John Fleming Wakefield

His conversion and early mission

1836 -- 1838

Taken from:

John Fleming Wakefield

His Ancestry and Posterity

by Melvin Wakefield

page 15-17

Erastus Snow was born in St. Johnsbury, Vermont, in 1818.  He was converted to the the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and baptized in 1833.  He was ordained an Elder by Luke S. Johnson, one of the “Traveling Twelve,” 16 August 1835.  Immediately thereafter he travelled throughout neighboring towns preaching this new-found religion.  The church had established headquarters in Kirtland, Ohio, at this time.  Erastus travelled to Kirtland in the winter of 1835 where he attended a school for Elders during that winter.  Shortly after attending the dedication of the newly completed Kirtland temple and having witnessed some remarkable experiences at that event, he and several Elders of the church began to spread throughout the land to preach this new faith. 

Erastus Snow started from Kirtland on 16 April 1836 and journeyed east preaching along the way and soon reached Pennsylvania, Venango County, Township of Irwin.

Since the diary of Erastus contains some interesting details about the times, places and people of western Pennsylvania, where the Wakefields and relatives lived, it will be quoted from quite extensively.

He relates how at Harrisville he was much opposed and abused by Mr. Kerrer, a Priest of the Methodist Church.  He preached at Donation, Centerville, Unionville, West Creek Township, etc. (at the latter place lived Joanna, daughter of David and Mary Wakefield, who had married William Carrol).

He then went to Slippery Rock Township.  He met much opposition from Priests at Unionville.  On several occasions, not finding suitable housing for meetings he was allowed to speak in large barns.  He preached in the town of Butler and at the Court House.  He travelled to Kittanning, Armstrong County.  Here he preached in the court house where he was ‘attacked by a very learned clergyman of the Lutheran church, whose object was to blind the minds of the people that they should not receive the truth.”  (Erastus was 18 at this time.)  He preached on the bank of the Allegheny River under the sugar trees.  He returned to Kittanning but met much opposition from Lawyers and Priests.  He preached in Middletown and at Whitesburg.  Of the people in the former Erastus said, “The people here being mostly Seceeders and Presbyterians were like the Zoramites who considered themselves the elect of God (and others reprobate), they closed the doors of their publick buildings to me.”  

He went from here to Plumcreek, “about 4 miles from town in the edge of Indiana County,” where he endeavored to get a meeting.  Being unsuccessful he returned and preached on Sunday in Whitesburg.  Finding a friend in Middletown, “I obtained the privilege of preaching in a barn.”  He travelled back and forth between communities in the vicinity.  He preached at “Widow Martha Sloan’s.” on Crooked Creek where people were quite unbelieving.  He baptized 8 at Whitesburg, “who came against much opposition= for the devil raged in the hearts of men and many of their friends were very bitter.”  He found Mrs. Hart sick at Mr.  Thurston’s, in the corner of Kittanning Township.  “Laid my hands upon her and the Lord healed her.”  HE baptized 2 at Berry Run.  He went to Kiskiminetis Township and preached 3 times.  He then returned to the corner of ALlegheny Township then went to Cherry Run.  Here he was informed by a friend that a mob had formed and ‘swore to drive me out of the County.”  He was coming from Middletown about 3 miles, and was accosted by a mob of about 30, mostly riding on hoses, “like a troop in double-file, consisting of Catholics, Seceeders, Presbyterians.  Some of the Elders being stirred up by their Priests and peddlers, thieves, liars, drunkards, and etc., headed by their Justice of Peace. 

How many pistols, dirks, and etc., they had I know not but all the weapons that were in sight were whips and etc.  All dismounted and as I was going to cross the run (river) to the house (appointed earlier for preaching) surrounded me and swore I could not preach.  Being approached by the Justice who attempted to show why I could not preach.  “The peace of their section” he said, “Is being very much disturbed  by your preaching and false doctrines and carrying people away after you and thus causing division among them, etc.”

Being finally “put to shame in all their attempts to discredit” his teaching they began to cry out if he would lave the county immediately they would not injure him, otherwise they would ‘force him’.  “I appealed to the civil law and told them I wanted a legal process if I had violated the law the law was open, etc.”  Erastus was saved from the mob by friends.  He returned to communities previously visited; strengthened those who had weakened from attacks by neighbors, ministers, relatives, etc.  and continued to preach and baptize those who believed.

