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Benjamin F. Johnson

         A history of the LeBaron fundamentalists, as related by members of their own group, begins with Benjamin F. Johnson, who was born 28 July 1818 to Ezekiel and Julia Hills Johnson.  Benjamin was baptized a member of the Church in 1835 and soon became a close confidant of Joseph Smith and a member of the Council of Fifty, though he was not invited to join the Endowed Quorum in Nauvoo.[1]  Benjamin learned of plural marriage from the mouth of the Prophet himself in order to facilitate Joseph’s marriage to Benjamin’s sister, Almera Woodard Johnson, which occurred 3 April 1843.[2]  Johnson himself became a polygamist after the martyrdom, marrying seven women and fathering at least 47 children who would produce over 350 additional offspring, all calling him “grandfather.”[3]  One of those grandchildren, born 15 March 1886, was named Alma “Dayer” LeBaron.[4]  

                            

Dayer (rhymes with “prayer”) LeBaron’s childhood was spent in Mesa, Arizona, living not far from his grandfather Benjamin F. Johnson.  He eventually moved to Colonia Juarez to continue his education and there met his first wife, Barbara Baily.  Married in 1904, they had one son.  However, Dayer’s religious beliefs soon alienated his wife who left him, taking their child and moving to Salt Lake City to be with her mother.[5]

Moving back to Utah, Dayer met Maude Lucinda McDonald and the two were wed in 1910.  Together they had thirteen children, five girls and eight boys.  In 1923, Dayer approached Nathan Clark who performed his sealing to Onie Jones.[6]  The following year both he and his wives were excommunicated “for violative conduct,” the Church court being held at LaVerkin, Utah, Onie Jones’ hometown.[7]  In response, Dayer with his two wives and eight children moved back to Colonia Juarez where he sought work as a painter and doing odd jobs and was described as an “energetic” and “hard-working” man.  Purchasing a “fixer-upper” home, he rebuilt it little by little as his families expanded.  Onie bore six children and eventually separated herself and her children from Dayer and his fundamentalist activities.

The male offspring of the union of Dayer LeBaron and Maude McDonald would prove to be different from the sons found in almost any other religious families.  Of the eight, seven would at one time or another, claim to hold lofty priesthood callings and offices like the “one mighty and strong,” the Presiding Patriarch in all the world, or a priesthood office previously unheard of: the Right of the Firstborn

The “Right of the Firstborn” 

One general doctrine promoted by most of the different LeBaron factions is that the presiding priesthood authority on earth is found in an office called the “Right of the Firstborn.”  The term is found in Abraham 1:2-3 where Abraham writes: “I became a rightful heir, a High Priest, holding the right belonging to the fathers.  It was conferred upon me from the fathers; it came down from the fathers, from the beginning of time, yea, even from the beginning, or before the foundation of the earth, down to the present time, even the right of the firstborn, or the first man, who is Adam, or first father, through the fathers unto me” (italics added).

According to LeBaron teachings, the “Right of the Firstborn” means “the right to stand in the stead of the firstborn in His absence; the firstborn being Christ.”[8]  It constitutes the “First Grand Head of the Priesthood” and reportedly transcends any priesthood office found within the Church.  Church historians would observe that there is nothing in the scriptures or the private or public discourses of Joseph Smith, Brigham Young or John Taylor to support this idea.  It appears that the LeBarons were the first in the history of the Church to actually discuss it.

LeBaron doctrine teaches that Joseph Smith was the first to hold the described office of the “Right of the Firstborn” in this dispensation; the second was reportedly Benjamin F. Johnson. 

Benjamin F. Johnson - Appointed to Succeed Joseph Smith? 

According to LeBaron doctrines, Benjamin F. Johnson’s described connection to Joseph Smith is based upon scriptures found in sections 124 of the Doctrine and Covenants, which discuss the building of a “boarding house”: 

And now I say unto you, as pertaining to my boarding house which I have commanded you to build for the boarding of strangers, let it be built unto my name, and let my name be named upon it, and let my servant Joseph and his house have place therein, from generation to generation.

 

For this anointing have I put upon his head, that his blessing shall also be put upon the head of his posterity after him.

And as I said unto Abraham concerning the kindreds of the earth, even so I say unto my servant Joseph: In thee and in thy seed shall the kindred of the earth be blessed.

Therefore, let my servant Joseph and his seed after him have place in that house, from generation to generation, forever and ever, saith the Lord.

