Mary Elizabeth Rollins Lightner Testimony

Mary Elizabeth Rollins Lightner bore a powerful testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith to a group of young men at Brigham Young University on April 14, 1905. Mary was born on April 9, 1818 in Lima, Livingston, New York to Keziah Keturah Van Benthuysen and John D. Rollins. According to her autobiography:

Mary Elizabeth Rollins Lightner When I was ten years old, we moved to Kirtland, Ohio, and lived in a house belonging to Algernon Sidney Gilbert, mother’s sister’s husband. We remained there two years, when we heard of the plates of the Book of Mormon, being found by Joseph Smith. Soon the news was confirmed by the appearance of Oliver Cowdery, Peter Whitmer, and Ziba Peterson, with the glorious news of the restoration of the Gospel through the Prophet Joseph Smith. They bore a powerful testimony, by the Holy Spirit, of the truth of the great work they were engaged in; and which they were commissioned by the Father to present to all the world.

Quite a number of the residents of Kirtland accepted baptism. Mother and myself also, in the month of October, 1830. A branch of the Church was organized, and Father Morley was ordained an elder to preside over it. He owned a large farm, about a mile from Kirtland, and some three or four families went there to live, and meetings were held there. A good spirit and one of union prevailed among the brethren for some time. After Oliver Cowdery and his brethren left there for Missouri on their mission to the Lamanites, a wrong spirit crept into our midst, and a few were led away by it. About this time, John Whitmer came and brought a Book of Mormon. There was a meeting that evening, and we learned that Brother Morley had the Book in his possession the only one in that part of the country. I went to his house just before the meeting was to commence, and asked to see the book; Brother Morley put it in my hand, as I looked at it, I felt such a desire to read it, that I could not refrain from asking him to let me take it home and read it, while he attended meeting. He said it would be too late for me to take it back after meeting, and another thing, he had hardly had time to read a chapter in it himself, and but few of the brethren had even seen it, but I pled so earnestly for it, he finally said, “Child, if you will bring this book home before breakfast tomorrow morning, you may take it.” He admonished me to be very careful, and see that no harm came to it.

If any person in this world was ever perfectly happy in the possession of any coveted treasure I was when I had permission to read that wonderful book. Uncle and Aunt were Methodists, so when I got into the house, I exclaimed, “Oh, Uncle, I have got the ‘Golden Bible’.” Well, there was consternation in the house for a few moments, and I was severely reprimanded for being so presumptuous as to ask such a favor, when Brother Morley had not read it himself. However, we all took turns reading it until very late in the night as soon as it was light enough to see, I was up and learned the first verse in the book. When I reached Brother Morley’s they had been up for only a little while. When I handed him the book, he remarked, “I guess you did not read much in it.” I showed him how far we had read. He was surprised and said, “I don’t believe you can tell me one word of it.” I then repeated the first verse, also the outlines of the history of Nephi. He gazed at me in surprise, and said, “child, take this book home and finish it, I can wait.”

Before or about the time I finished the last chapter, the Prophet Joseph Smith arrived in Kirtland, and moved into a part of Newel K. Whitney’s house (Uncle Algernon’s partner in the Mercantile Business), while waiting for his goods to be put in order. Brother Whitney brought the Prophet Joseph to our house and introduced him to the older ones of the family (I was not in at the time.) In looking around he saw the Book of Mormon on the shelf, and asked how that book came to be there. He said, “I sent that book to Brother Morley.” Uncle told him how his niece had obtained it. He asked, “Where is your niece?” I was sent for; when he saw me he looked at me so earnestly, I felt almost afraid. After a moment or two he came and put his hands on my head and gave me a great blessing, the first I ever received, and made me a present of the book, and said he would give Brother Morley another. He came in time to rebuke the evil spirits, and set the church in order. We all felt that he was a man of God, for he spoke with power, and as one having authority in very deed.1

At age 87, Mary bore this testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith:

Well, my young brethren, I can say I never was more surprised in my life than to be called upon to speak to you young men who are called upon to go into the mission field to preach the gospel to the nations of the earth. It is true I have been in the Church from its beginning. Just six months after it was organized, I joined it. I have been acquainted with all of those who were first members of this Church, with all of those who saw the plates and handled them, with even those who saw the angel Moroni who came to them. I am well acquainted with every one of them and I have known them from the time that they came to Ohio until their death; and I am the only living witness who was at the first meeting that the Prophet [Joseph Smith] held in Kirtland.

The Smith family was driven from New York, and a small church had been organized. Oliver Cowdery, Peter Whitmer, and Ziba Peterson were members. Well, I being anxious, though young, to learn about the plates from those who knew all about it, my mother and I went up to the Smith family the next night after they came to Kirtland. As I went in, there were two or three others present. They were all there, from the old gentleman and his wife to all the sons and daughters. As we stood there talking to them, Joseph and Martin Harris came in. Joseph looked around very solemnly. It was the first time some of them had ever seen him.

