Saturday, May 11, 2024

"A Doctrine of Devils": Morrisite Teachings after Joseph Morris

After the death of Joseph Morris in 1862, his followers were broken up. Several individuals then arose claiming prophetic authority for a time. Among these, several can be noted.

James and George Dove

Anderson Writes: 

“In 1887 the Doves published Articles of Faith, which outlined the basic principles and doctrines of the Church of the Firstborn … Among these were the rejection of the principle of a literal resurrection after one life on earth in favor of a belief in reincarnation. It was believed that persons could not become perfected in one lifetime upon the earth, but that several sojourns would be required in different bodies and places before the eternal spirit would be prepared to dwell with the angels of heaven. Variations of this belief were found among nearly all Morrisite factions, although it was emphasized much more by some than others.

“The Doves taught that reincarnation was not only available to the righteous but was open to all …. Sinners were given a second chance. `After we have cast off this mortal, the deeds done in the body come to memory, and if our deeds have been evil, we at once feel convicted, and fully realizing our condition, we are anxious to come in mortality to try again.” Anderson, Joseph Morris and the Saga of the Morrisites, 194

George Williams “Prophet Cainan" (1814-1882) 

Williams claimed that angelic being ordained him.  Anderson states:

“He reported that they laid their hands upon his head and declared him to be `the first-born son of the third God in the last quorum of heaven, even Cainan, then Melchisedec, now George Williams, and then conferred upon … [him] … all the keys of the holy priesthood that were ever given to mortal man.”

“The reference here to Caninan and Melchisedec is a continuation of the principle of reincarnation or transmigration of spirits introduced by Joseph Morris. George Williams reported that this was his third incarnation. In his first incarnation he had been Cainan, one of the seven angels, and in his second one he was none other than Melchisedec, the great king of Salem. These previous incarnations, plus the authority granted to him during the two celestial interviews, entitled him to rule upon the earth as God’s supreme representative `to put in motion and carry on the great gospel plan of saving, redeeming and exalting Adam’s race, together with the planet on which they dwell.’” Anderson, Joseph Morris and the Saga of the Morrisites175-176. 

Wiliams also Claimed to have had a vision in which an individual appeared to him and said, “Hail servant of the Most High. I am Mohamet, and before I was Mohamet I was Ishmael the son of Abraham and Hagar, and I am also a servant of the Most High … [and] I am permitted to leave my mansion in Paradise to visit the servant of the Most High now in mortality.” Anderson, Joseph Morris and the Saga of the Morrisites, 183.

William W. Davies (1833-1906)

Concerning Davies Anderson writes:

“He took the principle of reincarnation and made it the keystone of his belief system, applying it not only to himself but also to other members of his family. He claimed a distinguished personal identity, insisting that he was Michael the Archangel reincarnate. That is, the spirit of the Archangel inhabited Davies body and had striven throughout his lifetime to prepare him for his calling. Michael had inhabited several illustrious bodies in ages past, having appeared as Adam, Abraham, and King David. These incarnations were a necessary prelude to the work assigned to Davies” Anderson, Joseph Morris and the Saga of the Morrisites, 200-201

Davies named one of his sons “Messiah Son of David” who was sometimes referred to as “Walla Walla Jesus.” He named another one of his sons “Our Father” meaning God the Father who adopted the name David. Both of these children died in 1880 during a diphtheria epidemic. After the death of his first wife Davies remarried. “In due course, she bore Davies a daughter, which he affirmed was his reincarnated previous wife returned to earth for the purpose of completing her interrupted calling.” He afterwards appears to have lost the following that he had. Anderson, Joseph Morris and the Saga of the Morrisites, 201-203.

"A Doctrine of Devils": The Teachings of Joseph Morris

Joseph Morris is another individual once associated with the Church who taught the false doctrine of multiple probations and founded the group known as the Morrisites. A good book on Joseph Morris and his religious movement can be found in C. LeRoy Anderson work, Joseph Morris and the Saga of the Morrisites (Logan, UT: Utah State University Press, 1988).

