Sunday, September 14, 2008

A Mormon History Mystery

originally posted at Mormon Matters

This week our BYU student daughter called to ask us to help her with an assignment: she was supposed to find a question that could stump her Doctrine and Covenants teacher. Immediately DH suggested: "What happened to Jesse Gause? "

"Jesse Gause?" both of us questioned at the same time. Neither one of us had heard of him.

"What did happen to Jesse Gause?" I asked.

"No one knows," DH replied smugly.

Of course I took that as a challenge! So guess what I've been studying this weekend?

Some of you students of the D&C may know that Jesse Gause served as a counselor to Joseph Smith in the First Presidency. His name was almost unknown in the Church until Robert J. Woodford wrote a BYU Studies article on him in 1975 (Jesse Gause, Counselor of the Prophet). DH recalls that Michael Quinn led an effort to put Gause's name back into the D&C when the new edition came out in 1981 (see the preface to Section 81). Thereafter, Quinn's article Jesse Gause, Joseph Smith's Little-Known Counselor appeared in BYU Studies in 1983. Most recently, Erin B. Jennings published The Consequential Counselor: Restoring the Root(s) of Jesse Gause in the Spring 2008 edition of the Journal of Mormon History.

Jesse showed conflicting feelings toward religion in several instances. He was a participating Quaker in good standing since age 22, and thus bound by conscience to shun military service. At age 30 he nevertheless joined the militia in Delaware during the War of 1812. He married relatively late in life, had 4 children, and was about 44 years old when his wife, Martha, died as a consequence of childbirth in February of 1828. In the next few years, a whirlwind chain of events swept him into the mainstream of Mormon history. First, he took his children with him to live close to his sister Ruth in the Shaker community of Hancock Village, Massachusetts. He resigned his Quaker membership on November 15th of that year and united with the Shakers, encouraging several of his friends to do the same. He formally affiliated with the Shaker religion in early 1829. Interestingly, he renewed his childrens' transfer certificates to the Quaker meeting so that they could return in the future if they chose. The Shaker group which Jesse had joined was strictly celibate, discouraging marriage. In spite of this, he met Minerva Hancock, another Shaker living at the village, and both departed to marry on August 30, 1830. The four children were left with Ruth and the Shakers. Exactly nine months later, on May 30, 1831, a child, William was born to Jesse and Minerva. The small family was drawn back to the Shakers, and by the time William was five months old they were living in the Shaker community of North Union, Ohio, nineteen miles from Kirtland. Here, somehow, Jesse encountered Mormonism. While his wife remained with the Shakers in North Union, Jesse was baptized in 1831. Only a few months later, on March 8, 1832, the Kirtland Revelation Book states that Joseph Smith "chose this day and ordained brother Jesse Gause and Broth[er] Sidney [Rigdon] to be my counsellors of the ministry of the presidency of the High Priesthood." Michael Quinn speculates that Gause, a recent convert, was chosen for such an important calling due to his experience with communal society among the Quakers and Shakers; and Erin Jennings claims that much of early Mormonism’s communitarianism can be traced to Gause’s influence. Gause did accompany Joseph to Jackson County in the Spring of 1832 to set up the Law of Consecration.

Unbelievably, by the end of the year, Gause had been excommunicated from the church in absentia and his name stricken from the revelations, with the name of "F. G. Williams" written above. I was shocked to realize that every successive publication of this revelation which became D&C 81 has replaced Jesse's name with Frederick G. Williams. Doctrine and Covenants study manuals now explain this by the principle of "command and revoke" (see also D&C 56). If an individual does not respond properly to the assignment given unto him the Lord will replace him with another. The revelation in Section 81 contains instructions, duties, and promised blessings to the counselor in the First Presidency so now it appropriately pertains to Frederick G. Williams, these manuals teach.