Martin Harris in old age Said he, “There are enough here to hold a little meeting.” They got a board and put it across two chairs to make seats. Martin Harris sat on a little box at Joseph’s feet. They sang and prayed. Joseph got up and began to speak to us. As he began to speak very solemnly and very earnestly, all at once his countenance changed and he stood mute. Those who looked at him that day said there was a search light within him, over every part of his body. I never saw anything like it on the earth. I could not take my eyes off him; he got so white that anyone who saw him would have thought he was transparent. I remember I thought I could almost see the cheek bones through the flesh. I have been through many changes since but that is photographed on my brain. I shall remember it and see in my mind’s eye as long as I remain upon the earth.

He stood some moments. He looked over the congregation as if to pierce every heart. He said, “Do you know who has been in your midst?” One of the Smiths said an angel of the Lord. Martin Harris said, “It was our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.” Joseph put his hand down on Martin and said: “God revealed that to you. Brethren and sisters, the Spirit of God has been here. The Savior has been in your midst this night and I want you to remember it. There is a veil over your eyes for you could not endure to look upon Him. You must be fed with milk, not with strong meat. I want you to remember this as if it were the last thing that escaped my lips. He has given all of you to me and has sealed you up to everlasting life that where he is, you may be also. And if you are tempted of Satan say, ‘Get behind me, Satan.’”

These words are figured upon my brain and I never took my eye off his countenance. Then he knelt down and prayed. I have never heard anything like it before or since. I felt that he was talking to the Lord and that power rested down upon the congregation. Every soul felt it. The spirit rested upon us in every fiber of our bodies, and we received a sermon from the lips of the representative of God.2

Wilford Woodruff bore a similar testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith in Wilford Woodruff’s Testimony Video.


  1. Autobiography of Mary E. Lightner”. LDS History. 15 February 2009.
  2. “Mary Lightner, Address to Brigham Young University, 1905”. BYU Archives and Manuscripts.

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  1. john willis’s avatar

    You should also be aware that Mary Elzabeth Rollins Lightner was a plural wife of Joseph Smith . In the speech you quote from she also indicated that she believed that Joseph Smith had children by a number of his plural wives. Recent DNA tests have not confirmed this belief but the whole sotry is not yet in.

  2. Greg’s avatar

    Thanks john willis. Yes I am aware of that fact. But, thank you for pointing this out. Having studied her life a little, I have learned to greatly admire Mary Elizabeth’s faith in the restored gospel and in the Prophet Joseph Smith.

  3. Robinne Booth’s avatar

    I am a direct relative of Mary Elizabeth Rollins. I visit her grave every year on Memorial Day. She was Joseph Smith’s 9th plural wife but was only sealed to him. Her husband at the time was Adam Lightner and he was not a member of the church. Her father was John Porter Rollins. And her mother was Keziah Kutura VanBenthuysen. I visit Keziah’s grave also which is in the same graveyard as Mary in Minersville, Utah.

  4. Greg’s avatar

    Thank you Robinne for this information. The next time I am near Minersville, I plan to visit the cemetery.

  5. Geniel Simpson’s avatar

    I am, also, a direct descendant of Mary Elizabeth Rollins Lightner. I would love any additional information about her and her family. I have her autobiography and BYU address. I would also love to know more about my distant cousins….

  6. Theresa’s avatar

    My mother in law is a direct descendent of Mary Elizabeth Rollins her maiden name is Comet Rollins and her father was Sherman Rollins

  7. Greg’s avatar

    Thanks Theresa – hope you enjoyed the post.

  8. Mark D. Rollins’s avatar

    Mary Elizabeth had a rough life, as was prophesied by Joseph. I’m a direct descendant of James Henry Rollins, Mary and Caroline’s brother. I am interested in any stories of Caroline. She was there with Mary in the corn field, but you don’t hear about her much.

    I also find it incredibly awesome, Geniel’s comment about “distant cousins”….I’m interested as well. Every year, in Lymon wyoming, there is a reunion at the High School (every year, each graduating class, since it’s not that big)…there are ALL kinds of Rollins there (mostly from the James Henry line)

  9. Johanna Mac Farlane Edwards’s avatar

    I too am a descendant of Mary’s. She has always been an inspiration to me. I would love to know more about her and to be in contact with other descendants.

  10. Johanna Mac Farlane Edwards’s avatar

    I am also a descendant and would love to know more about her and to get to know other descendants. I have her picture and her memoirs. They were prepared for me by my great aunt Elizabeth and I treasure them.

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