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Hepzibah Richards, 1795-1838

Kenneth W. and Audrey W. Godfrey, and Jill Mulvay Derr, Women's Voices: An Untold History of The Latter-day Saints (Salt Lake City; Deseret Book, 1982), pp. 69-80; Richards Family Papers, Church Archives; and Journal History of the Church. [Page numbers are references to Women's Voices.]


[Hepzibah Richards started for Kirtland with her brothers Levi and Willard in the fall of 1836. At their home in Richmond, Massachusetts, the three Richardses had learned of the restored gospel through their Latter-day Saint missionary cousin Brigham Young, and they were en route to Kirtland to meet Joseph Smith and learn more of the Mormons. Hepzibah remained in Waterville, New York, while Levi and Willard completed the journey to Ohio, but another brother, Phinehas, called for "Hepsy" a few months later, and with Phinehas and his two sons she made the anticipated trek to Kirtland.

By the time she arrived, Levi and Willard had been baptized and Phinehas followed suit, but Hepzibah waited. By June 1837 Willard was already preparing to leave on his second mission, this one to England. The first of the letters that follow is from Hepzibah to Willard in England. The other Richardses, including Hepzibah's parents, two brothers, and two sisters, remained in Richmond, Massachusetts, skeptical about Mormonism, though by June 1838 the two sisters had been baptized Latter-day Saints and started for Missouri. . . . [Another letter, letter dated 23 March 1838,] from Hepzibah is addressed to her family in Richmond. Hepzibah was not baptized a Latter-day Saint until July 1838, after she had left Kirtland and traveled to Far West, Missouri. She died at Far West the following September.]

Kirtland January 18, 1838

Dear Brother Willard.--

I have received a letter from home dated December 17. Mother was suffering from rheumatism, sister N [Nancy] with sore eyes. Other friends well. Uncle's hand was gaining fast. Brother Wm. [William] was to be married the 19th to Miss Sarah Lewis--sister to Mrs. Hinman. They had received yours of September and October and were answering it. I have been watching the office for a letter from yourself. Last Tuesday one arrived addressed, to Cousin Brigham [Young]. He is not here to read or answer it. He left this place the 21 or 22 of December in company with Brother L [Levi], Mr. [Daniel S.] Miles and his eldest son. They wrote us from New Portage 12 days after saying that they had concluded to go to Missouri.

And now Brother W. [Willard] I must proceed to give you some account of the present state of things in this place. Would I had more cheering intelligence to communicate. For when you are so far separated from friends and home it grieves me to write anything that is calculated to give you pain. You had an opportunity to learn something of the spirit which was beginning to prevail here last spring. That spirit has continued to increase; or if at anytime it has appeared to be quelled it now appears that it was only preparing to operate with greater virulence, until it is generally believed that this place [Kirtland] will soon be trodden down by the enemies of that gospel which you preach.

For some days past the aspect of things has been rapidly changing, and to the view of all appears to be gathering blackness. A large number have dissented [apostasy] from the body of the Church and are very violent in their opposition to the president [presidency] and all who uphold them. They have organized a church and appointed a meeting in the house [Kirtland Temple] next Sabbath. Say they will have it, if it is by the shedding of blood. They have the keys already. The printing office has been attached on a judgment that [Grandison] Newel held against the presidents of K [Kirtland] money. Last Monday it was sold at auction into the hands of Mr. Millican [Nathaniel Milliken], one of the dissenters. At one o'clock the night following cousin Mary waked me, and said that Kirtland was all in flames. It proved to be the printing office-- the fire was then in its height and in one hour it was consumed with all its contents. The temple and other buildings badly scorched. Tuesday eve a meeting was held and a patrol consisting of 21 men, 3 for each night in the week, chosen to guard the city to prevent further destruction by fire. A part of these men are members of the church--a part dissenters. We feel that we are in jeopardy every hour; though we possess a good degree of confidence that we shall be preserved and guided to a place of safety.

