Andrew Jenson

Law, William

Law, William, second counselor to president Joseph Smith, from 1841-44 was born Sept. 8, 1809. In the early days of the Church, when Elders John Taylor and Almon W. Babbitt labored in Canada as missionaries, William Law, who lived twenty-five miles from Toronto, became a convert to “Mormonism,” and it is stated in the history of Joseph Smith that he arrived at Nauvoo, Ill., in the latter part of 1839, “with a company of Saints, traveling in seven wagons from Canada.” He soon became a prominent man in Nauvoo, where he served as a member of the municipal council, a captain in the Nauvoo Legion, etc. He also kept a store, owned several mills and was considered wealthy. In the revelation given through Joseph the Prophet, at Nauvoo, Jan. 19, 1841, he was called to the office of second counselor to President Joseph Smith, succeeding Hyrum Smith, who was called to the position of presiding Patriarch. Soon afterwards he filled a short mission to the East, and was for a season considered a good and faithful man. He was among the chosen few who on May 26, 1843, received their endowments under the administration of Joseph the Prophet, and who were instructed in the Priesthood and on the new and everlasting covenant. Towards the close of 1843 he began to show symptoms of apostasy and associated himself with the enemies of Joseph and the Saints generally. This led to his excommunication from the Church April 18. 1844, in a council meeting held at Nauvoo and attended by the leading authorities of the Church. After this occurrence Wm. Law came out openly as an enemy and was one of the promoters and owners of the libel sheet called the “Nauvoo Expositor,” published at Nauvoo. His name is classed in history with those of his brother Wilson Law, Robert D. Foster, Charles Foster, Francis M. Higbee, Chauncey L. Higbee, Joseph H. Jackson, Sylvester Emmons and others, who were the instigators and abettors of the murder of Joseph and Hyrum Smith. In 1887 he was interviewed by a newspaper reporter at Shullsburg, Lafayette county, Wisconsin, where he then resided with his son, Judge Thomas Law. On that occasion he still exhibited great animosity towards Joseph the Prophet and the “Mormon” people, and related some extraordinary stories concerning his experience with the Saints at Nauvoo. The interview is published in full as a part of an appendix to an anti-Mormon work, entitled “The Prophet of Palmyra,” written by Thomas Griggs of Hamilton. Ill. Wm. Law died at Shullsburg, Wis., Jan. 19, 1892, in the 83rd year of his age.

[Andrew Jenson, Latter-day Saint Biographical Encyclopedia: A Compilation of Biographical Sketches of Prominent Men and Women in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 4 vols., p. 53]

Susan Easton Black

William Law

D&C 124:82, 87-91, 97-101, 107, 126

Birth: 8 September 1809, Tyrone County, Ireland. Son of Richard Law and Mary Wilson.

Death: 12 January 1892, Shullsburg, LaFayette County, Wisconsin.

In 1836 William Law abandoned his Presbyterian leanings for Mormonism, in spite of his father’s opposition: “My father is much opposed to [Mormonism] from evil reports &c. which he has heard,” he wrote.1 In November 1839 he moved from Canada to Nauvoo to be with the Saints. From his vantage point as a near neighbor of the Prophet he observed: “I have carefully watched his movements since I have been here, and I assure you I have found him honest and honourable in all our transactions which have been very considerable. I believe he is an honest upright man, and as to his follies let who ever is guiltless throw the first stone at him, I shant do it.”2

William was called as the Second Counselor in the First Presidency of the Church in 1841 (see D&C 124:91, 126). From 1842 to 1843 he faithfully fulfilled this office by vigorously defending the Prophet’s character against the anti-Mormon sentiments of John C. Bennett and offering to risk his own life to rescue the Prophet from Missouri captors. But his loyalty faltered by the winter of 1843.

On 2 January 1844 he journalized, “This day I learn from remarks made by J. Smith before the city council and police, I am suspected of being a Brutus, and consequently narrowly watched, and should any misconceive my motives my life would be jeopardized.”3 On 8 January 1844 he wrote, “I was passing along the street near my house, when call’d to by Joseph Smith, he said I was injuring him by telling evil of him, he could not name any one that I talked to.” When the Prophet informed him that he was no longer in the First Presidency, “I confess I feel annoyed very much by such unprecedented treatment for it is illegal, inasmuch as I was appointed by revelation.” However, he penned, “I feel relieved from a most embarrassing situation I cannot fellowship the abominations which I verily know are practiced by this man, consequently I am glad to be free from him.”4

