Gilbert Belnap

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Gilbert Belnap was a Mormon pioneer and early colonizer in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He was with Joseph Smith at the time that Joseph, Hyrum and others were charged with “riot” after the destruction of the Nauvoo Expositor press. He, like many others, acted as a bodyguard for the Prophet. On one occasion, Joseph asked him to attend a meeting of anti-Mormons held on June 17, 1844 in Carthage, Illinois. “Before going, Gilbert was promised by Joseph Smith that not one hair of his head would fall to the ground. In Carthage, Gilbert, upon hearing a Missourian boast about murdering Mormons, chastised the man, whereupon the Missourian thrust a hunting knife at Gilbert’s bowels. The knife penetrated all of Gilbert’s layers of clothing but did not injure him. The Missourian miraculously fell unconscious. Others called for Gilbert’s life, but eventually Gilbert was invited to sit in council with delegates from other parts of the country where he learned of plans from the gathering mob in Carthage to attack Nauvoo and kill Joseph Smith.”[1] After the meeting, Gilbert hurried back to Nauvoo at close pursuit. Gilbert pushed his horse so hard that it collapsed broad-side in the mud just as he arrived in Nauvoo. Muddied, Gilbert rushed to the Prophet and reported on what he had learned. The following day, Gilbert and Cyrus Canfield signed an affidavit regarding the threats they had heard made against Joseph Smith in Carthage. (See History of the Church, 6:502-3.) [2]

According to the Belnap family biography of Gilbert Belnap, “Some time after Governor Ford left Nauvoo, Gilbert and Orrin Porter Rockwell headed back to Carthage on horseback as scouts, concerned about the safety of Joseph Smith. On the road to Carthage they met Brother Grant as he was coming to relay to Nauvoo, now for the second time, the news of the martyrdom. Chasing Grant was a mob, firing to stop him. Gilbert and Porter Rockwell dismounted and took cover and waited for Brother Grant to pass before shooting back. The first man chasing Grant fell and the mob retreated. Gilbert and Porter Rockwell were apparently the first Latter-day Saints who had not been in Carthage at the time of the martyrdom to hear the tragic news.”[3]

Belnap was born on December 22, 1821, in Port Hope, Ontario, Upper Canada. His father died just before Gilbert’s eleventh birthday, and his mother died three months later.

Orphaned and with little education, Gilbert had been previously bound, pursuant to an apprenticeship indenture entered into on 13 January 1832, as an apprentice to William C. Moore for 9 years 240 days, to learn the trade of wheelwright and wagon maker. In 1834, Mr. Moore, who was deeply in debt, left Canada, taking Gilbert with him, first to Wilson, Niagara, New York. After a brief period of prosperity, Mr. Moore, on account of alcohol, had soon reduced his family again to poverty. During this time, Gilbert was subjected to frequent abuse.
Learning from a justice of the peace, who asked Gilbert why he remained with such a drunken tyrant, that he was no longer bound to Mr. Moore outside of Canada, Gilbert determined to return home. He left New York for Canada in search of his brothers and living sister.
Upon his return home, Gilbert learned that his oldest brother, Jesse, pursuant to the hereditary laws in effect in Canada at that time, had meanwhile taken possession of the family’s home and squandered away the family’s wealth. As a result, the younger children had been forced to seek residence with strangers. Incensed at this injustice committed by his brother, Gilbert, still a young teenager, determined to make his own way in the world.
With his youngest brother Thomas (who was at that time about five years old) by his side, Gilbert struck out. After walking for three days and only thirty miles from home, they took up residence with a Christian preacher by the name of Stone, from whom Gilbert earned $5.00 per month, part of which went towards the board and education of Thomas. Thomas was later placed with a Quaker family by the name of Sing, while Gilbert remained with Mr. Stone until 1837.[4]

Attaching himself to an American company of light horse rangers as first sergeant, he was taken as prison-of-war in the Upper Canada Rebellion. He was held for ten months. Following his release, he obtained employment where he could find it and eventually made his way to Newbedford, Ohio, where he began working for a mechanic named Abner Cleveland. After overhearing a conversation Cleveland had about a Mormon temple in Kirtland, Belnap went to Kirtland, an seeing the temple, he decided to stay and worked chopping wood on a farm owned by a man named Mr. Crary for eight months. In Kirtland he was converted, but left for a time to reacquaint himself with his father’s family in the east. When he returned to Kirtland, he continued to work for Mr. Crary.

During the winter of 1841, a serious accident fractured Gilbert’s skull in three places and dislocated his right shoulder and left ankle. He was confined to his bed from December 23, 1841, until April 13, 1842, during which time he was treated by an Latter-day Saint family by the name of Dixon. On April 12, 1842, Gilbert covenanted before God and a witness named Jeremiah Knight that if God would raise him up from his bed he would follow the restored Gospel. Within the space of eight hours Gilbert was miraculously healed. He was baptized in Kirtland on September 11, 1842. He then served a mission to New York State.

After the Prophet’s death, Belnap married Adaline Knight and the family left for Utah in 1850. After arriving in the Salt Lake Valley, Belnap was sent to settle Fort Buenaventura in Weber County, Utah. In 1852, he entered into a plural marriage with Henrietta McBride. He eventually had seventeen children.

In 1855, Gilbert Belnap was called to serve in the Fort Lemhi Mission near Salmon, Idaho. After serving as part of the Utah militia during the Utah War, his family moved to Utah County, Utah. In 1868 he moved his family to Weber County where he helped establish the community of Hooper.

Belnap served as the first marshal and the first prosecuting attorney of Ogden City, as well as the first sexton of the Ogden City Cemetery. He served the community in a variety of other positions.

He served a family history mission on October 6, 1874. He was also rebaptized on June 25, 1876, as many Saints did as a sign of devotion to God, or, especially beginning this year, to signify membership in the United Order.[5]

Belnap passed away at his home in Hooper in the afternoon of February 26, 1899, at the age of 77 years after an illness of about a year from which he had partially recovered but then relapsed.