Missionary Who Died While Serving
"And now, behold, I say unto you, that the thing which will be of the most worth unto you will be to declare repentance unto this people, that you may bring souls unto me, that you may rest with them in the kingdom of my Father" (D&C 15:6, 16:6)
"I beheld that the faithful elders of this dispensation, when they depart from mortal life, continue their labors in the preaching of the gospel of repentance and redemption" President Joseph F. Smith (D&C 138:57).
Son of Joseph Brackenbury and Elizabeth Leach (or Blanshard/Blanchette). Husband of Elizabeth Durfee (born 11 March 1784, Riverhead,Long Island, Suffolk, New York).
Joseph emigrated to America from England when quite young. On April 10, 1831 he was baptized into the L.D.S. Church by John Corrill and Solomon Hancock. (Andrew Jenson, Biographical Encyclopedia 2:597). On April 11, 1831 he was ordained an elder and on June 3– 6, 1831 he attended the first general conference in Kirtland, Ohio. "August 1831 after Joseph and company return to Ohio] many mighty miracles were wrought by the Elders—one in particular which I shall here notice—which was wrought by Elders Emer Harris Joseph Brackenbury and Wheeler Baldwin. Is [about] an infirmity in an old lady who had been helpless for the space of eight years confined to her bed. She did not belong to this church but sent her request to the Elders who immediately attended to her call, and after their arrival prayed for her and laid their hands on her, and she was immediately made whole and magnified and praised God. and is now enjoying perfect health" (History, kept by John Whitmer).
On October 25–26, 1831 at the Amherst, Ohio conference Joseph stated that he "consecrated all to God before he was baptized, he was also determined to go on to the end of his life." At the conference Oliver Cowdery ordained him to the High Priesthood and then calls for elders who want to preach the gospel. Joseph Smith "was appointed to examine these brethren, presenting themselves for ordination" (Minutes of October 25–26, 1831). In December of 1831 Elder Brackenbury left with Edmund Durfee on a mission to the east. (Joel Hills Johnson reports they were from New London, Ohio, Joel Johnson Autobiography, p. 4., see also History of the Church 7:524).
Among his converts Joseph baptizes Julia Hills Johnson and her son-in-law, Lyman R. Sherman, in Pomfret, Chautauqua County, New York. (Joel Johnson autobiography, p. 4).
Elder Joseph B. Brackenbury died at Pomfret from the effects of poison secretly administered to him by opposers, who afterwards boasted that Mormon elders had not faith enough to stand poison. The night after his burial there was a heavy snowstorm, about half past eleven o'clock Joel H. Johnson dreamed that some persons were digging up Brother Brackenbury's body, and was so exercised about it that he called up some of the brethren and went to the spot, about one mile distant, and they found a party of doctors at work, who had nearly cleared the grave of earth; the men fled with utmost precipitation. David Johnson took after the largest one who was caught and bound over in one thousand dollar bonds for his appearance at court, but was never tried.
Shortly thereafter, Elder Brackenbury was taken seriously ill and was mistakenly diagnosed with bilious colic, which was later ascertained to be a case of lethal poisoning administered by the local mob. Elder Brackenbury was confined to bed at the Johnson home where he "remained in great distress, which he bore with [the] fortitude of a saint for one week and expired with an unshaken confidence in the fullness of the gospel which he had preached, and a firm hope of a glorious resurrection among the just."
Later in the evening following the burial of Brackenbury at "about half past eleven o'clock" Joel "dreamed that some persons were digging up Brother Brackenbury's body, and was so exercised about it that he called up some of the brethren" to go with him to the grave. Upon their arrival the brethren "found a party of doctors at work, who had nearly cleared the grave of earth" and that they were planning to either dissect or otherwise mutilate the body. The men fled but young David Johnson (who was large for his age) "took after the largest one who was caught." The culprit was "and bound over in one thousand dollar bonds for his appearance at court, but was never tried. i
The Wayne Sentinel of Palmyra, New York ran the following interesting story:
Death of A Mormon Preacher. - Died in Pomfret, Vt. on Saturday 7th inst. Joseph H. [sic] Brackenbury, a "Mormon Preacher." He recently emigrated from Ohio, in company with one or two individuals of the same society. They preached, exhorted, and with great zeal and apparent humility, attempted to propagate their doctrines. —Two or three embraced their sentiments so far as to be baptized—one a Free Will Baptist, and another a Presbyterian. In confirmation of their doctrine and divine mission, they professed to have power to heal the sick, and raise the dead. It is reported that they attempted twice without effect, to heal a Miss Nancy Johnson, made a cripple by falling from a horse. She was not healed for lack of faith; but started for Ohio with the Mormons to obtain more. The company of Brackenbury, attempted also to heal him, and since his decease, to raise him from the dead.
Other than the above Sentinel account there are no other statements on the Amherst Mormons attempting to raise Elder Brackenbury from the dead. Alluding to the inability of the Mormons to perform miracles was a favored argument of the time and was often used by mobs and clergy (at times one in the same). The Sentinel particularly makes note of "in confirmation of their doctrine and divine mission, they professed to have power to heal the sick, and raise the dead. It is reported that they attempted twice without effect, to heal a Miss Nancy Johnson, made a cripple by falling from a horse. She was not healed for lack of faith; but started for Ohio with the Mormons to obtain more." The poisoning of Elder Brackenbury was a way of proving this apparent lack of Mormon faith. The History of the Church states:
Elder Joseph B. Brackenbury died at Pomfret from the effects of poison secretly administered to him by opposers, who afterwards boasted that Mormon elders had not faith enough to stand poison.
On the death of Elder Brackenbury, Benjamin F. Johnson wrote:
Now it seemed as though Satan was permitted to try both our faith and our fortitude, for after a few weeks of the most powerful and successful preaching, in the midst of ridicule, scoffing and persecution, Elder Brackenbury was taken sick and within a few days died. Our enemies now felt they had a great triumph; for where now were the gifts of the gospel when our strongest man could die, and my sister, though she had embraced the gospel, was yet upon her crutches? These things seemed at the time a great trial, yet in no decree did it dampen the faith of any, and while listening to the ravings of our enemies, the truth, with the love of it, became the more deeply planted in my heart.
Incredible as it may seem, the poisoning and subsequent death of the Elder was perhaps nothing more than a tactic used by the opposition to convince the public of the weakness and untruthfulness of Mormonism and Elder Brackenbury was ostensibly sacrificed by the mob to demonstrate their line of reasoning.
Joseph Blanchett Brackenbury was the first Elder in the Church to die as a martyr in the missionary field.
Following the death of this faithful Elder Joel relates:
"The sectarian priests taking advantage of this circumstance and howling like wolves, seemed to slacken the faith of those who were believing, which caused the work to stop for a while, [and] we were obliged to return directly home."