"I Had Seen Him in a Vision": Jane Manning's Remarkable and Touching Interactions with Joseph Smith

Jane and Emma In her life story, Jane Manning James said she tried to set a good example “in my feeble way.”4 There was nothing feeble about her, though. She was a paradigm of faith and faithfulness in the face of sometimes unthinkable opposition.

Jane's Conversion

Jane’s entrance into Latter-day Saint history begins like many other conversion stories: seeking for a new religion and not being content with what she found heretofore. She describes her faith journey in her life history, as dictated to Elizabeth J. D. Roundy. The short autobiography is distinctive in its structure. Jane reports a trial or a struggle but immediately follows up with praise for God, who, she is certain, has helped her get through it. She viewed everything through a lens of faith. In the passage that follows, she describes her conversion to the Church:

"When about fourteen years old I joined the Presbyterian Church. Yet I did not feel satisfied it seemed to me there was something more that I was looking for. I had belonged to the [Presbyterian] Church about eighteen months when an Elder of the church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints [who] was travelling through our country preached there. The pastor of the Presbyterian Church forbid me going to hear them as he had heard I had expressed a desire to hear them, but nevertheless I went on a sunday and was fully convinced that it was the true Gospel he presented and I must embrace it.

"The following Sunday I was baptized and confirmed a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints."5

Her new status as a Latter-day Saint resulted in her abrupt excommunication from her earlier church,6 but by the time she was dismissed, Jane and her family had already left for Nauvoo, a journey that proved far more arduous than any of them had imagined. Jane gives the details of the trip and then glories in the divine help that attended them:

"One year after I was baptized I started for Nauvoo with my mother PhillisEliza Manning7 my brothers Isaac, Lewis8 and Peter,9 my Sisters Sarah Stebbings,10 and Angeline Manning. My brother in Law Anthony Stebbings, Lucinda Manning11 a sister in law. . . . We started from Wilton Conn[ecticut], and travelled by Canal to Buffalo NY. We were to go to Columbus Ohio before our fares were to be collected, but they insisted on having the money at Buffalo and would not take us farther. So we left the boat, and started on foot to travel a distance of over eight hundred miles.

"We walked until our shoes were worn out, and our feet became sore and cracked open and bled until you could see the whole print of our feet with blood on the ground. We stopped and united in prayer to the Lord, we asked God the Eternal Father to heal our feet and our prayers were answered and our feet were healed forthwith."12

As they continued their journey to Nauvoo, additional incidents occurred, including an escape from arrest because the Mannings possessed no papers identifying them as free, and challenges due to the weather and terrain. Jane concluded her report by again praising God for abiding with them:

"When we arrived at Peoria Illinois the authorities threatened to put us in jail to get our free papers. We didnt know at first what he meant for we had never been slaves, but he concluded to let us go, so we travelled on until we came to a river and as there was no bridge we walked right into the stream, when we got to the middle the water was up to our necks but we got safely across, and then it became so dark we could hardly see our hands before us, but we could see a light in the distance, so we went toward it and found it was an old Log Cabin. Here we spent the night; next day we walked for a considerable distance and staid that night in a forest, out in the open air. The frost fell on us so heavy that it was like a light fall of snow. We rose early and started on our way walking through that frost with our bare feet, until the sun rose and melted it away. But we went on our way rejoicing, singing hymns and thanking God for his infinite goodness and mercy to us, in blessing us as he had, protecting us from all harm, answering our prayers and healing our feet."13

Near Nauvoo, Jane and her family met a Latter-day Saint family with an ill child. Jane reported, “At La harpe we came to a place where there was a very sick child. We administered to it, and the child was healed. I found after [that] the elders had before this given it up as they did not think it could live.”14

Meeting Joseph

Having seen what they interpreted as God’s mercy, the Mannings made their way to the Saints’ dwelling place, arriving in Nauvoo in mid to late November 1843.15 Unfortunately, in this time of widespread prejudice against blacks and only seven years before the nation’s legislature would enact the brutal Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, the family was met with “all kinds of hardship, trial, and rebuff.”16 Once again, though, Jane concluded with implicit praise to God as she described Emma Smith welcoming them into the Mansion House and Joseph blessing them:

"Sister Emma was standing in the door, and she kindly said come in, come in!

"Brother Joseph said to some white Sisters that was present, Sisters I want you to occupy this room this evening with some brothers and sisters that have just arrived. Brother Joseph placed the chairs around the room then he went and brought Sister Emma and Dr. [John Milton] Bernhisel17 and introduced them to us, brother Joseph took a chair and sat down by me, and said, you have been the head of this little band, havent you? I answered Yes sir! he then said God bless you! Now I would like you to relate your experience in your travels.

