Orson Spencer
Orson Spencer was a prolific writer and prominent member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He served in several highly visible positions within the church and left an extensive legacy of theological
Theology is the systematic and rational study of religion and its influences and of the nature of religious truths, or the learned profession acquired by completing specialized training in religious studies, usually at a university or school of divinity or seminary.-Definition:Augustine of Hippo...

 writings. Orson Spencer is one of the examples William Mulder cites of highly educated people becoming Mormon
The term Mormon most commonly denotes an adherent, practitioner, follower, or constituent of Mormonism, which is the largest branch of the Latter Day Saint movement in restorationist Christianity...

s during the time of Joseph Smith, Jr.

Early life and education

Born in West Stockbridge
West Stockbridge, Massachusetts
West Stockbridge is a town in Berkshire County, Massachusetts, United States. It is part of the Pittsfield, Massachusetts Metropolitan Statistical Area. The population was 1,416 at the 2000 census.- History :...

, Berkshire County
Berkshire County, Massachusetts
Berkshire County is a non-governmental county located on the western edge of the U.S. state of Massachusetts. As of the 2010 census, the population was 131,219. Its largest city and traditional county seat is Pittsfield...

, Massachusetts
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts is a state in the New England region of the northeastern United States of America. It is bordered by Rhode Island and Connecticut to the south, New York to the west, and Vermont and New Hampshire to the north; at its east lies the Atlantic Ocean. As of the 2010...

, Spencer was generally esteemed a bright boy. At age twelve he contracted a fever that nearly killed him and left him with a permanent limp. At age fifteen, the town sheriff was so struck by him that he offered to finance Spencer's education. That same year he entered Lenox Academy
Lenox Academy
Lenox Academy is a historic school at 75 Main Street in Lenox, Massachusetts.The school was built in 1802 and added to the National Historic Register in 1982....

. In 1824, Spencer graduated with honors from Union College
Union College
Union College is a private, non-denominational liberal arts college located in Schenectady, New York, United States. Founded in 1795, it was the first institution of higher learning chartered by the New York State Board of Regents. In the 19th century, it became the "Mother of Fraternities", as...

 at Schenectady
Schenectady, New York
Schenectady is a city in Schenectady County, New York, United States, of which it is the county seat. As of the 2010 census, the city had a population of 66,135...

, New York
New York
New York is a state in the Northeastern region of the United States. It is the nation's third most populous state. New York is bordered by New Jersey and Pennsylvania to the south, and by Connecticut, Massachusetts and Vermont to the east...


In 1825 Spencer took a job as a school teacher in Washington
Washington, Georgia
Washington is a city in Wilkes County, Georgia, United States. The population was 4,295 at the 2000 census. The city is the county seat of Wilkes County...

, Wilkes County
Wilkes County, Georgia
Wilkes County is a county located in the U.S. state of Georgia. As of 2000, the population was 10,687. The 2007 Census estimate shows a population of 10,262. The county seat is the city of Washington. Referred to as "Washington-Wilkes", the county seat and county are commonly treated as a...

, Georgia.

In 1827, Spencer joined the Baptist
Baptists comprise a group of Christian denominations and churches that subscribe to a doctrine that baptism should be performed only for professing believers , and that it must be done by immersion...

 church and decided to become a pastor. He attended the Theological College at Hamilton, New York
Hamilton (village), New York
The Village of Hamilton is a village located within the town of Hamilton in Madison County, New York, USA.-Geography and climate:The village, located at , lies in the Chenango Valley, just south of the headwaters of the Chenango River. The village is approximately southeast of Syracuse and ...

, and graduated as class valedictorian
Valedictorian is an academic title conferred upon the student who delivers the closing or farewell statement at a graduation ceremony. Usually, the valedictorian is the highest ranked student among those graduating from an educational institution...

 in 1829. Spencer served as pastor at three congregations throughout New England
New England
New England is a region in the northeastern corner of the United States consisting of the six states of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut...

 between 1829 and 1841.

