The Life of John Solomon Fullmer
Born July 21, 1807
The story of the Life of John Solomon Fullmer is most interesting. His was a life of devotion to his religious beliefs and he never faltered in his faith. He possessed a great dignity and great pride in doing everything as nearly perfect as possible. John Solomon Fullmer, Sr. (hereafter referred to as John S.) was born in Huntington, Luzern County, Pennsylvania on 21 July 1807, the third of seven children born to Peter Fullmer and Susannah Zerfass. He came from a good, religious family whose means of livelihood for many years was that of farming. He spent his youth and early manhood on his father’s farm in Pennsylvania.
His ancestors were among the very early settlers of Pennsylvania, those of the Fullmer family coming from Germany on board the ship "Friendship", in 1738, and those of the Zerfass family also emigrating from Germany. He was reared in Huntington until he was an adult and spent his youth and early manhood on his father's farm there.
He received what was considered an "average" education. In those days, an education considered as "liberal" would be to us but a grade school education. However, John S. possessed a driving ambition to better himself in every way and never ceased to study to improve himself. He acquired knowledge of the law by taking a correspondence course while working in a newspaper office in Nashville, Tennessee and, although he never practiced as a lawyer, this knowledge served him greatly throughout his life.
In 1830, his father's family moved from Pennsylvania to Ohio. Two years later, John S. left the family to go to Nashville where he intended to study for the ministry of the Baptist Church. He later changed his mind about becoming a Minister as he felt that he was incapable of filling such a position.
When he arrived in Nashville, he had barely five dollars in his pocket, was without friends or acquaintances, and had no training in a trade. He obtained a job at the "Banner" newspaper office and, within five years time, had become so well known and highly regarded that he received the financial backing of a wealthy merchant to enter the mercantile business with a partner. The firm was known as Fullmer and Mitchell.
It was while in Nashville that he met and fell in love with Mary Ann Price, a daughter of a wealthy planter. Mary Ann had known none of the hardships of life and had her own maid and a private tutor. Her father was very much opposed to her association with John S. and she was forbidden to see him.
Describing their romance to his parents, John S. said, "I always thought I would be better pleased for having a little romance in my courtship. In this I was fully gratified. She was prevented from having any association with me for a long time, and when we did have any, it was clandestinely conducted. She was not permitted to visit a neighbor's house alone, or even go to church without someone to attend her, lest I should intrude and take advantage of the circumstances. We at length, however, corresponded daily: and when we thought we were about to be discovered, we consummated the business to our liking, and the utter astonishment and surprise of everybody.
On the morning of the 24th of May, 1837, she put on her morning gown as usual and, instead of walking among the flowers in the garden, as usual, she skipped across the street, through an alley, and met me at the place of appointment. At 9 o'clock, we were at the Parson's house and had the ceremony completed, and wrote a joint note to her mother (her father being at the time in Texas), informing her of what was done, and hoped also that it was well done."
After the marriage, her father did become reconciled to their marriage in that he was friendly toward the newlyweds. However, he disinherited Mary Ann. Some years later, after her parent's died and their estate was probated, Mary Ann finally received some settlement, but this was after they had come to Utah.
It was while living in Nashville that his parents heard the gospel preached and accepted it. He was bitterly opposed to them joining what he called some "new fangled" religion when it meant moving from their home to a new place and the breaking up of the family unit. The Fullmers had been a closely knit family and John S. had been the only one to leave home up to that time. His three sisters[ii] had not joined this new church and were to be left behind in Ohio when the rest of the family moved to Missouri. John S. asked "Wasn't the old religion they had lived for so many years satisfactory anymore?" In a letter to his brother David, he says, "And as regards your religion, I have not another word to say in opposition, for I don't think you so lost in foolishness as to advocate any cause so zealously, without, to say the least, the appearance of some reason for it. I shall therefore cease the effort to laugh you out of your belief; neither will I debate the question, but will at once become your pupil, and will hear what you have to say, and if you can, by deed or doctrine, command my reason, I will make the acknowledgment."
