Why is the 1886 Revelation so Important to Modern Polygamists?

Is the 1886 revelation a true revelation to all Church members?

Lorin Woolley remembered the revelation was written in an 8-hour meeting and five copies were reportedly made. However, the only documentable history is from John Taylor’s son, John W. Taylor, who reported in 1911: “I found it [the document] on his desk immediately after his death when I was appointed administrator of his estate.”[1] John W. Taylor was know to possess the copy in the years immediately after his father's passing. 

There is no doubt that a manuscript exists containing the text of the revelation. Over past decades, people’s reactions to it have come across a spectrum:

Multiple arguments may be employed by modern polygamists as they try to classify it as a general revelation applying to all Church members. They may assert that because a revelation is in the voice of the Savior, it must be a valid revelation applying to all the Saints. However, any genuine revelation from God, whether personal, for a family, a Church congregation, or the whole Church, will always be given by Jesus Christ. This observation, when applied to the 1886 Revelation is unimportant.

Despite the desire by modern polygamists to declare it as a revelation applying to all Church members, the fact that John Taylor did not share the revelation with the other apostles, or attempt to put it on a track to become part of the Church’s Standard Works, requires it to be categorized as a personal revelation to the prophet for his own benefit.

What does the 1886 Revelation say that is so important to modern polygamists?

Mormon scholar D. Michael Quinn assessed: “In my view, [the 1886 revelation] really added nothing to any of the revelations that had been given on plural marriage.”[2] If it says nothing new, then why do modern polygamists refer to it so much?

The revelation speaks about a “law” that is not “revoked” and of “covenants” that cannot be “abrogated.” Modern polygamists seem confident that somewhere in that language is a declaration that the practice of polygamy could never be suspended. Of course, it doesn’t actually say that, but they are willing to make that assumption.

Did the 1886 Revelation come in response to John Taylor’s prayer about discontinuing polygamy?

This is unanswerable. No details surrounding it are available. It was received on September 27, 1886, and John Taylor died July 25, 1887. The historical record indicates that for almost ten months the manuscript was kept by President Taylor without discussing it with anyone.

Modern polygamists might assert that John Taylor was asking about polygamy and so statements in the revelation must be about polygamy, but this is speculation. It is true that in 1886, Church members were enduring great hardships inflicted upon them by the U.S. Government due the practice. So it is likely that John was praying about polygamy.

Are God's answers to specific questions always specific or can they expand beyond the original question?

We know specific questions can bring general answers. In 1833, Joseph Smith asked the Lord concerning the use of tobacco during Church meetings.[3]  The Lord responded by giving the Saints a general health code we now call the “Word of Wisdom” (D&C 89).  The answer to Joseph’s prayer included one verse referring to tobacco use, but the response included a much broader doctrinal reply.

Another example is Doctrine and Covenants section 132. It came in response to a specific question about Old Testament polygamy, but the answer included an explanation of marriage sealing authority, eternal monogamous marriages, exaltations, and the promise of godhood (D&C 132:7-20), without mentioning a need for plurality.


God’s Answer:

                Scope of Answer

What about Tobacco Use?

Word of Wisdom

D&C 89

A general health code that addresses tobacco use, but is not limited strictly to it

What about Polygamy?

The New and Everlasting Covenant of Marriage

D&C 132

God’s law of Eternal Marriage that includes plural marriage but is not limited strictly to it

The absence of specific language in the 1886 Revelation referring to “many wives and concubines” or a “plurality of wives,” should serve as a warning to readers who want to revise the actual words it contains.

When did Lorin Woolley learn of the existence of the 1886 Revelation?

From a documentary standpoint, it is clear that Lorin Woolley did not know about the 1886 revelation in 1912 when he signed a one page statement:

      In the latter part of September, 1886, the exact day being not now known to me, President John Taylor was staying at the home of my father, John W. Woolley, in Centerville, Davis County, Utah.

      At the particular time herein referred to, President Taylor was in hiding (on the under-ground).  Charles H. Bearrell and I were the “guardsmen” on watch for the protection of the President.  Two were usually selected each night, and they took turns standing guard to protect the President from trespass or approaching danger.  Exceptional activity was exercised by the U.S. Federal Officers in their prosecutions of the Mormon people on account of their family relations in supposed violation of the Federal Laws.

