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Elijah Abel was born in Washington County, Maryland in 1810 to Andrew and Delilah Abel, likely in bondage. There is some evidence that he used the Underground Railroad to escape slavery. It is certain that he eventually found his way to the first settlement of the Latter-day Saints: Kirtland, Ohio, where, in 1832, he was baptized into the new religion. He was subsequently ordained an Elder in the LDS Priesthood (1836) under the hands of the Church founder, Joseph Smith, Jr.
Abel, a skilled carpenter, helped build the Kirtland LDS Temple, and when the Mormons moved to Nauvoo, Illinois, he worked on the Nauvoo Temple as well. He also represented the LDS Church as a certified missionary in New York and Canada.
Abel moved to Cincinnati, Ohio around 1842, where he married Mary Ann Adams. He remained active in his new faith, though he was soon asked to preach only “to his own kind.” Despite such limitations, Abel and his family made the arduous journey to Salt Lake City in 1852. By that time, Joseph Smith, Jr. had been assassinated. Brigham Young headed up the Church and had set a policy restricting blacks from participating in the LDS priesthood and other significant rituals. Though Abel’s ordination was never denied or undone, his privileges were limited. Nonetheless, he served three missions, and died two weeks after returning from the third.
Abel’s obituary makes specific note of his priesthood, as it had become controversial: “1Died, Elijah Abel…of old age and debility, consequent upon exposure while laboring in the ministry in Ohio… He joined the Church and was ordained an Elder as appears by certificate dated March 3rd, 1836. He was subsequently ordained a Seventy, as appears by certificate dated April 4, 1841. He labored successfully in Canada and also performed a mission in the United States, from which he returned about two weeks ago. He died in full faith of the Gospel.” Elijah Abel was buried in the Salt Lake City Cemetery. A monument to him was dedicated in 2002.
Newell Bringhurst, 1Saints, Slaves, and Blacks: The Changing Place of Black People within Mormonism (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1981); Margaret Young and Darius Gray, Standing on the Promises (trilogy) (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2000-2003); http://www.blacklds.org/mormon/kinney.html .
Brigham Young University