Question: What was the unique contribution Sidney Gilbert made in helping the Saints in the early days of the Church in Ohio and Missouri?
Answer: Algernon Sidney Gilbert was born on December 28, 1789 in New Haven, New Haven, Connecticut to Eli Gilbert and Lydia Hemingway. Family tradition suggests that he was college-educated in the East. By 1817 he was a resident of Painesville, Ohio, where he owned a small store. On September 21, 1823, he married Elizabeth Van Benthusen.
By 1827 Sidney and Newel K. Whitney had entered a mercantile partnership and opened a small store under the name of N. K. Whitney and Company in Kirtland, Ohio. It was while engaged in this business enterprise in 1830 that both men accepted membership into The Church of Jesus Christ of Later-day Saints. The prophet Joseph and his family soon moved to Kirtland, moving in with the Whitney’s for a short time, giving Elizabeth and Gilbert a close relationship with the Prophet Joseph.
Sidney lived only four years after his baptism. During those years the Lord recognized his talents and the unique contribution he would make to the Church (D&C 53:1, 3–5). Sidney was ordained an elder on June 6, 1831, and fourteen days later, Sidney and his wife, left Kirtland in company with the Prophet Joseph and others to journey to Independence, Missouri.
On July 20, 1831, Joseph received a revelation, part of it concerning Sidney Gilbert, that he would assist in the management of the affairs of the poor in the land of Zion and in the land of Kirtland (D&C 82:11–12).
Sidney was to establish a store to provide for the members who were to move there. “And again, verily I say unto you, let my servant Sidney Gilbert plant himself in this place, and establish a store, that he may sell goods without fraud, that he may obtain money to buy lands for the good of the saints, and that he may obtain whatsoever things the disciples may need to plant them in their inheritance…And thus provide for my saints…’ (D&C 57:8, 10). In obedience, Sidney established a branch store of dry goods and groceries in Independence.
On August 9, Sidney Gilbert, W.W. Phelps and Joseph and eight others returned to Kirtland, arriving on August 27th. Gilbert commenced collecting and purchasing supplies. When Sidney Gilbert returned to Independence in October 1831, he brought with him Keziah Keturah Rollins (Elizabeth’s sister) and her children–Mary and Caroline Rollins.
Mary Elizabeth Rollins saving pages of the Book of Commandments during attack of the mob.
Some of Sidney’s most noteworthy contributions were his personal handwritten copies of sections of the Doctrine and Covenants: Sections 20, 22, 42, 50, 51, 53, 57, 61, 63, 64, 72, 76, 83, 86, 87, 88, 89, and 91, plus Matthew 24 and biblical notes. Sidney also served as one of the seven presiding high priests in Missouri. Sidney had no desire to be a preacher but rather desired to serve the Church with his business skills.
Second home and store in Independence, Missouri
When violent mob action erupted in Independence, the brick portion of Sidney’s home was demolished, and the windows were broken. The doors of the Gilbert and Whitney store were split open and goods tossed into the street. On November 4, 1833, Sidney Gilbert stood before a judge in the Independence courthouse along with Isaac Morley, John Corrill, William McLellin, and a few other Saints. The men had been arrested after a man they caught looting Sidney’s store had charged them with assault when they tried to have him arrested. A mob gathered around the courthouse and the jail.
That night, after the outrage had cooled, the men were allowed to meet with their church leaders to discuss their options. Their discussion finished at two o’clock in the morning, and the sheriff led the prisoners back to jail. When they arrived, a half dozen armed men were waiting for them. The sheriff called out for them not to shoot, but the men leveled their guns at the prisoners, and John and Isaac bolted. Some of the mob fired afer them and missed. Sidney stood his ground as two other men came up to him and aimed their guns at his chest. Bracing himself, Sidney heard the hammers snap and saw a flash of gunpowder. Stunned, he searched his body for wounds, but found that he was uninjured. One of the guns had broken, and the other had misfired. The sheriff and his deputies hurried him off to the safety of the jail cell.
Seven days later, the sheriff set the prisoners free, and Sidney fled to Clay County. The only known possessions he took with him were his Bible and the revelations of the Doctrine and Covenants that he had copied.
A month after Sidney’s escape, the Lord instructed him to not sell the storehouse to their “enemies’ in Independence (D&C 101:96). Sidney built a new store in Liberty for the purpose of caring for the needs of the Saints. Parley P. Pratt described an encounter with him: “Well,’ says he (Sidney), “brother Parley, you certainly look too shabby to start a journey; you must have a new suit; I have got some remnants left that will make you a coat,’ etc….This arranged, I now lacked only a cloak; this was also furnished by brother Gilbert.’
A further example of Sidney’s generosity was his opening of his home and goods to the men of Zion’s Camp. A few days after their arrival, thirteen men and one woman had died from cholera. Five of the deaths occurred at his home, and on June 29, 1834, cholera took the life of Algernon Sidney Gilbert. He was rolled in a quilt and buried with the others who had succumbed.
After Sidney died, his wife Elizabeth, lived near her two nieces, Mary Elizabeth Rollins who had married Adam Lightner and Caroline Rollins who had married A. Kerr. Then with the help of her sister and friends, Elizabeth reached Nauvoo. She learned to be a midwife, and crossed the plans to Utah, where she lived with or near the Rollins family. She died in July 1891 in Minersville, Beaver, Utah. Sidney and Elizabeth had only one son, who died as a baby.
Source: Excerpts from: Elizabeth Van Benthuysen Gilbert, Compiled by Vie Carter Watts, familysearch.org; *Who’s Who in the Doctrine and Covenants* by Susan Easton Black; Saints 1815-1846, The Standard of Truth, pp. 190-191.