John Newbold was 28 years old when he was baptized as a Latter-day Saint in March 1848, somewhere in Leicestershire, England, making him one of the relatively early British Saints; his wife Elizabeth was baptized a few months later.
Like many of those early converts, John probably served as a branch leader and local missionary: The biography of at least one church leader in the LDS Biographical Encyclopedia names John as the man who baptized him, and John may be the “Elder Newbold” praying at an 1874 missionary meeting in Sheepshead, Leicestershire, mentioned in the minutes of that meeting published in the Millennial Star. But like so very many of the local Saints, traces of John’s participation in spreading the gospel and sustaining a local congregation are virtually absent from the records kept by missionary leaders sent from the American headquarters of the Church.
I have found one record, though, testifying to John’s faithfulness and his priesthood power, in a most unlikely source: the British press. Somehow a copy of a letter he wrote to his younger brother George (also a Church member, baptized in 1843), dated 14 November 1849, fell into the hands of the editor of the Leicester Mercury, who published it late in the year. That the editor’s purpose was to mock both John’s elementary literacy and the signs Mormons claimed would follow the truth faith is made clear by the comments added by another editor who republished the letter under the headline “Mormonite Miracles.” That second editor suggested that someone could make a fortune bottling a patent medicine with the label “Oil of Mormon.”
John’s letter as it appeared in the British press:
Dear Brother George i was glad to ear that you was all well i write a few lines to inform you what I did by the pour of god November 4 Sister Bagerly came to mee about eleven o’clock at night and sed her boy was Bad of the colere uperds and downads for 2 hours I gave im a sup of oile and anointed him and praid over him and hee was instantly made well Br Golder came to mee on Tusday night hee worked at the coal pit he dropt about a hunderd of cole on his instept and was very lame i anointed it and in ten minits he cud walk as weel as ever and he gave god the prais astil the Prist came on thirsday night he ad a gathirn in hie ear and it gatherd and broke every day for this last twenty years i dropt a little oil in and praid he is now well another case on wensday a girl thirteen had a bad harm the doctor said she wood get no better this winter mee and Elder claten was sent to hir i anointed hir harm and now it is better I Baptised Seven last Sunday and confirmed too we are going on well ear we have took Saint ans chapel and ar a going to open it on sunday brother Reuben brinkworth of wales will address the meeting him that was deef and dum now he can ear and talk i have herd im at ison green a tusday night read this over at your meeting and i pray to god to Bless all the Saints at Longwatton and elsewear i remain your loving brother in the gospel, ELDER NEWBOLD.
And in a more readable “translation”:
Dear Brother George:
I was glad to hear that you was all well. I write a few lines to inform you what I did by the power of God.
November 4, Sister Baggerly came to me about eleven o’clock at night and said her boy was bad; [he had had] the cholera upwards and downwards [i.e., off and on, or more or less] for two hours. I gave him a sip of oil, and anointed him, and prayed over him, and he was instantly made well.
Bro. Golder came to me on Tuesday night. He worked at the coal pit. He dropped about a hundred [pounds?] of coal on his instep, and was very lame. I anointed it, and in ten minutes he could walk as well as ever, and he gave God the praise.
[Bro.] Astill, the priest, came on Thursday night He had a gathering [i.e., an abscess] in his ear, and it gathered and broke every day for the past twenty years. I dropped a little oil in and prayed. He is now well.
Another case: On Wednesday a girl, thirteen, had a bad arm. The doctor said she would get no better this winter. Me and Elder Clayton was sent to her. I anointed her arm, and now it is better.
I baptized seven last Sunday, and confirmed two. We are going on well here. We have took [taken] Saint Anne’s chapel and are going to open it on Sunday. Brother Reuben Brinkworth of Wales will address the meeting – him that was deaf and dumb; now he can hear and talk. I have heard him at Ison Green, [on] a Tuesday night.
Read this over at your meeting, and I pray to God to bless all the Saints at Llangwathan and elsewhere.
I remain your loving brother in the gospel,
Time and resources permitting, I’d like to continue this research and identify those who are referred to in John’s letter, and search for more about John’s service in the British Mission history.
John and Elizabeth, and at least some of their children (Samuel, Hyrum, and Elizabeth, at least) emigrated to Utah in about 1874 or ‘75. (The emigration records of the British Mission, records at Castle Garden, a Deseret News notice of his impending arrival in Utah, and the family’s rebaptism upon arrival in Utah seem to conflict, and I haven’t reconciled them yet.) After a short stay in Farmington, just north of Salt Lake City, the family moved to Smithfield, Cache County, Utah, which became their long-term home.
John appears once more in the newspapers, this time in the Deseret News of 22 August 1888 (perhaps reprinting from the Logan newspaper):
About 10 o’clock on the morning of Aug.15, John Newbold, while on his way to the store with a few eggs, in passing the residence of Thos. Smith, stopped under some shade trees and passed a few words with a son of Mr. Smith who was fixing up a plow. He remarked, “Well, if it rains it will do both good and harm.” Just then there was a loud peal of thunder and quick lightning, which struck Mr. Newbold on the right shoulder, passing down his right side and killing him instantly. His underclothing was burned, but the outer clothing was not injured. The young man was struck down and stunned for a minute and his back was scorched; otherwise he was unhurt. The bark was torn off the tree, and two strands of the ribbon wire fence burnt some, but the eggs in the basket were not damaged. The deceased was born May 20, 1820, in Leicestershire, England. He was baptized March 26, 1848. He leaves a wife and a large family. All of his children are married.
Who could have expected that ridicule by a worse-than-skeptical press would preserve a record of the priesthood service of an early member of the Church, and bring him to remembrance as another in the galaxy of lesser-known Saints whose names and lives deserve to be known?