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CRISIS AT KIRTLAND
Murderous Threats and Plots, 1835-1837
by Dale R. Broadhurst
---( March 2001 )---
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MURDEROUS THREATS & PLOTS
Section 7: Information Regarding
Elder M. Chapin Davis
MARVEL* CHAPIN DAVISMarvel (*or Marvin, Maleum, Malcham, etc.) Chapin Davis (1801-1877) was converted to the Mormon Church near Jamestown, NY late in 1832 or early in 1833. Like D. P. Hurlbut and other converts from that area he moved to Kirtland in 1833, where he is recorded as living with his family as early as Oct. 1833. Elder Benjamin F. Johnson speaks of a "Brother M. C. Davis" who operated "a gunsmith shop" at Johnson's "mother's house in Kirtland." This was during the initial stages of construction the Kirtland Temple, and so was probably in the latter half of 1833 and the first part of 1834. That this same "Brother M. C. Davis" was the Marvel (misspelled "Martin") Davis listed on the 1836 Kirtland tax roles is confirmed by the recollections of early Geauga Co. residents Christopher G. Crary and William Rockafellow. Crary calls him "Marvel C. Davis" who was "ordered by Smith to assassinate" Grandison Newell. Rockafellow refers to the man as " M. C. Davis, a gunsmith" who was " engaged" by Joseph Smith, Jr. to shoot the same Newell. Some contemporary records render his first name as "Maleum or Malcham," so "Marvel" may have been the man's nick-name. At any rate, there was only one "M. C. Davis" living among the Kirtland Mormons in the early 1830s and that was Marvel Chapin Davis the gunsmith.
M. C. Davis, Bodyguard to Joseph Smith?
Marvel C. Davis may have served as a bodyguard to Joseph Smith during the winter of 1833-34. This was a time when the Kirtland Mormons were especially concerned with their own self-defense and the protection of their top leader from an alleged assassination threat. Davis was likely one of the "armed men" B. F. Norris spoke of in his Jan. 6 1834 letter. According to Norris, the Kirtland Mormons were then "arming themselves with instruments of war, such as guns... etc., and Joseph Smith employed the "four or five armed men" to guard him "every night." At least, at this very time, gun expert M. C. Davis had immediate access to a sleeping Joseph Smith, Jr. in the middle of the night. Smith's personal journal entry for Nov. 13, 1833 records that "Brother Davis" awakened him that night to see the memorable meteor shower then underway. In a note elucidating this entry, Dean C. Jessee indicates that "Marvin C. Davis" was listed in the 1836 Kirtland tax records; the tax list name should properly read "Marvel C. Davis."
As a Mormon gunsmith, it seems reasonable to expect that Davis' name would be found among the faithful Saints who accompanied Joseph Smith, Jr. on the 1834 Zion's Camp military campaign to Missouri. However, for some unknown reason, Davis did not join in that expedition.
M. C. Davis, Errant LDS Seventy
M. C. Davis is next heard of as being among the second quorum of LDS Seventies, at Kirtland on February 28, 1835. He was also among those blessed on March 7, 1835 for their work upon and upbuilding of the Kirtland Temple. Soloman W. Denton indicates that a "Davis" was connected with the Church's printing office in Kirtland, but does not specify whether this person was M. C. Davis. Denton also relates, that in the spring of 1835, he met with "Mr. Davis," who spoke with him "privately... and after consulting together about putting Newell out of the way, I went to Mr. Cowdery's, borrowed a pair of pistols..." This is the most straightforward contemporary accusation of M. C. Davis being in charge of a secret project to murder Grandison Newell. Davis is not on record as having admitted to such a role in public; however, there are several witnesses who attest that he admitted in private to having carried out the murder attempt upon Mr. Newell.
According to one informant, Davis was "prevented" from carrying out the project "by the entreaties of his wife." It is possible that Rebecca S. Davis heard of the murder plot and immediately carried her "entreaties" to LDS President Sidney Rigdon during the late spring of 1835. Rigdon says that he was informed of the plot, took that news to Joseph Smith, and thus the scheme was thwarted. Another possible interpretation of the events is that the "entreaties" Rebecca expressed in private to her husband so shook his resolve that he was unable to carry the murderous plan to its conclusion. Supporting this probability are several statements alleging that Davis approached Grandison Newell's house at night, with the intention of shooting him, but that he was emotionally unable to carry out the work. One version of the story even has Davis telling "prophet Jo, Newell was not at home." None of the second-hand accounts supposedly originating from Davis mentions his partner in the plot, Solomon W. Denton, by name. However, both and Sidney Rigdon and Denton himself fill in the detail of Denton being a junior accomplice of gun expert M. C. Davis in the murder attempt (or attempts; there were probably two).
