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Thomas Margetts, on Preaching the Gospel

By: Ardis E. Parshall - April 02, 2012

Thomas Margetts (1819-1856), with several of his brothers, joined the Church in England in 1841 and immediately began serving as a missionary. In time he became president of the London Conference, and is remembered as a dedicated, successful missionary. He emigrated to Utah in 1851, and in 1852 returned to Europe, where he served again as a missionary, working among the Waldensians in northern Italy for more than three years. He returned to Utah, but found his ardor for Mormonism rapidly cooling. Leaving one wife and several children in Utah, Margetts and his plural wife Zelpha decided to return to England in 1856. Their small company was attacked on the Plains by Cheyenne Indians; Margetts was killed; Zelpha was carried away captive and never heard from again.

(Note: There is quite a bit of inaccurate information about Margetts out there. Contrary to Welsh missionary Dan Jones’ much later assertions that Margetts was the cause of “ungodliness” among the London Saints and was excommunicated there, Margetts was an uncommonly successful missionary, well respected, and left London for Utah in full fellowship with the Saints. Accounts of his death sometimes assert that one, and sometimes two, of his children were slain with him; one child was killed in the attack, but that child was a son of fellow-traveler James Cowdy.)

Despite the unhappiness of his last months and the terrible death he met on the Plains, Thomas Margetts’ early association with Mormonism and his faithful missionary service are worth honoring. Specifically, I’m thinking of a lesson he learned regarding what to preach as a missionary – a lesson that, in my opinion, extends to how we teach Sunday School or seminary, and how we speak in Sacrament meeting, and how we engage with our critics.

… [W]hen I was first called to the priesthood, I thought my mission was to expose the errors of the religious systems of the day, and that I must use my best endeavours to make manifest the deformities of the Babylon that obtains in the name of christianity at the present time; and I have often stood and borne testimony against her for an hour together, and said but very little about the glorious gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.

But here, let me ask what was the result of such preaching? Why, instead of winning the people over to the Lord it was the means of driving them from him, and of causing them to persecute the Saints. Was it not truth? one might ask; and if it was truth, has not God sent us to proclaim against error? I answer, and say it was truth; but God has sent us to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ, which alone can sufficiently point out all error, and which will proclaim loud enough against every false system in the world.

I suppose we’ve all seen that often enough, in both religion and politics, where someone rails on what’s wrong with the opposition without ever making a case for his own beliefs. Some of us – this includes me – have been approached by members of other faiths, or have attended classes or services deliberately to learn about other faiths directly from their own presentations; even when the goal is to listen and not argue, not preach, not attempt to convert, so often it happens that when your status as a Mormon is discovered, all talk turns away from a presentation of their beliefs to a discussion of what’s wrong with your beliefs. Of course that works the other way, too – Margetts isn’t the only missionary, the only member, whose first instinct is to fight rather than to teach or share or discuss.

Margetts had this brought unexpectedly to his attention.

I recollect on one occasion I had been preaching in the Regent’s Park, London, and as usual was speaking against what I termed the priestcraft, and money-making systems of the day, when after I had done (and I shall never forget the time while memory lives), a gentleman came up to me, called me from the people that were standing around, and spoke to the following effect; “Sir, you have been preaching for some time, and all that you have said may be truth, but I think if you were to preach the gospel, instead of railing against others, it would be much better for them and for you.”

Reflecting on his preaching habits, Margetts examined the result of his teaching style.

But let me speak of the feelings of my bosom after I had thus preached, and by those feelings I have an evidence that I was wrong altogether; and I trust that these few remarks may prove a benefit to others that are young in the priesthood; for as I have felt the fire, I am enabled to warn others, lest they also be burnt as well as myself. After I had done speaking, instead of feeling that glow of joy and consolation in my heart which I should have done, my mind was dark and gloomy, and I felt as if I had done wrong, though I knew not at that time wherein. I used to rebuke this influence, thinking it to be of Satan, until I discovered the cause of it, which was that I had not been doing that for which I had been sent, which was to preach the gospel, instead of railing against the sects of the day.

Upon hearing the stranger’s evaluation, Margetts

was struck with his words, and began to reflect upon what he had said, and I found that one of the world had given me that advice which I ought to have imparted to others. I asked the Lord to pardon me for what I had done, and to give me of his spirit, so that I might preach those things to the people that would prove a blessing unto them.

From that time I took a different course altogether.

It was at that point that Margetts became a successful missionary. finding “that God was with me; that he prospered my labours, and gave success to the preaching of his word.”

This doesn’t mean that falsehood shouldn’t be corrected, whether it’s falsehood about the gospel itself, or misinformation about the Church and its practices and history, or mischaracterization of Mormon lives. The difference is all in how we go about it – do we go point by point down the catalog of what someone gets wrong? or do we teach/write/speak what is right and let that stand for itself?

