by Tim Barker
Note: I had written this biography while in school a number of years back. While it is brief, and really only focuses on his life in early church history, his story is inspiring and insightful.
Among the early converts and pioneers of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, are those lesser-known Saints who have contributed significantly to its establishment and growth. From its humble beginnings, the church grew rapidly because of devoted members who quickly embraced the gospel, and shared it with loved ones and neighbors. These Saints loved and supported their prophet, Joseph Smith, Jun., and went to great lengths to help him in all of his endeavors. Although most early church leaders are generally recognized by Latter-day Saints today, there were many men and women who gave all that was required of them, but have faded on to the backdrops of history. Among these noble pioneers was Benjamin Franklin Johnson, an early convert, personal friend of the Prophet, and his private secretary. As such, Johnson was able to recount the events in his own life, as well as shed greater light on to the personality of the Prophet Joseph Smith for others. His life is an example of one great pioneer who was faithful throughout his life, but unfortunately is not generally well known among Latter-day Saints today.
Benjamin F. Johnson was the tenth of sixteenth children, born to Ezekiel and Julia Hills Johnson on July 28, 1818.1 His family moved to Pomfret in western New York, shortly before his birth, where farming occupied their time. He described his family as religious, although his father was much more reserved than his mother. Benjamin said his mother “possessed high religious veneration, and early taught me faith in God and the necessity of prayer.”2 She attended the local Presbyterian services with her children each Sunday, which gave Benjamin the opportunity of learning to read and write from the Bible as a means of his education. While attending these services, he was taught the principles of heaven and hell, and began to be “afflicted with the idea of a future punishment, with literal fire and brimstone.”3 Johnson said that this idea created great fear and anxiety in him until he found the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
In 1829, his village paper published an article on a young man who claimed to have seen an angel, who had given him golden plates, “from which he had translated a new Bible.”4 Although Johnson faithfully attended the Presbyterian meetings, he still had concerns regarding all of the different teachings among the various sects. When he heard about the local events, “he could hardly refrain from wishing or hoping it might be so.”5 Through his education in reading the Bible, Benjamin had a desire to live in the time of the Apostles, “or to have prophets and revelation in his day.”6 Around this time, Benjamin’s brother David went to visit their oldest brother Joel in Amherst, Ohio, where he stayed for a length of time. Here they met some missionaries connected with Joseph Smith, Jun., and the “new Bible.”In September and October of 1830, Oliver Cowdery, Peter Whitmer, Jun., Parley P. Pratt, and Ziba Peterson were called on a mission to preach to the Lamanites.7 Along the way to Missouri, Parley Pratt and the others stopped in Ohio, where Pratt used to reside. Here they preached for approximately four weeks, and baptized about 130 people.8 Among those baptized were the Johnson brothers. Their mother feared that they might be deceived by the new “Campbellite” doctrines in Ohio, but was surprised when she received a copy of The Book of Mormon accompanied with a letter of explanation from her sons.9 Although the family had reservations regarding the Gospel at first, after reading from the Book of Mormon, and holding many family discussions, they became more open minded. Benjamin described the change of hearts they had by saying that the reading “soon led to marveling at the simplicity and purity of what they read, and at the spirit which accompanied it, bearing witness of its truth.”10 When Joel and David returned home they bore their testimonies of the restoration of the Gospel. Shortly after that, Elders James Brackinbury and Jabez Durfee preached to the family, and “brought a confirming witness to what the Johnsons already felt.”11 The family was baptized, excepting Benjamin’s father Ezekiel, and the younger children. Ezekiel became strongly opposed to the church and denied his younger children the opportunity of baptism. Benjamin accepted the Gospel with all of his heart, but respecting the wishes of his father, he patiently awaited the time when he could be baptized by somebody holding Priesthood authority.
