A Mormon History Mystery

September 15, 2008
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This week our BYU student daughter called to ask us to help her with an assignment:  she was supposed to find a question that could stump her Doctrine and Covenants teacher.  Immediately DH suggested:  “What happened to Jesse Gause? ”

“Jesse Gause?” both of us questioned at the same time.  Neither one of us had heard of him.

“What did happen to Jesse Gause?” I asked.

“No one knows,” DH replied smugly.

Of course I took that as a challenge!  So guess what I’ve been studying this weekend?

Some of you students of the D&C may know that Jesse Gause served as a counselor to Joseph Smith in the First Presidency.  His name was almost unknown in the Church until Robert J. Woodford wrote a BYU Studies article on him in 1975 (Jesse Gause, Counselor of the Prophet).  DH recalls that Michael Quinn led an effort to put Gause’s name back into the D&C when the new edition came out in 1981 (see the preface to Section 81).  Thereafter, Quinn’s article Jesse Gause, Joseph Smith’s Little-Known Counselor appeared in BYU Studies in 1983.  Most recently, Erin B. Jennings published The Consequential Counselor: Restoring the Root(s) of Jesse Gause in the Spring 2008 edition of the Journal of Mormon History.

Jesse showed conflicting feelings toward religion in several instances.  He was a participating Quaker in good standing since age 22, and thus bound by conscience to shun military service.  At age 30 he nevertheless joined the militia in Delaware during the War of 1812.    He married relatively late in life, had 4 children, and was about 44 years old when his wife, Martha, died as a consequence of childbirth in February of 1828.  In the next few years, a whirlwind chain of events swept him into the mainstream of Mormon history.   First, he took his children with him to live close to his sister Ruth in the Shaker community of Hancock Village, Massachusetts.  He resigned his Quaker membership on November 15th of that year and united with the Shakers, encouraging several of his friends to do the same.  He formally affiliated with the Shaker religion in early 1829.  Interestingly, he renewed his childrens’ transfer certificates to the Quaker meeting so that they could return in the future if they chose.  The Shaker group which Jesse had joined was strictly celibate, discouraging marriage.  In spite of this, he met Minerva Byram, another Shaker living at the village, and both departed to marry on August 30, 1830.  The four children were left with Ruth and the Shakers.   Exactly nine months later, on May 30, 1831, a child, William was born to Jesse and Minerva. (This son was erroneously identified in Wikipedia as a daughter.)  The small family was drawn back to the Shakers, and by the time William was five months old they were living in the Shaker community of North Union, Ohio, nineteen miles from Kirtland.   Here, somehow,  Jesse encountered Mormonism.  While his wife remained with the Shakers in North Union, Jesse was baptized in 1831.  Only a few months later, on March 8, 1832, the Kirtland Revelation Book states that Joseph Smith “chose this day and ordained brother Jesse Gause and Broth[er] Sidney [Rigdon] to be my counsellors of the ministry of the presidency of the High Priesthood.”  Michael Quinn speculates that Gause, a recent convert, was chosen for such an important calling due to his experience with communal society among the Quakers and Shakers; and Erin Jennings claims that much of early Mormonism’s communitarianism can be traced to Gause’s influence.  Gause did accompany Joseph to Jackson County in the Spring of 1832 to set up the Law of Consecration.

Unbelievably, by the end of the year, Gause had been excommunicated from the church in absentia and his name stricken from the revelations, with the name of “F. G. Williams” written above.  I was shocked to realize that every successive publication of this revelation which became D&C 81 has replaced Jesse’s name with Frederick G. Williams.  Doctrine and Covenants study manuals now explain this by the principle of “command and revoke” (see also D&C 56). 

If an individual does not respond properly to the assignment given unto him the Lord will replace him with another. The revelation in Section 81 contains instructions, duties, and promised blessings to the counselor in the First Presidency so now it appropriately pertains to Frederick G. Williams, these manuals teach.  Michael Quinn, of course has a different analysis: “This unfortunate alteration has not only violated the context of the original document, but it has further obscured the existence of Gause as one of the General Authorities of the church and has erroneously indicated that Williams was a counselor in 1832.”