Some time later in 1835 (probably after Smith's return to Kirtland from Michigan on August 24, 1835) Seventy M. C. Davis was separated from the Church. No record has survived to tell whether he was formally excommunicated, or simply walked away from his priesthood blessings and obligations. Possibly this separation came as a consequence of his speaking too openly about alleged secret instructions given him by the Mormon leadership. In the summer of 1836 Apostle William McLellin heard from "one of Joseph Smith's intimates... that he and another were employed by Smith to assassinate Grandison Newell. Fanny Brewer, a recent convert and migrant to Kirtland, swore that in 1837 a Brother "Davis" told her he had been employed by Joseph Smith, Jr. to "kill a man by the name of Grandison Newell." Samuel F. Whitney, brother of Mormon Bishop Newell K. Whitney swore that "M. K. [sic] Davis" confided in him with a similar story. If M. C. was indeed this loose-mouthed over a period of several months in 1836-37, perhaps that same lack of discretion cost him his membership before the end of 1836.
M. C. Davis, Sweet Singer of Israel
Davis' first separation from the Latter Day Saints lasted only a matter or weeks or a few months. On January 3, 1836 he was rebaptized into the Church by Joseph Smith, Jr. himself, and appointed by the Mormon leader to the Master of the newly organized Kirtland singing school and choir. Although perhaps not reinstated as a Seventy in the Church until later in 1836, Davis was at least an Elder by January 30th, when he received an anointing at the hands of Elders' Quorum President Alvah Beaman. M. C. Davis presided over the "excellent choir of singers" who graced the March 27, 1836 dedication of the Kirtland Temple with their melodious hymns.
After the temple dedication M. C. Davis' name practically drops out of the Mormon Church records altogether. He was eventually reinstated as an LDS Seventy and remained in that high office until his expulsion on Jan. 7, 1838. Davis presumably continued to live in Kirtland, teaching singing and repairing firearms. His name is found recorded among those who traded hard cash to for ill-fated shares in the Kirtland Safety Society at the beginning of 1837. Unlike his former partner in crime, Solomon W. Denton, there is no evidence indicating that M. C. Davis fell out of favor with the Mormon leadership prior to Smith's June 1837 hearing and trial. In fact, Davis may have gone into hiding among Smith loyalists in Kirtland during the middle of that year in order to avoid being subpoenaed as a witness in the State's prosecution of Joseph Smith, Jr. Davis did not appear at Smith's June 1837 pre-trial hearing at Painesville nor at the State trial a few days later. Fanny Brewer speaks of finding "brother going to law with brother" upon her arrival in Kirtland in the "spring of 1837," a perception matching well with the circumstance of LDS Apostles preparing to testify against Smith after Grandison Newell filed his April 13, 1837 complaint against the Mormon prophet. Since Sister Brewer moves directly from that particular statement to talking about Davis' disclosure to her, it appears likely that Marvel C. Davis was in Kirtland speaking confidentially to certain people shortly before the June hearing and trial transpired.
The Witness Who Did Not Come to Court
Oddly enough, Davis' full name appears in practically none of the contemporary records and accounts related to the June proceedings against Smith. He was almost certainly "the most material witness" who "did not appear" spoken of by Brewer. The unanswered question remains: why wasn't M. C. Davis called by his full name by either the prosecution that June, and why didn't he appear as a witness? One possible reconstruction of events behind that mystery is that the sworn testimony of M. C. Davis, added to that of Denton, might have provided the unwanted evidence that would have resulted in both of their convictions in the 1835 conspiracy to commit murder. In other words, Davis' non-appearance at the hearing and trial may have been based upon his desire to save his own neck, whether or not his sworn statement would have resulted in Smith being found guilty. Also, by not bringing Davis into the court room (in body or name), the prosecution was perhaps sparing Denton form conviction also. In an era before prosecutional immunity and plea bargaining, the absence of M. C. Davis at the hearing and trial may have several possible explanations.
