Mary Elizabeth Rollins Lightner

As I mentioned in the thread to Kevin’s post, my wife is a descendant of Mary Elizabeth Rollins Lightner.  After obnoxiously jacking Kevin’s thread, I figured I better hurry up and get the post done.

When I first learned that she was my wife’s ggg-grandmother, I had no idea who Mary Elizabeth was, despite the fact that I had grown up in the Church. We tend not to talk much about our female heroes, especially the ones that were involved in practices with which we are currently uncomfortable. Well, the more I learned about her, the more I realized that Mary Elizabeth is surely one of our heroes, and we ought to talk about her, and many others like her, a lot more.

She was born in Lima, New York, April 9, 1818. Mary Elizabeth was one of the first persons to read a copy of the Book of Mormon, even though she was only twelve years old when she was baptized and came in contact with it. She first met the Prophet Joseph just after this time. He was astonished to find a Book of Mormon in her family’s house. He was told of her great desire to read it and that this was the reason that it had been given to her by the person to whom Joseph had sent it. He sent for her:

After a moment or two he came and put his hands on my head and gave me a great blessing, the first I ever received, and made me a present of the book, and said he would give Brother Morley another. He came in time to rebuke the evil spirits, and set the church in order. We all felt that he was a man of God, for he spoke with power, and as one having authority in very deed.

She moved with the saints to Jackson County in 1831 and there received the ability to interpret when members of the Church spoke in tongues. Though Oliver Cowdery protested her interpretations to the Prophet, Joseph confirmed her gift.

She witnessed the persecution of the saints in Jackson County and risked her life there for the first time in defense of her religion in an incident that is perhaps the most famous one from her life:

The mob renewed their efforts again by tearing down the printing office, a two story building, and driving Brother Phelps’ family out of the lower part of the house and putting their things in the street. They brought out some large sheets of paper, and said, “Here are the Mormon Commandments.” My sister Caroline and myself were in a corner of a fence watching them; when they spoke of the commandments I was determined to have some of them. Sister said if I went to get any of them she would go too, but said “They will kill us.” While their backs were turned, prying out the gable end of the house, we went, and got our arms full, and were turning away, when some of the mob saw us and called on us to stop, but we ran as fast as we could.

In this way, she and her sister rescued some of the printed pages of the “Book of Commandments” (later D&C) from the mob.

In August 1835 she married Adam Lightner of Liberty, Mo. Adam was not a member of the church but was friendly with the saints from the beginning of their marriage and the couple moved to Far West where they ran a store in the Mormon community and Mary Elizabeth bore her first child. Adam was trusted by the saints and he risked his life by purchasing gunpowder and smuggling it through hostile territory to get it back to Far West so that the saints could defend themselves from the mob. After Haun’s Mill, the state militia came to Far West with a cannon to level the town and instructions to spare only two (non-member) families, hers being one of them for Adam remained steadfastly unbaptized:

A part of the bloodthirsty mob camped near the city and placed a cannon in the middle of the road, intending to blow up the place. Then they sent in a flag of truce, demanding an interview with John Cleminson and wife, and Adam Lightner and wife. We went a short distance to meet them. We saw a number of the brethren standing around the place of meeting, well armed. As we approached, General Clark shook hands with the two men, being old acquaintances, and remarked that Governor Boggs had given him an order for our safe removal before they destroyed the place. … I asked the General if he would let all the Mormon women and children go out? He said, “No.” “Will you let my mother’s family go out?” He said, “The Governor’s orders were that no one but our two families should go but all were to be destroyed.” “Then, if that is the case, I refuse to go, for where they die, I will die, for I am a full blooded Mormon, and I am not ashamed to own it.” “Oh,” said he, “you are infatuated, your Prophet will be killed with the rest.” Said I, “If you kill him today, God will raise up another tomorrow.” “But think of your husband and child.” I then said that he could go, and take the child with him, if he wanted to, but I would suffer with the rest.

Far West was spared the cannon, but of course Joseph and others were arrested and spent a long time in jail while the saints were forced to leave Missouri. Mary and Adam went first to Lexington, KY and tried to make a living there and other places, but eventually ended up in Nauvoo. By that time, Mary Elizabeth had borne a daughter, Caroline, and was pregnant with another boy, to be named George Algernon, when she arrived in Nauvoo in January 1842.