Although he was only thirteen years of age at the time, Benjamin accompanied his brother Joel back to Ohio in the early spring of 1832. It was shortly after this time that he met Joseph Smith for the first time. He described the Prophet in these words:
Though the Prophet was hardly more than a boy in appearance, I soon learned that he was a man indeed in wisdom and council; and although younger than he, I had great opportunity to scrutinize his life and habits. Such were the social and religious elements of his unselfish nature that those who knew him best loved him most; and to me, who became associated with him personally in his family, who became his confidential friend, his financial agent, his trusted companion and nurse in his sickness–to me, he was the embodiment and perfection of all that I could comprehend in perfect manhood.12
When Benjamin and Joel arrived in Ohio, several significant events were happening in the church. These events allowed the Saints to participate in the growth of the Kingdom, as well as associate closely with prominent leaders. The church had two major settlements at this time, one in Kirtland, where Joseph lived, and the other in Missouri, where members were suffering great persecution. Joseph Smith organized the “Zion’s Camp” that would help relieve the Saints in Missouri. Benjamin desired to go with the camp, but was advised by Smith to stay home, as he was not yet baptized. “I was assured by the Prophet Joseph that no loss should come to me for waiting, for although not fully a member I had partaken of every hope, desire, and spiritual influence with which those around me were animated.”13
Although Benjamin had already participated in every “hope, desire, and spiritual influence” that the members enjoyed, he made the decision to join them through baptism, despite his father’s objections. In 1833, Elder Lyman Johnson baptized him as one having Priesthood authority. In the fall of that year, the Lord required his Saints to build a temple to His holy name. Originally, the temple was to be built of brick, which Benjamin and his brother Joel were asked to help make.15 This idea was abandoned when a stone quarry was found nearby. The cornerstones of the temple were laid in the spring of 1834, after which, many blessings followed. Johnson said that the spirit was manifested greatly during this time with the gift of tongues, interpretation of tongues, prophecy, and healing.14 On the night of Nov 14, 1834, he saw what he felt was a partial fulfillment to the prophecy that “the stars of heaven fell unto the earth, even as a fig tree casteth her untimely figs.”16 Benjamin recorded:
My pen is inadequate to give a description of the scene then presented, for the heavens were full of blazing storm, from zenith to horizon, and a view more sublime and terrible the eyes of man may never have seen. To the fearful it struck terror,…for it appeared for a time that both the heavens and the earth were on fire. I gazed upon the scene with wondering awe, but with a full realization of its purport as a sign of the last days.17
He later discovered that the night this happened was the same night that the Saints were driven out of Jackson County, Missouri.
Before the temple was completed, Joseph Smith called on all of those who assisted in the work of the temple to assemble together. On Mar 7, 1835, Smith blessed all who had “assisted in building, by their labor and other means, the House of the Lord in this place.”15 Although Benjamin felt that he did not deserve a blessing, he described his experience with the Prophet, in these words:
When on the last day of blessings, I was standing by the door in the crowded congregation, and oh! how I did yearn for a blessing! And as the last blessing, apparently, was given, the Prophet earnestly looked towards the door where I was standing, and said to his brother Hyrum, “Go and see if there is not one more yet to be blessed.” Brother Hyrum came to the door, and seeing me, put his hand upon my shoulder and asked me if I had not worked upon the Temple. I said, “No sir,” but it seemed like passing a sentence upon my fondest hopes. He then asked if I had done nothing towards it. I then thought of a new gun I had earned and given as a donation, and of the brick I had helped to make. I said, “I did give often.” “I thought,” he said, “there was a blessing for you,” and he almost carried me to the stand. The Prophet blessed me, with a confirmation of all his father had sealed upon me, and many more also. I felt then that the Lord had respect for my great desire. Even to be the youngest and last to be blessed seemed to me a high privilege. When the Prophet had looked towards the door, I felt as though he would call for me, though I could not see how I had merited so high a privilege. But so it was, and my joy was full.16
As mentioned in the Prophet’s blessing upon him, Benjamin had received a blessing from Joseph Smith Sen., as well. This blessing came when J. Smith Sen., was giving patriarchal blessings to the members. After blessing all of the Johnson family by order of age, he came to Joseph E. and Benjamin, and then placed his hands on Benjamin. Sister Johnson told the patriarch that Joseph E. was older, but Smith replied that it “mattered not,” and that to Benjamin “was the first blessing.”17 Benjamin was blessed with “great and glorious things,” but more significantly to him, was blessed “to do the work of brother Seth, who had been called away by death. In this promise there was to me more joy than ever before I had known; my dear brother was not to be robbed of his blessings, and if I could only live faithfully, his work would be done, and I should do it for him. I felt this was the greatest boon the Lord could bestow upon me.”18 Through this blessing, Benjamin was called to fulfill the mission that his brother Seth would have done, as well as enjoying a similar blessing that Ephraim of old experienced.19
Following these blessings, Johnson desired to share the gospel as a missionary. After saving a sufficient amount of money, he approached Joseph Smith, and sought approval in serving in his hometown. Joseph told Benjamin, “It is right for you to go.”20 Johnson said that the Prophet comforted, and blessed him, and that “in other ways I now began to be better acquainted and more familiar with him.”21 However, the mission was short-lived, and Benjamin returned home disappointed.
