1884 Harrison Burgess history


(published in 1884*)



I WAS born September 3, 1814, in the town of Putnam, Washington Co., State of New York. I lived with my parents until upwards of fourteen years of age, and, being the eldest of my father's family, I was kept constantly at work and had but little opportunity of acquiring an education. My father made no profession of religion, but led a moral and virtuous life. My childhood was not marked with any crime, although I paid but little or no attention to religion until the seventeenth year of my age. In July, 1832, when I first heard the fullness of the gospel proclaimed by Elder Simeon Carter, I was convinced that the scriptures were true and that the Book of Mormon was a divine revelation from heaven. I was baptized and spent the following Winter in going to school, working for my board and in meeting with the Saints. In the Spring of 1833, I started in company with Brother John S. Carter to the State of Vermont, where we labored about two months and then returned to New York State.

On the third Sabbath in May while speaking to a congregation I declared that I knew that the Book of Mormon and the work of God were true. The next day while laboring in the field something seemed to whisper to me, "Do you know the Book of Mormon is true?" My mind became perplexed and darkened, and I was so tormented in spirit that I left my work and retired into the woods. The misery and distress that I there experienced cannot be described. The tempter all the while seemed to say, "Do you know the Book of Mormon is true?" I remained in this situation about two hours. Finally I resolved to know, by exercising faith similar to that which the brother of Jared possessed, whether I had proclaimed the truth or not, and commenced praying to the God of heaven for a testimony of these things. Suddenly a glorious personage clothed in white stood before me and exhibited to my view the plates from which the Book of Mormon was taken.

In September, 1834, I started with my father's family for Kirtland, Ohio, as it was necessary for him to stay to transact some business. On my journey I accidentally met with the Prophet Joseph Smith, in Springfield, Pennsylvania; I there saw him for the first time, and heard him preach. I arrived in Kirtland and tarried there through the Winter, during which time Brother Joseph received a revelation calling for the strength of the Lord's house to go to Jackson Co., Missouri, for the redemption of Zion. I was one among the rest that volunteered to go and fulfill this commandment. I started in March, 1834, in company with Joseph Smith and others. We had a long and tedious journey, and arrived in Missouri on the last of June. While the camp tarried there Brother Joseph received the word of the Lord by revelation, relative to the camp, informing us that we were not to fight at that time; that Zion could not be redeemed then; and that he had required us to come thus far, as a trial of our faith; that He had accepted of our offering, etc. Some individuals of the camp felt to murmur at this decree, and wanted to fight the enemies of God. Brother Joseph said the Lord would send a scourge upon us in consequence of this unrighteous feeling. The cholera was upon us in a few hours after this prediction, and some eighteen of our brethren fell victims to its grasp. Among the number that I attended upon and helped to bury was Brother John S. Carter. My feelings on this occasion can never be described. At length I was violently seized with it myself, but through faith in God and the kind assistance of Brother Zera H. Cole, I was rescued from the grasp of death.

When the camp broke up I received an honorable discharge from Lyman Wight, our commander-in-chief After this I started for home in company with Heber C. Kimball and several others, arriving at Kirtland, Ohio, about the last of July. I found my friends well and the Saints were exerting themselves to the utmost in their poverty to build the Temple which was so far completed that I received my endowments therein in the Spring of 1835. The Lord blessed His people abundantly in that Temple with the Spirit of prophecy, the ministering of angels, visions, etc. I will here relate a vision which was shown to me. It was near the close of the endowments. I was in a meeting for instruction in the upper part of the Temple, with about a hundred of the High Priests, Seven- ties and Elders. The Saints felt to shout "Hosannah!" and the Spirit of God rested upon me in mighty power and I beheld the room lighted up with a peculiar light such as I had never seen before. It was soft and clear and the room looked to me as though it had neither roof nor floor to the building and I beheld the Prophet Joseph and Hyrum Smith and Roger Orton enveloped in the light: Joseph exclaimed aloud, "I behold the Savior, the Son of God." Hyrum said, "I behold the angels of heaven." Brother Orton exclaimed, "I behold the chariots of Israel." All who were in the room felt the power of God to that degree that many prophesied, and the power of God was made manifest, the remembrance of which will remain with me while I live upon the earth.