Here comes the mystery: On his way back to Kirtland from Jackson County, Gause stopped by to see his wife, and beg her to join him with the Saints.  A letter written by Shaker Matthew Houston to Seth Wells describes this heartbreaking encounter:

And sure enough I presume you was acquainted with Jesse Gause from Hancock he was here a few days since after his wife Minerva–she utterly refused being his slave any longer–he had to go away without her. altho he tryed what the law could do for him he was very much inraged threatened to take away Minerva’s child–she presented it to him but he went away without it and her–he is yet a Mormon–& is second to the Prophet or Seer–Joseph Smith–this state of exaltation may tend to steady him or keep him away from us a little longer–for which I am heartily glad for he is certainly the meanest of men.

Immediately following this incident, Jesse departed on a mission with Zebedee Coltrin on August 1, 1832.  Since the Houston letter was written on August 10, Michael Quinn theorizes that Jesse’s visit with his wife took place after he left for his mission.  But though North Union was close to Kirtland, Zebedee Coltrin’s daily log does not allow for a 19 mile trip in the westerly direction.   Woodford, I believe, is correct in placing this event before the start of the mission.  It doesn’t seem to make sense that Jesse would have gone for his wife after beginning the responsibilities of a mission. But the time frame makes it likely that Jesse had already received a mission call at the time he visited Minerva and their son.

Less than two weeks had passed when Zebedee Coltrin decided to abandon his mission.  He

came to the conclusion that it was not my duty to preced any further to the East. I have been afficted with a pain in my head every day Sinse we Started. We endeavoured to be faithful in embracing every oportunity of declaring our testimony for the Gospel in its fullness in the last days. & for the book of Mormon, & the Judgments that God was about to pour out upon the impenitent…

Later in the day Zebedee wrote: “Brother Jesse and I After praying with & for each other parted in the fellowship of the Gospel of our Lord & saviour Jesus Christ.”

This is the end of the story–at this point our tragic hero disappears.  In his article, Woodford intoned, “Jesse Gause continued east and walked right out of the history of the Church, never again to return.”  We simply do not know what happened to him.  For hours on Saturday I worried my head about this.  Was Jesse killed by an anti-Mormon?  Was he eaten by a bear?  Did his grief for his wife become too much for him, and he abandoned his mission and the Church?  I finally came to assume that there must have been some type of contact with the Church leadership, for he was excommunicated in December of 1832 (only 3 1/2 months after his disappearance) and in the minutes of a meeting of the United Firm where Jesse Gause’s name is written a clerk later added the words “denied the faith.”  A variety of secondary sources maintain the tradition that he “fell away,” “proved unfaithful,” or “failed to continue in a manner consistent with his appointment.”    Michael Quinn speculates that by August of 1832 Jesse might just possibly have discovered that Joseph Smith was preaching and practicing the doctrine of polygamy and this could be why he left the Church.

More questions arose when I discovered that Minerva left the Shaker community to live near her brother in Franklin county, Indiana.  By April 27, 1834, she was married to another man, Elijah Davis.  This was less than 21 months after her last meeting with Jesse.  Were they divorced?  Or did she think he had died?  It seems that Jesse’s father William thought he was alive, since Jesse was listed in William’s will dated June 12, 1834 and proved August 18, 1835.  Despite Erin Jennings’ painstaking genealogical research on Jesse Gause, a place or date of death has not been found.  The last piece of information available about Jesse Gause is that by September 1836 his brother assumed guardianship of the four children by his first wife.

I wasn’t able to find the answer to the mystery of what happened to Jesse Gause, and I suspect the Doctrine and Covenants teacher might be stumped by this one, too.  But I wouldn’t be surprised if someone out in the Bloggernacle had a few more pieces of the puzzle.  And while searching I saw that there are papers on Jesse Gause in the U of U Faulring Papers and at USU in the Leonard J. Arrington Papers.  Can anyone find more clues in the mystery of Jesse Gause?  Or do we have to rely on Ardis for everything?