The next winter, he attended the “School of the Prophets,” where he heard the “Lectures on Faith,” and was taught grammar by Elder William E. McLellin.22 He also attended a geography class at night, which inspired him to study history. These lessons prepared Johnson for greater teachings that were yet to come. The Saints knew that the Lord was going to endow them with power from on high, and were anxious to complete the temple. Persecutions towards Joseph Smith and the rest of the members increased, especially towards the temple. Benjamin wrote that during the construction of the temple, the hatred and opposition forced the Saints to guard the temple, both night and day. He said that the laborers on the walls held a hammer with one hand, and the other was ready to grab the sword.23 However, the temple was completed, and dedicated on Mar 27, 1836.24 Although Benjamin had worked towards the temple, and attended the School of the Prophets, he was not yet able to receive the blessings of the temple.
I attended the dedication of the Temple and all subsequent public meetings. I knew of the endowments received by the elders, and learned of the ministering of the angels at the time of their appearance in the Temple; but as I had not yet received the priesthood I did not receive the higher blessings.
He said that there were greater manifestations of the gifts of the Spirit, and the joy rested on the hearts of the Saints. The completed temple brought great blessings and prosperity. Unfortunately, the prosperity brought about pride, and the neglect of charity and humility. Before long, those who rejoiced in the temple, and even those in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, began to falter, and find their way out of the church. Lyman Johnson and William E. McLellin were two Apostles that had great influence and significance in Johnson’s life, but fell away. Years later, Johnson recounted these events by saying, “I was then nineteen years of age, and as I now look back through more than fifty years of subsequent experience, to that first great Apostasy, I regard it as the greatest sorrow, disappointment and test through which I have ever passed.”25
These apostates created a great enough burden on the Saints to cause them to leave Kirtland. Most of the members traveled to Missouri, including the Johnsons. Benjamin rode with the “Kirtland Poor Camp,” which provided him with great missionary opportunities. At one town he stopped in front of a tavern to answer some questions concerning who they were, and what their purpose was. Benjamin described this situation, by saying:
I was covered with dust, without a coat, and barefoot, and feeling mortified at my appearance wished to hurry on, but other questions were asked and I could not leave them unanswered, until I forgot to answer one question at a time and commenced to talk, and as I proceeded the people gathered, and when I ceased and looked around there were hundreds before me and all windows were open on both sides of the street, and crowded with listening women; and all appeared to wonder at the dirty, barefooted boy. But no one marveled more than myself. . .”26
Along the way, Johnson desired to be rebaptized as a sign of greater commitment to the gospel. In mid-October, he was baptized by Henry Hariman, shortly before arriving at Haun’s Mill. Feeling impressed to continue onward, they left to Far West, only days before the Haun’s Mill massacre. Here, they were met by the Prophet Joseph, who encouraged them to proceed on to “Diahman.”