On 18 April 1844 William Law was excommunicated. Angered at the decision, he requested a review of his case at the forthcoming general conference. His request was denied. Embittered, on 1 June 1844 he wrote of his intent to publish the Nauvoo Expositor: “Our enemies rage, and publish slander about us, but we cease not to vindicate the cause of truth, and oppose crime. To this end we have purchased a printing press and intend issuing in a few days a paper to be entitled the Nauvoo Expositor. This course has caused great alarm in the camp of our enemies.”5

On 7 June 1844 the first edition of the anti-Mormon newspaper was published: “This day the Nauvoo Expositor goes forth to the world, rich with facts, such expositions as make the guilty tremble and rage. 1000 sheets were struck and five hundred mailed forthwith. If the paper is suffered to continue it will set forth deeds of the most dark, cruel and damning ever perpetrated by any people under the name of religion since the world began.”6

The printing and destruction of the fraudulent newspaper led to the arrest, imprisonment, and martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum. Although denying his complicity in the tragedy William wrote:

The judgment of an offended God had fallen upon them. During the latter part of their lives they knew no mercy, and in their last moments they found none. Thus the wicked may prosper for a time, but the hour of retribution is sure to overtake them….

… [Joseph] was one of the false prophets spoken of by Christ who would come in sheep’s clothing but inwardly be a raveling wolf…. He claimed to be a god, whereas he was only a servant of the Devil, and as such met his fate.7

By the fall of 1844 William had moved to Hampton, Illinois. On 29 September 1844 he was taken into custody on charges of contributing to the Martyrdom, but he was released the following day. In a letter to the newspaper The Upper Mississippian he wrote: “Our lives are yet threatened by a band of desperate men, who have sworn with a solemn oath to shed our blood, even to the third generations. Our homes here in your peaceful county are to be given to the burning flames, and our wives to be left widows in our midst.” However, even during this precarious situation he wrote in the letter of his belief in the early teachings of the Prophet: “We verily believe, and many of us know of a surety, that the religion of the Latter Day Saints, as originally taught by Joseph Smith, which is contained in the old and new Testaments, book of Covenants, and book of Mormon, is verily true.”8

In Hampton William was employed for a decade as a merchant before turning his professional attention to medicine. For nearly forty years he was acknowledged as a physician and surgeon near Apple River, Illinois, and in Shullsburg, Wisconsin.

After the death of his wife William resided with his son, Judge “Tommy” Law, in Shullsburg. He wrote in 1885 that the Church “never was a Church of Christ, but a most wicked blasphemous humbug gotten up for the purpose of making money.”9 In 1887 William confessed, “The great mistake of my life was my having anything to do with Mormonism.”10

Have never read any of the books published about the Mormons; never read Bennett’s book, have kept no papers published in Nauvoo; haven’t a scrap of any kind; the only number of the Expositor I had some one carried off. My wife (at an early day) burned up the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants. She said no Mormon work could find a place in her house. We have lived down in a great measure the disgrace following our unfortunate association with the Mormons. We committed a great error, but no crime. This is my consolation, that we only erred in judgment.11

He died on 12 January 1892 in Shullsburg at the age of eighty-two.


1. William Law to Isaac Russell, 17 January 1839, Archives Division, Church Historical Department, Salt Lake City, Utah, as cited in Lyndon W. Cook, William Law (Orem, Utah: Grandin Book Co., 1994), p. 8.

2. William Law to Isaac Russell, 29 November 1840, Archives Division, Church Historical Department, Salt Lake City, Utah, as cited in Lyndon W. Cook, William Law (Orem, Utah: Grandin Book Co., 1994), p. 11.

3. William Law’s Nauvoo diary, as cited in Lyndon W. Cook, William Law (Orem, Utah: Grandin Book Co., 1994), p. 38.

4. William Law’s Nauvoo diary, as cited in Lyndon W. Cook, William Law (Orem, Utah: Grandin Book Co., 1994), p. 46.

5. William Law’s Nauvoo diary, as cited in Lyndon W. Cook, William Law (Orem, Utah: Grandin Book Co., 1994), pp. 54-55.

6. William Law’s Nauvoo diary, as cited in Lyndon W. Cook, William Law (Orem, Utah: Grandin Book Co., 1994), p. 55.

7. William Law’s Nauvoo diary, as cited in Lyndon W. Cook, William Law (Orem, Utah: Grandin Book Co., 1994), pp. 60-61.

8. Letter of William Law, published in the Upper Mississippian, 7 September 1844, as cited in Lyndon W. Cook, William Law (Orem, Utah: Grandin Book Co., 1994), pp. 91, 94.

9. “1885 Affidavit of William Law,” as cited in Lyndon W. Cook, William Law (Orem, Utah: Grandin Book Co., 1994), p. 29 n. 91.

