William E. McLellin was born in the state of Tennessee, supposed in 1806. He heard the gospel preached by Elders Samuel H. Smith and Reynolds Cahoon, while they were on their mission to Jackson County, Missouri, in the summer of 1831. He wound up his business and followed them to Jackson County. While on the way he was baptized and ordained an elder. He visited Kirtland, Ohio, in the fall.
At his request, Joseph Smith inquired of the Lord concerning him, and received a revelation (dated October, 1831. Doctrine and Covenants, 3rd European edition, page 233, sec. 75. [D&C 66 in current edition)
The history of Joseph Smith says that "William E. McLellin, as the wisest man in his own estimation, having more learning than sense, endeavored to write a commandment like unto one of the least of the Lord's, but failed; it was an awful responsibility to write in the name of the Lord. The elders and all present that witnessed this vain attempt of a man to imitate the language of Jesus Christ, renewed their faith in the truth of the commandments and revelations which the Lord had given to the Church through my instrumentality; and the elders signified a willingness to bear testimony of their truth to all the world."
In the winter of 1832-3, he performed a mission, in company with Elder Parley P. Pratt, through Missouri and into Green County, Illinois, where they preached with much success.
In a revelation given March 8, 1833, the Lord said, "I am not well pleased with my servant William E. McLellin." [D&C 90:35]
He was one of the corresponding committee in behalf of the Saints, to confer with the Jackson and Clay County Committee, in trying to settle the Missouri difficulties.
July 3, 1834, he was chosen one of the high council in Clay County, Missouri, and on the 9th started in company with the Prophet Joseph from Missouri to Kirtland, Ohio.
He was an assistant teacher in the school of the elders in Kirtland, during the winter of 1834-5.
He was chosen one of the Twelve Apostles at the organization of that quorum, and appointed one of their clerks.
On the 27th and 28th of March, 1835, he held a public discussion on the divinity of the Book of Mormon, at Huntsburg, Geauga County, Ohio, with J. M. Tracy, a Campbellite preacher. On the 29th, Joseph Smith preached at the same place, after which six were baptized.
With the Quorum of the Twelve, in the spring of 1835, he went on a mission to the east and baptized five. While upon this mission, he wrote a letter to Kirtland, casting censure upon the presidency, for which he was suspended from fellowship.
September 25th,  he arrived in Kirtland, and on the same day met with the council of the First Presidency, when he confessed, was forgiven, and restored to fellowship.
He attended the Hebrew school in Kirtland during the winter of 1835-6, and officiated as clerk of the Twelve.
He came before a bishop's court on Friday, May 11, 1838, where he said he had no confidence in the presidency of the Church; consequently, he had quit praying and keeping the commandments of the Lord, and indulged himself in his sinful lusts. It was from what he had heard that he believed the presidency had got out of the way, and not from anything that he had seen himself.
He was cut off from the Church for unbelief and apostasy.
Since he has been cut off from the Church of Jesus Christ, he has tried to establish a church of his own, that he might be the head thereof, but without success.
He took an active part with the mob in Missouri, in robbing and driving the Saints. At the time Joseph Smith was in prison, he and others robbed Joseph's house and stable of the following property: one roll of linen cloth, a quantity of valuable buttons, one piece of cassimere, a quantity of valuable books, a horse and gig, harness, saddle, bridle, etc.
While Joseph was in prison at Richmond, Missouri, McLellin, who was a large and active man, went to the sheriff and asked for the privilege of flogging the Prophet. Permission was granted on condition that Joseph would fight. The sheriff made known to Joseph McLellin's earnest request, to which Joseph consented, if his irons were taken off. McLellin then refused to fight unless he could have a club, to which Joseph was perfectly willing; but the sheriff would not allow them to fight on such unequal terms.
McLellin was a man of a superficial education, though he had a good flow of language.
He adopted the profession of medicine.
Source: William McLellin to Relatives, 4 Aug 1832, typescript, RLDS Archives.
