The Principal— A Drama Written by Samuel Roskelley
The good old days we used to enjoy in the 1850’s should never be forgotten, said William Hopeful, who had just got up from the table of his hospitable friend, John Humphries, who resided in the thrifty town of ––––––, in one of our border stakes of Zion. And as the sentence closed, Sister Humphries, rising from the table invited her husband’s guest to occupy the parlor where she had made a nice fire in the stove and prepared to make the guest comfortable as long as he wished to stay under her husband’s roof. For she had heard her husband often speak of his friend, William Hopeful, as being one of his youthful companions in the ––––––, branch of the Church in England, not many years after the sound of the voice of the message of salvation had been heard by the people of that country.
She had heard also that her husband and Brother Hopeful joined the church and had taken their district to deliver tracts at the homes of the people, and had also been ordained to the priesthood about the same time and were afterwards chosen by the counsel of the branch to go on Sundays to the adjacent village and preach to the people “out doors.” And she had also learned that when her husband (then a young man) had by his industry and economy secured enough means to come to Zion with the L10.00 Company, which at that time came by way of New Orleans, Keokuck, and the overland journey across Iowa and the Great Plains, that the local church authorities had told Brother Hopeful they had learned that his parents and relatives had turned against him because he had embraced Mormonism against their wishes and were embittered against him because he would advocate Bible truths which they could not gainsay or disprove. Consequently, they had turned him out doors, but if he would get ready he could have the privilege of going to Zion by the Perpetual Emigration Fund and that probably he might cross the sea in the same ship with Brother Humphries, which he did.
But on arriving at the frontier they were placed in different companies to cross the plains and on arriving in the valleys had located quite a distance from each other, consequently had not seen each other for years. But their former love for each other had not ceased to burn in their hearts and the occasional mention of Brother Hopeful’s name in the newspaper as a missionary or some other useful position in the church would be the cause for a repetition by her husband of some incident in the early career of the two, now gray-haired men. These little circumstances Sisters Humphries was familiar with relative to the history of the two men. And now that the cruel Edmunds-Tucker Law was being enforced by the heartless, prejudiced and vindictive governmental officers it had caused Brother Hopeful to leave his happy home and God-fearing families in the care of Him who suffereth not a sparrow to fall to the ground unnoticed, and go into exile, where ever the Spirit would lead him, to find friends, rest and repose to his spirit and body, after being hunted and searched for by the merciless minions of the law at his home and place of residence.
For she had heard that he had obeyed the Celestial Law and had families “like flocks” and she realized that with her keen, shrude, penetrating power, she could with such a guest in her house, be soon enabled to determine the caliber of the man she had heard so much of and determined in her own mind the difference in her own husband and his friend, for though her husband like herself, had been prompt in attending meetings, paying their tithes and offerings, relieving the wants of the poor, and held offices of trust and responsibility in the ward where they resided, still they had never seen the time when they felt they had enough around them to justify him in taking another wife or maintaining another family, or that the blessings of another family would be worth the sacrifice of the little heavenly world they possessed. Hence they had never contended earnestly for a testimony from the Lord concerning that doctrine, but now that Brother Hopeful being driven into exile had become their guest she hoped seeing he was a polygamist to show him how nice and comfortable they lived in their quiet home, blessed with the comforts and good things of life, with no anxiety about deputy marshall’s or fear of being dragged before packed juries of the “Open Venue” kind or be “found guilty” without evidence, and condemned, fined and sent to prison because “you are reputed to have another wife” and up to date no wandering exile, for conscience sake, had called to ask of them a resting place for a few days and seek retirement to write letters of council, advice and good cheer to the loved ones at home, and to tell mothers how to do and ask them to instill into the minds of the children — old and young— that “father says” if all, mothers and children, will pray earnestly to God in faith three times a day for him to escape the hands of the wicked officers that he will not be captured, except it be the design of God that he should go to prison, to tell the boys what to do to forward the work and to make their Ma’s comfortable and as happy as possible under the circumstances.
