Newel Kimball Whitney was born in 1795 in Vermont to Samuel Whitney and Susanna Kimball. Whitney insisted that both of his family names were used throughout his life. When Whitney was 19 years old, America was at war with Britain. Whitney became an army sutler, providing food, military supplies, and other needs to the soldiers. The British targeted sutlers to cut the American armies off from supplies. In a report, Whitney was honored, because he bravely took part in a battle by helping get needed supplies to the troops. Despite having lost his wagon and supplies, Whitney survived the onslaught himself. After the war, Whitney went to Monroe, Michigan, where he met Algernon Sidney Gilbert. They later became business partners and friends.While on business to New York, Whitney met Elizabeth Ann Smith, whom everyone called Ann. The two soon became fond of each other. While courting Ann, Whitney decided to move to Ohio, to be closer to her, and his friend Sidney Gilbert followed. Whitney and Gilbert built and ran a store together, but through a series of unfortunate events the store was lost to creditors. In 1821, Whitney moved to Kirtland to be even closer to Ann. During this time Whitney set up his first store in Kirtland. Newel was a good businessman and acquired property quickly. Those around him observed that he seemed to be lucky in all his undertakings. In 1822, Whitney purchased land to build what was later called the “Red Store.” It was a small store, but in a good location where it received heavy traffic. Business continued to grow, and Ann and Newel were married in 1823. They built a home just behind the store.
When the Erie Canal was completed, business increased for Whitney, and he was able to build another store that they called the “White Store.” Sidney Gilbert joined him in this venture, and N.K. Whitney and Company began. During this time Newel and Ann were drawn to a religious movement that believed in the restoration of Christ’s Church as explained in the Bible. In 1829, Ann recorded an experience in which one late night, she and her husband felt the Spirit of the Lord and were told that word of the Lord would soon becoming to Kirtland. They waited expectantly.
A short time after this experience, Ann heard Mormon missionaries were in the area. When she learned that the missionaries preached without ever seeking money, and were opposed to any priestcraft, she thought she ought to hear what they had to say and judge for herself. Ann believed in the missionaries and shared what they had taught her with Newel. They were baptized into the Mormon Church in November of 1830. Sidney Gilbert and some of his family also joined the Church.
In 1831 Joseph Smith and his wife Emma came to Kirtland. Ann recorded,
Joseph Smith, with his wife, Emma, … drove up in front of my husband’s store; Joseph jumped out and went in; he reached his hand across the counter to my husband, and called him by name. My husband, not thinking it was any one in whom he was interested, spoke, saying: ‘I could not call you by name as you have me.’ He answered, ‘I am Joseph the Prophet; you have prayed me here, now what do you want of me?’ My husband brought them directly to our own house; we were more than glad to welcome them and share with them all the comforts and blessings we enjoyed (BYU Studies, v. 42, Number 1, 2003).
The Smiths stayed with the Whitneys for many weeks. In December of 1831, Newel received the call to be the bishop in Kirtland.
The “White Store” owned by Newel became the headquarters for the Mormon Church in 1832. Joseph and Emma lived above the store, and the School of Prophets met there as well. In 1832, Newel was called to serve as a manager of the Mormon Church’s financial operations. Much of the Whitney family’s resources were donated to the building of the Kirtland Temple.
In 1838, as tensions were rising between members and their neighbors in Kirtland, the Whitney family moved to Far West, Missouri. Here he was called to serve as the bishop of the stake in Adam-ondi-Ahman. But the Saints in the area were bitterly persecuted and pushed to Illinois. Whitney continued to serve in the Church and to provide any help he could offer. In 1848 the family moved to Utah, and he was called as the Presiding Bishop of the Church. Only two years later Whitney died on September 24, 1850. He was honored as being a major financial strength to the Church during its hard early years.