Thirteenth Apostle

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Thirteenth Apostle: The Diaries of Amasa M. Lyman, 1832-1877

Amasa M. Lyman: convert, apostle, apostate, and spiritualist. A key figure in understanding both Mormon and Utah history, a confidant to Joseph Smith, and eventual adversary of Brigham Young.

 

September 2016

SKU: 978-1-56085-236-0 Categories: , Tags: , , , , Author: Scott H. PartridgeProduct ID: 1500

Description

Originally from New Hampshire, Amasa Mason Lyman converted to Mormonism over the objection of his family at age nineteen. Compelled to leave home with a total of eleven dollars in his pocket, he ventured some 700 miles east to Ohio, where Joseph Smith told him to return east and serve a mission despite his unfamiliarity with the church’s doctrines and procedures.

Ten years later Lyman temporarily replaced Orson Pratt in the Quorum of Twelve Apostles. This made him a kind of fifth wheel (thirteenth apostle) when Pratt was reinstated. Lyman would nevertheless regain his position in the quorum two years later and serve faithfully until his expulsion in 1867 for denying the divinity of Jesus. He then gravitated toward the anti-Brighamite spiritualist movement in Utah. Tracing the arc of this transformation from firm believer to prominent heretic, Lyman’s diaries are a window into the thinking of pioneer Mormons and the idealogical issues that sometimes divided them. This is the first in an anticipated multi-volume collection of historic diaries that will comprise the Signature Legacy Series.

Scott H. Partridge is a Professor Emeritus in Business Administration at California State University, Hayward, where he taught for thirty-two years after receiving and MBA from the University of Oregon and a Ph.D. in history from Harvard. He is the editor of the Eliza Maria Partridge Journal; he has also published in BYU Studies and elsewhere.

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4 reviews for Thirteenth Apostle

  1. “These journals, as they came from Amasa Lyman’s own pen, provide an irresistible window into the LDS Church in its first few decades through Joseph Smith’s martyrdom, the many obstacles in settling the West, and prosecution for the embrace of polygamy. Lyman records his daily activities as a ranking church leader, then as a disaffected former member, and Scott Partridge has done a masterful job in providing context and clarification for these events through his informative footnotes. This is an essential resource for historians, family members, and anyone interested in a first-hand account by someone so closely aligned with the leading elders of the church. Here we have the good, the bad, and everything in between.”

  2. “In these engrossing diaries, we see Amasa Mason Lyman solving problems among the church’s untrained leadership and their congregants. He served as Joseph Smith’s counselor in the Quorum of the Anointed, as co-founder of San Bernardino, and as president of the British Mission, among other far-flung assignments. In the 1860s he choose to associate with dissidents who emphasized Smith’s axiom to ‘teach them correct principles and let them govern themselves’ over Brigham Young’s authoritarian rule. All of this is detailed in Lyman’s engaging trademark style.”

  3. “The diaries of Amasa M. Lyman, edited by his great-grandson, provide invaluable insights into the missionary efforts of early Latter-day Saints, the LDS settlements in California and southern Utah, and the development of the Godbeite New Movement. The editor’s introduction provides essential details about Lyman’s life and what he included in his diaries, as well as, equally important, what he left out. The later entries remind me of Wilford Woodruff’s journal, often cited as essential for LDS history although Woodruff sometimes only gave farm and weather reports. Having such a reliable transcript of Lyman’s diary, the significant and the banal, combined with excellent explanatory notes, simplifies research for other scholars probing all aspects of nineteenth-century Mormon history.”