Morris claimed that he had passed through two previous mortal probations and that he had previously been Seth the son of Adam and later Moses and that he was going through his third incarnation as Joseph Morris and that he was the seventh angel mentioned in the book of Revelation. 

Anderson explains “Morris combined the principal of spirit transmigration with his evolutionary cosmology. Its basic tenet was that the spirit must enter a variety of states or manlike bodies at different points in evolutionary development in order that all eternal laws might be obeyed and the spirit might gain sufficient knowledge to become perfected `in order that they might continue to pass on from one stage of progression to another, and, ultimately, become Gods like unto the Eternal Father.’” Anderson, Joseph Morris and the Saga of the Morrisites, 40.

After Morris's death, many of his revelations and teachings were published by his followers. These provide information on his religious views. In one example, Morris taught the following:

"The seven angels are subject to each other and succeed each other in presiding. Two of them, Enos and Seth, the sixth and seventh angels, are obligated by law to fill three missions on the earth. Enos filled his second mission to this earth in the person of Elijah, and his third in the person of Joseph Smith. Seth filled his second mission in the person of Moses and is filling his third in the person of Joseph Morris."

Joseph Morris, “An Article on the Order of Sevens,” in The “Spirit Prevails” Containing the Revelations, Articles and Letters Written By Joseph Morris (San Francisco, CA: J. A. Dove & Company, 1886), 644-645.

 In another example, Morris further expounded this teaching.

“What Spirit was that which inhabited the body of Abel? The same spirit that inhabited the body of Aaron, who holds the keys of the lesser priesthood … What spirit was that which dwelt in the body of Enos? It was the same spirit that dwelt in the body of Elijah the prophet.—the same spirit that dwelt in the body of Joseph Smith … What spirit was it that dwelt in the body of Moses? The same that dwelt in the body of Seth. What spirit is it that now dwells in the body of your humble servant? The same spirit that dwelt in the bodies of Moses and Seth. Why was it sent forth upon the earth now? To cast the devil out of the Church and leads it triumphant over all its enemies.”

“How many progressive estates did the eternal Father pass through before he become a God? Ten. What were they? His first was a spiritual estate, his Second, a probation in the flesh; his Third, a resurrected or celestial estate. In his Fourth estate he went forth upon a mortal earth, received a body, died upon a cross, and was raised again from the dead. In his Fifth estate he sat at the right hand of his Father, and was a Mediator, and contended against and conquered death, hell, and the grave. In his Sixth estate he took mortal bodies upon many mortal earths, and officiated in the office of a high priest, a prophet and a president. His mission to each of the last five of these earths, was to preside over a dispensation of a thousand years on each earth; on the first of the five he presided over the first thousand years, on the second of the five, overt the second thousand years, and so on, unto and including the fifth. In the Seventh estate he was a prophet, Redeemer, lawgiver and president of [the] seventh dispensation holding the keys of the holy priesthood. In his Ninth estate he went forth upon his own earth to commence mortality, and having completed his mission he died. He afterwards returned to his own earth and commenced the resurrection of his own posterity, and after in the last great change he ascended his throne, and this was his tenth estate.”

John R. Eardley, Gems of Inspiration: A Collection of Sublime Thoughts by Modern Prophets (San Francisco, CA: Joseph A. Dove, 1899), 34.

By February 1861 Morris had persuaded a small group to follow him including a man then serving as a bishop in South Weber. Hearing about this Wilford Woodruff and John Taylor visited the ward there and put things in order. The following is from Wilford Woodruff’s account in his journal for February 11, 1861 (Spelling in the original):

Bishop Wests took us into his sleigh and drove us to South Webber whare we had an appointment to regulate that Branch of the Church. The Bishop was in apostacy & was leading away others. They had got a New Prophet to slide out of the Church upon. We had a large assembly of saints from other Places. Bishop Cook Came in & opened the way by singing & Prayer.

