Restoration of the Priesthood

Restoration of the Priesthood


Religious Studies Center Newsletter
Volume 9, No. 3, May 1995

Robert L. Millet
Donald Q. Cannon
Associate Director
Kent P. Jackson
Director of Publications

Robert L. Millet
Clayne L. Pope
Randall L. Jones

Kent P. Jackson
Charlotte A. Pollard
Production Manager
Heidi Gassman
Legrande W. Smith
Editorial Interns
Jason M. Feilbach
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The Religious Studies Center
Brigham Young University
270 Joseph Smith Building
Provo, Utah 84602

Larry C. Porter

Because only limited sources exist for the first few years of the Restoration, that period is less precisely known than any other in Church history. But it is also the most important era of our past, because it was the time in which the foundational events of the Restoration took place, including the translation of the Book of Mormon, the restoration of the priesthood, and the establishment of the Church.

Today there is rekindled attention paid to the restoration of the priesthood. Of particular interest are the date and the circumstances under which the Melchizedek Priesthood was restored. These have always been uncertain, since the Prophet did not leave an explicit record concerning them. But because of a recent publication, interest in them has been renewed. The suggestion has been made that the restoration of the higher priesthood took place in the summer of 1830 after the organization of the Church and that the conferral of the apostleship and the restoration of priesthood power were not necessarily the same event.

New interpretations of the past are not often significant to Church members in general. But this issue, it seems, is of some consequence, having implications for the doctrine of the priesthood and the credibility of Joseph Smith as a participant in, and a witness of, sacred events.

We have invited Professor Larry C. Porter of BYU’s Department of Church History and Doctrine to explore these matters in this edition of the Religious Studies Center Newsletter. Those who know him acknowledge his expertise as a historian of the earliest events of our Church’s history. Not surprisingly, the following article is state-of-the-art scholarship. In it, Professor Porter demonstrates that the best evidence places the coming of Peter, James, and John in the spring of 1829, at which time they restored the apostleship and the keys of the Melchizedek Priesthood, in preparation for the establishment of the Church.


Oliver Cowdery and Samuel Smith arrived in Harmony, Pennsylvania, from Manchester, New York, on 5 April 1829. For the Prophet Joseph Smith, Oliver’s coming was an answer to prayer. He had petitioned the heavens, saying, “I cried unto the Lord that he would provide [a scribe] for me to accomplish the work whereunto he had commanded me.”[1] The loss of 116 pages of manuscript during the initial effort at translating the gold plates had seriously jeopardized the whole process and had effectively removed the scribal services of Martin Harris through a broken covenant. Oliver’s affirmation that he would take up the pen provided the needed recorder. On 7 April 1829 Oliver was busily employed in his new capacity with Joseph.[2]

Restoration of the Aaronic Priesthood

Nearly six years previous to these events, Joseph Smith had met with the angel Moroni at the Hill Cumorah and received a divine injunction relative to the future restoration of priesthood authority. On 22 September 1823 Moroni had declared: “When they [the gold plates] are interpreted the Lord will give the holy priesthood to some, and they shall begin to proclaim his gospel and baptize by water, and after that they shall have power to give the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands.”[3]

The preliminary fulfillment of that announcement took place on 15 May 1829 while Joseph and Oliver were involved in the meticulous work of translation. The Prophet stipulated:

We still continued the work of translation, when, in the ensuing month (May, 1829), we on a certain day went into the woods to pray and inquire of the Lord respecting baptism for the remission of sins, that we found mentioned in the translation of the plates. While we were thus employed, praying and calling upon the Lord, a messenger from heaven descended in a cloud of light, and having laid his hands upon us, he ordained us, saying:

Upon you my fellow servants, in the name of Messiah, I confer the Priesthood of Aaron, which holds the keys of the ministering of angels, and of the gospel of repentance, and of baptism by immersion for the remission of sins. . . .

He said this Aaronic Priesthood had not the power of laying on hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost, but that this should be conferred on us hereafter; and he commanded us to go and be baptized, and gave us directions that I should baptize Oliver Cowdery, and that afterwards he should baptize me.

Accordingly we went and were baptized. I baptized him first, and afterwards he baptized me after which I laid my hands upon his head and ordained him to the Aaronic Priesthood, and afterwards he laid his hands on me and ordained me to the same Priesthood for so we were commanded.

The messenger who visited us on this occasion and conferred this Priesthood upon us, said that his name was John, the same that is called John the Baptist in the New Testament, and that he acted under the direction of Peter, James and John, who held the keys of the Priesthood of Melchizedek, which Priesthood, he said, would in due time be conferred on us, and that I should be called the first Elder of the Church, and he (Oliver Cowdery) the second. (JS-H 1:68 72; emphasis in verses 70, 72 added)[4]

Oliver was more specific in identifying the fact that they had just been translating 3 Nephi when this manifestation took place. He declared:

No men, in their sober senses, could translate and write the directions given to the Nephites from the mouth of the Savior, of the precise manner in which men should build up His Church, . . . without desiring a privilege of showing the willingness of the heart by being buried in the liquid grave, to answer a “good conscience by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”[5]

On 28 September 1835, Oliver also recorded a very interesting description of the physical setting and procedural events of that day while copying into a book some blessings which had been given on 18 December 1833 by Joseph Smith, Jr. Oliver wrote:

He [Joseph Smith] was ordained by the angel John, unto the lesser or Aaronic priesthood, in company with myself, in the town of Harmony, Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania, on Fryday, the 15th day of May, 1829, after which we repaired to the water, even to the Susquehanna River, and were baptized, he first ministering unto me and after I to him. but before baptism, our souls were drawn out in mighty prayer to know how we might obtain the blessings of baptism and of the Holy Spirit, according to the order of God, and we diligently sought for the right of the fathers and the authority of the holy priesthood, and the power to admin[ister] in the same: for we desired to be followers of righteousness and the possessors of greater knowledge, even the knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom of God. Therefore, we repaired to the woods, even as our father Joseph said we should, that is to the bush, and called upon the name of the Lord and he answered us out of the heavens, and while we were in the heavenly vision the angel came down and bestowed upon us this priesthood; and then, as I have said, we repaired to the water and were baptized. After this we received the high and holy priesthood.[6]