Thus began the conversion of John S. Fullmer. At the end of two years, he decided to go to Nauvoo to visit with the portion of his family living there and to see for himself the Prophet Joseph Smith. He made the journey from Nashville to Nauvoo, Illinois on horseback in the Spring of 1839 and, before returning to Nashville, was baptized into the Church by the Prophet Joseph Smith on 29 July 1839. He then returned to Nashville and prepared to move his family to Nauvoo. He and Mary Ann and their two daughters moved into their first real home, in Nauvoo, in the Spring of 1840. Here, they were as John S. said, "comfortably but not splendidly situated."
Mary Ann, who knew nothing about the religious beliefs of his family at the time of their marriage, was baptized after their arrival in Nauvoo; however, the exact date of her baptism is unknown.
In Nauvoo they
were as John S. said, "comfortably but not splendidly situated. Our place is
rich and beautiful; half prairie, and is susceptible, by proper management,
of supporting stock to almost an unlimited extent. But what is of infinitely
more importance is that we reside within two miles of the City of Nauvoo, a
place founded by the church of Latter-day Saints with whom we became
acquainted, and after an impartial and thorough investigation of their
principles have united ourselves in Christian fellowship. . . . If you ever
heard anything, be assured it was either a gross misrepresentation or
perhaps an utter falsehood. They have, to be sure, been driven from the
state of Missouri, two years ago, by the force of arms, but certainly not
for any criminal act, . . . but because there is a
prophet at their head and because the church places implicit confidence
in what he teaches. Equally with the primitive Christians, this church
professes to have the same priesthood, together with the same power and
gifts. . . . The organization of the church, according to the apostolic
pattern, is a prelude to the Millennium, which is not very far distant.
From the time of their arrival in Nauvoo until the death of the Prophet Joseph Smith, the Fullmer family was closely associated with him and his brother Hyrum, and their families. Being a neighbor for a time to the Prophet, they saw a lot of each other. Stories are told in the family how, in the evenings, the rugs of the Prophet's home would be rolled up and the time spent in dancing, and in the wrestling matches that John S. and the Prophet would engage in. In the Fullmer family, there is a sword and a watch which were given to John S. by the Prophet as tokens of his love and affection.
John S. later wrote that he had been with Joseph Smith "a great deal since my first acquaintance with him; was in his company and employ, in his office and in his red brick store on Water Street over a year; and acted as his private secretary." John S. was active in all his Church activities and, in some of his letters, he relates the struggles required of the Saints in building the Nauvoo Temple, and many other of their hardships.
He received his patriarchal blessing May 29, 1841, at the hands of Hyrum Smith. In this blessing he was promised that he would never lose his clearness of mind, even in his old age. He never did. Desdemona, a sister of John S., was one of the first women to enter into the order of Celestial marriage. She became a wife to Joseph Smith in 1842. John S. and his brother David also accepted this new order.
October 1842, Elder John S. Fullmer left on a mission that included some time in and around his birth place Luzerne County, Pennsylvania. Elder Fullmer experienced “some experience in common with the rest of the Saints” Of the persecutions, John S told Joseph Smith later he was “glad of it.” He encountered much difficulty proselyting in Pennsylvania due to rumors about Joseph Smith’s character based on his early years in New York. John Solomon has been described as “a man of detail and assertion, one who could hold his own in any argument and give as much as he took.” Wanting to be prepared for future encounters, he wrote to Josiah Stowell, Jr asking for a statement regarding Joseph Smiths’ character. John S. had become acquainted with Stowell and discussions with him regarding Stowell’s views on the restoration and Joseph. Stowell offered that he always defended Joseph against this kind of slander.
Josiah Stowell, Jr. and Joseph Smith were school mates and friends from 1825 to 1827. Joseph has worked for Josiah Stowell, Sr. However, he had never joined the church or gathered with the Saints. Thus his testimony regarding Joseph Smith’s character can be fairly seen as more impartial than members or those who fought Joseph. Josiah willingly provided the character reference and included a reference from his father Josiah Stowell, Sr. who had joined the Mormons, but had not gathered with the Saints. Here is a link to a transcription of these letters.