When the two men were seated in the parlor the good Mrs. Humphries with her daughter soon cleared off the table and arranged the dishes in their proper places and entering the parlor found the two men engaged in earnest conversation, recounting some of the scenes of their boyhood days and reminding each other of events that transpired in their early history. Elder Hopeful relating the circumstances of his first meeting with the Saints, his lingering at the close of the meeting around the doorway wondering at the strange actions of the Saints in their handshaking and manifestation of love and good feelings for each other, of the feeling that went through him when Elder ––––––, the branch president, came to him and putting his right hand on his head said, “I prophesy in the name of the Lord that you will yet become a Mormon Elder and preach the Gospel in its fullness.” Also the circumstances connected with their baptism into the church. The persons’ names that were in the boat that carried them across the river to the place of baptism. The singing of “How Glorious will be the Morning,” by elders and sisters. So and so of them feeling on coming out of the water and the feelings of joy that sprang up in their hearts on the return trip knowing that their sins were remitted and that God had accepted them as His sons through obedience to the law of Baptism.
When Mrs. Humphries and her daughters were comfortably seated with a little lace work in their hands, for Sister Humphries prided herself on her industrious habits, Brother Humphries turned to her saying, “Now, wife we have often talked about Brother Hopeful and the experience he was getting, for you know he had filled foreign missions, also a number of home missions, something you know I have never done since I came to the country, and he being a polygamist in practice as well as faith, can perhaps give us some items of his experience that will be valuable to us in our future lives. “Yes,” said sister Humphries, “I should like to hear Brother Hopeful relate some of his experiences and especially what testimony he received concerning the principle of Celestial marriage, for I’d like to know what there is to induce a man in this church to take the responsibility of more than one family on his shoulders and to have to work so hard to maintain them, and especially in these hard times when it’s almost worth a man’s life to marry more than one wife. For if it is found out then both him and his families have to suffer. He to go to prison for a series of years and be confined with the worse class of men living, and the family to be debarred of his companionship and assistance and be deprived of many comforts they might otherwise enjoy.
“Well,” said Brother Hopeful, “You have asked me some important questions which I shall be pleased to answer, I trust to your satisfaction. I said when rising from your table a short time since, the good old days we used to enjoy in the 1850’s should never be forgotten because of the peace and harmony that prevailed in all the settlements of the Saints throughout the Territory. Almost everyone you met was a Brother or Sister and a friend because they were all with one baptism into one faith, forsaking Babylon and her institutions. We left homes and kindred to come to Zion and walk in the ways of the Lord. You know a drunken person was a thing unknown until Stephens Army quartered in Salt Lake City in the winter of ––––––, and prostitution in any form was unheard of until a certain Judge brought a nude woman and sat her on the judicial bench beside him in Fillmore and from that time to this, crime of every kind has been introduced by those who have come into the Territory professing Christianity, until unlike the days I referred to in the 1850’s when everybody in a settlement went to bed at night and without a door being locked or a window barred, no police or constable necessary to keep the peace and the man with one or more families would call his families around him morning and night and all kneeling before the Lord offer their sacred devotions for blessings past, for further grace to pursue the journey of life and that as they forgave, so might they be forgiven.
Today the leaders and trusted men amongst the Saints are hunted like felons of the deepest day, their wives and children whom they love as themselves are hounded, insulted and abused by persons in the garb of men calling themselves officers of the law, but to my subject, you asked me to relate some of my experiences and especially what testimony I had received concerning the principle of Celestial Marriage, to which I will say that my testimonies of the Divinity of God’s work in the earth are so abundant that I should have to deny my own existence to deny the many and varied testimonies God has favored me with. For the prophecy of Elder ––––––, the president of the branch where your husband and I became members of the church through the ordinance of baptism, etc., has been fulfilled to the letter for I have filled several missions, delegated with authority to preach the Gospel both in our Territory and among the nations and God has made manifest His power in my behalf on many occasions through prayer and fasting on my part and has always come to my aid when I have put my trust in Him, and I have been in many strange places in the course of my experience in this church.