Jackson County, Missouri. Independence. 4th August 1832
Long! Long has it been since I've heard from you. And no doubt, you have thought the time long since you have heard from me. Probably, you have thought that I was no more, distracted, cast away or that I had forgotten you forever! But I can assure you that I yet remember you with the warmest feelings of heart. I wrote a letter to you the last of last November but I think it uncertain whether you received it; at least, I will now give you a short account of my peregrinations and the scenes that I have experienced for one year past.
Some time in July 1831, two men [Elders Samuel H. Smith and Reynolds Cahoon] came to Paris and held an evening meeting, only a few attended, but among the others, I was there. They delivered some ideas which appeared very strange to me at that time. They said that in September 1827 an angel appeared to Joseph Smith (in Ontario Co., New York) and showed to him the confusion on the earth respecting true religion. It also told him to go a few miles distant to a certain hill and there he should find some plates with engravings, which (if he was faithful) he should be enabled to translate. He went as directed and found plates (which had the appearance of fine gold) about 8 inches long, 5 or 6 wide and altogether about 6 inches thick; each one about as thick as thin pasteboard, fastened together and opened in the form of a book containing engravings of reformed Egyptian hieroglyphical characters which he was inspired to translate and the record was published in 1830 and is called the Book of Mormon. It is a record which was kept on this continent by the ancient inhabitants. Those men had this book with them and they told us about it, and also of the rise of the church (which is now called Mormonites from their faith in this book etc.).
They left Paris very early the next morning and pursued their journey westward. But in a few days two others came into the neighborhood proclaiming that these were the last days, and that God had sent forth the Book of Mormon to show the times of the fulfillment of the ancient prophecies when the Savior shall come to destroy iniquity off the face of the earth, and reign with his saints in Millennial rest. One of these was a witness to the book and had seen an angel which declared its truth (his name was David Whitmer). They were in the neighborhood about a week. I talked much with them by way of enquiry and argument. They believed Joseph Smith to be an inspired prophet. They told me that he and between 20 & 30 of their preachers were on their way to Independence.
My curiosity was roused up and my anxiety also to know the truth. And though I had between 30 & 40 students and the people [were] generally satisfied with me as teacher, yet I closed my school on the 29th July and on the 30th I mounted Tom and left for Independence. August the 4th I visited Uncle William Moore's and spent the 5th with him and family and brother Israel. I gave Uncle William ten dollars to carry to you. The 6th I pursued my journey until evening I was taken severely with the fever. I applied to two physicians. I stopped near a week, then pursued my course though through great weakness. I crossed the Illinois River about 100 miles above St. Louis, thence across the Mississippi at Louisiana about the same above. Thence across the Missouri at the mouth of Chariton. Thence August the 18th I took breakfast in Independence (after having about 450 miles from Paris). But to my sorrow I learned that Joseph Smith and 12 or 15 others had done their business and started to the east again a few days before, but there, had a church come on of about 60 from [New] York State and there were about a dozen elders who had not gone back.
I examined the book, the people, the preachers, and the old scripture and from the evidences which I had before me I was bound to believe the Book of Mormon to be a divine revelation and the people to be Christians. Consequently, I joined them.