I have written to Dublin, Indiana; where cousin Lorenzo [Young] resides. We think they will get it and some of them return to us immediately. Many are preparing to flee, believing that if they remain they shall be driven out by a lawless mob. Probably you will soon have no friends here to direct letters to, and where we shall be I cannot tell you. However, I am not pained at the thought of leaving K [Kirtland] for I have never felt at home here. Mr. [Albert P.] Rockwood, his wife and E.[?] have been baptized and some others in Holliston [Massachusetts] by Parley Pratt. Are much opposed. They and some few families from Holliston design to go to Missouri next spring. Cousin B [Brigham] will get his family there next spring. I know not what Brother L [Levi] will think best. I am pained at the idea of going so far away from eastern friends without the prospect of their following.

The presidents, Joseph [Smith] and Sidney [Rigdon] and Hiram [Hyrum Smith] returned from Missouri a few weeks since. They are elected to the first presidency, or to preside over all the churches instead of this place only. Are all going to Far West. Joseph and Sidney are on the way with their families, or a part of them. Hiram [Hyrum] has buried his wife [Jerusha] and is married to Miss [Mary] Fielding. Elder [John] Goodson's wife's mother, Mrs. Dorson was very much injured by a fall from a wagon about the time he concluded to return home [from England]. She was a very great sufferer and without proper medical attendance until he arrived. H[?] came for brother--took supper with us. L [Levi] visited her a few times--as many as he could as he was then preparing to leave. Last Saturday we heard she was improving. Was able to sit up an hour or more.

The mummies and records have been attached. Mummies sold, records missing. I will give you a sentence from a recent revelation, published in the last paper printed in the office. After speaking of the different places which have been appointed for the gathering of the Saints, the presidents say, "Now we would recommend to the Saints scattered abroad that they make all possible exertions to gather themselves together unto those places; as peace, verily thus saith the Lord, peace shall soon be taken from the earth, and it has already began to be taken; for a lying spirit has gone out upon all the face of the earth and shall perplex the nations, and shall stir up to anger against one another, for behold saith the Lord, very fierce and very terrible war is near at hand, even at your doors, therefore make haste saith the Lord O ye my people, and gather yourselves together and be at peace among yourselves, or there shall be no safety for you." It hardly requires a prophet's eye to see that perilous times are at hand.

With such prospects before us I cannot think of your being left in England alone. Our family are scattered far and wide. Perhaps there is something for you to do for the good of your friends at home. Elders [Heber C.] K [Kimball] and [Isaac] R [Russell] will start for America the first of April. I have heard nothing for a long time respecting anyones' going out next summer. They are too much engrossed with their own perplexities and embarrassments to think or converse about it. I write not to advise but to express my feelings.

Brother P [Phinehas] left here in November designing to return with his family next spring. I think certainly they will not come. George [Phinehas's son] is here with us. Has been quite contented. My health was poor through the summer. Suffered much in consequence of my journey to Ohio. For 8 weeks past I have felt very well. Am with cousin Mary [Ann Angell Young]. Kept house 3 months before brother left. You say you have not seen a word of writing from A. Brother Wm. [William] received yours last summer and answered it. I should be glad to exchange provision with you sometimes, and to mend your clothes which you say are getting ragged were it in [my] power.--Your sister, Hepzibah R [Richards].

Cousin Lucius has the care of 2 churches in the vicinity of Oberlin. His wife is with him. Had a visit from her and Mrs. Gates last fall. Cousins here send love to you. H. R.

Friday evening, 19 January. I have given Mrs. [Vilate] Kimball an opportunity to write in my letter, but as [she] designs to write next week, to her husband, she declined. Cousin Fanny [Young] wished to write but was prevented by company. A letter to Mrs. Kimball and Mrs. [Marinda N.] Hyde arrived with yours; also one to Mrs. Russel. Elders [William] Marks, John Smith and Reynolds Cahoon have been elected and ordained to preside over Kirtland. Luke Johnson and John Boynton are no lo[longer] of the number of the Twelve. Elders John Taylor and John Page are chosen to fill their places. No good news respecting the [Kirtland] Bank. The Boston house is finished outside. Some few other buildings have been erected this summer; but in general K [Kirtland] wears the same aspect as when I first saw it. Mrs. [Nancy Young?] Kent is in this place about 6 miles from us with her family. Have seen her but little. Uncle [John] Young has been sick--is pretty smart now. Joseph [Young] has another son. P [Phinehas Young] and his family in Missouri. War in Canada between the republicans and those who prefer British laws. Elder [Evan M.] Green is there--he writes that the father is against the son, and the son against the father.