In Diahman, the members were given the opportunity to choose plots, according to age. Benjamin was anxious to receive one, but because he was young, he was one of the last members to choose. He chose a rocky plot that was in the upper valley of the settlement. After the Prophet arrived a couple of days later, he pointed out that Adam used these rocks in building an altar for sacrifices. Joseph told them that Adam stood here and “blessed the multitude of his children, when they called him Michael, and where he will again sit as the Ancient of Days.”27 After this, Benjamin said that he was “not envious of anyone’s choice for a city lot in Adam-ondi-Ahman.”28
Shortly after this, Benjamin was able to become more closely associated with the Prophet Joseph. He said that the Prophet called on him to come and stay with the Sloan family, which was where Joseph resided at the time. However, this didn’t last very long, as persecution towards the Saints increased. Most of the brethren at Diahman were needed to help defend Far West, while Benjamin stayed behind as a guard. He was soon arrested by General Wilson and the militia, and then traveled for a little over a week to the jail. His faithfulness helped him to escape death at this time after continual threats were made on his life. Johnson relates one experience:
While sitting upon a log one day a brute came to him [Benjamin] with a rifle in hand, saying, “You give up Mormonism right now, or I’ll shoot you.” Receiving a decisive refusal he took deliberate aim not 10 feet distance and pulled the trigger. No explosion occurred, and he cursed fearfully, saying he had used the gun 20 years and it had never before missed fire. He examined the lock, put in fresh priming and again essayed to shoot Johnson, but without effect, and a third time with the same result. A bystander told him to fix up his gun a little, and then said he, “You can kill the cuss all right.” “Yes,” said the would be murderer, “I’ll put in a fresh load.” He did so and again essayed to kill Johnson. This time the gun bursted [sic] and killed the wretch [gunman] upon the spot, and a bystander was heard to say, “You’d better not try to kill that man.”29
After about one week in prison, he was put to a severe test. “He was offered release and reward if he would betray his brethren, but death if he would not.”30Benjamin recalled this experience years later with tears running down his cheeks when he said, “I would rather have been tied to every tree in the woods and shot, than to have forfeited my integrity to my brethren.”31
After being released, Benjamin returned to Far West, where he spent much time in the William D. Huntington home. Here, they enjoyed many testimony and prayer meetings, where Johnson received the gift of tongues, “which never left him.”32 Through all of these experiences, the church leaders recognized the growth and maturity in Benjamin. Greater responsibilities were given to him shortly after he arrived in Illinois, when Elder Heber C. Kimball ordained him an Elder of the church on Mar 10, 1839. Three months later, at the June conference in Quincy, Benjamin was called to assist the twelve Apostles on their mission to England.33 He was in Springfield, visiting family when he received his call, but left for Nauvoo to join the Saints on July 28, 1839.
When Johnson arrived, he found that many members were sick, and was also taken with the fever when the Prophet invited him to stay until fully recovered. Then Joseph became sick, and asked Benjamin to nurse him, which he did day and night for a little over two weeks.34 Sickness and death began to afflict most of the Saints here, when the Prophet manifested the great healing power of the Lord. “He arose from his bed like a lion, or as a giant refreshed with wine. He went to President Rigdon with great reproof, commanding him and his house to repent; and called for a skiff, crossed the river, and finding Elijah Fordham in death’s struggle, he commanded him to arise, which he did at once, and was made whole as also were others by his administrations.”35
A letter from Springfield came to Johnson reporting that his mother and sister were also becoming very ill. He decided to stop at his mother’s home, on his way to fulfill his call to preach in England. Before Benjamin left, he visited with Joseph Smith “with the hope of again to receive his blessing.”36 He told Joseph that all the money he had left was ten dollars, and desired to pay a tithe on it. Johnson recounts this experience with the Prophet:
He saw that I was weak in body and that my heart was sad in leaving him, so thinking to cheer and arouse me, when putting the nine silver dollars in my hand he playfully knocked my hand upward, and scattering the money all over the room. My heart was so full of tears, and my emotions must have vent, so forgetting all but the feeling that we were boy companions playing together, I sprang at and grappled him, as though to teach him a lesson, but the lesson was all to me, for on making one grand effort to throw him, I found myself in strength no more than a bullrush [sic] as compared with him, and as my strength was fictitious and my real recovery was but illusion, I collapsed and fainted in his arms. He placed me in repose, and did all necessary for my restoration and comfort. Then gathering up the scattered money, and after a period of delay, weak, trembling and desolate, yet determined to start, I led my horse to the other gate and as I was passing through, with the bridle on my arm, his hand detained me, and placing his hands upon my head, he seemed to pour out his soul in blessing me. He told the Lord I had been faithful to care for others, that I was now worn and sick, and that on my journey I would need his care, and he asked that a special guardian might go with me from that day and stay with me through all my life. And oh! my dear brother, how often have I seen through life the footprints of that angel, and knew that his hand had drawn me back from death.
