John Murdock was born 15 July 1792 in New York and suffered through a mostly unhappy childhood. He often turned to private prayer for comfort during that time. He had one year of formal schooling and was self-taught otherwise. He taught school for a time but was generally a farmer. John Murdock was married to Julia Clapp and they had five children. He initially joined first the Baptists and then the Campbellites. He had become a Baptist because he wanted to be baptized by immersion, as Jesus had been baptized, but he still found himself unsatisfied with his religion. He kept searching his Bible and then looking for a church that practiced what the New Testament taught.
The Campbellites attempted to recreate the New Testament Church and that appealed to him, but like many of that sect, he became a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, whose members are sometimes nicknamed Mormons, when it was organized. He was baptized near the end of 1830, the year the Church was organized. He had noted the scriptures about the Holy Ghost and when he met four Mormons, he decided to test their work by discovering whether or not the Spirit would testify to him of the truthfulness of their teachings. He rode twenty miles to Kirtland and that night the Spirit bore witness to him that it was true. He spoke with several recently baptized people and heard their testimonies that the Spirit had been present at their baptisms and conversions. That morning, he asked to be baptized. It was his third baptism, the first two being with the Baptists and the Campbellites, but the first time he felt the power of priesthood authority as the ordinances were performed. When he was confirmed and given the gift of the Holy Ghost, he felt that gift enter into him for the first time.
Murdock was so excited he began sharing the gospel with everyone he saw and his work resulted in seventy new members in four months. The requests for missionary lessons and baptisms came so fast he quit his job and joined home with another family to cut expenses.
The next year, his wife died in childbirth. He had five young children, including the newly born twins. John being overwhelmed by having to care for so many little ones, Joseph Smith, the first prophet and president of the Church, offered to take in his twins and raise them with his wife, Emma. Their own twins had just died the day before John’s were born and John knew of Emma’s heartache. Unfortunately, one of these twins, a little boy, would also die, the victim of a mob. The twins were quite ill and the when the girl finally fell asleep, Joseph sent his wife to bed with their daughter to get some rest. Finally, when the boy fell asleep, Joseph placed the child in the cradle near the door and went to rest himself. A mob broke into the house and kidnapped Joseph, tarring and feathering him. They left the door open and the icy wind made the little boy so sick he died.
Two months after the death of John’s wife, John became a high priest and then was called to serve a mission after he had settled his children. The three oldest were sent to stay with Bishop Partridge, while the surviving twin stayed with Joseph and Emma. He sold his property so he could assist these families in caring for his children.
In 1833, he came to live with Joseph Smith, allowing him to be near his daughter. He continued serving the church during this time and that year he had a vision in which he saw the face of the Lord, fulfilling the promise given to him in the revelation that called him to his mission.
When the Mormons moved to Utah, he became the first bishop (lay pastor) of the Salt Lake 14th ward. A ward is a congregation. He served a variety of missions over the years, including two to Australia. He remarried three times, with the second and third wives also dying (one just a year and a half after their marriage.) The last wife, with whom he adopted a child, outlived him.
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.