W. W. Phelps (Mormon)

W. W. Phelps (Mormon) bigraphy, stories - Leader in the LDS Church

W. W. Phelps (Mormon) : biography

February 17, 1792 – March 17, 1872

William Wines Phelps (February 17, 1792 – March 7, 1872) was an early leader of the Latter Day Saint movement. He was an assistant president of the church in Missouri, scribe to Joseph Smith, Jr., and a church printer, editor, and song-writer


Today, William W. Phelps is probably best known for his legacy of LDS hymns, many of which appear in the current edition of the LDS Church hymnal.

  • Adam-ondi-Ahman*
  • Come, All Ye Saints of Zion*
  • Come, All Ye Saints Who Dwell on Earth*
  • Come, Let Us Sing an Evening Hymn*
  • Gently Raise the Sacred Strain*
  • Glorious Things Are Sung of Zion
  • Hosanna Anthem
  • If You Could Hie to Kolob
  • Now Let Us Rejoice*
  • Now We’ll Sing with One Accord*
  • O God, the Eternal Father*
  • Praise to the Man
  • The Spirit of God Like a Fire Is Burning*
  • We’re Not Ashamed to Own Our Lord*

Phelps also reworded popular hymns turning them into uniquely Latter Day Saint hymns.

  • Joy to the World! the Lord will Come*
  • Redeemer of Israel*
  • Included in the first Latter Day Saint hymnal in 1835.

Excommunicated and rebaptized

After being a scribe to Joseph Smith for some time, in late 1838 Phelps was one of several who bore witness against Smith and other leaders, aiding in their imprisonment in Missouri until April 1839. In June 1840, Phelps plead for forgiveness in a letter to Smith. Smith replied with an offer of full fellowship, and ended with the famous couplet, "’Come on, dear brother, since the war is past, For friends at first are friends again at last.’"Letter July 22, 1840, from Joseph Smith, Nauvoo, Il, in History of the Church,vol.4, pg 162-64

It was decided that Phelps, along with Frederick G. Williams, could be ordained as elders and serve missions abroad. Phelps served a brief mission in the eastern United States in 1841. Phelps moved to Nauvoo, Illinois where on August 27, 1841, he replaced Robert B. Thompson (who had died) as Joseph Smith’s clerk. Beginning in February 1843, Phelps became the ghostwriter of many of Smith’s important written works of the Nauvoo period, including General Joseph Smith’s Appeal to the Green Mountain Boys of November 1843, Smith’s theodemocratic presidential platform of January 1844, and The Voice of Innocence which was presented to and unanimously approved by the Relief Society in February 1844 to rebut claims of polygamy in Nauvoo arising out of Orsimus Bostwick’s lawsuit accusing Hyrum Smith of polygamy and other sexual misconduct with the women of Nauvoo.Samuel Brown, The Translator and the Ghostwriter: Joseph Smith and William Phelps,” Journal of Mormon History 34, no. 1 (2008): 26-62.

Phelps was endowed on December 9, 1843, received his "second anointing" promising him godhood on February 2, 1844, and was also made a member of the Council of Fifty. In Nauvoo, Phelps spoke out in favor of the destruction of an opposition newspaper, the Nauvoo Expositor. He believed that the city charter gave the church leaders power to declare the newspaper a nuisance. Shortly afterwards, the press and type were carried into the street and destroyed. Phelps was summoned to be tried for treason with Joseph Smith at Carthage, Illinois.

During the Mormon Succession Crisis in 1844, Phelps sided with Brigham Young and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. He was again excommunicated on December 9, 1848 for entering into an unauthorized polygamous marriage, but was rebaptized two days later. He took part in the Mormon Exodus across the Great Plains and settled in Salt Lake City in 1849. He served a mission in southern Utah Territory (as counselor to Parley P. Pratt) from November 1849 to February 1850. There he served in the Utah territorial legislature and on the board of regents for the University of Deseret (now the University of Utah). Phelps died on March 7, 1872 in Salt Lake City, Utah Territory. He was buried at Salt Lake City Cemetery.