And on the 24th [August 1831] I was ordained an Elder in The Church of Christ and on the 25th I started to the east with brother Hyrum Smith, a brother to Joseph. On the 28th I preached my first discourse to the world. I spoke one hour and 1/2 which astonished the multitude! Some said I had been a preacher. Some said a lawyer etc, etc. But the secret was God assisted me by His spirit and it reached their hearts. Thence we traveled on proclaiming by the way until we got to Jacksonville, Ill. (in court term) on Friday and gave an appointment to preach the next day in the court house. We attended the house though it was largely full of judges, lawyers, doctors, priests and people. I think about 500 [attended]. I spoke 3 hours and when done I cannot describe the joy of some, the consternation of others and the anger of others. Thence to Uncle William Moore's. But Oh, that morning he had started to Tennessee! Br. Israel was there. I talked considerable with him. I gave him a Book of Mormon to carry to you. He intended leaving for Arkansas in about a week and thence to Tennessee. Thence we went to Paris. I settled the most of my business and left the other with lawyer Shelledy. I purchased a horse for Br. Hyrum [Smith]. We preached the truth to the people round about and thence we traveled immediately on to the northeastern part of Ohio, and on the 18th of October we reached old Father Smith's, Geauga Co., Ohio. After the book was translated and the Church established, persecution raged so against them that most of the believers either came to Ohio or to Zion. The American people boast of republicanism and often speak very contemptuously of the dark ages of persecution against the Savior and his Apostles but let a man now reasonably expose the errors ad false notions of God and touch a man's traditions and the same Devil or persecuting spirit is stirred up as was anciently; and all that is wanting is power. But Oh, awful to relate that the want of authority does not stop them amidst all the blaze of light. They rise in mobs, black themselves, waylay houses and even break in and drag the servants of God from their beds, and families into the streets and abuse and torture them for no other reason only [that] their religion differs from the popular--(as was the case last April with Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon in [Hiram] Portage Co., Ohio).
On the 25th of October , I attended a conference, where I first saw and became acquainted with Joseph [Smith]. About 40 elders attended. General peace and harmony pervaded the conference and much instruction to me. From thence I went home with Joseph [Smith] and lived with him about three weeks. And from my acquaintance then and until now I can truly say I believe him to be a man of God, a prophet, a seer and revelator to The Church of Christ.
My labors were mostly confined, during last winter, to the Western Reserve, Ohio in the churches and round about in the congregations of the wicked. Though I took one tour into Pennsylvania proclaiming the truth and baptizing the believers. I attended another conference in [Amherst] Lorain County, west of Cleveland, on the 25th of January . There were between 70 and 80 official characters there from different states. The elders received a commandment [D&C 75] there to travel two by two east, west, north and south and proclaim the things which they had learned and which should be given them by the spirit.
I started to the south preaching by the way until I came to Middlebury, a village in Ohio. I preached in it on the 25th of February  and by traveling and laboring during such inclement weather my health became impaired and I could not, at that time, exercise faith enough to be perfectly healed (neither could Timothy of old, 1 Timothy 5:23). Consequently, I stopped there and kept store for Colonel Sumner until the last of April. During which time I preached none in public, but I examined the evidences of inspiration or of the scriptures. I reasoned much with Deists, skeptics, infidels, etc., etc. For I tell you that a majority in many eastern villages belong to those classes. My longs [legs] still continued weak and I finally determined to cease traveling to preach for a while.
And in order to be useful I also determined to seek a companion and come to Zion and settle, at least for a while. I returned to Hiram Township, Portage, Co., Ohio to my brethren and on the 26th of April  I was married to a young lady by the name of Emiline Miller. You have often heard of short courtships but I was married the 4th day after I first even hinted to subject to my partner. Emiline's height is 5 feet, 1 inch. She generally weighs between one hundred and ten and twenty. She was born in the state of Vermont, though she left there when quite small and came to Ohio. She was twenty-two years old the 4th of last September. Her education is common English. She has taught school some, though her principle business has been tailoring. The 30th of July 1829 I married Cinthia Ann, but I was deprived of her most lovely endeavors to render me happy and agreeable. In consequence of which, I spent many lonesome and sorrowful hours. But Emiline renders me happy and I hope, notwithstanding all, to spend the remainder of my days tranquilly as it respects matrimonial subjects.
On the 2nd of May  we, in company with near 100 of our brethren (viz) men, women and children, left Portage County for this place. We took water (on steamboat) 20 miles below Pittsburgh which conveyed us (and ours) to St. Louis in 8 days and nights. We brought our wagons and some horses with us and we bought some oxen at St. Louis and from thence we traveled up by land; 14 wagons in company. This was fulfilling the prophecies Isaiah 2:3: "And many people shall go and say, Come let us go up to the Mountain of the Lord." etc., etc. On the 16th of June we arrived in Independence (the center of Zion or of the gathering of the righteous on this continent to prepare for the second coming of Christ).