And let the name of that house be called Nauvoo House; and let it be a delightful habitation for man, and a resting-place for the weary traveler, that he may contemplate the glory of Zion, and the glory of this, the corner-stone thereof. (D&C 124:56-60; italics added.) 

Most readers would probably conclude that these verses are talking primarily about the Nauvoo House, which was designed to be a boarding house or hotel.[9]  However, the LeBarons would assert that, while the House is obviously referred to, something more critical is mentioned.  Ervil would ask: ‘What was of greater importance, the anointing and the blessing or the mansion [Nauvoo House]?”[10]  LeBarons believe that the “anointing” and “blessing” cited are actually references to a priesthood office, the “Right of the Firstborn.”[11]  This less-than-obvious interpretation raises many important questions that cannot be addressed here.[12]

To reinforce the idea that Benjamin F. Johnson received that lofty “anointing” (the “Right of the Firstborn”) from Joseph Smith, the LeBarons teach that Johnson was also given the “Deed to the Nauvoo House” from the Prophet.  Its seems logical that if Benjamin received the deed, he might have just as easily received the “anointing” also discussed in those verses.  However, Church scholar Lyle Wright observed: “No such private deed ever existed, for the Nauvoo House was not the property of Smith alone, nor of any individual, but was built by a stock company...  The stock was to remain effective for each holder and his descendants from generation to generation.”[13]  Other verses (62-82, 111-122) in section 124 explain the process whereby many individuals could invest in the stock of the Nauvoo House raising the question: “How could a single deed exist for a house owned by many stockholders?”

Another significant concern stems from the declaration that the Nauvoo House and the “anointing” mentioned were for “Joseph and his seed after him... from generation to generation.”  Benjamin F. Johnson and Joseph Smith were not related.  Regardless, the LeBarons would teach that Johnson was an “adopted son” of Joseph Smith and that the Prophet bypassed his own sons to make Benjamin his primary heir concerning the Nauvoo House and the highest priesthood office on earth.  Wright also wrote:  “Absolutely no evidence has been found to substantiate the assertions that Smith adopted Johnson as his son, nor have those making the assertions furnished any details of the alleged occurrence.”[14]

The idea that Benjamin Johnson received an ordination to a lofty priesthood office from Joseph Smith is also problematic.  Historians observe that Johnson never made the claim.  Nor does his life’s trajectory suggest that he held such an important priesthood calling.  Benjamin wrote his own biography and other letters discussing the history of the restoration,[15] but throughout all of his writings, he failed to mention that he had received a priesthood calling of any special significance.[16] 

Also Benjamin Johnson wrote acknowledging the remarkable experience where the mantle of Joseph Smith fell upon Brigham Young in August of 1844 and thereafter recognized Young as the “leader in Israel.”[17]  Within the leadership of the Council of Fifty, Johnson also respected Brigham Young as the presiding authority.[18]  Nevertheless, decades later, Benjamin’s great-grandsons of the LeBaron line would proclaim that between June 1844 and his death in 1905, he, Benjamin F. Johnson held the highest priesthood office known to man, the “Right of the Firstborn.”[19]

Benjamin F. Johnson Transfers His Priesthood Keys to A. Dayer LeBaron 

Assuming that Benjamin F. Johnson was the presiding priesthood authority on earth, the LeBarons taught that shortly before his death on 18 November 1905, he bypassed all eighteen of his own sons who were then alive in order to ordain one of his 105 grandsons also living at that time.[20]  That chosen grandson was reportedly A. Dayer LeBaron.  Ervil penned: “Shortly before the death of Benjamin F. Johnson, he called his grandson, Alma Dayer LeBaron Sr....   He gave him many instructions and said to him: When I die, my mantle will fall upon you.”[21]

Interestingly, Price Johnson remembered that prior to the 1920s, Dayer LeBaron approached Nathan Clark to obtain an ordination providing him with authority to seal plural marriages in Mexico.[22]  It wasn’t until Dayer was in his thirties that he began claiming to hold some special priesthood authority, though precisely what his assertions were is not now clear.[23]  It appears that Dayer left no testimonial of his beliefs and teachings; his sons and wife Maude would provide the only existing historical record of Dayer’s lofty priesthood office.


[1]    .  Ehat, “Introduction of Temple Ordinances,” 107; Anderson, “Anointed Quorum in Nauvoo,” 153-54.

