Joann Follett Mortensen. Salt Lake City, Utah: Greg Kofford Books, 2011. Softbound, 6x9", 601 pages.
Who was King Follett? When he was fatally injured digging a well in Nauvoo in March 1844, why did Joseph Smith use his death to deliver the monumental doctrinal sermon now known as the King Follett Discourse? Much has been written about the sermon, but little about King.
Although King left no personal writings, Joann Follett Mortensen, King’s third great-granddaughter, draws on more than thirty years of research in civic and Church records and in the journals and letters of King’s peers to piece together King’s story from his birth in New Hampshire and moves westward where, in Ohio, he and his wife, Louisa, made the life-shifting decision to accept the new Mormon religion.
From that point, this humble, hospitable, and hardworking family followed the Church into Missouri where their devotion to Joseph Smith was refined and burnished. King was the last Mormon prisoner in Missouri to be released from jail. According to family lore, King was one of the Prophet’s bodyguards. He was also a Danite, a Mason, and an officer in the Nauvoo Legion. After his death, Louisa and their children settled in Iowa where some associated with the Cutlerities and the RLDS Church; others moved on to California. One son joined the Mormon Battalion and helped found Mormon communities in Utah, Nevada, and Arizona.
While King would have died virtually unknown had his name not been attached to the discourse, his life story reflects the reality of all those whose faith became the foundation for a new religion. His biography is more than one man’s life story. It is the history of the early Restoration itself.
Praise for The Man behind the Discourse:
While King Follett’s name has been indelibly attached to Joseph Smith’s most famous public discourse, his personal history has been something of a mystery—until now. In this well-crafted biography, author Joann F. Mortensen skillfully weaves the tapestry of Follett’s life into the larger religious, political, cultural, and social context of early Mormonism. —Alexander L. Baugh, Professor, Church History and Doctrine, Brigham Young University
Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “There is properly no history; only biography,” which Joann Follett Mortensen so ably exhibits in her wonderful book on her third great-grandfather, King Follett, a humble farmer, a common person from New Hampshire beginnings. Follett’s untimely and tragic 1844 death provided the opportunity for Joseph Smith to deliver what some have called his greatest sermon. Joann’s passion for family history tells the remarkable story of her ancestor whose name has been linked to this significant LDS Church history and doctrinal event. Her narrative provides a colorful and rich standard to which all family historians can and should aspire. —Larry King, former Executive Director, Mormon History Association
Joann Follett Mortensen does a thorough job of collecting all the fragments of information about her ancestor King Follett, an early convert to Mormonism, and weaving them into a tapestry of information about one of the “ordinary citizens about whom very little would ever be recorded.” As a result, this biography contributes to our understanding of the “ordinary citizens” of Mormonism—those Latter-day Saints who actively participated within the early Mormon community but whose stories have not been told until now. —Mark Lyman Staker, Lead Curator, LDS Church Historic Sites; author of Hearken, O Ye People: The Historical Setting of Joseph Smith’s Ohio Revelations.
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