HomeEventsLinksDescendantsContact UsAbout This SiteName Index

Laura Clark Phelps
July 28, 1807 - February 2, 1841

by Morris Calvin Phelps

Biography of Laura Clark, typescript, LDS Archives
Source: Biography of Laura Clark, typescript, LDS Church Archives. Grammar has been standardized.
Biography of Laura Clark, typescript, LDS Archives, Pg. 1

[page 1] Life history of Laura Clark, daughter of Timothy Baldwin Clark and Polly Keeler, was born in Northampton,  Hampshire County, Massachusetts. Married Morris Charles Phelps 12 April 1825 (some records and stories state 28 March 1828.) They had five children--Paulina Eliza, Mary Ann, Harriet Wight, Joseph Morris, and Jacob Spencer, who died March 13, 1843, when still a baby.

She, in connection, with her husband, joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in August 1831, and was baptized in the Dupage River, Cook County, Illinois.

Morris met Laura when he traveled to visit his Keneipp relatives. In 1871 Morris said, “There never was a woman on earth that I thought more of, and that affection was never diminished.”

Their first baby was born in Laurence County, Illinois, in 1827. Morris and Laura then moved to Tazewell County, Illinois, and then Chicago and then to near the Dupage River. Laura’s father, Timothy Baldwin Clark, built the first frame residence in the little lake port that later became Chicago. In Tazewell County, Morris took up a farm and built a sawmill on Willow Creek. Mary Ann was born here on 6 August 1829.

Laura first heard of the Book of Mormon while Morris was away on business in Tazewell County, and she wrote him and he told Charles C. Rich and others. After joining the Church, they followed the call of the Church and removed to Jackson County, Missouri, in October 1831. They arrived in Independence, Missouri, on March 6, 1831, and on April 7, 1832, their third baby girl was born in Lyman Wight’s tent, so they named the baby Harriet Wight. She was the first Mormon girl born in Independence. Laura and Morris bought their inheritance on Little Prairie and settled down. John Murdock lost his wife after giving birth to twins. The Prophet and his wife took the twins, and Laura and Morris took his boy who was just older than Paulina and a great help to Laura.

Morris was ordained an elder by David Stanton in the summer of 1833.

In the fall of 1833, murderous mobs gathered and drove the Saints from their homes under severe persecution. Morris and Laura gathered what little they could and fled to Clay County in bitter weather. Morris rented a farm and several attempts were made to go back to Jackson County. During this time they became well acquainted with the Prophet and grew to love him even more. Then on September 20, 1834, Morris left his family and went on a mission with Apostle David Patten and others. Laura worked hard and, by teaching school and acting as a midwife, was able to support her family.

Morris built up two branches of the Church of Calhoun and Cook Counties, Illinois. He baptized Laura’s parents and many more of her large family and found her sister steadfast in their new faith. He and Charles C. Rich also labored together.

Biography of Laura Clark, typescript, LDS Archives, Pg. 2
[page 2] Since Morris was a carpenter, he was called to work on the temple at Kirtland. He was ordained a high priest on August 17, 1835, by William W. Phelps and John W. Whitman. After receiving the holy ordinances, Morris returned home and baptized his brother, Orrin, his daughter, Paulina, and his foster son, John Murdock.

He bought a farm just outside of Far West on June 2, 1837, but trouble was already brewing. One day the Prophet and his brother came running by their house and Laura hid them in her house behind the clothes curtain. When the mob rushed in and their leader said, “Where are they? We know they are here, we saw them come,” she answered calmly and with apparent unconcern, “No, gentlemen, they are not here, but you are welcome to look all you want to.” She tried to look unconcerned while the mob made a hasty search and left. Upon emerging from his hiding place, the Prophet said, “Sister Laura, there are black lies and white lies and that certainly was a white one that came from your lips.”

Then followed a series of incidents--the Battle of Crooked River, October 1838, occurred when the Mormons tried to defend themselves. The militia joined the mob and many Mormon leaders were taken prisoner. Among them were the Prophet, his brother, Parley P. Pratt, Morris C. Phelps, Timothy B. Clark and many others. Governor  Boggs issued an order to exterminate the Mormons and much destruction was done culminating in the terrible Haun’s Mill Massacre.

The mob came into the Morris Phelps yard and shot the animals, and when Harriet tried to protect her pet pig they were going to shoot her. Laura ran out and said, ‘Shoot all the animals you desire but leave my little girl alone.”

Major General Lucas surrounded several hundred and got what they thought were the leaders, and then he ordered Brigadier General Doniphan to take Joseph Smith and others out and shoot them. He refused and, as a result, Parley P. Pratt, Morris C. Phelps, and others were taken through Jackson County to Ray County and put in prison at Richmond.