"I related to them all [my experience]. . . . Brother Joseph slapped Dr. Bernhisel on the knee and said, What do you think of that Dr, isn’t that faith? The Dr said, Well I rather think it is, if it had have been me I fear I should have backed out and returned to my home! [Joseph Smith] then said God bless you, you are among friends, now and you will be protected. They sat and talked to us awhile, gave us words of encouragement and good counsel. We all stayed there [in the Mansion House] one week."18

Jane’s description of her first interaction with Joseph Smith became a touchstone for what she told young women sixty-two years later when they interviewed her, elaborating further than she did in her dictated life story:

"Yes, indeed, I guess I did know the Prophet Joseph. That lovely hand! He used to put it out to me. Never passed me without shaking hands with me wherever he was. Oh, he was the finest man I ever saw on earth. I did not get much of a chance to talk with him. He’d always smile, always just like he did to his children. . . . I knew it was Brother Joseph because I had seen him in a dream. . . . We had come afoot, a thousand miles. We lay in bushes, and in barns and outdoors. . . . I could not tell you, but I wanted to go to Brother Joseph.

"I did not talk much to him, but every time he saw me he would say, “God bless you,” and pat me on the shoulder. . . . After I saw him plain, I was certain he was a prophet because I knew it. . . . Did not have to tell me because I knew him. I knew him when I saw him back in old Connecticut in a vision, saw him plain and knew he was a prophet."19

A Home with the Prophet

At the Mansion House, Jane was treated well. She reported further experiences confirming her sense that she was not only “among friends” but in a religion that would reward her faith with spiritual gifts and unique invitations, such as the one she received from Lucy Mack Smith, Joseph’s mother:

"On the morning that my folks all left to go to work, I looked at myself, clothed in the only two pieces I possessed. I sat down and wept. Brother Joseph came into the room as usual and said, Good morning. Why—not crying? [I answered,] Yes sir. The folks have all gone and got themselves homes, and I have got none. He said yes you have, you have a home right here if you want it, you mustn’t cry, we dry up all tears here. I said I have lost my trunk and all my clothes. . . . Brother Joseph said dont cry you shall have your trunk and clothes again.

"Brother Joseph went out and brought Sister Emma in and said Sister Emma here is a girl that says she has no home, havent you a home for her? “Why yes if she wants one.” He said she does and then he left us. . . .

"The next morning she brought the clothes down in the base ment to wash. Among the clothes, I found brother Josephs [temple] Robes. I looked at them and wondered. I had never seen any before, and I pondered over them and thought about them so earnestly that the spirit made manifest to me that they pertained to the new name that is given the saints that the world knows not of. I didnt know when I washed them or when I put them out to dry. . . .

"I had to pass through Mother Smiths room to get to mine. She would often stop me and talk to me, she told me all Brother Josephs troubles, and what he had suffered in publishing the Book of Mormon. One morning I met Brother Joseph coming out of his mothers room. He said good morning and shook hands with me. I went in to his mothers room she said good morning bring me that bundle from my bureau and sit down here. I did as she told me. She placed the bundle in my hands and said, handle this and then put [it] in the top drawer of my bureau and lock it up. After I had done it she said sit down. Do you remember that I told you about the Urim and Thumim when I told you about the book of Mormon? I answered yes mam. She then told me I had just handled it, you are not permitted to see it, but you have been permitted to handle it. You will live long after I am dead and gone and you can tell the Latter-day Saints, that you was permitted to handle the Urim and Thumim."20

Jane’s days with the Smiths were limited, however, and she moved to nearby Burlington when the Mansion House was “broke up.”21 Shortly thereafter, Joseph Smith was assassinated in Carthage Jail. In her 1905 interview, Jane recalled the grief of that day:

"When he was killed, I liked to a died myself, if it had not been for the teachers, I felt so bad. I could have died, just laid down and died; and I was sick abed, and the teachers told me, 'You don’t want to die because he did. He died for us, and now we all want to live and do all the good we can.' Things came to pass what he prophesied about the colored race being freed."22

Apparently, Joseph Smith had also told Jane that her son would serve a mission; she continued to hope it would yet happen, even years after her son Sylvester was grown. Lydia Alder reported in 1893 that Jane “hoped light would yet reach her people and prayed that her son might be faithful and go to them, as the Prophet Joseph had predicted.”23

Lead image from ChurchofJesusChrist.org.

Learn more about Jane's powerful relationship with Joseph and Emma Smith in Jane and Emma.

This acclaimed film is based on the historical record of the friendship between Jane Manning, one of the first black members of the Church, and Emma Smith, wife of the Prophet Joseph. Told in the wake of Joseph Smith's assassination, Jane and Emma explores the profound relationship between these two great women and the strength and unity they find together during troubling times. 