10. William Law to Wilheim Wyl, 7 January 1887, in The Daily Tribune, 3 July 1887, as cited in Lyndon W. Cook, William Law (Orem, Utah: Grandin Book Co., 1994), p. 104.

11. William Law to Wilheim Wyl, 20 January 1887, in The Daily Tribune, 3 July 1887, as cited in Lyndon W. Cook, William Law (Orem, Utah: Grandin Book Co., 1994), pp. 105-6.

[Susan Easton Black, Who’s Who in the Doctrine and Covenants, 1997, p. 175]

Lyndon Cook

William Law

Son of Richard Law and Mary Wilson. Born 8 September 1809 in Tyrone County, Northern Ireland. Emigrated to Mercer County, Pennsylvania, 1818 with family. Studied in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. Moved to Churchville, Peel County, Ontario (Upper Canada), before 1833; there owned property. Married Jane Silverthorn about 1833. Eight children: Richard, Rebecca, Thomas, Helen, William, John, Wilson and Cys. Converted to Church 1836 by John Taylor and Almon W. Babbitt. Led company of Saints from Upper Canada to Nauvoo 1839, arriving early November. Possessed strong testimony of Church and Joseph Smith’s divine calling 1840-42. Appointed member of First Presidency by revelation 19 January 1841. Also appointed to travel to East with Hyrum Smith 19 January 1841. Initiated into Masonic Order 25 April 1842. Received endowment 4 May 1842. Left Nauvoo for East with Hyrum Smith 4 September 1842 to counter false statements of John C. Bennett and attend October conference of Church in Philadelphia. Returned to Nauvoo 4 November 1842. Owned steam-operated grain and saw mill in Nauvoo. Owned town lots in Nauvoo and sold merchandise. Opposed revelation on plural marriage in summer of 1843. Also opposed Prophet’s [p.266] practice of plural marriage; finally resulted in apostasy and excommunication from the Church 18 April 1844. In April 1844 organized and presided over short-lived church. Printed Nauvoo Expositor 7 June 1844. Moved to Burlington, Iowa, June 1844. Settled at Hampton, Rock Island County, Illinois by fall of 1844. Moved to Jo Davis County, Illinois by 1846. Returned to Mercer County, Pennsylvania, by 1850; there continued as merchant. Moved to Shullsburg, LaFayette County, Wisconsin, by 1870; there commenced practice of medicine. Died 12 January 1892 in Shullsburg, LaFayette County, Wisconsin. Buried in Shullsburg.


History of the Church

“Nauvoo High Council Minutes”

Lyndon W. Cook, “‘Brother Joseph Is Truly a Wonderful Man, He Is All We Could Wish a Prophet to Be’: Pre-1844 Letters of William Law, Brigham Young University Studies 20 (Winter 1980):207-18

“Wilham Law Family History,” copy in possession of author

“William Law Account Book,” Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut;

Wilham Law Diary, copy in possession of author

1850 Federal Census of Pennsylvania

1870 and 1880 Federal Census of Wisconsin

LaFayette County, Wisconsin, Land Records

Heber C. Kimball Journal (1842), Church Archives

Wilford Woodruff Journal, Church Archives

William Law Papers, Church Archives

William Law Correspondence and Interview with William Wyl in The Daily Tribune (Salt Lake City, Utah), 31 July 1887.

[Lyndon W. Cook, The Revelations of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p.265]

D. Michael Quinn

Birth: 8 Sept. 1809, Tyrone Co., Northern Ireland.

Parents: Richard Law and Ann Hunter.

Marriage (monogamist): Jane Silverthorne 1823 (8 ch); an unmarried widower the last ten years of his life.

Hierarchy Relations: JS-JR proposed to his wife.

Education: Common schools, secondary, and post-secondary training in medicine; registrar of the University of the City of Nauvoo (1841-44).

Prior Occupation: Mill owner, merchant, physician.

Business to 1932: Nauvoo Agricultural and Manufacturing Association, Nauvoo Expositor, Shullsburg Bank, William Law Mill, William Law Store.

Social: Mason 1842, Nauvoo lodge; expelled from Nauvoo lodge 1844.

