Thomas B. Marsh

Thomas B. Marsh
Thomas B. Marsh
President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles
April 25, 1835 (1835-04-25) – March 17, 1839 (1839-03-17)
End reason Excommunication for apostasy
Quorum of the Twelve Apostles
April 25, 1835 (1835-04-25) – March 17, 1839 (1839-03-17)
Called by Three Witnesses
End reason Excommunication for apostasy
LDS Church Apostle
April 25, 1835 (1835-04-25) – March 17, 1839 (1839-03-17)
Called by Three Witnesses
Reason Initial organization of Quorum of the Twelve
End reason Excommunication for apostasy[1]
Reorganization at end of term No apostles immediately ordained[2]
Personal details
Born Thomas Baldwin Marsh
November 1, 1799(1799-11-01)
Acton, Massachusetts
Died January 31, 1868(1868-01-31) (aged 68)
Ogden, Utah Territory

Thomas Baldwin Marsh (November 1, 1799[3]– January 1866) was an early leader in the Latter Day Saint movement and an original member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. He served as the first President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints from 1835 to 1839. He was excommunicated from the Church in 1839, and remained disaffected for much of his life. Marsh rejoined the church in July 1857, but never again served in Church leadership positions.


Early life

Marsh was born on November 1, 1799, in the town of Acton, Middlesex County, Massachusetts to James Marsh and Mary Law. He spent his early life farming in Westmoreland, New Hampshire.

As a young man, Marsh developed a pattern of traveling and working for various employers. Marsh ran away at age fourteen to Chester, Vermont and worked as a farmer for three months. Then he left for Albany, New York, working as a waiter for eighteen months. He spent two years working at the New York City Hotel in New York City, then returned to Albany for a year, and then back at the New York hotel for two more years. He spent eighteen months working as a groom for Edward Griswold on Long Island, New York.

During the time Marsh was employed by Griswold, he was married to Elizabeth Godkin on his twenty-first birthday in 1820. After his marriage, he attempted unsuccessfully to run a grocery business for eighteen months. He subsequently spent seven years working at a type foundry in Boston, Massachusetts.

During his work at the type foundry, Marsh became a member of the Methodist Church. However, Marsh became dissatisfied because he came to believe that Methodism did not correspond to the Bible. Marsh left the Methodist Church and joined a group of friends in what others called a Quietist sect.

Conversion and Baptism

In 1829 Marsh unexpectedly left his home in Boston and journeyed west, traveling with Benjamin Hall, one of his friends from the Quietist sect. In his words, "I believed the Spirit of God dictated me to make a journey west." He stayed at Lima, New York in Livingston County for three months before returning home. On the way home, he stopped at Lyonstown, where a woman informed him of the Golden Plates that Joseph Smith had obtained. She directed him to Palmyra, New York, and told him to seek out Martin Harris.

Marsh traveled to Palmyra and discovered Martin Harris at a printing office, working on the printing of the Book of Mormon. Marsh was able to obtain the first sixteen pages as a printer's proof. Marsh also met Oliver Cowdery at the printing office.

Returning to his home, he showed the sixteen pages to his wife. They both were pleased and began to correspond with Cowdery and Joseph Smith. After the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints was formed on April 6, 1830, he moved with his family to Palmyra to join them that September.

Shortly after his arrival, Marsh was baptized by David Whitmer in Cayuga Lake, and a few months later ordained an elder by Cowdery. From September 26 to September 28, 1830, Joseph Smith received Doctrine and Covenants section 31, a revelation directed at Marsh. In this section, he was told that he would be as a physician to the church.

Marsh moved with the church to Kirtland, Ohio in the spring of 1831. He was ordained a high priest and received a call to proselyte to Missouri with Ezra Thayre.[4] Thayre delayed for a long time, and so Marsh went to Joseph Smith, who appointed Selah J. Griffin in Thayre's stead.[5]


Joseph Smith organized the first Quorum of the Twelve Apostles on the 14 and 15 of February 1835. Smith arranged the members by age. As there was confusion over David W. Patten's birth date, Thomas B. Marsh was identified as the eldest of the Apostles and was therefore designated Quorum President. According to Marsh's autobiographical sketch, published in 1864:

In January, 1835, in company with Bishop Partridge and agreeable to revelation, I proceeded to Kirtland, where we arrived early in the spring, when I learned I had been chosen one of the Twelve Apostles.
May 4, 1835, in company with the Twelve I left Kirtland and preached through the eastern states, holding conferences, regulating and organizing the churches, and returned September 25.
In the winter of 1835–36, I attended school, studied the first English grammar under Sidney Rigdon, and Hebrew under Professor Seixas (a Hebrew by birth)....

After these activities with the Twelve Apostles, Marsh returned to Fishing River, Clay County, Missouri, in April 1836. Severe difficulties between Mormons and the larger community continued to plague the Latter Day Saints in Missouri. Marsh was chosen as a delegate from his community to try to resolve these issues. Despite the efforts of church members, their Missouri neighbors decided that the Saints must leave Clay County.