The shock of her life awaited her there, for Joseph soon told her that he had been commanded to take plural wives and that she was the first wife he had been commanded to take, but that she had been far away at the time and this was the first opportunity he had to tell her. He told her an angel had appeared to him multiple times and commanded him that he must obey this principle or be killed. Mary Elizabeth’s reaction was predictable:

“Well,” said I, “don’t you think it was an angel of the devil that told you these things?” Said he, “No, it was an angel of God. God Almighty showed me the difference between an angel of light and Satan’s angels. The angel came to me three times between the years of 1834 and 1842 and said I was to obey that principle or he would slay me. “But,” said he, “they called me a false and fallen prophet but I am more in favor with my God this day than I ever was in all my life before. I know that I shall be saved in the Kingdom of God. I have the oath of God upon it and God cannot lie; all that he gives me I shall take with me for I have that authority and that power conferred upon me.”

Well, I talked with him for a long time and finally I told him I would never be sealed to him until I had a witness. Said he, “You shall have a witness.”

Mary Elizabeth prayed to receive a witness of the truth of Joseph’s words and was visited by an angel, whom she claimed was also seen by her aunt. She agreed to marry the Prophet and was sealed to him by Brigham Young in February of 1842. Â She was about eight months pregnant at the time, and her baby, George Algernon was born in March. By July of that year, Adam found work upriver in Pontoosuc and wanted to take the family there. By this time, Mary Elizabeth was already pregnant with another child, whom she would call Florentine Mathias. If she bore a child fathered by Joseph, it would have to be this child, but throughout her long life, though she spoke many times and very proudly of being married to the Prophet, she never mentioned a sexual relationship with him, nor that she ever had a child fathered by Joseph.

The Prophet Joseph, on learning that we were going to leave there, felt very sad, and while the tears ran down his cheeks, he prophesied that if we attempted to leave the Church we would have plenty of sorrow; for we would make property on the right hand and lose it on the left, we would have sickness on sickness, and lose our children, and that I would have to work harder than I ever dreamed of; and, “At last when you are worn out, and almost ready to die, you will get back to the Church.” I thought these were hard sayings and felt to doubt them. But the sequel proved them true.

After one last attempt by the Prophet to get Adam baptized (which I described on the thread to Kevin’s post), the family left for Pontoosuc, only to have one calamity after another, including the death of one child by illness, their house being struck by lightning and the death of two other children (including Florentine) by poisoning. In 1844, Mary Elizabeth was approached by men going to kill the Prophet and was actually forced to make a flag for them to carry. After the Prophet’s death, she wanted to attend his funeral but was prevented by these men who said they would kill anyone going to the funeral. Later, Mary Elizabeth became deathly ill:

I prayed for help to get well, but the doctor coming in, said there was no hope for me. But I dreamed that an angel came to me and said if I would go to Nauvoo and call for a Brother Cutler, that worked on the temple, to administer to me, I should be healed. But we could get no team to go. I was in despair; however, my brother was impressed to send for me, he felt that something was wrong, so he sent a boy with an ox team after me. I was so glad, that for a few moments I felt new life. But the people said I would not get a mile from town when he would have to bring back my dead body. But I said I wanted to be buried in Nauvoo, and pleaded with them to take me there, dead or alive.

So after fixing a bed in the wagon, they placed me on it; the neighbors bid me goodbye as they supposed for the last time (they were not of our faith). We went a mile and stopped the team; they thought me dying, all the children were crying. I had my senses and motioned for them to go on. We went a few miles further, stopped at a house and asked to stay all night. The woman was willing until she saw me. She said I would die before morning, and she did not want me to die in her house. Mr. Lightner told her that I would certainly die if I was left in the open wagon all night. She finally let us in. She made us as comfortable as she could and fixed me some light food; after drinking some tea, I felt better and had a good night’s rest; but she was glad when we left, for she thought I would never see Nauvoo. After traveling a few miles further, we finally reached Nauvoo. They still thought me dying. Mr. Lightner asked Brother Burt if there was an old man by the name of Cutler working on the temple. He said “Yes.” Mr. Lightner told him my dream; soon they brought him, he administered to me and I got up and walked to the fire, alone. In two weeks I was able to take care of my children.

