Thursday, May 1, 2014

Counselor and Scribe, Frederick G. Williams

So much has been said regarding Joseph Smith’s personal scribe and counselor in the First Presidency, that perhaps a little more background and knowledge about the man might be appropriate. Especially as we conclude his most amazing comment that he wrote down about Lehi’s landing site being at the 30º south latitude on the coast of Chile in South America, which has been covered thoroughly in previous posts. 
Williams was called by direct revelation to be a counselor to Joseph Smith, and like some others, he sacrificed greatly for the kingdom, including his own reputation. Of him, the Prophet said, “Brother Frederick G. Williams is one of those men in whom I place the greatest confidence and trust, for I have found him ever full of love and brotherly kindness. He is not a man of many words, but is ever winning, because of his constant mind. He shall ever have place in my heart. God grant that he may overcome all evil. Blessed be Brother Frederick for he shall never want for a friend; and his generation after his shall flourish.”
    To start with, when Joseph Smith was ordained as president of the high priesthood on 25 January 1832, he was without counselors until March 8th when Sidney Rigdon and 47-year-old, Jesse Gause, were called. A former Shaker, Gause was unable to convince his wife, Minerva, to join the Church, and he accompanied Joseph Smith to Jackson County Missouri, between April and June in order to set up the Law of Consecration. He was later called on a mission with Zebedee Coltrin on August 1, but when Coltrin became ill and returned to Kirtland, Gause disappeared from history, and by the end of 1832, had “denied the faith.” He was excommunicated in December 1832—what became of him is unknown other than he died by 1836.
    In July of 1832, 44-year-old Frederick Granger Williams was called to be Joseph Smith’s Clerk and personal Scribe, and as such became the Prophet’s confidant. He had taken an early interest in medicine and herb-based studies and practiced medicine as an adult. He became the physician to Joseph Smith and his family, and one of Joseph’s sons, Frederick Granger Williams Smith, was named after him. In addition to performing his physician’s duties, he also acted as personal scribe to the Prophet, organized the printing firm F.G. Williams and Company and was an editor of the Northern Times, an early newspaper printed by the Church.
    Early in Williams life, at the age of 26, and living in the area of Cleveland, Ohio, 28-year-old Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry came to Williams’ father who owned numerous mills, to build ships, which were used against the British on Lake Erie to regain control of the Upper Lakes Region from Barclay’s English fleet—the first time in history an entire English fleet had been defeated. Williams served in those battles as Perry’s pilot.
Left: Commodore Perry directing the fight “We have met the enemy and they are ours.” Right: Perry’s USS Lawrence firing upon HMS Queen Charlotte and HMS Detroit, the latter captained by British Commodore Robert Barclay, at the decisive American signal victory at the Battle of Put-in-Bay, along the western end of Lake Erie, on September 10, 1813
After Perry’s victory on Lake Erie and General Harrison’s victory on land the war came to an end so far as the Cleveland area was concerned, and Williams began teaching school and continued to work as a pilot on Lake Erie, transporting goods and passengers between Buffalo and Detroit.
In December, 1815, he met Rebecca Swain (left in 1860) of Youngstown, New York, who was a passenger on one of his trips, and later married her. They moved to Ohio where he farmed and became interested in medicine. By 1830, he had an extensive practice and was a man of considerable influence in the community.
    While in Ohio, Williams became associated with Sidney Rigdon’s Disciples of Christ Church in October 1830, then joined the LDS Church when Oliver Cowdery, Parley P. Pratt, Ziba Peterson, and Peter Whitmer, Jr, traveled through Kirtland on a mission to Missouri and the unorganized Indian Territory. They taught and baptized many of (Reverand) Sidney Rigdon’s Cambellite congregation, including Rebecca, but Williams took a few months, studying and reading all about the Book of Mormon before he, too, joined.
    As a new convert, Williams accompanied Cowdery and the others to the Missouri frontier on the mission to the Indians, and was ordained a high priest in October the following year. During this time, Joseph Smith moved his family from New York to Kirtland and, for a time, lodged in the Williams home, though Williams himself did not meet the Prophet until he went to Missouri at the dedication of a temple site. Williams covenanted with Joseph that he would be willing to consecrate his all to the service of the lord, and it was the beginning of a life-long friendship.
