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Ancestry of Orrin Porter Rockwel

Ancestry of Orrin Porter Rockwell

EPISODES IN GENEALOGICAL RESEARCH The Deseret News, Salt Lake City, August 31, 1935

It is a difficult task today to penetrate the veil obscuring the ancestral back-ground of the early founders of this Church. Unless families have well preserved records of these earlier generations, a great amount of searching must be done before success can be attained in finding the progenitors of these Church founders. In each issue of the Genealogical and Historical Magazine appears an article entitled Early Church Families. Pedigrees of Church members are being compiled for publication in this series... In the October issue an account will be given, among others, of the ancestry of Orrin Porter Rockwell, a picturesque and daring character of early church history. Nothing has apparently been published in our histories as to the parentage of this man, yet he was one of the earliest converts to the Church. Even before its organization, the Prophet Joseph and his father and mother were frequent visitors in the home of Porter's parents and at such times the boy listened with delight to all that was said. He even begged his mother to allow him to sit up and keep the pine torch burning, their only source of light in the evening. Orrin Porter Rockwell and Martin Harris, as well as his own father and mother, were baptized shortly after the Church was organized on April 6, 1830. Even before this he had been so interested that he picked berries by moonlight and sold them, giving the money to the Prophet to help print the Book of Mormon. He also gathered and sold wood for the same purpose. Associate of Prophet Much has been said and written of the career of Orrin Porter Rockwell, a great deal of which is untrue and much of the rest highly exaggerated from distorted facts. For a time in Nauvoo the Prophet was very closely associated with him and when he was recording in "The Book of the Law of the Lord" the names of those who had proved "most faithful" he entered there the name of Orrin Porter Rockwell with this comment: "He is an innocent and noble boy; he was an innocent and noble child, and my soul loves him. Let this be recorded for ever and ever. Let a blessing of salvation and honor be his portion." Many years after Porter Rockwell's death, a patriarch in bestowing a blessing on his third wife, Christina Olsen Rockwell, stated that she had one of God's noble sons for her husband, and added, "The Lord has been merciful unto him in doing the good deeds that he did, in protecting the life of the Prophet Joseph. The Lord will pass by all his weaknesses, and all is right with

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Ancestry of Orrin Porter Rockwel

him." Another patriarch in blessing his daughter made this significant statement: "Thou are favored of the Lord in thy parentage, and blessings of the Lord through thy fathers will rest upon thee." Porter Rockwell loved the Prophet Joseph Smith with all his heart and soul, and would willingly have laid down his life at any time in his defense. The family traveled from Fayette, New York to Jackson County, Missouri, in 1831 and located in the Big Blue river district and here the Rockwell home was a gathering place where many important meetings were held. Imprisoned After the attempted assassination of ex-Governor Boggs, Joseph Smith and Porter Rockwell were accused of the deed, and warrants for their arrest were issued. Realizing the impossibility of a fair trial in Missouri, Porter Rockwell went east and when he returned was arrested in St. Louis, March 4, 1845 [sic], and without even the pretense of a fair trial, was clapped into irons and incarcerated in a vile dungeon for nine months. At one time his feet were manacled together and his arm chained to his feet, forcing him to remain for a long period in this cramped condition unable to sit up straight. He was permitted a little dirty straw for a bed, but no bedding and no fire in very cold weather. For eighteen days at a time he states he shook with cold. After he made an attempt to escape, his treatment was still more severe. His food was of the coarsest, and if he failed to eat any of it, it was served to him at the next meal. On one occasion Sheriff Reynolds said: "We know the Prophet has great confidence in you. Allure him to a place where we can arrest him and you shall have your freedom and any pile of money you name." Porter Rockwell, weak and so emaciated that he could hardly stand, never faltered in his fidelity to his Prophet friend. His eagle eyes flashed and he blurted out in defiance, "I'll see you all damned first, and then I won't." Secures Freedom Eventually Porter Rockwell's mother found where he was imprisoned and brought him one hundred dollars which he used as a fee to retain a lawyer, who was the noted Alexander W. Doniphan, later a general and hero of the Mexican War. After all this inhuman treatment the prisoner was at last brought to trial, but the charge of attempted assassination of Gov. Boggs was dismissed, there being an utter lack of evidence. He was found guilty of breaking jail and sentenced to five months imprisonment in the county jail. He was kept several hours and then released. Mr. Doniphan warned him to keep off frequented roads, for attempts would be made to waylay and kill him. After perilous adventures he rejoined the Prophet at Nauvoo and it was a most happy reunion as the Prophet indicates in his journal. When the Prophet planned to leave for the west, just prior to his martyrdom, Porter Rockwell rowed him across the Mississippi river. In the encounters with the mob in Nauvoo, Sheriff Backenstos ordered him to fire upon the mob, and one of the mobocrats was killed.