M. C. Davis probably left Kirtland with his family during the summer of 1837. His name is not found associated with the Mormons after his being excluded from second quorum of LDS Seventies on Jan. 7, 1838. Davis remained in Ohio where he died, a few miles south of Cleveland, in 1877.
Marvel Chapin DAVIS
Born: Dec. 18, 1801, Wardsborough, Windham, VT
Married: June 8, 1823, Ellicottville, Cattaraugus, NY, Rebecca Jane SLOAN
Died: Jan. 8, 1877, Seville, Medina, OH
John Macomber DAVIS
Born: 23 Jun 1824 [Ellicott, Cattaraugus, NY?]
Harriet Brainard DAVIS
Born: 28 Mar 1829 [Ellicott, Cattaraugus, NY?]
Edwin Page DAVIS
Born: 30 Sep 1830 [Ellicott, Cattaraugus, NY?]
Jennie Elizabeth DAVIS
Born:: 27 Oct 1832 [Ellicott, Cattaraugus, NY?]
Sarah Josephine DAVIS
Born: 23 Sep 1837 [Geauga Co., OH?]
Dean C. Jessee, editor.
The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith
November 13th  nothing of note transpired from the 4th of Nove[m]ber u[n]til this day in the morning at 4 Oh clock I was awoke by Brother Davis [[31. A Marvin C. Davis is listed as a property holder in the 1836 Kirtland tax lists. end31]] knocking at
come git [up] and see the signs in the heavens and I arrose and beheld to my great Joy the stars fall from heaven...
...Sunday morning 3d [January 1836] went to meeting at the us[u]al hour President Rigdon, delivered a fine lecture upon the subject of revelation, in the afternoon I confirmed about 10 or 12 persons who
had been baptised, among whom was M C. Davis who was baptized at the intermission to day -- Br William Smith made his confession to the church to their satisfaction, and was cordially received into fellowship again...
Note 50. Solomon Wilber Denton was employed in the Kirtland printing office until his disaffection in 1837. (Ebenezer Robinson, The Return 1 [August 1889].)
[[Note: RLDS History, Vol. I, p. 3, reads: "... In the afternoon I confirmed ten or twelve persons who had been baptised, among whom was Malcham C. Davis who was baptized at the intermission to-day..."
Dean C. Jessee, editor.
The Papers of Joseph Smith
Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1989
Davis, Marvel Chapin [18-2-1877]; physician, born at Wardsboro, Windham County, Vermont. Married Rebecca Jane Sloan, 1823. Died at Sevile, Medina County, Ohio. [Family Group Records Collection; U. S. Census: Medina County, Ohio, 1850.]....
Benjamin Franklin Johnson
My Life's Review
(Provo: Grandin Book Co., 1997)
"It is proper here to say that up to this period from our commencement to settle at Kirtland, there had been by our enemies one continual persecution of the Prophet and contempt for the Saints and their religion. And such was their opposition and hatred towards the Temple during its construction, that it had to be guarded, not only by night but also by day; and the laborers upon its walls, while with one hand they held the hammer or trowel were always ready with the other to grasp the sword. Much of my boyhood was spent in assisting to prepare arms for the protection of the Saints. The lower story of my mother's house in Kirtland was at that time used by Brother M. C. Davis as a gunsmith shop, for the manufacture of defensive weapons."
[[Note: Johnson's naming M. C. Davis as a "gunsmith" strengthens the probability that the man served as an armed bodyguard to Joseph Smith, Jr. during the winter of 1833-34]]
Kirtland Elders' Quorum Record 1836-1841
Edited by Lyndon W. Cook and Milton V. Backman, Jr.