The First Presidency of the Church, LtoR: Sidney Rigdon, Joseph Smith, and Frederick G. Williams in 1833, after Williams replaced Jesse Gause
    Williams was in attendance at the organizational meeting of the School of the Prophets in Kirtland in January 1833, and served as Trustee and taught, was appointed editor of the Northern Times, and was called to replace Jesse Gause as Second Counselor in the First Presidency, by the commandment of the Lord (D&C 90). In 1834, he joined Zion’s Camp and served as scout, camp doctor, and general as well as paymaster until the men were discharged. He continued to serve faithfully for the next several years and was among the privileged few who saw angels appear in the Kirtland Temple on the day of dedication. He said that an angel came and sat “between Father Smith and himself, and remained there during the prayer.”
    Williams died in 1842 at the age of 55. Several sources report that President Williams apostatized after the collapse of the Kirtland Safety Society Anti-Banking Company in May 1837. According to B.H. Roberts, Lucy Mack Smith reported that President Williams, also a justice of the peace, refused the Prophet a search warrant to regain funds embezzled by Warren Parrish and, as a result, was dropped from the First Presidency and was replaced by Oliver Cowdery in his civil position.
    However, the Prophet’s account indicates that he obtained the desired warrant “too late” and does not mention any action taken against President Williams. In fact, according to the Kirtland Trustees’ Minutes and Poll Book, Oliver Cowdery served as justice of the peace at the same time as President Williams; and instead of one replacing the other, both resigned at nearly the same time and were replaced at the same election.
Williams was, however, excommunicated, in absentia, at a conference presided over by Brigham Young in March 1839, while Joseph Smith was in Liberty Jail. But he was rebaptized the next year, April 1840, and the mystery behind this excommunication has never been illuminated. He was restored to fellowship at a church conference presided over by Joseph Smith in April 1840, nearly two years before the Prophet’s martyrdom, and died in full fellowship on October 10, 1842, in Quincy, Illinois.
    Joseph Fielding Smith stated that at his death, Williams was “true to the Church and his brethren.” His wife, Rebecca, his son and daughter-in-law, and his two grandchildren emigrated to Utah with the Saints. Rebecca later became a wife of Heber C. Kimball, and the Williams family is still represented by faithful, active members today.
    Evidently, Williams did not leave the Church as many claim, but some residue of bad feeling may have remained, since, at the conference four months later in September, the membership was not unanimous in sustaining him to the First Presidency. The next summer, in July 1838, in Far West, the Lord gave a revelation published in History of the Church, informing W. W. Phelps and Frederick G. Williams that “in consequence of their transgressions their former standing has been taken away from them” and instructing them to do missionary work. Williams was dropped from the First Presidency at that point, but a letter written the same year affirms his loyalty and commitment to the Church.
    Despite his human failings and misfortunes, he went with the Saints as they moved from Missouri to Illinois and, despite his excommunication in those uncertain circumstances, took steps to have himself rebaptized. He endured faithful to the end, a legacy he has passed on to his descendants. Had he lived long enough to go west and finish out his life with the Saints, we can suppose that his continued years of faithful service would have balanced out the turmoil and misunderstandings of those early years.
    Through all of this, one thing seems certain. Frederick G. Williams, friend and confidant of Joseph Smith, was a man of integrity. Why or under what circumstances he wrote down on that sheet of paper that Lehi landed at 30º south latitude on the coast of Chile may never be known. However, his choice of a landing site was not only right on, but matches every description left us in the scriptural record. Some say it wasn’t a revelation, maybe not, but it certainly had to be inspiration since nobody could have known the accuracy of such an obscure location in the 1830s.

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