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Cover image by Clark Kelly Price.
Anti-Mormon persecution can lead converts to the church. Such was the case of Dan Jones, one of the most successful missionaries of the restored gospel. In addition to his famed missionary work, Dan Jones received the last prophecy of Joseph Smith, helped laid the foundation for the Choir at Temple Square, became a church leader in Utah, and even served as mayor of Manti, Utah. In fact, a painting depicting Dan Jones preaching the gospel in Wales is on the front page of lesson one in the Preach My Gospel manual. And it all came about as the church was receiving severe persecution in the 1840s in Nauvoo, Illinois. Indeed, one of the church’s fiercest critics, Thomas Sharp, a man who would even stand trial for the murder of Joseph Smith, would lead Dan Jones, one of the most successful missionaries of the restoration, to the gospel.
A Persecutor Inspires A Conversion
Jones’ became interested in the gospel in 1843 in St. Louis, Missouri. Born in 1810 in northern Wales, Dan worked in the local lead mines as a youth and then decided to become a mariner. In 1840, he and his wife Jane came to America where he became a captain of a riverboat. Because of his employment, the title of “Captain” was given to him, both in and out of the church, for the rest of his life. It was while he was working as a riverboat captain that he started hearing about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which had established its’ headquarters in Nauvoo, Illinois, some 186 miles north.
The first information Dan received were articles by fiery Anti-Mormon newspaper editor Thomas Sharp of the Warsaw Signal. Sharp published his paper 18 miles south of Nauvoo and these articles were often reprinted throughout the country. Sharp became the ringleader of those opposed to the Prophet Joseph Smith and the church. Sharp would often publish negative, hateful, and inaccurate information about the church and its leaders, even to a point that Joseph Smith once wrote in his journal that Sharp “devoted his entire time to slander, to lying against and misrepresenting the Latter-day Saints.”
Sharp’s disparaging articles caught the attention of Dan Jones. Jones started to investigate the church after he realized that what Sharp was writing could not possibly be true. Dan later met the missionaries and on January 19, 1843, he was baptized in the ice-cold Mississippi River. Later, reminiscing about reading the articles of Thomas Sharp and then his own conversion, Dan Jones would write, “We should thank this Sharp for the information we got about the Saints; for it was by reading his and others’ accusations that our attention was drawn to them before we saw them.”
About three months after his baptism, Dan met Joseph Smith. At their first meeting, with Joseph standing at 6 foot 2 inches tall, and Dan at a much shorter 5 foot 6 inches, the prophet said, “God help this little man.” Despite the height difference, the two immediately became fast friends and Jones became a devoted follower of the church and the prophet. Dan moved to Nauvoo, where he brought his ferry The Maid of Iowa, and continued to work as a riverboat captain. This work was much to the chagrin of Thomas Sharp, mentioned above, who also owned a competing ferry that operated a few miles south.
Dan Jones receives Joseph Smith’s Last Prophecy
The prophet Joseph gave his last prophecy the night before the martyrdom. Upstairs in the Carthage Jail, on a hot and muggy late June evening, Joseph prophesied regarding Dan Jones. The prophetic gift God had given to Joseph Smith had been demonstrated repeatedly and now it was to be tested one last time.
In the upstairs bedroom at the jail, Dan found himself on the floor next to Joseph as a small group with them retired for the evening. Joseph extended his arm for Dan to use as a pillow, which would have been uncomfortable for the Prophet. As they listened to the intermittent ruckus outside, including an occasional gunshot, the conversation between Joseph and Dan turned to the topic of death and if either was prepared for it. Earlier Dan had been called to serve a mission to Wales and now he wondered if he was even going to leave Carthage alive. While lying on the floor that night, Joseph turned to Dan and prophesied that Dan Jones would “yet see Wales and fulfill the mission appointed to you.” They both eventually drifted off to sleep.
The next morning, June 27, 1844, Dan was asked by Smith to go to Quincy, Illinois to get the prophet’s attorney O. H. Browning. As Dan left the jail he was holding papers intended for the attorney. A nearby crowd saw the papers and erroneously feared that they were orders from Joseph asking the Nauvoo Legion (which was the city’s militia) to come and rescue Joseph and his group.
Intent on stopping Dan, the group fired their guns but every bullet miraculously missed him. During this ambush, and with bullets whizzing by him and his horse, Jones became disoriented and headed down the wrong road to the attorney. By doing so, Jones amazingly avoided another group that was determined to kill him, a group that had staked out the correct road Dan was to have taken. In short, by taking the wrong road Dan Jones incredibly avoided a second attempt on his life. That afternoon, the Smiths were murdered.
