Erastus Snow was born November 9, 1818, in St. Johnsbury, Caledonia, Vermont. His mother was a devout Methodist, while his father was less religious. Erastus’ mother raised him to believe in God. At the age of nine, he began to study the Bible seriously on his own, having a strong interest in religion. He chose to begin with a study of the life of Jesus Christ. By the time Erastus was thirteen years old, two of his older brothers, married and living away from home, had converted to Mormonism. (Mormonism is the nickname some people use to describe the belief system of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.) Mormonism had been founded not quite two years before. That year, two Mormon missionaries, Orson Pratt and Lyman Johnson, came to Erastus’ home and shared a message with his family about the religion. The whole family listened with great interest, curious to know what their older sons had decided to believe. Erastus, after hearing the missionaries share their testimonies, felt the testimony of the Holy Ghost come over him and he believed their teachings. Although his mother also gained a testimony, his father did not accept their message.
Erastus Snow Becomes a Mormon
Erastus was anxious to join the church, however, so he began to pray for a way to make that happen. His mother convinced his father to let him visit his married brothers, and one of them baptized Erastus. He began studying the Bible even more, determined to become a missionary someday. In time, all but two of his siblings were baptized, as was his mother.
When he was sixteen, he was sent on a ten-day mission into Vermont. He traveled with a relative the same age. They hosted a variety of large meetings where they taught the gospel to both Mormons and those who were curious about Mormons. They were very excited about the results of this first mission trip. Later, he went on another trip that was less successful.
Between mission trips, Erastus continued to study the scriptures as he worked on his father’s farm, reading each time he gave his teams a rest. Just before his seventeenth birthday, he decided to move to Kirtland, Ohio, where the majority of Mormons lived. His father recognized his love of preaching and allowed him to go, even financing the journey. When Erastus arrived, he, like many other newly arrived converts, stayed in the home of Joseph Smith, the Mormon prophet, for a few weeks until he was settled. Then he enrolled in school to continue his education, preaching on weekends. At the end of the school year, he headed to Pennsylvania on a mission, bringing only five cents to see him through. The 1,600-mile journey led to sixty baptisms. He continued taking mission trips at every opportunity, sometimes baptizing and sometimes meeting with challenges, including having rotten eggs thrown at him. When he was nineteen he moved to Missouri, where many Mormons had gathered. His parents had already moved there, so he was reunited with them. His father was still not a member and did not convert. During this time, Erastus began to have frequent bouts of ague, an illness that included fever, chills, and sweats and is often associated with malaria.
Erastus again lived with Joseph Smith, doing chores to earn his keep, but then Joseph Smith was arrested. Erastus married Artimesia Beman and became a teacher until the Saints were forced to flee to Illinois.
In 1839, he and other church members were asked to visit Joseph Smith and additional church leaders who were falsely imprisoned in Liberty Jail. He and the others were imprisoned during an attempt to help Joseph escape, since the purpose of these spurious arrests was to end the church and potentially allow Joseph Smith to be killed. He was eventually freed and returned home.
After moving to Illinois, Erastus departed on another mission, but had a dream that his family was very ill. He quickly returned home and saw how ill they were. He contracted the illness himself while caring for and administering to both is family and others in the city who were ill.
Although in poor health, Erastus was determined to continue the missionary work that God had revealed to be his life’s work. However, he became so ill he was forced to recuperate in the home of another Mormon. While he struggled to become well, he learned his wife was dying. He raced home, but she had recovered before he arrived. He next headed for Pennsylvania. Upon learning his wife’s mother had died, he returned home to take Artimesia with him as he traveled.
Erastus and his family moved to Nauvoo, Illinois, when the Mormons established a city there, but he continued to travel on missionary journeys. While preaching in Salem, he learned that Joseph Smith had been murdered while in prison. He hurried home to participate in the challenge of figuring out how God intended succession in the Church to work. He supported Brigham Young, who, as the president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, was next in line of authority.
Despite the death of the prophet and some power struggles among those who sought an opportunity to take control of the Church, the work of the Lord continued. Erastus Snow set out to serve a mission in portions of Illinois and Wisconsin, but returned home when his horse became ill. He attended the mock trial of Joseph Smith’s murderers while at home.
He took a second wife under the spiritual law of polygamy in 1846, and he and his family began moving west that year. He was sent ahead with Orson Pratt into the Salt Lake Valley, entering it on July 21, 1847. In 1849, he became a Mormon apostle, replacing Lyman Wight, who had been disfellowshipped. He helped to guide people into Salt Lake and served in the Utah legislature.
Erastus Snow founded Saint George, Utah, in 1861.
In 1873, he had the opportunity to serve a mission to Scandinavia that was extremely successful and was responsible for having the Book of Mormon translated into their language. He served as the mission president over that mission.
He died at home in 1888, when he was seventy years old.
Every Person in the Doctrine and Covenants by Lynn F. Price, Cedar Fort, 2007
William G. Hartley, Snow on Fire, New Era, Jan-Feb, 1984
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.