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Wingfield Watson papers

 Collection — Multiple Containers
Identifier: MSS 2268

Scope and Contents note

This collection, containing letters and newspaper articles, has been organized into folders by year, starting in 1860 and going through 1922.


  • 1860-1922


Conditions Governing Access note

The autobiography of Wingfield Watson is not to be photocopied.

Conditions Governing Use note

It is the responsibility of the researcher to obtain any necessary copyright clearances. Permission to publish material from Papers must be obtained from the Supervisor of Reference Services and/or the L. Tom Perry Special Collections Board of Curators.

Biographical History

Wingfield Watson (1828-1922) follower of James J. Strang, faithful Strangite leader, son of Thomas Wingfield and Eliza Leviston. Married Jane Thompson, wrote many pamphlets and articles defending James J. Strang and the Strangites.

Wingfield Watson was born in Ireland on April 22, 1828, to Thomas Wingfield and Eliza Leviston. He came to the United States in 1848, traveling from Liverpool to New Orleans, and then up the Mississippi River to St. Louis. There he went to work in the coal pits and first learned of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (also called LDS or Mormon Church). He read Parley P. Pratt’s Voice of Warning to All Nations which had a great influence on him.

Watson then moved to Wisconsin where he took a job working in the lead mines. While there, he married a widow, Jane Thompson, whom he had come to know during his time working in the coal pits. Watson was then able to read the Book of Mormon for the first time. He felt the “spirit of the gathering” and desired to go to Salt Lake City. He traveled back to St. Louis to seek out a Mormon elder. He found one and was baptized into the Church.

His new friends advised him that he should return to Wisconsin. During the river trip on his way back, he met Samuel Shaw, an elder from James J. Strang’s colony on Beaver Island. Shaw and his wife were going to Nauvoo to visit relatives and Watson decided to stop with them and see the city. Watson was saddened at what remained of the city of Nauvoo and his desire to be with the Mormons greatly increased. He asked Shaw if he could return with him to Beaver Island because the trip there was much shorter than the one to Salt Lake City. Shaw agreed to take him and they set off once more, traveling by boat to La Salle, Illinois, then by canal to Chicago, and finally arriving at Beaver Island on June 23 1852. Watson was warmly received by the people of the colony and immediately began to like the community. He decided to stay there and work, instead of continuing on to Salt Lake.

On June 18, 1856, James J. Strang was attacked by Thomas Bedford and Alexander Wentworth. Watson had been keeping an Apostolic record for Strang and attended him until he died. (A copy of the Apostolic record can be found in the Lee Library. Refer to bibliographical sketch.) The Strang colony soon disintegrated and Watson left for Chicago. From Chicago he went on to Grant County, in southwestern Wisconsin. After several years, Watson was persuaded by Lorenzo Dow Hickey (one of Strangs’ apostles) to move further north to Black River Falls, Wisconsin, where other refugees from Beaver Island had settled. This area had been the site of a Mormon lumbering operation in the early 1840's.

After six years, Hickey asked Watson to move once again to northern Michigan. Watson agreed and ended up buying a farm near Boyne City, where he stayed until 1891. While in Boyne City, he embarked upon his career as a leader of the Strangite faith; he preached, wrote letters, and published pamphlets. His pamphleteering helped preserve the identity of the Strangite Church.

From 1862 to 1883, he wrote letters to the Saints’ Herald defending Strang’s calling. Two of these letters were reprinted by Watson in his first pamphlet, The Necessity of Baptism; and of Having Authority from God to Preach the Gospel (1877). It was during this time that Watson was given a large collection of early Strangite publications. Watson then embarked on a program of reprinting early Strangite works, such as, The Prophetic Controversy, A Letter from James J. Strang to Mrs. Corey. Watson also published his own works, including thirteen numbered pamphlets bearing the title Prophetic Controversy, the last of which was issued in 1918.

In 1891, Watson debated Willard Blair of the RLDS Church. The debate was published in book form as The Watson Blair Debate Which Took Place at East Jordan, Michigan, Commencing Oct. 22 and Ending Oct. 26, 1891. Watson then converted Edward T. Couch to the Strangite faith, who would publish seven pamphlets defending the faith.

In 1891, Watson left Michigan to live at Spring Prairie, Wisconsin, just north of Voree. In 1897, he was ordained as Presiding High Priest of the Strangite Church by Lorenzo Dow Hickey. Ten years later, he moved just west of Burlington at Voree.

Wingfield Watson died on October 29, 1922. He left his property in trust, to await the day when a new prophet would appear to continue James J. Strang’s work.


4 boxes (2 linear ft.)

Language of Materials



This collection, containing letters and newspaper articles, has been organized into folders by year, starting in 1860 and going through 1922.

Arrangement note

The collection has been arranged into folders chronologically by year. It primarily consists of letters written by Wingfield Watson, although it also contains some letters written to him by various people, and several newspaper articles written by him. The collection begins in the year 1860 and ends in 1922. The content of the papers includes such things as personal family letters, letters to Joseph Smith III, and letters to other various people explaining aspects of the Strangite faith.

Other Finding Aids note

Folder-level inventory available online.

Custodial History note

This collection of photocopies was donated to the Harold B. Lee Library in the year 2000, by William Shepard.

Immediate Source of Acquisition note

Donated; William Shepard; 2000.

Appraisal note

19th Century Western and Mormon Manuscripts.


For other information concerning the Strangite faith, the James Jesse Strang Collection is located in the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut.Other manuscript collections located in the Harold B. Lee Library containing information on Wingfield Watson include: MSS SC 445 “Papers, 1844-1958" MSS SC 212 “Records, 1840-1963 microform” MSS 19 “Mormon Manuscript Retrieval Project,” Apostolic Ministry M292.4 St81r 1897 “The Revelations of James J. Strang” List of some significant pamphlets written by Wingfield Watson located in the L. Tom Perry Special Collections of the Harold B. Lee Library: Prophetic Controversy (No.s 1 -13) A Friendly Admonition Catholic Discussion Latter Day Signs The Watson-Blair Debate The “One Mighty and Strong”

Processing Information note

Processed; Judi Crisp; 2004.

Register of the Wingfield Watson papers
David J. Whittaker and Judi Crisp
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English in Latin script.
Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) grant, 2007-2008

Repository Details

Part of the L. Tom Perry Special Collections Repository

1130 HBLL
Brigham Young University
Provo Utah 84602 United States