He went to Laurenceburg on the Allegheny River in northwest Armstrong County.  Then he went to Galensburg.  He was attacked here by Reverend Gore of the Presbyterian church.  “He chode with me about  an hour.  I warned the people here and departed wiping my feet against them.”  From here he went to Clarion township in the northeast part of the county.  The people here rejected the message.  He went to Strattenville, where the people ‘were prejudiced.’  He went to Parker Township, about 3 miles from Laurenceburg, and to M. Fletcher.  “People here were much stirred up, some for, some against the work. This was a place of much drunkeness, strife and wickedness.  Returned to Irwin and baptized one, making in all 17 I had baptized in that Branch of the church, one having apostatized.  Went back to Parker and Plum Creek Townships.  I exhorted and taught the brethren.”  He went to several rural villages in Wayne Township but was not well received.  He went back to Whitesburg and from there to Indian, Indian County.

“I journeyed to Mechanicsburg in the Township of Brush Valley, about 12 miles south, where I preached on  Saturday evening in the dwelling house of Mr. Stewart, esq., and Sunday evening in the dwelling house of Mr. Evans, and again on Sunday and Monday evenings, in the same place to crowded assemblies.  On Tuesday, I preached at the house of Mr. Overdervers, one mile from town, and again on the next evening at Mr. Robertson’s in Mechanicsburg.

“The people flocked from all quarters to hear the word which cut many of them to the heart.  The next morning I baptized one young man after which I returned to Moses Marks, three miles north of Indiana, where I had an appointment to preach, but people not turning out I did not preach, I therefore returned to Indiana and preached in the court house on Friday evening.  Saturday I returned to Brushvalley and Sunday I preached to an audience of between two and three hundred people, some of whom rejoiced and others were angry because their foundations shook.  After meeting I went to the water and baptized Stephen Adams, the Black Smith in town, 27 October 1836.

On Monday, in company with BROTHER JOHN WAKEFIELD, I went to the town of Armaugh, about six miles off where I preached to a large assembly that assembled out of curiosity, who were generally Presbyterians and Seceeders and very self-righteous like the ancient Pharisees, and after giving them a warning I returned the next day and preached in Brush Valley and on Wednesday baptized three and preached again in the evening.”

The foregoing was taken directly from the diary of Erastus Snow from the time he arrived in Indian County and though lacking in some important details if completed as to baptisms, places visited, etc., would seem to include the baptism of John Wakefield among the first o the county, if not the first.  It is not likely Erastus would have referred to him as “Brother John Wakefield” had he not been previously baptized.  He could have been the “one young man” baptized or one of the three baptized in Brush Valley though this was after their trip to Armaugh together.  It is possible that the three baptisms at Brush Valley could have included John’s brother, Thomas, as he also joined the church. 

Since John (Fleming) Wakefield had many relatives living in the vicinity and was no doubt well known; having recently espoused this new religion, it is quite logical that he should accompany Erastus to a number of nearby communities.

Erastus continues in his journal.  Thursday I journeyed into the northern part of the township, a distance of about ten miles from Mechanicsburg, and preached in the Dutch meeting house in a small village called Strongstown... Friday 12 o’clock I preached at a Mr. Reed’s house five miles east of Strongstown, but having short notice but few attended.  In the evening I returned and preached in Strongstown to a large and attentive audience in the demonstration of the spirit insomuch that it reached the hearts of them that heard.  Saturday, I  travelled about six miles south into a settlement on the Black Lick Creek where I had an appointment to preach at 2 o’clock.  The people in this place were Methodists and very much prejudiced against the truth and but few attended and, therefore, after preaching two discourses, one in the morning and one in the evening at Mr. James Wakefield’s (Thomas, grandfather of John Fleming probably also lived here), I returned to Strongstown.”

Of the visit to Strongstown on Friday, Erastus wrote: “... I went and preached at Strongstown.  At this time my heart was made sad again upon finding the minds of most of the people turned against the truth for it was a place of various faiths.  The Albrights, the United Brethren, the Methodists and some others so that most of the people were considerably under control of their Priests...  Three out of five previously baptized, who had been Albrights, desired not to be confirmed in the church...

“On Sunday,” Erastus journalizes: “I returned to Brother William P. McIntire’s in Strongstown and confirmed those in the church who had previously committed to baptism, all but one, for those who had been shaken had again renewed their covenants and determination to serve the Lord, and after administering bread and wine we took our leave of each other and separated.  I, then leaving them, (at Strongstown and Brush Valley) in the care of Brother John Wakefield, returned to a northwestern direction having set my face towards Kirtland, from whence I came in the spring.”  Shortly before leaving, John had been ordained a teacher by Erastus. 