Here comes the mystery: On his way back to Kirtland from Jackson County, Gause stopped by to see his wife, and beg her to join him with the Saints. A letter written by Shaker Matthew Houston to Seth Wells describes this heartbreaking encounter:

And sure enough I presume you was acquainted with Jesse Gause from Hancock he was here a few days since after his wife Minerva--she utterly refused being his slave any longer--he had to go away without her. altho he tryed what the law could do for him he was very much inraged threatened to take away Minerva's child--she presented it to him but he went away without it and her--he is yet a Mormon--& is second to the Prophet or Seer--Joseph Smith--this state of exaltation may tend to steady him or keep him away from us a little longer--for which I am heartily glad for he is certainly the meanest of men.

Immediately following this incident, Jesse departed on a mission with Zebedee Coltrin on August 1, 1832. Since the Houston letter was written on August 10, Michael Quinn theorizes that Jesse's visit with his wife took place after he left for his mission. But though North Union was close to Kirtland, Zebedee Coltrin's daily log does not allow for a 19 mile trip in the westerly direction. Woodford, I believe, is correct in placing this event before the start of the mission. It doesn't seem to make sense that Jesse would have gone for his wife after beginning the responsibilities of a mission. But the time frame makes it likely that Jesse had already received a mission call at the time he visited Minerva and their son.

Less than two weeks had passed when Zebedee Coltrin decided to abandon his mission. He
came to the conclusion that it was not my duty to preced any further to the East. I have been afficted with a pain in my head every day Sinse we Started. We endeavoured to be faithful in embracing every oportunity of declaring our testimony for the Gospel in its fullness in the last days. & for the book of Mormon, & the Judgments that God was about to pour out upon the impenitent...

Later in the day Zebedee wrote: "Brother Jesse and I After praying with & for each other parted in the fellowship of the Gospel of our Lord & saviour Jesus Christ."

This is the end of the story--at this point our tragic hero disappears. In his article, Woodford intoned, "Jesse Gause continued east and walked right out of the history of the Church, never again to return." We simply do not know what happened to him. For hours on Saturday I worried my head about this. Was Jesse killed by an anti-Mormon? Was he eaten by a bear? Did his grief for his wife become too much for him, and he abandoned his mission and the Church? I finally came to assume that there must have been some type of contact with the Church leadership, for he was excommunicated in December of 1832 (only 3 1/2 months after his disappearance) and in the minutes of a meeting of the United Firm where Jesse Gause's name is written a clerk later added the words "denied the faith." A variety of secondary sources maintain the tradition that he "fell away," "proved unfaithful," or "failed to continue in a manner consistent with his appointment." Michael Quinn speculates that by August of 1832 Jesse might just possibly have discovered that Joseph Smith was preaching and practicing the doctrine of polygamy and this could be why he left the Church.

More questions arose when I discovered that Minerva left the Shaker community to live near her brother in Franklin county, Indiana. By April 27, 1834, she was married to another man, Elijah Davis. This was less than 21 months after her last meeting with Jesse. Were they divorced? Did she receive news of his death? Despite Erin Jennings' painstaking genealogical research on Jesse Gause, a place or date of death has not been found. The last piece of information available about Jesse Gause is that by 1836 his brother assumed guardianship of the four children by his first wife.

I wasn't able to find the answer to the mystery of what happened to Jesse Gause, and I suspect the Doctrine and Covenants teacher might be stumped by this one, too. But I wouldn't be surprised if someone out in the Bloggernacle had a few more pieces of the puzzle. And while searching I saw that there are papers on Jesse Gause in the U of U Faulring Papers and at USU in the Leonard J. Arrington Papers. Can anyone find more clues in the mystery of Jesse Gause? Or do we have to rely on Ardis for everything?


This unfortunate alteration has not only violated the context of the original document, but it has further obscured the existence of Gause as one of the General Authorities of the church and has erroneously indicated that Williams was a counselor in 1832. (Michael Quinn, The Evolution of the Presiding Quorums of the LDS Church, Journal of Mormon History, Volume 01, 1974, p. 24

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