About the Collection
Robert Lang Campbell
by Jeffrey S. Hardy
Robert Lang Campbell was born on 21 January 1825 in Kilbarchan, Renfrewshire, Scotland to Alexander Campbell and Agnes Lang. Early in life he studied to become a clerk. However, returning home from school one day he tripped over a tombstone while running through a cemetery and broke his arm. The arm was then incorrectly set, causing it to develop improperly. Although this would hinder his work as a writer and clerk, he did not abandon his chosen profession. About this time he and his brother John began attending Mormon missionary meetings that were held in his school, although they both belonged to the Christian Chartist movement. He was subsequently converted to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and was baptized into the church on 9 August 1842. He records in his journal that he “was convinced of the truth of the fullness of the everlasting gospel.”1
Owing to his stalwart testimony and desire to serve, he began preaching the restored gospel without a formal mission call in July 1843. In November of that year he was ordained a priest. In all of his early church activities he found opposition from his parents and his employers. He was fired from two jobs simply for being a Mormon. Robert was a zealous teenage missionary and a fiery preacher who often attracted large crowds and heated opposition, but who had trouble converting souls to the truth. This is at least partially due to the heavy anti-Mormon sentiment in western Scotland at the time. In his journal Campbell noted that “the people here have not heard anything [about Mormonism] save the false and slanderous reports.”2 On numerous occasions he even received threats on his life. Then on 14 January 1845 Robert boarded the ship Palmyra and emigrated to America to join the saints.
He arrived in New Orleans on 8 March 1845. From there he traveled to Nauvoo, Illinois, arriving on March 1845. On April 9 of that year he was ordained a seventy. For the next year and a half he performed clerical duties for Willard Richards and the church patriarch, John Smith. On 20 November 1845 he married Joan Scobie, his sweetheart from Scotland, and the following year they were sealed in the Nauvoo Temple. The saints were soon forced from their homes in Nauvoo by mob violence, and the young couple departed for Winter Quarters on 23 September 1846. Unfortunately, Joan was pregnant at the time and on October 16 both mother and child died during delivery leaving Campbell a widower at the age of 21. After burying his loved ones Robert continued on his trek with a heavy heart, reaching Winter Quarters on 27 November 1846. Here he grieved for her, “who was my chief delight,”3 and even penned a poem in her honor. After a bout of sickness, likely caused by grief and exposure, he resumed his duties as clerk, mainly serving the quorum of the Seventies.
In 1848, during the second year of the Mormon migration, Robert journeyed to the Salt Lake Valley in the Willard Richards Company and arrived in the valley in mid-October. From November 1849 to February 1850 he accompanied Parley P. Pratt on an expedition to explore the southern regions of Utah. Later in 1850 he was called on a mission to his native Scotland where he served faithfully for four years. Interestingly, he met and married his second wife, Mary Stewart from Scotland, on 14 November 1853 while serving as a missionary. Upon his release the newlyweds journeyed to America, formed the Robert L Campbell Company, and crossed the plains to Utah, arriving at the end of October 1854. He soon found employment with the church as a clerk in the Historian’s office, a position that he held for the rest of his life.
The next year, on 6 May 1855, Robert entered into a polygamous marriage with Jeanie Miller. Over the next 17 years Mary bore eleven children and Jeannie ten, of which ten and five respectively survived. He also married a third wife, another Scot, Elizabeth Beveridge, in 1857, but she bore him no children. Robert was known as a kind husband and father, and was hospitable and charitable to friends and strangers alike. He was also very involved in civic duties and held numerous elected positions in the capacity of scribe and educator, including superintendent of Schools for the Territory of Utah.
Robert Lang Campbell died of typhoid fever on 11 April 1872 at the age of 47. In an obituary in the Deseret News, Campbell was described as “an industrious, useful, upright, trustworthy man.”4
1 Robert Lang Campbell, “Journal 1843-1848,” 1 July 1843, Vault MSS 496, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University.
2 Frederick Stewart Buchanan, “Robert Land Campbell: ‘A Wise Scribe in Israel’ and Schoolman to the Saints,” B.Y.U. Studies 29, no. 3 (Summer 1989): 11-13.
3 Campbell, 20 October 1846.
4 Buchanan, 23.
Andrus, Hyrum Leslie and Richard F. Bennett. Mormon Manuscripts to 1846: A Guide to the Holding of the Harold B. Lee Library. Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University, 1977.
Bitton, Davis. Guide to Mormon Diaries and Autobiographies. Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 1977.
Campbell, Robert Lang. “Journal, 1843-1848”. Vault MSS 496, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University.
Buchanan, Frederick Stewart. “Robert Lang Campbell: ‘A Wise Scribe in Israel’ and Schoolman to the Saints.” B.Y.U. Studies 29, no. 3 (Summer 1989): 5-27.
Jenson, Andrew. Latter-Day Saint Biographical Encyclopedia: A Compilation of Biographical Sketches of Prominent Men and Women in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Vol. 3. Salt Lake City: Andrew Jenson Historical Co., 1901-1936.
Mormon Pioneer Overland Travel, 1847-1868. Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2003. 31 October 2003 available from http://www.lds.org/churchhistory/library/pioneercompanysearch/.
Whittaker, David J. Register to the Robert Lang Campbell Collection. Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University, 1991.