Later that night, Jones avoided a third attempt on his life. He had boarded a riverboat that was headed to Quincy and it was stopped and searched by an angry mob in Warsaw. It was nothing short of another miracle but the mob did not find Jones hiding on this vessel.
Two Missions To Wales And The Choir
The next year Dan began the first of two missions to Wales where he and the church faced bitter opposition as local churches preached and printed falsehoods. The local press denied Jones the opportunity to submit rebuttals so he published his own tracts and handouts in Welsh. In 1846 Jones published a periodical entitled the “Prophet of the Jubilee” and in doing so Jones became the first church member to print gospel literature in a foreign language. Dan soon became a controversial figure in Wales. To garner attention, before Jones would visit a new city, he would send invitations to prominent government and religious leaders, claiming he was coming to their town to convert them. Many came out of curiosity. Some believed and joined.
Some ministers publicly said they wanted to do to Dan Jones what had been done to Joseph Smith. He was yelled at in the street. He was physically threatened. The press maligned him. As converts joined the church, a storm of opposition solidified against the church, and Dan Jones in particular. His message was attacked. Reverend Edward Roberts criticized the Prophet Joseph Smith for purportedly having “big hands” which, Roberts claimed, helped prove Joseph was a fraud because it “signified that he lived well.” Seeing how foolhardy the big hands argument was, Jones published a warning that all Welshman had better hide their hands in their pocket when around this preacher lest they too be judged as a fraud.
Jones was a bold and fierce missionary, bearing strong testimony of the restoration declaring that God called Joseph Smith to be a prophet. Although short in stature, Dan was a powerful speaker. He was persuasive. Fluent in English and Welsh, he was credited as having an incredible power to touch the hearts of those listening. It was recorded that Jones could hold the attention of his audiences longer than seven hours!
At times, when testifying of the prophetic calling of his friend Joseph Smith, Dan would shed tears. The Spirit of Truth testified of his teachings and hundreds believed and were baptized. As opposition got stronger, conversions increased. One convert, William Howells, had read one of Captain Jones’ missionary tracts, believed, and was baptized. Howells himself brought 100 people into the church in his first year of membership alone. Later, in 1849, he became the first missionary to France.
As Dan finished his first mission in February of 1849 the church had seventy-two branches and over 4600 members in Wales. Although never called to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Dan Jones was given the nickname the “Welsh Apostle.” When Dan and his wife Jane left Wales they brought 249 Welsh converts with them to Utah. These were the first non-English speaking church members to settle in Salt Lake. Among this group were many singers who would eventually become the group that became known as the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, now the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square. John Parry, who was the first conductor of the Choir, took 85 of these Welsh converts and organized them into a choir to sing musical numbers for the 1849 October General Conference of the church.
In 1852 Dan Jones was called to return to Wales for four more years and later presided over all the missionary labors in that country. On both of his missions, he devoted much time to writing. Jones published some 30 issues of a church newspaper, a hymnal, dozens of tracts, and many rebuttals to the attacks on the church. He also oversaw the translation and printing of the Book of Mormon in Welsh. In all, he published over 2500 pages of information about the church in the Welsh language. More than 2000 people joined the church during his second mission and in the end, Jones brought some 703 members of the church to Utah.
President Gordon B. Hinckley once wrote, “Tens of thousands in the Church today are descended from those whom he and his associates taught and baptized. In terms of the number of coverts, Dan Jones must certainly be included in the half dozen or so most productive missionaries in the history of the Church. He dedicated his life to the teaching of righteousness and the building of faith.”
Challenges And Early Death
When Dan Jones returned to Utah he began to suffer bad health, perhaps as a result of his earlier work in the mines, extensive traveling, and vigorous missionary work. Besides suffering public abuse and scorn from religionists who were hostile toward the gospel, his personal life was marred by the death of six of his young children. He died at just 51 years of age in Provo, Utah of a prolonged lung ailment.
It has been said that about 5000 Welsh converts came to America because of the missionary work of Dan Jones. Besides having his painting in the Preach My Gospel manual, the same painting also hangs in the Provo, Utah, Missionary Training Center. Additionally, his story is noted in the outdoor Nauvoo summer pageant entitled “Truth will Prevail.” Numerous Welshman and their many descendants are eternally grateful that Jones came to Wales and proclaimed the gospel in their native tongue. Indeed, Captain Dan Jones’ legacy is wide-reaching.
When we think of the accomplishments and life of Dan Jones we should also remember the circumstances that started his interest in the church. Little did Thomas Sharp, one of the church’s fiercest critics, know that his persecution would lead Captain Dan Jones, and by extension and through Jones’ work, thousands of people, into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
(For additional insights see September 1993 Ensign “The Thing of Most Worth” by Gordon B. Hinckley)