Black Pete the Revelator

Mormon Coffee’s short series in observance of Black History Month concludes today with a look at the man who is believed to be the first black person to ever join the LDS Church. Known only as Black Pete, this man was among the first Mormon converts in Ohio. His conversion to the LDS Church was reported in newspapers in the region in early February, 1831 (see “Mormonism’s Negro Doctrine: An Historical Overview,” Neither White Nor Black, Signature Books, 1984, p. 54).

Not much is known about Black Pete’s activity in the Church. In 1864 LDS Apostle George A. Smith made mention of Black Pete. While giving an “historical discourse,” in a section focusing on “false revelations and apostacies,” Mr. Smith said,

“There was at this time in Kirtland, a society that had undertaken to have a community of property; it has sometimes been denominated the Morley family, as there was a number of them located on a farm owned by Captain Isaac Morley. These persons had been baptized, but had not yet been instructed in relation to their duties. A false spirit entered into them, developing their singular, extravagant and wild ideas. They had a meeting at the farm, and among them was a negro known generally as Black Pete, who became a revelator. Others also manifested wonderful developments; they could see angels, and letters would come down from heaven, they said, and they would be put through wonderful unnatural distortions. Finally on one occasion, Black Pete got sight of one of those revelations carried by a black angel, he started after it, and ran off a steep wash bank twenty-five feet high, passed through a tree top into the Chagrin river beneath. He came out with a few scratches, and his ardor somewhat cooled.

“Joseph Smith came to Kirtland, and taught that people in relation to their error. …in a short time a number of those who had been influenced by those foul manifestations, apostatized. Black SheepAmong the number was Wycom Clark; he got a revelation that he was to be the prophet — that he was the true revelator; and himself, Northrop Sweet and four other individuals retired from the Church, and organized the ‘Pure Church of Christ,’…” (Journal of Discourses, 11:3-4)

“The Pure Church of Christ” is listed in Divergent Paths of the Restoration as the first-ever break-off group from the Mormon Church. Author and historian Newell Bringhurst suggests Black Pete may have been among those leaving the Mormon Church to follow Wycom Clark:

“…the Mormon Prophet [Joseph Smith] brought forth in February 1831 a revelation [D&C 43] condemning false revelators such as Black Pete. Smith was told that only certain individuals ‘appointed unto you’ were authorized ‘to receive revelations.’ Thereafter, several of the self appointed revelators, possibly including Pete, were ‘tried for [their] fellowship’ and ‘cut off’ from the Church.” (“Elijah Abel and the Changing Status of Blacks Within Mormonism,” Dialogue, vol. 12, no. 2, Summer 1979, p. 25)

In the same Dialogue article Professor Bringhurst provides a recollection from an unnamed person that “Pete ‘wanted to marry a white woman’ but Joseph Smith could not get any ‘revelations’ for him to do so.”

Nothing more is known about the LDS membership of Black Pete, the first African-American Mormon.

For more information see part two of Curse of Cain? Racism in the Mormon Church by Jerald and Sandra Tanner.

About Sharon Lindbloom

Sharon surrendered her life to the Lord Jesus Christ in 1979. Deeply passionate about Truth, Sharon loves serving as a full-time volunteer research associate with Mormonism Research Ministry. Sharon and her husband live in Minnesota.

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10 Responses to Black Pete the Revelator

  1. Danielle says:

    Hello everyone,

    This was interesting to me…….

    For years I wondered (and still wonder) why anyone, of any color, would want to be a Mormon when stuff like this is in the church. It is very sad to me that anyone would ever think that the color of your skin makes you a bad person.

    I am very thankful that this sort of attitude never found its way into my heart. I can’t stand racists. So against God to be so cruel.

    It was one of the two things (Polygamy and Racism were my first two issues I had with the church) I had brought up to my bishoprick when I decided to leave the church years ago. They just told me to not read any anti Mormon literature.

    MMMmmmm I wonder why I decided to go back after all these years. Things that make you go MMmmmm?? 🙂

    I have not gone to church in a couple of months. I feel relieved actually. God just directed me to the best spot on the internet to find out about the church I was attending. Interesting how that all works itself out.

    Hope everyone is having a good evening….. can’t wait to read everyones posts.

    Danielle
    [email protected]

  2. iamse7en says:

    It’s a shame that so many people are so misinformed about the teachings of the Mormon church. Nowhere in Mormon literature does it teach that blacks are bad people because of the color of their skin! They were barred from the Priesthood because of the chores of their parents long, long ago. Mormons are far from racist. They reach out to all peoples and lead large humanitarian efforts in Africa. They want all of Africa to join their church and partake of the priesthood blessings. Even before 1978, they did all they could to send Church literature to them so they could learn the principles of Eternity. You may say that from their teachings they’re racist, but their actions certainly DO NOT suggest that.

    Brigham Young and Mark Peterson included, they never taught they were bad people. Officially today, the Church teaches they don’t know the reasons of the Lord on why they were barred from the Priesthood. I served my mission in Africa. Mormons LOVE black people, and even in the most racist country in the world (South Africa), they love and cherish Blacks. I’m sorry that you are so misinformed.

  3. Lautensack says:

    iamse7en,
    Unfortunately the barring of the Priesthood to people African descent goes against the teachings of the New Testament. See 2 Corinthians 12, Galatians 3, Colossians 3, and 1 Peter 2. The only reason for such a “revelation” was racism, as the only reason for it’s repeal was because the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints was going to lose its tax exempt status. This is kind of like when Utah wasn’t granted statehood because of the LDS practice of polygamy, suddenly, in order to be granted statehood they had a revelation saying they were to no longer practice it. This sort of makes me wonder if the LDS Church was to lose their tax exempt status because they do not allow all people into their temples if new revelation would come opening the temples to all people. Now iamse7en I do not doubt that you personally are not racist however to say that 19th century Mormonism is not at its root is complete malarkey.