This experience demonstrates the love that the Prophet had for his friend Benjamin F. Johnson. It also shows the charity that Johnson had for others, and because of his righteousness, he was given this great blessing from a Prophet of God.
Benjamin had not traveled far before he became very ill again. Brigham Young and Heber Kimball passed him on their way to England, and told him not to journey with them. They told him that when he felt better, and had the faith, to journey to the East, and to preach there. Before too long, he was able to take his journey East, and preached for a while before he went north to Canada. After much disappointment because of continual refusal for baptism, Benjamin finally felt that he found the reason he was supposed to preach. He described an experience with some Indians on an island in Lake Simcoe.
One morning while taking my walk I came upon a number of Indian families encamped. I found one Indian who could talk very good English and was quite intelligent . . . .At first he did not seem disposed to talk, but seemed willing to listen. I commenced talking to him of their forefathers, when the Spirit came upon me, and I spoke in their own tongue. All the Indians came running to me, to listen with glistening eyes and great attention through all my talk to them. When I ceased, the Indian with whom I had been talking said, “You talk good Mohawk, and we all understand.” This was manifest to me, the Spirit of the Lord rested upon them, and they would now tell me anything I wished to know pertaining to their religion. I learned that their hopes of the future were almost identical with our own, and they realized that because of wars and wickedness they had been cursed, but that through the ancient fathers it was promised that the power of their enemies should be broken, and a great prophet or prince would be sent to them by the Great Spirit. All of this was in the highest degree joyful to me, for I felt that I had been led to them to bear a great testimony to these Lamanites, that would not by them be forgotten, and that it would live in the hearts of their children.37
He continued preaching for some time, but not with the amount of success that he was satisfied with. Before he came home, Benjamin met Melissa Bloomfield LeBaron, whom he married in Kirtland. After the wedding, they quickly left to Nauvoo, because Joseph asked the Saints to gather here.
