Question: What role did Edward Hunter (b.1793) have in the early days of the Church?
Answer: Edward Hunter was born on June 22, 1793 in Newtown Township, Delaware County, Pennsylvania, the second son and seventh child born to Edward and Hannah Hunter. As a youth, he was strongly influenced by stories of his stalwart ancestors from England and Ireland.
Soon after the missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints taught the gospel in 1839 at the West Nantmeal Seminary, Edward heard that missionary Elijah H. Davis was going to speak in Locust Grove, a few miles away, and that there were plans to treat him badly. He mounted his horse and rode over to Locust Grove. Of Elijah Davis and his teachings, Edward said: “He was a humble young man, the first one that I was impressed was sent of God. He spoke well on the subject [of the Atonement], but before he was through [Robert] Johnson interrupted him and ordered him to quit preaching. I sprang up and said: ‘He is a stranger and shall have justice shown him and be respected; we will hear him and then hear you speak.’ I resolved as I lived that Mr. Davis should be protected…After the meeting, Mr. J. Johnson, brother to Robert Johnson, came up to me and apologized for his brother’s conduct.’
After going home and retiring for the night, Edward lay awake for some time thinking about what had taken place. “My reflections were,’ he said, “why have I taken such a decided stand for those strangers, and I asked the Lord: ‘Are those Mormons thy servants?’ Instantly, a light came in the room at the top of the door, so great that I could not endure it. I covered my head with the bed-clothes and turned over to the wall.’
The Prophet Joseph Smith stopped in “Mormon Hollow’ for about two weeks in January 1840 in connection with a trip to Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. The Prophet spoke to the Saints at the West Nantmeal Seminary and stayed with the Hunter family. During the autumn of 1840, Hyrum Smith visited Edward. They attended conference in Philadelphia, and Brother Hunter “subscribed liberally to the building of the Nauvoo House and the Temple.’
On October 8, 1840, Edward Hunter was baptized by Elder Orson Hyde. Edward’s wife, Ann, was also baptized. Of Edward’s baptism, neighbor H. W. Vallette said, “I only felt that if a man like Edward Hunter, whose name was a synonym of upright probity, of sound sense and discernment, could be brought to believe in these things, what right had I or others of less understanding to ridicule them.’ Hearts were softened among these Quaker residents, and soon about 200 were baptized, sometimes at the rate of eight to ten a week.
On a subsequent visit, Hyrum walked with Edward along the banks of the Brandywine River, and Edward told Hyrum about the death of his young son George Washington Hunter. Hyrum taught him of the plan of salvation. This brought great comfort to Brother Hunter, who had been “devotedly attached’ to his son.
BYU students excavating Edward Hunter’s home in Nauvoo
In September 1841 Edward visited Nauvoo, Illinois, and purchased a farm and several town lots. He sent his nephew, Edward Hunter, to Nauvoo to get a home built for the family. He then returned to Chester County and sold two of his farms. In June 1842 the Hunter family moved to Nauvoo. Once there, he cheerfully donated $7,000 in cash and nearly $5,000 in goods to the Prophet Joseph for the building of Zion. He continued to donate generously, so much so, that the Prophet Joseph Smith told him he had done enough and to reserve the rest for his own use.
In Nauvoo, as persecution against the Saints began to mount, Edward was arrested with others on the charge of treason and taken to Carthage Jail in June 1843. Fortunately, the imprisonment was short, and all were soon sent free. When the Prophet was put on trial in Springfield, Illinois, Edward was there. After the Prophet’s acquittal, Edward offered his home to the Prophet as a place of safety. Loyal and devoted, Edward became one of Joseph’s bodyguards.
Among the revelations the Prophet received in the Hunter home were sections 127 and 128 of the Doctrine and Covenants concerning baptism for the dead. Of this time, Edward said, “The two years I was in Nauvoo with Joseph, it was one stream of revelations.’
As a member of the Nauvoo City Council, Edward voted to put an end to the Expositor, a libelous paper created by apostates and enemies of the Saints to encourage mob violence. Soon after the destruction of the press, the Prophet Joseph asked Edward Hunter to go to Springfield to represent the Church’s position to the governor. Edward and two other men did so. They returned to Nauvoo late in the afternoon on 27 June 1844—about the same time Joseph and Hyrum were killed at Carthage Jail. Of the events following the Martyrdom, Edward wrote: “Next day, [Joseph and Hyrum’s] bodies were brought from Carthage to Nauvoo. We formed two lines to receive them; I was placed on the extreme right, to wheel in after the bodies, and march to the Mansion. As we passed the Temple, there were crowds of mourners there, lamenting the great loss of our Prophet and Patriarch. The scene was enough to almost melt the soul of man. Mr. Brewer, myself and others took brother Joseph’s body in to the Mansion House. Their death was hard to bear.’
Five months after the Martyrdom, President Brigham Young, assisted by Elder Heber C. Kimball and Presiding Bishop Newell K. Whitney, ordained Edward Hunter a high priest. He was then set apart as a Bishop of the Nauvoo Fifth Ward. When he was promised that he should “have power to raise up the drooping spirit,’ he felt simultaneously “a remarkable sensation thrilled through his being, confirming the truth of the speaker’s words.’
When the Saints were forced from Nauvoo, Bishop Hunter and many of the “Mormon Hollow Saints’ left together in the spring of 1846 and joined the main body of Latter-day Saints in Winter Quarters. Upon arrival at Winter Quarters, he again served as Bishop. As the hard winter of 1846–47 ended, and the exodus to the Salt Lake Valley began, President Young appointed Bishop Hunter captain of 100 wagons. The group arrived on 29 September 1847. Once in the valley, Edward again served as Bishop. In the fall of 1849 President Young sent Bishop Hunter back to the Missouri River to supervise the immigration of the poorer Saints to Zion. Bishop Hunter played an integral part in the implementation of the Perpetual Emigrating Fund (PEF).
On April 7, 1851, following the death of Newell K. Whitney, second Presiding Bishop, Edward Hunter was sustained as the third Presiding Bishop of the Church. Two years later, during general conference on April 6, 1853, Edward laid the southwest cornerstone of the Salt Lake Temple.
Bishop Edward Hunter died on October 16, 1883. According to Elder Whitney: “Among those who visited his bedside during his illness were President John Taylor and Apostle Erastus Snow.’ Edward Hunter was buried in the Salt Lake City Cemetery.