Isaac Morley, an early member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was known by both the Mormons (a nickname for members of the Church) and by Native Americans as Father Morley. This was a title of affection, not a religious title.
Morley became a Mormon in 1830, when the Church was new. He was a veteran in the war with Great Britain in 1812.
Isaac Morley was named one of the first High Priests in the church at a special conference. Following this, he became an assistant to Bishop Whitney. The next day he was sent on a mission, through revelation, to Missouri. His missionary companion was Ezra Booth.
In 1831, Isaac and his wife invited Joseph and Emma Smith, to live with them for a while. Joseph Smith was the first Mormon prophet. Later, a small home was built on the property for Joseph and Emma. The property became a gathering place for new converts arriving in the area. It was the site of the reception of a number of revelations and also where Joseph Smith’s twins were born and died on the same day. It is also likely Joseph Smith began his translation of the Bible there.
In 1833, mobs threatened to attack every Mormon encountered and to destroy their homes. Isaac and several other church leaders offered themselves as ransoms—the mob could take them if they promised to leave the others alone. They entered into negotiations with the mob and agreed church members would leave the county after a reasonable time to prepare. There was no other option given the danger the members were in.
His next mission was to the Eastern states with Bishop Partridge. He returned to Kirtland, Ohio for the temple dedication and then traveled on to Missouri to help settle Far West. The following year, 1837, he became a Church patriarch.
1837 was a difficult year. When Governor Boggs of Missouri issued an extermination order against the Mormons, Isaac Morley and fifty-five other men were collected by the mob, who no longer had anything to fear regardless of what they did to the Mormons, and held them for trial. After a mock trial, they were released, since they had not been arrested for anything other than their faith.
After being forced out of Missouri, the Mormons settled in Illinois. There, Morley settled in Yelrome, which is Morley spelled backwards with an extra “e” at the end. It was often known as Morley’s settlement. Today it is called Tioga. A number of other families moved there as well. He went to work in the coopering industry, employing twelve people. He was called to be the first branch president (lay pastor) when a congregation was organized. The people of the settlement were in constant danger, in part due to the nearby residence of Colonel Levi Williams, who was openly hostile to Mormons and who encouraged hostility in others. There were a number of anti-Mormon mobs in the area. The community was frequently attacked. Hundreds of homes were destroyed and many were murdered. Elder Edmund Durfee was killed by a mob that had placed bets that Durfee could be killed in one shot. The prize to the murderer was a gallon of whiskey. Governor Thomas Ford, who was not Mormon, wrote:
At a Mormon settlement called Morley a few miles from Nauvoo, a band of incendiaries, on the night of September 19th began operations. Deliberately setting fire to the house of Edmund Durfee, they turned the inmates out-of-doors and threatened them with death if they did not at once leave the settlement, Durfee they subsequently killed. The mob continued its nefarious work until Morley was in ashes, and its people homeless. (See Donald Q. Cannon, Spokes on the Wheel: Early Latter-day Saint Settlements in Hancock County, Illinois, Feb. 1986.)
He lived there from 1839–1844 and then a mob burned his homes, businesses, property, and grain. He then moved involuntarily to Nauvoo, where the other Mormons were settled, until they were all driven from there as well. He then settled in Winter Quarters, where his wife died. He moved on to Utah, where he led a group of settlers into the Sanpete Valley. He became a senator of the general assembly and then on the legislative council of the territory. The last ten years of his life were finally spent peacefully, carrying out his church work as a patriarch. He died in 1865.
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.