James Henry Rollins, Faithful Pioneer

by: Roland L. Lee, third great-grandson

My third great grandfather, James Henry Rollins, was one of those early saints who seemed to always be in the thick of things during the period of the Gospel.

James Henry Rollins Henry was born in Lima New York on May 27, 1816, to John Porter Rollins and Keziah Van Benthuysen. At age four, Henry’s father drowned in a on Lake Erie. With no way to care for the , his widowed mother sent Henry and his two sisters, Mary Elizabeth and Caroline to live with their Aunt Elizabeth and Uncle Algernon Sidney Gilbert who had no children of their own. Here they found a wonderful home.

Sidney Gilbert moved the family to Mentor, Ohio, then nearby Kirtland, where he opened a store in partnership with Newel K. Whitney. As soon as he was old enough, young Henry began working in the store and became a great help to Uncle Sidney.

In the fall of when Henry was just 14 years old, four Mormon missionaries stopped in the Kirtland area on their way to preach to the Indians. These missionaries were Oliver Cowdery, Parley P. Pratt, David Whitmer Jr, and Ziba Peterson. Many in the area had been prepared to receive the restored Gospel and were baptized including Henry’s family. Henry too joined the church later in Missouri, but at this time was given a marvelous vision that shaped his testimony. The following spring Joseph Smith himself came to Kirtland where he walked in the front door of the store and announced, “Newel K. Whitney, thou art the man…I am Joseph the … You prayed me here, now what do you want from me?”

Soon thereafter in the Whitney store, Joseph met the Rollins children. He walked over to Mary Elizabeth, placed his hands on her head, and pronounced a great blessing. When he saw Henry he said, “Well the Lord has shown him great things.” The Rollins children became well acquainted with Joseph and his family who lived in the Whitney home next to theirs. Henry said he “was chums” with William and Don Carlos Smith and they played together often. Henry read the Book of Mormon by firelight while lying on the floor.

After being baptized James Henry Rollins became a faithful member of the church, and a valiant friend to Joseph Smith. When the Saints moved to Nauvoo, Joseph sent for him to come to help him in Joseph’s . He did whatever the prophet asked of him, and on May 3, 1842, recalls carrying water to the upper room of the red brick store where the brethren were preparing the room for special ordinances. The next day on May 4, 1842, nine people received their endowments there.

Later, when the store closed, Joseph told Henry to go to work on the Nauvoo Temple. Here, he learned to cut stones and personally made many of the window and door sills as well as the capital stones and the capstone on the northeast corner of the temple.

As the of the early church rolled forward, Henry and his wife Evaline Walker were called to make great sacrifices, but they remained resolute through it all. He was a bodyguard to the prophet, was with him in the Richmond Jail, served him at Zion’s Camp, and mourned with the others when the prophet was martyred at Carthage. When the saints were expelled from Nauvoo by angry mobs he was with them—and he was with them still when they crossed the plains to Utah. Soon after, they were sent to California where he and other saints settled what is now San Bernardino. There he served as school commissioner, and district attorney, and started a mercantile business.

The San Bernardino colonizers were called back to Utah by Brigham Young when Johnson’s Army threatened. Henry and his family heeded the call, leaving behind still another home. In Utah, they settled in Minersville where he opened a lead mine and served as postmaster. He spent most of his life there serving faithfully in the church as a Bishop and in other callings well into his 80s. He spent his last years in Lyman Wyoming to be near his children, where he passed away on February 7, 1899.

James Henry Rollins was one of those many quiet faithful pioneers who gave everything they had to honor their covenants and serve the Lord. I’m certain that the Lord chose and prepared many such people with the courage and stamina to withstand the trials faced by the early church so that it could roll forward as a “Stone cut out without hands” in the last days.

I often wonder if those special pioneers really knew the impact their lives would have on future generations. Today as the church nears 14 million members around the globe, we owe a huge debt of gratitude to our ancestors — those early pioneers.

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