      Soon after our watch began, Charles H. Bearrell reclined on a pallet and went to sleep.  President Taylor had entered the south room to retire for the night.  There was no door-way entrance to the room occupied by President Taylor, except the entrance from the room occupied by the guardsmen.  Soon after 9 o'clock, I heard the voice of another man engaged in conversation with President Taylor, and I observed that a very brilliant light was illuminating the room occupied by the president.  I wakened Bearrell and told him what I had heard and seen, and we both remained awake and on watch the balance of the night.  The conversation was carried on all night between President Taylor and the visitor, and never discontinued until the day began to dawn -- when it ceased and the light disappeared.  We heard the voices in conversation while the conference continued and we saw the light.

      My father came into the room where we were on watch, and was there when President Taylor came into the room that morning.  As the President entered the room he remarked, “I had a very pleasant conversation all night with the Prophet Joseph.”  At the time President Taylor entered the room his countenance was very bright and could be seen for several hours after.  After observing that some one was in conversation with the President, I went out and examined all of the windows, and found them fastened as usual.

      The brethren were considerably agitated about this time over the agitation about Plural Marriage, and some were insisting that the Church issue some kind of edict to be used in Congress, concerning the surrendering of Plural Marriage, and that if some policy were not adopted to relieve the strain the government would force the Church to surrender.  Much was said in their deliberations for and against some edict or manifesto that had been prepared, and at a meeting that afternoon, at which a number there were present and myself,[4] I heard President Taylor say; “Brethren, I will suffer my right hand to be cut off before I will sign such a document.”

      I, Lorin C. Woolley, of Centerville, Utah, do hereby certify, that I have carefully made and read the foregoing statement of facts and the same is true to the best of my knowledge.  Dated this 6th day of October, 1912.

      (signed)   Lorin C. Woolley[5]

In this statement, Lorin admitted he could not remember the date: “In the latter part of September, 1886, the exact day being not now known to me.” Yet the revelation has the date written at the top. It seems likely that if Woolley had a copy of the revelation in 1912, he would have been able to pinpoint the date rather than forgetting it. Such a copy would have been sacred and valuable and not easily overlooked or forgotten.

On August 15, 1915, Nathaniel Baldwin, a polygamy supporter, obtained a transcript of the 1886 Revelation and from that point forward, he shared it with anyone who was interested.[6] It is know that Lorin Woolley heard of it in a meeting held in August of 1921, and possible sooner.[7]

Was Lorin Woolley a bodyguard to John Taylor or other Church leaders?

One assertion recorded by Lorin that is unsupported by available records is his claim to have been a “bodyguard” to John Taylor.  Inspection of journals of both known bodyguards and of Church leaders during that time fails to identify any instance where he was listed as a “bodyguard” to the brethren. 

Generally, the men selected to guard Church leaders, including President Taylor’s party, were chosen for their physical qualifications such as size and strength, as well as for their courage and faithfulness.  Lorin Woolley was “a rather small man, slightly built, not very tall.”[8]  Lorin’s physical stature was usually considered unsuited to the duties of a bodyguard.

How does the 1886 Revelation relate to Lorin Woolley’s recollections of important meetings and ordinations occurring on September 27?

As reviewed above, Lorin’s 1912 account says nothing about important meetings or ordinations occurring in 1886. However, in the 1920s, Lorin remembered new details that he had never mentioned before. Woven into these recollections was the 1886 Revelation that truly existed. Lorin described the revelation as an integral part of the account, which greatly increased the credibility of the new narrative he was sharing with his listeners.

In this setting, Lorin Woolley described 1886 priesthood ordinations that allowed polygamy to be continued outside of the Church in the 1920s, which was just the information the budding fundamentalists needed to hear.

They were united in their efforts to continue plural marriage, but they could not deny the plain scriptural language requiring genuine authority to perform a valid marriage (D&C 132:8, 10, 19, 20). Lorin provided a story, complete with a tangible revelation, which described how he held the needed priesthood sealing power.

How did Mormon Church leaders respond as knowledge of the 1886 Revelation spread among fundamentalists?

In the 1920s, as Lorin Woolley began sharing his claims, LDS church leaders took note. At that time, the only documentable detail within his claims was the existence of the 1886 revelation. Church leaders might have successfully attacked Woolley’s report of 1886 meetings or ordinations, because no contemporaneous evidence exists to support them and he was the only witness of the ordinations.