I will tell you a little more about Richmond friends [family] as possibly their letter may fail. They feel that Brother Wm. [William] has made a wise and happy choice [in marrying]--friends on both sides acquiesce. I do not know that [there] is any prospect of their getting away from Richmond. Brother said he did not know as there was money enough in Berkshire County to purchase his property and Brother [in-law William] Peirson's. Edwin [Peirson] is teaching in Barrington--Eliza Ann [Peirson] at home. Mrs. Edward Plummer died last fall in Mississippi. Mrs. Gray (old lady) recently of fever. There was much excitement in Holliston when Elder Pratt preached there, and considerable disturbance--no one seriously injured. The Church and the world joined hands in persecuting E [Elizabeth Haven?] after was baptized. She has since been very sick, of putrid and typhus fever, as Uncle [John] Haven stated in a letter to father, but was recovering. Mr. Rockwood said in his letter that her life was despaired for 3 days by all except herself and those of them who held her by the prayer of faith. Cousin Walter R. owns a pleasant seat in Lenox. He and his wife were expected to accompany our people to Hinsdale the 20th of December. A letter from cousin F. Brigham a few weeks since informed me that friends in that region were well. Little Brigham [Young] and Mary [Young] are fine children. Mary has suffered much from whooping cough, diseased lungs and, etc. Is getting smart now.

I think I desire to know and acknowledge the truth but do not yet see my way clear to be baptized, not viewing these things as you do. I believe there are good people in K [Kirtland] but [it] is not a good place to make Mormons. You see I must stop. Must omit reading over my letter lest I should fail of sending it this morning. Saturday. Hope to see you in the spring. Hepsy

[Insert on margins] The excitement respecting the burning of the printing office appears to have subsided in a measure.

The lives of the presidents have been seriously threatened. We do not dare to have Cousin B [Brigham] return to this place.

Source: Hepzibah Richards to Willard Richards, 18-19 January 1838, Willard Richards Papers, Church Archives, cited in Women's Voices and most of this letter was also cited in the Journal History of the Church.

Monday, January 22, 1838. Sister Hepzibah Richards wrote the following to her brother, William:

Last Tuesday a letter arrived from England addressed to Cousin Brigham. Brother Willard's health was very good. He was able to walk 20 miles and preach twice in one day.

Elder Goodson took supper with us soon after his return. He said he thought Brother Willard was proving himself a man of God. Letters from the other elders inform us that they will start for America the first of April. I cannot think of Willard being left alone in England and I have written a letter expressive of my feelings.

A large number have dissented from the body of this church here [Kirtland]; have themselves organized a church and are endeavoring, in various ways, to harass and persecute the old residents and all who uphold them. To be short, they seem to employ all their arts to embarrass and, if possible, to destroy all who are not of their party. They levy upon persons who have signed for others just when they can make the most trouble, take their property and sell it for a trifle. The printing office has been attached with all its contents--likewise the minutes and records. When the day of sale came, the records were missing. Last week, on Monday, the printing office was sold at auction into the hands of dissenters. At one o'clock at night Cousin Mary waked me, saying that Kirtland was all on fire. It proved to be the printing office, the fire being then in its height, and in one hour it was consumed with all its contents. The next day very great excitement prevailed and many were filled with fearful forebodings. Tuesday evening a meeting was held and a patrol appointed, consisting of 21 men (three for each night in the week) to prevent further destruction by fire. At present people are more composed; but the voice to this people, or to the honest in heart, is, "Get ye out of this place"--and multitudes are preparing to flee. Some are going almost without any preparation, Joseph Smith, Sidney Rigdon and Hyrum Smith are elected to the first presidency, that is to preside over all the churches of the Latter-day Saints. Joseph and Sidney left this place Saturday night the 13th inst. (Friday, January 12th) with a part of their families. The rest followed last Saturday. George Robinson has gone. Hyrum Smith has married Miss [Mary] Fielding, the English lady of whom I spoke in my last. Father Smith is missing--not known whether he has left the place or has taken other measures to avoid persecution.

