On this day – 20 December 1842 – Lorenzo D. Barnes (1812-1842) died at Idle near Bradford, England – the first missionary to die on a foreign mission.
Lorenzo was born in 1812 in Massachusetts. In 1833 his family made contact with the Church after they settled in Ohio and he joined with gusto. The following year he joined Zion’s Camp marching to protect the saints – an event which seemed to be of little worth until you estimate its impact in preparing men to follow and lead. In 1835 he was called into the first Quorum of Seventy thus initiating a series of missions over the next six years in the eastern states of Ohio, New York, Missouri, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.
In January 1842 he sailed, as a missionary, to England, and on his journey he penned a poem entitled The Bold Pilgrim. The first and forth stanzas read:
I am a bold Pilgrim—a message to bear
To Islands, and Countries, and Kingdoms afar;
For the Lord, from the heavens, a message has sent
To call on the Nations—Believe and Repent.
Glad tidings! Glad tidings! let the nations rejoice!
Ye Elders of Israel, O, lift up your voice,
Like Angels of God—and proclaim the glad news,
With sounds of rejoicing—to Gentiles and Jews.
Our Bold Pilgrim was assigned to work around Manchester, then Cheltenham and finally in the Bradford Conference. He was working in Idle, Yorkshire where he died 20 December 1842.
On 1st May 1845 Wilford Woodruff sat in 36 Chapel Street, Liverpool and wrote a long letter to John Taylor (See Times and Seasons, May 15, 1845 for complete extract) which give more details of his death:
“My visit to his grave was on the 20th of February 1845, which was a solemn day to my feelings in some respects, in consequence of walking over the ground which oft had been trod by our worthy Brother Barnes, and also of viewing the tomb where sleeps his sacred dust….When about half way we had a fair view of Idle and the church where our brother was buried, which stands upon a high piece of ground. We had a green vale to pass through before arriving at the spot; the fields were quite green, though in February…I felt solemn indeed, and was filled meditation, until I arrived at Idle, which contains a population of about five thousand, and a branch of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, of thirty-seven members. We called upon Elder Thomas Cordingly and his family, who had the care of Elder Barnes during his sickness and death – They pointed out to me the room where he spent his last moments. After getting some refreshment we walked to the church-yard, and I gazed upon the silent tomb of our beloved Lorenzo.
…I bowed my knee upon his sacred grave, and plucked some pebbles in memory of his worth.”
Wilford also provides us some insight into how he died:
“During the last of September 1842, he walked one day about thirteen miles very fast in order to get to the railway in time for the cars, (some portion of the way he ran,) and got into a high state of perspiration, and only had time to step into the cars as they were about starting. He rode on this railway about twenty miles in the midst of piercing winds and became entirely chilled, which flung him into a severe cold, settled upon his lungs, and brought on the quick consumption, from which he never recovered.”
Wilford “decreed in his heart” that he would not return to his native country until a suitable headstone was erected. Accordingly,
“At our general conference all the American elders labouring in this country with many of the English Saints, came forward and wished to donate their mite for the purpose of erecting a stone over the grave of our departed brother when five pounds five shillings and sixpence sterling, equal to twenty six dollars…The sum was immediately forwarded to accomplish the purpose, and the stone is now in course of erection, bearing the following epitaph:
“In memory of Lorenzo D. Barnes, who died on the 20th of December, 1842, age 30 years. He was a native of the United States, an Elder in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a member of the High Priests’ quorum and also of Zion’s Camp in the year 1834, and the first gospel messenger from Nauvoo who has found a grave in a foreign land.”
His fellow missionary Elijah F. Sheets said of the stones,
“They will be beautiful stones when finished, and it is a beautiful place where he is laid; and I judge the head stone will be as good a standing preacher, as a living one, for the people cannot go into church without seeing it.”
A few years ago I spent some time searching the Idle graveyard for this preaching headstone, but could not find it anywhere. The reason, I later discovered, was because Barnes’ body was exhumed a decade later (1852) and buried in Salt Lake City! The Cemetery has this image of his Utah tomb, but it is not clear if this is the original British headstone which might have accompanied his body home? Joseph Smith would have been delighted to hear his body was back in America as he had commented:
“When I heard of the death of our beloved Brother Barnes, it would not have effected me so much if I had the opportunity of burying him to the land of Zion.” (History of the Church vol.5:360)
Parley P. Pratt summed Lorenzo up nicely,
“Brother Barnes was everywhere known, and universally beloved as a meek, humble, and zealous minister of the gospel, who has labored extensively for many years with great success.” (Millennial Star 4:74)