Thomas B. Marsh

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Mormon Thomas B Marsh
Thomas Baldwin Marsh (November 1, 1799–January 1866) was an original member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. He served as president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles from 1835 to 1839. He was excommunicated from the church March 17, 1839, and remained disaffected for much of his life. Marsh rejoined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in July 16, 1857, but never again served in church leadership positions.

Early life

Marsh was born in the town of Acton, Massachusetts, in Middlesex County, Massachusetts on November 1, 1799. His father was James Marsh. His mother was Mary Law. He spent his early life farming in Westmoreland, New Hampshire.

As a young man, Marsh developed a pattern of traveling and working for various employers. Marsh ran away at age fourteen to Chester, Vermont, and worked as a farmer for three months. Then he left for Albany, New York, working as a waiter for eighteen months. He spent two years working at the New York City Hotel in New York City, New York, then returned to Albany for a year, and then went back to the hotel for two more years. He spent eighteen months working as a groom for Edward Griswold in Long Island, New York.

At age twenty-one, he married Elizabeth Godkin on November 1, 1820, while employed for Griswold. After his marriage, he attempted unsuccessfully to run a grocery business for eighteen months. After that, he spent seven years working at a type foundry in Boston, Massachusetts.

During his work at the type foundry, he joined the Methodist Church. However, dissatisfied because Methodism did not correspond to the Bible in his mind, he left and joined a group of friends in what others called a Quietist sect.

Conversion and Baptism

Marsh left his home in Boston and journeyed west, traveling with a Benjamin Hall. In his words, "I believed the Spirit of God dictated me to make a journey west." He stayed at Lima, in Livingston County, New York, for three months before returning home. On the way home, he stopped at Lyonstown, where a woman informed him of the Golden Plates which Joseph Smith had obtained. She directed him to Palmyra, New York, and told him to seek out Martin Harris.

Marsh traveled to Palmyra and discovered Martin Harris at the printing office, working on the printing of the Book of Mormon. He was able to obtain the first sixteen pages as a printer's proof. He met Oliver Cowdery at this time as well.

Returning to his home, he showed the sixteen pages to his wife. They both were pleased and corresponded with Oliver Cowdery and Joseph Smith. After the church was organized on April 6, 1830, he moved with his family to Palmyra to join them that September.

Shortly after his arrival, Marsh was baptized by David Whitmer in Cayuga Lake, and a few months later ordained an elder by Oliver Cowdery. From September 26 to September 28, 1830, Joseph Smith received Doctrine and Covenants section 31 directed to Marsh. In this section, he was called as the church physician.

Marsh moved with the Church to Kirtland, Ohio, in the spring of 1831. He was ordained a high priest and received a call to proselyte to Missouri with Ezra Thayer (see Doctrine and Covenants 52:22). Thayer delayed for a long time, and so Marsh went to Joseph Smith, who appointed Selah J. Griffin in Thayer's stead. (See Doctrine and Covenants 56:5.)


Joseph Smith organized the first Quorum of the Twelve Apostles on the 14th and 15th of February 1835. Smith arranged the members by age. As there was confusion over David W. Patten's birth date, Thomas B. Marsh was identified as the eldest of the Quorum and so designated quorum president. According to Marsh's autobiographical sketch, published in 1864:

In January, 1835, in company with Bishop Partridge and agreeable to revelation, I proceeded to Kirtland, where we arrived early in the spring, when I learned I had been chosen one of the Twelve Apostles.
May 4th, 1835, in company with the Twelve I left Kirtland and preached through the eastern states, holding conferences, regulating and organizing the churches, and returned September 25.
In the winter of 1835–36, I attended school, studied the first English grammar under Sidney Rigdon, and Hebrew under Professor Seixas (a Hebrew by birth).

After these activities with the Twelve Apostles, Marsh returned to Fishing River, Clay County, Missouri, in April 1836. Severe difficulties between members of the Church of Jesus Christ and the larger community continued to plague the Latter-day Saints in Missouri. Marsh was chosen as a delegate from his community to try to resolve these issues. Despite the efforts of Church members, their Missouri neighbors decided that the Saints must leave Clay County.

Marsh traveled to Latter-day Saint congregations in other states, including Tennessee and Kentucky, gathering loans at an interest of 10 percent to help the Clay County Saints obtain new property. The diary of Apostle Wilford Woodruff contains an account of part of that journey:

Aug. 20th.—Elder David Patten preached at the house of Randolph Alexander, and after meeting baptized him and his wife. Brother T. B. Marsh arrived in Tennessee on his mission to collect means, and attend a Conference with the brethren laboring in Tennessee and Kentucky, which was held on Damon's Creek, Callaway County, Kentucky, Sept. 2nd 1836. T. B. Marsh presided. Seven Branches were represented containing 133 members. . . .
Sept. 19th.—Elders T. B. Marsh, D.W. Patten, E. H. Groves and Sister Patten left the Saints in Kentucky and Tennessee and started for Far West, Missouri, where they arrived in peace and safety." (Woodruff, Wilford - Diary, August 20th, and Sept. 19, 1836)

In September of 1836, he returned to Missouri and joined the Saints in their new location, a city called Far West in Caldwell County, Missouri. The town had been founded by the presidency of the Missouri Stake, consisting of David Whitmer, William W. Phelps and John Whitmer. These men were authorized to purchase land on behalf of the Church for the benefit of Latter-day Saint settlement. Meanwhile, in Kirtland, the financial situation of many of the members of the Church unravelled with the failure of the Kirtland Safety Society bank. A dispute arose between the presidency in Missouri and the Church presidency in Kirtland over the land funds, with both sides accusing the other of financial improprieties.