The present ordeal we are passing through confirms my faith for our Heavenly Father will not put us in possession of a crown and kingdom only as we prove ourselves worthy of such blessings. The Savior said as recorded by Mark “Whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him also shall the Son of Man be ashamed when He cometh in the glory of his Father with the Holy Angels.” As I understood his language, if we refuse to obey the principles of Salvation he has revealed to our understanding we virtually deny Him. The principle of Celestial, commonly called Plural Marriage, was very repugnant to my feelings when I first heard it, shortly after embracing the gospel, but the spirit of the Lord induced me to restrain my feelings and lay my views of the question on the shelf for the time being, I was not prepared to judge the matter only from notions framed and built upon sectarian ideas of morality. But after coming to the mountains and reading the revelation on the subject carefully and prayerfully the same spirit that gave me a testimony of the divinity of the work after I was baptized and confirmed a member of the church, rested upon me and by its influence I knew that revelation was also true and that in the language of the revelation, “No one can reject this covenant and be permitted to enter into my Glory.” “And he that receiveth a fullness thereof, must and shall abide the law, or he shall be damned saith the Lord God.”
Also I read, “For they are given unto him to multiply and replenish the earth, according to my commandment and to fulfill the promise which was given by my Father before the foundation of the world; and for their exaltation in the eternal worlds, that they may bear the souls of men; for herein is the work of my Father continued, that He may be glorified.” On reading this, I began asking myself some serious questions. Am I doing right to remain unmarried with these things so plainly set forth? And as the Father is glorified, and the female is exalted in the eternal worlds by bearing the souls of men, then if the glory of woman is her offspring, will not two or more women with offspring add to a man’s glory more than one can possibly do? These and many other questions presented themselves to my mind until with the assistance of the Holy Spirit I became thoroughly convinced of the truth of the principle and resolved to obey it. But thinking that perhaps a little experience in seeing the workings of the principle in some family or organization I laid the matter before the Lord and sought and obtained employment from a man who was a well known polygamist and after a few months service I received his consent to board with his family and remain in his employ for nearly two and a half years during which time I became so much attached to his family that it seemed like home because of the harmony and good feeling that prevailed amongst them. But I was not doing my duty, I was a drone so far as the principle of Celestial Marriage is concerned and the Lord took steps to change my position in life. I was too dilatory in living up to the laws I was acquainted with and God saw fit through his servants to call me on a mission to Europe and get me out of my comfortable situation and well beaten path and give me an experience of another kind. I filled the mission assigned me to the best of my ability and I believe to the entire satisfaction of the presiding officers of the mission, presiding as I did over one of the Welch Conferences nearly all the time I was in the mission and returning home with the missionary company at the time the Buchanan Army were en-route for Utah. And witnessed the hand of God in guiding and protecting his servants on their return to their families and friends in these valleys. Soon after the return of the Saints from the southern part of the territory to their homes in the north, I married, poor as I was. And in a short time afterwards I made the acquaintance of another young lady and married her also convinced as I was that it was my duty, for nothing but duty would have induced me to take another wife, as my wife and home was the nearest to Heaven I had ever got up to that date. With this action came the experience common to men who, having watched other under, as they think, similar circumstances, fancy they have obtained in the family I had watched so closely would not fit in my case and I was nonplussed, confused, I had fancied I was prepared for almost any emergency but experience proved I had reckoned without “Mine Host.” I had overestimated my ability and strength and the Lord wanted to let me feel my nothingness when his help was withdrawn from me, for it seemed that the Heavens were as brass over my head and the spirit of supplication that I used to enjoy in my devotions before the Lord had fled. While I was tempted and tried almost beyond endurance, and the adversary would whisper in my ear when I attempted to pray, “What’s the use of your praying, the Lord will not hear your prayers for you have destroyed your once happy home by your own acts?” And people that had been my best friends and knew my former circumstances shunned me; this alone almost killed my sensitive spirit.