The Prophet said that of necessity they at first kept secret the circumstances of their baptism and priesthood ordination because of the very real spirit of persecution extant in the neighborhood where they worked: they had been threatened with being mobbed. Such actions, however, were initially countered by the Hale family, who stoutly opposed these unlawful measures and tried to extend their protective influence.[7]

Despite the intimidations of their enemies, Joseph and Oliver concluded that the urgency of their message should not be negated by oppression. Having been invested with the authority of the Aaronic Priesthood, they soon began to “reason out of the scriptures” with family members and other acquaintances. Among the first to receive their ministrations was Samuel H. Smith. The two men worked with Samuel out of the Bible and also showed him what they had accomplished thus far in the work of translating the Book of Mormon. Samuel was baptized on 25 May 1829 and thereafter “returned to his father’s house, greatly glorifying and praising God, being filled with the Holy Spirit.”[8] Hyrum Smith, similarly, came to Harmony, immediately following Samuel’s baptism, to make inquiries concerning their labors and requesting to know what the Lord would have him do. He was the recipient of a revelation admonishing him to “wait a little longer, until you shall have my word, my rock, my Church, and my gospel, that you may know of a surety my doctrine” (D&C 11:16). He was later baptized in Seneca Lake, Fayette Township, Seneca County, New York, by Joseph Smith in June 1829.[9] Samuel and Hyrum each recognized the newly invested authority to baptize bestowed on the Prophet and Oliver.

When was the Melchizedek Priesthood Restored?

During the appearance of John the Baptist, Joseph and Oliver were informed by the angel that “he acted under the direction of Peter, James and John, who held the keys of the Priesthood of Melchizedek, which Priesthood, he said, would in due time be conferred on us” (JS-H 1:72).[10] Just when was that “due time”?

The day, month, and year designation which so precisely identifies the restoration of the Aaronic Priesthood (15 May 1829) is absent in the case of the Melchizedek Priesthood. Similarly, a knowledge of some of the attendant circumstances of that restoration is lacking. Some elements of the historical puzzle can be put together, however, to give us what may be a closer approximation of the elusive time-sequence. The evidence suggests a date near the end of May 1829. Let me start at the late end of the chronological spectrum and work backwards.

That the foretold restoration of the Melchizedek Priesthood and ordination to the apostleship was subsequently accomplished is amply attested in the scriptures. In August 1830, the Lord unmistakably confirmed this fact when he spoke to Joseph of “Peter, and James, and John, whom I have sent unto you, by whom I have ordained you and confirmed you to be apostles, and especial witnesses of my name, and bear the keys of your ministry and of the same things which I revealed unto them” (D&C 27:12). Still earlier in the year, when the Church was organized on 6 April 1830, reference was made to commandments which “were given to Joseph Smith, Jun., who was called of God, and ordained an apostle of Jesus Christ, to be the first elder of this church; and Oliver Cowdery, who was also called of God, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to be the second elder of this church, . . . and ordained under his hand” (D&C 20:2,3).

Under the authority of the Aaronic Priesthood, a number of persons had been baptized by immersion for the remission of their sins prior to the organization of the Church.[11] However, in obedience to John the Baptist’s instructions that the Aaronic Priesthood “had not the power of laying on hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost” (JS-H 1:70), the brethren deferred this ordinance until such time as the authority of the Melchizedek Priesthood could give validity to the act. Joseph Smith recognized the limitations of John’s power and later put it into perspective for the Saints:

John’s mission was limited to preaching and baptizing; but what he did was legal; and when Jesus Christ came to any of John’s disciples, He baptized them with fire and the Holy Ghost.

We find the Apostles endowed with greater power than John . . . .John did not transcend his bounds, but faithfully performed that part belonging to his office; and every portion of the great building should be prepared right and assigned to its proper place; and it is necessary to know who holds the keys of power.[12]

A situation similar to that facing Joseph and Oliver also existed in the meridian of time. Philip (not the apostle), one of seven men designated to assist the original Twelve, baptized a number of people at Samaria. He did not have the authority to confer the Holy Ghost upon those whom he had baptized. Peter and John, who had been ordained to the apostleship under the hands of Jesus Christ, were sent to officiate in performing the necessary ordinance. “Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost” (Acts 8:5 6, 12, 14 15, 17).

Now, in a new gospel dispensation, a similar prerequisite for higher priesthood authority to administer the gift of the Holy Ghost was incumbant upon Joseph and Oliver. That they had received the necessary keys under the hands of Peter, James, and John by 6 April 1830 is attested to by the proceedings of the organizational meeting held on that day. Following the affirmation of the assembled membership, Joseph and Oliver ordained one another to be the First and Second Elders, respectively. They then used their Melchizedek Priesthood to confirm those who had been baptized and to confer upon them the gift of the Holy Ghost. Of that occasion the Prophet stated:

We then laid our hands on each individual member of the Church present, that they might receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, and be confirmed members of the Church of Christ. The Holy Ghost was poured out upon us to a very great degree some prophesied, whilst we all praised the Lord, and rejoiced exceedingly.[13]

Ordinations to various offices in the Aaronic and Melchizedek Priesthoods were performed by these men both on that day and on the occasion of the first conference of the Church, which followed on 9 June 1830.[14]

When searching for historical circumstances relative to the restoration of priesthood authority, the words of persons closely associated with the rise of the Church should not be discounted. The statements of men who were intimately connected with the Prophet and who sat in council with him provide an invaluable index to those foundational moments.

Orson Pratt, who joined the Church on 1 September 1830, understood the above process very well and affirmed:

It would be impossible for a Church to be re-organized upon the earth, unless God had bestowed the authority upon men to act in his name, that is, had spoken from on high and called them by revelation.

They [Joseph and Oliver] read that those who dwelt on this Continent eighteen hundred years ago were baptized by immersion and that the ordinance had to be administered by men holding the authority to do so from God. In answer to their prayers, the Lord sent an angel to them on the 15th day of May, 1829, nearly a year before the Church was organized, and this angel laid his hands upon the heads of these two individuals, and ordained them to the holy Priesthood, that is, the Priesthood which John the Baptist held, which had the right to baptize, but not to confirm by the laying on of hands.

