Bickerton in 1905, just prior to death.
|3rd President of the Church|
The Church of Jesus Christ
|July 1862 – July 1880|
January 15, 1815|
Alnwick, Northumberland, England
February 17, 1905 (aged 90)|
St. John, Kansas, United States
Fairview Park Cemetery|
Dorothy Breminger (1845-ca.1863)|
Charlotte Hibbs (1863-1905)
William Bickerton (January 15, 1815 – February 17, 1905) was a leader in the Latter Day Saint movement after the 1844 succession crisis. In 1862, Bickerton became the founding president of the church now known as The Church of Jesus Christ (Bickertonite), which is one of many churches that claim to be a continuation of the Church of Christ founded by Joseph Smith in 1830.
Bickerton was born in Kyloe, Ancroft Parish, Northumberland, England, the seventh of eleven children of Thomas Bickerton and Isabella Hope. As an infant, he was not baptized until February 4, 1816, which has resulted in some sources misreporting that Bickerton was born in 1816. Bickerton immigrated to the United States and became a coal miner.
Follower of Sidney Rigdon
Bickerton was not a Latter Day Saint during the lifetime of Joseph Smith. Rather, he was a practising Methodist who was converted to the faith by Sidney Rigdon in 1845. Following Smith's death in 1844, a number of Latter Day Saint leaders, including Rigdon, Brigham Young, and James Strang, claimed to be Smith's rightful successor to lead the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, which Smith had founded in 1830 as the Church of Christ.
The Latter Day Saints who followed Rigdon separated themselves from the followers of Young. While the group led by Young remained in Nauvoo, Illinois, and eventually settled in Utah, Rigdon and his followers settled near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. On April 6, 1845, Rigdon presided over a conference of the Church of Christ, which he claimed was the rightful continuation of the church founded by Smith. (Historians often refer to Rigdon's church as the "Church of Christ (Rigdonite)" and its adherents as "Rigdonites", "Pennsylvania Latter Day Saints", or "Pennsylvania Mormons".) Bickerton was converted by the preaching of Rigdon and was baptized at Pittsburgh in 1845. Later that same year, Bickerton was ordained an elder and shortly after an evangelist in the church.
At a general conference of the church held that fall in Philadelphia, Rigdon announced that the church would re-establish a communitarian society on what was named "Adventure Farm" near Greencastle, Pennsylvania. Many of Rigdon's followers, including Bickerton, opposed moving the headquarters of the church. By 1847, disagreement among the Rigdonites had led to the virtual disintegration of Rigdon's church. Several prominent members, including William E. McLellin and Benjamin Winchester, separated from the church and established a rival organization centered on the leadership of David Whitmer. However, some followers of Rigdon, including Bickerton, refused to join the dissenters.
Establishing The Church of Jesus Christ
Bickerton remained in Monongahela, Pennsylvania, and never moved to Greencastle with Rigdon. By April 1847, the Adventure Farm community had collapsed and Rigdon had abandoned his followers. Bickerton described his situation upon the collapse of the Rigdonite church:
The Church [had become] disorganized. Here I was left to myself. I paused to know what course to pursue. I knew my calling was from Heaven, and I also knew that a man cannot build up the Church of Christ without divine commandment from the Lord, for it would only be sectarianism, and man's authority. But the Lord did not leave me; no, he showed me a vision, and in the vision I was on the highest mountain on the earth; and he told me that if I did not preach the gospel I would fall into a dreadful chasm below, the sight thereof was awful. I moved with fear, having the Holy Spirit with me. Here I was, none to assist me, and without learning, popular opinion against me, and the Salt Lake Mormons stood in the way. I could not turn back unto Methodism again. No, I knew they had not the gospel. I stood in contemplation. The chasm was before me, no other alternative but to do my duty to God and man. I went ahead preaching repentance towards God, and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Some believed my testimony and were baptized, and we met together [and] the Lord met with us ....
Having a strong conviction in the beliefs he had gained, but left without an organization, Bickerton associated with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) in Elizabeth, Pennsylvania, from March 1851 to March 1852 and became an elder in the Elizabeth congregation of the LDS Church. In 1852, representatives of LDS Church president Brigham Young visited Bickerton and informed him that he must teach plural marriage. Bickerton replied, "If the approval of God were to come to me by accepting the doctrine of polygamy, I prefer the displeasure of God.". Bickerton disassociated himself from the LDS Church because of its adherence to doctrines that he felt could not be substantiated in the Bible or the Book of Mormon, particularly plural marriage.
