Bishop E. L. Kelley

Source: The History of the Reorganized Church
of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
Volume 4 page 726.

see also his biography in "Biographies and Portraits of the Progressive Men of Iowa"

[see also: Yanceys West ]
[see also: RLDS Records]
[  also see notes at the bottom of this page  ]


Edmund Levi Kelley was born near Vienna, Illinois, November 17, 1844, where with his parents he lived for about ten years, when they emigrated to Mills County, Iowa. His great-grandparents, Richard Kelley and Maria Gibbs, emigrated to America in the year 1773 [*1], and their son Benjamin Franklin Kelley was married to Miss Nancy Yancey, daughter of Colonel Austin Yancey [*2] of North Carolina in the year 1805. A family of seven children was raised by them, one of whom, Richard Yancey Kelley, was the father of the subject of this sketch.

In the introduction of the gospel message by the Latter Day Saints in Johnson County, Illinois, the grandfather, Benjamin Kelley, opened his house for the use of the ministers in preaching, and carefully considered the message, with the result that himself and family received it as being in entire harmony with the truth taught in the Bible.

After the death of the Prophet in 1844, Richard Y. Kelley, who was at the time an elder in the church, and one of the leading members in Southern Illinois, continued in affiliation with the work under the Twelve until about the year 1847, when he visited the camp at Kanesville, Iowa, and made a special examination into the peculiar views adhered to by them at this time, which he was unable to approve of or indorse.

Subsequently to this, he examined the claims of Mr. J. J. Strang, Sidney Rigdon, Gladden Bishop, and Alpheus Cutler, giving elders of these various parties the hospitality of his home, with the result that he rejected many of the things taught by all. In the year 1859, he examined the claims of the Reorganization presented by Elders E. C. Briggs and W. W. Blair and pronounced their message in spirit and word that ministered and taught in the days of the Prophet. He at once accepted and began again to preach the word.

It was as a boy listening to the canvass of the claims of these various parties, and also the positions held by ministers of the Methodist Episcopal church, who discussed Bible topics in a friendly way with his father, that E. L. Kelley received , his early tuition touching religious problems for although he could take no part in the controversy himself, he was a close and attentive listener and formed conclusions accordingly.

The family of Richard Y. and Sarah E. F. (Ballowe) Kelley, consisted of seven boys and one girl, to-wit: Benjamin E. F., John Smith, William H., Mary J. H., Edmund L., George T., Parley P., and James M. Five of these united with the . church and three did not. Those who became members are all living. Those who did not have all passed over on the other side. This is not to be taken that the three died because they did not unite with the church, and that they were therefore not permitted to live; but rather that those who survive do so by the special blessings and promises of the Lord, through special help received when under the afflictions and perils of life; thus proving that it is better after all to serve the Lord and seek first the interest of his work than not to serve him.

In early life E. L. Kelley was engaged in the occupation of farming, and received his first schooling in a country schoolhouse. When eighteen years of age, he taught his first term of school in the neighborhood where he was raised. During portions of the years- 1863 and 1864, he attended school at the University of Iowa, furnishing his way by his own efforts, his father having died June 10, 1861, leaving a widow and a large family of children.

On the 23d of May, 1864, he united with the church at the semiannual conference held near Council Bluffs, Iowa, Elder George Sweet officiating at the baptism and Elder W. Blair in the confirmation. He attended a general conference of the church first in April, 1865, near Sandwich, Illinois, and from there went to Poughkeepsie, New York, and attended the Eastman Business College. After finishing a commercial course of study he tried to get a position in New York City, but did not succeed and hired to work as a boat hand on the steamer, Herald, one of the Thomas Cornell line of steamers, running between New York City and Rondout on the Hudson River, and worked at this till December 22, 1865.

The first of January, 1866, he was given the principalship of the boys' high school in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, and at the close of the term returned West and worked for Edwards & Greenough, on the Chicago city directory.