John S. had been living on a farm four miles from Nauvoo when, on June 25, 1844, Joseph and Hyrum were arrested. As an officer in the Nauvoo Legion, he had been on duty during the time the city was under martial law. Because of his great friendship with the two brothers, he was one of those who accompanied Joseph and Hyrum Smith to Carthage Jail. He spent the day and night before the martyrdom with them there. On the morning of the day they were assassinated, June 26th, when he was sent on an errand by the Prophet, he left his gun with the Prophet. It was this gun that Hyrum used to defend himself with later that day. The story is told that all those who were wounded with the gun that day died a horrible death.
John S. wrote[iii] the when Joseph and Hyrum had first been jailed, they had been incarcerated on a riot charge and bail had been set at $500 each, which was about two and one half times as much as normal bail. "It was evident,” said John S. ” that the magistrate intended to outreach the pile of the brethren, so as to imprison those on trial for want of bail; but it happened that there was strength to cover the demand. I went to the full extent of my worth; so did others – and the prisoners were all released. But Joseph and Hyrum having been arrested in the first instance on two charges, one for riot, the other for treason, were now not suffered to enjoy their liberty after the first examination and release; and were almost immediately taken in charge by a constable."
John S. told of lying on the floor next to the Prophet during the night before the assassination. "He laid his right arm out for me to lay my head upon it..... After the brethren were all quiet and seemed asleep, excepting myself, he talked with me a little about the prospects of his deliverance. He did not say he knew that he had to die, but he inferred as much, and finally said he 'would like to see his family again,” and he 'would to God that he could preach to the saints once more in Nauvoo' ".
The next morning, Joseph sent John S. to Nauvoo to assist in obtaining witnesses for the treason hearing scheduled for June 29th. While there he obtained a change of clothes so that he could be dressed properly when attending the hearing. Upon returning to the jail later that day, he was refused admission by the guards and, as a result, missed the mob's attack on the jailhouse. John S. later stated that but for this, he would, a hundred chances to one, have shared the same fate that they did.
John S. had a great love and respect for the Prophet and his brother Hyrum and often stated so in his letters to family and friends. In a letter to his Uncle John on September 27th 1844, he wrote. "Thus fell two men who had no superior, I will venture the assertion, since the days of Dawn. You may think me too enthusiastic, and some may think me fanatic, but this generation will not pass away before these words will be fully accredited. I will venture another assertion, and that is that the earth never produced two as great men at the same time. You do not know what you have lost in never seeing and becoming acquainted with these men. I value the privilege I had with them, more than I do all else that my eyes have ever beheld. I ask what would you not give for the privilege, if it could be had, of seeing and conversing with the Apostles Peter, James and John, or Paul, and receiving instructions from them? Now I say unto you that greater than these have been slain in the jail of Carthage."
John S. was profoundly moved by these experiences and later experiences in Nauvoo as can be seen in pamphlets here wrote and later published. John S. published "The Assassination of Joseph and Hyrum Smith" and "The Expulsion of the Saints from Nauvoo" as a single pamphlet or tract while a missionary in England.
In May, 1844, at the birth of his fourth daughter, John S. hired a girl to work as a housekeeper. Her name was Olive Amanda Smith Cook. After she had been working in the Fullmer home for about nine months, Mary Ann, the first wife, asked Olive if she would consent to become her husband's second wife. Thinking she would not find a better man, she consented when he asked her several months later. They were sealed January 21, 1846, in the Nauvoo Temple.
In August, 1845, John S. and Henry G. Sherwood were sent on a mission to Vermillion, about 700 miles from Nauvoo. The journey was made on horseback through wild, dangerous country. Several times on this mission their lives were spared by the hand of the Lord. They returned to Nauvoo in October, 1845. (See Vol. 7, Documentary History of the Church, for details.)