Independence is situated on a high rise 3 miles south of the Missouri River, 12 miles from the west line of the state, near 300 mi [miles] above St. Louis. The local situation of the country round about it, for health, richness of soil, good spring water, and other conveniences is as good, it seems to me, as [any] heart could wish. I have purchased two lots on Main Street with a small cabin on them for $100. A fifty dollar horse and $50 in cash. This is my home, from which I never expect to move, though I may travel hundreds and thousands of miles. I obtained a school here and commenced teaching the 8th of July, for three months. I have generally about 30 students. Crops here are very flourishing at this time, more so than any place from which I have heard, though produce is scarce in consequence of the flood of emigration. Flour is $2.50 per hundred, corn meal 75 cents per bushel, bacon 8 cents per lb. and coffee 30 and sugar 10.
I will now give you some of our religious views. We believe that the Bible, the New Testament and the Book of Mormon are of divine origin and authority. We believe that faith in God, repentance and baptism (by immersion) in the name of the Lord Jesus for the remission of sins and the laying on of the hands of the Elders for the reception of the Holy Spirit is the plan by which sinners may become reconciled to God or become Christians. We believe that God is unchangeable: consequently his servants may call upon him and he will answer as in days of old. And when they ask in faith and receive his Holy Spirit they may prophesy, see visions, discern spirits, do miracles, cast out devils, heal the sick, etc., and even (as Paul [said in] 2 Corinthians 12:1-2 or John [said in] Rev 4:1) by faith to be enwrapped in the Spirit and caught up to behold the wonders and glories of God's throne and order of the eternal world. We believe that Joseph Smith is a true Prophet or Seer of the Lord and that he has power and does receive revelations from God and that these revelations when received are of divine authority in The Church of Christ.
For further information, I refer you to the [E&MS] Star which I have sent you with this letter. My dear brother and all my relations, I entreat you as a brother to lay aside prejudice and examine for truth. For truth alone is all that will benefit us here or hereafter. The reason why I have not written to you oftener is because I was determined to visit you. But when disappointed, I then thought I would not till I got here and settled myself. _ _ _ _ _ _
Source: The Ensign of Liberty, of the Church of Christ . . . Kirtland, Lake County, Ohio 1 (January 1848):60-61
I [William McLellin] united with the Church of Christ on the 20th day of August, 1831, in Jackson County, Missouri, and I was administered to in baptism and confirmation by Elder Hyrum Smith, the brother of Joseph. I first heard the preaching in Paris, Edgar County, Illinois. When I heard it, I made up my mind that there was more in it than any religion I have ever before heard advocated; consequently, I put myself to the trouble and expense of travelling about 450 miles, in order to examine the matter. And after all the examination I was capable of making, I was fully convinced and converted to the doctrine and practices of the church as they were then held and taught. . . .
[Of the meeting with Smith, McLellin added,]
We [William McLellin and Hyrum Smith] reached Kirtland [from Independence] on the 18th day of October, and on the 25th, I attended a general conference in the town of Orange, about 20 miles distant. Here I first and formed an acquaintance with Joseph Smith, Jr., Oliver Cowdery, Sidney Rigdon, John Whitmer, etc. About 40 ministers attended the conference. During its sittings, I, with nine others, was pointed out again by the spirit of revelation, as having the gifts and callings to the office of High Priest, and was ordained thereunto under the hands of Pres. Oliver Cowdery. Following this conference I went home with the Prophet, and on Saturday, the 29th, I received through him, and wrote from his mouth a revelation concerning myself [D&C 66]. I had expected and believed that when I saw Brother Joseph [Smith], I should receive one: and I went before the Lord in secret, and on my knees asked him to reveal the answer to five questions through his Prophet, and that too without his having any knowledge of my having made such request. I now testify in the fear of God, that every question which I had thus lodged in the ears of the Lord of Sabbath, were answered to my full and entire satisfaction. I desired it for a testimony of Joseph's inspiration. And I to this day consider it to me an evidence which I cannot refute.