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Ancestry of Orrin Porter Rockwel

A Pioneer Scout He was a skillful and valued scout with the first company of pioneers to cross the plains in 1847, and he became "one of the most picturesque figures the intermountain west ever knew. He was a scout, guide, pioneer, and frontiersman of the most approved type -- hardy, adventurous and fearless." He was an intrepid mail carrier, and his home in the extreme south end of the Salt Lake Valley was one of the stations of the Pony Express. On March 29, 1849 he was appointed a deputy marshall, and he acted as a peace officer for the remainder of his life, his name bringing terror to evil-doers and marauding Indians. He studied the art of woodcraft, emulating and far excelling the Indians themselves in his almost unbelievable skill in sign-tracking. He was brave, quick-witted and always prepared. In the course of his duties he captured a large number of dangerous criminals and delivered them to the proper authorities to receive their punishment through the law. As a peace officer he was occasionally under the necessity of killing criminals who defied his authority. Several cases of this nature are recorded. But no instance was ever proved that he ever took a life wantonly and except as a deputy sheriff and in defense. Of him Israel Bennion wrote: "There was a something about Orrin Porter Rockwell that so unmanned his opponents that they would not, could not, and did not outface him, even if it were possible to escape his lightning wit, eye and hand. Was it the word of the Prophet of the Lord that he should not be harmed?" When Porter Rockwell in later years dictated the story of his life he said that some years after 1847 he was in California and met there the widow and daughter of Don Carlos Smith, the brother of the Prophet Joseph. When he saw her, she was just recovering from typhoid fever, in consequence of which her hair had fallen out. Porter wore his hair long, as he said that the Prophet told him if he wore his hair long, his enemies should not have power over him, neither should he be overcome by evil. When he met Sister Smith he had no gold dust nor money to give her, so he had his hair cut to make her a wig, and from that time he said that he could not control his desire for strong drinks, nor his habit of swearing. He was of large and powerful physique, and his appearance was rendered more striking by his long and flowing hair. This he worse always, states his daughter, Mrs. Reid, in two great braids, one back of each ear, and folded four times across the back and tied. "No woman," she says, "ever had more beautiful hair than my father, and we were all proud of it." Despite his rough and rude exterior, he was big-hearted and generous in his instincts, and true as steel to his friends. His devotion to the Prophet Joseph Smith and later to Brigham Young is proverbial. It is said that a gentler and more faithful father and husband is seldom seen, and one commentator on his life makes this satisfactory conclusion: "A righteous judge will not with-hold from him the reward due to those who have been true and valiant to the end."

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Ancestry of Orrin Porter Rockwel

His Family He married three times. His first wife was Juana Beebe, daughter of Isaac and Olive Beebe, born in the town of Lebanon, Madison county, New York, Oct. 3, 1814: three daughters and one son were born of this marriage. He married second to Mary Ann Neff, to whom seven children were born. His third wife was Christina Olsen, who became the mother of four children. The numerous descendants of Orrin Porter Rockwell will be interested in these items regarding his ancestry. In the Church Genealogical archive is being deposited a pedigree of fifteen pages containing the names of 180 of his progenitors. A glance over this shows him to be a close relative of many leading families of the Church. His father was Orin Rockwell, an early convert of the Church, who died in Nauvoo, Sept. 22, 1839. He was the son of Jabez Rockwell, one of the well-known Rockwell family of Windsor, Connecticut, descended from Deacon William Rockwell of Dorchester, England, the emigrant to America. Through the Norton line he is connected with President Wilford Woodruff, and through the Wells, with President Daniel H. Wells. On the Alford line he becomes a distant relative of President Rudger Clawson, and through the Lathrop with the Prophet Joseph, Wilford Woodruff, and many others. His father's mother was Irene Porter and from her he inherited the name by which he was commonly known. She was descended from John Porter and Ann White, progenitors of the Prophet; Thomas Stanley, ancestor of President Woodruff; and from the Babcock, Curtis, Gay, Richards, Raymond, Ladd, Knowlton, Harris and Abbott lines. As you read this, many of you will find your ancestors are also those of Porter Rockwell. He was a distant cousin of Abraham Lincoln through the Gilman line which they had in common: with President U. S. Grant and Grover Cleveland through the Porter line; Senator William H. King and Porter Rockwell are both descended from good old Deacon Edmund Rice and Thomas King. The Prophet, Brigham Young, and he were all descended from the self-same Merriam line. The mother of Porter Rockwell was Sarah Witt. In Nauvoo she was baptized for 45 of her own and her husband's close relatives. This is probably a record for that day. She was born Sept. 9, 1781, at Belchertown, Hampshire county, Massachusetts, the daughter of Ivory Witt and Abigail Montague. Ivory Witt was descended from four generations of John Witts. His mother was Sarah Ivory, whose pedigree is probably traced seven generations back to about the year 1475 in Offley, Hertfordshire, England. An excellent record of the Montague family has been searched out and printed. Abigail Montague, wife of Ivory Witt and grandmother of Orrin Porter Rockwell, was the daughter of Josiah Montague and Abigail Montahue, both descended from John Montague and his wife, Hannah Smith. Other families on the line are the Church, Churchill, Cowles and Dickinson lines.

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Ancestry of Orrin Porter Rockwel

As stated above, the family record of Orrin Porter Rockwell and his parents will be printed in the October Genealogical Magazine. Still more important, the fifteen pages of his lineage will be placed in the Church Genealogical archive for the benefit of all who connect with these families. With the modern sources available for tracing genealogical records, similar results may be obtained on the lines of your ancestors who were early members of the Church. Do not fail to send in, at once, all the information of them that you have in your possession in order that a proper beginning may be made.

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