After Joseph and his scribe had been baptized for the remission of their sins, they sought after authority in order that they might have hands laid upon them for the Holy Ghost. The lesser Priesthood could not do this, the Priesthood that John the Baptist held was not authorized to lay on hands; he could only baptize believers in water. But John, when upon the earth, said there was one coming after him mightier than he, who held a greater Priesthood and authority than he the Priesthood after the order of Melchizedeck and he would bestow upon them the higher baptism the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost. Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery sought after this higher authority, and the Lord gave it to them, before the rise of this Church, sending to them Peter, James and John. What for? To bestow upon them the Apostleship. . . .

Now, who would be better qualified to administer the sacred office of the Apostleship than the three men who held it while they were here on the earth? . . . It has to be a man who holds authority in heaven that can bestow it here on the earth; and such men were Peter, James and John, who restored that authority to earth in our day, by bestowing it upon Joseph Smith. When this authority was restored, the Church was organized, on the 6th day of April, 1830, consisting of six members, and then there was power in existence, not only to baptize, but to confirm by the laying on of hands for the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost; and from the authority then sent down afresh from heaven has this Church been enabled to pass along, and receive the great blessings which the Lord has bestowed upon it.[15]

Hiram Page, a son-in-law of Peter Whitmer, Sr., and one who was present on the day of organization, later confirmed that Peter, James, and John had come prior to the 6 April meeting in 1830. Having left the LDS Church, Hiram, in company with David Whitmer, John Whitmer, Jacob Whitmer, and William E. McClellin, gathered in 1847 to structure their own movement. McClellin baptized, confirmed, and ordained these men and organized a First Presidency with David as President. The next year, the recipients of McLellin’s ministrations repudiated the action. On behalf of the others, all of whom but McLellin had been present with the Prophet at the 1830 organization, Hiram Page wrote to McLellin – denouncing the course which had been taken. The letter shows that the Whitmerite movement still maintained that ancient apostles had initially bestowed the complete priesthood as a prerequisite to the restoration of the Lord’s Church. Hiram wrote:

In the begin[n]ing we find the first ordinations were by Peter James and John. They ordained Joseph and Oliver; to what priesthood were they ordained[?] the answer must be to the Holy priesthood or the office of an elder or an apostle which is an addition[al] grace added to the office of an elder These offices Oliver received before the 6th of april 1830.[16]

Brigham Young, confidant of the Prophet, began his examination of the gospel in 1830 and affiliated with the Church in 1832. He declared: “I know that Joseph received his Apostleship from Peter, James, and John, before a revelation on the subject was printed, and he never had a right to organize a Church before he was an Apostle.”[17] President Young further stated:

[Joseph Smith] received the Aaronic Priesthood, and then he received the keys of the Melchisedek Priesthood, and organized the Church. He first received the power to baptise, and still did not know that he was to receive any more until the Lord told him there was more for him. Then he received the keys of the Melchisedek Priesthood, and had power to confirm after he had baptized, which he had not before. He would have stood precisely as John the Baptist stood, had not the Lord sent his other messengers, Peter, James and John, to ordain Joseph to the Melchisedek Priesthood.[18]

Perhaps the earliest document referring to the bestowal of the higher priesthood prior to the organization of the Church is contained in a manuscript in the handwriting of Oliver Cowdery with the designation, “Written in the year of our Lord & Saviour 1829 A true copy of the articles of the Church of Christ.” In the “articles” the Lord specifies, “I command all men every where to repent & I speak unto you even as unto Paul mine apostle for ye are called even with that same calling with which he was called.”[19] The reader will recognize that the essentials of that quotation are contained in D&C 18:9, dated June 1829. As a preface to section 19, the Prophet recorded in his history: “The following commandment will further illustrate the nature of our calling to this Priesthood, as well as that of others who were yet to be sought after.”[20] From the verses that follow, it is apparent that by this point sometime in June 1829 not only were Joseph and Oliver participants in the divine call, but David Whitmer had also received an injunction to serve as another special witness. The Lord stated:

And now, Oliver Cowdery, I speak unto you, and also unto David Whitmer, by the way of commandment; for, behold, I command all men everywhere to repent, and I speak unto you, even as unto Paul mine apostle, for you are called even with that same calling with which he was called. (D&C 18:9)

Some have discounted the comparison with Paul as evidence for an 1829 Melchizedek Priesthood restoration. They do this by arguing that Paul was not an ordained member of the Twelve Apostles in the same sense that Peter, James, and John were. The inference is thus made that neither Joseph Smith nor Oliver Cowdery wore the mantle of true apostles at this point in time but were merely special witnesses of a general nature. However, Richard L. Anderson has made a valuable observation in regard to the status of Paul’s apostleship:

Because no apostolic ordination is preserved, some doubt that Paul was one of the Twelve. But Paul gave Timothy guidelines on conferring priesthood by the laying on of hands (1 Tim. 5:22), which shows a practice that Acts and the Letters do not need to detail. The book of Acts is a story of missionary labors, not primarily a record book of ordinances, as we shall see more plainly. Paul could have been ordained an apostle when Barnabus first came to Tarsus with his transfer to preside at Antioch, or when Barnabus and Paul visited Jerusalem with the welfare supplies before the Gentile mission in Asia Minor. . . . We do know that Luke calls Paul an apostle, that the term is strange if Paul is not a member of the Twelve, and that there are clear opportunities for ordination in connection with Paul’s Antioch ministry.[21]

David Whitmer maintained that he had received an early priesthood ordination at the hands of the Prophet Joseph during the month of June 1829.[22] In relation to this development, President Brigham Young related to the Saints: “Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, and David Whitmer were the first Apostles of this dispensation, though in the early days of the Church David Whitmer lost his standing.”[23]

In a letter dated 14 June 1829, Oliver Cowdery wrote from Fayette, New York, to the Prophet’s brother, Hyrum Smith, who was then residing in Manchester Township, Ontario County, New York. The letter is significant because it contains wording parallel to section 18 of the Doctrine and Covenants. A comparison of the words used in the two writings shows unmistakable similarities and strongly suggests that Oliver was aware of the content of section 18 as he corresponded with Hyrum on 14 June 1829. One may examine the lines of D&C 18:10 14, 21 25 and compare them with the corresponding verses from Oliver’s letter, shown in a table on the left.