When Johnson arrived, he met up with the Prophet, and discussed the current condition of Almon Babbitt (Benjamin’s brother-in-law), who had recently apostatized. Benjamin served as a mediator for the two because of Babbitt’s disposition towards the Prophet. Both men held confidence in Benjamin, and after the differences were settled, Joseph entrusted Benjamin with greater responsibilities. “He was given power of attorney for the Church’s property in Kirtland and Ramus, which responsibility he held until the Prophet’s martyrdom.”38 Benjamin and Melissa made their home in Ramus. After they had settled in, Brigham Young (then the President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles) called Johnson to preside over branches in Pittsburgh. When he told Joseph of his call, the Prophet told Benjamin to “Tell Brother Brigham that Brother Joseph says, ‘send someone else.’”39
Smith visited Ramus from time to time, but only stayed at the Johnson home when he came. Benjamin said that he “was proud of his partiality and took great delight in his society and friendship. When with us, there was no lack of amusement; for with jokes, games, etc., he was always ready to provoke merriment . . .and his fraternal feeling, in great degree did away with the disparity of age or greatness of his calling.”40 President George Albert Smith told Johnson that the Prophet considered him, his “bosom friend and companion.”41 During this era, Benjamin and the Prophet continued to grow closer to each other, and gained greater respect for one another. Because Joseph had stayed with the Johnsons so often, locals began calling them a “royal family.” “When the Prophet heard of this honor conferred upon the Johnsons by his neighbors, he said the name was and should be a reality as they were a royal family.”42
During this time of close association, Benjamin was able to learn much through asking Joseph questions. “Sometimes when at my house I asked him questions relating to past, present and future; some of his answers were taken by Brother William Clayton, who was then present with him, and are now recorded in the Doctrine and Covenants.”43 Some things revealed to Johnson pertain to Joseph seeing the Lord’s face at age eighty-five, and the earth becoming as a sea of glass, molten with fire. One particular question that Benjamin asked was of the location of the “nine and a half tribes of Israel.” Joseph related that they were living in the “north pole in a concave. . . .And John the Revelator is with them, preparing them for their return.”44
On Tuesday, May 16, 1843, Joseph Smith and William Clayton stayed the night with Benjamin Johnson and his family. Joseph recorded, “Before retiring, I gave Brother and Sister Johnson some instructions on the priesthood.”45 Then, putting his hand on the knee of William Clayton, the Prophet said:
Your life is hid with Christ in God, and so are many others. Nothing but the unpardonable sin can prevent you from inheriting eternal life for you are sealed up by the power of the Priesthood unto eternal life, having taken the step necessary for that purpose.
The Johnsons were able to witness the power of the Priesthood in the life of William Clayton. Then Smith continued to teach them that the Priesthood has the power to seal a man and a wife for eternity. That only those sealed to each other can have children after the resurrection. And that the unpardonable sin was to “shed innocent blood, or be accessory thereto.” He said that once somebody had been sealed to eternal life, they will be punished for all of their sins while in the flesh, and the spirits would be delivered to the buffetings of Satan until Christ’s reign.46 Joseph also told them that the Lord let him know that he could confide these things with them, and then told them of the three degrees in the Celestial Kingdom.
All of this was preparatory to the Johnsons for the institution of plural marriage. On Apr 1, 1943 Joseph Smith and some of the brethren came to Ramus, and stayed with the Johnsons. The next morning, President Smith took Benjamin for a walk and explained the principle of plural marriage to him. Benjamin described this experience in these words:
To my great surprise, he commenced to open up to me the principle of plural or celestial marriage; but I was more astonished by his asking me for my sister Almera to be his wife. I sincerely believed him to be a Prophet of God, and I loved him as such and also for the many evidences of his kindness to me, yet such was the force of my education, and the scorn that I felt towards anything unvirtuous [sic], that under the first impulse of my feelings, I looked him calmly, but firmly in the face and told him that ‘I had always believed him to be a good man and wished to believe it still and would try to; and that I would take for him a message to my sister, and if the doctrine was true, all would be well, but if I should afterwards learn that it was offered to insult or prostitute my sister, I would take his life.’ With a smile he replied, ‘Benjamin, you will never see that day, but you shall live to know that it is true and rejoice in it.’47
Joseph then asked Benjamin to talk to his sister about marriage. He replied that he didn’t know how to convince her, but Joseph prophesied, “When you open your mouth you shall be able to comprehend, and you shall not want for evidence nor words.”48 The Prophet also told him that he would preach a sermon that day, which only Benjamin would fully understand. The sermon was on the parable of the talents, found in the New Testament.
