William W. Phelps

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Mormon William W Phelps
William Wines Phelps (also W.W. Phelps, and William W. Phelps) (February 17, 1792–March 7, 1872) was an important early leader of the of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He was an assistant president of the Church in Missouri, scribe to Joseph Smith, member of the Literary Firm, church printer, editor, and songwriter.


Born February 17, 1792 in Dover, Hanover Township, New Jersey, Phelps has been referred to by Dean Jessee as "one of [the] founders" of the Anti-Masonic movement in New York. He was the editor of the Anti-Masonic newspaper Ontario Phoenix in Canandaigua (1827-28). Phelps was also the editor of the Western Courier in Cortland and the Lake Light in Trumansburgh. Phelps helped establish the Anti-Masonic political party and even aspired to be the nominee of the party as lieutenant governor of New York.

Well educated, Phelps was trained in surveying, meteorology, classical langages, printing, and editing. He heard about the Book of Mormon from his newspaper office in Canandaigua, which was only twelve miles away from Palmyra. He purchased a number of copies of the book from E.B. Grandin on April 9, 1830, and sold them in his newspaper office. He and his wife Sally became converted to Mormonism by careful consideration of the Book of Mormon. He met with Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon and decided to gather with the Church to Kirtland, Ohio. He and his family gathered to Kirtland in 1831, where he was baptized and ordained an elder in the Church. By assignment, he established a print house in Independence, Missouri, where he published the Evening and Morning Star. While working to publish the church's Book of Commandments, a mob of vigilantes destroyed Phelps' home and the press. In Kirtland, Ohio, he helped print the first Latter-day Saint hymnal and the 1835 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants.

A scribe to the Prophet [[Joseph Smith, Jr.}Joseph Smith Jr.]], Phelps was the author of a number of popular Latter-day Saint hymns, including "The Spirit of God Like a Fire Is Burning", which he wrote for the dedication of the Kirtland Temple. From 1834-1838, he was appointed one of the three "presidents," and as a counselor to David Whitmer in the Church in Missouri, and in that capacity he helped found the town of Far West, Missouri. Phelps was excommunicated from the church on March 10, 1838 when he and John Whitmer were accused of profiting from Far West land deals and reneging on a $2,000 subscription to "the house of the Lord" that was not paid. In June, 1838, Phelps, Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, John Whitmer, and Lyman E. Johnson were warned out of Far West or a more fatal calamity shall befall you. Phelps soon returned to Far West, however, and continued to serve the citizens of Far West in civil capacities.

On July 8, 1838, it was decided that Phelps, along with Frederick G. Williams, could be ordained as elders and serve missions abroad, even though they had lost their standing. Phelps served a brief mission in the East in 1841. Phelps moved to Nauvoo, Illinois where on August 27, 1841, he replaced Robert B. Thompson (who had died) as Joseph Smith's clerk. Phelps was endowed on December 9, 1843 and was also was made a member of the Council of Fifty. In Nauvoo, Phelps spoke out for the destruction of an opposition newspaper, the Nauvoo Expositor. He believed that the city charter gave the church leaders power to declare the newspaper a nuisance. Shortly afterwards, the press and type were carried into the street and destroyed. Phelps was summoned to be tried for treason with Joseph Smith at Carthage.

During the Succession Crisis in 1844, Phelps sided with Brigham Young and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. He was again excommunicated on December 9, 1848 for taking to himself two plural wives without appropriate permission, but was re-baptized two days later. He took part in the Mormon Exodus across the Great Plains and settled in Salt Lake City in 1849. He served a mission in southern Utah (as counselor to Parley P. Pratt) from November, 1849 to February, 1850. There he served in the Utah territorial legislature and on the board of regents for the University of Deseret (now the University of Utah). Phelps died on March 7, 1872 in Salt Lake City, Utah.


Today, William W. Phelps is probably best-known for his legacy of Latter-day Saint hymns, many of which appear in the current edition of the LDS Hymnal.

  • Adam-ondi-Ahman
  • Gently Raise the Sacred Strain
  • If You Could Hie to Kolob
  • Now Let Us Rejoice
  • Praise to the Man
  • The Spirit of God Like a Fire Is Burning
  • Come, All Ye Saints of Zion
  • Come, All Ye Saints Who Dwell on Earth
  • Come, Let Us Sing an Evening Hymn
  • Glorious Things Are Sung of Zion
  • Now We'll Sing with One Accord
  • O God, the Eternal Father
  • The Spirit of God
  • We're Not Ashamed to Own Our Lord
  • Hosanna Anthem
  • Vade Mecum

Phelps often reworded popular hymns turning them into uniquely Latter-day Saint hymns.

  • Joy to the World! * Redeemer of Israel


  • Lavina Fielding Anderson, Lucy's Book, Salt Lake City, UT: Signature Books, 2001, p. 851.
  • Stephen C. LeSueur, The 1838 Mormon War in Missouri, University of Missouri Press, 1990, pp. 20, 40, 51, 175-77, 259.