Political/Civic Life: Canadian postmaster 1830s; committee to “search out [anti-Mormon] offenders, and bring them to justice” 1840; Nauvoo Legion captain (1841-41), colonel (1841-41), brevet-major (1841-44), and aide-de-camp to Lieutenant-general JS-JR (1841-44); warden, Nauvoo common schools (1841-44); committed adultery in violation of Illinois law 1843;** unsuccessful candidate for Nauvoo City Council and for alderman 1843; Nauvoo Board of Health (1843-44); “Relief Expedition” to rescue JS-JR from arrest 1843; court-martialed by Nauvoo Legion 1844; filed affidavit 23 May 1844 charging JS-JR with adultery, resulting in arrest warrant; published Nauvoo Expositor 7 June 1844; Nauvoo City Council heard testimony 8 June 1844 that WL was a counterfeiter and adulterer; Expositor declared “a public nuisance” by Nauvoo City Council and ordered destroyed by JS-JR 10 June 1844; arrested 29 Sept. 1844 as accessory to murder of JS-JR and HS, released next day without explanation.

Prior Religion: Presbyterian.

Mormon Experience: Baptized 1836; elder 1837; branch president (1837-38); high priest 1841; counselor to JS-JR by written revelation 19 Jan. 1841; ordained second counselor in First Presidency 24 Jan. 1841 but apparently the only member of First Presidency not designated as “Prophet, Seer, and Revelator” this year; temporarily rejected by Nauvoo high priest quorum 8 Apr. 1841; missions (1841, 1842); Anointed Quorum 4 May 1842 but never received second anointing; re-anointed in Anointed Quorum 1 Oct. 1843 after confession of adultery and anointed first counselor in First Presidency but general conference 8 Oct. 1843 refused to drop SR as first counselor; condemned obliquely by JS-JR as “a Brutus” at organization of Nauvoo police 29 Dec. 1843 (police said 5 Jan. 1844 that the Brutus was WL); dropped from Quorum of Anointed 7 Jan. 1844; informed by JS-JR 8 Jan. 1844 that he was released from office; not released at conference 6 Apr. 1844 defended by HS in reconciliation attempt; rejected offer from JS-JR 15 Apr. 1844 to be restored to church positions if he stopped opposing polygamy; excommunicated 18 Apr. 1844 as regular member, which he regarded invalid; president 21 Apr. 1844 of Reformed Church of Jesus Christ; published prospectus of Nauvoo Expositor 10 May 1844 promising to expose “FACTS, AS THEY REALLY EXIST IN THE CITY OF NAUVOO”; told by SR 13 May 1844 that he could be rebaptized and restored as counselor, but WL refused unless JS-JR publicly acknowledged his polygamy and abandoned it; refused last effort by JS-JR at reconciliation 7 June 1844, and WL’s newspaper was destroyed 3 days later; informed 11 June of a conspiracy to kill him and other Reformed church leaders, WL fled next day with associates and families; at Carthage, Illinois from 25 June to morning of 27 June 1844, but left shortly before governor appointed Carthage Greys to guard JS-JR; recorded shock and disapproval the next day in his diary at JS-JR’s murder; led Reformed church until early 1845 when followers began joining SR; met with SR 20 Feb. 1845 in Kirtland temple, where SR (according to Reformed bishop May 1845) “wanted to deny the book of Mormon which WL could not do”; subscribed to James c. Brewster’s Olive Branch 1848; abandoned Mormonism entirely within a few years; baptized by proxy into LDS church 14 July 1987, and priesthood was restored to him before proxy endowment 15 Oct. 1987.

Death: 19 Jan. 1892, Shullsburg, Lafayette Co., Wisconsin

Estate: $4,000 appraised and net.

[D. Michael Quinn, The Mormon Hierarchy: Origins of Power, Signature Books, 1994, pp. 559-561.]

**The adultery accusation is based on a single disparaging statement by Hyrum Smith in his attempt to mar the character of the publishers of the Prospectus of the Nauvoo Expositor. Quinn also cites himself as a second reference:

1 Oct. – Joseph Smith “reanointed [William] Law” in the Anointed Qurom (JS-F, MAQ) due to Law’s confession of adultery committed since his 1842 endowment (DMQ, HS), Smith also anointed Law as his first counselor and Amasa M. Lyman as second counselor in anticipation of dropping the unendowed Sidney Rigdon as first counselor at the upcoming general conference. These priesthood ordinances were not otherwise announced or repeated. (Quinn, p. 496)


JS-F = Scott H. Faulring, ed., An American Prophet’s Record: The Diaries and Journals of Joseph Smith, Signature, 1989.

MAQ = Document titled “Meetings of anointed Qurom [-] Journalizings,” for 26 May 1843 to 28 Feb. 1844, retitled “Journal kept for Joseph Smith the Prophet,” Smith Papers, microfilm, Lee LIbrary, RLDS archives, and Marriott Library.

DMQ = D. Michael Quinn, interpretation of sources.

HS = Hyrum Smith statement about William Law’s adultery, in Nauvoo Neighbor-Extra, 19 June 1844, p. 2. (Quinn, p. 517)