In the letter, Oliver was apparently quoting or referring to an existing revelation (section 18). If this is a valid assessment, and believing that the apostleship spoken of in D&C 18:9 is the same held by Jesus’ ancient Twelve, we might then conclude that the date of that letter, 14 June 1829, would again narrow the time period of the Melchizedek Priesthood restoration and place it between that date and 15 May 1829.

There is evidence to support still another reduction in the time sequence between the restoration of the Aaronic and Melchizedek Priesthoods. Joseph and Oliver experienced a decided increase in opposition to their work of translation and other activities in the area of Harmony, Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania. Lucy Mack Smith mentioned that the situation had become so bad that “evil- designing people were seeking to take away [Joseph’s] life, in order to prevent the work of God from going forth to the world.”[24] As a consequence, Joseph and Oliver were searching for a safer location to complete the translation of the Book of Mormon. A call for assistance was sent out by Oliver to his friend, David Whitmer.

David later stated that a letter from Oliver told “me to come down into Pennsylvania and bring him and Joseph to my father’s house, giving as a reason therefor that they had received a commandment from God to that effect. I went down to Harmony, and found everything just as they had written me.”[25] Joseph Smith stated that they accordingly went to the home of Peter Whitmer, Sr., “in the beginning of the month of June.”[26] David Whitmer affirmed that “the translation at my father’s farm, Fayette Township, Seneca County, New York occupied about one month, that is from June 1, to July, 1829.”[27] If his report of 1 June is accurate, then the removal of Joseph and Oliver to Fayette had been accomplished by that date. Did the restoration then take place between 15 May 1829 and prior to their arrival in Fayette on 1 June 1829? Could the event have transpired as the trio, Joseph, Oliver, and David (Emma remained in Harmony with her parents for a time) were on their way from Harmony to Fayette, perhaps by way of their friends at Colesville? According to David Whitmer, the answer is no. Orson Pratt asked David the direct question: “Can you tell the date of the bestowal of the Apostleship upon Joseph, by Peter, James and John?” David replied: “I do not know, Joseph never told me. I can only tell you what I know, for I will not testify to anything I do not know.”[28]

David’s journey down to Harmony from Fayette had occupied approximately three days.[29] Assuming that a similar amount of time was expended on the return trip and that the arrival date at the Whitmer home was indeed 1 June, then perhaps at least two, and possibly three, additional days could also be pared off the end of the month of May 1829, in a further reduction of the probable Melchizedek Priesthood restoration period. If these circumstances are essentially correct, the visitation may have occurred between 15 May 1829 and the latter part of that same month.

There is yet another question which must necessarily be asked. Did Joseph and Oliver travel with David to the Whitmer farm only to return to Harmony sometime during the month of June on a hurried visit? Probably not. The demands of continued translation of the Book of Mormon, securing the copyright on 11 June, Oliver’s previously mentioned letter to Hyrum Smith on 14 June that places them in Fayette in that immediate period, and a continuous proselytizing program in the area seem to preclude a return to Harmony during that month. Joseph detailed just how busy they were with numbers of persons seeking information.[30] I believe that the pressure of these matters kept Joseph and Oliver engaged at Fayette during the month of June 1829 and that there was no intermediate return to Harmony. The restoration of the Melchizedek Priesthood and apostleship apparently occurred between 15 May 1829 and 1 June 1829, and certainly before the – organization of the Church on 6 April 1830.

Where Did the Restoration of the Melchizedek
Priesthood Take Place?

Little firsthand information is extant from the principals on the exact physical circumstances accompanying the restoration of the Melchizedek Priesthood. Both Joseph and Oliver narrated the consequences of the visitation of Peter, James, and John but gave very little information relative to the actual setting for that event. There are, however, a number of observations which could be useful in bringing that site into closer focus. In April and May 1829, Joseph and Oliver were engrossed in the translation of the Book of Mormon at Harmony. The urgency which they felt for completing the work, which had already been delayed by the prior loss of the 116 pages of manuscript, left little or no time for them to engage in the daily pursuits of the necessities of life. Although the Isaac Hale family was in a – position to assist them in their plight, Joseph Knight, Sr., stated: “His wifes father and familey were all against him and would not h[e]lp him.”[31] This difficulty was greatly alleviated through the exceptional generosity of the Knight family, who on more than one occasion supplied them with food and even provided paper for the manuscript. While returning from a business trip to Catskill, Joseph Knight, Sr., related:

I bought a barral of Mackrel and some lined paper for writing. And when I Came home I bought some nine or ten Bushels of grain and five or six Bushels taters [potatoes] and a pound of tea, and I went Down to see him [Joseph Smith] and they ware in want. Joseph and Oliver ware gone to see if they Could find a place to work for provisions, but found none. They returned home and found me there with provisions, and they ware glad for they ware out.[32]

Understandably, Joseph Smith felt a particular affinity for the Knight family a feeling which was reciprocated. Joseph Knight, Sr., had shown a genuine interest in the work of the Prophet from the outset, having been present at the Smith’s Manchester home on 22 September 1827 when Joseph first retrieved the gold plates from the Hill Cumorah. The Prophet made a number of trips from Harmony to the Joseph Knight farm, which was situated opposite the village of Nineveh on the east side of the Susquehanna River in Colesville Township, Broome County, New York. It seems apparent that the occasion for the restoration of the Melchizedek Priesthood stemmed from one such visit undertaken by Joseph and Oliver, conceivably in May 1829. While reminiscing on the singular events of this period, the Prophet recorded: “The voice of Peter, James and John, in the wilderness between Harmony, Susquehanna county, and Colesville, Broome county, on the Susquehanna river, declaring themselves as possessing the keys of the kingdom, and of the dispensation of the fulness of times!” (D&C 128:20). Somewhere along the twenty-eight-mile stretch of road which borders on the Susquehanna River from the Joseph Smith homestead in Harmony to the dwelling of Joseph Knight, Sr., in Colesville Township, the visitation took place.

