Curtis Edwin Bolton’s Journey to Translate the Book of Mormon into French

by Dana Geigle

Curtis Edwin Bolton

Curtis Edwin Bolton was born 16 July, 1812 into a prosperous mercantile family in Philadelphia. They owned ships that bought and sold goods mostly between France and the United States. As a young man he spent time living in Le Havre, France, with his brother helping to run the French side of their business.

Curtis joined the church when he went to oppose John Leach, a church missionary, who was preaching the gospel close to his home in Philadelphia. He was determined to drive him from the place but after he listened to what he had to say, he and his wife were baptized and he whole heartedly embraced his opportunity to serve the Lord from then on. Shortly thereafter he traveled to Nauvoo to meet the Prophet Joseph Smith and was there ordained a High Priest and received his patriarchal blessing. He recorded in his journal. “A few minutes after my ordination I went on board the steamboat: Maid of Iowa. The last I saw of Joseph Smith in whose house I lived all the time I was in Nauvoo, he was standing with his youngest boy in his arms at the brow of the hill on the west side of the Nauvoo House. No one was near him. He was the most beautifully formed man, and was laughing pleasantly to the brethren on board the steam boat, who were leaving to go a preaching. I never in this life shall look upon his like again.”

Curtis moved his family to Nauvoo and participated in the efforts the Saints put forth to protect themselves from the mobs while working on the Nauvoo temple. He worked as a carpenter cutting the wood for the stairs in the temple, often with his guns hidden in the shavings for protection. He owned some newly designed repeater rifles which gave him a big advantage over the common single shot muskets when fighting the mobs, and also put a bounty on his head because of his effectiveness. On one occasion a young boy was on a steamboat headed for Nauvoo. He went to the back of the steamboat and overheard seven men taking oaths to kill Curtis Bolton. The boy pretended to fall off the boat at a sand bar and quickly swam ashore to warn Curtis. Curtis set up a table in front of his tent with his many guns laid out ready to receive anyone coming to harm him. On the table he had an 18-shooter rifle loaded, a ten-shooter Colt revolver pistol, a brace of 6 barreled revolving pistols, a Bowie knife and a double barreled ducking shotgun. The seven men who had sworn to kill him tried many times to come close but were dissuaded when they saw his ability to protect himself.

The mobs harassed and killed the Saints at every opportunity. At one time a mob of about 2,000 men marched toward Nauvoo determined to kill the Saints. Bolton records in his journal that they went out to meet them. Their cannons sheared off the corn stalks all around them but they were unharmed. He states, “Their guns were no match to our repeating rifles.” The Saints had cannons made from steamboat shafts to match the cannons of the mobs. Curtis continues, “With the Lord on our side our small band managed to turn them away.”

In the midst of all the mob persecution the Saints were preparing to move west. At this time Curtis witnessed the Montrose Quail miracle to feed the saints as they headed west. Similar to the Israelites’ experience, the quails came in flocks and landed on everything so that even the children could collect them for food. He and his family traveled across the plains along with the Saints, witnessed the Lord’s guiding help along the way, and arrived in the Salt Lake Valley anxious to plant crops and provide a living for their families in their new home.

They had only been there a few short months when one Sunday President John Young called Curtis to sit on the stand with him and Brother Reynolds Calhoon. They asked how he liked his appointment. He wasn’t aware of an appointment and was told he was called to serve a mission in France with Elder John Taylor, leaving in a week. Curtis records in his journal. “On the way home I opened the matter to Rebecca [his wife]. At first flush, she thought it hard that I should have to leave her in so destitute a situation as she then was. But a few moments after, she burst into tears and said, “Go in the name of Israel’s God and prosper, and I will take care of myself.” As we see often in the early history of the church and in most histories of this world, behind a valiant son of God often stood an equally valiant woman.

Once they arrived in England, Brother William Howell joined them and traveled with them to Boulogne, France, on the steamboat, Emerald. He was with them for a couple months and then left to return to his family in Wales.

While on his mission Curtis worked for Elder John Taylor, translating the periodical called Étoile du Deseret [Deseret Star]. Besides teaching the gospel and arranging with the authorities the rights to preach he was also very involved with President Taylor in beginning the sugar beet industry in Utah. He traveled with him visiting many beet factories and refinery equipment factories, translating for Elder Taylor as he organized that endeavor. His business acumen in France was useful here as well. Soon he was asked to begin translation of the Book of Mormon, which he began July 24 1850 and completed June 20 1851.

The first person he hired to help him with revisions of the translation was a Brother Wilhelm, a newly baptized member. John Taylor baptized him in French saying. “Par L’autorité qui m’est donné par Jésus Christ je vous baptise pour la remission de vos péchés au Nom du Pere et du Fils et du Saint Esprit. Amen” For some time Brother Wilhelm helped Curtis revise the translation. Curtis had this to say in his journal. “I ought to state here that for some time back I have been revising the translation of the Book of Mormon with Brother Wilhelm every day from half past 9 to 6 but he is so full of a proud contentious spirit that we progress most wearisomely slow.”