(Provo: Grandin Book Co., 1985)
Kirtland Jan. 30th 1836
This evening, the president [Alvah] Beman with the Elders of the quorum met at the house of the Lord. The meeting was opened by singing, and prayer, and president Beman proceeded to anoint twenty four; (Viz) Ja[James]. Foster, Artemus Millett, Salmon Gee, Nat. Milliken, Gad Yale, Oliver Granger, Josiah Butterfield, Elias Benner, Uzziel Stevens, Tho. Burdick, Elijah Fordam, Robert Rathbone, Hiram Dayton, Giles Cook, J[John]. E. Page, J[Joel]. H. Johnson, Wm. Tenny jr., Daniel Wood, Edmund Marvin, Geo. Morey, Reuben McBride, M. C. Davis [Marvel or Maleum C. Davis], Almon Shermon, I[Isaac]. H. Bishop; and the president and counsel gave such instructions as were necessary; and the meeting adjourned by prayer until the 1st of Feb.... [[Notes: M. C. DAVIS (probably Maleum C. or Marvel Chapin DAVIS) (1801-1877). Born at Wardsboro, Windham, VT. Moved to Kirtland 1833. Received blessing for working on temple 1835 and anointing in that temple 30 Jan 1830. Ordained seventy 1836. Shareholder in Kirtland Safety Society 1837. Excluded from Second Quorum of Seventy 7 Jan 1838. Died at Seville, Medina, OH., 1877
RLDS History, Vol. 1 Chapter 21
'The following are names of those who were blessed in consequence of their labor on the House of the Lord in Kirtland, and those who consecrated to its upbuilding:--
Sunday afternoon, March 8.
Joseph Smith, Jr.
Maleum [[Malcham?]] C. Davis...
Joseph Young, Sr.
History of the Organization of the Seventies
(Salt Lake City, Deseret News Press, 1878)
Names of the Presidents and Members of the First and Second Quorums of Seventies, ordained under the hands of the Prophet Joseph Smith, with his two Counselors, Sidney Rigdon and Oliver Cowdery, on February 28th, 1835, in the town of Kirtland, Geauga County, Ohio....
Marvel C. Davis...
Milton V. Backman, Jr. et al.
"An Antebellum Community Transformed: The Mormons at Kirtland, Ohio, 1830-1850."
(unplublished research paper, no date, c. 1992,
copy in RLDS Library and Archives)
"Warnings-Out of Kirtland Mormons and Non-Mormons"
07. Leonard Rich and Family (LDS)
08. John Johnson and Family (LDS)
09, Joel Johnson (LDS)
10. Marvel C. Davis and Family (LDS)...
[[Note: proximity of the above four names on the document may indicate that all were living at the Johnson residence in Kirtland.]]
Mormonism and Music: A History
(Urbana, University of Illinois Press, 1989)
Accordingly, Joseph reported that he was able to organize a "singing department" in the church (on Monday, 4 January 1836) only "after some altercation." [[17 Jessee, Personal Writings, p. 124.]]
Searching for a singing master for the new school, Joseph overlooked the church's then best-known musician, Levi Hancock, and chose Marvel Chapin Davis, a thirty-four year old whom Joseph baptized the day before the singing school was organized. [[18 What was odder than Smith's bringing a singing master into the faith one day before forming a church choir was that Davis had joined the church once before. Living with the Mormons in Kirtland at least since October 1833 -- when the town's non-Mormon "Overseers of the Poor" tried to evict him -- Davis worked as a laborer on the temple. --- In March 1835 he was made an elder in the church and on 17 August he was listed in their minutes as a member of the Kirtland High Council, the most powerful body of church leaders under Joseph himself. A month later, [Sep. 1835] without explanation, Davis's name was dropped from the council roster. Although there is no record of his excommunication, only that act of disfellowship, according to the church doctrine of that time, would have necessitated that he be rebaptized. That Joseph was keenly aware of Davis's reentry into the church is demonstrated by the fact that, when recounting in his diary the twelve people that were baptized on 3 January 1836, Joseph selects only one of the converts for mention by name: M. C. Davis. end18]]
The Latter-day Saints' Messenger and Advocate
Vol. 2, No. 6 (March, 1836)
Kirtland, Ohio, March 27th 1836.
Previous notice having been given, the Church of the Latter Day Saints met this day in the House of the Lord to dedicate it to him. The congregation began to assemble before 8 o'clock A.M. and thronged the doors until 9, when the Presidents of the church who assisted in seating the congregation, were reluctantly compelled to order the door keepers to close the doors; every seat and aisle were crowded. -- One thousand persons were now silently and solemnly waiting to hear the word of the Lord from the mouth of his servants in the sacred desk. President S. Rigdon began the services of the day, by reading the 96th and 24th Psalms. An excellent choir of singers, led by M. C. Davis sung the following...
Kirtland Council Minute Book
Kirtland March 7th 1835
Names of those who were blessed in consequence of their working on the House of the Lord in Kirtland and those also who consecrated to its upbuilding
Joseph Smith Junr.