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PORTER, Sanford: A Visionary Man

Sanford Porter, b 7 Mar 1790, Brimfield, Hampden, MA, m Nancy Arreta Warriner 1 Jan 1812, d 7 Feb 1873

By LaRon Taylor, Elk Ridge, Utah, 2007

Sanford Porter was born 7 Mar, 1790 in Brimfield, Hampton, MA to Nathan Porter and Susannah West. When he was old enough to leave home, he traveled to Willink (since called Holland), Erie, NY and established a farm for one year. He then returned to his parents home for 3 months to court and marry Nancy Arreta Warriner. After their marriage, they returned to his new farm. After their first child was born, Sanford was drafted to fight what was to be the last battle with Great Briton. However, he soon contracted a sickness that caused a severe fever and he was furloughed from service and returned home.

Sanford had an instinct that compelled him westward, so he and his little family moved regularly to places such as Oneida County, NY; Orange County, VT; Trumbull County, Ohio; and Evansville, IN. Each time, he would establish a farm, then sell and move on. The next move took the Porters to Taswell County, IL, where they arrived in June, 1828. They traveled there by “truck wagon”. This wagon had wheels of solid wood which was cut from a log of sufficient diameter for the wheel size desired. The hub was part of the solid wheel and there were no spokes. Sanford soon built a sawmill on Farm Creek a few miles distant from their new homestead, so he moved to the mill so that he could farm and work the mill.

Sanford had an inquisitive mind and studied the scriptures extensively in an attempt to resolve questions he had regarding God and His plan for us. In fact, he was an avid atheist while looking and hoping for eternal truths. Eventually, he received an answer to his study and prayers the third night after settling on Farm Creek in 1828. His own pen recorded the following:

“I do not love my neighbor–or even my brother–as myself, and I certainly do not love my enemy.” And I was doubtful if there was a man living who loved his enemy. For all men that I had ever known or seen would talk unkindly, even wickedly, of better people than themselves if they got it in for them–and I had never seen or even heard or read of any person, people or nation that loved their enemies. Therefore all man-kind were sinners.

“What should I do? How could I bring myself in harmony or subjection to these things? For to me there was no God– and as for a devil, there certainly was not any–only as they call evil in men. So I worried by night and by day for many years, and got no ray of light. And I would think of my father– how his soul–if there was such a thing–must be troubled because of me. These thoughts did bear great weight upon me, and my soul did suffer greater sufferings than the body could know. What in the world could I do to get relief? I got so I could neither eat, drink nor sleep. I would spread my arms and raise my hands on high crying aloud, “Oh gracious God–if there be a God–show me the way, the right way.”

“All day I would walk in the barn, and all night in the house. I spoke to no one–nor they to me–not even my wife and children. I guess they thought I was stark mad, and I doubted my own senses. I did not eat, drink nor sleep for three days and nights, and was neither hungry, dry, nor sleepy. The last night there came a Voice–clear, audible, and distinct, “There is a God, and He has known the desires of your heart this number of years. I will instruct you three times this night the way that is right- -that you need never again doubt, but shall be satisfied in your mind concerning God.”

“The Voice ceased, but I could see no one from whom it could have come. I had a thought: the outside door did not close tight–there was quite a crack at the top, and I concluded that someone of those professors of religion had by some means found out I was much troubled and concerned in my mind about religion, and had rode up to the door, and sitting on the horse, had put their mouth to the crack and said those words.

“I grabbed a club and went forth to find that person and give him a good pounding- -yet be careful not to kill him. A thorough search of the premises revealed nothing, so I went back and sat down by the fireplace with my hands over my eyes, and waited and waited, but no Voice.

“Finally I lay down beside my wife and covered my eyes, and I was gone like a flash- -to sleep? I know not. But I heard and saw many things that gave me satisfaction. I thought I stood on the barn floor near the south door, and a personage came in at the north door and advanced toward me. He was dressed in a long white robe with a red sash about his waist that came down within a foot of the bottom of his raiment. His cap was white with horn-like things about five inches high- -a very odd-looking fellow to me. I had forgotten all that had taken place before, so was surprised to see such a personage in my barn–but I had no fear, and went with outstretched hand to greet him. “I am a spirit; you cannot touch me. Come, let’s be gone.”