    Lautensack

  4. Danielle says:

    I have been LDS since 1991. (I am no longer active of course) But………. I have (and still hear from my active friends) heard over and over in the church that the mark placed on the skin of colored people was because of sin. The church does think that way…….

  5. Donny says:

    Danielle,

    “The mark placed on the skin of colored people was because of sin…”

    I think it is true that some people in the Church think that way – unfortunately.

    But the Church certainly does not teach that. I think you’d be HARD pressed to find a competent and current authority on Church doctrine who would teach that – not impossible – but hard pressed and not representative.

    I also know that there are certain geopolitical concentrations of this kind of thinking – but it’s geopolitically correlated – not church correlated. (In other words, where you find this believed in LDS circles, you’ll find it believed in the congregations of other churches as well.

    Now, I know that the next post will be about Brigham Young saying da da da da … and Bruce R. McConkie saying da da da da … Well, I’m talking current and representative (Mormon Coffee is not real stong on current and representative).

  6. Michael P says:

    OK Donny, please give us the current view and why the mark was placed on blacks.

    I won’t quote anyone, but would love to hear the current views from the church…

    Thanks.

  7. Fletcher says:

    … and then the question is: has the church taught this in the past? Sure, maybe leaders don’t teach it today – but couldn’t this be simply because of scrutiny and pressure?

    This is one thing that really gets me about Mormonism: This idea of “divine mind changing” that LDS chalk up to as “progressive revelation.” Really I think it’s just a fail safe way to excuse any awful doctrine that ever existed, just say “we don’t believe that anymore” and you’re covered right, because current revelation shows that God changed his Mind? Come on guys.

  8. iamse7en says:

    In response to the sophomoric comment by Fletcher:

    “This is one thing that really gets me about Mormonism: This idea of ‘divine mind changing’ that LDS chalk up to as ‘progressive revelation.’

    Mormons believe that there are eternal principles that do not change. However, policy DOES change, and there is evidence of that all throughout the Bible. One could argue that it was ‘awfully convenient’ that the 12 Apostles finally preached the Gospel to Gentiles, because there was so much public passion and desire for it among Gentiles. Or, that was just a fail safe way to excuse any awful doctrine (refusing the Gospel to Gentiles) that ever existed. Was that not ‘divine mind changing,’ and your response cannot be, ‘but that’s in the Bible.’ I could never say it better than the Prophet himself said it:

    “God said, ‘Thou shalt not kill;” at another time He said, ‘Thou shalt utterly destroy.’ This is the principle on which the government of heaven is conducted-by revelation adapted to the circumstances in which the children of the kingdom are placed. Whatever God commands is right, no matter what it is, although we may not see the reason thereof till long after the events transpire. . . .”

    I also wish to make clear, that as a faithful and devoted LDS, I do not find any past statements by Church authorities troubling, and I have read them all. Neither did that faithful African missionary that I have spoke of before. He understood that there are covenants and cursings made with people (very consistent with the Bible, then why not now?) and that those born to those conditions are inheritors of it, and one is not denied a chance at celestial glory because of the color of his skin. Mormons seem to be the most inclusive, non-racist group of people in terms of who they want to join them in heaven. If humanitarian service & constant devotion to African people is racism, then hell, I’d love to be called a racist.

  9. Jacob5 says:

    I for one find it interesting that in a previous post so many made claims on how there is nothing in the Bible (New Testament especially) that states that there is any priesthood anymore. Yet I see here how the New Testament says that barring the priesthood is against the teachings of the New Testament.
    So, in the words of the Roman soldier, “Help thou my unbelief.”
    As far as tax exempt status, that is false. Anyone who has studied the law would know that church organizations are free to practice their religion based on their own dictates, even if it meant saying a certain group of people can receive certain church positions. (I know this means a whole new can of worms for some) The only way for this to be lost is if it uses its influence in matters outside their ecclesiastical boundries. In the case of plural marriage, the Supreme Court found that it was not a practice that could be covered by the Bill of Rights, so rather than see all the possetions of our church taken and all the leadership be exiled, it was finished.
    As far as the mark is concerned, a mark was placed on cain. However the ability to reproduce wasn’t taken away. Therefore simple genetics is the only reason I see that there are people with different skin colors. To try to explain as to why people received their skin color is simply grasping. Even though there are many quotes by past leaders, I have yet to hear any of them say “Thus sayeth the Lord,” or have any of those quotes be placed into the Doctrine and Covenants. Remember, our church’s doctrine will always have a scriptural basis as well as confirmation by a prophet. Baptism, eternal progression, sacrament, you name it, they have their base in scripture and prophesy.

  10. Donny says:

    Responding to Michael P: “OK Donny, please give us the current view and why the mark was placed on blacks.”

    Thank you Michael. Personal background: I have an adopted black son (who is a priesthood holding member of the LDS Church) so I’m going to give you an answer from the perspective of an LDS father of a black son. Other members of the Church will give you a different answer. I know of no definitive, official Church declaration – so I think my answer is as good (or as bad!) as any.

    1. I don’t concede that the black skin of our African-descended brothers is the biblical ‘mark of Cain.’ Why should I? Who can draw anything more that a correlation between a scripture and a skin color?
    2. On the ‘withholding the priesthood from the blacks’ topic, the only thing I’ve heard (currently) from anybody in the know is – “don’t know.” Now, some years ago there was garbage getting thrown about – but we believe in repentance and I hope we have.
    3. In any case, line of descent isn’t a factor in eternity. “…God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.”
    4. I take heart in the doctrine, “The first shall be last, and the last shall be first.” I think that’s fair.

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