It is possible that a reminiscence of a Church member named Addison Everett may provide some important clues relative to the site and circumstances of the restoration of the higher priesthood. Learning that Brother Everett seemed to know something of that event from the Prophet himself, Oliver B. Huntington wrote to Addison requesting that he write to him and recite what details he could remember. In correspondence dated 17 February 1881, Addison complied.[33] Similarly, President Joseph F. Smith also wrote Brother Everett, saying that “some time ago Aunt Eliza R. Snow Smith, informed me that you had or was supposed to have some information, not generally known or understood, relative to the time and place at which Peter, James and John conferred the higher or Melchisedec Priesthood upon Joseph and Oliver.” He asked him to forward “all the particulars.” Addison again responded and gave some added detail:

Jan 16th. 1882 St George Wash Co UT

Dearly Beloved Brother J F Smith

I hasten to give you all the Information I am in possession of on the subject you call for. . . .

A few days Before Br Joseph & Hiram ware calld to Carthage By Gov. Ford I wus Passing the Mansheon House I observed Bro Joseph & Hiram & some five or six Brethren in earnest conversation Before the Door of the House. I opened the gate and steped in. . . .Br Joseph Ex[p]resed Greate simpathy for Br Oliver saying Poor Boy[,] Poor Boy[,] casting his eyes to the ground. And then Said as they Ware Tran[s]lating the Book of Mormon at His Father In Laws in Susquhanah County Penny. T[h]ey ware thretned By a Mob and in the same time Father Kn[i]ghts came Down from Cole[s]vill[e] Broom[e] County New York and Desired them to go home with him and preach to them in his Neighbourhood And on Account of the Mob Spirit prevailing they concluded to goe. And they ware teachi[n]g And preaching the Gospele they ware taken with [a] writ and Before a Judge as fals[e] Prophets. And the Prossecuting Atorny had conceived in his own Mind That A few simple qu[e]stions would Convince the Court By the Answers Bro Joseph would giv[e] [to] that [the] charge was Correct. So he calls out Jo which was the first Merical Jesus raught[?] Why [said Br Joseph] we read He Created the worlds And what He done previous to that I have not as yet Learned. This answer completly confounded the Prossicuting Atorny that he requested the Judge to Dismis the case. and went out To Organ[ize] the Mob that was on the Out Side. At about this time a Lawyer By the Name of Reede I think was his name came in to the court and Stated He was Mr Smiths Atorney and wished to see him [in] a Private room And was [put] in to [a] Back room and when in he hoisted a window and told Br Joseph & Oliver to flee in to the forest which was close at hand. And they wandered in a dense Forest all Night and often times in Mud and water up to thare Knees. And Brother Oliver got quite exausted in the After Part of the Night and Brother Joseph had to put his arm arround him and allmost carry him. And Just as the day Broke in the East Brother Oliver gave out Entirely and he[,] Br Joseph[,] leaned him against an Oake tree Just out side a field fenc[e] Br Oliver Crying out how long O Lord O how Long Br Joseph hav[e] we got to suffer these things[?] Just this moment Peter James & John came to us and Ordained to [us to] the Holy Apostelship and gave [unto] us the Keys of the Disp[e]nsation of the fullness of times. And we had some 16 or 17 miles to goe to reach our place of residence and Brother Oliver could travel as well as I could . Now as to time and Place. I heard the Name of the Banks of the Susquehanah river spoken [of] But whare it was pla[c]ed I cannot till. No doubt the Oake tree and the field fence was ajacent to the river. As to time I cannot Be Very Explsit. But as the Mob spirit had not abated when they returned they had to remove to Father Whitmores to finish the Translation. I should [jud[g]e] it to the Latter part of August.

Now Beloved Brother I am Not Writing as wone of the Lords Historians But as your friend reproduc[i]ng the last words I heard our Beloved and Gods Holy Prophet Speake before his depart[ure] Into the Eternal Heavens to Dwell with the Holy & Eternal gods forever & Ever!. . . Well Br Pleas Excuse sight poor ha[n]d unsteady tharefore pleas[e] Except. A[ddison] Everett[34]

I believe that Addison Everett was a man of veracity. He was an early New York convert, baptized by Elijah Fordham in New York City on 1 September 1837. Addison was later in Nauvoo, then a bishop in Winter Quarters. He followed the fortunes of the Church to the West, traveling into the Salt Lake Valley as a member of the third ten in Brigham Young’s initial pioneer company of July 1847. Addison served as a bishop of the 8th Ward in Salt Lake City and eventually located in St. George, Utah, where he died on 12 January 1885.[35]

Addison seems to be remembering some important facets of Joseph and Oliver’s experience with Peter, James, and John at the time they were ordained to the “Melchizedek Priesthood” (O.B. Huntington letter, 1881) at the Susquehanna River. Some of what he recounts harmonizes with the compelling evidence for 1829, while other portions seem coupled with later events of 1830. In the letter to President Joseph F. Smith (1882), Addison chronologically places the ordination to the “Holy Apostleship” under the hands of Peter, James, and John as being prior to the relocation of Joseph and Oliver to the Whitmer farm in Fayette, where they could finish the translation of the Book of Mormon unmolested by the mob in Harmony. Both Joseph Smith and David Whitmer placed the arrival time at the Whitmers as being on or about 1 June 1829. Note Addison’s recitation, “As to time [of the ordination] I cannot Be Very Explicit. But as the Mob spirit had not abated when they returned [to Harmony from Colesville] to remove to Father Whitmores [at Fayet[te] Sen[e]ca Co] to finish the Translation [of the Book of Mormon] I should judge it to Be the Latter part of August [this would be the same year, 1829].” This sequence would have to place the restoration of the Melchizedek Priesthood, the apostleship, and “the Keys of the Dispensation of the fullness of times” prior to the organization of the Church on 6 April 1830. Some have thought to give separate dates for the time of restoration of the Melchizedek Priesthood and the ordination to the apostleship. Addison didn’t remember it in that fashion. He understood that both were restored on one common occasion.

However, there was some inconsistency in Addison’s mind as to just when that common occasion took place. Brother Everett’s remembrance of “a Lawyer By the Name of Reede I think was his name” is undoubtedly a reference to John Reid, a lawyer hired by Joseph Knight, Sr., to defend the Prophet in a trial sequence which commenced at South Bainbridge, New York, on 1 July 1830 and concluded in Colesville, New York, approximately three days later.[36] Some have concluded from this reference that the appearance of Peter, James, and John was in July 1830, after the organization of the Church a position which contradicts the best evidence. How well Addison Everett was able to segregate his facts and not merge them out of sequence is problematic.