The following spring, on 9 May 1837, in company with Elder William Howard Bosley, Erastus Snow left Kirtland for the purpose of visiting churches in the east.

The diary of Erastus Snow highlights his work in Indiana County, often mentioning the name of John F. Wakefield:

“... On Monday, (26 June 1837) I went to Strongstown and found Brother Bosley preaching     and the church rejoicing.  We tarried there in that place and Brush Valley, preaching one week after I arrived, during which time we baptized 14.  Held a Council with the Church and ordained John F. Wakefield an Elder and Brother William P. McIntire, a Priest... (Probably 2 July 1837).“

Possibly Elder Wakefield was also set apart as a missionary at this time, or shortly after, as we find him thereafter engaged in missionary work.

Erastus preached in and around the Brush Valley area often.  He mentioned preaching one Sunday at Brother Adams’ (whose property was adjacent to that of John’s father Robert) in a grove where the woods were ‘lined with people so great was the multitude.”

From here Erastus travelled south and had special praise for the “beautiful valley of Providence, Bedford County,” as he gazed upon it from the mountains to the north.

He failed to get an appointment to preach in Providence, (Bedford County).  Travelling on south he crossed over into Maryland and preached in the vicinity of Leitersburg where he baptized seven.  On the 29th of September, “Elder John F. Wakefield being present and assisting, we laid our hands on them, (the seven) and confirmed for the gift of the Holy Ghost, while the Lord poured out upon them, and ordained Brother George Crouse, Elder.

“October 1st, we went back to Brdgeport two or three times and visited the brethren there.  When we arrived we found one of the sisters sick with the fever and ague,  Her husband did not belong to the church and as she grew very bad and was seized with sharp pains she was over-persuaded by her husband and friends to apply to a physician but all he did for her only augmented her misery until we arrived when she wished us to pray for her and lay our hands on her which we did.  The Lord healed her and the next day she was up about her business.  The next day after this took place (2 October), I was desired to pray for and lay hands on another woman, Abraham Hoover’s wife, who had the same disease.  She was also healed.  After this Elder Wakefield left me and started west to go to Bedford County where Elder Bosley was preaching...  On the 9th of October I returned to Leitersburg and tarried until the 16th of October.”

This trip by Elder Wakefield to Bedford County was to provide a most significant experience in his life.  For information on his meeting with Elder Bosley, in Bedford County, we turn to another record, the “History of Sarah Garlick, Utah Pioneer of 1852,” by Mary K. Timothy:

Living in Providence, Bedford County, at this time was a family by the name of Garlick, consisting of the father, David, Elizabeth Buck, the mother; four daughters and one son.  The Garlick family was a very religious people, members of the Christian or Campbellite, faith.  They believed in faith, repentance and baptism by immersion.

In a very real dream by the mother, two strangers had come to visit the family.  Over their heads was a large motto bearing the words: “Truth will prevail.”  In her dram she heard a voice say: “THESE ARE TRUE MESSENGERS OF GOD, HEAR AND OBEY.”  This dream disturbed the Garlick family considerably, then about a week later, two Mormon missionaries came to their home.  ‘These are the two men I saw in my dream.’ Mrs. Garlick cried in amazement, and invited into their home the two missionaries, William Howard Bosley and John  Fleming Wakefield with their message.  ‘I knew it was the true gospel, and I never could deny it’ Mrs. Garlic often bore testimony in years that followed.  She and her three oldest girls, along with 16 other converts, were baptized 5 October 1837.

While Elders Wakefield and Bosley were laboring in Bedford County, Erastus returned to Leitersburg, and was preaching along the west and northern boundary of Maryland (from 9 October) where he “tarried” until 16 October, and on the 21st he travelled 28 miles on the (turn) pike and preached in Bedford and on Sunday morning, 22 October, “I journeyed to Shellysburg near which town I found Brother William Bosley whom I had not seen since June.”

Hence, from the journal of Erastus Snow we learn that he often travelled alone but from time to time would team up with Elder John Wakefield, William Bosley, and others.  In addition we learn that while Elders Wakefield and Bosley were working together on 5 October, when the Garlick family were baptized into the church, Erastus was laboring in the vicinity of Leitersburg, Maryland. 