Benjamin talked to his sister Almera regarding plural marriage with Joseph Smith. He said that he approached her “with fear and trembling,” but when he opened his mouth, it was filled. At this time, both Benjamin and Almera gained a testimony of the law of Celestial marriage. Shortly after, he accompanied his sister to Nauvoo, where she was sealed to Joseph. Again, the Prophet visited the Johnsons in Ramus, and stayed with them from Oct 19th through the 21st of 1843. On the 20th, Joseph sealed Benjamin and Melissa for time and eternity.49 Joseph’s entry for the 20th says “in the evening I gave instructions to Benjamin F. Johnson and others in relation to the blessings of the everlasting covenant and the sealings [sic] of the Priesthood.”50 Before long, Benjamin embraced the principle of celestial marriage, and practiced it with the consent of Joseph Smith, and later Brigham Young.
Benjamin and Joseph’s relationship continued to be strengthened through association, and even the trials that the Saints had to bear. During Joseph’s last visit to Ramus, he preached “with great animation to a large congregation, and had blessed nineteen children.”51 Afterwards, the Prophet turned to Johnson and told him that he was tired, and desired to go home. Benjamin’s family had stayed home that night, and missed out on the blessings that Joseph imparted. Benjamin’s disappointment is felt in his remarks to his wife, “Now, Melissa, see what we have lost by your not going to meeting, Brother Joseph has blessed all the children in the place but ours, and it is left out in the cold.”52 Smith replied that they “shall lose nothing,” and then blessed their first-born. Afterwards, the Prophet sunk into his chair, and explained his desire to rest from this life. Concerned about the Prophet’s departure, Johnson asked Joseph, “how could you think of leaving us?” Benjamin replied with these touching words:
Bennie, if I was on the other side of the veil I could do many times more for my friends than I can do while I am with them here.53
I should not be far away from you, and if on the other side of the veil I should still be working with you, and with a power greatly increased, to roll on this kingdom.54
One other important organization allowed Benjamin to learn directly from the Prophet Joseph. The Council of Fifty was organized by Joseph on Mar 11, 1844. These meetings consisted of fifty members, and were centered around the political kingdom of God. Johnson said that the function it served, was an “outer wall of government around the inner wall of Priesthood.”55 Benjamin was a member at its inception, and learned about many new doctrines as Joseph expanded upon them.
The keys of endowments and plural marriage had been given, and some had received their Second Anointing. Baptism for the dead had been taught and the keys committed. All of these things I then comprehended, though in some I had not fully participated. These sacred principles were then committed to but a few, but not only were they committed to me from the first, but from the first I was authorized by the Prophet to teach them to others, when I was led to do so.56
Benjamin did share these teachings with others at a later time in his life. George Gibbs was the personal secretary for several of the First Presidencies, and wrote to Johnson while serving under President Wilford Woodruff. He requested Benjamin to give an account of his life during the infancy of the church, and relate the teachings of President Joseph Smith, and of Brigham Young. He responded with a lengthy letter, which shed light on many doctrines taught by these early brethren.57
Around April 1844, Benjamin assisted Joseph as one of his personal secretaries. During this same month, Johnson attended one of the last meetings with the Quorum of Twelve, after Joseph had given them the keys. He recorded the Prophet’s teachings in these words:
With great feeling and animation [the Prophet] graphically reviewed his life of persecution, labor and sacrifice for the church and Kingdom of God, both of which he declared were now organized upon the earth. The burden of which had become too great for him longer to carry, that he was weary and tired with the weight he so long had borne, and he then said, with great vehemence: ‘And in the name of the Lord, I now shake from my shoulders the responsibilities of bearing off the Kingdom of God to all the world, and here and now I place that responsibility, with all the keys, powers, and privileges pertaining thereto, upon the shoulders of you the Twelve Apostles, in connection with this council; and if you will accept this, to do it, God shall bless you mightily and shall open your way; and If you do it not you will be damned. I am henceforth free from this responsibility and I now shake my garments clear and free from the blood of this generation and of all men;’ and shaking his skirt with great vehemence he raised himself from the floor, while the spirit that accompanied his words thrilled every heart as with a feeling that boded bereavement and sorrow.58
Two months later, the Prophet was martyred in Nauvoo, Illinois. Benjamin learned of the events the following day, and said that sorrow “swelled every heart too full for tears.”59
Benjamin Franklin Johnson was a faithful convert to the Church, and trusted friend of Joseph Smith, Jun., Prophet of God. He remained faithful throughout his life, by journeying with the Saints out west, settling Mesa, Arizona on request of Brigham Young, becoming a Patriarch, and practicing plural marriage so long as it was required of him. He died in 1905, two years after he wrote Gibbs the letter about life in Nauvoo. Johnson was a close friend to the Prophets, and died true to his faith. His testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith is as follows:
I feel in every degree incompetent to the task of recounting what I have witnessed in the life and character of our great Prophet, who stood in the presence of both the Father and the Son and personally conversed with them both; being often visited by holy angels, while continually receiving by revelation the word of the Lord to His people. . .
