In June 1830, amidst harassment, a young widow named Phebe Crosby Peck was baptized a member of the newly formed Church of Christ in a river in Colesville, New York. She had been born in March 1800 to Elisha and Susan Lowell Crosby at Unadilla, Otsego County, New York. She married Benjamin Peck on March 5, 1817, and they had five children before his death in 1829.1 They lived in Bainbridge, New York, and after her husband’s death, she remained close to his extended family living nearby.2
Benjamin’s family composed a goodly number of those baptized with Phebe; they became known as the Colesville Saints. The persecution did not end with their baptisms but continued until the oppression reached an apex just before they left New York the following April.
Phebe left Colesville with the other Saints for Thompson, Ohio, in search of a reprieve from persecution. Thompson held a brief respite for them. Leman Copley invited the worn-down group to his farm to live, but his initial good will was short lived. After Copley’s disenchantment with the Church and the personal difficulties of the Colesville Saints, they moved on again within a couple of months. Despite her frequent relocations, Phebe continued faithful and excited about new truths revealed. Joseph Smith’s revelations built upon a biblical ideal of Zion and its specific location had recently been revealed by the Lord. With hopes of Zion fresh in their minds, Phebe and the other Colesville Saints continued on their way to Jackson County, Missouri.
The Colesville group was an integral part of this first migration to Zion. Phebe and her family were active members of the Kaw Township congregation in Missouri, where she taught her children the principles of the gospel and supported her family as a tailor.3 Then, after fourteen years of providing for her family alone, Phebe married Joseph Knight Sr., after the death of his first wife, Polly Peck Knight, Phebe’s sister-in-law.4 Phebe and Joseph had two children together, for a total of sixteen, though most of Joseph and Polly’s children were already grown at the time of their marriage. Joseph was twenty-eight years Phebe’s senior.5
Phebe experienced the expulsion of the Saints from Jackson County, the difficulties in northern Missouri, the move to Nauvoo and life there, and the martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum Smith. Joseph Knight Sr. died in 1847. After his death Phebe married Cornelius P. Lott, though there is no record of their living together.6 Thereafter, Phebe spent time with her children and their families until her death in 1849.7
1. An earlier version of this chapter was published in Janiece Johnson, “Give It All Up and Follow Your Lord”: Mormon Female Religiosity, 1831–1843 (Provo, UT: BYU Studies, 2008), 25–27. Hezekiah (1820–1859), Samantha (1821–1839), Henry (1823–died young), Henrietta (1823–1896), and Sarah Jane (1825–1893) were Benjamin and Phebe’s children. Henry and Henrietta were twins. Additional biographical information may be found at http://phebeandfriends.blogspot.com/2007/05/research-report-on-phebes-ancestry-and.html; accessed June 7, 2011.
2. Benjamin Peck’s two brothers, Hezekiah Peck (1782–1850) and Ezekial Peck (1785–1850), and their families also joined with the Saints at Colesville. They were all baptized on June 29, 1830. Benjamin’s sister Polly Peck (1774–1831) had married Joseph Knight Sr. (1772–1847), and the Pecks had become acquainted with Joseph Smith through Joseph Knight, whom Joseph Smith called “a faithful old man.” “Records of Early Church Families,” Utah Genealogical Quarterly 26 (1935): 108–9.
3. “Sarah Jane Peck Rich,” Pioneer Women of Faith and Fortitude, comp. International Society Daughters of Utah Pioneers, 4 vols. (Salt Lake City, UT: Publishers Press, 1998), 3:2549.
4. Polly Peck Knight (1774–1831); see Doctrine and Covenants 59.
5. In his journal Newel Knight described their union in this way: “My Father had married again after my Mothers death a widow Peck my mothers brothers widow with four small children he was now getting old & it seemed a hard struggle for him to get along.” In 1845 in Nauvoo, Phebe was to be sealed to Joseph Knight Sr., but she initially refused. She said that she cared for him but “did not love him and honor him as her head and bosom companion.” They were separated for a season, but after some discussion with a Church leader, Phebe showed up at the temple the day of the scheduled sealing. Though there seemed to be no major difficulties between Phebe and her husband, tension seemed consistently present between Phebe and Joseph’s older children. Newel Knight, Autobiography, p. 51, Church History Library, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah, hereafter cited as Church History Library.
6. They were married at Winter Quarters, Nebraska, on March 30, 1847. “Records of Early Church Families,” 109.
7. We do not know the exact date of Phebe’s death. On May 6, 1849, from Andrew County, Missouri, Martha Long Peck, Phebe’s sister-in-law, wrote a letter to her son Reed in Corlandville, New York, telling him of Aunt Phebe’s death. She also mentioned the deaths of Joseph Knight Sr. and Newel Knight, both of whom had died two years previously. Martha Long Peck to Reed Peck, Church History Library. To further complicate the matter, Newel’s widow, Lydia Knight, wrote to Brigham Young from Pottawattamie County, Iowa, on May 28, 1849, explaining that she would not be heading west that season as “Mother Knight” had claimed the wagons and cattle that were rightly Lydia’s and they were given to the Riches (two of Phebe’s daughters married Rich brothers Charles and Thomas). The property was given to Lydia after her inquiry but not in time for her to go west that season. Brigham Young Papers, Incoming Correspondence, Church History Library. Though Lydia’s letter was written after Martha’s, she may have been writing about a past event. If so, Phebe must have died sometime around May 1849 because she is absent from records of settlements farther west than Winter Quarters.