Marsh traveled to Latter Day Saint congregations in other states, including Tennessee and Kentucky, gathering loans at an interest of ten percent to help the Clay County Saints obtain new property. The diary of Apostle Wilford Woodruff contains an account of part of that journey:

Aug. 20th - Elder [David] Patten preached at the house of Randolph Alexander, and after meeting baptized him and his wife. Brother T. B. Marsh arrived in Tennessee on his mission to collect means, and attend a Conference with the brethren laboring in Tennessee and Kentucky, which was held on Damon's Creek, Callaway County, Kentucky, Sept. 2nd 1836. T. B. Marsh presided. Seven Branches were represented containing 133 members....
Sept. 19th. - Elders T. B. Marsh, D. [David] W. Patten, E. H. Groves and Sister Patten left the Saints in Kentucky and Tennessee and started for Far West, Missouri, where they arrived in peace and safety." (Woodruff, Wilford - Diary, August 20th,and Sept. 19, 1836)

In September 1836, he returned to Missouri and joined the Saints in their new location, a city called Far West in Caldwell County, Missouri. The town had been founded by the presidency of the Missouri Stake, consisting of David Whitmer, William Wines Phelps and John Whitmer. These men were authorized to purchase land on behalf of the Church for the benefit of Latter Day Saint settlement. Meanwhile, in Kirtland, the financial situation of many of the Mormons unraveled with the failure of the Kirtland Safety Society bank. A dispute arose between the presidency in Missouri and the Church Presidency in Kirtland over the land funds, with both sides accusing the other of financial improprieties.

Marsh sided with the Church Presidency and convened a series of church courts in the spring of 1838. He charged the Whitmers and Phelps along with Oliver Cowdery of financial impropriety and other failings. The court released these men from their positions and disfellowshipped them. On April 6, 1838, Marsh was named as President of the Church in Missouri, with David W. Patten and Brigham Young as Assistant Presidents.

Dissatisfaction with the Church

In April 1838, Church President Joseph Smith and his first counselor Sidney Rigdon moved to Far West, which became the new church headquarters. Although disfellowshipped, David and John Whitmer, Oliver Cowdery, W.W. Phelps and other former leaders (who were known as the "dissenters") continued to live in the county. By early June, some of the more zealous Mormons, led by Sampson Avard, formed a society which came to be known as the "Danites." According to Marsh, these men swore oaths to "support the heads of the church in all things that they say or do, whether right or wrong".[6] According to Reed Peck, two of these Danites, Jared Carter and Dimick B. Huntington, proposed at a meeting that the society should kill the dissenters. Marsh and fellow moderate, John Corrill, spoke vigorously against the motion.[7] On the following Sunday, however, Sidney Rigdon issued his "Salt Sermon" in which he likened the dissenters to salt that had lost its savor and was "good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men".[8] Within a week the dissenters had fled the county.

Although he may have been concerned about these events, Marsh remained in the church until late October. According to his sworn testimony, Marsh claimed that a Mormon invasion of Daviess County and the subsequent looting and burning of non-Mormon settlements, including Gallatin, the county seat, were the acts that caused him to leave. Marsh stated:

"A company of about eighty of the Mormons, commanded by a man fictitiously named Captain Fearnot [David W. Patten], marched to Gallatin. They returned and said they had run off from Gallatin twenty or thirty men and had taken Gallatin, had taken one prisoner and another had joined the company. I afterwards learned from the Mormons that they had burned Gallatin, and that it was done by the aforesaid company that marched there. The Mormons informed me that they had hauled away all the goods from the store in Gallatin, and deposited them at the Bishop's storehouses at Adam-ondi-Ahmon"[6]

On October 19, 1838, the day after Gallatin was burned, Thomas B. Marsh and fellow apostle Orson Hyde left the association of the Church. Marsh drafted and signed a legal affidavit against Joseph Smith on October 24, 1838, which Hyde also signed. In addition to reporting on the organization of the Danites and on the events in Daviess County, Marsh reported rumors that the Danites had set up a "destroying company" and that "if the people of Clay & Ray made any movement against them, this destroying company was to burn Liberty & Richmond." He further stated his belief that Joseph Smith planned "to take the State, & he professes to his people to intend taking the U.S. & ultimately the whole world".[6] Marsh's testimony added to the panic in northwestern Missouri and contributed to subsequent events in the Mormon War.