The presidents have consented that the dissenters should occupy the [Kirtland] temple next Sabbath. They affirmed they would have it, if it was by the shedding of blood. Elder Greene has not returned from Canada. Dreadful times there--he says the father is against the son and the son against the father. All our friends design leaving this place soon as possible. As many of them as can will go to Missouri. The feeling seems to be that Kirtland must be trodden down by the wicked for a season; consequently it will be no stopping place for any of our friends at present. Probably several hundred families will leave within a few weeks. Only two numbers of the "Elders Journal" had been printed. Brother L [Levi] and Cousin B [Brigham] did not commence their journey until the 21st of December. They were at New Portage, 12 days after, 50 miles distant--well and in good spirit. The roads west are very bad. We think they are probably not very far off yet. I fear the time is coming when it will be difficult for people to travel through the country. Mankind have become desperate in wickedness, and I think it right that it should be known that we may endeavor to avoid the snares that are laid for us. An attempt was recently made in this place to take a young lady alive for the purpose, as is believed, of taking her to the dissecting room at Chagrin. It is thought they have adopted the Bushing system (so-called in England because invented by a man of that name) which is taking persons unawares and putting a plaster over their mouths.

Cousin B [Brigham's] friends dare not have him return to this place. Many of them think he would certainly be killed. It is thought the lives of the presidents would have been taken in the excitement of last Tuesday, had they been here. And if some of the High Council, particularly those who have been forward in bringing up transgressors, should lose their lives here, it would not be accounted strange. This is no bugbear statement. [Levi W. Richards Compilation, 221]

Source: Hepzibah Richards to William Richards, 22 January 1838, cited in Journal History, 22 January 1838.

Monday, February 19, 1838. Writing from Kirtland, Ohio, under this date, Sister Hepzibah Richards says:

Since I wrote last the state of things has remained much the same. Less excitement at times. The members of the Church are leaving as fast as possible. A steamboat is to be chartered about the middle of March which will take off a great many families. They are driven out of this place [Kirtland] as truly as the Saints were driven out of Jackson County four years ago, though in a different manner. There they were driven by force of arms; here by persecution, chiefly from the dissenters.

People who go from here to Missouri by water take passage at Wellsville (Columbiana County, Ohio] about 100 miles south of here, on the Ohio River; you can find it on the Atlas; then follow on down the Ohio and up the Missouri River quite to the western part of the state of Missouri. There are thousands of acres of good land which have never been in the market; people take up lots and settle on them, then petition for preemption rights, which are always granted. The probability is it will never come into the market, and if it does, it will be sold cheap. If it is safe crossing the lake our eastern friends might go all the way to Missouri by water by going to Cleveland and thence by the Ohio Canal, which extends to the Missouri [Ohio] River and then go through by steamboat. If any of my friends were going to Cleveland, I should caution them to look out for their lives. Murders are frequent there, and many bodies were taken out of the canal last season. A letter from Dublin, [Wayne County] Indiana, about 300 miles from here (where Cousin L [Lorenzo] Y [Young] resides) states out people there are all well and doing well. (Compilation of Levi W. Richards, p. 231)

Source: Selections from Letter of Hepzibah Richards, 19 February 1838, cited in Journal History, 19 February 1838.

20 February 1838

Under this date Sister Hepzibah Richards wrote as follows from Kirtland, Ohio:

If I tax you hard with letter postage I design not to send blank paper, for when I write I feel that I am writing to all. Sometimes I do not think to whom I shall superscribe it until it is done. George, I feel that we have much to say to you about moving west. We are living pretty quietly at present, but shall be glad to get away. We are very comfortably situated in many respects. (L. W. Richards' Compilation, p. 194)

Source: Selections from letter of Hepzibah Richards, 20 February 1838, cited in Journal History, 20 February 1838.

