they partook of the bread and wine freely, and a report went abroad that some of them got drunk: as to that every man must answer for himself. A similar report, the reader will recollect, went out concerning the disciples, at Jerusalem, on the day of pentecost.”21
For his part, though he carefully recorded miracles and visions, Benjamin Brown did not overtly try to situate them historically. He assumed, instead, an affinity of understanding with the few who shared his experiences. In 1853 he wrote, “Such a chain of testimonies, and an interweaving of evidences, accompanied with that perception and comprehension which the Holy Ghost alone can give, none can realize, but those who have received that Spirit and revelations unto themselves. Such persons know just how it is.”22 On March 27, 1836, Benjamin Brown gathered in solemn assembly with “such persons” in the Kirtland Temple.23 Revelation promised them that if they sacrificed to build the temple as commanded, they would be endowed with divine power to transcend the temporal and mortal.24 They anticipated communion with heaven.25
In the documents that follow, Benjamin Brown tried to capture the effulgence of that endowment. He largely succeeded. Though the letter has frustrating damage and other limitations, Brown confirms the general and specific testimonies of other participants of the Kirtland Pentecost. At times he captures more of that experience in his letter than Joseph Smith recorded in his characteristically understated journal entries. Where Joseph’s entry for the evening of March 29, 1836, says, for instance, “The Holy Spirit rested down upon us and we continued in the Lord’s house all night prophesying and giving glory to God” (see n. 39), Brown both confirms and enhances Joseph’s record by noting the ministering of angels, prophesying in tongues, and visions of the Savior and eternity as part of the “many Miraculous Experiences told [and] Many Visions told.”
In the transcription of the document that follows, the line endings of the letter where the letter was torn are preserved. Other line endings are preserved where possible. Editorial marks added include carets < > to indicate insertions made by the author of the document. Strikeouts are shown by
strikeouts. Brackets [ ] indicate editorial comments.
Benjamin Brown Document
[see fig. 2] Dear wife I last night heard from you [page torn]
which I thank the Lord, Brother Bovee26 said [page torn]
Gospel <to father> for which my heart rejoiced for[page torn]
and great is thy reward. Rejoice in the Lord [page torn]
Rejoice, let your moderation be known [page torn]
Now be careful for nothing but in eve [page torn]
[illegible] and with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to [page torn]
[illegible] God, And the peace of God which passeth all understanding [shall] [page torn]
fill your heart through Christ Jesus.27
Now to let you know a few of the thousand great things of God that is passing in this place, there has been no mobs as you have heard. But the work of the Lord is increascing daily. There has been from one to ten Baptized every day this week, some of the Elders have
been out for a few days some have baptized 16 some five &c28 [page torn]
Elders still continue to come in and wash and anoint for the
solmn assembly which will be called next sunday for tithin[g] [page torn]
& sacrifice with fasting & Prayr in the house of the Lord29 fr[page torn]
8 oclock in the morning until 4 in the afternoon [page torn]
known how long the meeting will hold probaly [page torn]
we have meetings almost every evening and [page torn]
and hold till 9. Many marvelous things [page torn]
transpired even greater than at the day of Penti[cost] [page torn]
are increasing in faith and expecting greater [page torn]
endowment it is expected that there is three hundred of [page torn]
in Prayer with one accord as at Jerusalem30
Many visions are given and also Revelations by night & by day some have already come to pass, and many have no[t] yet but will soon.31 I was present when father Smith Blest a man who lived in Niagara County who was in a streight whether to go home, on Business or stay at the solem assembly the old patriarch32 said you want to go home, But the Lord will give you a Sign between this and
tomorning and the man asked the Lord for a sign about 2 hours after as he came out of the
house to go to meeting there appeared a light over the Hou[se] [page torn]
of the Lord and extended from west to East But that part [page torn]
the heavens over his house or home was dark & he said it eno[ugh][page torn]33
some have seen the heavens opend & seen the savior others have seen angels on the four corners of the house of the Lord with drawn swords & also stood thick on the ridge Elisha with his chariot of Fire, Peter John & James, & the highway cast up the ten tribes returning in chariots as far as the eye could extend some saw the Redemtion of Zion and other thing to num [p. 1]
[see fig. 3] [page torn] not the wine & oil. Deeds to the church
[page torn] [w]hether the wicked will be raised
[page torn] 318 page and now my brethren
[page torn]nd prophet of old has testified
[page torn] of God and the people stoned him to death.
Whether the Saints that are raised will remain on earth during the thousand, years, for they lived & reigned with Christ a thousand years Rev 20th 4th
Book of Mormon 424th page Cain & his followers34
Old father Adam was seen Butiful man his hair stood back & curled most butiful even down on his shoulders
Jared Carter Cr
Chains Willard Conn
Kelsey in Pelham
near St. Catharines
Sally Brown lives
in Michigan Town of
Lagrang & County of
Hay & Pork
Ash Logs Broom
[see fig. 4] Sunday Evening after Joseph spoke opened & told them the day of Penticost was continued35 the the [sic] Brethren began to to prophesy many prophesied in the name of the Lord then began speaking in tongues and it filled as it were the whole house, perhaps there were forty speaking at once Cloven tongues of fire was seen to sit on many of them an hand was seen laid upon one when he spake in tongues to the lamanites many Visions seen, one saw a pillow or cloud rest down upon the house bright as when the sun shines on a cloud like as gold, two others saw three personages hovering in the room with bright keys in their hands, and also a bright chain in their hands
theI did not intend this for a letter But this morning while writing Brother Bovee concluded to start for home
Sunday March 27th 1836 the order of the House of the Lord was there was no small children admitted, one woman however not knowing the order brought her child about 2 months old she stood out of the door for a long time, manifested an anxious desire to enter at length one of the Elders said Brethren we do not Exercise faith my faith is this child will not cry a word in the House to day on this the woman & child entered and the child did not cry a word from 8 till 4 in the after noon. But when the saints all shouted Hosana the child was nursing But let go & shouted also when the saints paused it paused when they shouted it shouted for three times when they shouted amen it shouted also for three times then it resumed its nursing without any alarm36
Monday a young man fell and sprained his ancle so as he could not stand the Elders laid hand on him he was healed imediately
On the Penticost evening the west end of the House was illuminated by a light from heaven seen on the outside by many
[see fig. 5] Brother Benjamin Lewis laid hands on a boy that had his arm Broken so as it laid back on his elbow. he placed the bones raped a rag around it his wife poured on some vinegar he then asked the boy to move his fingers the boy did so this was at noon. the next morning the boy went to pulling weed in the garden with that hand no more trouble about it ——
B. Brown heard Brother Colonel Parks of Uclid37 testify that heard in the evening between 8&9 the Report of a rifle apparently about forty rods off then they began as in an action passing a long the road then took a turn & came accross the lot up to the house But the report grew more faint untill it was nothing but a snap and the noise of a flash in the pan was heard by all of the family and
allmany of the brethren in that place the interpilation Given to two present which was judgements of God on that place ——
Father Stephens38 saw on sunday evening two rows of Angels through the House, at another time the glory of God came down on the Elders from the head down half way ——
BrApril 29th an angel swas seen over the Elders Many Propesys given & speaking in tongues, this 29th of March two corums continued all night in the House the twelve guarded it the Heavens was opened two saw the savior some saw chariots and other thing one lay about half an hour & saw from Eternity to Eternity many Miracilous Experiences told Many Visions told39