Warner McCary, slave, musician, performer, self-identified prophet, and physician, was born in Natchez, Mississippi, circa 1810. His mother, Franky, was a slave, and his father, James McCary, was a slave owner and cabinetmaker who migrated to Natchez from Pennsylvania. Throughout his life, Warner went by several names, including William McCary and Okah Tubbee.
Early on, McCary attempted to distance himself from his life in slavery. As he told his narrative, Warner claimed his father was the Choctaw chief, Mushulatubbee, and that he was stolen as a child and placed in the home of James McCary. Franky was referenced only as a slave, a physical abuser, and a psychological menace to Warner. When James McCary died in 1813, his will manumitted Bob and Kitty McCary, his earlier children with Franky. Warner, however, was to remain a slave for the rest of his life, and his labors were to benefit Bob and Kitty financially.
By the later 1830s, Warner McCary had honed his skills as a ventriloquist, mimicker of animal sounds, and musician. His instrument of choice was the fife and flute, and he even performed with the local militia, although he was legally forbidden to serve. He maintained notoriety as a musician around Natchez and as far south as New Orleans, Louisiana. His life as a slave ended by the fall of 1843 when his sibling, Bob McCary, freed Warner, and the newly emancipated McCary established himself in New Orleans as a musician.
McCary’s experiences with the Church of Jesus of Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) can be traced to the church’s nascent history. McCary made his way to the Iowa Territory and was baptized by Orson Hyde, one of the first Mormon apostles and member of the decision-making body of the church, the Quorum of Twelve. In 1845 McCary met Lucy Stanton, a white convert to the LDS church. Stanton described McCary as a “brave,” and the two were soon married in 1846 in Nauvoo, Illinois. The couple then moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, where Warner claimed to be able to become a worldly figure of deceased apostles while also bestowing this power to others. The McCarys then traveled to Winter Quarters in Iowa in February 1847, the extensive LDS encampment from which the Mormon migration west was set to depart.
At Winter Quarters, Warner (by then, called William) and Lucy came under the suspicious gaze of Brigham Young and other Mormon leaders. The initial encounter between Warner/William and Young was a concert by the famed flutist. The amicable relationship soon took an ominous turn as Warner and Lucy began holding their own religious meetings, with Warner claiming to be the biblical first man, Adam. Accused of sectarianism and heresy, Young summoned the McCarys and assured Warner that his practices, not his race, disturbed church leadership. Indeed, Q. Walker Lewis was noted as an African American Mormon of strong repute.
When the McCarys formed an LDS sect in Mosquito Creek, Iowa, they began practicing interracial polygamy and raised the ire of both local whites and the white LDS leadership. LDS leadership formally banned black priests in 1852. As one historian puts it, “The role of interracial marriage—and by extension the McCary’s union—in the emergence of the priesthood ban appears significant.” Warner and Lucy McCary did not take part in church activities after the ban.
After leaving Mosquito Creek in 1847, Warner and Lucy traveled to different areas in the eastern United States. Warner performed his musical feats while attempting to solidify his claims of indigenous royal ancestry. He also styled himself a physician and left for Canada, following the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 which put free blacks in danger of being captured and forced into servitude. After 1852, there is no extant record of Warner McCary.