Looking at early Mormon poetry through the Mormon trek, I realized this week that just a few poets wrote a large portion (perhaps even a majority) of the poetry published in Mormon periodicals. Most LDS Church members recognize three of these poets: Eliza R. Snow, Parley P. Pratt, and William Wines Phelps. The other two, however, are not as well known.
One of those that aren’t well known is the early editor of the Millennial Star, Thomas Ward. As editor, his service to the Church was substantial and his poetry graced many of the issues he edited. He also served temporarily as President of the British Mission and was beloved by Mormons in Britain. But, unfortunately, his life story ended tragically.
Ward was educated and worked as a schoolteacher and was a Baptist preacher before joining the Church in 1840 and serving as a local leader. When Parley P. Pratt returned to the U.S. in October 1842, Ward served as his replacement for a year, until Reuben Hedlock came to take over the mission. After this, Ward served as a counselor in the mission presidency while continuing to edit the Star.
Ward served as editor of the Star from 1842, when he served as Mission President, until October 1846, when Orson Hyde arrived to take over the mission from Hedlock.
However, it is the circumstances behind this change that led to Ward’s tragedy. In 1842 Church leaders developed a plan to ease the cost of Mormon emigration from England, under which British Saints would send manufactured goods to Nauvoo for sale. The Saints would eventually be paid in property in Nauvoo, and the proceeds from the sale of the goods would pay for immigrants to come to the U.S.
While this plan was never implemented, three years later it spawned in the mind of Hedlock what was called the “British and American Commercial Joint Stock Company,” an enterprise also meant to assist emigration. Accepted by Church members at a conference on April 8, 1845, it took until May 1846 to obtain British government approval. During the following months, the company was promoted in the Millennial Star, but when the Quorum of the Twelve in Council Bluffs learned of the company, however, they thought that Hedlock and Ward had exceeded their authority and disfellowshipped them, dispatching Parley P. Pratt, John Taylor and Orson Hyde to investigate. They found that many of the expenditures seemed excessive, and that Hedlock had received a loan of £504 for which he refused to provide an accounting. Stockholders received less than 14% of their money back.
While Ward was still loved by the British members he had tried to serve, his disfellowshipment and release from the Mission presidency must have been devastating. Just 5 months later, on March 5, 1847, Ward was dead. B. H. Roberts credits his death to “the errors he made,” but his obituary credited it to dropsy. But, despite his fall from grace, Ward was apparently faithful to the end.
His poetry portrays this faith. The following poem, The Present and the Future, published in the March 1842 issue of the Millennial Star, is a good example of Ward’s work. In a sense, it may also present a hope for Ward, that he too will ‘triumph in eternal day.’
The Present and the Future
- I gaz’d upon a beauteous sky,
- Emblazon’d by the setting sun;
- But sullen clouds came floating by
- Ere yet his downward course was run.
- I thought that ev’ry changing scene
- Might be for man’s instruction giv’n;
- I thought of what lay yet unseen,
- The pure, unfading light of heav’n.
- I saw a lovely fair one, smile,
- In youthful charms, with ev’ry grace;
- Time roll’d along a little while,
- The grave was then her dwelling place.
- I thought of that triumphant hour,
- When light shall pierce the cavern’d tomb;
- And when the Saviour’s mighty pow’r
- Shall guard his ransom’d people home.
- I mark’d the man of faithful heart.
- Who nobly for the truth had stood;
- Receive from men a traitor’s part.
- Nor died their malice with his blood.
- 1 thought of that decisive day,
- When truth shall have her triumph too;
- When God shall by his pow’r display
- The secrets of the heart to view.
- Yes, there’s a clear, unclouded sky.
- A land where shadows never come;
- Where joys seraphic never die;
- It is the Saints abiding home;
- A clime which death shall ne’er degrade,
- Nor find corruption’s worm a way,
- Where truth shall ever stand display’d,
- And triumph in eternal day.
2 thoughts on “An Early Mormon Poet”
Geez. What a story.
Why are poets doomed to early deaths? Parley P. Pratt… well, OK. W.W. Phelps and E. Snow didn’t.
What a touching story. I take comfort from stories like this–faithfulness in the face of injustice. That poem really touches some important place inside me.