The Man Behind the Discourse: A Biography of King Follett


by Joann Follett Mortensen
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Book Synopsis:

Who was King Follett? When he was fatally injured digging a well in Nauvoo in March 1844, why did Joseph Smith use his death to deliver the monumental doctrinal sermon now known as the King Follett Discourse? Much has been written about the sermon, but little about King.

     Although King left no personal writings, Joann Follett Mortensen, King’s third great-granddaughter, draws on more than thirty years of research in civic and Church records and in the journals and letters of King’s peers to piece together King’s story from his birth in New Hampshire and moves westward where, in Ohio, he and his wife, Louisa, made the life-shifting decision to accept the new Mormon religion.

     From that point, this humble, hospitable, and hardworking family followed the Church into Missouri where their devotion to Joseph Smith was refined and burnished. King was the last Mormon prisoner in Missouri to be released from jail. According to family lore, King was one of the Prophet’s bodyguards. He was also a Danite, a Mason, and an officer in the Nauvoo Legion. After his death, Louisa and their children settled in Iowa where some associated with the Cutlerities and the RLDS Church; others moved on to California. One son joined the Mormon Battalion and helped found Mormon communities in Utah, Nevada, and Arizona.

     While King would have died virtually unknown had his name not been attached to the discourse, his life story reflects the reality of all those whose faith became the foundation for a new religion. His biography is more than one man’s life story. It is the history of the early Restoration itself.

Praise for The Man Behind the Discourse:

“While King Follett’s name has been indelibly attached to Joseph Smith’s most famous public discourse, his personal history has been something of a mystery—until now. In this well-crafted biography, author Joann F. Mortensen skillfully weaves the tapestry of Follett’s life into the larger religious, political, cultural, and social context of early Mormonism.” — Alexander L. Baugh, Professor, Church History and Doctrine, Brigham Young University

“Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, ‘There is properly no history; only biography,’ which Joann Follett Mortensen so ably exhibits in her wonderful book on her third great-grandfather, King Follett, a humble farmer, a common person from New Hampshire beginnings. Follett’s untimely and tragic 1844 death provided the opportunity for Joseph Smith to deliver what some have called his greatest sermon. Joann’s passion for family history tells the remarkable story of her ancestor whose name has been linked to this significant LDS Church history and doctrinal event. Her narrative provides a colorful and rich standard to which all family historians can and should aspire.” — Larry King, former Executive Director, Mormon History Association

“Joann Follett Mortensen does a thorough job of collecting all the fragments of information about her ancestor King Follett, an early convert to Mormonism, and weaving them into a tapestry of information about one of the ‘ordinary citizens about whom very little would ever be recorded.’ As a result, this biography contributes to our understanding of the ‘ordinary citizens’ of Mormonism—those Latter-day Saints who actively participated within the early Mormon community but whose stories have not been told until now.” — Mark Lyman Staker, Lead Curator, LDS Church Historic Sites; author of Hearken, O Ye People: The Historical Setting of Joseph Smith’s Ohio Revelations

“The Man Behind the Discourse reveals something of the drive in all of us to know who we are. Of what we all want to know and can’t. It is very much the story of a search. And along the way it gives us hints and packets of information on a nearly invisible man whose name has passed our lips without a thought or reference to ‘the man behind’ it. If you are a family historian, this book is worth your time as an example of how it’s done. If you’re just interested in the story of the man whose death brought us a remarkable sermon, then this book will introduce him to you.” — WVS,

‎“Joann Follett Mortensen, the third great-granddaughter of King Follett, spent more than thirty years researching her ancestor. The book is intensely researched. I recommend this book to anyone who likes Mormon history.” — Vickie Cleverley Speek, Association of Mormon Letters

“The book is meticulously researched, well-documented and nicely written. Mortensen shows us the Follett family in the context of the history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” — Rosemarie Howard, Deseret News

“Joann Follett Mortensen has accomplished a wonderful feat. . . . [Her] biography of her ancestor fills an important void in Mormon biographical studies... [She] is to be commended for her efforts.” — Christopher, Juvenile Instructor

“For anyone interested in learning about King Follett’s life—or the lives of the early Saints in general—The Man Behind the Discourse is a thorough, well-written, and readable resource.” — Emily Bates, BYU Studies

About the Author:

Joann Follett Mortensen {}, a third great-granddaughter of King and Louisa Follett, is an Arizona native. She graduated from the University of Arizona with a B.S. in secondary education, a major in business, and a minor in history. Her professional life has focused on working with school districts and school boards where she specialized in providing consulting services for personalized administrative searches, board and leadership training, and team-building activities. As a volunteer, she has participated on numerous councils and boards serving education and the arts in her community and in Arizona.
     Not all Folletts followed Brigham Young, but her branch of the family did and was colonizing Arizona’s Gila Valley by the 1880s. Joann, an avid family historian, began serious research for this book in the 1970s. She gave a paper at the 2003 Mormon History Association conference in Kirtland, Ohio: “King Follett: the Kirtland Years—One Who Bore the Burden,” and followed up in 2005 with an article in theJournal of Mormon History: “King Follett: The Man behind the Discourse.”
     She and her husband Irval, an attorney, have three children, seven grandchildren, and one great-grandchild. They served an eighteen-month mission (2010–11) at the LDS Church History Library in Salt Lake City. Assigned to the Collections and Development Department, they are continuing that work as Church Service Missionaries from their home in Safford, Arizona.
     Joann welcomes any input into the history of King Follett and his family.

More Information:

601 pages
ISBN: 9781589580367 (Paperback)

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