Question: At the general conference in Nauvoo in April 1844, what was the subject of the Prophet Joseph’s address as it related to the death of King Follett?
Answer: King Follett was born July 26, 1788 in Winchester, Cheshire, New Hampshire to John Follett and Hannah Oakes. He married Louisa Tanner in 1815 in New York. About 1820, they moved to Portage, Ohio. (They had a total of nine children, the last two being born in Missouri.)
King Follett joined the Church in his 43rd year, in the spring of 1831 in Kirtland, Ohio. He then moved his family to Caldwell County, Missouri, where he is listed as being in the Whitmer Branch, Jackson County, Missouri. While living there, he was arrested on false charges along with some of the other brethren of the Church and put in prison.
When endeavoring to escape from prison in Columbia, Boone County, Missouri, on the 4th July, 1839, he was recaptured and again thrust into prison, and into the lowest dungeon, and chained to the floor. He was kept in this situation a few days when he was unchained and taken to an upper apartment. He was kept in prison several months and finally liberated. He was the last member of the Church to be released from Jail in Missouri. He then made his way to Nauvoo. He became one of the constables of Hancock County.
King Follett was killed on March 9, 1844, while working on a well on his property in Nauvoo. A tub of stone fell on him. He was buried with Masonic honors on the 10th of March. He was 55 years of age. He is buried in the Old Nauvoo Burial Ground in Nauvoo, Illinois.
Joseph Smith gave an address on April 7, 1844, in Nauvoo, Illinois, at a general conference of the church. Because King Follett had died in an accident a few weeks before the conference, Joseph Smith took the opportunity to specifically comment on Follett’s death and to speak on what he called “the subject of the dead.” The address has often been referred to as the King Follett sermon or the King Follett discourse.
In 1846, King Follett’s wife, Louisa, and the children moved to Iowa and then to Silver Creek Township in Pottawattamie County, Iowa, in 1848. Their son, John Wesley died at Council Bluffs, leaving a wife and one daughter. Their son, William Alexander Follett joined the Mormon Battalion. William traveled to Utah as a returning Mormon Battalion veteran in the Ebenezer Brown Company in 1848. He returned to Iowa and then traveled back to Utah with his family in the Thomas C.D. Howell Company and made it to Salt Lake in 1855. He moved to Provo, Utah, where he lived with his large family for many years. He later moved to Arizona with his family, where he served as a Bishop, and died there in 1885.
The last twenty years of Louisa’s life were passed at the home of her son, Warren King Follett. Louisa never made it to Utah. Only her two youngest sons, Edward and Warren, survived her. She died at age 92 at Malvern, Iowa on November 15, 1891.
* * * * *
Excerpt from the King Follett Discourse: “Here, then, is eternal life--to know the only wise and true God. And you have got to learn how to be Gods yourselves--to be kings and priests to God, the same as all Gods have done--by going from a small degree to another, from grace to grace, from exaltation to exaltation, until you are able to sit in glory as do those who sit enthroned in everlasting power.”
There are various accounts of the “King Follett Sermon.” It seems that Joseph Smith intended this to be a significant discourse. Several of his listeners recorded accounts of the address contemporaneously, including three scribes from the President’s Office, making it the best recorded of his discourses. The reporters included Willard Richards, Wilford Woodruff, Thomas Bullock, and William Clayton. Because none of these individuals recorded the address stenographically, none of the accounts provides a complete record of what Smith said on that occasion. On 15 August 1844, the church newspaper Times and Seasons offered the first published account of the discourse, a version amalgamating Bullock’s and Clayton’s independent reports. Other amalgamated versions were produced later, including the now well-known version prepared in the 1850s for the “Manuscript History of the Church” by Jonathan Grimshaw, a clerk in the Church Historian’s Office. (See JS History, vol. E-1, 1968–1979; and the draft amalgamation of the 7 Apr. 1844 sermon in “Sunday April 7th. 1844. Discourse by President Joseph Smith,” JS Collection, CHL.)
Source: FamilySearch.org, King Follett Story; King Follett Sermon or Discourse.