This brother had written a publication that was full of inaccuracies and neither Elder Taylor nor Elder Bolton would sanction it. This did not sit well. Brother Wilhelm wrote a letter to Elder Taylor saying Curtis Bolton was preaching false doctrine about baptism. In a letter to Brother Wilhelm John Taylor said, “Excuse me Brother Wilhelm, but when a man has traveled with me over mountains, oceans, deserts and seas, when he has jeopardized his life time and again for the cause of God, when he has left his wife and family in a far distant land and come without purse or scrip to a foreign nation to preach the Gospel, I know at least that he is sincere. And I am very slow to receive accusations against him.” He went on to say that if there were errors, Curtis would be the first to correct them.

  1. Brother Wilhelm to help, a new person needed to be hired. Curtis’ journal entries on this subject follow.

“Saturday, March 22, 1851. An elderly gentleman of the name of “Lazare Auge” called today being sent by Brother Bertrand to revise my translation of the Book of Mormon. I told him to call Monday evening. Sunday evening I consulted the Brethren and concluded to hire Mr. Auge at one hundred francs a month to come at 10 and go to 3.”

“Tuesday, March 25, 1851. Mr. Lazare Auge came today and commenced work. He is a disciple of the great philosopher “Vronski” and has written several works. He wrote 5 pages today.”

“Thursday, April, 10, 1851. Mr. Auge and I are rolling on rapidly the translation of the Book of Mormon. He writes to my dictation.” Curtis Bolton continues later about how the process of translation works. “Mr. Auge is a learned Frenchman, no way connected with the church, ignorant of its doctrines, not understanding one English word except through the Latin and French. He merely corrects grammar. He scarce ever has changed a noun, and when he does want to, he calls on me to do it. And I have to rack my brain to find another phrase or word which he will accept as French and which retains perfectly and in the full sense of the English.”

On Friday June 20, 1851 he finished the first revision of the translation. Brother Bertrand offered to come every evening and revise for the press.

The translation was a great work, while at the same time trying to get permission to preach the gospel and deal with the authorities added to the difficulties. He mentioned one such difficulty in his journal.

Monday, July 14, 1851. “I received a paper today, without envelope, folded 4 square, no address, no seal, just like as if it came from a hog, forbidding Elder Taylor or I from preaching in Paris or in any part of France, and this by order of Carlier, Prefet de Police, and Leon Fauche, Minister of the Interior. May God reward them.”

As he gave the first of the translation to the printers Curtis Edwin Bolton had this to say. “Thanks be to my Eternal Father I gave the first 50 pages of the manuscript of the Book of Mormon in French to the printer, Marc Ducloux. What a glorious era in my eventful life. I am full of prayer, praise and thanksgiving to my God, for his grace and mercy in having allowed me the honor of this great work. Oh praise him O my soul. Oh God preserve me faithful to the end and save me in thy kingdom. Thus O God is all my anxiety. Give me a meek humble spirit, and give me the light and intelligence necessary for me by day. Give me a heart to understand and abide all the counsel of thy servants who are set over me. And give me thy spirit that I and all of mine may not lose the reward of my labors by my unfaithfulness. O God thou knowest my whole heart and soul, might, mind and strength is in thy work. Therefore enable me to do much good and no evil. Amen”

When Elder Taylor left for the Salt Lake valley he set apart Curtis E. Bolton as President of the French mission where he served an additional three years. This was an additional sacrifice for him and his family. While away he composed a poem to Rebecca:

Farewell my loved and faithful friend

The partner of my days of youth

While from my home my steps I bend

To warn mankind and teach the truth.

How oft in silent evening mild

I … to rooms lonely place retire

Thy love and kindness call to mind

Then lift my voice in fervent prayer

O Lord, extend thine armor of love

Round the partner of my heart

For thou has spoken from above

And called me with my all to part

Preserve her soul in perfect peace

From sickness, sorrow and distress

That I, when this my mission cease

Again may fold her to my breast

Our little ones O Lord, may they

Thy choicest blessings ever know

Guide thou their footsteps day by day

In paths of truth and wisdom too

Yea grant that all, myself and mine

When this our earthly missions done

May in thy glorious presence shine

Throughout the great millenium.

Again, farewell, Rebecca wife

And Curtis, Ann and Emma too

And Edwin, Jackson, Charles my life

So wrapped up in the whole of you.

Curtis Edwin Bolton was a colorful individual, totally devoted to the gospel. He shared his many talents as needed. He was a historian for the early church at times, organized the early records of the church, and served as scribe and secretary in many meetings. He was also valiant in the fight against the mobs, leading the army the Spartan Band to protect the Saints from the mob armies. It was a time full of challenges and many blessings as the work of the Lord went forward. His story is the story of many who were also led to accomplish important aspects of the Lord’s work here on this earth. For Curtis Bolton this included the translation of holy scripture, Le Livre de Mormon, so that gospel truths could be spread more widely through the world.

[This article is based on the journals of Curtis E. Bolton. He is 3 x great-grandfather to the author.]