The men were fastened with irons and subjected to very harsh treatment. One night while Morris lay next to the Prophet and [he] tried to sleep and could not because of the terrible goings on of their guards, their language being shocking and most abusive. All of a sudden the Prophet arose to his feet, and spoke in a voice of thunder, or as the roar of a lion, uttering as near as Morris could remember later the following words:

“Silence, ye fiends of the infernal pit, in the name of Jesus Christ I rebuke you, and command you to be still. I will not live another minute and hear such language. Cease such talk, or you or I will die this instant!" The guards quailed and begged his pardon and remained quiet the rest of the night.

After this Joseph and Hyrum and others were put in Liberty Jail while Parley P. Pratt, Morris Phelps, and others remained in Richmond Jail. There they remained suffering the untold hardships and deprivations in their dungeon for six months. Laura visited Morris in jail in the hopes they would release him, but she finally had to leave and go to Illinois as Governor Boggs had issued an order expelling [page 3] Laura from Missouri. She went to Quincy and then to Commerce, which later was called Nauvoo, and finally crossed the river to settle near her father seven miles west of Montrose in Iowa.

Biography of Laura Clark, typescript, LDS Archives, Pg. 3
On February 4, 1839, Laura received the following patriarchal blessing from Joseph Smith, Senior, at Far West, Missouri.

O God, the Eternal Father, I ask thee to smile upon thy handmaiden, for Thou hath seen all of her afflictions and have seen the integrity of her heart and notwithstanding the afflictions she has gone through, she holds her integrity and has not turned away from Thee. And therefore let her be guarded and protected from evil. And let her companion be returned to her bosom again, so that her heart will be comforted concerning him. I ask Thee to loose her companion from his enemies and also all those that are in prison and let the captured go free. And now I lay my hands upon thy head to bless thee; and I say unto thee, dismiss all of thy fears for thou art blessed. Yea, I bless thee with a father’s blessing which shall do thee good. Be faithful then and thou shalt have an inheritance in Zion, even in Jackson County. Thou shalt have thy companion again, for his work is not finished and I pray for him. I say unto thee thou must call upon God in faith, and if thou wilt thou shall have all of the desires of thine heart. He shall escape to the land of safety and there thou shalt have thy companion, for he shall be liberated from his enemies.

On February 27, 1839, Laura’s mother died, so it was with heavy hearts that the family settled in their new home. Laura’s home had been used to stable horses, but they gave it a thorough cleaning, whitewashed it, and it did make a shelter for them. They had arrived there on June 4, 1839, and Laura and her brother wrote a letter to their family in Chicago telling them of the happenings.

It is here that she tells of being in court on the 22 April [1839] when Morris was brought before it. They had one witness, Walter, who stated that Morris had gone halfway to the battle (Crooked River). If Morris would denounce the Mormon Bible, they would have let him go. Laura states, “I left our home on the 26th (in Far West). I drove my wagon all the way; turned over once with my children under the load, but hurt them but little--I can safely say this day, I am not sorry I ever joined this Church, for I recollect this company that John saw come up through great tribulation. We have to be tried like gold seven times tried. I will write as soon as get back from Columbia. Write as soon as you can.” Laury Phelps.

Laura got a letter from Morris comparing her to his star, and she had a great desire to go to him and be there at his trial. It was a trip from 150 to 160 miles through hostile Missouri. She rode her good mare, Dove, and her younger brother, John, accompanied her. The journey is fully accounted in the book “Sweet Love Remembered.” They  completed the journey and found Morris and Parley Pratt both sick and near despair after eight long months of confinement. Morris welcomed Laura and John, and Parley’s brother, Orson, had also come to be at the trial. Since no one appeared [page 4] against them, their case was continued again, and they were returned to jail. The jailer and his wife bragged that they had had several prisoners who died of old age because their cases were continued indefinitely without a hearing to keep them in prison.

Biography of Laura Clark, typescript, LDS Archives, Pg. 4
“Previous to their arrival,” Parley P. Pratt said, “the Lord had shown me a vision of the night, the manner, and means of escape... Mrs. Phelps had the same thing shown to her previous to her arrival...”

Orson and John pretended to start for home and took Laura’s horse with them. They explained to the jailer that she wished to stay with her husband a little longer, but actually they were taking the horse for Brother Follet. John gave his sister strict orders not to touch the prisoners and not to assist in any way. The prisoners had to go through the kitchen to get out. The time for escape had been set for when the jailer brought their evening meal. Mr. Follet seized the door when the jailer opened it and Parley and Morris got through and reached the bottom of the stairs to the kitchen. Mr. Follet and Parley reached the open air, but Morris was held by the jailer and his wife who cried so loudly the town was alarmed. Laura thought she was praying silently, but Morris said she shouted, “Oh Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, deliver they servant!” He said he felt as strong as a giant when he heard those words and was able to just push the jailer and his wife off as if they were babies and thus cleared himself.