But I had not forgotten the Lord, nor His many mercies to me and I resolved to fast and pray until I got that same spirit back that gave me a testimony of the divinity of the principle. I fasted and prayed several days, the cloud and gloom gradually withdrew and the power of the adversary was broken, and God heard my prayers, the same spirit I had before possessed came back and I rejoiced in the Lord, but I did not feel like the same man. I no longer had that confidence and strength in my own ability that I before possessed for God had taught me that from Him alone came my strength and to Him alone must I look for help and support and He gave me power to get my wives together and calm their feeling s and teach them how to live and cultivate a spirit of love for each other. Oh, what joy I felt at that meeting. For the Spirit of the Lord was poured out upon us, we fell upon each other’s necks and wept tears of sorrow for our follies, of joy for the return of happiness, we forgave each other’s trespasses and we all knelt down and gave thanks to God for the reconciliation. I learned through this circumstance that I must govern myself better and live nearer to God than I had ever done and this I tried to do.
In a few years I was called by God’s servants to fill another mission to Great Britain with a request to respond to the call at an early date. I did so but not without some personal sacrifice, feeling that “Sacrifice calls forth the blessings from Heaven.” Filling my mission to the best of my ability, most of the time as president of an important conference in England. After being honorably released I was given charge of a large company of Saints on my return home to the mountains. I found on arriving that family and friends met me with a warm welcome but my family during my absence had become somewhat indebted and I was promptly requested to meet these obligations. My health was not the best at the time and I felt somewhat disheartened because of my circumstances until I met Brother ––––––, who offered me employment at a fair salary by which means I could help my family and pay up my indebtedness. I accepted his offer with gladness, after I had been there employed some little time I was standing on the main road to the town of ––––––, enjoying a pleasant conversation with my employer when some of my relatives and friends came along, meeting me quite unexpectedly, and giving me a warm welcome, among them was a young lady whom I had been quite acquainted with before going on my last mission and on seeing her something seemed to suggest to me that I ought to ask her to be my wife.
It was but the thought of a moment, but it sank deep in my mind, and I felt that all the blood in my body came to my face in a moment, but after they had gone away my employer and I had resumed conversation, my thoughts were not upon the conversation with him but upon the feeling that came over me when I saw the young lady mentioned, and later in the day in reflecting on the questions, my poverty, the condition of my family and their necessities, came before me and I resolved to banish the thought from my heart of marrying any more in this life and the feeling left me.
But a short time afterwards I chanced to get into company of some friends among whom was this same young lady before mentioned, and as my eye caught hers the impression and feeling came over me that I had before received and I felt there must be a providence about it in some manner, but again after mature reflection I felt justified in saying to myself, I am both too poor and too old to again marry and will not entertain the idea. For I consider in looking over my past life and I have done pretty well, much more than many of the Elders of Israel of similar standing in the church. And why should I seek to excel and take more on my shoulders than I have ability to provide for? And why bring the Principle into disrepute because I have perhaps an opportunity of getting another wife? I thought No. I will not. If I provide for those I have I am doing well, and I will not have the care and responsibility of another family for I have enough to care for.
It was evening and I went to bed contemplating the thoughts and feelings that were in my mind through the past day, and justifying myself in my resolutions. I fell asleep and dreamed I had ended my earthly career, or in other words I was dead and was ushered into the presence of my Heavenly Father. I know Him well. His face and person I was quire familiar with and He greeted my by saying, “Well, my son, you have finished up your mission on earth and returned home, have you?” I answered respectfully, “Yes Sir.” At the same time wondering if He would accept my earthly career and bid me welcome.
He continued, “I suppose you think you have done pretty well, at least as well as the majority who have been your associates on the earth?” This inspired in me a little confidence and I answered, “Yes Sir, I think so.” Said He, “You have been successful in retaining the Faith of the Gospel in your heart and preaching it to others and in filling the positions of responsibility and trust that have been given you, setting examples for good among your associates, haven’t you?” Said I, “I think so, considering my surroundings. At the same time a feeling of satisfaction and assurance of His approval came over me that is easier felt than described. For I began to feel with all my sins and weaknesses, my general course of life would receive His approval, for He asked me many questions in a manner that I could answer in the affirmative and take pleasure that I could do so, but said He. “How is it about your family that I gave you, why did you not take my handmaiden that My spirit prompted you to take to wife and also others that were yours by my gift if you had reached out your hand to have received my blessings?”