By early 1846, it was evident to the leaders of the Church that the Saints would not be permitted to live much longer in Nauvoo, and preparations were made for their departure. In a council meeting held by Brigham Young in the Temple, in January 1846, John S. Fullmer was appointed as one of the three Trustees-in-Trust to care for and dispose of Church property after the Saints had departed Nauvoo. Previously, John S. had been paymaster of the Nauvoo Legion and had held the rank of Colonel. Accordingly, he became a member of the "Spartan Band" that defended Nauvoo against the mob in September 1846.
His wife, Mary Ann, and her children, remained with him in Nauvoo throughout the struggles there. His wife, Olive Amanda, left [iv]with the first Saints and lived in Council Bluffs where her daughter, Mary Ann Smith Fullmer, was born in the wagon box she called home.
John S Fullmer was called by the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles along with three others trustees to close the affairs of the church in Nauvoo.
“The Twelve realized that it was unlikely they could dispose of the Nauvoo Temple and other properties before the Saints had to abandon the city. They would have to leave agents behind to represent their interests. At a meeting on 18 January 1846 with the captains of the various emigration companies, the Twelve presented the names of five men to form a committee to dispose of the property of the Saints—Almon W. Babbitt, Joseph L. Heywood, John S. Fullmer, Henry W. Miller, and John M. Bernhisel—who would receive letters of attorney authorizing them to act legally for the Church.[v] Babbitt was an attorney, and Heywood and Fullmer were both trusted and experienced businessmen.”[vi]
John S. Fullmer was described as “a man of detail and assertion, one who could hold his own in any argument and give as much as he took.” [vii] Brigham Young’s said, “I appointed the Trustees myself, Babbitt for lawyer, Fullmer for bulldog and growl, and Heywood to settle debts.”[viii] The Trustees would need all the bulldog they could muster to see this calling through to completion.
The Trustees had a difficult and frustrating task representing the interests of the church and many private interests to sell vastly depreciated assets in Nauvoo which was rapidly being abandoned because of persecution. Their task was daunting:
After the battle of Nauvoo, in September, 1846, the Trustees, much against their will, signed a peace treaty with the mob, in order to spare the lives of the remaining Saints, and to save the Temple. John S. described the treaty as "ignoble and cruel" in all its features.
Still the temple remained unsold. Writing to his cousin George Fullmer in September 1847, John S said, “The Temple is still unsold, and I do not know but that God of Heaven intends to have it so remain as a standing monument of our sacrifice, and as witness against the nation Sold or unsold, I should think it such as we shall not be able at best to get one dollar in twenty of what it cost.” [x]
Various lawsuits encumbered their efforts to sell the properties including litigation by Emma, who had by 23 December 1847 married Lewis Bidamon. John S wrote to Brigham Young, “Now these twain concocted a grand scheme by which they would effectually block our wheels and enrich themselves. They hit on the idea that the church, according to a limited construction of one of our state laws, could only hold ten acres of land, and that consequently, the deed from Emma and Joseph to Joseph as a ‘Trustee’ was illegal.” He observed that this placed “the Trustees in the extremest difficulty, as to title, while it destroys the confidence of everyone, and it prevents those who would have purchased, from doing so.” [xi]
The difficulties involved in selling distressed property to opportunistic and often hostile buyers meant the trustees were able to sale the property at 60 to 85 percent of the actual value. [xii] Noting the disappointments of the private interests John S wrote, “We have a conscience void of all offence.” [xiii]
Upon receiving a release from Brigham Young the Trustees were released and in the spring of 1848, John S. left Nauvoo on the journey that was to take him to the valley in the mountains. At Council Bluffs, he joined Olive Amanda and others of his parent's family and started on the journey west. John S. served as a captain of 10 in the Willard Richards Company. They arrived in the valley in October of 1848 and settled in what is now Davis County, Utah.
