Official website for the Joseph Knight Sr. and Polly Knight Family Organization
Newel Knight settled near his father in Colesville, New York, and operated a carding machine business and a gristmill. "Peace, prosperity and plenty, seemed to crown our labors, and indeed we were a happy family, and my father rejoiced in having us around him," wrote Newel. In 1826 young Joseph Smith boarded with the Knight family. "I was particularly attached [to Joseph]," penned Newel. "We were very deeply impressed with the truthfulness of his statements concerning the Plates of the Book of Mormon which had been shown him by an Angel of the Lord."
As the Prophet visited with the Knight family in April 1830, he noticed Newel's hesitation to vocally pray. Joseph encouraged him, but Newel's attempt while alone in the woods was unsuccessful. When he returned home, the experience triggered a violent physical struggle. the Prophet Joseph , who was summoned to the scene by Newel's alarmed wife, found that Newel's facial appearance and limbs had become "distorted and twisted in every shape," and his body was finally "caught up off the floor . . . and tossed about most fearfully." Newel pleaded with the Prophet to cast the devil out of him, to which the Prophet replied, "If you know that I can, it shall be done." He commanded the devil in the name of Jesus Christ to depart, and miraculously Newel's body returned to normal. Newel saw the devil leave him and vanish from sight.
As he rested from the ordeal, a vision of the heavens caused him to levitate: "I now began to feel a most pleasing sensation resting upon me, and immediately the visions of heaven were opened to my view. I felt myself attracted upward, . . . I found that the Spirit of the Lord had actually caught me up off the floor, and that my shoulder and head were pressing against the beams."
Newel was baptized in May 1830 at the Whitmer farm. He declared that during the first conference of the Church, held the next month, "I saw the heavens opened, I beheld the Lord Jesus Christ seated at the right hand of the Majesty on High." As the year of 1830 ended he wrote, "Great things have transpired, too great for pen to paint."
In obedience to the Lord's command given in January 1831 to gather in Ohio, Newel and other Saints, "having made the best arrangements we could for the journey, . . . bade adieu to all we held dear on this earth" except the few who had embraced the gospel. Soon after arriving in Thompson, near Kirtland, he was called to serve a mission with Selah J. Griffin (see D&C 52:32). The mission was canceled when difficulties arose in Thompson, where Newel was serving as branch president. The Lord instructed Newel and the Saints in the branch to "go to now and flee the land, lest your enemies come upon you; and take your journey . . . into the regions westward, unto the land of Missouri, unto the borders of the Lamanites" (D&C 54:7-8).
In compliance with the revelation Newel Knight led the branch members to Jackson County, Missouri. In April 1833 he was called to be a counselor to Bishop Isaac Morley. This call was brief, as mobocracy forced him to flee to Clay County. There, in September 1834, his wife, Sally, died. Newel wrote, "Truly she died a martyr to the gospel of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. She was of a frail constitution, and the hardships and privations she had to endure were more than she could survive."
In sorrow Newel returned to Kirtland in May 1835. During his months in Kirtland he developed a romantic interest in Lydia Goldthwaite Bailey. She refused his advances as she was still married to Mr. Bailey. Newel apologized but explained that legally she was no longer married since her husband had deserted her over three years before. Lydia believed that to marry under the circumstances, if legally right, was morally wrong. The Prophet intervened and married Lydia and Newel on 24 November 1835.
Newel and his bride remained in Kirtland until the temple was dedicated, and he "received my anointings, and was also a witness to the great manifestations of God's power in that sacred edifice." They then migrated to Far West, where Newel was called to serve on the high council. Persecution grew in intensity, and Newel wrote, "We calmly submitted to the numerous indignities heaped upon us. . . . Our people made many concessions to the mob in the hope of pacifying them, but it was useless." He joined in the defense of Far West but to no avail, as it was overrun by men he labeled "Boggs Butchers."
Amid these trying times he was privileged to greet the Prophet after his return from Missouri jails. "I can never describe my feelings on meeting with him," he wrote, "and shaking hands with one whom I had so long and so dearly loved, his worth and his sufferings filled my heart with mingled emotions." In January 1843 the Prophet wrote about "Newel Knight and Joseph Knight, junior, whose names I record in the Book of the Law of the Lord with unspeakable delight, for they are my friends."
After the Martyrdom Newel penned his feelings for the Prophet and his brother Hyrum: "O how I loved those men, and rejoiced under their teachings! it seems as if all is gone, and as if my very heart strings will break, and were it not for my beloved wife and dear children I feel as if I have nothing to live for, and would rejoice to be with them in the Courts of Glory." One year and a day after their deaths Newel and Lydia visited Carthage Jail to see the room where the Martyrdom took place. Blood still stained the floor and bullet holes pocked the walls.
Continuing bigotry and mobocracy forced Newel and his family to abandon Nauvoo and join the migrating Saints in Iowa Territory. On 1 January 1847 he seemed to sense that his death was near: "I scarcely know why I am thus anxious, why this world appears so trifling, or the things of the world. I almost desire to leave this tenement of clay, that my spirit may soar aloft and no longer be held in bondage, yet my helpless family seem to need my protection."
Three days later Newel wrote his last diary entry. He described his preaching in church that day of the Saints' need to purify themselves so that "the Lord's presence [will] go before us, while we are journeying in the wilderness." He died on 11 January 1847 from lung inflammation. His remains were placed in a lumber coffin fashioned from a wagon box. Because of the cold, the fingers and feet of the men digging his grave froze.
Lydia, a widow with seven young children, wondered why he had left her. According to her history:
As she spoke, he stood by her side, with a lovely smile on his face, and said: "Be calm, let not sorrow overcome you. It was necessary that I should go. I was needed behind the vail to represent the true condition of this camp and people. You cannot fully comprehend it now; but the time will come when you shall know why I left you and our little ones. Therefore, dry up your tears. Be patient, I will go before you and protect you in your journeyings. And you and your little ones shall never perish for lack of food."
From Who’s Who in the Doctrine & Covenants by Susan Easton Black.
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