I then called upon Bishop Richard Cook to speak and requested him to tell us his feelings if he believed in Joseph Morris as a Prophet to tell us so, & to tell us what his feelings were in relation to the Presidency of the Church. He arose & spoke some time without touching the subjet. I again requested him to Come to the point. He then said yes I do Believe in Joseph Morris as a Prophet whom God has raised up to lead this Church & kingdom agreeable to the Revelation in the Doctrins & Covenants which says I will raise up unto you a Prophet like unto Moses &c. I do not Believe that Brigham Young is a prophet or has ever had any revelation or inspiration more than any sectarian Priest, & I believe this Church will ownly be known in name in 10 years unless God does raise up a Prophet." When he Closed some of his party got up & Bore the same testimony.

We then sent for there fals Prophet & Called upon him to speak. He spoke about half an hour. He said Brigham Young was not a prophet & Joseph Smith did not hold the Keys of the Priesthood & was ordained of man while He Joseph Morris was ordained of the Father, & Held six times more keys of the Priesthood than Joseph did. He Said he was the seventh Angel, & much other nonsens he Presented before the Assembly.

When He got through Elder Taylor spoke to the Assembly & showed Brother Cook the Position He was in. He bore testimony that Brigham Young was a prophet of God & he said that He himself was more of a Prophet than Morris was. Brigham Young in saying that He did not profess to be a prophet seer & Revelator as Joseph Smith was, was speaking of men being born Natural Prophets & seers. Many have the gift of seeing through seer stones without the Priesthood at all. He had not this gift naturally yet He was an Apostle & the Presidet of the Church & kingdom of God on the Earth and all the Keys of the Holy Priesthood & of Revelation was sealed upon him & the spirit & power of Revelation was upon him daily.

When He Closed I spoke to the people & bore testimony to the truth of what Elder Taylor had said. Morris had been Cut off from the Church twice for Adultery in the Territory, And He had spent about one year with a woman whose husband was Crazy. I told Morris that He was not a Prophet of God Neither was He the Seventh Angels that when the 7th Angel Came to Earth He would not spend the first year of his Mission with a woman whose Husband was Crazy & Commit Adultery with Her. I showed the folly of Richard Cook & others following such a Man.

When I Closed my remarks Morris Denyed of Being with that woman. Bishop West arose & bore testimony that what I had said was true. We then took all the Names of the persons who professed to believe in Joseph Morris as the prophet of God raised up to lead the Church. There was 16 Names Given as follows: Richard Cook William Kendall Nels Morrison Mrs Hannah Cook John Cook Robert Farley Nathan Brooks Mrs Margaret Cook John Firth John Parsons John Trolsom Mrs Hellen Cook Mrs Sarah Cook Mrs Mary Cook Mrs Joanna Kendall.

John Taylor then moved that those sixteen named persons be Cut off from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. I seconded the motion & they were Cut off from the Church without a disscenting voice. We then Nominated Philo Allen to Preside over the remainder of that Branch of the Church which was Carried unanimously. We also voted to unite that Branch to Ogden under the Charge of the Presidet & Bishop of that Place.

Wilford Woodruff Journal, February 11, 1861.

Morris cultivated a group of several hundred followers who provoked a violent confrontation during which he was killed. Afterwards the Morrisites scattered and split into several factions that continued to promote variations on Morris's teachings for a time.

Monday, May 6, 2024

"A Doctrine of Devils": Charles B. Thompson

The aftermath of the martyrdom of Joseph Smith was a tumultuous time for the Saints in which a number of individuals who rejected the leadership of Brigham Young and the Twelve and claimed authority to leader the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. George A. Smith, the Prophet Joseph Smith's cousin and an Apostle of the Church stated in 1858, "Charles B. Thompson, Francis Gladden Bishop, G. J,. Adams, and others arose until" he jokingly quipped, "prophets for a while were at a discount." (George A Smith, Divine Origin of Mormonism," January 10, 1858, in Journal of Discourses 7:117). Some of these individuals taught a doctrine of transmigration of souls, sometimes also called baby resurrection or multiple mortal probations. One of these was Charles  B. Thompson, who for a time gathered a group of followers who sometimes characterized as "Beneemyites." 