After a year and one half of trying to dispose of the Church property and, seeing that it was a useless task, the Trustees were told to leave what property was left and move from Nauvoo. And so it was that in the spring of 1848, John S. left Nauvoo on the journey that was to take him to the valley in the mountains. At Council Bluffs, he joined Olive Amanda and others of his parent's family and started on the journey west. John S. served as a captain of 10 in the Willard Richards Company. They arrived in the valley in October of 1848 and settled in what is now Davis County, Utah.
For the next few years, John S. was involved in assisting with the political aspects of the new settlements, helping to draft a constitution for, first, the Territory of Deseret and, later, the Territory of Utah. He was elected to the House of Representatives from Davis County and his brother, David, was elected to the House of Representatives from Salt Lake County. While living in Davis County, he served as Postmaster.
In the fall of 1852, he was called to fulfill a mission to England. He left his wives, who between them had twelve children - all under fourteen years of age - and journeyed to England. Mary Ann taught school to help with their livelihood while he was away and the 6th Ward records show that they received some help from the Ward storehouse. It was a difficult time for these women and their children. Mary Ann had the added sorrow of losing, Mary Ann Francis who died while John S. was away.
While on his mission, John S. presided over three large conferences in England: the Liverpool, Manchester, and Preston conferences. While in laboring at Rochdale, England, on 29 March 1853, he and his companion administered[xiv] to an 18 year old boy by the name of Halsden Marsden, who had been born deaf and dumb. As they finished administering to him, the boy spoke and indicated that he could also hear. On the 27th of February 1855, upon completion of his mission, he sailed for home on the ship "Siddons", during which time he served as president of a company of 430 Saints who were emigrating to the Salt Lake Valley. After seeing this company of Saints to Philidephia, PA, he returned to New York to meet two more ship loads of Saints (the Juventa and Chimborozo to their outfitting place and boarding boats for St. Louis.
Feeling a “little weary” he went to Iowa to visit his two sisters, Mary Elizabeth Fellows and Charlotte Ferris before returning to the Salt Lake Valley in the fall of 1855.
Also traveling on the Ship "Siddons" was a young woman by the name of Sarah Ann Stevenson, who had been very helpful to the Elders in distributing tracts and singing with them the songs of Zion. She had promised John S. to become his third wife upon arriving in Utah. Due to the poor circumstances of the families of John S., however, she postponed the marriage for one year and nearly married John Taylor, instead. She and John S. were finally married on 12 October 1856 in the Endowment House. After arriving in Salt Lake City, John S. had moved his families to Springville, Utah, where he continued to live for the rest of his life. For six years, Sarah Ann maintained a home in Spanish Fork, Utah, and then moved to Springville near his other families.
John S. and Mary Ann taught school in Springville and Provo. Sarah Ann, who was an excellent seamstress, worked in her father's tailoring shop inasmuch as he had, by this time, brought his family to the valley. Apparently, Olive Amanda cared for the several families while they were working.
In 1881, a new settlement called Orangeville was established, and Sarah Ann and her family moved there to live. It was located about 40 miles west of Price, Utah, and was a desolate place. Nevertheless, she remained there until her death on 7 September 1901. Olive Amanda and some of her children later moved to Orangeville, where she died 17 November 1885.
In 1885, John S. suffered a stroke and paralysis of his left arm and leg. Two other strokes followed and he never regained the use of his arm and leg. However, as was promised in his patriarchal blessing, his mind remained clear until the time of his death, which came peacefully. In all his illness, he had no bodily pain.
A year after the stroke, when he knew his end was approaching, he called all his family that were present together and blessed them. He admonished them to be true to their covenants and to stand firm in the Church and kingdom of God. Among his last words to them were, "I cannot remain any longer with you. I am going on a great mission." He died 8 October 1883 at Springville, Utah, at the age of 76, and is buried in the Springville Evergreen Cemetery with his first wife, Mary Ann, who died 29 November 1897.
John S. and Mary Ann were the parents of 8 children, seven of whom grew to maturity. He and Olive Amanda were the parents of 10 children, nine of whom grew to maturity. And, he and Sarah Ann were the parents of 12 children, all of whom lived to maturity.
