1838

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Howard Coray-Nauvoo

 

In December, 1838, my father concluded to move to the western country, believing he could find a more desirable place in which to live, than in Pennsylvania. Accordingly, some time in this month, about the 1st, I think, my father and myself, also brother George, set out for the great far west.

We reached Perry, Pike County, Illinois, about the 1st of January, 1839. Here my father found his half brother, Stephen Abbott; and, as the country and things in general pleased him, he resolved to stop and make himself another home. . . .

In the meantime, I made the acquaintance of the notable, Henry Ward Beecher. The circumstances connected with the matter, being somewhat novel, I will make some mention of the same. On a certain sabbath, I attended service; Beecher was the minister on that occasion, and his earnest manner and rather bewitching eloquence made some impression on my mind and I concluded to attend meeting in the evening. There was preaching to be in a certain church and an inquiry meeting at the ladies' seminary. Well, it so transpired that I, by mistake, went to the inquiry meeting. About as soon as I entered the room, I saw that I had gone wrong, for I had not the least notion of being catechized by preachers in regard to my religious feelings. I felt somewhat awkward, and in rather a predicament, as I did not wish to show myself illbred by leaving at once; neither had I any relish for being questioned concerning my anxious state of mind that I, per chance, might be in, in relation to my soul's salvation.

However, after taking in the situation, I concluded to face the music and stay. Presently, Mr. Beecher came around to me, and whispering in my ear, inquired as to how I felt. I replied, that I had come there through mistake, yet I would like to see him in some place, where I could converse with more freedom than would be proper on that occasion. He said he would be pleased to meet with me wherever I wished, and it was agreed that I should call on him at his room in the college.

At the appointed time for seeing him, I knocked at his door and was invited in. He received me in quite a friendly and pleasant manner, and we soon fell into conversation. I told him I had no fixed religious views; that, if I inclined to anything, it was to universalism. I quoted the text, "For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive." 1st Cor. 15:22. He undertook to elucidate this scripture, but his explanation only enveloped it in obscurity, and I was quite unable to understand the point that he endeavored to make.

I next gave him the 5th chapter of Romans to read. He appeared to be equally as much puzzled to simplify and bring within the scope of my comprehension this chapter, as the verse quoted from Corinthians. I asked him how he knew there was a God. He said, he was once praying in the back part of his garden, and the Lord came and stood beside, or near him. I asked him how he knew this, if he saw the Lord, or heard his voice. He said, "No," but realized in some way His presence and that He was there. I told him I was willing to join any denomination that was right, but before taking such a step, I wanted some unmistakable testimony, something more divine than man is able to give. Being rather desirous to know of an absolute certainty that there is a God and one to whom we are amenable for all our acts and doings, I resolved to lay aside my studies, and turn my whole attention in the direction of getting religion, some testimony from God, and, if possible, to find out what His will was concerning me. So I prayed much-- I would get up in the night and pray, and followed this up about two weeks. School closed for a two-month's vacation, and I returned to Perry, Pike County, Illinois. . . .

As I had received no testimony of a supernatural kind, and had sought the Lord with all the fervency, and ardor of soul that was in my power, I was not very hard to win back to my former way of thinking. . . Although I had confidence in Mr. Beecher as an honest, well meaning man, I was forced to the conclusion that there must have been some mistake in regard to the Lord's coming and standing beside him, for I had made every endeavor that I had the capacity of making to see something miraculous, yet had received no spiritual manifestation whatever. So I concluded from the reading of these discussions, etc. that the universalism doctrine was about as true as any of the isms.

In this state of mind I continued until I went to hear a Mormon elder preach, by the name of Joseph Wood, in Roswell Perry's house in the town of Perry. I took rather a back seat, as I did not wish to be noticed by anyone; soon Mr. Wood came in with a Bible and hymnbook under his arm, and took the seat arranged for the preacher. Having never seen him before, I eyed him very closely to size him up (in common parlance). Well, all I could discover was that he was above the medium size, rather good looking and had a very bright and intelligent countenance.