“At the sound of his voice I recalled the promise, and was filled with joy. We did not travel by our own power or effort. We went light, airy, and swift. And when we landed, we seemed to alight on a railing. I cast my eyes about and it seemed to me I could see for thousands and thousands of miles. It seemed to be a world of unbounded space. I asked, “Is this the Spirit World?” “Yes.” “Where is God? Is He not here? I see now the darkness under which I have been laboring all my life. There are other things I would like to know, if it is your pleasure to grant my request: firstly, Was Jesus Christ the son of the great eternal God?” “Yes. He was and is the son of God–both temporally and spiritually. Temporally, He became heir to the weakness of the flesh; spiritually, He is heir to all the attributes of God. But the divine qualities of the Father predominated over the weakness of the mother or the flesh. He was delicately constructed, and was more sensitive to pain than any other man living– then or now.”

“Thank you my kind heavenly friend for this information concerning Jesus Christ. I thank the eternal Father of spirits for sending you to instruct me on this subject, for it has been a stumbling block to me and a rock of offense. I have talked to learned men about it, and I have searched the scriptures, and could get no satisfaction. All seemed so contrary to nature. I do hope and pray that God and Jesus Christ will forgive me, for I have belittled Mary and her son, Jesus. I understand now, also, how the male and female are one and cannot be separated.”

“Now,” said the personage, “I will enlighten you further on the scripture–or the Bible. Those parts that were given to the prophets of God through revelation are the Word of God unto men and are strictly true. Other parts that were written by honest, just men are as nigh unto the truth as they understood the truth. The men who have been instrumental in translating the book from one language into another were not strictly honest. They altered passages of scripture to suit their own convenience. Many plain and precious parts they left out, and other parts they destroyed, so the Bible is not as plain and understandable as in ancient times. But there is still enough truth contained therein for the present use and salvation of man, if it is read and understood by the spirit and power of God.”

“ls there a hell or place of torment prepared where the ungodly are punished ?”

“If you will look yonder into the north country your question will be answered, I think, to your satisfaction.” I turned and saw away in the distance a dreary, dismal, cold-looking world upon which was a vast multitude of people that no living man could number, and the condition they were in was beyond the power of man to describe; and it pained my inners and filled my soul with anguish to see them–I seemed to be fascinated by the sight.

“Gracious God, what sins have they committed that justice should demand such an awful punishment?” “If you will cast your eyes about you, you will see that all are not suffering to such an extent. They must suffer only as they have sinned in the flesh.” “Will they never be redeemed from that awful misery?” “When justice is satisfied, mercy will have her claim.” “Is that what they call Hell? I did not see any devils with pitchforks or the lake of fire and brimstone into which they pitch the wicked.” “You must agree,” said the personage, “that is a good comparison, but it is not literally true. The devil has nothing to do with the punishment of man after he leaves the body. It is their own mind and conscience that torment men. They have transgressed the law–they have defied God and esteemed Him as naught–and the wages of sin are spiritual death.” “I have heard it said by eminent divines that if a child die in infancy, it is doomed to hell. Is that a fact?” “No. Emphatically no! Any man who says there are infants in hell is a liar. It is to say the Christ made no atonement for original sin, and that all His sufferings and death are in vain.”

“Are there any churches or denomination on the earth at the present time that are right and pleasing to God?” “No, none of them is right. Jesus Christ organized His Church with apostles, who were prophets, and they declared many things that would come upon the earth. They spoke of a time when the Church of God would come upon the earth again, which time is shortly ripe. You may not live to see it, but your children certainly will, and if you will humble yourself and repent of all your sins and blasphemies, you will be forgiven and will rejoice in the goodness and grace of God in all your days. Deal justly and honestly with all mankind. Acknowledge the truth, whether it be for or against you. Cease to complain. Cultivate love for God and man. Speak the truth- -and the whole truth- -whether it be for or against you, and your rest will be sweet. “Come,” said he, “Let us be gone.”