James Strang, another rival to the leadership of the Twelve claimed that Thompson may have been influenced by the teachings of William McCary who claimed to be Jesus Christ "and who was restoring the apostolic church by naming men after various members of it. It was said that in this process either Peter or Paul had been restored to earth in the person of this same Charles, who thereby either got the keys of the kingdom or became an apostle to the Gentiles.” James J. Strang, “Charles B. Thompson,” Gospel Herald, Voree, Wisconsin, October 5, 1848, 140.

Later Thompson claimed to have received several revelations which had made known his previous mortal identities. In a revelation he received in April 1850, it stated, “And now behold, I send unto you my servant Charles B. Thompson, in whom is regenerated my dear son Ephraim, my first-born, with the voice of Beneemy, in the spirit and name of Elias, to write in your hearts my law, and to restore unto you all things, according to the covenants of your fathers, and to bless the earth to you, that it may no more be smitten with a curse.” Revelation, April 1850, in The Laws and Covenants of Israel; Written to Ephraim, from Jehovah, the Mighty God of Jacob. Also, Ephraim and Beneemy’s Proclamations (Preparation, Iowa: Book and Periodical Office of Zion’s Presbytery, 1857), 128.

Another revelation dated April 15 1852 stated , “Because in thee is regenerated Ephraim, my firstborn, of the seed of Joseph, in which the birth-right of Israel was given by my servant Jacob.” Revelation, April 15, 1852, in The Laws and Covenants of Israel; Written to Ephraim, from Jehovah, the Mighty God of Jacob. Also, Ephraim and Beneemy’s Proclamations, 155.

After a few years, Thompson's followers rejected his leadership and scattered.

Missionaries who would be associated with the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (now the Community of Christ), recorded an encounter with a former follower of Thompson by the name of Rowland Cobb. One missionary wrote wrote:

“Preparation, Monona County, Iowa, Monday, February 13. I came to this noted little village just before sunset. It was the headquarters of Charles B. Thompson. I am hospitably received by Elder Rowland Cobb, keeper of a hotel and general intelligence office of the place. I had met with him some years since at Elder Blair’s at Amboy, Illinois. He was then on a mission in the interest of Baneemyism, a firm believer in the first principles of the gospel, but had sidetracked with Charles B. Thompson, who had claimed special, divine call and introduced into his wild scheme an old doctrine of the ancient idolators of Indian; and a sect among the Romans of the transmigration of the soul; and common stock business as an agent for Beneemy ….

Wednesday, February 15, 1860. At half past ten o'clock in the forenoon …. Charles B. Thompson claimed no previous ordination to the presidency, according to the law. You are fully apprised of his untenable grounds and his absurd doctrine of the transmigration of souls; an old theory of idolaters of India, revived on these beautiful prairies of western Iowa.”

 Edmund C. Briggs, Early History of the Reogranization (Independence, MO: Price Publishing Company, 1998), 236-237.

One February 20-21, 1860, another missionary recorded, “Brother Rowland Cobb, who had been silenced for preaching that the soul of man passes into many mortal bodies by transmigration ere it attains celestial glory and perfection, was patiently heard for near two hours in defense and advocacy of that theory, after which scriptural and doctoral facts were presented in opposition to it, proving that man has but one earthly probation. He promised to no longer preach or teach that theory.” Frederick B. Blair, The Memoirs of President W. W. Blair (Lamoni, Iowa: Herald Publishing House, 1908), 99.

"A Doctrine of Devils": William McCary

William McCary was a black man who joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sometime around 1846 and appears to have been baptized by Orson Hyde. Shortly afterward he went on a mission to Cincinnati, Ohio. While there, he appears to have developed a following and engaged in strange behavior. It appears that one of McCary’s erroneous teachings was the transmigration of spirits. 

An article published in the Cincinnati Commercial on October 27, 1846 claimed that McCary “proclaimed himself Jesus Christ” and showed to his followers “the scars of wounds in his hands and limbs received on the cross” and performed “miracles with a golden rod.” Another article from the same newspaper published several weeks later on November 27, 1846 reported that this man “had visited our city with his wife, and proclaimed himself the `Lord Jesus Christ'!, established apostleship, and proceeded to organize a church of followers, numbering in male and female, some sixty persons.”