However, rather than assert that Woolley had wrapped a fictional historical narrative around a genuine document, the primary focus of church authorities was to deny the revelation’s existence. That decision guaranteed that the one assertion in Woolley’s story that could not be successfully disputed would become the battleground between the Church and the fundamentalists.

On 17 June 1933, the First Presidency issued a statement saying: “It is alleged that on September 26–27, 1886, President John Taylor received a revelation from the Lord, the purported text of which is given in publications circulated apparently by or at the instance of this same organization [Mormon fundamentalists]. As to this pretended revelation it should be said that the archives of the Church contain no such revelation; the archives contain no record of any such revelation, nor any evidence justifying a belief that any such revelation was ever given.”[9] Another church leader referred to it as a “scrap of paper.”[10]

Understandably, Mormon fundamentalists rallied to expose the perceived church-sponsored cover-up. With confident gusto, polygamist leaders broadcast the reality of the 1886 revelation to any and all listeners and readers. The manuscript was highlighted in private meetings and later published in Truth magazine and as part of a separate tract, Four Hidden Revelations.[11]

The existence of the 1886 revelation manuscript quickly became as important as anything contained within it. Unsurprisingly, polygamists reasoned that if LDS leaders sought to conceal its reality, then their efforts to discredit other parts of Woolley’s account, like the meetings or ordinations to priesthood offices existing outside of the church, were probably not trustworthy either.

By proving the presence of the revelation manuscript, fundamentalist leaders concomitantly elevated the believability of Lorin Woolley’s other declarations. Unfortunately, no fundamentalist publications to date have examined the contradictory evidences.

Reviewing the  information regarding the 1886 Revelation and the reported meetings presented on this website, casts doubt upon their validity. Serious inquirers are encourage to study to know more about Lorin Woolley before trusting his stories and recollections.



[1] Drew Briney, Apostles on Trial: Examining the Membership Trials of Apostles Taylor and Cowley, [Salt Lake City]: Hindsight Publications, 2012, 107; see also Fred Collier and Knut Knutson, eds., The Trials of Apostle John W. Taylor and Matthias F. Cowley (Salt Lake City: Colliers, 1987), 10. At his trial in 1911, John W. Taylor explained: “Brother Joseph Robinson came to me and asked for a copy of it upon the suggestion of Brother Cowley and he got it from Brother Badger. Brother Joseph F. Smith Jr., also got a copy, but I don't know how many have got copies from these.” (Briney, Apostles on Trial, 117.)

[2] D. Michael Quinn, “Plural Marriages After the 1890 Manifesto.” Talk given at Bluffdale, Utah, 11 August 1991. Copy of transcript in possession of the author.

[3] See JD 12:157-58.

[4] In the original statement, parts of this line were crossed out (presumably by Woolley himself) and the wording was altered. The above account reflects the modified version. The original (before alteration) read as follows: “Much was said in their deliberation for and against some edict or manifesto that had been prepared, and at a meeting that afternoon, at which there were present: George Q. Cannon, John T. Caine, Hiram B. Clawson, Charles H. Wilcken, John W. Woolley and myself, I heard President Taylor say” (“Statement of Facts,” statement on file in the Church Archives, Salt Lake City.  In J. Max Anderson, Polygamy Story, 3 fn. 2 and in  “Mormon Fundamentalism,” Section: The Lorin Woolley Story.)

[5] Lorin C. Woolley, “Statement of Facts,” 1912.

[6] Nathaniel Baldwin Journals, August 1, 1915, CHL.

[7] Nathaniel Baldwin Journals, August 28, 1921, CHL. See also entries for 1921: 15 September, 4 October.  For 1922: 15, 29 January; 12, 26 February;  12, 19, 21 March; 1, 9, 17, 23 April; 16 May; 1, 8, 20 June; 9, 23, 24 July; 6, 7, 13 August; 24, 25 September; 4 October; 6, 13, 20, 27 December; etc.

[8] Recollection of Price Johnson, Reminiscences, 2nd ed., 2:61.

[9]James R. Clark, ed, Messages of the First Presidency, 6 vols. (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1935–51), 5:327; italics added.

[10] Musser, Supplement, 25.

[11] [Joseph W. Musser], The Four Hidden Revelations (Salt Lake City: Truth Publishing, [1948]).