Mary Elizabeth eventually travelled with her family to Utah and settled in Minersville in Southern Utah. She lived to be 95 years old and was the last of Joseph’s wives to die. Before she died, she had a vision of the prophet, as had been promised to her by Heber C. Kimball before he died:

Suddenly I saw just outside the door three men. They stood about two feet from the ground. These men were the Prophet Joseph, his brother Hyrum and Heber C. Kimball. Joseph stood in the middle with an arm around each of their shoulders. They were bowing and smiling at me … Now I was looking into those clear blue penetrating eyes as I had done years ago when he had answered my many questions about the Gospel … I looked around, pinched my arm to see if I was dreaming. As they were still smiling and bowing … thought I would shake hands with them. They saw my confusion and understood it and they laughed, and I thought Brother Kimball would kill himself laughing. I had no fear … Trembling with joy, I arose, took a step forward and extended my hand. They began fading away as the going down of the sun.

In perhaps her last public speech, at BYU in 1905, she said:

But let me tell you this gospel is going to spread, and you young men who are going on missions, give your hearts to God, for He said, “Young man, give me thy heart.” And if you do give Him your hearts and pray to the heavens above the spirit of God and the Holy Ghost will rest upon you. If the great soul that rules in heaven and on earth, and the inspiration of the spirit comes down and rests in your bosom you will be able to speak the light to the people and you will gain a great reward. Just speaking of yourself in your own strength the spirit is withdrawn. You will have no power that will reach the heart. It may tickle the ear, but you must have the power of the Almighty. You must have the angels to be your companions and rest upon you. Let them be your guide in health and trouble. May you ever drink of the waters of intelligence that flows from the throne of God. God Almighty will guide you and direct you and you will walk in the paths of truth and you will receive your reward as His servants for the good deeds you have done on this earth.


35 Responses

  1. Hey, my name is Tim. Earlier, I was reading your blog about Mary Elizabeth Rollins and your wife being a direct descendant of her. This sounds crazy, but your wife must be a distant cousin of mine for I am also a direct descendant of her as well. Mary Elizabeth Rollins is my gggg grandmother and you said that she is a ggg granddaughter, so can you list Rollins’ descendats from her to your wife? I want to figure out how we are related.

  2. Hi Tim, sure. I’ll find a way to add that as soon as I can track it down. If it helps, my wife’s line to Mary Elizabeth is through the Young family, which goes back, I believe, to the Carters and to Mary Elizabeth’s daughter Mary. Does that make sense?

  3. Sort of. I’m looking at family records that go back to Mary Elizabeth now and we might be closer related than I thought. Mary Elizabeth had 10 kids, at least 3 which died when they were kids. We both are descendants of her 7th child, whose name is also Mary. Mary grew up and married a man called William Carter. Those two were my ggg parents and her gg grand parents. So we are definitly related to her through the Carters.

    Mary and William had 10 kids, the 5th child being my gg grandpa, Hayward Carter. The 7th child was born less than 5 years later in 1885, and her name is Hazel Elizabeth Carter. She married a man named Charles Young. I’m sure I figured this all out by now. So my gg Grandpa and your wife’s great grandma were brother and sister. My gg grandpa’s daughter, my great grandma was first cousins to one of your wife’s grandparents and his/her siblings. Then one of her parents would be second cousins to my grandpa. That would make her 3rd cousins with my dad and 4th cousins with me I think?

  4. By the way it’s cool that I found a distant relative online like this. I’m curious to know a little more about her since she’s related to me. BTW what’s her name and age? Mary Elizabeth is her ggg grandma and my gggg grandma, so that puts us a generation apart. I’m 21. I think I found your profile on here that said you live in Utah. I live in a small town in Southern California.

  5. It is cool, Tim! What town in California are you from?

  6. I live in a small town called Trona, not too far from Death Valley.

  7. I think I’ve seen signs for Trona on the way to San Diego, which we drive to on occasion. I’m not certain how many generations there are from Mary Elizabeth to my wife, but I’ll do some research and let you know. Maybe all the descendants of Mary Elizabeth could have a reunion some day.

  8. You probably have seen signs for Trona if you head towards San Diego. Even people in California are too familiar with the place.

  9. Tim I am very curious who your grandmother or grandfather is/was that your are the gg grandson of Hayward Carter.

    I am a great granddaughter of Hayward & Inez Carter. My grandmother is their oldest child, Leona Carter, my mother is Carlie Roberts.