Marsh sided with the church presidency and convened a series of church courts in the spring of 1838. He charged the Whitmers and Phelps along with Oliver Cowdery of financial impropriety and other failings. The court released these men from their positions and disfellowshipped them. Marsh was named as president of the church in Missouri, with David W. Patten, and Brigham Young, as assistant presidents, on April 6, 1838.

Falling Away

In April of 1838, Church presidents Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon moved to Far West, which became the new Church headquarters. Although disfellowshipped, David and John Whitmer, Oliver Cowdery, W. W. Phelps and other former leaders (who were known as the "dissenters") continued to live in the County. By early June, some of the more zealous Saints, led by Sampson Avard, formed a society which came to be known as the "Danites." According to Marsh, these men swore oaths to "support the heads of the church in all things that they say or do, whether right or wrong" (Document, p. 57). According to Reed Peck, two of these Danites, Jared Carter and Dimick B. Huntington, proposed at a meeting that the society should kill the dissenters. Marsh and fellow moderate, John Corrill, spoke vigorously against the motion (Peck, pp. 22-23). On the following Sunday, however, Sidney Rigdon issued his "Salt Sermon" in which he likened the dissenters to salt that had lost its savor and was "good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men" (Van Wagoner, p. 218). Within a week the dissenters had fled the county.

Although he may have been concerned about these events, Marsh remained in the Church until late October. According to his sworn testimony, Marsh claimed that a Latter-day Saint invasion of Daviess County and the subsequent looting and burning of non–Latter-day Saint settlements, including Gallatin the county seat, were the acts that caused him to leave. Marsh stated:

"A company of about eighty of the Mormons, commanded by a man fictitiously named Captain Fearnot [David W. Patten], marched to Gallatin. They returned and said they had run off from Gallatin twenty or thirty men and had taken Gallatin, had taken one prisoner and another had joined the company. I afterwards learned from the Mormons that they had burned Gallatin, and that it was done by the aforesaid company that marched there. The Mormons informed me that they had hauled away all the goods from the store in Gallatin, and deposited them at the Bishop's storehouses at Adam-on-diahmon" (Document, p. 57).

On October 19, 1838, the day after Gallatin was burned, Thomas B. Marsh and fellow apostle Orson Hyde left the association of the Church. Marsh drafted and signed a legal affidavit against Joseph Smith on October 24, 1838, which Hyde also signed. In addition to reporting on the organization of the Danites and on the events in Daviess County, Marsh reported rumors that the Danites had set up a "destroying company" and that "if the people of Clay & Ray made any movement against them, this destroying company was to burn Liberty & Richmond." He further stated his belief that Joseph Smith planned "to take the State, & he professes to his people to intend taking the U.S. & ultimately the whole world" (Document, p. 57). Marsh's testimony added to the panic in northwestern Missouri and contributed to subsequent events in the Mormon War.

Because a Latter-day Saint attack was believed imminent, a unit of the state militia from Ray County was dispatched to patrol the border between Ray and Latter-day Saint populated Caldwell County to the north. On October 25, 1838, reports reached Saints in Far West that this state militia unit was a "mob" and had kidnapped several Saints. The Saints formed an armed rescue party and attacked the militia in what became known as the Battle of Crooked River. Although only one Missourian was killed, initial reports held that half the unit had been wiped out. This attack on the state militia, coupled with the earlier expulsion of non-Latter-day Saints from Daviess County led Missouri's governor to respond with force. On the 27th of October he called out 2,500 state militia to put down what he perceived as a "Mormon" rebellion and signed what became known as the "Extermination Order" (Baugh, pp. 108–9).

Marsh was excommunicated from the church in absentia on March 17, 1839, in Quincy, Illinois.

After Marsh moved to Utah and rejoined the Latter-day Saints, he looked back at his decision to leave the Church with regret. Concerning his actions in Missouri, he wrote:

"About this time I got a beam in my eye and thought I could discover a mote in Joseph's eye, though it was nothing but a beam in my eye; I was so completely darkened that I did not think on the Savior's injunction: 'Thou hypocrite, why beholdest thou the mote which is in thy brother's eye, when a beam is in thine own eye; first cast out the beam out of thine own eye, then thou shalt see clearly to get the mote out of thy brother's eye.'"