Isaac Sheen, a man who did not follow the leadership of the Twelve Apostles following the martyrdom of Joseph Smith, reported that McCary "said he was Adam, Ancient of days, Jesus, and the Lamanite prophet. Under his tuition then, Charles B. Thompson was instructed in the doctrine of transmigration, which he afterwards connected with his Beneemy doctrines. By magic arts, Mr. Williams, the impostor, deceived many for a few days or weeks. He found one who, like Thomas doubted. To convince him that he was the same Thomas, and sent again to be an apostle, he, by his ventriloquism made him believe that God spoke unto him, and called him Thomas. For teaching polygamous doctrines, the impostor was compelled to leave the city. We heard of his continued operations and tricks not far from Kanesville, shortly after.” [Isaac Sheen] “A Protest of Orson Hyde,” The True Latter-day Saints’ Herald, Cincinnati, Ohio 2, no. 1 (March 1861): 5

By March 1847 McCary was at Winter Quarters where he met with Brigham Young and several other Church leaders. During this meeting “[William] McCary made a rambling statement, claiming to be Adam, the ancient of days, and exhibiting himself in Indian costume; he also claimed to have an odd rib which he had discovered in his wife. He played on his thirty-six cent flute, being a natural musician and gave several illustrations of his ability as a mimic.” Manuscript History of the Church, March 26, 1847, in Manuscript History of Brigham Young 1846-1847, ed. Elden J. Watson (Salt Lake City, UT: Elden J. Watson, 1971), 542.

According to Stephen L. Shields, McCary, while at Winter Quarters in 1847 "continued to make uncomfortable claims, such as being the Apostle Thomas reincarnate. He was called before the high council on charges of apostasy. He left Winter Quarters and his followers set up an independent colony not far away." Steven L Shields, Divergent Paths of the Restoration: An Encyclopedia of the Smith–Rigdon Movement (Salt Lake City, UT: Signature Books. 2022), 68-69, Kindle Edition.

While there is no indication of which I am aware that Robert Matthews (Matthias) and McCary ever met or knew each other, both men appear to have believed or taught some version of reincarnation or the transmigration of souls from one mortal body to another. Matthias claimed to possess the spirt of the apostle Matthias, while McCary sometimes claimed to be the apostle Thomas. It is also interesting that in connection with the transmigration teaching each also identified themselves as Christ.

It appears that in spite of the clear teachings of the scriptures and the Prophet Joseph Smith concerning the nature of the resurrection, there were apparently some members of the Church at Winter Quarters, perhaps influenced by McCary who entertained this erroneous view of the resurrection. Several Latter-day Saint leaders addressed the Saints in order to correct erroneous doctrines which some had entertained. As noted in an earlier post, Orson Pratt spoke to the Saints on July 16, 1847, warning

"Some had been teaching the doctrine that the resurrection was by birth or through the womb but Br Pratt showed the folly of such a doctrine, & Proved by many revelations that the dead were raised by the power of God & the blowing of the Trump of Michael the Ark Angel who was Father Adam & that the graves of the Saints would be opened & their Bodies would come forth out of their graves according to the visions of Ezekiel & many of the prophets. He showed that However miraculous it might appear unto us it was just as easy for God to perform this work as it was to turn water into wine or make Bread without flour to feed a multitude. W. Woodruff followed Br Pratt & bore testimony to what had been said  & spoke in the spirit of the Lord.” (Wilford Woodruff Journal, November 21, 1847).

On  December 27, 1847 during a conference at Winter Quarters before about a thousand Latter-day Saints Brigham Young discussed the resurrection of the dead. Wilford Woodruff recorded the following

"Much important and interesting instruction was given upon these and other subjects among which was the resurrection spoken upon by Brigham Young. He said there was nothing more to be learned by the people upon the subject than what was written. The subject was made plain in the Bible and other revelations & it was not a subject that we wanted to use & at the present time as we had not come to the resurrection. But there was no person except a resurrected body who held the Keys of the resurrection. Michael the Ark Angel or Ancient of Days who was Father Adam held the keys of the resurrection." Wilford Woodruff Journal, December 27, 1847).