[2]    .  Benjamin F. Johnson, My Life’s Review, 94-96; George D. Smith, “Nauvoo Roots,” # 122 in chart. 

[3]  Ancestral File.  First wife, Flora Clarinda GLEASON would be responsible for 6 grandchildren.  Second wife, Sarah Melissa HOLMAN, 92.  Third wife, Susan Adaline HOLMAN, 49.  Fourth wife, Harriet Naomi HOLMAN, 90.  Fifth wife, Sarah Jane SPOONER, 21.  Sixth wife, Mary Ann HALE, 34.  Seventh wife, Melissa Bloomfield LEBARON, 69.

[4]    .  Alma Dayer’s older brothers included Benjamin Franklin LeBaron, Jr. (b. 1882), Edgar Leray LeBaron (b. 1885) and Grover Cleveland LeBaron (b. 1893).  Ancestral File.

[5]  Bennion, Desert Patriarchy, 55-56.

[6]    .  Price Johnson in Reminiscences, 2nd ed., 2:83.

[7]    .  Wright, “Origins and Development,”  87.

[8]    .  Ervil LeBaron, Priesthood Expounded, 8:19.  Contrast Abraham 1:3, which indicates that the “Right of the Firstborn” refers to Adam.

[9]   The “Boarding House” was another name for the Nauvoo House. Begun in October 1841, the building was intended to be a prestigious hotel for the accommodation of prominent public figures. After the Prophet's death, the edifice was left unfinished.  (Ehat and Cook, Words of Joseph Smith, 91, en5.)

[10]    .  Ervil LeBaron, Priesthood Expounded, 6:31.

[11]    .  Ibid., 6:31-42.

[12]    .  For a critical analysis of many of the LeBaron claims see Reimann, Plural Marriage Limited, 225-54, Richards, REPLY TO the Church of the Firstborn, complete; Wright, “Origins and Development,” 82-256; J. Max Anderson, “Mormon Fundamentalism,” LeBarons section.  See also Lynn L. Bishop, Back to Benjamin F. Johnson, complete.

[13]    .  Wright, “Origins and Development,” 160.

[14]    .  Wright, “Origins and Development,” 159.

[15]    .  My Life’s Review and “Letter to George F. Gibbs,” 1903.

[16]    .  Richards, Reply to the Church of the Firstborn, 128B35. 

[17]    .  Benjamin F. Johnson, My Life’s Review, 103-04.  In 1903 Johnson wrote that Joseph Smith “made the prediction upon the head of Brigham Young that ‘at some period he would become the Leader of the Church...’  I am witness that after the Prophet’s death that Brigham Young became Israel’s great leader B a Prophet, Seer and Revelator to the Church in all the world...  His voice was ever the voice of the True Shepherd to Israel...  From his young manhood and through his after life in close observation I saw him B through every calling rise to become Israel’s great Chief, holding every key of priesthood and power pertaining to the kingdom of God on the earth, and of salvation for the dead.”  (Letter to George F. Gibbs, 56-57.  See Zimmerman, Letter of Benjamin F. Johnson, 68-69.)

[18]    .  Wright, “Origins and Development,” 163.

[19]    .  Fred Collier wrote in 1990: “It is easy to prove that the Council of Fifty was made custodian of the Keys of the Kingdom of God by the deeds and words of the prophet Joseph Smith...” (“Independent Fundamentalists,” 3).  History shows that the Council of Fifty admitted unbaptized men as members (Quinn, “Council of Fifty,” 180).  It is difficult for Latter-day Saints to believe that such a council as a group could hold priesthood keys and preside over baptized Church members and leaders.  Collier also asserted: “It is also easy to prove from history that Benjamin F. Johnson out lived all the other original members of that council.  He died in 1905.  As such he presided over the Keys of the Kingdom of God” (“Independent Fundamentalists,” 3).  In contrast, Ervil LeBaron taught in 1956 that the Right of the Firstborn, the office ostensibly held by Benjamin F. Johnson, could not “be inherited by virtue of seniority of ordination to any quorum or council” (Priesthood Expounded, 18:40).

[20]  Ancestral File.

[21]    .  Ervil LeBaron, Priesthood Expounded 19:24.

[22]    .  Price Johnson in Reminiscences, 2nd ed., 2:83.

[23]    .  Wright, “Origins and Development,” 89.