Addison Everett wrote his recollections some thirty-seven years after his overhearing the Prophet’s Nauvoo comments on the subject. The extent to which he may have groped to fit names and circumstances together or to what degree his recall of the matter was affected by published histories to which he was exposed during the interim is a matter of conjecture. He was definitely trying to recapture the salient elements of the Prophet’s conversation. However, portions of his remembrance are inconsistent enough to warrant some obvious cautions when attempting to – reconstruct the sequence of events surrounding the restoration process from his citations. Addison apologized to President Joseph F. Smith for his lack of technical skills, saying that he was “Not Writing as wone [one] of the Lords Historians But as your friend reproduc[i]ng the last words I heard our Beloved and Gods Holy Prophet Speake.”[37] There are some obvious concerns which must be assessed in the utilization of this rendition. But if elements of Addison’s statement are a factual remembrance, and correct in some of its content, then the account may give some valuable information on this occurrence.

The Authority of God Among Men Statements by the Principals

In later references to the restoration of the Melchizedek Priesthood, both Joseph and Oliver were more concerned with the ramifications of the event than with a delineation of time and circumstance. One of the most telling statements in this regard comes from the Prophet when he affirmed:

The Priesthood is everlasting. The Savior, Moses, & Elias gave the keys to Peter, James, & John on the mount when they were transfigured before him. The Priesthood is everlasting, without beginning of days or end of years, without Father, Mother &c.

If there is no change of ordinances there is no change of Priesthood. Wherever the ordinances of the Gospel are administered there is the Priesthood. How have we come at the Priesthood in the last days? They [It] came down, down in regular succession. Peter James & John had it given to them & they gave it up [to us].[38]

Among Oliver’s statements on the matter was a very positive response to Phineas H. Young. Writing from Tiffin, Ohio, in 1846, he affirmed to his friend, Phineas: “I have cherished a hope, and that one of my fondest, that I might leave such a character as those who might believe in my testimony, after I shall be called hence might do so, not only for the sake of truth, but might not blush for the private character of the man who bore that testimony.” He further stated,

I have been sensitive on this subject, I admit, but I ought to be so you would be, under the circumstances, had you stood in the presence of John, with our departed Joseph, to receive the Lesser Priesthood and in the presence of Peter, to receive the Greater, and look down through time, and witness the effects that these two must produce.[39]

When Oliver and his family returned to the Church at Kanesville, Iowa, in the fall of 1848, he addressed the conference of the Saints on 21 October, bearing a strong personal witness of the priesthood to the congregation:

The channel is here, the priesthood is here, I was present with Joseph when an holy angle from god came down from heaven and confer[r]ed, or restored the Aronic priesthood. And said at the same time that it should remain upon the earth while the earth stands. I was also present with Joseph when the melchesideck priesthood was confe[r]red by the holy angles of god, which we then confirmed on each other by the will and commandment of god. This priesthood is also to remain upon the earth untill the Last remnant of time. This holy priesthood we confer[r]ed upon many. And is just as good and valid as if god had confer[r]ed it in person.[40]

Oliver was even more definitive in a statement which he wrote for Samuel W. Richards while a guest in the latter’s home in the “upper part of Missouri,” 13 January 1849. Oliver and his wife, Elizabeth Ann Whitmer, were en route from Council Bluffs, Iowa, to Ray County, Missouri, for a visit with members of Elizabeth’s family prior to the Cowdery’s departure for the Salt Lake Valley with the Saints. A snow storm forced them to take shelter with the Richards family. The Cowderys remained there for almost two weeks, during which time Oliver penned the following lines at the request of his host:

While darkness covered the earth and gross darkness the people; long after the authority to administer in holy things had been taken away, the Lord opened the heavens and sent forth his word for the salvation of Israel. In fulfillment of the sacred Scripture the everlasting Gospel was proclaimed by the mighty angel, (Moroni) who, clothed with the authority of his mission, gave glory to God in the highest. This gospel is the “stone taken from the mountain without hands.”

John the Baptist, holding the keys of the Aaronic Priesthood; Peter, James and John holding the keys of the Melchizedek Priesthood, have also ministered for those who shall be heirs of salvation, and with these ministrations ordained men to the same Priesthoods. These Priesthoods, with their authority, are now, and must continue to be, in the body of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Blessed is the Elder who has received the same, and thrice blessed and holy is he who shall endure to the end. Accept assurances, dear Brother, of the unfeigned prayer of him, who, in connection with Joseph the Seer, was blessed with the above ministrations, and who earnestly and devoutly hopes to meet you in the celestial glory.[41]

Imbued with a personal knowledge of the great labor which had been inaugurated by the powers of heaven through vested servants, Oliver sought opportunity to give a fervent testimony of that experience in what Samuel Richards described as the “last living testimony, though oft repeated, of the wonderful manifestations which brought the authority of God to men on earth.”[42]

However, Oliver did continue to bear testimony. What was to have been an interim visit to Richmond, Missouri, prior to Oliver’s going to the Rocky Mountains, turned out to be an extended visit as his health steadily declined with a consumptive illness. While attempting to recuperate at the home of his father-in-law, Peter Whitmer, Sr., Oliver entertained an old acquaintance from Ohio and Missouri days. Elder Jacob Gates, assigned as a Latter-day Saint missionary to England, had stopped in Richmond on his way from Utah to the port at New Orleans. In the course of their conversation Jacob pressed two all-important questions. First:

Oliver, I want you to tell me the whole truth about your testimony concerning the Book of Mormon the testimony sent forth to the world over your signature and found in the front of that book. Was your testimony

based on a dream, was it the imagination of your mind, was it an illusion, a myth tell me truthfully?

Oliver seemed deeply touched. Without saying a word he moved from his chair to the bookcase and retrieved a first edition of the Book of Mormon. He then read in a solemn manner the words of testimony to which he had subscribed his name, and addressing Elder Gates, he said,

Jacob, I want you to remember what I say to you. I am a dying man, and what would it profit me to tell you a lie? I know that this Book of Mormon was translated by the gift and power of God. My eyes saw, my ears heard, and my understanding was touched, and I know that whereof I testified is true. It was no dream, no vain imagination of the mind it was real.