And in an instant we were back on the barn floor. Then I opened my eyes, and I was still lying as I had been with my eyes covered. I told my wife during the day some of the things I had seen and heard, and she seemed interested. “It may have been only a dream, and you know you have laughed at dreams–even told people that if a dog could talk, he would likely tell as beautiful dreams as any person; and this may be nothing more than an ordinary dream of an over- wrought mind.” “Well, you get the Bible, and I will tell you the chapter and verse of such and such books, and I will rehearse it to you just as the ANGEL did to me from Genesis to Revelation!” “But that would be no proof, Sanford, for you know the Bible off by heart. Still, you may have for-gotten it all, for I know you have not looked at that book for many years. If you repeat everything correctly, I shall believe it was a vision.” When she told me I had read those verses as though I had the Bible before me, I jumped up, grabbed my hat, and stepped out onto the porch.”

Sanford left the house and told others of his experience. Joseph Smith received his first vision eight years before this, and the Church was restored on April 6,1830. Only 4 months (or 16 months on some family records) after the Church was organized, Lyman Wight & John Carrol were traveling as missionaries for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints through Illinois and heard of Sanford’s unusual beliefs, so they looked him up.They taught him and he told them their doctrine was the old Apostolic Doctrine, but that he must receive a witness that this was the true church before he would join with it.

Nathan’s autobiography states the following:

“At the close of the last meeting one of them, whose name was Lyman Wight, the other John Carrol, came to my father and asked, if he was not yet convinced that it was his duty to join them [and he answered] ‘If it is made known to me that you are right, I will let you know if I have to follow you to Pekin or to Missouri, or I will follow you to the end of the world.’  He repaired to bed at quite a late hour still meditating on what had passed during the day and evening. He finally fell asleep and remained until the dawn of day when he awoke without any manifestation whatever as to the strange ministers or their doctrine. But as he still lay pondering in his mind, thinking that perhaps they were like all others, deceiving and being deceived. He was instantly taken in vision, as formally by the same conductor, who informed him that these men were servants of the living God, and that their testimony was true. That God had set up His church and kingdom on the earth. That the gospel was now revealed in its purity, and that it was his duty to embrace it. As he awoke from his trance or vision he immediately set out to inform those ministers that he was ready to join them with full purpose of heart.”

He, his wife, and two oldest children were baptized on 10 August, 1830.

Only 1 year later, Sanford and the other converts in the area were told of the gathering in Jackson County, Missouri, so he sold his farm and led a small company of saints to Missouri in December of 1831. They braved cold and snow and had many experiences where the Spirit guided them through treacherous situations. When they reached the Mississippi, the ice was too thin to cross, so Sanford and another member of the group went to pray and received an answer that they were to cross with their wagons early the next morning. The wind that night was from the south, so it seemed to be working against them, but they headed out at first light and Chauncy Warriner Porter was the first wagon to cross. All went well just as the Spirit had revealed it would. The local citizens were all convinced that all, or at least many of the company would drown, and they were amazed that the crossing was without incident.

When they arrived in Independence on March 1, 1832 , they came to know of the extreme anger and hatred the local non-members had for the immigrants. Confrontations increased in frequency and intensity until in 1833, the mobs formed a secret combination to destroy the saints. They agreed to allow the saints to leave in peace if they would surrender their arms and agree to leave. This done, they immediately took the men prisoners and began to plunder houses, beat men without mercy, and abusing wives and daughters. The plan was to execute all of the prisoners in town square the next morning, but General Doniphan of the army objected, saying he would have nothing to do with such cold-blooded actions, and he would draw off his brigade from the army. That averted what could have been the worst massacre in American history. The mobs were still determined to kill the saints until the heavens unleashed a storm on the night of 12 Nov, 1833, that made many of them fall to the ground begging God to forgive them. The mob disbursed. This great storm included a great number of meteorites. The Prophet Joseph Smith had some days prior to this event prophesied that the heavens would shake for their good, and thus it had come to pass. Sanford and his family were safely hidden to the south of town on that stormy night and they witnessed the events with wonder.

“The earth was lit up by the moving heavenly bodies, [some of which Nathan described as stopping in mid-air] so that a pin could have been seen upon the ground. And as I before said, it was like the shaking of a fig or fruit tree, when fully ripe, they would shower down on all sides of the sky for a few minutes then peace for 10 or 15 minutes when the scene would be repeated, which continued until morning light extinguished them from our sight. Thus the power of God was manifested in behalf of his people in fulfillment of his word.”