26 Responses to A Mormon History Mystery

  1. Jan
    September 15, 2008 at 6:34 am

    Incredibly interesting! I’d never heard of him but now want to look up more on this. Thanks.

  2. Kaimi
    September 15, 2008 at 8:26 am

    Good post, Cheryl.

    I don’t know what happened to Gause. But I’m pretty sure that Ardis and Justin do. :)

  3. John Nilsson
    September 15, 2008 at 8:48 am

    Jesse Gause returned to the Church as Alpheus Cutler. :)

    Maybe not…

  4. September 15, 2008 at 9:03 am

    As a Quaker I find the idea that a Friend helped set up the communitarian culture of Mormonism fascinating. I’m afraid I can’t do much to solve the mysteries except put a little context in Gause’s departure from Friends. Gause left for Massachusetts right around the time Philadelphia Yearly Meeting of Friends split into two antagonistic bodies, the Hicksites and Orthodox. He taught at a Friends school in Wilmington Delaware, a town known as a Hicksite hotbed. It’s always dicey to guess at affiliation based on such flimsy evidence but it might not matter: if Gause was indeed an active Friend then there’s a good chance he was thick in the arguments that led to the split.

    The Shakers were originally called the “Shaking Quakers” and started as a renegade Friends meeting in Britain. There’s a lot of cultural similarities so there’s no mystery why a newly widowed man sick of the political upheaval he’s just been through might look for a utopian home three states away.

    Finally, that 1833 map looked suspicious. I just compared it to a map of historic Friends meetings in western Penna and eastern Ohio and they line up. From Salem on, those are almost all Quaker towns, also now undergoing splits and turmoil. Piecing it all together with the help of Quinn’s PDF: Gause left his wife in Kirkland, hit the Shakers in Cleveland (North Union), visited fellow Shaker-turned-Mormon (turned ex-communicant turned Mormon again) Leman Copley in Thompson, then went south to hit the Quaker circuit before heading east to the pietist Rappite commune in Economy. For what it’s worth they were about to enter serious Quaker territory again (Redstone Quarterly Meeting, clustered south of Monongahela, PA) when they gave up the mission.

    He must have thought that there was enough continuity of interest to make Friends an obvious fishing grounds. So what happened: is Quinn right that he get word of polygamy and realize that the divide between Friends and Mormons was too great? Or perhaps his reception among Ohio Yearly Meeting Friends was negative and he realized his plan to deliver Friends to Joseph Smith wouldn’t pan out. Fascinating stuff!

  5. September 15, 2008 at 9:30 am

    I have checked and unfortunately Faulring’s and Arrington’s papers do not provide any additional clues to the mystery. Gause will forever be one of my many research topics, so in time (this article was five years in the making, readers will certainly see part two of my Jesse Gause chronicles.

  6. September 15, 2008 at 9:48 am

    I really must compliment Erin on her thorough research. Much of the primary information we have on Jesse Gause, and from which this post drew heavily, comes from her. The map above, drawn by John Hamer, is also her creation and appears in her article in the JMH. I appreciate her willingness to contribute to my understanding by email. She has dedicated much time and energy to studying this aspect of early Mormon history. Erin’s article goes into a lot more detail on Jesse’s family background, if any are interested in knowing more.

  7. September 15, 2008 at 9:58 am

    Martin, good call! When Joseph Smith commissioned Jesse to go out preaching, he told him that he should be “proclaiming the gospel in the Land of the living and among thy Brethren.” In Zebedee Coltrin’s journal he mentions many of the Quaker people and groups that they visited. He says that they encountered both interest and opposition. Erin Jennings also covers this aspect of the travels in her article.

  8. September 15, 2008 at 10:22 am

    Does anyone really know if Jesse Gause went anywhere after his mission? Is it possible he died on his way somewhere in 1832. I find it strange that a man who was a school teacher wouldn’t have returned to the profession and been mentioned again. Erin says he was mentioned in his father’s will but did he actually probate it and collect from it. If not was he killed after he left Coltrin because why eighteen months after he visited his wife was she able to remarry. Was it easy to get a divorce in the Shaker faith or did she know he was dead? The other question I wonder about is did the LDS leaders have any correspondence other than they didn’t hear from him to excommunicate him. This is one bizarre story. Coltrin was an ususual man why didn’t he say something about Gause later. I hope someone will unravel this story. It would make for a good essay in one of the Joseph Smith paper books. If I hadn’t been rejected as a senior editor I would have put something in by Erin Jennings. Her treatment was first class. Check out my companion post to DW Story of the Splitting Headache .

