B.H. Roberts

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B. H. Roberts, Mormon scholar

Brigham Henry Roberts (March 13, 1857 – September 27, 1933) was one of the seven presidents of the Seventy for many years. He was denied a seat as a member of United States Congress because he valued the covenants he made in the temple more than the desires of society.

Early life

Brother Roberts was born in Warrington, Lancashire, England, the son of Benjamin Roberts, an alcoholic blacksmith and ship plater, and Ann Everington, a seamstress. In the year of his birth, both parents converted to [https://comeuntochrist.org The Church of Jesus Christ. Benjamin Roberts then abandoned his family. Roberts later wrote, "My childhood was a nightmare; my boyhood a tragedy."[1]

Assisted by the Perpetual Emigration Fund, B. H. Roberts and a sister left England in April 1866. In Nebraska they joined a wagon train and proceeded to walk—for much of the way barefoot—to Salt Lake City, where they were met by their mother, who had preceded them.[2] In 1867, Roberts was baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ by Seth Dustin, who two years later became his stepfather. Dustin eventually deserted his family, and "after several reappearances, he finally disappeared completely."[3] Ann Dustin was granted a divorce in 1884.

Roberts became a miner and participated in the gambling and drinking typical of that time and place. (He was once disciplined by a Salt Lake bishop, and alcohol "would not only beat him to his knees but to his elbows and chin.")[4] But Roberts eventually learned to read and, after a series of menial jobs, was apprenticed to a blacksmith while attending school. He then became a "voracious reader, devouring books of history, science, philosophy," and especially the Book of Mormon and other Latter-day Saint religious texts. In 1878 Roberts married Sarah Louisa Smith (they eventually had seven children), and in the same year he graduated first in his class from University of Deseret, the normal school precursor of the University of Utah.[5]

Church service

After graduation (and the birth of his first child) Roberts was ordained a Seventy in his local church branch and taught school to support his family. The Church of Jesus Christ sent him on a mission to Iowa and Nebraska, "but because the cold weather was hard on his health, he was transferred to Tennessee in December of 1880." There he rose to prominence as the president of the Tennessee Conference of the Southern States Mission.[3]

On August 10, 1884, a mob in the small community of Cane Creek murdered two Latter-day Saint missionaries and two members of the Latter-day Saint congregation. (One of the latter had killed a member of the mob before he was in turn slain.[6]) At some personal risk, Roberts disguised himself as a tramp and recovered the bodies of the two missionaries for their families in Utah Territory.[3][7]

During a brief return to Utah, he yielded obedience to the commandments of the Lord at the time and took a second wife, Celia Dibble, by whom he had eight children. In December 1886, while serving as associate editor of the Salt Lake Herald, Brother Roberts left on a mission to England.[3]

In England, Roberts served as assistant editor of the Church publication the Millennial Star and completed his first book, the much reprinted, The Gospel: An Exposition of Its First Principles (1888). Later that year he was ordained to the First Council of the Seventy.[3]

Returning to Salt Lake City in 1888, as full-time editor of The Contributor, he was chosen as one of the seven presidents of the First Council of the Seventy, the third highest governing body in the Church of Jesus Christ. "Tiring of evading federal authorities," Roberts surrendered in April 1889 and pled guilty to the charge of unlawful cohabitation. He was imprisoned in the Utah Territorial Prison for five months. Following his release, he moved his families to Colorado and married a third wife, Dr. Margaret Curtis Shipp (his third marriage was childless), either shortly before or shortly after Wilford Woodruff, president of the Church of Jesus Christ, issued the 1890 Manifesto that abolished plural marriage.[3][8] (Robert's third wife was seven years his senior and had obtained a degree in obstetrics.)

Political and Military Career

In 1895, Roberts was the losing candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives. In 1898 Roberts was elected as to Congress, but the House of Representatives refused to seat him because he continued to live by the covenants he had made in the temple.

The governor of Utah had appointed Roberts a chaplain in the Utah National Guard; and in 1917, when the United States declared war on Germany, Roberts volunteered to serve as a U. S. Army chaplain. The age limit of forty was waived—Roberts was then sixty—and Roberts became chaplain to the 145th Field Artillery, which arrived in France in September 1918 but did not see action before the Armistice was signed in November. [3]

Career as a writer

Before his death, Roberts completed two biographies, eight historical narratives and compilations, and another dozen books about Latter-day Saint theology.[9] In the late 1890s, he also helped establish the Improvement Era and became the de facto editor of this official periodical of the Church of Jesus Christ.[10] His six-volume History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: Period I, History of Joseph Smith, the Prophet by Himself featured "critical notes, new documents, sidebar headings for most paragraphs, and extensive interpretive essays that introduced each volume.

Roberts' most important work was a comprehensive treatment of Latter-day Saint history, which he began in 1909 as a series of monthly articles for a non–Latter-day Saint magazine. Roberts repeatedly asked Church leaders to republish the articles as a multivolume set. In 1930 the Church agreed to publication as part of its centennial celebration. The six-volume Comprehensive History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: Century I (3,459 pages) covered for the first time many late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century developments. Further, although its viewpoint was "unabashedly Mormon," Roberts "disdained ... faith promoting myths".[11]

Roberts and the Book of Mormon

Roberts asserted that the authenticity of the Restoration must “stand or fall” on the truth of Joseph Smith’s claim that the Book of Mormon was the history of an ancient people inscribed on a cache of gold plates. Roberts continued to affirm his faith in the divine origins of the Book of Mormon until his death in 1933.

Later years

From 1922 to 1927, Roberts was appointed president of the Eastern States Mission, and there he created an innovative "mission school" to teach Latter-day Saint missionaries the most effective ways to proselytize.[12] In 1923 Roberts, suffering from diabetes, collapsed at a conference "commemorating the Centennial anniversary of the revealed existence of the Book of Mormon." He was treated with the relatively new drug insulin. A year after the death of his third wife, his companion in New York, Roberts returned to Utah where he became president of the First Council of Seventy.[3] Roberts died on 27 September 1933 from complications of diabetes.[3][13] He was survived by thirteen children and by his second wife.</ref>.

To Leonard J. Arrington, Roberts was "the intellectual leader of the Mormon people in the era of Mormonism's finest intellectual attainment."[14]


  1. Quoted in Truman G. Madsen, Defender of the Faith: The B. H. Roberts Story (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1980),1.
  2. John W. Welch, "Roberts, Brigham Henry," American National Biography Online, February 2000.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 3.7 3.8 Roberts Papers bio.
  4. Truman G. Madsen, Defender of the Faith: The B. H. Roberts Story (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1980), 70.
  5. John W. Welch, "Roberts, Brigham Henry," American National Biography Online, February 2000; Leonard J. Arrington & Davis Bitton, The Mormon Experience: A History of the Latter-day Saints, 2nd. ed. (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1992), 257.
  6. The Mormon Massacre
  7. New York Times, August 20, 1884.
  8. John W. Welch, "Roberts, Brigham Henry," American National Biography Online, February 2000.
  9. Ronald W. Walker, David J. Whittaker, and James B. Allen, Mormon History (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2001), 34.
  10. Walker, et al., 32.
  11. Walker, et al., Mormon History, 36.
  12. Roberts also served for many years as a leader of the Church's Young Men's Mutual Improvement Association.
  13. State of Utah Death Certificate
  14. Leonard J. Arrington, "The Intellectual Tradition of the Latter-day Saints," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 4 (Spring 1969), 22.


External links