Caleb Baldwin: Bold Friend
Caleb was born September 2, 1791, in Nobletown, New York. As he matured he was quiet and soft-spoken except when speaking in defense of his friends and then he was known to have a “fiery tongue.” Caleb fought under Captain Charles Parker in the War of 1812. He married Nancy, December 9, 1814. When Mormon missionaries passed through northern Ohio in late 1830, Caleb and his wife were baptized. Most know the story that when Julia Murdock passed away in 1831 that her newborn twins were given to Emma and Joseph Smith to raise, but what no one remembers is that it was Caleb and Nancy who cared for the three older children while their father John served as a missionary.
Later when the saints experienced intense persecution in northern Missouri, Caleb was among able defenders in what was called the Battle of the Blue. He was captured and “was beaten almost to death by Missourians with hickory sticks,” the scars of which he carried for the rest of his life.
Caleb became a missionary, preaching the gospel fearlessly. Finally in late 1838 he was living somewhere near Far West, Missouri. When the Mormon\Missouri War broke out Caleb fought in defense of his people. When Far West fell, Caleb was among those arrested and charged with treason. He was brought before Judge Austin A. King to be arraigned. Caleb asked for a fair trial and then asked the Judge what he was to do with his family who were being driven out of the state by the mob. Judge King’s answer was that if Caleb would renounce his religion and forsake Joseph Smith, he should be set free and protected. Caleb refused.
He was bound over as a prisoner along with Joseph and Hyrum Smith, Alexander McRae, Lyman Wight, and Sidney Rigdon for next four months in Liberty Jail, Clay County Missouri. Caleb was Caleb Baldwin. It was he, along with Alexander McRae that scribed that letter dictated by the Prophet Joseph Smith to the Church that would later become Doctrine and Covenants 121-123.
When Joseph and the other prisoners escaped Missouri, they fled to Quincy, Illinois. There Joseph and the others found their families, but not Caleb. His family yet remained in Missouri. Caleb knew he was a wanted man in Missouri. If he went back and was captured he would be imprisoned or killed. He went back for Nancy and the children and got them out safely.
In Nauvoo, Caleb helped build the Nauvoo Temple. On one occasion the Prophet Joseph stood atop a barrel to preach to a gathered crowd. When the barrel began to teeter, Caleb rushed forward and Joseph put his hand on Caleb’s shoulder to steady himself. That act symbolized the life and service of Caleb Baldwin. When the saints went west to the Rocky Mountains Caleb was among the first. He was 57 years-old when he made the journey and was called Father Baldwin. Though he held no high position, he often included in counsel with the leaders of the Church. He arrived in the Salt Lake Valley in September of 1848, where he died just a few months later.
It is said that the name “Baldwin” is of Germanic origins and that Bald means bold and that Wine means friend or protector. Caleb Baldwin was indeed a bold friend, mostly and undeservedly, forgotten by history.
Artwork by Robinson