And learn more about the remarkable women who have shaped our Church in Women of Faith.

This groundbreaking series recounts the lives of women of faith and dedication in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Often in their own words, they share their trials, triumphs, and testimonies.

This fourth volume features women born between 1872 and 1900 whose stories explore a comparatively untapped era in Mormon history. This generation of Latter-day Saint women experienced firsthand the challenges of the Mexican Revolution, World War I, and World War II. They also witnessed the unprecedented global expansion of the Church and the first young women to serve as proselytizing missionaries.

^4. James, Autobiography, 22.

^5. James, Autobiography, 15.

^6. The records of the New Canaan Congregational Church (indistinguishable from the Presbyterian at that time) tell us that Jane was baptized on February 14, 1841, and then excommunicated on February 22, 1844, after her departure for Nauvoo. The record states: “The case of Jane E. Manning was further considered, and the church adopted the following preamble and resolution: Whereas Jane E. Manning has without our approbation or consent wholly withdrawn and separated herself from the fellowship of this church and has since gone to a distant part of the country (Nauvoo?, Illinois) and thus placed herself beyond the reach of this church to labor farther with her; therefore Resolved that we withdraw our watch and care over her, and consider her as no longer a member of this church.” New Canaan Congregational Record Book, Typescript, pp. 27, 45–46, Rev. Theophilus Smith Collection, New Canaan Historical Society Library, New Canaan, Connecticut.

^7. Jane’s mother was known as Ph[y]llis [Fillis] Abbott during slave years and changed her name to Eliza Mead after slavery was abolished in Connecticut in 1848. Records of Jane’s life, including her patriarchal blessings, usually have her mother listed as “Fillis” (with alternate spellings), which is stricken out and replaced by “Eliza.” Eliza Mead, also known as Fillis Abbott, married Cato Treadwell, a veteran of the Revolutionary War, after her first husband died. Connell O’Donovan, personal communication to Margaret Young, July 20, 2009; Henry J. Wolfinger, “A Test of Faith: Jane Elizabeth James and the Origins of the Utah Black Community,” in Social Accommodation in Utah, ed. Clark Knowlton (Salt Lake City: University of Utah American West Center Occasional Papers, 1975), 128.

^8. Isaac Lewis Manning, with his second wife, Rachel, joined the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, but after the deaths of his wife and son, he went to Salt Lake City to live the remainder of his years with his sister, Jane. O’Donovan, personal communication.

^9. Peter Manning was Jane’s youngest brother.

^10. Sarah Stebbins was married to Anthony Stebbins, to whom Joseph Smith gave a horse for the purpose of purchasing a “dear child” from slavery. Hyrum L. Andrus, Joseph Smith: The Man and the Seer (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book, 1960), 33.

^11. Lucinda Manning was the first wife of Isaac Lewis Manning.

^12. James, Autobiography, 15–16.

^13. James, Autobiography, 16.

^14. James, Autobiography, 17.

^15. We can estimate the date of the arrival of the Manning family through at least one document, provided by Wolfinger in “A Test of Faith,” 171n93: “The following notice from the Nauvoo Neighbor of December 6, 1843 is pertinent: ‘About six weeks ago a company of saints arrived . . . escorted by Elder Wandal [Charles Wesley Wandell] who had in his charge a trunk belonging to Jane Elizabeth Manning:—Sister Manning was not here then but has since arrived and can obtain no intelligence of her trunk.’” We know, then, that Jane and her family arrived after late October, when the Wandell group apparently reached Nauvoo, and before December 6. A mid to late November arrival for the Mannings seems a reasonable assumption.

^16. James, Autobiography, 17.

^17. John Milton Bernhisel (1799–1881) served as Joseph Smith’s personal physician. He later became the first delegate of Utah Territory to the U.S. House of Representatives. “John Milton Bernhisel,” in Andrew Jenson, Latter-day Saint Biographical Encyclopedia, 4 vols. (Salt Lake City, UT: Andrew Jenson History Company, 1901–1936), 1:723–24.

^18. James, Autobiography, 17.

^19. Jane James, “Joseph Smith, the Prophet,” Young Woman’s Journal 16, no. 12 (December 1905): 551–53.

^20. James, Autobiography, 18–20.

^21. James, Autobiography, 20. Joseph Smith and his family had lived in the Mansion House only a few months when Joseph leased it to Ebenezer Robinson. Richard Lyman Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005), 503.

^22. James, “Joseph Smith, the Prophet,” 553.

^23. “Ladies’ Semi-Monthly Meeting,” Woman’s Exponent 22, no. 11 (December 1, 1893): 66.

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