Mary Elizabeth Rollins Lightner

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The story of Mary Elizabeth Rollins Lightner saving pages from of Joseph Smith’s revelations is well-known in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints:

Even though it was a hot July day, Mary Elizabeth Rollins and her sister Caroline lay shivering on top of several large pieces of paper. The thick rows of 150- to 180-centimeters-high corn hid the two girls from the angry men who were hunting for them. The girls held their breath, praying for the men to stop their search and leave the cornfield.
It was 1833, and there was a lot of unrest in Independence, Missouri. More and more converts had settled in the area, and nonmember neighbors wanted the Saints to leave Jackson County, Missouri. Instead, the little community was growing. There was even a printing press in Brother William Phelps’s house, and the whole town knew that he was printing revelations received by the Prophet Joseph Smith and preparing them for publication.
It was some of those same revelations that the girls were lying on. A mob of angry men had become outraged at an editorial written by Brother Phelps that was printed in the Church newspaper. Fifteen-year-old Mary Elizabeth and thirteen-year-old Caroline had watched as the men broke into the Phelps’s home and threw the printing press and the printed revelations from the second-story window to the ground below. When Mary Elizabeth saw the papers hit the street, she knew what had to be done. She knew that those revelations and commandments came from the Lord and that it was important that the Saints have copies of them.
Even though they were frightened, both girls ran and gathered up as many of the large papers as they could carry. When members of the mob spotted them from the window and yelled at them to stop, the girls ran to the nearby cornfield, lay down on the sheets of paper, and prayed for protection.
It seemed like hours before the men grew tired of looking for the girls, but finally they left. Mary Elizabeth and Caroline waited longer before gathering up the sacred papers and creeping out of their hiding place.
The revelations were returned to Brother Phelps. Shortly afterward, those salvaged pages were combined with other pages that had been saved, and a tiny book called the Book of Commandments was printed. Two years later those same commandments and revelations were combined with additional revelations from the Lord and printed in a new book. Whenever they read the Doctrine and Covenants, Mary Elizabeth and Caroline remembered the part that they played in the coming forth of this sacred book of scripture.[1]

Mary Elizabeth Rollins Lightner was born on April 9, 1818, in Lima, New York. Her father, John Porter Lightner, died in a shipwreck on the Great Lakes when she was two. Mary’s mother, Keziah, took her three children and moved to Kirtland, Ohio, where they lived with her sister and her brother in law. It was in Kirtland where missionaries taught them the gospel and Mary and her mother were baptized; Mary was twelve years old. Within a year they moved to Jackson County, Missouri.

When the Saints left Jackson County, Mary temporarily settled in Liberty, where she met and married Adam Lightner on August 11, 1835. Although Adam never joined the Church, he always supported Mary and the members of the Church. When they moved to Far West, they established a store in town. State officials wanted Adam to be a witness against Joseph Smith, so Mary and Adam fled to Kentucky. When they heard the Saints had settled in Nauvoo, Illinois, they joined them, first in nearby Iowa and eventually in Nauvoo. While in Nauvoo, Joseph Smith introduced Mary to the practice of plural marriage. Mary was sealed to Joseph but continued to live with Adam as his wife.

When the Saints moved on to Utah in 1847, Mary and Adam spent the next sixteen years in Minnesota and Wisconsin, encountering severe health problems, some that took four of their ten children, and relentless financial setbacks. In May 1863, they immigrated to Utah and settled with Mary’s mother in Minersville, Utah. Mary was the first Relief Society president there.

Adam died in 1885 and Mary died on December 17, 1913.

External Sources

Autobiography of Mary E. Lightner

Biographical Sketch of Mary Elizabeth Rollins Lightner by Richard E. Turley Jr.

Caroline and Mary Elizabeth Rollins by Kellene Ricks