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Miss Rhoda Richards, Richmond Berkshire County, Massachusetts Kirtland, 23rd, March 1838

Dear Friends,

I received the letters which brought the sad news of our dear mother's death early on Tuesday morning one week from the day it was mailed. I had worked very hard the day previous and in consequence of it had arisen with a sick headache. Was preparing to commence packing our goods for Missouri in the expectation of starting the next Monday morning for Wellsville, where I should have taken a steamboat bound for Missouri in the company with Cousin [Evan M.] Greene's family who were already there. Thus situated, I was obliged to proceed in business as far as my strength would allow; but I assure you it was one of the heaviest works I have ever experienced. Before Monday the traveling became so bad I was obliged to defer going. I had for months been impressed with the feeling that I should never see my parents again; and when I have been mourning this separation from all my former friends and have been told that our family were coming to me, have repeatedly said that I did not anticipate ever seeing them more.

I have never liked K [Kirtland] well enough to have one single desire in my heart that any of my friends should come here, but often I decided to go to Missouri and to use my influence to get our family there. I had strong hopes that I should see you all before many months. I expect to be ere long 1000 miles further from that spot which for many years I have called home, and which is still dear to me because my dearest friends are there. The greatest trial I had in view of going further was to think how my dear mother would feel when she knew it. But she was spared that pang; and notwithstanding, I rejoice with heaviness, I will endeavor to rejoice that she has gone to her rest in the grave, and I trust to a better world. How should I prize the melancholy satisfaction of visiting that sacred spot and bathing it with my tears. But even this must be denied me. Those of you who are with father will do all in your power to console him and make the remainder of his days comfortable. I can hardly be reconciled to the idea of never seeing him again; hope it will not be so.

I shall send our goods to the river as soon as the traveling is sufficiently improved. Do not expect to leave myself before May as I know of no company now that I should like to go with on the water. I care not how soon I am away from this place. I have been wading in a sea of tribulation ever since I came here. For the last three months, we as a people have been tempest tossed, and at times the waves have well nigh overwhelmed us; but we believe there will yet be a way of escape. I have been backward in speaking to my friends at home, conscious that it would give them trouble, particularly my mother, without doing me any real good. This people have experienced nothing yet worse than I have anticipated ever since I have been here.

A dreadful spirit reigns in the breasts of those who are opposed to this Church. They are above law and beneath whatever is laudable. Their leading object seems to be to get all the property of the Church for little or nothing, and drive them out of the place. The house of our nearest neighbor has been entered by a mob and ransacked from the top to the bottom under pretense of finding goods which it is thought they had stolen themselves. An attempt has since been made to set the same house on fire while the family were sleeping in bed. We suffer from fear, but we hope these days of suffering will not always last. For myself I have been less unhappy through all these disquieting scenes than I was last summer. Then I carried a steady burden which seemed almost too heavy to be borne. I cannot particularize on a sheet of paper; neither can I begin to say one half I wish.

I desire not my friends to make themselves unhappy on my account. I had learned before I came here to anticipate affliction and sorrow, knowing that it would surely come, and I am confident that nothing will be laid upon me which I shall not be enabled to endure. I would give up all the enjoyments I have had here for a long time for the happiness of seeing my friends at home for one short day, and the only hope I have that I shall ever see you rests on the probability that you will come to me. Still I wish none of you to come unless it is best on the whole.

Elder [Heber C.] Kimball's friends think he is on his way home [from England] hastened by the prospect of war. There is a cessation of arms in Canada; but in all probability it is only to prepare for a general combat. It has been reported here that American vessels were all detained in England; if so, our friends could get on board a French ship. I am not anxious that Brother [Willard] should hear of mother's death until he gets among his friends who will be prepared to sympathize with him. My friends here are friends indeed as far as they can be; but they are so engrossed with their own cares and perplexities at present that they can do little for others. Brother L [Levi] left Dublin [Indiana] the 14th of February for Missouri, in company with our cousins and numbers who had gone from this place, all good company. He then designed to visit K [Kirtland] this spring, but it is my desire that he should not return, and I have written discouragingly to him about it. He could accomplish nothing desirable by coming. There is no business to be done here.

