Question: What religious beliefs did Sanford Porter have before joining The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?
Answer: Sanford Porter was born March 7, 1790, in Brimfield, Massachusetts, a son of Nathan Porter and Susannah West. He married Nancy Warriner on January 1, 1812 in Vermont, and they became the parents of twelve children. Sanford moved to New York and then to Ohio and then in 1831 was living in Illinois.
In the spring of the year 1812 Sanford enlisted in the service of his country in the war [War of 1812] with Great Britain leaving Nancy, a bride of a few months, in a little log house he had just finished on his homestead. His oldest son, Chauncy Warriner was born while Sanford was in the service.
Sanford wrote, “Prior to a few years before I joined the Mormon church, I was very near, if not quite, an atheist. I believed in what I could see and feel and hear, and maintained that there was no life after death. I looked upon all churches as a scheme of ministers to make an easy living by plying their trade on the minds of the ignorant, and weak-minded.
“But about the time Mormonism was revealed, though I had heard nothing of it at that time, I became disturbed in my mind, and something was telling me there was a God and a life after death. I pondered upon it, then tried to put it from my mind, but it would not leave me…At last I came to the point of extreme, and I spoke out in an audible voice and said, “Oh! Is there a God? If so, may I know the way that is right?”
“And then, I was answered by an audible voice which said, “There is a God, and three times this night thou shalt know the way that is right, and thou shalt doubt no more.” “And then, I was answered by an audible voice which said, “There is a God, and He has known the desires of your heart this number of years. I will instruct you three times this night the way that is right–that you need never again doubt, but shall be satisfied in your mind concerning God.”
A personage appeared to Sanford, and Sanford wrote. “We did not travel by our own power or effort. We went light, airy, and swift… ‘Is this the Spirit World?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Where is God? Is He not here? I see now the darkness under which I have been laboring all my life. There are other things I would like to know, if it is your pleasure to grant my request:
“Firstly, ‘Was Jesus Christ the son of the great eternal God?’ ‘Yes, He was and is the son of God–both temporally and spiritually.’
“Second, ‘Is there a hell or place of torment prepared where the ungodly are punished?’ ‘If you will look yonder into the north country your question will be answered. The devil has nothing to do with the punishment of man after he leaves the body. It is their own mind and conscience that torment men. They have transgressed the law–they have defied God and esteemed Him as naught–and the wages of sin are spiritual death.’
“Third, ‘Are there any churches or denomination on the earth at the present time that are right and pleasing to God?’ ‘No, none of them is right. Jesus Christ organized His Church with apostles, who were prophets, and they declared many things that would come upon the earth. They spoke of a time when the Church of God would come upon the earth again, which time is shortly ripe.’
Then the personage said “Let us go,’ and in an instant Sanford was back on his farm.
It was not until July 1831 that Sanford learned anything of the new church. Then two elders came to their town on their way westward. Those elders were Lyman Wight and John Corrill… “I went to all of their meetings, and their doctrine appealed to me, but still I was skeptical… The time drew near that their labors in that vicinity would close. The day before they were to leave, they came to my house to hold a family meeting, and I received them cordially, and the best of feelings prevailed, but I felt that I should wait.’
“But very early in the morning as I lay pondering, I heard the same mild voice [I had heard before]. He said, ‘THIS IS RIGHT; ARISE AND BE BAPTIZED.’ So I lost no time in finding the elders. They held a meeting at my house again, and we went to the place prepared, and the ordinance of baptism was performed for myself, my wife, and eldest daughter (Malinda Porter), and I was ordained an Elder, and set apart to labor as a missionary in and around the vicinity where we lived.’
Sanford was then informed, by some missionaries, that Independence, Missouri had been designated as the gathering place of the main body of the Church, and it was the wish of the Authorities that the saints gather to that place. Sanford put his property up for sale and set out for Independence, Missouri. It was here that Sanford and Nancy’s last child was born in May 1833, and they named him Lyman Wight Porter. They built a house on a twenty-acre farm, only to be driven form it before they were really settled in it, by the enemies of the church. For the next fourteen years they suffered the persecutions, mobbings and sufferings that the Saints were called to endure. Two of Nancy’s children, a daughter, Sarah (24) and a son, Justin (12) died in the summer of 1841.
Driven from Missouri with the main body of the church, they helped in building the city of Nauvoo, and then driven from Nauvoo, they endured the terrible experiences of the winter of 1846 in Council Bluffs. The Porter family left Council Bluffs June 15, 1847 just two months after the first company led by Brigham Young, and they arrived in Salt Lake Valley October 1, 1847.
Sanford located a homestead on Mill Creek four miles south of Salt Lake City where there was a group of log houses located close together with a fort wall being built around it for protection from Native Americans. They lived in their wagon that winter while the menfolk, when the weather permitted, brought logs from the mountains to build their home. The next spring they planted crops. A good harvest was in prospect, when hordes of crickets swept down on their ripening grain fields and began devouring every head of grain and blade of grass and would have left them destitute had not Heaven sent flocks of gulls which descended on the vultures, gulped them down, and flew away to disgorge themselves and then fly back and eat their fill again.
In 1849 Nathan T. Porter settled in Centerville and was followed in 1850 by his father, Sanford Porter, who soon afterwards became the first presiding Elder of the settlement. It was called Centerville because of its location between Farmington and Bountiful.
After a few years of struggle there, they moved to Morgan, in the Weber Valley and staked off a farm in what was later called Porterville, the town taking its name from these early settlers, Sanford Porter Sr., his sons. In 1852 the settlement was organized as the Porterville Ward with Sanford Porter as Bishop. Sanford Porter presided as Bishop from 1852 to 1855. Sanford Porter died 9 February 1873 in Porterville and is buried in the Porterville Cemetery, Morgan County, Utah.
Source: Encyclopedic History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Porterville Ward, Centerville Ward; Excerpts taken from the Porter Family History, compiled by Joseph Grant Stevenson, Volume 1, pg. 86-90); FamilySearch.org; FindAGrave.com.