Edward Partridge was born August 27, 1793, in Massachusetts. He apprenticed as a hatter when he was young and then went into that profession. He became a successful hatter who owned a great deal of land and was considered an important member of his community.
During his early years, he often prayed intensely, sometimes even being moved to tears. However, in his early twenties, he decided he was uncomfortable with organized religion as it then existed. He disliked the way many ministers portrayed God. He saw God as a loving and wonderful being, but felt modern religion portrayed Him as ugly and uncaring. He continued to study the Bible on his own, comparing any new faith he studied to the words of the Bible and its teachings about God, but chose not to join a church.
He married Lydia Clisbee in 1819. Together, they, like many who would eventually become Mormon, joined the Campbellites, a small religious group that sought to live New Testament practices focusing on baptism by immersion and the gift of the Holy Ghost. He was baptized by Sidney Rigdon, then a Campbellite preacher, but was not certain it was God’s true church.
When three leaders from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, whose members are often called Mormons, arrived in Kirtland, Ohio, to preach the newly organized gospel, he listened to them when they came to his door, but sent them away. However, after thinking about it, he asked an employee to find a copy of the Book of Mormon, which Mormons used with the Bible. His wife decided to become a Mormon and was baptized, but Edward was hesitant to make the decision. He went to Manchester to meet Joseph Smith for himself. The Smiths were no longer there, but Edward walked around their property and saw that it was in good order and well-cared for. Then he began interviewing people who knew them. He found no one questioned their integrity in any area other than Mormonism. As a man noted by all who knew him for his honesty and integrity, this was important to him. He returned home.
Sidney Rigdon decided to go to Fayette and Edward accompanied him. They attended a meeting in which anyone who wished to do so was invited to speak. Edward rose and shared his investigation into Joseph’s character and then said he was now prepared to be baptized if Joseph himself would perform the baptism. He was baptized the following day. Edward then asked Joseph what he could do for the church. Joseph Smith prayed, since it was God’s decision as to what Edward’s role was to be and received a revelation directed to Edward. God told him that any man who wanted to be engaged in the ministry could be if he lived the gospel.
Unfortunately, his family was angry at his decision. His sister ordered him out of her house and said she never wanted to see him again. His father thought he was mentally ill and sent a brother to supervise his return home, believing him unable to care for himself.
The following year, Edward Partridge was called by God to be the first bishop of the Church. Mormons have a lay ministry, so this was not a paid position. It was equivalent to a lay pastor. An early revelation directed toward Edward instructed him in the temporal care of the many immigrants joining the church and coming to the United States. He was instructed to create a storehouse where goods could be stored to meet the needs of those who lacked the essentials of life.
He was called to serve in Missouri, where the Mormons were beginning to gather. He went on ahead because some of their children were ill, and later wrote his wife, offering her the choice of staying where she was, or moving to Missouri, where he would be serving. He warned her Missouri was rather primitive and she would not be able to live as comfortably as she was accustomed to living. She bravely packed up her family and headed for Missouri with the Morley family and other immigrants. They were cast off the river when it swelled and were saved by a black family that took them into their two-room cabin for safekeeping.
When they arrived in Missouri, they rented a one-room cabin from the future Governor Boggs, who would later issue an extermination order against the Mormons. They took in a widow and her four children, making the room very crowded until Edward Partridge built them a two-room house.
Persecution became intense. Edward was dragged from his home by a mob and stripped of his clothing on the street. He was ordered to renounce his faith. He responded:
“If I must suffer for my religion, it is no more than others have done before me. I am not conscious of having injured anyone in the county and therefore will not consent to leave. I have done nothing to offend anyone. If you abuse me, you are injuring an innocent man.”
Edward protested being forced to be undressed in public and a few of the less extreme mobbers convinced the others to allow him to put on pants and a shirt. However, they applied an acid to his skin that burned it before applying tar and feathers.
Homes were shot at, people attacked, and fires started. The Mormons were forced again to flee their homes and seek safety elsewhere. They crossed the river into Clay County and Edward worked to help everyone safely across. Then he and another man found an abandoned cabin that had been serving as a stable. They moved their families into it and the sixteen people lived there for two years.
Edward served several missions, keeping him away from home for a number of years. This included trips to collect goods to care for the poor. Because of the constant need to abandon everything they owned, many among the church members were poor.
In 1838, Edward and a number of other men were arrested and accused of anything the mobs could think of, including treason, murder, and robbery. His wife and children fled with other church members, while Edward stayed in prison with the other men for most of a month. They were in a large cold room without blankets, and with minimal heat and food. They determined to cope without complaint.
Eventually, they found themselves in Nauvoo, Illinois, where the Mormons built a beautiful city. He “pitched a tent” under a tree, but eventually moved into a shared home. The hardships of the previous years left him and his family suffering from constant illness. Bishop Partridge continued to serve as a bishop, however, feeling there was too much to do to take time off to be sick. Only his daughter Emily was well enough to work, so she became a school teacher living away from home.
One daughter died at age nineteen. Eleven days later, Edward also died. He was only forty-six years old, but the many hardships had destroyed his body. Joseph Smith praised him as a man of God without guile.
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.