Q: Willard Richards is mentioned in D&C 118:6; 124:129; and 135:2. What was the Prophet Joseph’s prophecy pertaining to Willard Richards that was literally fulfilled at Carthage? Were Brigham Young and Willard Richards related?
A: Willard Richards was born 24 June 1804 in Massachusetts. Willard felt his life had been spared many times throughout his childhood, so he turned to religious studies. He became frustrated with the religionists of his day and concluded that all sects were wrong and that he would wait for God to establish his true church upon the earth.
He then turned his interest from religion to academics, and began teaching. By 1827 he was lecturing on electricity and other scientific subjects throughout New England. By 1834 his interest turned to medicine, and he studied the worth of herbs in curing the sick. By 1835 he had established a medical practice near Boston.
In the summer of 1835, Willard acquired a copy of the Book of Mormon. While reading, he discovered the profound truth of man’s purpose on earth. Within ten days he had read the book twice, settled his accounts, and freed himself from every incumbrance so he could journey seven hundred miles to Kirtland to further investigate the Church. When he arrived in Kirtland, he stayed with his first cousin, Brigham Young, who then baptized thirty-two-year-old Willard in December 1836 in the Chagrin River. Willard and Brigham’s mothers were sisters.
On June 13, 1837, Willard was called to serve as a missionary to the British Isles, where he led many to the waters of baptism. He married one of his converts, Jennetta Richards in September 1838. Seven months after his marriage, he was appointed as a first counselor to Joseph Fielding, president of the British mission. In 1840, when members of the Twelve arrived in England, he learned of his apostolic call. He was ordained on April 14, 1840, being the first and only Apostle ordained outside the United States.
In April 1841, after serving in the English mission for nearly four years, Willard returned to the United States, where he stayed with Brigham Young and then with the Prophet Joseph in Nauvoo. Willard was appointed private secretary to Joseph Smith, Church recorder, clerk, and historian. Joseph wrote in his journal, “I have been searching all my life to find a man after my own heart whom I could trust with my business in all things, and I have found him---Doctor Willard Richards is the man.”
He organized the medical services in Nauvoo, training midwive trainers, and provided sanitation advice in particular for the malaria and cholera issues that faced Nauvoo. He would later work with Eliza Snow to identify replacement doctors among the trained young women in Utah, including a young woman, Ellis Reynolds Shipp, who would attend medical school becoming one of Utah’s first doctors.
More than a year before the Martyrdom, the Prophet prophesied that “the time would come that the balls would fly around [Willard] like hail, and he should see his friends fall on the right and on the left, but that there should not be a hole in his garment.” On June 27, 1844, at Carthage Jail, this prophetic statement was literally fulfilled.
Jennetta Richards, his wife, died in 1845 at the age of 27, leaving two young children and she is buried next to highway 96 near their home.
After the Martyrdom, Willard gave the same loyalty to Brigham Young. He accompanied him to the Salt Lake Valley in 1847 and then returned with him to Winter Quarters, where Brigham Young selected him to be the second counselor in the First Presidency. He faithfully fulfilled that calling from 1847 to 1854.
One of Willard’s numerous achievements is that he was truly Utah's first journalist and publisher of its first newspaper, in June 1850, of the Deseret News , being the first Editor-in-Chief.
After suffering from health problems, Willard died at age forty-nine on March 11, 1854 in Salt Lake City, and is buried in the Salt Lake City Cemetery.
Source: Who's Who in the Doctrine & Covenants by Susan Easton Black