How Lorenzo Snow Gained His Testimony

Many of you may remember how some of the early leaders of our Church were imprisoned because they were living the law of polygamy. In those days, Salt Lake City went as far south as 5th South, so they built the Utah Penitentiary way down to where Sugar House Park now rests, thinking that location was far enough away from the city.

Utah Penitentiary

In 1886, shortly after returning from a mission to the Pacific Northwest, he was tried and imprisoned for violation of the 1882 Edmunds Act, which prohibited the practice of polygamy.  He was promised amnesty if he would renounce plural marriage, but Elder Snow replied, “I thank you, Governor, but having adopted sacred and holy principles for which we have already sacrificed property, home and life on several occasions, …we do not propose, at this late hour, to abandon them because of threatened danger”. (Pretty classy come-back!) He remained in prison for eleven months before being released under mandate of the U.S. Supreme Court.” (quote reference)

The irony of the imprisonment of these men was that many of their forefathers came as pilgrims to the new world, looking for religious freedom.

polygamist in state pen


As there were often visitors wanting to hear Elder Snow’s story he greeted them all with short preliminaries directing them to the “favorite all-absorbing questions of the hour, viz: What is Mormonism? Why am I a Mormon? and myself and brethren in the Penitentiary?”

This is what Lorenzo would tell those visitors of how he gained his testimony of the truth.

“While attending college at Oberlin, Ohio, in the spring of 1836, I had occasion to visit Kirtland, some sixty miles distant, where two of my sisters were residing. At that time this was the principal settlement of the Mormons. Joseph Smith, his counselors and leading Elders then had their homes in that locality, and the Saints had just completed a beautiful edifice called a temple. I became acquainted with Joseph Smith, his counselors, and a number of the prominent leaders. I attended several of their meetings, at which it was their custom for lay members, both men and women, to speak—give their experiences, and testify regarding their extraordinary spiritual manifestations. I talked with these people, their prominent Elders, with Joseph and his aged father, the Patriarch of the Church. I marveled and was exceedingly astonished while listening to what they solemnly declared regarding their wonderful experiences.

The strange things I heard and saw at their prayer and testimony meetings, those marvelous experiences as related by men and women whose sincerity and honesty I could not doubt, and as they asserted these were the natural and legitimate fruits of obedience to what they called the restored New Testament gospel, together with the priesthood, which held the keys of right to administer its ordinances of baptism for the remission of sins, and the laying on of hands for the reception of the Holy Ghost. These things, as I said, overwhelmed me with astonishment. Joseph Smith assumed this position, which no false prophet would dare… I knew that his statement was of that peculiar character in which with him there could be no chance for deception; and such testimony, if false, could be no less than positive villainy. In view of these facts, gentlemen, I felt it my duty to accept this gospel—and would you not yourselves?

Being at that time a young man, full of worldly aspirations, with bright prospects, and means to gratify my ambition in acquiring a liberal collegiate education; also having a host of wealthy, proud, aristocratic friends and relatives watching eagerly for my achieving high honors in life, of course you can easily understand that it was a great trial, and required the strongest effort to form a resolution to abandon those prospects, disappoint expectations, join the poor, ignorant despised Mormons, and follow Old Joe Smith, the money digger, as he and they were regarded.

Had I then understood, as I now know, the ultimate results of obedience to the gospel, a life of purity, and after its close an exaltation to the fullness of the Godhead, I should then have been ashamed to have called it a sacrifice. But in my ignorance, at that time, of its blessings and glories, it proved the fiercest struggle of heart and will I ever experience before or since. But through the help of the lord, for I feel certain that He must have helped me, I laid my pride, worldly ambition and aspirations upon the altar, and as humble as a child went to the waters of baptism, received the ordinance administered by an Apostle, and afterward the laying on of hands.

One evening, a few days after this, when alone, engaged in earnest prayer, the heavens were opened, the veil was rent from my mind, and then and there I received the most wonderful manifestations, grand and sublime, I believe as man was ever permitted to receive, and beyond the power of language fully to describe. It was shown me in that vision that there truly existed a Son of God, that Joseph Smith was really a prophet of God. From that time till the present on numerous occasions miraculous manifestations of the divine power have followed me and my administrations of the gospel ordinances.


Information found in “How I Gained My Testimony of the Truth”, The Young Woman’s Journal, 4:214, (Feb. 1893)