When he got to his horse, the enemy had retaken Brother Follet. Morris was so exhausted that John had to help him onto his horse. They all separated and went the way alone.

Orson and John finally arrived in Quincy after making the entire journey on foot. Parley made his escape at first on foot, and then by his horse, and then by foot again with no food and was in a greatly weakened condition, but finally reached his family and safety.

Morris had proceeded but a few miles on his way when he was suddenly surrounded by horsemen who were in pursuit of him. He had lost his hat and was in a very sad looking shape. They immediately hailed him and cried out, “Say, stranger, God damn you. What is your name?” He replied in the same rough and careless manner, “You damn rascals, what is yours?” On finding he could damn as well as themselves, they concluded he could not be a Mormon, while his bald and fearless manner convinced them that he was not a man who was fleeing for his life. He conversed with them and thus found out that Brother Follet had been recaptured, but that the pursuers were more interested in Parley and himself.

Morris went his own way and traveled all night. In the morning he stopped at a farmhouse and begged a straw hat, for it would not do to be seen traveling without a hat. He told this tale: “For I got such a power of drink last evening at the big doings that I couldn’t ride straight, and tumbled off my horse once or twice and finally lost my hat.” They readily believed his tale and furnished him a hat.

Morris was a very athletic person, but was very weakened from chills and fever and the long confinement and had to travel without food so that when he finally [page 5] reached Quincy, friends cared for him as he lay sick in bed. Morris’s big worry all this time though had been Laura, because no one knew how she fared.

Biography of Laura Clark, typescript, LDS Archives, Pg. 5
When the prisoners had cleared away, the jailer and his wife began to curse and rail at Laura and threaten her with instant death, and finally turned her out of doors in the dusk of the evening to face the mob that had gathered. The mob was quite abusive, and then when another crowd approached and they proved to have recaptured one of the prisoners, the abuse grew in volume. The prisoner turned out to be Mr. Follet on Laura’s horse and side saddle.

The mob threatened to burn him alive, but finally he was thrust into the lower dungeon until things quieted down. He was released after a few months as he was elderly and not one of the Church leaders.

In the meantime the mob was very abusive of Laura. During this time a little boy had seen all that was going on and ran home to tell his mother. He told her about Laura and her plight and the good woman had the boy get his father and then the three went down to the courthouse yard, and when Mr. Richardson saw Laura, he said to his wife, “Elizabeth, you take this lady to our home. If her husband was the greatest murderer in the world, we could not see anyone in our town treated with such cruelty as this.” Laura told them they were true friends and went with them and stayed with them for ten days.

Mr. Richardson was able to recover her saddle and, as he was a saddler, was able to fix it up better than new. He also was able to recover her horse which had been taken to chase the prisoners. The poor animal was more dead than alive, but it was soon in good shape again after good care.

Laura told these people about her religion and gave them a Book of Mormon and sang them some hymns.

After 10 days of not hearing about her husband, Laura could stand it no longer and started off for home. Mr. Richardson arranged for her to travel with the mail boy. They left in the afternoon and travelled thirty miles before night and then got up at daylight and travelled thirty more miles before breakfast. She then left the mail boy and rode by herself and soon struck the Mississippi River and traveled another fifty miles and was starting into woods that were very thick... For the first time her courage failed her; she had such a lonesome, dismal feeling come over her, and there was six miles to travel before she could reach a hotel, and she knew not what would accost her... She looked into the woods and saw a man coming on horseback. As he approached they looked at each other and he said, “1 wonder if you are not the woman I am looking for?” She said, “I believe you are the man I am looking for,” for he was Mr. Follet’s son and had a note from Morris saying he was all right. They arrived safely at the hotel and the next day they got to Quincy where Morris was.

The sisters took her in the bedroom before he knew she had come. Imagine their thankfulness and joy. Although she was very weary, she was the best medicine he could have and in two days time they were able to travel the seven miles west of Montrose, Iowa, to be reunited with their children.

Biography of Laura Clark, typescript, LDS Archives, Pg. 6
[page 6] As there was some danger that an attempt might be made to recapture the escaped prisoners, it was decided they should leave the area for a while and, accordingly, they were called on missions. Parley P. Pratt and his family left in August and Morris and Laura with little Joseph left in August to visit Morris’ folks at Kirtland, Ohio. It was arranged that Paulina would stay at Mr. Foote’s place. John Murdock, Senior, would take Mary Ann and Harriet. Morris’s health was broken and he needed the time to recuperate.