Then Jacob followed with a second question and asked him about the validity of the angel, John the Baptist, under whose hands he had first received the priesthood. Oliver replied, “Jacob, I felt the hand of the angel on my head as plainly as I could feel yours, and could hear his voice as I now hear yours.”[43] Perhaps this was a very simple observation, but the implications are there: “I felt the hand. . . .I could hear his voice.”

Similarly, Oliver is reported to have employed this same “physical” evidence in describing his own ordination to the Melchizedek Priesthood by heavenly messengers. David H. Cannon and his brother Angus visited David Whitmer in Richmond, Missouri, in 1861. At the site of Cowdery’s grave, David re-created for the two men Oliver’s last moments. David Cannon said of Whitmer:

The thing which impressed me most of all was, as we stood beside the grave of Oliver Cowdery the other Witness, who had come back into the Church before his death, and in describing Olivers action, when bearing his testimony, said to the people in his room, placing his hands like this upon his head, saying “I know the Gospel to be true and upon this head has Peter James and John laid their hands and confer[r]ed the Holy Melchesdic Priestood,” the manner in which this tall grey headed man went through the exhibition of what Oliver had done was prophetic. I shall never forget the impression that the testimony of. . . David Whitmer made upon me.[44]

Though the experiences of Jacob Gates and David H. Cannon were recounted many years after the event, Oliver’s graphic illustration of the sense of the messengers’ hands on his head seems nevertheless to have been indelibly impressed on the minds of these interested observers.

Priesthood Restoration was a Set of Sequential Steps

Reflecting back on the development of the priesthood and its offices in 1861, President Brigham Young outlined the course of priesthood restoration in a set of sequential steps:

How came these Apostles, these Seventies, these High Priests, and all this organization we now enjoy? It came by revelation. Father Cahoon, who lately died in your neighbourhood, was one of the first men ordained to the office of High Priest in this kingdom. In the year 1831 the Prophet Joseph went to Ohio. He left the State of New York on the last of April, if my memory serves me, and arrived in Kirtland sometime in May. They held a General Conference, which was the first General Conference ever called or held in Ohio. Joseph then received a revelation, and ordained High Priests. You read in the Book of Doctrine and Covenants how he received the Priesthood in the first place. It is there stated how Joseph received the Aaronic Priesthood. John the Baptist came to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery. When a person passes behind the vail, he can only officiate in the spirit-world; but when he is resurrected he officiates as a resurrected being, and not as a mortal being. You read in the revelation that Joseph was ordained, as it is written. When he received the Melchisedek Priesthood, he had another revelation. Peter, James, and John came to him. You can read the revelation at your leisure. When he received this revelation in Kirtland, the Lord revealed to him that he should begin and ordain High Priests; and he then ordained quite a number, all whose names I do not now recollect; but Lyman Wight was one; Fathers Cahoon and Morley, John Murdock, Sidney Rigdon, and others were also then ordained. These were the first that were ordained to this office in the Church. I relate this to show you how Joseph proceeded step by step in organizing the Church. At that time [1831] there were no Seventies nor Twelve Apostles.[45]

That the restoration of the Melchizedek Priesthood took place as a prerequisite to the reestablishment of Christ’s Church upon the earth is attested in scripture and in the history of the Latter-day Saints. The priesthood thus conferred by holy Apostles Peter, James, and John embraced all of the offices of the priesthood from higher to lesser. The keys of presidency contained within the apostleship conveyed on that occasion represented the highest authority conferred upon men in the flesh. By virtue of these keys of priesthood, the Prophet Joseph Smith proceeded to ordain and set in order the various quorums as they are known in the Church today. All of this was done in accordance with the design of the Lord in order that he might “raise up a peculiar people to himself, a holy nation, a royal Priesthood a kingdom of Priests, that shall be saviors upon Mount Zion, not only to preach the Gospel to the scattered remnants of Israel, but to save to the uttermost the nations of the Gentiles, inasmuch as they will listen and can be saved by the plan which God has provided.”[46]


1. Dean C. Jessee, ed., The Papers of Joseph Smith, 2 vols. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1989 92), 1:10. Original spelling and punctuation are retained in all quoted sources in this article.

2. Jessee, The Papers of Joseph Smith, 1:9 10; Joseph Smith, History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 vols., ed. B. H. Roberts (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1957), 1:20 28, 32 35; hereafer HC.

3. Messenger and Advocate, October 1835, 199.

4. Cf. HC 1:39 40; and D&C 13. Because of various reports which had been put in circulation by those whom the Prophet termed “evil-disposed and designing persons” relative to the rise of the Church, he proposed to “put all inquirers after truth in possession of the facts” by this recitation of events (JS-H 1:1 2); see also Jessee, The Papers of Joseph Smith, 1:230 33, 265 68, 290 91.

5. Messenger and Advocate, October 1834, 15; note following JS-H 1, par. 3.

6. “Father Joseph Smith’s Patriarchal Record 1834,” vol. 1, pp. 8 9, LDS Church Archives. Oliver’s statement is part of an explanatory note which he entered in the record book identifying some blessings which were given by the Prophet Joseph Smith, Jr., in Kirtland on 18 December 1833, but not recorded in this record until September 1835; see also p. 10. The reader will note the close similarities between part of Oliver’s text and Abraham 1:2: “We diligently sought for the right of the fathers,” etc. These lines are undoubtedly an outgrowth of the translation of the Abraham papyri, which the Prophet Joseph Smith had received in July 1835.

7. JS-H 1:75; HC 1:43 44; Jessee, The Papers of Joseph Smith, 1:231 32, 291 92.

8. HC 1:44; Jessee, The Papers of Joseph Smith, 1:292.

9. HC 1:51; Jessee, The Papers of Joseph Smith, 1:292 93.

10. HC 1:40; Jessee, The Papers of Joseph Smith, 1:290 91.

11. HC 1:76n 77n. At the same time Hyrum Smith was baptized, David Whitmer and Peter Whitmer, Jr., were also – immersed in the waters of Seneca, June 1829. Joseph said, “From this time forth many became believers, and some were baptized whilst we continued to instruct.” HC 1:51; Jessee, The Papers of Joseph Smith, 1:294.

12. Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, comp. Joseph Fielding Smith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1938), 336.

13. HC 1:77 78; Jessee, The Papers of Joseph Smith, 1:302 3.

14. Donald Q. Cannon and Lyndon W. Cook, eds., Far West Record (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1983), 1 2.

15. Orson Pratt, 2 November 1873; Journal of Discourses, 26 vols. (Liverpool: LDS Book Depot, 1855 86), 16:294 95; emphasis added; hereafter JD.

16. Letter of Hiram Page to “Brother Wm.,” 4 March 1848, Fishing River, Missouri, Second Part, RLDS Archives, – Independence, Missouri; transcript in possession of Richard L. Anderson; emphasis added. See also Larry C. Porter, “The Odyssey of William Earl McLellin: Man of Diversity, 1806 83,” inThe Journals of William E. McLellin 1831 1836, ed. Jan Shipps and John W. Welch (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1994), 343. Angle brackets ([ ]) represent material inserted above the line by the original author.

17. Brigham Young, 6 April 1853; JD 1:137; emphasis added.

18. Brigham Young, 23 June 1874; JD 18:240. Presidents John Taylor and Wilford Woodruff likewise expressed strong views on the sequence of the restoration of the Melchizedek Priesthood and the apostleship under the hands of Peter, James, and John, and the organization of the Church. See John Taylor, 5 March 1882; JD 23:32; and Wilford Woodruff, 24 June 1884; JD 25:206 7.

19. Oliver Cowdery, “Written in the year of our Lord & Savior 1829 A true copy of the articles of the Church of Christ,” Ms. 1829, LDS Church Archives.

20. HC 1:61 62; Jessee, The Papers of Joseph Smith, 1:300.

21. Richard Lloyd Anderson, Understanding Paul (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1983), 35 36. Even though Paul had a vision of the Lord, he was still directed by the Savior to go to the local officers who would tell “thee what thou must do.” And at their hands he received baptism and direction (Acts 9:5 20). The Prophet Joseph Smith spoke of the ordinances to fulfill the requirements of the gospel being the same in all ages. Such preachers of righteousness must be baptized and ordained to the priesthood by the laying on of hands. See Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 264.

22. David Whitmer, An Address to All Believers in Christ (Richmond: David Whitmer, 1887), 32.

23. Brigham Young, 7 April 1852; JD 6:320. Wilford Woodruff recognized the exclusiveness of Joseph and Oliver’s particular apostolic calling as he recalled his recruitment to Zion’s Camp in 1834: “There were no Apostles in the Church then except Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery.” See Conference Report, 8 April 1898, 57.

24. Letter of Oliver Cowdery to Hyrum Smith, 14 June 1829, Fayette, New York, LDS Church Archives; emphasis added.

25. Kansas City Daily Journal, 5 June 1881.

26. HC 1:48 49; Jessee, The Papers of Joseph Smith, 1:293

27. Kansas City Daily Journal, 5 June 1881.

28. “Report of Elders Orson Pratt and Joseph F. Smith,” Deseret Evening News, 16 November 1878.

29. Ibid.; David Whitmer stated: “Oliver told me that Joseph had informed him when I started from home, where I had stopped that first night, how I read the sign at the tavern, where I stopped the next night, etc., and that I would be there that day before dinner, and this was why they have come out to meet me.” Apparently the trip involved a three-day period.

30. HC 1:51.

31 Dean C. Jessee, “Joseph Knight’s Recollection of Early Mormon History,” BYU Studies 17 (autumn 1976): 35.

32. Ibid., 36.

33. Letter of Addison Everett to Oliver B. Huntington, 17 February 1881, St. George, Utah, recorded in “Oliver Boardman Huntington, Journal #14” under back-date of 31 January 1881, Brigham Young University Archives. See also “O. B. Huntington Diary #15,” 18 February 1883, 44 47, where the letter is again recorded with a few additional particulars.

34. Letter of Addison Everett to Joseph F. Smith, 16 January 1882, St. George, Utah, Joseph F. Smith Collection, Personal Papers, Ms. 1325, LDS Church Archives; underlining in original. Addison followed this with yet another letter to Joseph F. Smith on 24 January 1882 in which he gave a brief paragraph on Oliver Cowdery and miscellaneous commentary.

35. Andrew Jenson, comp., Latter-day Saint Biographical Encyclopedia (Salt Lake City: Deseret News Press, 1936), 4:702.

36. HC 1:87 97; cf. Jessee, The Papers of Joseph Smith, 1:312 18; Edwin Brown Firmage and Richard Collin Mangrum, Zion in the Courts (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1988), 50 51.

37. Letter of Addison Everett to Joseph F. Smith, 16 January 1882, St. George, Utah, LDS Church Archives.

38. “Willard Richards Pocket Companion, written in England,” 65. See Willard Richards Journals, 1836 1854, Ms. 1490, Box 2, fd. 6, LDS Church Archives.

39. Letter of Oliver Cowdery to Phineas H. Young, 23 March 1846, Tiffin, Ohio, Oliver Cowdery Papers, 1835 1849, LDS Church Archives.

40. Reuben Miller Journal, 21 October 1848, Ms. 1392, fd. 1, vol. 1, LDS Church Archives.

41. Statement of Oliver Cowdery to Samuel W. Richards, 13 January 1849, cited in Deseret Evening News, 22 March 1884; Statement of Samuel W. Richards concerning meeting with Oliver Cowdery, January 1849, Salt Lake City, 21 May 1907, Ms. 3703, LDS Church Archives.

42. Statement of Oliver Cowdery to Samuel W. Richards, 13 January 1849, cited in Deseret Evening News, 22 March 1884.

43. Jacob F. Gates, “Testimony of Jacob Gates,” Improvement Era 15 (March 1912): 418 19. Elder Jacob Gates was later one of the First Seven Presidents of the Seventy in the Church, 1862 92.

44. David H. Cannon, Autobiography, 13 March 1917, p. 5, photocopy of holograph in possession of Richard L. – Anderson.

45. Brigham Young, 7 May 1861; JD 9:88 89.

46. Erastus Snow, 6 May 1882; JD 23:183.