Mary Ann PRICE was born 16 Sep 1815 in Nashville, Davison, TN. She died 29 Nov 1897 in Marysvale, Piute, UT and was buried 2 Dec 1897 in Springville, Utah, UT. Mary was baptized 2 Aug 1877. She was endowed 15 Dec 1845 in the Nauvoo (original). Mary married John Solomon FULLMER on 24 May 1837 in Nashville, Davison, TN. They were sealed 15 Jan 1846 in the Nauvoo (original).
The Children of Mary Ann Price and John Solomon Fullmer:
[i] Copied from a typescript Iona published for the Peter Fullmer family in August 1957
[ii] John S. had four sisters: the elders, Mary, had some years previous married Erastus Fellow; Desdemona joined the Mormon Church together with her family; but Charlotte and Louisiana, while they may have been baptized, did not remain active in the church. It is fairly certain that their husbands did not join. About that same time, Charlotte married Jonathan Farris and Louisiana married John Hiskey. Both eventually moved to Iowa, near to where their sister Mary lived with her husband.
[iii] The months after the murder of the Joseph and Hyrum, John S, wrote a long detailed letter to his Uncle John regarding the events of that month. Ten years later, while a missionary in England, he published a 40 page booklet entitled, “ Assassination of Joseph and Hyrum Smith, the Prophet and the Patriarch of the Church of Latter-day Saints. Also a Condensed History of the Expulsion of the Saints from Nauvoo by Elder John S. Fullmer (of Utah, U. S. A.), Pastor of the Manchester, Liverpool, and Preston Conferences. Liverpool and London, 1855.” This pamphlet has been described as “the best narrative, and indeed the only one that enters circumstantially into all the details of the expulsion from Nauvoo. The work is written from a Mormon standpoint, but including as it does copies of the dispatches of Illinois officers and officials, of the stipulations between the belligerents, and of some comments made by the Quincy Whig, appears in the main reliable.“
[iv] Recent discoveries have revealed that Olive probably did not leave Nauvoo in February, as previously thought, since it was know that she was in the company with Colonel Stephen Markham. It now appears more likely that she remained in Nauvoo, with her husband and his other family until Col. Markham returned that summer for another load of Saints. Hence, she probably did not have to suffer the terrible winter months crossing the plains of Iowa.
[v] The act of “administering to the sick” is an ordinance conducted by priesthood authority for the blessing and healing of the sick. It is conducted by anointing the head and invoking a blessing the sick person by the authority of the priesthood of God and the faith of those present.
[vi] History of the Church, 7:569; Watson, Manuscript History of Brigham Young,
[vii] “A Perfect Estopel: Selling the Nauvoo Temple”, Mormon Historical Studies, Lisle G. Brown, Curator of Special Collections, James E. Morrow Library, and Professor/Librarian IV, Marshall University, Huntington, West Virginia.
[viii] . Bennett, We’ll Find the Place, 318. Fullmer, who was born in 1807, was a member
of the Nauvoo Legion as well as the Council of Fifty. He served a mission to England.
He was also active in politics and served the Utah Territorial Legislature. He died in
Springville, Utah, in 1883. See “John Solomon Fullmer,” in Black, Membership of the
[ix] Minutes of Trustees Meeting, 22 January 1847, Brigham Young Papers, LDS Church Archives, quoted in Bennett, We’ll Find the Place, 317.
[x] Richard E. Bennett, We’ll Find the Place: The Mormon Exodus 1846–1848 (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1997), 317–18
[xi] John S. Fullmer to George Fullmer, 2 September 1847, John S. Fullmer Letterpress Book, LDS Church Archives, cited in Leonard, Nauvoo, 593.
[xii] 96. Journal History, 27 January 1848, LDS Church Archives.
[xiii] Leonard, Glen M. Leonard, Nauvoo: A Place of Peace, Nauvoo, 591–92.
[xiv] John Fullmer to Brigham Young, 26 June 1846, Brigham Young Papers, LDS Church Archives.
Writings and Public Life of of J. S. Fullmer
Family History Outline