Now the Saints were driven to Nauvoo, which was nothing more than an infested swampland. The city blossomed into a thriving community and the temple was built before they were driven out. Sanford tried to sell his property before moving, but the local people conspired to pay next to nothing for it, so he left it in the care of a friendly neighbor and headed for Nauvoo and settled 5 miles west of the town on the west side of the Mississippi.

Many of the stories of the persecutions in Nauvoo are well known, but Nathan Porter tells the following story relating to the Prophet Joseph Smith’s assassination which the author hadn’t read before and don’t know how much credence it carries: After jumping to the window and being shot there, the prophet fell to the ground below “when four men stepped forward and deliberately shot four balls into his body. Then one stepped forward with a drawn butcher knife in his hand, with an oath that he would cut off his head, but as he lifted his hand to strike, a flash of light burst from the heavens, the knife fell from his hand, and the four men stood paralyzed and were taken off the ground by their confederates. The whole posse fled taking their smitten assassins with them. As related by an eye witness whom they had pressed into their ranks while on their way to the prison.”

And so the persecutions and suffering continued through Nauvoo and on. They were spared but persecutions and death followed the Saints everywhere they went. Sanford and his family went through the persecutions common to the saints during that time, and Chauncey Warriner’s wife, Amy Sumner and two children died during the turmoil of 1846 and 1847.

Nathan Porter coined the following about the Saints’ suffering from Nauvoo to Winter Quarters:

 

Martyrs For The Truth

 

And there they now are sleeping

Beneath the silent clay

To await a glorious greeting

Until their work was done,

And many who stood that stormy blast

Have fallen one by one,

So the vail of death they could not pass

Until their work was done

They may have swayed as a sturdy oak

In the midst of shifting storms,

But as the trunk could not be broke

Resumes its upright form

And so we see them standing

Since the storm has passed away,

While age is undermining

Their tenements of clay.

And now they are seen to fall

To arise again no more,

Until the resurrections call

With their friends who fell before.

Oh what a glorious greeting

With those they left behind,

And saints who have been sleeping

In every land and clime.

They both fall upon each others necks

With heavenly embrace,

While tears of joy their cheeks bedeck

For the Redeemer’s grace.

And as they count their suffering ore

With glory to the Lamb,

They sing as ere they sang before

Now in the Heavenly land.

Thou hast redeemed us from the curse

And made us Kings and Priests,

To reign with thee upon the earth

Where all is love and peace

Nothing to hurt or to destroy

As when we dwelt below,

Satan is bound and has no power

The Saints to overthrow.

All enmity is done away

With man and with the beast,

The spirits universal sway

Has brought a full release.

 

When they got to Winter Quarters, Sanford Porter Jr. joined the Mormon Battalion as a private in Company E. That is the same company as Charles Jameson and Levi Roberts were in. Nevertheless, Sanford Porter Sr. had suffered greatly from the persecutions and had lost many cattle and other provisions so that there was not enough to outfit his family for the upcoming journey to Utah. He was so desperate to follow Brigham Young west that he even considered leaving his wife and some of the children behind so that he and the older boys could make the journey and prepare things for the family before returning to pick them up. Fortunately, they were able to pull enough supplies together to make the trip all together.

They left on June 20, 1847 with Captain Charles C. Rich leading their company. There were several encounters with Indians but no battles occurred. On one occasion, they encountered a band of Indians that looked hostile, so they formed their wagons into a hollow square with the wagon bearing the field piece [cannon] being placed outside of the line in case it was needed. After finding the Indians to be friendly, they took them to the wagon with the cannon and had them stand back while they fired a round. The Indians scattered in all directions in panic until they saw by the smiles in the company that there was no harm done. The Indians assumed all wagons to be so armed and spread the story abroad. The pioneer company didn’t bother clearing the rumor up because they didn’t have any opposition from that point on. They arrived in the Salt Lake Valley on October 1, 1847.

Sanford and family remained in the Salt Lake City vicinity until 1858. During the winter of 1857-58, his son Lyman W. and his eldest grandson, Alma camped in Echo Canyon with Lot Smith and others to hedge the way of Johnson’s Army.

The Porter family established the community of Porterville and thrived there the remainder of their days. Sanford Porter was healthy until the day of his passing. He rose from his bed, caught hold of a chair and sank to the floor without a word, and passed away on Feb 7, 1873. Sanford Porter was a great example of faith and perseverance in the face of great difficulty.

 

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