“Why did you repudiate the suggestions of My Spirit and cut yourself short of that glory and exaltation you might have attained to?” I felt at once where I was and I pled that poverty and a lack of faith I had thought a sufficient cause for not taking to wife the person He mentioned, “But” said He, “can you recollect a time in your experience when you were in straightened circumstances and you called upon Me for assistance, but I gave it to you?” And have you ever lacked for anything you really needed when you were in the line of duty, and have I not answered your prayers on land and on the sea?”
To all of which questions I could not but with shamefacedness answer that He had given me all these blessings, “and yet” continued He, “with all these evidences before you and the promptings of My Spirit to guide you, you made a firm resolve that you would not marry any more, and dried up the faith that had been placed in your heart of reliance upon me”
Said He, “Look.” And He waved his hand and I looked and saw this same young woman with a beautiful family of children with her. Said He, “These might have been yours if you had listened to the repeated promptings of My Spirit. And also these,” pointing to other women and children that I knew well, but you cut off your increase and the experience you would have gained with them by saying in your heart, “I will not accept the suggestions of the Spirit,” and you sinned against me by refusing to obey My law when you had opportunity and the way was opened for you to do so. In all your future life you might have been associated with these, my servants and handmaidens if you had observed my counsels,” and He again waived His hand and I saw a number of brethren with their wives and children, beautiful and lovely beyond description. Many of whom I had been intimately acquainted and associated with on the earth, “but now your future associates will be these,” and He waved His hand again and I saw a number of persons I had been acquainted with in the church on earth and they looked so small physically and mentally, so diminutive, for though I recognized them to be the same persons I had previously known, I wondered what had befallen them to make them so Lilliputian in statue and mind.
I shuddered and especially so when Father said, “And I have no assurance to give you, that you can retain the family you now seem to have and enjoy.” Although I had much experience before this I never knew what mental suffering was to the extent I then felt and I hope never again to pass through experiences and feel the same as I felt at that time and a few weeks afterwards. I asked if there was no chance for repentance, but was answered that my opportunity for repentance had been given me on the earth if I had been willing to accept them that I had stopped my own increase and growth, through repudiating the suggestions and promptings of the Holy Spirit.
Did the Lord hear my prayers? Yes, He did, for my repentance was sincere and I assure you I lost no time after I felt the Lord had given me an opportunity of repenting, in going to the girl and proposing to marry her, and as an evidence that my offering was accepted to Him, He blessed me with her and I now have a beautiful family of children by her and a better wife no man can wish to possess.
Did the Lord open up my way to provide for my growing family? Yes, I received ability to provide for them and to meet my obligations satisfactory, which gave me another testimony that God hears and answers prayer and supplication and taught me to rely upon My Heavenly father for guidance day by day.
“Well,” said Sister Humphries, “If I could have such testimonies as that from the Lord I should not mind my husband having another wife, you know we have plenty around us to support another if we could only find the right one, but I think there is so much risk in getting one that is congenial, you know,” and she sat back in her easy chair with an air of self confidence that such a suitable person could not be found.
“That is not a hard matter when the Lord is consulted,” said Brother Hopeful, and as you asked me what testimonies I have received concerning the principle of Celestial Marriage, I will give you a few more items of my experience. A few years since, it was suggested to me by a man of competent authority, that it was now a good time to show to the Lord my faith in the law of Celestial Marriage by taking another wife, for said he, “There are circumstances that existed during the 1850’s before the Poland Bill passed the Congress, that will not do so under present circumstances” I felt that this suggestion was binding, that I could not ignore it and be justified with the recollection of my dream before my mind.
