Courage in the face of persecution: Two young men remain true to the Prophet
Elder Dallin H. Oaks recounted this wonderful story in the April 1987 General Conference:
“As a boy, I was inspired by a story of courage in Nauvoo, which involved my grandfather’s uncle. In the spring of 1844, some men were plotting against the Prophet Joseph Smith. One of the leaders, William Law, held a secret meeting at his home in Nauvoo. Among those invited were 19-year-old Dennison Lott Harris and his friend, Robert Scott. Dennison’s father, Emer Harris, who is my second great-grandfather, was also invited. He sought counsel from the Prophet Joseph, who told him not to attend the meeting but to have the young men attend. The Prophet instructed them to pay close attention and report what was said.
“The spokesmen at this first meeting denounced Joseph Smith as a fallen prophet and stated their determination to destroy him. When the Prophet heard this, he asked the young men to attend the second meeting. They did so, and reported the plotting.
“A third meeting was to be held a week later. Again the Prophet asked them to attend, but he told them this would be their last meeting. ‘Be careful to remain silent and not to make any covenants or promises with them,’ he counseled. He also cautioned them on the great danger of their mission. Although he thought it unlikely, it was possible they would be killed. Then, the Prophet Joseph blessed Dennison and Robert by the power of the priesthood, promising them that if their lives were taken, their reward would be great.
“In the strength of this priesthood blessing, they attended the third meeting and listened to the murderous plans. Then, when each person was required to take an oath to join the plot and keep it secret, they bravely refused. After everyone else had sworn secrecy, the whole group turned on Dennison and Robert, threatening to kill them unless they took the oath also. Because any refusal threatened the secrecy of their plans, about half of the plotters proposed to kill these two immediately. Knives were drawn, and angry men began to force them down into a basement to kill them.
“Other plotters shouted to wait. Parents probably knew where they were. If they didn’t return, an alarm would be sounded and a search could reveal the boys’ deaths and the secret plans. During a long argument, two lives hung in the balance. Finally, the group decided to threaten to kill the young men if they ever revealed anything that had occurred and then to release them. This was done. Despite this threat, and because they had followed the Prophet’s counsel not to make any promises to the conspirators, Dennison and Robert promptly reported everything to the Prophet Joseph Smith.
“For their own protection, the Prophet had these courageous young men promise him that they would never reveal this experience, not even to their fathers, for at least 20 years. A few months later, the Prophet Joseph Smith was murdered.
“Many years passed. The members of the Church settled in the West. While Dennison L. Harris was serving as bishop of the Monroe Ward in southern Utah,
he met a member of the First Presidency at a church meeting in Ephraim. There, on Sunday, 15 May 1881, 37 years after the Prophet Joseph had sealed his lips to protect him against mob vengeance, Dennison Harris recited this experience to President Joseph F. Smith.”
— The Ensign, May 1987, pages 38-39.