It was a dark Sabbath afternoon; the sky dripping rain, the long grass at our feet slick and wet. My daughter and I walked in the close stillness to the house of Joseph Knight Sr. where the 20-year-old Joseph Smith had boarded while working for Mr. Knight as a hired hand. Our guide turned a key in the lock and we entered the room which had so often known the voices, the tread, the presence of Joseph the Prophet and many of his earliest friends.
The Knights were good people who listened to the young man and pondered his teachings. As Joseph, at this time, was courting Emma Hale, Father Knight was happy to help in the enterprise. "I paid him the money and I furnished him with a horse and cutter," he wrote, "to go and see his girl."
After Joseph and Emma were married and moved to his parents' house, Mr. Knight kept in touch, stretching the arm of his kindness still in driving to Palmyra at the Prophet's request, and offering the use of his wagon to obtain the plates. In fact, it is recorded that Joseph said to him upon his return from meeting for the last time with Moroni and actually taking possession of the ancient record, "It is 10 times better than I expected."
Knight was a man with a farm of 140 acres to work, two houses, an orchard, as well as a sawmill to keep going; he had more than enough on his mind. Joseph and Emma, now living on her father's property in Pennsylvania, were struggling with the labor of translation while still keeping body and soul together. Discouraged, they asked Father Knight for help. Simple thought; simple act-but consider all it implies. They knew he would come to their aid, and care for them. He gave Joseph some "few things out of the store, a pair of shoes, and three dollars." Then, a few days later, still moved with concern, he visited the young couple, bringing money with which to buy paper, that the translation might go forward.
The members of the Knight family, bit by bit, were becoming more deeply converted to the teachings of the gospel. They could not at that time grasp the importance of the work they were enabling to come forth-the eternal significance the Book of Mormon would have from the moment of its publication, through all generations of time.
In May of 1829 a revelation was given to Joseph Knight, one of several in the Doctrine and Covenants directed to members of this family. When the Church was officially organized there were 60 people crowded into the small Whitmer cabin — and a full one third of these were Knights from Colesville!
Interestingly, the baptisms in the family did not take place until June 28, 1830. Angry neighbors protested — does it not amaze us today? What is there to protest about in people getting quietly baptized into a religion? But a constable came to Joseph Knight's house and arrested the Prophet Joseph — the first of the many tedious, ludicrous lawsuits he would suffer. Father Knight hired two farmers versed in law to defend Joseph, and he was acquitted the following night.
That was the beginning. More persecutions followed, but the little Colesville Branch flourished and remained constant. Hyrum Smith was appointed first president of the branch, young Newel Knight later replacing him.
When the Saints were commanded by revelation to "assemble together at the Ohio," the Knight family, under the leadership of their patriarch, responded wholeheartedly. They disposed of their choice, hard won property; their barns, their animals, their orchards, the homes they loved, leaving the beauty of the Susquehanna valley forever behind. More than 60 of this clan moved en masse — this first branch which remained a strong, green bough in the hand of the Lord!
Then followed Missouri. Sister Knight, so ill throughout the journey that her son had brought lumber along to build a coffin if necessary, was laid to rest. But she had set her feet upon the soil of Zion, and was actually the first Saint buried in this land which the Lord had ordained.
The family suffered continual trials and privations. Newel's young wife, Sally, for instance, gave birth to a child who died shortly thereafter, then she also died, after a winter of living in tents, without sufficient shelter or food.
But, at the same time, the family grew and strengthened. They served on the Nauvoo City Council, they built homes and grist mills, worked on the temple, stood in unquestioning loyalty beside the prophet, who named one of the city thoroughfares Knight Street in tribute to these goodly Saints whom he loved.
It nearly broke Father Knight's heart when Joseph and Hyrum were killed. But he and his carried on, as they ever had. They headed West, but some of their journeys were shortened. Newel, the Prophet's tender friend, died of exposure in Nebraska in January 1847, and Father Joseph Knight Sr. a month later at Mount Pisgah in Iowa.
Their spirits remain. Father Knight raised up a devoted and righteous generation. I felt them that quiet Sabbath afternoon, the gentle reality of their lives evident in the rooms where their voices, raised in testimony and prayer, had been often heard.
In Joseph's Book of the Law of the Lord, naming the "faithful few" who had stood beside him from the very beginning, "pure, holy friends," Joseph Knight Sr. had an honored place. In part, the Prophet Joseph wrote of him:
". . . for fifteen years he has been faithful and true, and even-handed and exemplary, and virtuous and kind, never deviating to the right hand or to the left. Behold he is a righteous man . . . and it shall be said of him, by the sons of Zion, while there is one of them remaining, that this man was a faithful man in Israel; therefore his name shall never be forgotten."
On this anniversary of his birth on Nov. 3, 1772, let us, his fellow Saints, not forget.
Copyright 2016, Deseret News Publishing Company