Because a Mormon attack was believed imminent, a unit of the state militia from Ray County was dispatched to patrol the border between Ray and Mormon Caldwell County to the north. On October 25, 1838, reports reached Mormons in Far West that this state militia unit was a "mob" and had kidnapped several Mormons. The Mormons formed an armed rescue party and attacked the militia in what became known as the Battle of Crooked River. Although only one Missourian was killed, initial reports held that half the unit had been wiped out. This attack on the state militia, coupled with the earlier expulsion of non-Mormons from Daviess County led Missouri's governor Lilburn W. Boggs to respond with force. On October 27 he called out 2,500 state militia to put down what he perceived as a Mormon rebellion and signed Missouri Executive Order 44, which became known as the "Extermination Order"[9]

Marsh was excommunicated from the Church in absentia on March 17, 1839 in Quincy, Illinois.

After Marsh moved to Utah and rejoined the Latter-day Saints, he looked back at his decision to leave the Church with regret, recanting the 1838 affidavit. Concerning his actions in Missouri, he wrote:

"About this time I got a beam in my eye and thought I could discover a mote in Joseph's eye, though it was nothing but a beam in my eye; I was so completely darkened that I did not think on the Savior's injunction: 'Thou hypocrite, why beholdest thou the mote which is in thy brother's eye, when a beam is in thine own eye; first cast out the beam out of thine own eye, then thou shalt see clearly to get the mote out of thy brother's eye'."[10]

The year before Marsh rejoined the church, George A. Smith claimed in a sermon on April 6, 1856, that Marsh had left the church because of a dispute between his wife and other Mormon women over a milk cow, which had escalated all the way up to the First Presidency.[11]


In 1857, Thomas Marsh was rebaptized into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Marsh wrote an autobiography in 1864, recounting his Church service and rebellion. It was published in the Millennial Star of that year. However, his religious affiliation still may not have been fixed. According to Elder Thomas Job, a missionary of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (now known as the Community of Christ) serving in Utah, shortly before his death Marsh

had been in the Josephite conference in Salt Lake City, and bore a strong testimony to the truth, and necessity of the reorganization; and when a revelation through young Joseph was read to him he said that it was the voice of God, and again testified that he knew it, and desired us to write to the young prophet to send for him back from here, that he had faith that he would bear the journey, and join the young prophet, if he could go that [last] spring. (True Latter Day Saints' Herald, vol. 9, p. 139)

Thomas B. Marsh died in Ogden, Utah Territory in January 1866, apparently a pauper. He is buried at the Ogden Cemetery.

Modern opinion in LDS Church

Despite his prominence in early Church history, Marsh is infrequently mentioned in instructional classes, discourses on religion or sermons in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Marsh's conversion story is occasionally cited as an example of how powerful the Book of Mormon can be in convincing people of the truthfulness of the Church.[12] When his apostasy is mentioned, he is often referred to either as an example of pride or as an example of one who failed to fulfill his calling to serve the Church. For example, in 2006, David A. Bednar of the LDS Quorum of the Twelve Apostles repeated the story that Marsh left the church partially because his wife was angry over being accused of stealing the cream from a milk trading deal with her neighbor.[13] He contrasted Marsh's faithlessness with the devotion of Brigham Young. He said: In many instances, choosing to be offended is a symptom of a much deeper and more serious spiritual malady. Thomas B. Marsh allowed himself to be acted upon, and the eventual results were apostasy and misery. Brigham Young was an agent who exercised his agency and acted in accordance with correct principles, and he became a mighty instrument in the hands of the Lord.[14]


  1. ^ Marsh was rebaptized in 1857 but he was not reinstated to the apostleship.
  2. ^ The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles did not have twelve apostles again until 1841-04-08, when Lyman Wight was ordained. Between Marsh's excommunication and then, John E. Page, John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff, George A. Smith, and Willard Richards had been ordained and added to the Quorum to replace apostles who had been excommunicated or killed.
  3. ^ Marsh, Thomas Baldwin (1864) [1857], "History of Thomas Baldwin Marsh", The Latter-day Saints' Millennial Star (Salt Lake, Utah: P.P. Pratt) 26: 359,'%20Millennial%20Star%20%22Volume%20XXVI%22&pg=PA359#v=onepage&q=Thomas%20Baldwin%20Marsh&f=false, "I was born in the town of Acton Middlesex county, Massachusetts, November 1, 1799." 
  4. ^ Doctrine and Covenants 52:22.
  5. ^ Doctrine and Covenants 56:5.
  6. ^ a b c Document, p. 57.
  7. ^ Peck, p. 22-23.
  8. ^ Van Wagoner, p. 218.
  9. ^ Baugh, p. 108–09.
  10. ^ Young & Marsh, p. 210.
  11. ^ Smith, p. 283-284.
  12. ^ William G. Hartley, Ensign, September 1978.
  13. ^ "And Nothing Shall Offend Them", David A Bednar.
  14. ^ David A. Bednar, Ensign, Nov. 2006.


External links

Religious titles
Preceded by
President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles
April 26, 1835–March 17, 1839
Succeeded by
Brigham Young
Preceded by
Quorum of the Twelve Apostles
April 26, 1835–March 17, 1839
Succeeded by
David W. Patten

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