Religious conversion

Spencer was introduced to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by his brother Daniel
Daniel Spencer (Mormon)
Daniel Spencer was the last mayor of Nauvoo, Illinois prior to the revocation of its first charter.Spencer was born in West Stockbridge, Massachusetts. In 1840, he joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints...

 and was baptized
In Christianity, baptism is for the majority the rite of admission , almost invariably with the use of water, into the Christian Church generally and also membership of a particular church tradition...

 by the same in spring 1841, necessitating the discontinuation of Orson's Baptist ministry. During his time of investigating the faith, Spencer obtained as much information as he could about Solomon Spalding
Solomon Spalding
Solomon Spalding was the author of the Manuscript Story, a work of fiction about the lost civilization of the mound builders of North America...

 and other items that called into question the divine origin of the Book of Mormon
Book of Mormon
The Book of Mormon is a sacred text of the Latter Day Saint movement that adherents believe contains writings of ancient prophets who lived on the American continent from approximately 2600 BC to AD 421. It was first published in March 1830 by Joseph Smith, Jr...

, but he was still convinced of its truthfulness by reading it..

News of Spencer's conversion
Religious conversion
Religious conversion is the adoption of a new religion that differs from the convert's previous religion. Changing from one denomination to another within the same religion is usually described as reaffiliation rather than conversion.People convert to a different religion for various reasons,...

 reached many of his Baptist colleagues. Reverend William Crowell sent a letter inquiring about his conversion and the Mormon faith
Mormonism is the religion practiced by Mormons, and is the predominant religious tradition of the Latter Day Saint movement. This movement was founded by Joseph Smith, Jr. beginning in the 1820s as a form of Christian primitivism. During the 1830s and 1840s, Mormonism gradually distinguished itself...

 in general. Spencer's responses to this and other epistle
An epistle is a writing directed or sent to a person or group of people, usually an elegant and formal didactic letter. The epistle genre of letter-writing was common in ancient Egypt as part of the scribal-school writing curriculum. The letters in the New Testament from Apostles to Christians...

s were published and remain of interest to many Latter-day Saints today.

Church service

Shortly after his conversion, Spencer and his family moved to Nauvoo
Nauvoo, Illinois
Nauvoo is a small city in Hancock County, Illinois, United States. Although the population was just 1,063 at the 2000 census, and despite being difficult to reach due to its location in a remote corner of Illinois, Nauvoo attracts large numbers of visitors for its historic importance and its...

, Illinois
Illinois is the fifth-most populous state of the United States of America, and is often noted for being a microcosm of the entire country. With Chicago in the northeast, small industrial cities and great agricultural productivity in central and northern Illinois, and natural resources like coal,...

. Spencer served as the head of the University of Nauvoo
Nauvoo University
Nauvoo University was a private academic institution organized by members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Nauvoo, Illinois...

. In April 1843 Spencer was sent on a mission to New Haven, Connecticut
New Haven, Connecticut
New Haven is the second-largest city in Connecticut and the sixth-largest in New England. According to the 2010 Census, New Haven's population increased by 5.0% between 2000 and 2010, a rate higher than that of the State of Connecticut, and higher than that of the state's five largest cities, and...


Spencer was elected mayor
In many countries, a Mayor is the highest ranking officer in the municipal government of a town or a large urban city....

 of Nauvoo in 1845, but he appears to not have served due to the revocation of the city charter. He would have succeeded his brother Daniel Spencer in this office. Prior to this he served as an alderman of the city of Nauvoo. As such he also served as a member of Nauvoo's municipal court. After the Nauvoo Charter was revoked Spencer served as an alderman of the much smaller town of Nauvoo.

Spencer served as president
Mission president
Mission president is a priesthood leadership position in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints . A mission president presides over a mission and the missionaries serving in the mission...

 of the British Mission
Mission (LDS Church)
A mission of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a geographical administrative area to which church missionaries are assigned. Almost all areas of the world are within the boundaries of an LDS Church mission, whether or not Mormon missionaries live or proselytize in the area...

 from early 1847 until the summer of 1848. In 1848 he was replaced by Orson Pratt
Orson Pratt
Orson Pratt, Sr. was a leader in the Latter Day Saint movement and an original member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles...

, who found that the mission had had much success under Spencer's administration.