The story of Erastus indicates he stopped in Bedford a number of times and did considerable missionary work there as well as to labor with those who had joined the church.  Reading further from the diary of Erastus he mentioned remaining in Shellysburg until the 25th (October) and preaching twice, two miles north of Shellysburg where he had formerly baptized four persons, then: “By the request of Elder Bosley, I returned with him about 25 miles to Clear Ridge, eight miles south of Bloody Run, where we baptized 11 and on our way we stopped at Bedford over night and baptized a man and his wife.  On clear Ridge we met Brother John Wakefield.  I preached in Clear Ridge meeting house and its vicinity five times and baptized two.  We also held a council and ordained Brother Henry Mower, Elder.  There had several clergy men of the Methodists, Baptists, and Christian denominations been there heaping their anathemas on the Saints and foaming out their fury against the gospel when no one was there to expose them...”

It is of special note how frequently Erastu mentioned visiting Brush Valley, Strongstown and “The Methodists” aong Black Lick Creek, inasmuch as the Wakefields and relatives were present in these and, particularly, the latter place.  On 22 November, Erastus Snow started the return trip to Kirtland, Ohio.  After a short period in Kirtland, Erastus left Kirtland on 2 January 1838, and travelled southeast to Maryland, stopping along the way to visit Branches of the church and the members who were growing vry fast and prospering.  The following notation in his diary is of interest:

“Saturday, 24 February, Elder J. F. Wakefield came who had been preaching in Huntingdon County, Sunday we held a meeting with the Saints and a large number of unbelievers.  Sunday evening the spirit was in our meeting: the gift of tongues and interpretation were clearly manifest and the spirit of the Saints was refreshed.

“Thursday, 27th of February, we all started together and separated before night, and appointed to meet the next Sabbath and hold a meeting at Bredgeport, Franklin County.  I preached twice in Chambersburg and returned Sunday morning to Bridgeport, a distance of 12 miles.  Here i found the Brethren and we held a meeting a=with the Saints in that place Saturday and Sunday evening.  Wednesday, Elders Brown and Wakefield left for Leitersburg.”

Erastus mentions two or three additional meetings with these Elders: again at Leitersburg and on Clear Ridge, where a conference was held, and at Brush Valley and Strongstown where another conference was held on 29 May.

Immediately after this latter conference, Erastus received a letter from Kirtland requesting him to come and go to Far West, Missouri.

It must have been at this conference, or shortly thereafter, that John Fleming Wakeifeld was released from, or interrupted his mission.  However, he hadn’t lost track of one of his converts as he shortly returned to Providence, Bedford County, and claimed Susanna, the 18 year-old daughter of David and Elizabeth Buck Garlick, to be his wife.  They were married 5 August 1838.

It is possible that John and Susanna mad their home in Providence during the next year, as their first child, a son, was born there 29 June 1839.  He was given the name of their good friend, and John’s former missionary companion, Erastus Snow (From WAKEFIELD HISTORY, by Melvin L. Wakefield.)

As soon as it became known that the Garlick women had joined the Mormon Church, persecution began.  Soon members of the family became outcasts.  No more did their close friends and relatives treat them with love and respect.  The girls especially suffered deep grief because of their social standing in the little community. 

Although David Garlick had not yet accepted the Mormon faith, he could not bear seeing his family persecuted and decided the best thing for them would be to move where they could be gathered with the Saints in Zion.

When it was known that David was making preparations to move, a group of hostile anti-Mormons began making plans to mob the Garlick, and other Mormons, and drive them from their midst.  It is not known what world have happened had not a friend of David’s, on hearing of the threats of the mob, come swiftly and notified David of the lawless plans.  With the help of this good man provisions and other most needed essentials, which could be loaded into two wagons drawn by two horse teams, were hastily brought together and the Garlick family bid farewell to their Pennsylvania home which they were to see burned to the ground while they were not far away.  After going some distance, the Garlick family joined another group of Mormons converts on their way to join the main body of Saints.

It was 11 October 1839, that the Garlick family bid farewell to their Pennsylvania home and headed westward little knowing that , except for short periods of stopover, this eventful migration was to be a long arduous trek to last for 14 years.  (From the History of Sarah Garlick, 1852, by M. K. Timothy). 

[For more about the Garlick family’s conversion and their trek west, see two articles about them listed in the Garlick chapter of the Wakefield “Book” in the “Library” on this web-site.]