In a few minutes, he rose to his feet and after calling the congregation to order, sang a hymn and offered prayer. His voice seemed sweet in singing, and his prayer faultless, so far as I was able to judge. He sang another hymn, then read for the foundation of his remarks, "For the priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the law." Hebrews 7:12. This text was new and strange to me, and I wondered what he would do with or make of it. He soon showed by weeding through the scriptures what he would do with it. He explained what the law was, and then how it was changed and in what manner. Well, by the time he got through speaking, I was satisfied that he was decidedly the most profound theologian that I had ever seen, but, as to how he came by his information was beyond my ken. His style of reasoning was exceedingly convincing, and his eloquence overwhelming. I was well prepared by this discourse to hear him again, or more upon the subject of Mormonism, "as it was called."

In a short time, there was a two or three days' meeting of the Saints and of course, I went. My father, as well as others of the family, were becoming more or less interested in the doctrines of Mormonism. Consequently, we all concluded to attend the meeting. There was considerable plain, strong preaching, which was not without its effect upon the mind of my father. So at the close of the meeting, he approached Elder Wood, and gave him a cordial invitation to go home with him and stay overnight. This was cheerfully accepted. After supper, and the chores all done, the family gathered around to hear what the preacher might have to say and to ask questions, such as the occasion might suggest.

Near the close of the evening, I well recollect asking this question: Can I know that Mormonism is true? I was willing to do anything, provided I could know that such was the fact. He said, most assuredly I could know, and it would be my duty to obtain that knowledge. He then quoted John 7:17: "If any man will do His will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself." He then remarked that the Saints were entitled to the Spirit of God, and the spiritual gifts as found in the 12th chapter of 1st Corinthians. After listening a short time to his explanation of some points of doctrine, I told him he could baptize me in the morning. According to promise, on the morrow my father took brothers George, William, myself and Elder Wood about four miles to a creek, some six or eight miles distant from Perry and Elder Wood baptized first myself, next William and then George, and confirmed us by the water's edge. This was on the 24th or 25th day of March, 1840. . . .and confirmed us at the water's edge by the same individual, also, brothers George and William.

In some two days I received a testimony of the spirit to such a degree as to perfectly satisfy me that I had not made any mistake, that what was called Mormonism was absolutely the gospel, that Joseph Smith was truly a Prophet raised up in the 19th century to usher in the "Dispensation of the Fulness of Times," clothed with the Melchizedek Priesthood with all the gifts and graces appertaining thereto.

On the 3rd or 4th day of April, 1840, I set out with a few others for Nauvoo, for the purpose of attending conference and to gratify a curiosity that I had to see the Prophet. Sometime during the conference, I took occasion to visit him, in company with Joseph Wood. He introduced me to Brother Joseph with something of a flourish, telling him that I was a collegiate from Jacksonville College. This was not true and was not authorized by me. The Prophet, after looking at me a little and asking me some questions, wished to know whether it would be convenient for me to come to Nauvoo and assist, or rather clerk, for him. As this was what I desired, I engaged at once to do so; and in about two weeks thereafter, I was busily employed in his office, copying a huge pile of letters into a book, correspondence with the elders as well as other persons, that had been accumulating for some time.

While I was employed in this manner, I had many valuable opportunities. The Prophet had a great many callers or visitors, and he received them in his office where I was clerking, persons of almost all professions, doctors, lawyers, priests and people seemed anxious to get a good look at what was then considered something very wonderful: a man who should dare to call himself a prophet and announce himself as a seer and ambassador of the Lord. Not only were they anxious to see, but also to ask hard questions, in order to ascertain his depth. Well, what did I discover? . . . . He was always equal to the occasion, and perfectly master of the situation; and possessed the power to make everybody realize his superiority, which they evinced in an unmistakable manner. I could clearly see that Joseph was the captain, no matter whose company he was in, knowing the meagerness of his education, I was truly gratified at seeing how much at ease he always was, even in the company of the most scientific, and the ready off-hand manner in which he would answer their questions.