As a son, he was nobility itself, in love and honor of his parents; as a brother he was loving and true, even unto death; as a husband and father, his devotion to wives and children stopped only at idolatry. . .
Joseph, the Prophet, as a friend was faithful, long suffering, noble and true to that degree that the erring who did love him were reminded that the rod of a friend was better than the kiss of an enemy. . .
As a companion, socially, he was highly endowed—was kind, generous, and mirth loving.
While with him in such fraternal, social and sometimes convivial moods, we could not then so fully realize the greatness and majesty of his calling, which, since his martyrdom, has continued to magnify in our view, as the glories of this last dispensation were more fully unfolded to our comprehension.60
1. Benjamin’s birth date is listed under two different dates. In Kate B. Carter’s Our Pioneer Heritage, July 28, 1818 is given, while in E. Dale LeBaron’s Benjamin Franklin Johnson: Friend to the Prophets, July 23, 1818 is listed. However, in Appendix D of LeBaron’s book, the 28th is given as his date of birth. It is presumable that the 23rd was most likely a mistake.
2. Our Pioneer Heritage, Vol. 15, 206
3. ibid, 206
4. ibid, 207
5. Benjamin Franklin Johnson, 4
6. ibid, 3
7. Documentary History of the Church, Vol. 1, 118-125
8. The Heavens Resound, 9-11
9. Benjamin Franklin Johnson, 4
10. ibid, 5
11. ibid, 5
12.They Knew The Prophet, 89
13. ibid, 89
15. My Life’s Review, 15-16
14 My Life’s Review, 17
16. KJV Holy Bible, Revelations, 6:13
17. Benjamin F. Johnson, 8
15 Documentary History of the Church, Vol. 2, 205
16 My Life’s Review, 22-23
17 Benjamin Franklin Johnson, 10
18 ibid, 10
19 Gen 48:17-20
20 My Life’s Review, 21
21 ibid, 21
22 ibid, 21-22
23 ibid, 24
24 D&C 109
25 My Life’s Review, 29
26 ibid, 29
27 ibid, 36
28 ibid, 36
29 Benjamin Franklin Johnson, 25
30 Benjamin Franklin Johnson, 26
31 ibid, 26
32 ibid, 29
33 Our Pioneer Heritage, 209
34 Benjamin F. Johnson, letter to George Gibbs
37 My Life’s Review, 76
38 Benjamin Franklin Johnson, 46
39 My Life’s Review, 92
40 ibid, 93
41 ibid, 93
42 Benjamin Franklin Johnson, 47
43 My Life’s Review, 93
44 ibid, 93
45 Documentary History of the Church, 5:391
46 ibid, 5:391-2
47 The Historical Record, Vol. 6, 221
48 ibid, 6:221
49 ibid, 6:222
50 Documentary History of the Church, Vol. 6:60
51 Benjamin F. Johnson, letter to George Gibbs
53 My Life’s Review, 97
54 Benjamin F Johnson, letter to George Gibbs
56 My Life’s Review, 98
57 See Benjamin Johnson’s letter to George Gibbs, in Benjamin Franklin Johnson, Appendix H
59 Benjamin Franklin Johnson, 57
60 They Knew The Prophet, 88-89