Spencer was the president of one of the five Mormon pioneer
Mormon Pioneer
The Mormon pioneers were members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also known as Latter-day Saints, who migrated across the United States from the Midwest to the Salt Lake Valley in what is today the U.S. state of Utah...

 companies in 1849. This company consisted of about 100 wagons. In 1850, when the Deseret News began publication in Salt Lake City, Spencer served as assistant editor under Willard Richards
Willard Richards
Willard Richards was an early leader in the Latter Day Saint movement and served as Second Counselor in the First Presidency to church president Brigham Young in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from 1847 until his death.Willard Richards was born in Hopkinton, Massachusetts, to...


On August 28, 1852, Brigham Young
Brigham Young
Brigham Young was an American leader in the Latter Day Saint movement and a settler of the Western United States. He was the President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from 1847 until his death in 1877, he founded Salt Lake City, and he served as the first governor of the Utah...

 commissioned Spencer to travel, together with Jacob Houtz, to Prussia
Prussia was a German kingdom and historic state originating out of the Duchy of Prussia and the Margraviate of Brandenburg. For centuries, the House of Hohenzollern ruled Prussia, successfully expanding its size by way of an unusually well-organized and effective army. Prussia shaped the history...

. After reaching Berlin
Berlin is the capital city of Germany and is one of the 16 states of Germany. With a population of 3.45 million people, Berlin is Germany's largest city. It is the second most populous city proper and the seventh most populous urban area in the European Union...

 in late January 1853, he and his companion discovered that every step they took was observed by the Prussian secret police
Secret police
Secret police are a police agency which operates in secrecy and beyond the law to protect the political power of an individual dictator or an authoritarian political regime....

. After only one week, Spencer and Houtz were forced by the police to leave Berlin without having had any visible missionary success. They were the first Mormon missionaries to preach in Germany since Orson Hyde
Orson Hyde
Orson Hyde was a leader in the early Latter Day Saint movement and an original member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles...

's visit in 1841.

Spencer served as an editor and writer on many newspaper
A newspaper is a scheduled publication containing news of current events, informative articles, diverse features and advertising. It usually is printed on relatively inexpensive, low-grade paper such as newsprint. By 2007, there were 6580 daily newspapers in the world selling 395 million copies a...

s from his conversion and was named the first chancellor
Chancellor is the title of various official positions in the governments of many nations. The original chancellors were the Cancellarii of Roman courts of justice—ushers who sat at the cancelli or lattice work screens of a basilica or law court, which separated the judge and counsel from the...

 of the University of Deseret in 1850. He died after contracting malaria
Malaria is a mosquito-borne infectious disease of humans and other animals caused by eukaryotic protists of the genus Plasmodium. The disease results from the multiplication of Plasmodium parasites within red blood cells, causing symptoms that typically include fever and headache, in severe cases...

 while on a mission to the Cherokee
The Cherokee are a Native American people historically settled in the Southeastern United States . Linguistically, they are part of the Iroquoian language family...



Spencer's first wife was Catharine Curtis. They had eight children. She died in 1846 in Iowa
Iowa is a state located in the Midwestern United States, an area often referred to as the "American Heartland". It derives its name from the Ioway people, one of the many American Indian tribes that occupied the state at the time of European exploration. Iowa was a part of the French colony of New...

. While presiding over the British Mission, Spencer married Martha Knight. He later also married Ann Dibble, Margaret Miller, Jane T. Davis and Mary Hill as plural wives
Plural marriage
Polygamy was taught by leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for more than half of the 19th century, and practiced publicly from 1852 to 1890.The Church's practice of polygamy has been highly controversial, both within...


In 1855, shortly after his death, Spencer's daughter Catherine Curtis Spencer (named after her mother) married Brigham Young, Jr.
Brigham Young, Jr.
Brigham Young, Jr. served as president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from 1899 until his death. His tenure was interrupted for one week in 1901 when Joseph F...

Spencer is the father of Aurelia Spencer Rogers
Aurelia Spencer Rogers
Aurelia Read Spencer Rogers was the founder of Primary, the children's organization and official auxiliary of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints...

, who in 1878 founded the Primary Association, the official organization of the LDS Church for children.

Works remembered

A collection of his letters entitled Spencer's Letters was among the items placed in the capstone of the Salt Lake Temple
Salt Lake Temple
The Salt Lake Temple is the largest and best-known of more than 130 temples of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It is the sixth temple built by the church, requiring 40 years to complete, and the fourth operating temple built since the Mormon exodus from Nauvoo,...


External links

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