  10. Hi Lisa! I’m pleased to meet you! My great grandma Addie was your grandma’s younger sister! Leona was the oldest out of 10 children, my great grandma being their fourth child. This is crazy, but I know exactly how we’re related because I have an extended family tree book here at home. Your mom Carlie, was the fifth out of six children born in Minnersville Utah to your Grandma Leona. My grandpa, Othello, was Addie’s oldest child, who is six years older than your mom. My grandpa and his three younger siblings were also born in Minnersville. My grandpa and your mom are first cousins. My family tree book also stated you are the second oldest of four children. My dad was the oldest child out of his siblings, and this makes you second cousins with my dad. My family tree book also shows that you are married with two kids, who were born in Oregon. That makes them my third cousins. Isn’t this amazing?

  11. Tim, Is that a family tree book for the whole family of Mary Elizabeth and her descendents? How far does it extend? Where did you get it? Are there other copies available? That sounds like a wonderful resource to have. Please let us know more about it. Thanks.

  12. Hi again MCQ. No, it does not have all of her descendants. The book is a couple inches thick.

    Ok, here’s what it has. The back few pages deals with mary Rollins and Joseph Smith, and a couple other things about my family of around that generation. One page lists her parents names, along with her and her siblings names. The list on the page also lists their birth dates, place of birth, date of marriage and to whom, along with their death dates. The next page lists Mary Rollins Lightner’s 7th child, Little Mary who is my ggg grandma. It lists her name, her spouse William Carter, her in-laws name and basic info, and their ten children. It also lists her children’s names, birth dates, place of birth, future spouses names, death dates and places. Their 5th child was Haward Carter, born in 1880.

    Then, at the beginning of the book shows pics and info on my Great Great Grandpa. He married my gg-Grandma Inez Roberts during the the middle of the first decade of the 20th century. This is were this line of ancestory starts. The book starts off with them as the first generation, their ten kids as the second, who were born between 1904ish and 1926. My great grandma was the fourth born, born in 1909 and died in 1998. And as you probably guessed, it lists their kids, birth dates, place of birth, date and place of death for some, their future spouses names.

    The third generation consists of Hayward and Inez’s grandkids, which is my grandpa’s generation (with ten kids, I’m not even going to try and count the number of grandkids!)
    Fourth Generation is the great grandkids, Lisa’s generation. The Fifth generation is the great great grandchildren, which is my generation. It’s an amazing book since it lists every child, grandchild, great grandchild and great great grandchild of Hayward and Inez in existence that was born before 1995. Back in the very early 90’s at least 7 possibly 8 out of Hayward’s 10 kids were still alive in their late 60’s to later 80’s. All 7 of them got together and record their kids, grandkids, and great grandkid’s names along with their 2 or 3 deceased family’s family line and put it together in this book. So I have basic info like birth dates, places of birth, spouses, etc on everyone to at least my 3rd cousins, some even my fourth. I went to a family reunion in the mid 90’s in which dozens of copies of the book were made for the event.

  13. Sounds awesome! So it’s basically your family’s direct line back to Mary Elizabeth? Sounds like it also includes a lot of info on siblings of your direct ancestors, so it would probably be very valuable to many who trace their line back to her. Any idea where others can get copies? Are there any copies available?

  14. I know there are many more out there. My family received a copy in 11 years ago at a family reunion in Utah, so obviously that was awhile ago and wouldn’t who who or where to find any more copies. I believe up to a few dozen copies were made to the family descendants of Hayward and Inez. Ya, it states my direct line back to Mary Elizabeth. It lists all of Hayward and Inez’s descendants, and then their line to Mary.

  15. I have a lot of time invested in this subject as I am a gggrandaughter of Josephine Lyons. I am just wanting to comment on the secrete nature of all of these marriages and children born (or not )of these unions. I think that they held it as guarded information because of the potential for persecution for these people at this time from inside and outside of the church. I would think that they would be extremely proud of their heritage but not to hold theirselves in higer estem than someone else who had different heritage. Also, these children that seemed to in the least, have the parentage of Joseph Smith through sealings and or biological recieved noted attention from prominent church leaders. If the parentage is through sealings and not biological, they still have the blessing of being counted as children of Joseph Smith.

  16. Mary Elizabeth is my paternal ggggrandmother. Do you have any photos of her, Adam Lightner and Caroline Rollins?

  17. Robert: My wife’s family may have some, but I do not, other than the ones that are available on the net. For at least one of those, please see here:

  18. I have photos of Mary Elizabeth Rollins Lightner’s copy of the Book of Commandments and her copy of an 1841 Book of Mormon with a lock of Joseph Smith’s hair. It is signed by him.