  9. September 15, 2008 at 10:48 am

    I wonder if he was excommunicated at all. Quinn bases his assertion that Jesse was excommunicated on the Joseph Smith Journal of 3 Dec 1832 where it is written that “Br Jese and Mogan and William McColen was excommunicated from the Church &C.” I would question this were it not for the note in the minutes of the meeting of the United Firm where Jesse Gause’s name is written and a clerk later added the words “denied the faith.” But we don’t know when this note was added, nor what information the clerk had which prompted him to make this note.

  10. hawkgrrrl
    September 15, 2008 at 12:05 pm

    Fascinating questions. This is one story with which I was not familiar. As Dr. B. points out: “Only Coltrin and Gause know what really happened that day in Monongehela.”

  11. September 15, 2008 at 12:25 pm

    Martin,
    My article incorporates many points that you have mentioned; including Gause’s Orthodox and Hicksite resignations. I also point out that the stops that Gause and Coltrin made were mainly those of Gause’s Quaker friends and even relatives.

    If anyone who has not previously read my article, and is interested in doing so, please feel free to contact me at erinjennings@sbcglobal.net, and I will email you a pdf version.
    Erin

  12. larryco_
    September 15, 2008 at 3:40 pm

    I vote for “eaten by a bear”…but, then, I always vote for eaten by a bear even when it’s not one of the choices. Good job, BiV.

  13. hawkgrrrl
    September 15, 2008 at 4:12 pm

    Talk about a cold case, though. The leads just sorta dry up.

  14. September 15, 2008 at 4:16 pm

    Sometimes I worry that one day people will be asking, “What do the records show that Arthur did before he disappeared?” If I went tomorrow, how long before the leads and information about me will “dry up”?

  15. Hawkgrrrl
    September 15, 2008 at 5:19 pm

    Arthur – well, nowadays, we could just find you on Google Earth or through your GPS phone.

    Seriously, if I were working this case, Zebedee Coltrin is going to top my suspect list (he had a splitting headache? Puh-lease! Sounds like a possible psychotic episode) along with a host of others in both the Quaker & Mormon camps. (I say that as a potential Law & Order style investigator, not as a Mormon).

  16. J.
    September 15, 2008 at 5:23 pm

    What I want to know is what kind of arrogant religion professor actually makes an assignment like that?

  17. Hawkgrrrl
    September 15, 2008 at 5:28 pm

    J – one needing free research assistance on that topic?

  18. September 15, 2008 at 8:28 pm

    I wondered the same thing, J.
    I really hope we can stump him.

  19. wondering
    September 16, 2008 at 1:18 pm

    Must we always assume the worst of people? Yes, perhaps the professor is arrogant, but there may very well be other reasons for the assignment. Why assume the worst?

  20. September 16, 2008 at 1:38 pm

    This is interesting since on the 15th I was at South Union, KY, a former Shaker community. The tour was wonderful and made this post much more interesting. Unfortunately, I have nothing to add.

  21. Ray
    September 16, 2008 at 1:50 pm

    Wonderful post. I wish I could add something, but all I can do is second the recommendation to turn Ardis and Justin loose on it. Of course, that’s always my recommendation when dealing with what appears to be unknowable.

  22. September 18, 2008 at 10:25 am

    Did you try Facebook? What about LinkedIn? You will also want to look at Zabbasearch; I found 6 entries for Jessie Gause…

  23. September 18, 2008 at 10:41 am

    hmm, maybe if he lived to be 223 years old we might find him on Facebook…
    wonder if he will add me?

  24. Charles Warren
    April 12, 2009 at 9:04 pm

    Jesse Gause was my gggg grandfather. Please let me know if you find out what happened to him.