Elijah Abel is one of the more important figures in the history of Mormonism. A Maryland-born slave, he seems to have escaped to Canada via the Underground Railroad. He was converted to Mormonism, and in 1836 Joseph Smith conferred the priesthood on him. This was the prove an enormously important precedent in the later abandonment of the priesthood ban in 1978. He also witnessed the constriction of black participation in the Church in 1853, when Brigham Young refused to allow him to receive his own endowment. Generally speaking, Brother Abel has been remembered primarily in connection with the long and tortuous path toward full blessings for black Latter-day Saints. In this sense, he has become a racial icon. However, he was also a Mormon elder. Toward the end of her life, one of the people he converted offered this description of his teaching:
In the spring of 1838 I heard the first Gospel sermon by a latter-day Saint.
His name was Elijah Abel; he was ordained by Joseph, the martyred prophet. I was then living in the town of Madrid, Lawrence County, New York. We had never heard of the latter-day Saints until Elder Abel came into the place. I, with my husband, went and heard him preach. Abel was a man without education; it was difficult for him to read his text but when he commenced to preach, the Spirit rested upon him and he preached a most powerful sermon. It was such a Gospel sermon as I had never heard before, and I felt in my heart that he was one of God’s chosen ministers, and I verily thought that all those who ever were under the sound of his voice were impressed with the same views. But I soon learned by mistake; when the sermon was ended he gave liberty to anyone that wished to express their feelings either for or against the subject that have been set before him. My husband rose and opposed that bitterly and said many hard things.
After the meeting was closed, the Elder came to my husband putting his hand on his shoulder, says, “Brother where do you live?” My husband told him. He then said to my husband, “tomorrow I will come and see you and have a little chat.” He came as he said and he and my husband were soon in conversation. Abel set forth the claims of Joseph Smith to the prophetic office, showing the necessity of the everlasting gospel being restored to prepare a people for the coming of the Son of Man. So the time was drawing near for His coming but He would not come till God had a people prepared to receive him, with all the gifts and blessings that adorned his Church anciently.
My husband opposed him, said that he was under no obligation to receive his message without seeing some sign or miracle performed. Abel then said, ” is it a sign that you require for to make you belief?” He said “yes.”
Abel says, “you shall have what you asked, but it will make your heart ache. A curse from God will follow you from this time forward. You will be cursed in your going out and coming in and everything that you put your hand to do will be cursed, and sore affliction will follow you until you repent and humble yourself before God.”
Well, I have only to say that all was fulfilled to the very letter. The last affliction that came our little boy of three years was taken with the croup. The doctor said that he was in the last stage of the disease and [there] was no hope in his case. My husband then gave up, said that it was enough, burst into a flood of tears, acknowledging his faults saying that he knew that he had been under the influence of evil spirit. He then humbled himself under the mighty hand of God, praying God to forgive him and restore our child, in all things as it should be made known to him.
Suffice it to say that the child about well, and when Elder Abel came again we both went down into the water and was buried with Christ in baptism. When confirmed, great blessings were predicted upon our heads. My husband was to preach the gospel was to become mighty in causing many to believe and obey it. He was also to have the gift of tongues and the interpretation, also the gift of prophecy and the gift of healing the sick. All these things were fulfilled in due time.
It is worth remembering that before Brother Abel was a racial symbol, he was a preacher of righteousness.