During the Winter of 1836, I attended a high school together with Brothers Joseph and Hyrum and most of the leading men of the Church ; it was a fine opportunity for obtaining knowledge. The evenings were mostly spent in meetings for instructions on the principles of our faith and religion. It was then and there that the lectures in the first part of the book of Doctrine and Covenants were given. During this Winter and Spring the members of Zion's Camp were called together to receive an especial blessing, according to a promise which had been made in the before-mentioned revelation. Out of this number most of the Twelve were selected, and also the first Seventy, of which latter I was one. We had a meeting every Saturday to bless and ordain such as had been called. I was blessed and ordained under the hands of Joseph Smith, Jun., Joseph Smith, Sen., and Sidney Rigdon.

I started, on the 18th of April, on a mission to New York and Vermont, and returned home September 20th; and again, in the Winter of '37, I took a short mission to Ohio in company with Lucius N. Scovil. It was while upon this mission that we heard of the persecution that had been raised against the Church in which the printing office was burned and that the Church were leaving for Far West, Missouri. We returned home immediately, and I made preparations and started west with my family on the 26th of March, in company with several other families among whom was Brother Hyrum Smith, We had an exceedingly hard journey in consequence of a great deal of rain and mud. We arrived at Far West the 27th of May, 1837. The next day I went to Davies county with Joseph and Hyrum Smith and some others to look out a new location. I remained there nine days and helped survey the site for a city. As a reward for rendering this assistance at that time Brother Joseph selected me a very fine city lot. I removed my family to Davies county, and in a short time my wife was taken ill with the chills and fever, which rendered her nearly helpless for about six months, during which time the terrible tragedies of persecution were enacted in Missouri. My brother-in-law, Daniel Carter, and some of his family were sick and on my hands to provide for. Thus surrounded by affliction, I, with my brethren, was compelled to remove my sick family to Caldwell county. We tarried there till the next March, and were then obliged to leave the State. In addition to removing my own family I made two or three trips with my team to assist in removing the destitute.

I settled in Pike Co., Illinois. The people there were very kind and humane. I preached during the year of my residence in that county about one hundred times and baptized about thirty individuals. I removed to Nauvoo in April, 1840, where I remained during the Summer, and in the Fall took a mission to the east, in company with Daniel Carter. We took our families along and by request of Hyrum Smith moved into his large and commodious house in Kirtland, to which was attached a most beautiful orchard. We then proceeded farther east on our mission, as we were authorized to visit the branches of the Church, and gather up means for the Nauvoo Temple. I was gone about two years, when I returned to Nauvoo.

In June, 1844, the storm of persecution arose against the leaders of the Church, which terminated in the martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum Smith. During this scene I had the command of one of the companies of the Nauvoo Legion, and was on duty about three weeks. I saw Joseph's and Hyrum' s dead bodies and was called upon to act as one of the guards at the burial.

At the organization of the Seventies I was appointed one of the presidents over the second quorum, was ordained to that office under the hands of Elder Orson Pratt. During the Winter, Spring and Summer I assisted in ordaining several hundred of the Seventies and organizing them into quorums. In the Fall of 1845 the mob spirit revived and after due reflection and counsel the Church as a body concluded to leave the States and seek a home in the wilderness. Every possible exertion was then made to hasten the completion of the Temple, that the Saints might therein receive their anticipated blessings and endowments before their departure. The Temple was finally dedicated and the giving of endowments was commenced. It was in this house of God that my wife Sophia was sealed to me first and afterwards Amanda M. Hammond was given me by President B. Young.

