After having served as first counselor in the Relief Society presidency during the organization’s first year, fifty-four-year-old Sarah M. Kingsley Cleveland wrote the following letter to bid farewell to her “sisters and friends” in the society. Cleveland and her husband, John, a merchant who never joined the church, planned to leave Nauvoo to find work. As the oldest of the twenty charter members of the Relief Society, Cleveland was a devoted and charismatic participant. She suggested the name for the society, conducted meetings when Emma Smith was absent, often spoke to the group, gave healing blessings to other women, and spoke in tongues.1
Even before the establishment of the Relief Society, Cleveland was a friend to Emma Smith. When Smith and her children fled Missouri in 1839, the Clevelands housed them in Quincy, Illinois, for three months; Joseph Smith joined them for an additional three weeks following his escape from jail.2 After Joseph and Emma Smith moved to Nauvoo, they encouraged the Clevelands to relocate there as well; the Smiths selected a lot across from their own home for them, “in the orchard according to the desire of Sister Cleveland and also one on the river, adapted to Mr Clevelands trade.”3 In June 1842 Sarah Cleveland was present at the marriage of Joseph Smith and Eliza R. Snow; at some point, she herself may have been sealed to Joseph Smith as a plural wife.4 Sarah is not mentioned further in the Nauvoo Relief Society minutes.5
Cleveland’s undated letter to the Relief Society was published in the Times and Seasons on May 1, 1843, before the first Relief Society meetings of that year were held.
TO THE PRESIDENCY, AND LADIES OF THE FEMALE RELIEF SOCIETY OF NAUVOO.
Beloved sisters and friends—As I shall necessarily be absent from your pleasant society, for a season, my husband not having succeeded in business in Nauvoo as he anticipated, I could not take my leave without soliciting your kind wishes and prayers for the time being, that we find it necessary to locate ourselves elsewhere, until a more favorable door is opened, for our residence with the church.
I wish also to acknowledge my grateful sense, of the much kindness, and good feelings, which has been manifested toward me, during my visit amongst you; and in return you have my sincere prayers, that the best of heaven’s blessings may rest upon you: and may the cause of humanity, benevolence, and mercy, flourish in your midst, under the benign auspices of an approving heaven, and the smiles of the Holy one of Israel. And may the heart of the widow, the fatherless, the poor, and the destitute, for whose benefit the society was organized, be made to rejoice through the means of your benevolent exertions. And feel assured, that while this is made the grand rallying point, for the active energies of your minds, no power, however desirous it may be to vilify, and call in question your good name, will be able to tarnish the lustre of your good deeds, or pluck from your standard, the laurels which will be woven by the hand of gratitude as a shining trophy to your name, to all eternity.
With respect and affection, I am yours in the bands of the gospel,
SARAH M. CLEVELAND.