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In His Own Words: Walter Lee Noblin, 1908

By: Ardis E. Parshall - January 22, 2009

Walter Lee Noblin (1878-1936) would have been about 30 years old when he wrote this letter to the Juvenile Instructor. The parents he mentioned were William Henry Noblin (1851-1910) and Margaret Catherine Hughes Noblin (1855-1935).

I have been a Mormon for about seventeen years and love the gospel and all of the Saints and Elders. Many of the Elders in Zion know me and I have learned to love them. I have been reading the Juvenile and have learned some fine things from it. I love to read the “Stories from Church History” and the Letter Box.

I want to bear you my testimony that I know that Joseph Smith was a true prophet of God. I have seen the sick healed and I have had many testimonies of the gospel. I want to do all I can to help roll this work along.

I do not have the opportunity of a Sunday School and preaching often. I have never been in a church owned by the Saints. How thankful the Saints in Utah ought to be. I would give anything to be there.

I have seen a mob of men of about two hundred around my father’s house with guns; I have heard people call my mother an old Mormon, and I have seen some of them pay dear for it.

But I am not ashamed of the gospel for I know it is the power of God unto salvation unto all who obey it. I wish the Lord to bless all who are trying to serve Him and all of the authorities of the Church.

Your brother,

W.L. NOBLIN
Drayton, S.C.

24 November 2009 update: See The Kindness of Strangers.



15 Comments »

  1. “I have heard people call my mother an old Mormon.”

    Ha! Yeah, well, I’ve heard people call my mother a lot worse! I guess I forget how pejorative the term “Mormon” has been at times.

    I’m most interested in the writer’s use of the phrase, “to bear you my testimony.” I’ve long suspected that this phrase (“bear testimony”) was at first somewhat ubiquitous among both Mormons and non-Mormons alike, but today has become uniquely Mormon. I hear Evangelicals speak in terms of “witnessing” and even “testifying” but I don’t hear “bear testimony.” I wonder at what point it became ours?

    Comment by Hunter — January 22, 2009 @ 3:51 pm

  2. That’s an interesting question, Hunter, that I have no input on. I haven’t done enough reading in primary texts from other groups to know how or whether or when they used such language.

    You old Mormon, you.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — January 22, 2009 @ 4:49 pm

  3. Pretty exciting, Ardis. I’m developing some sources from the same time in Ridgeland, SC, 60 miles down the road.

    Comment by Mark Brown — January 22, 2009 @ 5:20 pm

  4. Awesome, Mark. I had no idea it might help you; glad to hear it.

    I just keep coming across little pieces like this that I can’t really develop into stories but which give such a strong sense of our past that I want to share them. “In their own words” will likely become a regular series.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — January 22, 2009 @ 5:26 pm

  5. Wonderful and moving, Ardis. I love the letters to the Juvenile Instructor. Beyond the historian’s fascination with “lived religion” they frequently satisfy, I find them often simply poignant.

    Comment by J. Stapley — January 22, 2009 @ 7:36 pm

  6. On bearing testimony (Nos. 1 and 2, above). I checked Mormon Parallels, and found the following examples. I’ve tried to keep these as brief as humanly possible (except for one which I hope you will agree is too wonderful to condense):

    “. . . the evils of intemperance, against which we are called to bear our testimony . . .” Lewis Cass, Sec. of War, preaching in the U.S. Capitol, February 24, 1833.

    ” They [the Jews] are God’s witnesses, living witnesses; bearing a testimony to the genuineness, the authenticity, and consequently the inspiration, of the Holy Scriptures . . .” —Hugh McNeile, Prospects of the Jews . . . (Philadelphia, 1840), p. xxviii.

    “Many others have borne, and many more, could they speak, would bear the same testimony. . . .” David E. Millard, 1874, discussing his father’s work of half a century earlier.

    “At length, one evening, my husband being from home, I prayed with my children, Feb. 14, 1811, and felt such littleness, such child like simplicity, such dependence on the Lord, and such willingness as cannot be described. I went to bed but could not sleep. I wanted the blessing. I began to pray; and as I began to pray, I began to tremble. Then I heard a voice that said, Jesus is a coming, Jesus is a coming, Jesus is a coming. I trembled; the bed shook whereon I lay. By faith I saw him coming with the blessing. He drew nearer and nearer, and glory to God. He filled my soul with joy unspeakable and full of glory. Glory to God, it is better felt than told, my soul was full of glory. Then I began to muse, what can this be? it seems like immortal joy; a clean heart, pure hands, a soul sanctified. Then I heard a voice say, it is the Holy Ghost, that which the apostles received on the day of Pentecost. I felt it, I knew it, glory, glory, glory to God. I knew it to be separate from justification. I will bear testimony to what I know to my dying day.” —”The Experience of RUHAMY BOOTHE. . . . Taken from her mouth, this 11th day of April, A. D. 1814.”