In the fall of 1866, he began teaching again and took a school near Clinton, Illinois. While here he passed through a severe siege of typhoid fever, a disease prevalent at timed in Central Illinois. His friends who cared for him were greatly alarmed at his condition at this time, but he recovered and returned to his home in Western Iowa, and in the spring and summer of 1867, taught a school at Crescent City, Iowa.

From the fall of 1867 to March 1870, he was in the drug business in Logan, Harrison County, Iowa. In April, 1370, he again attended the University of Iowa, but in the fall began teaching in his old school near Clinton, Illinois. N

teaching here in the winter of 1870, he had a vision representing the work of the Son of Man, the impressions of which changed materially his work in life. His own report of it is as follows:

"In the vision the Savior was shown to be making what appeared to be the last of a long and devoted effort to reclaim the world from evil, and the statement was made, `He is traveling the circuit of the earth for the last time.' While intently looking upon the scene I was asked to follow, and promised to do so."

At the close of his term of school he went to the April conference at Plano, Illinois, and stated that if the church wanted his services it could have them, otherwise he would return to his work of teaching. After consideration of the matter by the conference he was ordained to the priest's office, and given a mission under Elder E. C. Briggs in the state of Michigan. Going at once to his field of labor by private conveyance, he preached his first sermon on the way near Wilmington, Illinois, the first part of May, 1871.

He continued missionary labor in Michigan from the first of June, 1871, till the 15th of September, 1872, when he quit this work for a time, to further pursue his studies, and began a course of law in the University of Iowa. In June of the following year he completed this work and returned to Mills County, in which he was raised, and opened a law office at the county-seat, Glenwood, where he practiced state law during the week and preached divine law on Sundays.

During this year he was also elected superintendent of schools of Mills County. Under this situation he notified

President Smith and Bishop I. L. Rogers of his prospective work, and stated that while he was thus engaged he was at the direction of the church and would not hesitate to answer a call to other duties at any time, and received a reply to the effect that for the present, considering the fact that he was already preaching locally and in a position to do much good in a general way as a public officer, it would be best to remain where he was until further developments.

On the 21st of December, 1876, he was married to Miss Cassie Bishop, daughter of Mr. John and Mrs. Mary J. Bishop, of Malvern, Iowa. From this union they now have a family of eight children, five boys and three girls.

During his law-practice in the year 1878, while considering certain matters which were urged by some of the leading elders of the church touching the life and character of Joseph Smith, the prophet, and the authenticity of a few of the revelations in the Book of Doctrine and Covenants, he was greatly impressed by an experience one evening at his home in the month of October, which brought him, as he states, so far at least as having a sensation of the reality, into the presence of the Creator and Judge of all, where he was instructed, according to his own report as follows:

"Men should be judged by their public acts and not by their private lives. If I were to pass upon men Eecording to their merits, you nor no other man would stand before me. The revelations in the Book of Doctrine and Covenants I gave to my servant, Joseph Smith."

This, the second evening after it was given, was rehearsed to Jason W. Briggs, President of the Quorum of Twelve, who had made a visit to the home of Mr. Kelley, and with whom he was considering these questions.

Elder Briggs seemed considerably perplexed at the statement and suggested that it was possible for men to go too far in trying to pry into the private business of others in which they were not rightfully concerned. The experience, with the subject of this sketch, served the purpose of cutting off any possible association with those who were trying to build themselves up by parading what they regarded at faults in the private life of Joseph Smith, and also cocldrmed him as to the correctness of the revelations given to govern the church, and has been one of the suggestive points used in determining the proper procedure in meeting in a fair way serious problems which have arisen in his work both as a lawyer and preacher.