Bickerton continued to preach, and by May 1851, a branch of the church was organized under the leadership of Bickerton in West Elizabeth, Pennsylvania. Other ministers were ordained and branches were established in Allegheny, Rock Run, Green Oak, and Pine Run, Pennsylvania, as well as Wheeling, West Virginia. Many visitors inquired of this organization's position concerning Latter Day Saints who followed Brigham Young. The following statement was officially recorded in 1855:
As some individuals have been inclining to the people of Salt Lake and their doctrines, we have felt it our duty while sitting in Council before the Lord, that all who hold such doctrines, after due examination before witnesses, shall be cut off from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, as the spirit may direct and shall have no fellowship with the Saints.
At a conference of believers in Green Oak (also known as Greenock), Pennsylvania, in July 1862, leaders of several branches of the faith in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Virginia came together and formally organized what they called The Church of Jesus Christ. Bickerton presided over the conference and reorganized the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve. Bickerton was accepted by his followers as the rightful successor to Joseph Smith as a prophet, seer, and revelator. Because of Bickerton's leadership, past and present members of this church are sometimes referred to by historians as "Bickertonites", and The Church of Jesus Christ has been nicknamed the "Bickertonite church" or the "Bickerton organization".
At a conference in 1872 in West Elizabeth, Bickerton was chosen to spend the remainder of his days on missionary work. His missionary endeavors culminated in 1875: Bickerton, accompanied by approximately 35 to 50 families of the church, moved to Kansas to found the Zion Valley Colony, which later became the town of St. John, Kansas.
Transition of leadership
Bickerton led The Church of Jesus Christ until 1880, when William Cadman succeeded Bickerton as president of the church. Charges of adultery had been brought against Bickerton by a member of the church in Kansas. Although Bickerton maintained his innocence, a church council decision went against him and he was disfellowshipped from the church, a probationary measure that suspends activity in some church activities but does not amount to excommunication. In 1902, he was reinstated in the church and Bickerton remained a faithful church member until he died in January 1905.
Marriage and family
Bickerton married Dorothy Breminger in 1845; the couple had one son, James, and six daughters: Eliza Ann, Clara Virginia, Angeline Ann, Josephine, and Florence. After the death of Dorothy, Bickerton married his second wife, Charlotte Hibbs, on July 8, 1863. Charlotte bore him one child, William Alma.
- Bickerton, William (1975). William Bickerton's Testimony. Monongahela, Pennsylvania: The Church of Jesus Christ.
- Bickerton, William, The Ensign, Pittsburgh: W. Bickerton, 1863, p. 10, quoted in History of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, 1890, 3:74.
- A History of The Church of Jesus Christ: Volume 2. Monongahela, Pennsylvania: The Church of Jesus Christ. 2002.
- Lovalvo, V James (1986). Dissertation on the Faith and Doctrine of The Church of Jesus Christ. (Bridgewater, Michigan: The Church of Jesus Christ), pp. 115–116.
- J. Gordon Melton (1996, 5th ed.). Encyclopedia of American Religions (Detroit, Michigan: Gale) ISBN 0-8103-7714-4 pp. 580–581.
- Cadman, W. H. (1945). A History of the Church of Jesus Christ. Monongahela, Pennsylvania: The Church of Jesus Christ.
- William Bickerton, The Ensign, Pittsburgh: W. Bickerton, 1863, quoted in History of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, 1890, 3:73-76.
- Joyce Bickerton Pilgrim, Descendants of Thomas Bickerton, 2003.
- Gary R. Entz, "The Bickertonites: Schism and Reunion in a Restoration Church, 1880-1905", Journal of Mormon History 32 (fall 2006): 1-44.
- Gary R. Entz, "Zion Valley: The Mormon Origins of St. John, Kansas," Kansas History 24 (summer 2001), 98-117.
- William Bickerton at Find a Grave
| President of the Church
The Church of Jesus Christ (Bickertonite)
July 1862 – July 1880