    “The young, amazed at the eagerness with which they had pursued the vanities of the world . . . forsook the house of mirth . . . and bore their testimony to the truth of what they once thought a chimera . . .” —1818 Vermont revival account, published 1819.

    “It will further be observed, that, respecting the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost, it is said these three are one. But it is not said that these three are one Being or one God. Nor is any such idea naturally implied or suggested. How then are they one? They are one, as any three witnesses, whether persons or things, are one, which unite in bearing testimony to the same truth.” —Noah Worcester, Bible News . . . , Concord, NH, 1810, p. 161

    “. . . and feeling it our duty, not only in an individual, but in an associate capacity, to bear testimony against all error . . .” —Ethan Smith, quoted disapprovingly in Thomas Worcester, A Defence of Truth and Character a ]gainst Ecclesiastical Intolerance. . . (Concord, NH, 1812)

    Comment by Rick Grunder — January 22, 2009 @ 11:44 pm

  7. Wow, thanks for this Rick Grunder. (As I stated above, I suspect that use of the “bear testimony” language was pretty wide spread; and your citations tend to support this idea. I just wonder at what point others dropped it?)

    One other thing: The writer talks about members “in Utah” and members “in Zion” seeminly as synonyms. In the year 1908 these were one-and-the same, I suppose. And he says he would “give anything to be there.” I wonder what impeded him?

    Comment by Hunter — January 23, 2009 @ 12:22 am

  8. I also enjoy these little personal stories. I find myself wanting to know more about Walter and his parents, like who baptised them? Are there others in the family who were converted? I find it interesting that his seemingly only contact with the church is through reading the Juvenile Instructor.

    Comment by Maurine — January 23, 2009 @ 1:22 am

  9. … and Rick comes through with some marvelous examples. Thanks! I suppose we could tell with the OED or a lot of googling whether “to bear testimony” in a religious sense is still used elsewhere, or when/how widespread it might have been used in a legal context where we now say “give testimony” or “testify.”

    Walter Noblin was married by this point, with two children (one of whom would die in 1910 — as would Walter’s father — and the other be baptized the same year). Maybe family responsibilities kept him at home instead of “in Zion”? His temple work was performed posthumously so presumably he never made the trip even for a visit.

    As with so many others (I keep running across references to Tsune Nachie and the Tuamotus, for instance), the Noblin name is now on my radar, and if I find further information I’ll post it. Finding new references is for me like getting a postcard from an old friend.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — January 23, 2009 @ 3:05 am

  10. The phrase “bear testimony” also seems to show up in various Bible translations. I haven’t looked at all of the 46 instances found in one search, but it looks like the KJV tends to use the term “bear witness” whereas the Webster Bible tends to say “bear testimony.” Since Noah Webster was doing his version of the Bible in the 1830s, it seems from Rick Grunder’s selections that he was using language common to that time and place.

    Comment by Researcher — January 23, 2009 @ 6:21 am

  11. Ardis, you may have seen the various mentions of the Noblins in the Liahona. Walter Lee seems to have been a very active missionary in SC.

    Comment by Justin — January 23, 2009 @ 6:44 am

  12. Great stuff, Ardis, Researcher, all. Thanks!

    Comment by Hunter — January 23, 2009 @ 8:38 am

  13. No, Justin, I didn’t know that. Hadn’t done my homework. I’m doing it this morning, and will have a new post about the Noblins up this weekend. Thanks!

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — January 23, 2009 @ 9:19 am

  14. I should have added (late, late!) last night that, while word-searching through my sources, I did not gain the impression that “bearing” testimony was necessarily the predominant form used in religious language of the northeastern United States during the early nineteenth century. The word “testimony” was indeed used widely then in religious writing, but rather more frequently with other verbs, and sometimes with slight overtones of legal language. However, from the breadth of background of the various writers I have quoted, I think we can assume that the expression of “bearing” testimony was at least readily recognized and accepted at all social levels.

    Ardis’ suggestion of Googling such expressions, and turning to OED, is well taken.

    Comment by Rick Grunder — January 23, 2009 @ 9:33 am

  15. Wonderful, Ardis. I’m looking forward to this series.

    What struck me HARD was the following:

    His temple work was performed posthumously so presumably he never made the trip even for a visit.

    We take so much for granted in this day and age, especially those like I who were raised in Utah and, except for my mission, have never lived further than a 10-hour drive from a temple. Even as a poor college student in Boston, my wife and I went twice to the Washington, D.C. temple by bus with other members – and now there is a temple next to the meetinghouse we attended in Boston.

    That a man with such a testimony in the 1900′s never made it to the temple is something I forget occasionally. Truly, I am blessed.

    Comment by Ray — January 23, 2009 @ 11:15 am

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