Newel K. Whitney

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Mormon Newel K. Whitney Store
The "White Store" owned by Newel K. Whitney in Kirtland © Intellectual Reserve

Newel Kimball Whitney was born on February 5, 1795 in Marlborough, Vermont, to Samuel Whitney and Susanna Kimball. Whitney insisted that both of his family names be used throughout his life. When Whitney was 19 years old, America was at war with Britain. Whitney became an army sutler, providing food, military supplies, and other needs to the soldiers. The British targeted sutlers to cut the American armies off from supplies. In a report, Whitney was honored because he bravely took part in a battle by helping to get needed supplies to the troops. Despite having lost his wagon and supplies, Whitney survived the onslaught himself. After the war, Whitney went to Monroe, Michigan, where he met Algernon Sidney Gilbert. They later became business partners and friends.

While on business to New York, Whitney met Elizabeth Ann Smith, whom everyone called Ann. Ann described their meeting,

“In his travels to and from New York he passed through the country where we resided, and ‘we met by chance,’ became attached to each other, and my aunt granting her full approval, we were married after a courtship of reasonable length” (BYU Studies, v. 42, Number 1, 2003).

While courting Ann, Whitney decided to move to Ohio to be closer to her, and his friend Sidney Gilbert followed. Whitney and Gilbert built and ran a store together, but after a series of unfortunate events, the store was lost to creditors. In 1821, Whitney moved to Kirtland to be even closer to Ann. During this time Whitney set up his first store in Kirtland. Ann said this of his business dealings:

“He accumulated property faster than most of his companions and associates. Indeed, he became proverbial as being lucky in all his undertakings” (Ibid.).

In 1822, Whitney purchased land to build what was later called the “Red Store.” It was a small store, but in a good location where it received heavy traffic. Business continued to grow, and Ann and Whitney were married in 1823. They built a home just behind the store.

When the Erie Canal was completed, business increased for Whitney, and he was able to build another store that they called the “White Store.” Sidney Gilbert joined him in this venture, and N.K. Whitney and Company began. During this time, Newel and Ann were drawn to a religious movement that believed in the restoration of Christ’s Church as explained in the Bible. In 1829, Ann recorded an experience:

It was midnight—as my husband and I, in our house at Kirtland, were praying to the Father to be shown the way, the Spirit rested upon us and a cloud overshadowed the house. … The house passed away from our vision. We were not conscious of anything but the presence of the Spirit and the cloud that was over us. … A solemn awe pervaded us. We saw the cloud and felt the Spirit of the Lord. Then we heard a voice out of the cloud, saying, ‘Prepare to receive the word of the Lord, for it is coming.’ At this we marveled greatly, but from that moment we knew that the word of the Lord was coming to Kirtland (Ibid.).
Newel K. Whitney, past Mormon leader

A short time after this experience, Ann heard Mormon missionaries were in the area. She recorded,

“When I heard that these Elders were preaching without money, or remuneration of any kind, … and that they were opposed to all priestcraft [preaching for money], I felt an earnest desire to hear their principles proclaimed, and to judge for myself” (Ibid.).

Ann believed the missionaries and shared what they had taught her with Newel. They were baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in November of 1830. Sidney Gilbert and some of his family also joined the Church.

In 1831, Joseph Smith and his wife Emma Hale Smith Emma came to Kirtland. Ann recorded,

Joseph Smith, with his wife, Emma, … drove up in front of my husband’s store; Joseph jumped out and went in; he reached his hand across the counter to my husband, and called him by name. My husband, not thinking it was any one in whom he was interested, spoke, saying: ‘I could not call you by name as you have me.’ He answered, ‘I am Joseph the Prophet; you have prayed me here, now what do you want of me?’ My husband brought them directly to our own house; we were more than glad to welcome them and share with them all the comforts and blessings we enjoyed.

The Smiths stayed with the Whitneys for many weeks. In December of 1831, Newel received the call to be the bishop in Kirtland. The “White Store” owned by Newel became the headquarters for the Church in 1832. Joseph and Emma lived above the store, and the School of Prophets met there. Other Church business was conducted there, as well. In 1832, Newel was called to serve as a manager of the Church’s financial operations. Much of the Whitney family’s resources were donated to the building of the Kirtland Temple.

In 1838, as tensions were rising between members and their neighbors in Kirtland, the Whitney family moved to Far West, Missouri. Here Whitney was called to serve as the bishop of the stake in Adam-ondi-Ahman. But the Saints in the area were violently persecuted and driven to Illinois.

Newell K. Whitney was always a faithful friend to the Prophet and a stalwart member of The Church. Following the death of Joseph Smith, Newell and his family went with the rest of the Saints west to Utah (in 1848).

In Utah Whitney was called as the Presiding Bishop of the Church. He was honored as being a major financial strength to the Church during its difficult early years. Newell passed away quite suddenly on September 23, 1850, after complaining of a severe pain in his side a few days previous. He was 55. His obituary read, “Thus, in full strength, and mature years, has one of the oldest and most exemplary and useful members of the Church fallen suddenly; leaving a large family to mourn the loss of an affectionate husband, and a kind and generous father" (Deseret News, 23 September 1850).