David W. Patten was an early Mormon apostle who lost his life during mob violence.
David was born November 19, 1799, in Theresa, New York, to Benenio or Benonio Patten and Edith (Abigail) Cole. He had a strong interest in religion and in his early years had a number of dreams and visions in which he saw a number of future events, including the restoration of Christ’s true church in his own lifetime. In 1830, the year The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was organized, he learned of and examined a copy of the Book of Mormon. Mormon is a nickname sometimes applied to members of the Church and the Book of Mormon is used by Mormons in addition to the Bible.
In 1832, his brother John joined the Church in Indiana. He wrote to David W. Patten about the church. David decided to travel to Indiana to discuss it further with his brother. He gained a testimony of the gospel while there and was baptized in June by his brother. He immediately, as was common at that time, began to serve the first of many missions.
David W. Patten had an unusual gift for spiritual healings. During his mission, he had many opportunities to heal those who were sick. He healed so many that people began to travel to him to be healed, including one woman who was instantly healed of an illness she had struggled with for two decades.
In 1832, he went to Kirtland, Ohio, where the Mormons were largely gathered, and spent several months helping build the temple. This temple still stands, although it no longer belongs to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He then left on another mission, lasting seven weeks. He was ill most of the trip, but refused to stop his work. He was then instructed by revelation to return to Kirtland.
On several occasions, he found himself in great danger from those who fought against the Church using violence. One man threatened to slit his throat with a knife. David placed his hand in his left breast pocket and advised the man not to do anything rash. The man, thinking he was pulling out a gun, became frightened and pleaded with David not to shoot him. The man fled. Another time, while serving a mission, an entire mob threatened to shoot him. He invited them to go ahead and shoot, but they unexpectedly ran away. In 1835, he was staying in a home in Tennessee when a mob surrounded the house and arrested him and two other men in the home. The arrest was carried out at the request of a Methodist priest. When they appeared in court, they were not given a trial, but were instead instantly found guilty. David rebuked them, through inspiration, for holding a wicked and illegal trial. The judge accused him of being armed with a concealed weapon if he had the courage to verbally attack an armed court. He responded that he was armed only with the Holy Ghost. The judge decided to let them go in exchange for court costs, which church members paid. They returned to the home to rest, but were visited by an angel and warned that mobs were coming again. The messenger instructed them to leave immediately, which they did.
In 1835, the first Mormon apostles were chosen. David was the fifth apostle chosen, but since all were chosen the same day, they were given seniority by age rather than by when they were called. This left him the second in seniority. He was just thirty years old, which today would be very young for an apostle. Since the role of an apostle is to be a special witness of Jesus Christ, the new apostles left on missions. David W. Patten was sent to the East Coast in the United States and Canada. After returning home for a short time, he left again, this time taking his wife with him. (They had no known children.) In Tennessee, he healed a woman who promised to be baptized. She changed her mind and Elder Patten warned her she needed to repent and be baptized or her illness would return, since it was conditioned on her faith. He left the area, continuing his mission service. When he returned, she was indeed ill again. She promised she would be baptized this time if she were healed. She was healed and then baptized.
In 1838, David W. Patten returned to Missouri and assist Thomas Marsh in overseeing the area until Joseph Smith arrived. He wrote a letter and gave a talk. Listeners did not know they were hearing or reading his final testimony to the world. He was killed that year.
In April, he was given a revelation to settle his business and sell his merchandise in order to serve a mission God had for him. In October, three Mormons were kidnapped and threatened with murder. The mob that took the men also promised to burn the Mormons out of the area and David was instructed by revelation to lead a group of men to Crooked River to rescue them. A battle began that night. The mob began destroying property, taking prisoners, and committing other crimes. David W. Patten was hit in the battle and was in so much pain, he asked to be left there. The others refused, however, and carried him and another badly wounded man to Log Creek, where they were met by Joseph Smith, his brother Hyrum Smith, and Heber C. Kimball, another Church leader. He died an hour after being taken to a home to recover.
Joseph Smith said, “He was one of the Twelve Apostles, and died as he had lived, a man of God, and strong in the faith of a glorious resurrection, in a world where mobs will have no power or place” (History of the Church, 3:171).
Article adapted from Every Person in the Doctrine and Covenants by Lynn F. Price, Cedar Fort, 2007
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.