They arrived in Kirtland in October and were received by Morris’ family. Morris said, “I have preached to all of my family faithfully, according to the best of my knowledge, and I never heard a railing accusation from one of them. They never joined any church, but rather believed in a universal salvation for all man. The family always maintained a moral, good character. My mother said to me, “I do believe the gospel you preach, but I have not the fortitude and moral courage to endure the persecution that will come upon me if I am baptized.”

After preaching to their relatives and visiting all around, they bade them goodbye in the month of May and started homewards. They stopped with the William and Sally Coles, Laura’s oldest sister in Ripley, Pulaski County, Indiana. Here little Jacob Spencer Phelps was born June 8, 1840. They reached Nauvoo in July.
The family was reunited with much rejoicing and they moved to Macedonia, which was about twenty miles east of Nauvoo, and Morris began to build a fine home. Mary Ann said, “The privilege of common, peaceful living was enjoyed to the utmost.”

Laura saw a vision in the latter part of 1841 when all was peaceful and friendly. She saw the Saints being driven from Nauvoo. She beheld many killed in battle and by the mob, and the entire expulsion of the Saints from Nauvoo. She saw them traveling in great bodies and there was great suffering, and the way was blotted out and she could not see where they were going.

Because of their tragic experiences, Laura had worked and traveled day and night in all kinds of weather as an efficient midwife and practical doctor in order to get necessities for them. This overexertion and exposure had taken a terrible toll on her. Severe sickness came--likely pneumonia, and she died February 2, 1841, only 34 years, 8 months of age. Their “heaven on earth” had suddenly ended.

The family took her to Nauvoo to be buried in the old graveyard southwest [?southeast] of the city. Their dear Prophet Joseph Smith and their kind friend, Heber C. Kimball, preached her funeral sermons. Joseph in comforting words told of her life that had been short in years, but full of noble accomplishments. He said her exaltation was assured. Heber C. Kimball wrote her obituary in the “Times and Seasons” in March 1, 1842, and Church history tells that Joseph Smith entered her passing in his diary.

Death of Laura Phelps.
 History of the Church Volume 4, p. 513
  Wednesday, 2.—Sister Laura Phelps, wife of Morris Phelps, died, aged 36 years. She was driven from Jackson county in 1833, was in the persecution of Missouri, in 1838, and went from Iowa to Missouri to assist in liberating her husband, and was left in the prison yard when he made his escape, willing to suffer all the abuses a savage horde could inflict upon her to set her companion free from the grasp of his murderous enemies. Her rest is glorious.

I spent the day in council with Dr. Isaac Galland and Calvin A. Warren, Esq.


For the Times and Seasons.

It is with deep regret that we announce the death of our highly esteemed and worthy sister, LAURA PHELPS, consort of Morris Phelps, who departed this life Feb. 2d, in the 36th year of her age. She was warned of her approaching dissolution, and desired her companion to have her remains conveyed to Nauvoo, and there be interred with her old tried friends, who, with her, had passed through many trials, and afflictions, and had their days shortened by the unparalleled cruelties which had been heaped upon them. She was one of the first who embraced the gospel, consequently suffered much persecution from her friends; but by leaving them, and also her father's family, to be gathered with the Saints, she manifested to the world that no sacrifice was too great for her to make for the cause which she had espoused. She was one of the number driven from Jackson county, in 1833, at which time she suffered many privations, but her mind was calm and unruffled, for she had a firm reliance on Him whose arm is able to save all who put their trust in Him. During our persecutions in Mo. in '39, she endeared herself to many of her friends by her acts of kindness, and in many instances her conduct was truly heroic. When my life was sought at Richmond, and my brethren in prison had great anxiety on my account, she interceded with my pursuers, who were nearly thirty in number, and actually convinced them that I was another person, altogether, and the pursuit was stopped. She, afterwards, in company with her brother, left her home in Iowa Territory, together with her tender offspring, and traveled a distance of nearly two hundred miles on horseback, to assist in the deliverance of her companion, or devise means whereby he and his brethren might make their escape from Prison; which thing was effected, and she left among a savage horde to suffer such abuses as they saw fit to inflict upon her, but through the goodness of God she was delivered from their hands and returned in peace to the bosom of her family and friends. Much might be said of the character of our deceased friend, but our paper will not permit us to be lengthy in our eulogies on the dead. We have penned the above acts to be handed down to future generations as a memorial of her, for her faith, her patience, and her integrity to her friends and her religion.