Question: Newel K. Whitney is mentioned several times in the Doctrine and Covenants. What were the Prophet Joseph’s feelings about Newel K. Whitney?
Answer: Newel Kimball Whitney was born 5 February 1795 in Windham County, Vermont. At age nineteen, Newel entered merchandising in the village of Plattsburg, New York. He later moved to Ohio where he accepted employment with Sidney Gilbert as a clerk and bookkeeper. In 1827 Newel opened a store in Kirtland in partnership with Sidney Gilbert and prospered in all his efforts. He and his wife were grateful for the prosperity they were enjoying.
Amid their prosperity, Newel and his wife, Elizabeth, began to examine religious creeds. They prayed earnestly to know how to receive the Holy Ghost, and then one evening they heard a voice saying: “Prepare to receive the word of the Lord, for it is coming.” A short time later missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were preaching in the area, and Newel and his wife believed their teachings. They were baptized in November 1830.
The Prophet Joseph Smith saw a vision in which Newel was pleading with the Lord that the Prophet would come to Kirtland. In February 1831, Joseph arrived at the Whitney store: “Newel K. Whitney! Thou art the man!” he explained, extending his hand cordially. “You have the advantage of me,” replied Newel, “I could not call you by name, as you have me.” “I am Joseph Smith, the Prophet,” said the stranger, smiling. “You’ve prayed me here; now what do you want of me?”
The Prophet and his wife resided with the Whitneys for several weeks. In August 1831 Newel was appointed agent for the Church, and then as Bishop in December 1831. When Newel was staggering under the weight of the responsibility that was placed upon him, he heard a voice from heaven say, “Thy strength is in me.” Newel traveled with Joseph Smith to Missouri, New York City, Albany, and Boston in 1832.
Joseph loved Bishop Whitney. In June 1832 he wrote to Emma about Newel, “He is cheerful and patient and a true Brother to me.” Newel attended the organizational meeting of School of the Prophets in January 1833, in Kirtland. On October 7, 1835, Joseph received a blessing for Newel, “Blessed of the Lord is Brother Whitney, even the bishop of the Church of Latter-day Saints…He shall deal with a liberal hand to the poor and the needy, the sick and afflicted, the widow and the fatherless.”
In Nauvoo Newel served as a Nauvoo city alderman from 1841–1843. He was admitted to the Council of Fifty on 11 March 1844. Joseph’s feeling for this faithful man was one of profound gratitude: “Thou art a faithful friend in whom the afflicted sons of men can confide, with the most perfect safety. Let the blessings of the Eternal also be crowned upon his head. How warm the heart!…Brother Whitney, thou knowest not how strong those ties are that bind my soul and heart to thee.”
After Joseph’s death, Newel was appointed trustee-in-trust for the Church and then was called as the first Presiding Bishop of the Church. He and his family journeyed to the Salt Lake Valley in 1848. On Saturday, 21 September 1850, he returned home from his labors in the bishopric, complaining of a severe pain in his left side. His condition become worse, and President Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, and other Church leaders gathered at his home. He passed away at 11 a.m. on Monday, 23 September 1850, at the age of fifty-five.
He is buried in the Kimball-Whitney Cemetery in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Source: Who’s Who in the Doctrine & Covenants by Susan Easton Black; Joseph Smith Papers.