March 28, 2022

Palmyra New York, Purchasing the Smith Home land, the “Fighting Preacher.”

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The Smith Family Farm in upstate New York is a very special place for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It was in the grove of trees near the Smith home, where Joseph Smith knelt to pray, asking which of all the churches were true. It was during this prayer when Joseph received a visitation of God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ. This heavenly visitation changed the trajectory of the world. The heavens that had been closed were now open. Joseph learned who God was, and learned of the mission God had for him. This experience marked the beginning of the restoration of The Gospel of Jesus Christ on Earth, again. Visiting the Sacred Grove can be a very special experience for members and can help testimonies grow. Obtaining the land of the Smith home was not an easy process but a story that took years. Acquiring the land in Palmyra took the involvement of Prophets and a very special mission from the Bean family. Now, thanks to the hard work of many, the area is now preserved for all to go and enjoy. The Sacred Grove is a beautiful reminder of the love that God has for his children.

After the Latter-day Saints left Palmyra there were hard feelings against members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Latter-day Saints had moved on to Kirtland, Missouri, Illinois and settled finally in the Salt Lake Valley. Even after many years the people of upstate New York did not have good feeling toward the members of the Church and those feelings had been passed down through generations. In 1907, Elder George Albert Smith, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles(who later became prophet), befriended the man who owned the land of old Smith Farm. The man, William Avery Chapman, owned the original 110 acres.

Elder George Albert Smith negotiated and bought the Smith Family Farm for $20,000 in 1907. The original agreement was for Avery Chapman to live on the land for a year but he ended up living on the land for seven years.

Because of the lingering animosity towards the Church, the name on the land deed was George Albert Smith and his wife Lucy, not the named of the Church. This was done to avoid further animosity towards the Church.

It was 9 years later that the land was deeded back to the church for 1$.

After the land was deeded back to the Church progress was slowly made to prepare the land and the people of the area for visits. The prophet Joseph F. Smith prayed for God to guide him to find the right person to help build better feelings towards members and townspeople of Palmyra. This all began after the man who was living on the land, Avery Chapman, left. Joseph F. Smith felt very strongly that the man for the job of building bridges was Willard Bean, also known as ”the fighting parson”. Willard and his family were called to live on the Smith family land in Palmyra New York and help church relations to the people there.

Willard Bean, The “Fighting Preacher.”

On the website they said this about Willard and Rebecca Bean:

“Willard was also an accomplished boxer, athlete, gymnast and scriptorian.   Due to his fierce competitive nature, unwavering defense of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and never failing love for his fellow man, he became widely know as “The fighting Parson”. Rebecca, while generally not preferring the attention, was as dedicated and steadfast in her testimony of The Gospel as was Willard.  She would stand beside him and take all manner of abuse, never backing down from what she knew to be true and bearing open testimony of the truth.  She was a beautiful singer and willingly opened her home weekly to people of all faiths, beliefs and creeds.  She was well known for her cooking throughout the Eastern United States and it was not uncommon for her kitchen to feed several hundreds of visitors in the course of a week."

Willard and Rebecca Bean

The people who lived in the Palmyra, New York were angry with members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints coming back to the area in the early 1900’s. Willard and his wife, Rebecca Petersen were the first members of the Church to live in that area for 84 years!

At the time that Joseph F. Smith was looking for someone to stay on the Smith Family land there was a church conference in Richfield, Utah. The day of the conference Willard and Rebecca Bean were called to serve a mission in Palmyra, New York.

President Smith said this about calling Willard:

“When Willard stepped in that door, the impression was so strong—it was just like a voice said to me, ‘There’s your man.’ “When he set the couple apart for missionary work, the prophet warned them of the difficulties they would face but also said “Willard, knowing you and your missionary work and your fighting spirit, I’m sure you are the right man to send.”

When they were called to serve, the prophet informed them, they will have a two part mission: first, was to preach the gospel, and second to make friends in the upstate New York area, for the Church.

This sweet family of Willard and Rebecca Bean faced anger and animosity, as soon as they entered the area. They even had to buy groceries in a different town because the shop owners were so mean to them.

The Bean family ended up helping soften the hearts of the people in the town and were instrumental in obtaining the land of Hill Cumorah, Martin Harris home and the Peter Whitmer Farm.

They were called for ”five years or more.” The mission ended up being a lot “more.” They were in their 25 year of service when they got their release!

The early 1900’s was not an easy time for members of the church in the Palmyra Area. The “fighting parson” and his family healed some of the hard feelings of the people of the area. His resilience and passion helped make the area what it is today. The difference that one family can make on the world is really evident with the Willard Bean family.

The childhood home of Joseph Smith Home is so important to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Not only is this land the location where God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ appeared to Joseph in the Sacred Grove, it is also the land that the Palmyra Temple is on today. It is a sacred site for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

It is pretty amazing how the Lord works to accomplish His work, through ordinary, good, righteous people!

There is a movie that came out in 2019, called “The Fighting Preacher” and it is the story of this wonderful man, Willard Bean and his family. It goes through what he and his family accomplished in helping the relations of the Saints and the people of the Palmyra Area.


”The Lion and a Lamb” By Rand H. Packer

“Willard Bean Palmyra’s “Fighting Parson””: Ensign June 1985 by Vicki Bean Zimmerman

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