In the following June, I met with an accident, which I shall here mention: The Prophet and myself, after looking at his horses, and admiring them, that were just across the road from his house, we started thither, the Prophet at this same time put his arm over my shoulder. When we had reached about the middle of the road, he stopped and remarked, "Brother Coray, I wish you were a little larger, I would like to have some fun with you." I replied, "Perhaps you can as it is," not realizing what I was saying, Joseph a man of over 200 pounds weight, while I scarcely 130 pounds, made it not a little ridiculous for me to think of engaging with him in anything like a scuffle. However, as soon as I made this reply, he began to trip me; he took some kind of a lock on my right leg, from which I was unable to extricate it, and throwing me around, broke it some three inches above the ankle joint. He immediately carried me into the house, pulled off my boot, and found at once that my leg was decidedly broken; then he got some splinters and bandaged it. A number of times that day did he came in to see me, endeavoring to console me as much as possible. The next day when he happened in to see me after a little conversation, I said, "Brother Joseph, when Jacob wrestled with the angel and was lamed by him, the angel blessed him; now I think I am also entitled to a blessing." To that he replied, "I am not the patriarch, but my father is, and when you get up and around, I'll have him bless you." He said no more for a minute or so, meanwhile looking very earnestly at me, then said, "Brother Coray, you will soon find a companion, one that will be suited to your condition and whom you will be satisfied with. She will cling to you, like to cords of death, and you will have a good many children." He also said some other things, which I can't so distinctly remember.

In nine days after my leg was broken, I was able to get up and hobble about the house by the aid of a crutch and in two weeks thereafter, I was about recovered, nearly as well as ever, so much so that I went to meeting on foot, a distance of a mile. I considered this no less than a case of miraculous healing. For nothing short of three months did I think it would be ere I should be around again, on my feet, able to resume work.

I finished the job of copying letters. I was then requested by Brother Joseph to undertake, in connection with E. D. Woolley, the compilation of the church history. . . . I next engaged in school teaching, which was my main avocation for livelihood while I resided in Nauvoo.

Subsequent, some three or four weeks, to getting my leg broken, and while at meeting, the blessing of the Prophet came into my mind, viz: "that I should soon find a companion, etc. etc." So I thought I would take a square look at the congregation, and see who there was, that possibly the fair one promised me might be present. After looking and gazing awhile at the audience, my eyes settled upon a young lady sitting in a one-horse buggy. She was an entire stranger to me and a resident of some other place. I concluded to approach near enough to her to scan her features well and thus be able to decide in my own mind whether her looks would satisfy my taste. She had dark brown eyes, very bright and penetrating, at least they penetrated me, and I said to myself, she will do. The fact is, I was decidedly struck.

After the dismissal of the meeting, instead of going for my dinner, I remained on the ground and presently commenced promenading about to see what I could see. I had not gone far before I came square in front of the lovely miss, walking arm in arm with a Mrs. Harris, with whom I was well acquainted. They stopped and Mrs. Harris said, "Brother Coray, I have the honor of introducing you to Miss Martha Knowlton, from Bear Creek." I, of course, bowed as politely as I knew how and she curtsied, and we then fell into somewhat familiar conversation. I discovered at once that she was ready, off hand, and inclined to be witty; also, that her mind took a wider range than was common for young ladies of her age. This interview, though short, was indeed very enjoyable, and closed with the hope that she might be the one whom the Lord had picked for me; and thus it proved to be.

I shall not go into all the details of our courtship; suffice it to say, every move I made, seemed to count one in the right direction. I let Brother Joseph into the secret and showed him a letter that I had written, designed for her. He seemed to take uncommon interest in the matter and took pains to see her and talk with her about me, telling her that I was just the one for her. A few letters passed between us; I visited her at her home, proposed, was accepted, and on the 6th day of February, 1841, we were married at her father's house. Brother Robert B. Thompson performed the ceremony.

I will say in this connection that what the Prophet said in regard to the companion which I should soon find has been fully verified. A more intelligent, self-sacrificing, and devoted wife and mother, few men have been blessed with. She became the mother of twelve children, seven sons and five daughters, and lived to see them all grown up to man and womanhood, educated, intelligent, virtuous and religious. In this great work, she acted well her part. In February 1840, she embraced the Gospel and soon became well acquainted with the Prophet; and as such, greatly venerated him. I have frequently heard her say that he himself was the greatest miracle to her she had ever seen; and that she valued her acquaintance with him above almost everything else. She lived a consistent Latter-day Saint life up to the time of her demise, which event occurred on the 14th day of December 1881. Her age, when she passed away, was 59 years, 6 months and 11 days.

Source: Autobiography of Howard Coray, LDS Archives