Newel Knight was the second son born to Joseph Knight, Sr. and Polly Peck. He was born September 13, 1800, in Vermont. The family was not wealthy, but it was comfortably well-off and the children received a common-school education. His parents believed in God, but did not belong to a church. They accepted the doctrine of Universalian, which taught that everyone would eventually go to Heaven, although they did not attend any churches at all.
In 1825, Joseph Smith, first prophet of the Mormons, came to work for Joseph’s business partner. When Joseph returned home, he kept in contact with the two men, and was hired in 1826 to work for Joseph Knight. Knight considered Joseph Smith the best hired hand the family had ever employed and young Joseph Smith got along well with the entire family, but developed a particular friendship with the father.
The family learned that Joseph Smith had been called by God to bring to light an ancient record in the future. Joseph Knight and his youngest son, also named Joseph, believed him, but Newel and his brother Nahum did not. However, Newel continued his high respect for Joseph Smith, describing the prophet as a close friend and a kind man.
After the plates were translated and published as the Book of Mormon, the Church was organized. Over time, members of Newel’s family began to be baptized. When Joseph Smith traveled to Colesville to preach at a series of meetings, Newel attended each one and also held private discussions with his friend concerning the new religion. One day he went into the woods to pray privately about the faith and an evil spirit sealed his lips, making him unable to pray. Joseph Smith was sent for, who commanded the spirit to leave. Newel was overcome by the spirit and was lifted from the floor. This was the first miracle in modern times and it helped many people decide to join the Church.
Newel was baptized by David Whitmer, because Joseph Smith was not performing baptisms at that time. He was the first person in his family to convert, and was possibly the first person in Colesville as well, although there would be many baptisms in that town in the near future. At the church’s first conference, Newel would have his first vision, one in which he came to know a great work would occur because of the restoration of the gospel. He also saw the Savior in his vision and received assurances of his salvation. A baptism was to follow the conference and his father was among those scheduled to be baptized. However, mobs destroyed the dammed stream. It was quickly repaired and the baptisms commenced. Before the confirmations could occur, the mobs had Joseph Smith arrested. Newel’s father sent his lawyer to assist in clearing the obviously false charges designed to stop the confirmations and Newel testified at the trial. The charges were dropped and the confirmations continued.
The persecutions of the Knight family increased and Newel’s father and sister were forced to flee their home. Newel remained so he could help other church members prepare to leave as soon as the ice cleared the waters.
The Mormons continued to seek a place where they could enjoy the religious freedom promised by the Constitution. In Missouri, Newel’s mother died, followed by a number of other relatives. When his uncle died, he took in his aunt and cared for her without complaint. He wrote that they faced life cheerfully. During the very worst of the persecution, he wrote that the Mormons never forgot to thank God for the many blessings they were receiving. His newborn son died, as did his wife, who, he wrote, was unable to withstand the persecutions and hardships the mobs imposed on them with her frail constitution. He was also ill and this time and struggled to care for his aunt and his remaining child. Despite being so ill he could barely walk, he answered a general call for people to help build the Kirtland Temple. By the time he completed the 900-mile journey, he was feeling healthier and had begun preaching along the way. During the time he spent on this project, he met his second wife, a young convert whose husband had abandoned her. They were married by Joseph Smith in his first wedding ceremony.
When the couple returned home to Missouri, persecution was intense. The Mormons were being ordered to leave, but Newell had no money to do so, having worked without pay on the temple while maintaining his home and providing for the care of his aunt and son. He was also in poor health. He stayed behind with others who could not yet leave. His aunt died. When he finally was able to leave, he settled in Caldwell County, but mobs destroyed the city. Governor Boggs issued an extermination order, making it legal to kill all Mormons and thereby increasing the danger. Once again, Newel was forced to leave, this time for Nauvoo. During this time, he was sometimes without food or clothing, but other times there was even enough for a few luxuries. He wrote that regardless of which circumstance he was in, he never lost his testimony.
Joseph Smith was murdered and again the family had to uproot and leave. This was a time of personal grief to Newel, because he and Joseph were good friends. However, he and his family, which now included seven children, moved to Council Bluffs, en route to Utah. Newel was not to reach Utah, however. A fire endangered their fort and Newel responded to the call for help. He became very ill as a result, probably with pneumonia, and died. His family continued on to Utah in a few years, when they could afford to do so.
Every Person in the Doctrine and Covenants by Lynn F. Price, Cedar Fort, 2007
The Joseph Knight Family, Larry Porter, Ensign, October, 1978
Terrie Lynn Bittner
The late Terrie Lynn Bittner—beloved wife, mother, grandmother, and friend—was the author of two homeschooling books and numerous articles, including several that appeared in Latter-day Saint magazines. She became a member of the Church at the age of 17 and began sharing her faith online in 1992.