After receiving our blessings in the Temple, myself and family made all preparations for our wilderness journey, and crossed the Mississippi River on the last day of May, 1846. We had a prosperous journey, overtook the camp at Council Bluffs, crossed the Missouri River in July, and in concert with the spirit of the camp, made preparations for Winter Quarters.

My wife Sophia was sick most of the ensuing Winter, but through the mercy of God her life was spared. Her disease was the scurvy of which quite a number died. At the organization of the camp I was appointed a captain of fifty in Brother Kimball's division, but in consequence of sickness in my family I could not obtain the necessary outfit to go on in the Spring company. During the year 1847 I labored very hard to obtain the means necessary for my expected trip to the valleys of Utah and my arrangements were nearly completed to go in the Spring of '48, when a call came for me to go on a mission to England. I felt as ever to respond to the call, but the idea of leaving my family, to make their way to Utah without my company or assistance, was not very pleasant. My family, however, chose to undertake the enterprise rather than to have me fail to fulfill my mission. I accordingly turned my whole attention to prepare everything in my power as comfortable and convenient as I could for my family's expedition and resolved to see them across the Elkhorn River myself. My team consisted of a good, strong wagon, two yoke of first-rate oxen and a yoke of cows ; I got a boy to drive the team.

We left Winter Quarters on the 20th of May, 1848, had a good journey to the river and crossed over it in safety. The people who were going to perform the journey had been gathering there for some time and forming an encampment, awaiting the arrival of the others who were to go. The two large camps would have covered some acres. One was formed in a square with a hollow in the center, the other in an oblong. Here the camps were organized for traveling with captains of hundreds, fifties and tens, with good instructions from Brother Brigham and others as to their every-day duties. A number of the Twelve and many of the friends and relatives of the camp had come over to visit their friends and see them start. The business having all been accomplished, the visitors and myself left for Nauvoo, on the morning of the third of June. While we were waiting for the boat to take us across the river Brother Kimball came and took me by the hand, blessed me, and prophesied many good things on my head ; said I should perform a good mission and return with much honor to Zion. He then blessed my wives and said they should both be blessed and prospered in my absence and that we should all live to meet again. These predictions were fulfilled.

I was from the 3rd of June to the 27th of July getting to New York. At St. Louis I met Joseph Clemens, who was also going to England, and we agreed to travel together. We took the Highland Mary on the Ohio River. While on this boat we were attacked by a gang of thieves and robbers, who intended to kill and throw us into the river, but through the mercy of God they did not kill us, though my head was severely injured by their blows. We could get no protection from the officers of the boat, but had to hire a state room and shut ourselves up. The boat was burned on her return trip.



ON the 21st of September I arrived in England, and was appointed by Apostle Orson Pratt, who presided over the mission, to travel among all the conferences of the mission with authority to transact any business with both officers and members as the Holy Spirit might dictate. In this way I labored about a year, in which time I was greatly blessed, and always endeavored, by the help of the Lord, to comfort and strengthen the Saints and to build them up in all the principles of our holy religion.

About the 1st of July, 1849, the presidency of the Glasgow conference was vacated and President Pratt appointed me to pre- side there. It was the largest conference but one in the British Isles. After going there I held a number of council meetings, and then traveled and preached from one branch to another. I did not meet with much violent opposition in my labors. There was not, as a general thing, so much cruelty manifested towards the Elders, as there had been in some parts of America. I will name one incident, however, which took place with me, while I was preaching and building up the Church in my district. At one time I gave out a notice that I would preach in a certain large town. The people said I should not preach ia that place and if I attempted to do so, they would tar and feather me and give me a free ride out of their town on a rail. I was apprised of the threats they had made, and the brethren begged me not to go to fill the appointment; but I told them I had never failed to perform my duty in this respect yet, and I had faith that the Lord would help me through this difficulty. I therefore went, trusting in the Lord, and preached to the people in great plainness. They had all their preparations made, and intended to put their threats into execution as soon as the meeting closed. When I had finished they put out all the lights but one, which, I suppose, they had saved for their own use. As they began to leave the house I reached up and extinguished the other light, which left us all in the dark, so they could not tell one from another, and I passed out in the crowd and walked away in peace.