Not that I always manage to live by this ideal, but I do recognize the value of “preach[ing] those things to the people that would prove a blessing unto them” – making Mormon history available on the Internet as fairly and accurately as I can, in my case – rather than picking apart what other people get wrong.

Usually. But please don’t tease me with, say, a ludicrous claim to have spotted a Joseph Smith daguerreotype at the local flea market. Where those claims are concerned, I think Paul’s assertion that God “will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able [to bear]” must be an example of the Bible not being translated correctly!



20 Comments »

  1. This is why I love Keepa. Not only because you are not shy about the truth, but also because you stay away from the bashing. Doing both is rare in Mormon History.

    AND
    That the variety of your posts have been introducing me to people and events in Mormon history I would not find in my narrow little world. Thanks.

    Comment by Bruce Crow — April 2, 2012 @ 8:46 am

  2. I like your use of Margetts’ story as a way into articulating your own position: explanation and demonstration in one!

    Comment by Mina — April 2, 2012 @ 11:03 am

  3. Great way of showing how history informs our present acts. Had not heard of Thomas Margetts before, but on the other hand, I am not surprised that a statement of Dan Jones (either one of them) proved to be not entirely accurate.

    Comment by kevinf — April 2, 2012 @ 11:16 am

  4. Excellent post, really enjoyed that. Superb lesson.

    Do you know where Margetts (and, presumably, his brothers too) were baptised? Was it in London?

    Comment by Anne (UK) — April 2, 2012 @ 11:56 am

  5. Ardis, Another great post. Any guess as to how Margetts pronounced this name? Soft or hard “g”?

    Comment by Gary Bergera — April 2, 2012 @ 12:05 pm

  6. Really interesting stuff. I have to admit as a side note, and perhaps it is my faulty memory, but I don’t remember very many Mormons being attacked on the plains.

    Comment by J. Stapley — April 2, 2012 @ 12:21 pm

  7. That surname rang a bell–there’s a theater in the Harris Fine Arts Building at BYU named “Margetts.” It turns out that it’s named after Thomas’s brother Philip, born in 1829 (or 1827 by one account). His name is given in various sources as Philip Nephi Margetts, but that middle name must surely be a later addition, as it seems highly unlikely that the name “Nephi” showed up before the Book of Mormon.

    I think that I had always assumed that the “g” is hard–and I may be remembering, however faintly, others pronouncing it that way. But I may have just made all that up.

    Comment by Mark B. — April 2, 2012 @ 12:50 pm

  8. Thanks for the response, all. We don’t often hear admissions like Thomas Margetts’ even though we probably all have to relearn how to do this thing correctly. I loved his candor and clarity the moment I read it.

    I don’t know offhand where Margetts was baptized, but will try to find out. And Gary, I’ve only ever heard the name with a hard “g” but don’t have any information about a 19th century pronunciation.

    Indian troubles were generally limited to running off cattle, or demanding food, so far as I know. But we do know of two separate attacks that carried off two women who were not returned (I wrote about one named Grundvig — I’m not where I can easily make a link at the moment). Almon Babbitt was killed in almost the same spot as Margetts, and the same year, but Babbitt was crossing from east to west. And there was some considerable difficulty 1865-67. An east-bound Mormon missionary/freighting company in 1865 lost at least one man to an Indian arrow. Those are the ones I’m familiar with; there could easily have been others, but not a very great number, I think.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — April 2, 2012 @ 12:55 pm

  9. And thanks for the note about Phil Margetts, Mark. He’s the member of the family most prominent in Utah and Mormon history — really great actor, apparently.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — April 2, 2012 @ 12:56 pm

  10. Thomas Margetts was baptised 26 April 1820 at Old Woostock, Oxfordshire, England

    Comment by Malcolm Margetts — April 3, 2012 @ 6:16 am

  11. Thanks, Malcolm, for providing his original baptism/christening information. Thomas was baptized as a Latter-day Saint in February 1840 — any idea where that baptism took place?

    (New Family Search doesn’t provide details of place for live ordinances, Anne.)

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — April 3, 2012 @ 7:33 am

  12. Re: Margetts Theatre. And don’t forget current Tabernacle organist, Linda Margetts!

    This line was very impactful:

    Sir, you have been preaching for some time, and all that you have said may be truth, but I think if you were to preach the gospel, instead of railing against others, it would be much better for them and for you.

    Thanks for sharing this.

    Comment by David Y. — April 3, 2012 @ 9:40 am

  13. Thanks for this information on Thomas. I came across the confusing reports on his death while researching the Margetts (with a hard “G”) family.

