Not Dr. William Law (1809-1892). More Questions Than Answers…

The Image on the left is from the Maillet Purchase within the Grice Collection in the Library of Congress. [Unidentified older man, half-length portrait, facing front] | Library of Congress ( The image on the right is from Doctrine and Covenants Historical Resources: William Law (

William Law was a merchant, a miller, and a physician who came to Nauvoo as part of the Toronto contingent after a missionary visit to Canada by John Tayor. Law was born in County Tyrone, Ireland, and came to America with his parents when only nine years old, settling in Pennsylvania. He practiced medicine for about sixty years, forty-five years of which were spent on his farm near Apple River (Illinois) and in nearby Shullsburg Wisconsin.

Law served as a counselor in First Presidency, 1841–1844, in Nauvoo. He was appointed aide-de-camp to the lieutenant general in the Nauvoo Legion in March 1841. Law, like Lucian Foster and Francis Grice, was a Mason, a member of the Nauvoo Masonic Lodge. Law could not abide Smith’s polygamy doctrine that was becoming more open. He was excommunicated from the Church on 18 Apr. 1844, in Nauvoo. This date coincides closely with the arrival in Nauvoo of Lucian Foster and Francis Grice.

Wiliam Law and his brother Wilson and a few other dissenters bought a printing press and issued the first edition of the Nauvoo Expositor on 7 June 1844. In it, William published an affidavit:

The first edition of the Expositor was also the last. An angry Nauvoo mob of Mormons rioted and destroyed the building and the printing press after they tossed the type into the street. This unleashed a storm of violence in Hancock County that ended with the murders of Joseph and Hiram Smith. They were officially under the protection of the State of Illinois, but a mob of non-Mormons killed the Smith brothers in the jail in Carthage.

Palmer, Grant H. “Why William and Jane Law Left the LDS Church in 1844.” The John Whitmer Historical Association Journal 32, no. 2 (2012): 43–51.

If the man depicted in the Grice Daguerreotype is William Law (and the hairlines, furrowed brows, facial shapes, whiskers, and eyebrows seem to match when comparing the Grice and the “Doctrines” images), the Grice image cannot be from the early 1840s. Law was only 35 years old in 1844.

None of the Library of Congress descriptions of the Daguerreotypes that bear the debossed “F. Grice” in the left lower corner of the brass surround contain provenance beyond naming the persons (Barboza or Maillet) from whom they were purchased. This is a huge obstacle to those seeking to identify subjects. And the debossed name on the brass surround does not necessarily identify the individual who opened the shutter of the Dageurrean camera for 2-3 minutes. On the other hand, a provenance assembled retrospectively based on oral traditions is only as strong as its weakest link.

This is an example where too many pieces of circumstantial evidence do not fit in the William Law puzzle. The debossed “F. Grice” is unmistakable in the brass surround. The left image looks like a daguerreotype, but the right image does not. After about 1855 Daguerreotypes gave way to tintypes and albumin prints. Trying to match images to the accurate identities of their subjects is not a scientific process, though often those who make the attempt fall into Lord Kelvin’s famous dictum: When you can measure what you are speaking about, and express it in numbers, you know something about it.” — William Thomson Kelvin. The informal “Curse of Kelvin” holds: “If you cannot measure it, measure it anyway.” Precision does not guarantee accuracy.

The older gentleman depicted in the left image above is not Dr. William Law in the early 1840’s.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s