I was released from my mission in January, 1850. By the request of President Pratt I left Liverpool about two weeks sooner than I had intended, as he wished me to sail on a cer- tain boat and take charge of a large box containing money and goods which were to be sent to the Presidency of the Church in Salt Lake.

Having been released to return home, I set sail from England with a company of Saints on the 10th of January, 1850. Jeter Clinton was appointed president of the company and I was appointed one of his counselors.

We sailed along quite comfortably until the twenty-sixth of the month when a terrible storm arose. About two o'clock in. the afternoon the sea began to swell and show its power, and the vessel lay first on one side and then on the other. Water came in upon us on both sides of our ship. We lost our sails and yard-arms, and the chains in the rigging of the ship broke. In the evening, when everything looked most dismal, our president called together his counselors and all joined in prayer to the Lord to cause the winds to cease. Scarcely had the brethren ceased their supplications when there was a calm, so sudden in fact that the captain and the officers of the ship were greatly surprised, and they came and inquired of us how it was that we felt so happy and gay amid the great danger through which we had just passed. They could not realize that the Lord removed all fear from the hearts of his faithful Saints when they were endeavoring to do their duty.

On March 8, 1850, we arrived safely at New Orleans. We felt truly thankful that the Lord had preserved us from the dangers of the deep and brought us to the shores of America.

From the time of my arrival at New Orleans till the 1st of June, when I started west, I spent my time between that city and Council Bluffs, in preparing for my journey across the plains. I traveled with the camp in Captain Aaron Johnson's company.

There were a few cases of cholera in the camp as we journeyed along. I always assisted in nursing and administering to the sick. Many were healed by the laying on of hands. One case of miraculous healing I will mention : A Sister McGaw was taken with cholera in its most dreadful form. I administered to her in the morning and she seemed to be healed, but after a short time the suffering returned and was worse, if possible, than before. She said if Brother Burgess could lay hands on her again she would live, if not, she must die. I was at the time a mile behind the train, assisting some of the brethren through a bad place in the road ; but the woman seemed so Sure of her recovery if I could administer to her again, that they sent a horseman after me in all haste, who was to take charge of my team while I was gone. I rode to the camp as fast as possible and found her in extreme agony. She was so cramped that her head and heels nearly touched each other. As I entered her wagon I felt the power of God resting down upon me mightily. I laid my hands upon her head "in the name of Jesus Christ" and by the authority of the Holy Priesthood commanded the destroyer to leave her and the wagon instantly and trouble her no more. It did so forthwith, but as it retreated I heard it hiss like an adder. The woman was healed from that moment and went on her way rejoicing. Through the mercy of God I reached the valley in safety and found my family alive and well, as Brother Kimball had predicted when he gave me his parting blessing on the banks of the Elkhorn River.

After returning to the valley I was called upon to perform various duties all of which I endeavored to execute with faith- fulness and diligence. In the Fall of 1862, I moved to the southern part of Utah, in compliance with a request of the Church authorities, to assist in the settlement of that part of the country'. I located in Pine Valley where I erected a saw mill, and this, together with my fanning operations, provided me with the necessaries of life.

[It was here that Brother Burgess departed this life on the 10th of February, 1883, after a long life of usefulness in which he ever sought to faithfully perform every duty placed upon him, thereby laying up treasures in eternity which he can henceforth enjoy.]  

*This history begins on page 65 in the Juvenile Instructor 1884 book: "LABORS IN THE VINEYARD": twelfth book of the faith-promoting series. Designed for the instruction and encouragement of young Latter-day Saints (1884)

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