    I have Phil as Philip Newell Margetts in my family records. He was married to my great-aunt, Elizabeth Bateman. My Mom loved to talk about him. He was a great comic actor, much loved, who performed in the earliest theatrical productions in the Salt Lake Valley through the prime years of the old Salt Lake Theater.

    The Margetts brothers also owned a brewery in Salt Lake during the 1850s until Phil decided it was unseemly, at least for him.

    Comment by Susan W H — April 3, 2012 @ 10:51 am

  14. FWIW, I found a couple of other letters online written by Thomas, and published in the Millennial Star.

    In 1843 he wrote to the editor to recount an experience with a ball of fire in the sky;
    http://contentdm.lib.byu.edu/cdm/ref/collection/MStar/id/20932

    I really enjoyed his letter of 1850 exhorting 20,000 English (not sure if he meant “English” or “British”) Saints to save three pence a week each, in order to raise £7,500 to send several shiploads of Pioneers across the Atlantic.(that would have been an astonishing amount of money in those days).

    http://contentdm.lib.byu.edu/cdm/ref/collection/MStar/id/1897

    Couldn’t access the half yearly 1850 report of the London Conference (of which he was then President, as Ardis stated) online, but looks like it took place in Whitechapel, a ward which has relatively recently been re-established and is now huge.

    A letter of 1852, written from Kanesville, after leaving the Valley and en route to Italy is here:

    http://contentdm.lib.byu.edu/cdm/ref/collection/MStar/id/37715

    And lastly, an 1853 account of his time in Italy (the next item on the page is a fascinating (altho’ abruptly ended) account of the missionary work in ‘East India’ in the same year..that’s why I stopped, you can lose hours in the old Stars!)

    http://contentdm.lib.byu.edu/cdm/ref/collection/MStar/id/7059

    Comment by Anne (UK) — April 3, 2012 @ 12:16 pm

  15. Excellent post. Words to live by; of value not just when preaching the gospel but when teaching anything. Thank you.

    Comment by Diane Peel — April 3, 2012 @ 11:14 pm

  16. Thanks again Ardis.

    Comment by peter Fagg — April 12, 2012 @ 2:09 pm

  17. My great-great grandfather Phillip Nephi Margetts was named after his uncle the famous Utah actor Phillip Nephi Margetts. To add to the confusion, he gave his daughter–my great-grandmother, Chicago-born Minerva Isabelle Margetts (Minnie Belle) the same name that his uncle Phil gave to his daughter in Utah.

    I know this is a bit garbled!

    My great-great-grandfather Philip’s father was one of the 3 Margetts brothers who sailed together from Liverpool to New Orleans on the Argo–but he stayed behind in the Midwest deciding to adhere to Joseph Smith’s son vs. going to Utah with Young–he, too, was a blacksmith and wheelwright and had converted to Mormonism in England with his brothers Phillip and Thomas–I believe his name was George but I have to double-check my records.

    Comment by Cat Judd — May 23, 2013 @ 8:22 pm

  18. re. Anne from the UK’s question about Thomas Margetts’ baptism: His entire family was baptized throughout the year of 1841 by Lorenzo Snow. His father was dying of TB and apparently resisted baptism, Snow conducted the father’s funeral and baptized him “after death” in early 1842. The Margetts family probably had a blacksmith shop in their neighborhood which was then quite rural for London–the now heavily populated and industrial Leyton/Walthamstowe NE outer area of London just south of Epping Forest and near/in the Hackney Marshes. They lived on 14 James Lane which is near Whipp’s Cross Hospital and used to be near the entrance of a grand estate now containing the hospital. Thomas age 21 and his sister Ann age 19 were baptized in Jan 1841–Snow had only arrived in London in Dec of 1840 so his impact on them must have been profound. Thomas maintained very close ties to Snow up until he (fled? left?) SLC in Aug of 1856. Throughout the spring, the rest of Thomas’s brothers converted and were baptized by Snow–Richard converts Feb age 18; George in April age 16; Henry (14) and Philip (12) both convert in May 1841. Mother Margetts, Alice Bishop Margetts age 39, converts in Oct 1841. They likely belonged to a different dissenting sect and the mother was reluctant to leave her old religious ties–and the father refused to do so.

    Comment by Cat Judd — June 11, 2013 @ 1:32 pm

  19. Ardis–what and/or where is your citation for Thomas Margetts’ thoughtful comments about his open-air preaching? I would like to read the full quotation and may need to cite sources.
    Thank you!!!!
    Best,
    C Judd

    Comment by Cat Judd — June 11, 2013 @ 1:36 pm

  20. Our gg grandfather was a companion of Thomas. J C Armstrong and very interesting history!

    Comment by B Olive — October 8, 2014 @ 5:20 pm

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