  19. Robert, that would be very interesting to see. Did you get these things through your family?

  20. I found out where they were located (SMU and the LDS Church) and was able to obtain photos of them.

  21. Post the photos online if you can!

  22. Thank you for this post. I recently posted excerpts from her autobiography that I thought were a powerful testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith. See Mary Elizabeth Rollins Lightner Testimony.

  23. Greg: Thanks for the link. Those are parts of her testimony that I value very highly as well.

    Let me just say this about Mary Elizabeth: It’s impossible for me to overstate how highly I regard the fact that, given her history, she remained faithful to the gospel throughout her life and bore powerful testimony of the prophet Joseph to the end of her days. Her testimony and her actions are a strong pillar which has formed the foundation for at least a part of my own testimony of the gospel. She had every reason in the world to deny her faith or to simply allow it to dwindle away, yet she never did either of those things. How do you explain that? For me, there is only one explanation that makes any sense. Her faith was unmovable because her experiences were real and her testimony was based on the truth: Joseph was and is a true prophet of God.

  24. MCQ: I couldn’t agree more! When I first started studying Mary’s life, it was in relation to trying to better understand the law of adoption and the sealing powers as introduced by the Prophet Joseph Smith (see Brigham Young’s Vision of Joseph Smith). The more I learned about her and the things she went through had the same effect upon me – a foundation that added to my own testimony of the gospel. Thanks again!

  25. I’m also related to Mary Elizabeth Rollins Lightner, as my GGG grandfather, James Henry Rollins was her brother. I have a lot of family records and have created a tree at if any of you use that site. It allows you to post pictures of your relatives and communicate with the living relatives, inviting them to join the tree. If you would like to reach me, please feel free to email me at I’m originally from Southern California but live in Texas now.

  26. I’m also related to Mary Elizabeth Rollins Lightner, as my GGG grandtather, James Henry Rollins, was her brother. I have a lot of family records and have created a tree at, if any of you use that site. It allows you to post pictures of your relatives and communicate with the living relatives, inviting them to join the tree. If you would like to reach me, please feel free to email me at I’m originally from Southern California but live in Texas now.

  27. Thanks Della. It’s always nice to meet another relative.

  28. Interesting article my mother in law is a descendent of Mary Elizabeth Rollins Lightner , Her maiden name is Comet Rollins and her father’s name was Sherman Rollins . My mother in law was born and still resides in Evanston Wyoming .

  29. Nice to meet you Theresa, and thanks for stopping by.

  30. Keziah VanBenthusen Rollins, the mother of Mary Elizabeth, Caroline and James Henry, married John Mathias Burk, the brother of my gg grandfather, Allen Burk, in Indepence, MO in 1835. The Burks and James Henry’s family traveled to Utah together in the Willard Richards company in 1848. I have been absolutely thrilled to read the journals and other writings of Mary Elizabeth and James Henry. If you haven’t come across his Life Sketch, here is a link to it. He was an amazing man, and very much in the midst of things in the early days of the Church. He was even arrested and put on trial with Joseph Smith. He is also one of my heroes!

  31. Thanks for the link Alan. Very cool.

  32. You know what is sad that you all honestly believe you are the chosen ones and that you hold the key to the gates of heaven and that the only way anyone is going to get to Heaven is by way of Joseph Smith. Sorry The way to get to heaven is by being washed in the blood of Christ and believing in God himself. It’s awfuuly funny how the Rollins family along with the Bettinson Family are known as pure white trash in Good Ole Evanston Wyoming. This Mormon religion that you are all so damn proud of is basically no more than a cult.Get a grip people Joseph Smith was basically a fake and nothing more you do not base a religion on a mere mortal you base your faith on God and God alone.

  33. Cecelia,thanks for stopping by.

    You make me laugh because you obviously know nothing of our faith, though we’d be happy to teach you if you like. You must be talking about some other religion. We do not base our faith on Joseph Smith or any other man, we base our faith on Jesus Christ.

    We respect your faith, whatever that may be, and we expect you to do the same. That’s the way a Christian behaves. If you can’t do that, then good luck to you and please find someplace else to make your silly comments.

  34. Thanks for the Blog and all the history you’ve posted.
    James Henry Rollins in my gggg grandfather and I appreciate family history being shared!

  35. You’re welcome schlaab!

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