So I pondered upon the matter, asking myself who shall I ask to be my wife in these critical times? I resolved to fast and ask the Lord about it for if it was right, who could show me where to go and who to ask better than He who knows he hearts of all His Children? I did fast and pray earnestly that he would show me who to solicit to become my wife. For several weeks I continued my supplication, when He showed me in the vision of my mind the complete bust of a young lady with whom I had but a very slight acquaintance. I became satisfied in my own mind, but the question arose, how will my family look upon it. Will they accept her as a member of the family upon my say so? For although I had every evidence to believe my family had all confidences in me as a husband and father, yet I felt that if it was right, I should add another wife to my household, those I already had would be deeply interested in the matter, for my present family enjoyed each other’s company and society, knowing each other’s weaknesses and each other’s virtues and to bring in an uncongenial associate would be perhaps disastrous to the whole family, and inasmuch as this is God’s work, He is as able to give my wives a testimony and show them who He wishes me to have as to show me.
At the same time I felt I was willing to do my part inasmuch as He had shown me what to do so the first opportunity I had, I told each wife privately what was required at my hands and asked them if they were willing to give me their faith, prayers and blessing in complying with the requirement, to which they each assented, asking in each case, “Who do you intend getting?” I answered their question by asking, “Who would you suggest?” and asking further that each fast and pray to God to show them who He desired me to have, and suggesting that we take plenty of time to plead with the Lord regarding so momentous a question and after I thought they had sufficient time to learn the will of the Lord on the question, I ventured to ask the result of their fasting, prayer and pleadings.
Their answer were, “Yes, I know who it is for the face of a person was shown me while at prayer, but I only know part of her name and it seems as though I have never seen her but few times.” Another said, “Yes, my eyes were directed to a person in meeting on Sunday and it seemed impossible for me to take them from her something seemed to say, “That is the person you are looking for and you will become better acquainted.”
Though they had never met to know each other, she was able to tell me her name. Here was the goodness of God displayed in answer to prayer and my heart melted within me with gratitude. I was slightly acquainted with the person and had spoken to her but few times, but relying upon the Lord I consulted and gained consent of the parents and after a brief interview with her in which I advised that she do as I had done, go to the Lord and accept His counsel. She took time to consider and the next time we met she gave me a favorable answer for she said the satisfaction she had received from the Lord in answer to prayer and fasting, gave convincing proof that it was a right step and she had never received such evidence concerning any person who had proposed marriage to her before.
These, my friends, are some of the outlines of evidence I have received in favor of Celestial Marriage, the Hand of the Lord has been quite as manifest in the details as in the outlines and I believe it to be the privilege and duty of every Elder in the Church to whom the law of Celestial Marriage shall come, to seek the mind of the Lord and obey that law in connection with all other laws of the gospel, and if they would, our fair daughters would become the honored wives of men having faith in God and gospel ordinances and would not seek the companionship of the ungodly and those who know not God and observe not His laws. And I am satisfied that many elders of Israel will be held at least partially responsible for so many of our young women marrying outside of the church.
“Well,” said sister Humphries, “I never saw things in that light before and I am resolved if my husband is willing to take your plan and go and ask the Lord about this matter and with His blessing we will try and follow your example.
“I am very thankful the Lord has prompted you to come to see us for this has been a pleasurable and I trust profitable evening to us.”1
1. A Faith Promoting Incident, Samuel Roskelley. Copied from loose leaf pages, written in pencil, of Samuel Roskelley's own handwriting, by Lula Roskelley Mortensen.
(I believe this work to be compiled about 1956 or 1957 time period. I have lightly edited the text to correct blatant printing errors and have left the document for the most part as printed. I completed this on Thanksgiving Day, November 22, 2007, roughly fifty years after Mrs. Mortensen a granddaughter of Samuel Roskelley transcribed it for the family. My wife, Karole Roskelley Sorensen, is a great-granddaughter of Samuel Roskelley.) This work, a play if you will has Samuel Roskelley playing both parts, that of John Humphries and William Hopeful. He also provides the narrative voice, in this powerful presentation of one man's faith in the Lord. I don't know that I will ever view the world as I did, prior to reading this a couple of times…