Gaining his witness
Writing to a friend in December 1880, Bishop Alexander McRae of the Eleventh Ward in Salt Lake City commented on the process of gaining a testimony and the circumstances in which he had gained his own witness of the gospel over 40 years earlier.
McRae, a Southerner, had served in the U.S. Army from 1829 to 1834, being stationed in Arkansas Territory to police the Indians. After his discharge he worked as an itinerant tailor, accepting employment later that year with David Fitzgerald in a small town in Kentucky. He soon married David's sister Eunice and moved to Ripley County, Indiana, where Eunice's parents were then living.
In 1837 the McRaes were visited on their farm by Mormon elders. Alexander, a Baptist, became interested when he learned that the elders taught baptism by immersion. Several times he and Eunice walked eight miles, carrying their baby son, John, to hear the missionaries preach.
As Alexander listened to the elders, he decided that he must meet the Prophet before he could know whether or not the missionaries' claims were true. Bishop McRae records in his 1880 letter that he left for Kirtland, Ohio, over 300 miles away, to meet Joseph Smith, "but before I got a great way on my journey I concluded the Lord could show me whether Mormonism was true or not just as well without my going there as if I went, and I turned and went back and learned it was true without going anywhere out of my own neighborhood."
After receiving a spiritual confirmation that the gospel was true, Alexander made a complete reversal of his life, as his wife later noted. The McRaes were baptized by Elder Elisha P. Davis in June 1837. They walked 16 miles to the place of baptism, despite the fact that a mob of 200 men had gathered to prevent their baptism.
Alexander later had the chance to determine, through personal experience, what kind of man Joseph Smith was. Shortly after their baptism the McRaes gathered with the saints in northern Missouri, and a year later Alexander was one of five men imprisoned with the Prophet in Liberty Jail. During the rest of his life he bore testimony of the gospel and of God's selection of Joseph Smith as His instrument for its restoration in the latter days.
--Gordon Irving. An article in the LDS Church News, September 13, 1980