  4. Amasa Lyman is a difficult person to situate within the Mormon tradition. On the one hand, he was a fervent believer, a devoted follower of Joseph Smith, a dogged defender of the gospel, a diligent pioneer, and a committed diary keeper. Yet his life was also full of quixotic divergences from the mainstream as well as substantial complications. The very title of this new volume of Lyman’s diaries hints at his liminal status: The Thirteenth Apostle. Lyman was called as an apostle when Orson Pratt was temporarily dropped from the quorum, but when Pratt was restored Lyman was stuck as a thirteenth wheel. He was then called to the First Presidency when Joseph Smith wanted to drop Sidney Rigdon, but when the latter didn’t happen the former was left in limbo. Lyman’s very ecclesiastical position highlighted an inability to fit in. With the publication of his diaries, Scott Partridge and the staff at Signature Books have provided us an important entrypoint not only into Lyman’s odd life, but also the community whose boundaries he frequently tested.
    After decades of frequent missionary, scouting, and leadership expeditions between his conversion in the early 1830s and 1863, Lyman’s liminality became an issue once more once he settled in Utah. He was called upon to defend his unorthodox positions—he preached a famous sermon in which he said Christ’s divinity was not necessary for the exaltation of man—and after he was stripped of his apostleship and later excommunicated from the Church he became a prominent spiritualist and leader in a dissident liberal Mormon body in Salt Lake City. He participated in a number of seances, communed with dead spirits like Joseph Smith, and lectured in public halls. He was a thorn in the side of the LDS institution while still living in their midst. All but one of his eight plural wives left him (though one passed away before the episode), and his son, Francis, became an LDS apostle shortly after Amasa’s death. The renegade figure’s story would not be completely righted until 1904 when his membership, priesthood, and apostleship were restored—by Joseph F Smith, the man who had in 1867 replaced Lyman in the quorum, no less. Talk about life on the frontier.
    This volume reproduces entries from all of Lyman’s diaries, with a few exceptions. Partridge understandably did not copy all the mathematical and grammar insertions. (Lyman used his diaries for several purposes.) And there are inexplicably no diaries that cover the years surrounding Lyman’s heresy trial and drop from the quorum. It is very difficult to contemplate that that period, of all the periods in Lyman’s life, was the period he didn’t keep a record. But whether he truly chose to take a break from his diaries, or whether something else happened to them, they do not exist in the public record. While Partridge’s project was underway the LDS Church History Library, who possess the original volumes, have uploaded scans of a majority of the entries. (This in no way decreases the convenience of having them in a transcribed, printed copy, of course.)
    A majority of the diary entries through 1868 capture the tedious details of life on the road as a missionary. They are mostly terse and with the most bare observations. Yet once Lyman settled in Utah, and especially after he became a leader in a dissenting spiritualist church, the material becomes far more interesting. On May 8, 1870, he “announced to [his family] my intention to resume preaching the [Godbe] gospel.” The news “gave them much pain” (614). Though Partridge claims this spiritualist movement was a “fad” in the broader American community (xxi), it was actually a strong and tangible cultural feature. The many popular seance meetings in Salt Lake City were merely one part of a much larger web of spiritualist belonging. Especially after the Civil War, where Americans experienced death and loss like never before, many turned to this new mode of communication that supposedly transcended death. Therefore, Lyman’s detailed accounts should be of immense interest to scholars of American religion who aim to trace this phenomenon in its many expressions.
    Some of the reports of these spiritualist encounters were mundane, like “Received some words purporting to come from Joseph Smith through Mr [John M.] Spear” (624), but as Lyman became more converted to the process the accounts became much more detailed. In one seance Theodore Turley received guidance from his deceased daughter “in regard to treating the cancer with which he is afflicted” (639). In another, Joseph Smith channeled a woman in order to affirm that “humanity will be lifted up from their narrowmimdedness” as a result of Lyman’s new, liberal church (640). Some messages are received through knocking, and some spiritual visitors complain about their medium’s inability to cooperate. Scholars of spiritual mediums will be rewarded with the rich detail Lyman provides of these practices.
    There are a number of other noteworthy elements in the book. One fascinating thread to chase is Joseph Smith’s son, David Hyrum, who traveled to Utah to convert Mormons to the RLDS faith but was instead converted by Lyman to spiritualism (710-716). Another is Lyman’s fraught relationship with his family, as some children remained close to him after his “apostasy” while others shunned him and reaffirmed their allegiance to the church. Lyman’s entries concerning his family are certainly sparse, but there is enough there to reconstruct an important gendered picture of the Lyman household(s).
    But perhaps the most exciting tale woven within Lyman’s diaries, at least to me, is that it provides material with which we can reconstruct a dissenting and liberal culture that flourished in Salt Lake City just down the street from Brigham Young’s headquarters. Territorial Utah, even when Young was in charge, was far from the tyrannical environment typically depicted. On the very same blocks where general church meetings were held there were also seances, dissenting rallies, and apostate lectures. Utah’s capital was a much more diverse and pluralistic space than Mormon leaders wanted people to believe.
    That said, readers will have to slog through a lot of tedious material to get to the good stuff. The decision to publish the diaries in total made the volume both long and dense. One might argue that it would have been more useful to be more selective on what was included—which would have allowed them to include selected letters and sermons, as originally envisioned—but that would have been a different project. Given the framework they chose, Thirteenth Apostle is a wonderful resource. Scholars of Mormon missionary work, leadership dynamics, territorial Utah, and dissenting traditions will be well rewarded by engaging this excellent collection.

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