No request for special church work came to him till the fall of 1881, when he was placed upon a committee with Zenos I-1. Gurley of Decatur County, Iowa, to present to the Congress of the United States the claims of the Reorganized Church touching the innovation of polygamy by certain parties claiming to be Latter Day Saints. This work was entered upon in December, 1881, by the committee and completed and due report made to the first annual conference held at Independence, Missouri, on April 6, 1882. During the session of the conference in 1882, at Independence, E. L. Kelley was ordained an elder of the church, also a counselor to George A. Blakeslee, presiding bishop of the church. This position he continued to fill until the death of Bishop Blakeslee, September 20, 1890. His work of teaching and urging the fulfilling of the law relating to finances in connection with the Bishop was not without considerable opposition and criticism from numbers of the Saints and eldership for a time, so much so, that in the May following the annual conference of 1885, he was seriously considering the situation as to whether he was not too persistent in contending for his exposition of the law touching temporalities, and was contemplating resigning his office as counselor to the Bishop, when he was spoken to by the Spirit according to his report of the experience, as follows

"I have called you to teach the law contained in the Book of Doctrine and Covenants, and it is my will that you do this. You will also be called to fill more important positions of trust than you now hold." This will doubtless explain in some degree at least, why he has not hesitated to present and urge what he has believed to be the law of God to govern the church.

Upon the death of Bishop Blakeslee in 1890, he was appointed acting Bishop by the First Presidency of the church until the ensuing annual conference. On the 10th day of April, 1891, he was called and ordained to the office of Presiding Bishop of the church (having first been ordained a high priest), which position he occupies at the present time. His counselors in the Bishopric, George H. Hilliard and E. A. Blakeslee, were called, elected, and ordained at the same conference and have also continued to act in these offices. He has also acted as president of the Herald Publishing House since May, 1891. On the 9th of April, 1897, he was called to act as counselor to the President of the church until a counselor should be chosen to fill the vacancy occasioned by the death of President W. W. Blair, which position he filled in connection with his other duties until the 18th of April, 1902.

The special financial work of the Bishopric since its present organization in April, 1691, in addition to the general work of furnishing the ministry and poor, has been as follows:

1. The fitting up and furnishing of offices for the general officers of the church for use in the transaction of its business.

2. Purchasing land and building the Saints' Home at Lamoni, Iowa, to aid in caring for the enfeebled and aged of the church.

3. The building of the Evanelia, a boat to aid the missionaries in their work in the Society Islands.

4. The building of Graceland College, ail educational institution under the supervision of the church.

The purchase of lands as means could be spared from the treasury in the interest of the work of redeeming the waste places of Zion.

In addition to this work, the subject of this sketch has traveled and preached extensively in the United States and Canada; held fifteen public discussions, one of which was published and has been extensively circulated; filled a special mission to the British Isles in the year 1901, at which time he also visited the countries of France and Italy.


Notes by Dennis J. Yancey:
[*1] - Though this information of Richard and Maria Gibbs coming to America in 1773 has been oft quoted - there seems to be nothing to back up the 1773 date and it seems more likely that the Kelleys came to America various decades earlier.   Even the name of Richard's wife is in question. There is an obituary for Matilda Yancey (daughter of Austin Yancey) who refers to Matilda's mother (Austin's wife) as  Maria Gibbs (though with variant spellings of her first name).   One wonders if somewhere along the line - someone confused the name of Richard Kelley's wife with Austin Yancey's wife.
[*2] - There seems to be no evidence that Austin Yancey held the title of "Colonel".  Austin Yancey was indeed a soldier in the Revolutionary War and his application (in 1833) for a pension is held in the National Archives. But such application does not refer to any specific rank nor does it say/imply he held any rank/title of significance.  I have not seen any document where Austin or any of his associates used the title "Colonel" when referring to him.  It should also be noted that early Yancey researchers record both an Austin Yancey Sr (who married Sarah Garrison) and an Austin Yancey  Jr who married Maria _____.   But most current researchers believe that this was probably the same Austin and just successive wives.  There seems to be little, if any, evidence that there were two different Austin Yanceys living at the same time.





William H. Kelley, one of the grandsons of Benjamin 
Franklin and Nancy Yancey Kelley who became a minister of the Reorganized Church of Latter Day Saints.
Bishop Kelley's brother - William H. Kelley