Brother William asks what he has done that L [Levi] should neglect to write him? Nothing, I presume. He is not as much in the habit of writing as the rest of us. While in K [Kirtland] he had no leisure. I endeavored to persuade him that he must write to father and mother before he left but he did not.

I must give you some account of the plans and prospects of this Church relative to emigration. Many families have already left. Those that remain are going up in [Kirtland] camp. They design to start the first of May, but may not before the 10th or later. Probably an hundred and 25 families or more remain. They will go in large wagons covered square on the top with canvas or something that will turn water. Will take their clothing, beds, and cooking utensils and tent by the way. Fifty yards of common sheeting will make a tent that will accommodate eighteen persons. Women and children will sleep in the wagons. Some will take along light crick bedsteads, and other measures will be taken to prevent sleeping on the ground as much as possible. They will have runners to go before and lay up provisions, that the inhabitants may not take advantage of their necessities to increase their prices. They will travel five days in a week; stop on Saturdays to bake and wash. Sabbath hold meetings. Will be eight or ten weeks on the road. They design to take along the poor and the lame, deeming it wrong to leave those who have a desire to go but have no means. It will be required of them to refund it as fast as they are able. This will probably be accomplished, but it must be by mighty effort. Duck will be preferred for tent cloth- -will turn rain better. The camp will move but slowly. The men will walk much of the way.

Cousin Joseph [Young] has given me the offer of going with them, and unless Brother L[evi] returns so that I can go with him by water, I shall probably improve it. They will have as good company and as few children in their tent as any. A Miss Millsam from the state of Maine--a fine girl--will probably be one of our number. How I should rejoice to have the company of some of our home friends if this is best. I fear to urge you lest you should be dissatisfied. I think if father was here to go with the camp that he would be made comfortable. We shall have to suffer privations and inconveniences in so new a place. No fruit--small houses, etc. But for our encouragement we shall have the prospect of better days, I hope. I have always desired that Rhoda [a sister] should stay there until mother should come to accompany her. Now I want she should be company for Nancy [another sister], for I expect you will all come.

I think you will not see such days as you have seen if you remain in the eastern states. They will ere long be involved in great calamities, we think. I think so much of Edwin [Peirson] in regard to the prospect of war. I cannot think of his being called into service young as he is, and subject to ill turns which would be likely to be brought on him by exposures. Wish he was here to go with me. Cousin Joseph [Young] thinks if he was here with twenty dollars it would be all sufficient to carry him through. I do not like to have him come here alone there is so much wickedness in these days. I mail a letter with this to Mr. [Albert P.] Rockwood that they may have an opportunity to come if they choose and go with us. They will drive cows enough to supply them with milk.

Did you save your keg of sprouts or scions? Save all the pie-plant seed this season and dry as much of the plant as you can. Dried fruit [would] be a treasure in Missouri. I am taxing you heavily with postage; but I have much to say and shall ere long be where you will not hear from me so often. If I think of any errands in future, I shall send a paper with dotted letters for you to spell out. . . .

What are Phinehas's family going to do? I feel interested for them. The probability is that cousin's property and the doctor's [Levi's] together, which has been considered worth perhaps 2000 dollars, cannot be sold for enough to furnish a team for us. I have run till I have felt that I could run no more, to collect enough on all the doctor's accounts to enable to send our goods to the river, without succeeding; but think I shall. Brother's coat that was left in our house will be sent to Missouri. Whatever is left here will be common plunder. . . .

Hepsy Richards

G [George] is well and thankful, is anxious to be in Missouri. I mailed a letter to Brother L [Levi] the second of March. Am told the mail between this and Missouri is slow and uncertain. Shall write the first opportunity by private conveyance; but unless he returns, he will not hear of mother's death for some weeks. . . .

Source: Hepzibah Richards to Rhoda Richards, 23 March 1838, typescript, Richards Correspondence, Church Archives, cited in Women's Voices and cited in part in Journal History, 23 March 1838.