Years later, in 1864, George A. Smith claimed in a sermon that Marsh had left the Church because of a dispute between his wife and other Latter-day Saint women over a milk cow (Journal of Discourses, 11:9). Although this tale (see Ludlow, Doctrine and Covenants, p. 363) has made its way into Latter-day Saint folklore, Smith's statements are not supported by any contemporary evidence.


In 1857, Thomas Marsh was rebaptized. Marsh wrote an autobiography in 1864, recounting his church service and rebellion. It was published in the Millennial Star of that year. However, his religious affiliation still may not have been fixed. According to Elder Thomas Job, a missionary of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (now known as the Community of Christ) serving in Utah, shortly before his death Marsh attended an Reorganized Church conference in Salt Lake City, and there claimed that Young Joseph (Joseph Smith III) was a prophet and bore a strong testimony to the truth and necessity of the Reorganization. He said that he would move east to join them if Young Joseph would send for him.

However, this conflicts with an account published by BYU Studies:

One month after his arrival in Salt Lake Valley, Thomas was married to Hannah Adams (4 October 1857), and the couple soon settled in Spainish Fork, where they acquired a small adobe house. Here Brother Marsh attempted, without success, to establish a school. Though having received some financial help from Bishop John L. Butler, the Marshes were scarcely able to sustain life. By late fall of 1859, meager circumstances prompted Thomas to request further assistance. His petition reflected his penitent spirit:
"[I write] not in a spirit of complaining of any person neither of murmuring against the providence of my Heavenly Father; no! It is good enough for me for I have sin[n]ed and made many crooked paths and I would rather kiss the chastning hand and thank Him that it is as well with me as it is for He in his providence has brought me to the Valies of these mountains! fed and clothed me and kept me alive untill now, given me a name and place among his people and restored me, vile as I have been, [to] His Everlasting Priesthood, notwithstanding I so foolishly and so ignominiously once threw it away and cast it behind my back."
His request did not go unheeded.
On 11 March 1859, Thomas B. Marsh was re-ordained an elder, and by November 1861 he had been ordained a high priest. In the Endowment House on 1 November 1862, he received his endowment and was sealed to his wife, Hannah. It was about this same time that the couple opted to settle near Ogden. Thomas was placed in the care of David M. Stuart, Ogden First Ward. Though almost wholly supported by the Church until his death in January 1866 at Ogden, Thomas Baldwin Marsh "died in good faith," having once again accepted the principles he had espoused nearly thirty-six years earlier in Fayette, New York. He had learned by sad experience the hazards of aspiring to the honors of men, the dangers of exercising unrighteous dominion, and the consequences of uncontrolled criticism of those in authority. (Lyndon W. Cook, " 'I Have Sinned Against Heaven, and Am Unworthy of Your Confidence, But I Cannot Live without a Reconciliation': Thomas B. Marsh Returns to the Church," BYU Studies, Vol. 20, No. 4, p. 400)

Thomas B. Marsh died in Ogden, Utah, in January of 1866. He is buried at the Ogden Cemetery. The grave is adorned with a plank of wood, on which can barely be read "T. B. M.".

Modern Opinion

Despite his prominence in early church history, Marsh is rarely mentioned in instructional classes, discourses on religion or sermons in the modern church. Marsh's conversion story is occasionally cited as an example of how powerful the Book of Mormon can be in convincing people of the truthfulness of the church. When his apostasy is mentioned, he is often referred to either as an example of pride or as an example of one who failed to fulfill his calling to serve the church. Some Latter-day Saints note that, had Marsh been faithful, he may have eventually become president of the church instead of Brigham Young, who was the original third apostle.


  • Allen, James B. and Leonard, Glen M. The Story of the Latter-day Saints. Deseret Book Co., Salt Lake City, UT, 1976. ISBN 0-87747-594-6.
  • Baugh, Alexander L. , A Call to Arms: The 1838 Mormon Defense of Northern Missouri, BYU Studies, 2000.
  • Document Containing the Correspondence, Orders &c. in Relation to the Disturbances with the Mormons; And the Evidence Given Before the Hon. Austin A. King, Judge of the Fifth Judicial Circuit of the State of Missouri, at the Court-House in Richmond, in a Criminal Court of Inquiry, Begun November 12, 1838, on the Trial of Joseph Smith, Jr., and Others, for High Treason and Other Crimes Against the State. Fayette, Missouri, 1841, complete text.
  • Journal of Discourses, Liverpool, England, 1854-1886.
  • Ludlow, Daniel H., A Companion to Your Study of the Doctrine and Covenants, Deseret Book Co., Salt Lake City, UT, 1978. ISBN 1-57345-224-6.
  • Ludlow, Daniel H., Editor. Church History, Selections From the Encyclopedia of Mormonism. Deseret Book Co., Salt Lake City, UT, 1992. ISBN 0-87579-924-8.
  • Peck, Reed, The Reed Peck Manuscript, complete text.
  • Van Wagoner, Richard S., Sidney Rigdon: A Portrait of Religious Excess, Salt Lake City, 1994.

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