[What makes the account quoted above credible is a 4 August 1832 letter from McLellin to his brother, Samuel [McLellin], in Carthage, Tennessee. In the letter, he explained the teachings of LDS missionaries, the testimony of David Whitmer about the Book of Mormon, and his attendance at October/November 1831 conferences.]
On the 25th of October, I [William E. McLellin or M'Lellin] attended a conference, where I first saw and became acquainted with Joseph [Smith]. About 40 elders attended. General peace pervaded the conference and much instruction to me. From thence I went home with Joseph [Smith] and lived with him about three weeks; and from my acquaintance then and until now I can truly say I believed him to be a man of God. A Prophet, a seer and revelator to the Church of Christ . . . We (the Mormons) believe that Joseph Smith is a true Prophet or seer of the Lord and that he has power and does receive revelations from God, and that these revelations when received are of divine authority in the Church of Christ.
Source: The Ensign of Liberty, of the Church of Christ . . . Kirtland, Lake County, Ohio 1 (January 1848):98-99.
[When the Hiram conference (November 1832) reconvened in the afternoon, Joseph Smith received a revelation known as the preface to the Book of Commandments (D&C 1). Though there is no specific record about how this revelation was received, William McLellin provided insight into the process.]
I [William McLellin], as scribe have written [D&C] revelations from the mouth of both the revelators, Joseph Smith and David Whitmer. And I have been present many times when others wrote for Joseph; therefore, I speak as one having experience. The scribe seats himself at a desk or table, with pen, ink, and paper. The subject of inquiry being understood, the Prophet and revelator inquires of God. He spiritually sees, hears, and feels, and then speaks as he is moved upon by the Holy Ghost, the "thus saith the Lord," sentence after sentence, and waits for his amanuenses to write and then read aloud each sentence. Thus they proceed until the revelator says Amen, at the close of what is then communicated. I have known both those men mentioned above, to seat themselves, and without premeditation, to thus deliver in broken sentences, some of the most sublime pieces of composition which I ever perused in any book.
Source: William H. Kelley to "Editor Herald" in The Saints' Herald 29 (March 1, 1882):66-69.
In company with Bro. Warnky and Dr. Wm. [William] E. McLellin, we visited the "temple lot" lying west of the Court House [in Independence, Missouri]. The doctor was able to point out the identical spot where Joseph [Smith] stood when he first visited it, and which is the place of the corner stone. He visited it soon after himself, when it was all covered with young poplars thickly standing. Joseph cut his way in through this thick growth of trees, brush and saplings, and marked the spot by blazing a tree near by, cutting away the under brush for a few feet around and setting up a small stone that had been picked up in the ravine below. This was all the corner stone that was ever laid upon it, and it only to mark the place of the corner.
It is a beautiful, elevated, sightly spot, and known far and near as the "temple lot." No habitation of man rests upon it; and it looks as though it had been plowed and tilled, and then sodded over. To say the least, it is a most desirable natural site upon which to build anything of magnificence and beauty.
Our short acquaintance with the Doctor [William E. McLellin] while there led us to believe that he is not a very bad men after all. He is now advanced in years and strong and vigorous, and shows to have been a man of thought, high aspirations, and a student. To our surprise he had nothing to say, really, against the faith. We rather enjoyed his acquaintance. He has led rather of a strange career, but if he has any hope in God at all, it is in connection with the work revealed through the Seer. In spite of himself, he warms up towards the Saints. He is sour, however, and possesses a happy faculty of quoting the past and placing incidents and emphasizing to match, in order to make out a plausible case of his own, however severely they may reflect upon others, the truth of falsity of which can not well be determined this side of the day when the revealer of secrets shall appear, unless the Doctor's version be taken as the correct one. Judging by putting this and that together, and one would be apt to think that the Doctor is something of a monument of defeated ambition. Everybody has a story and a side.
I gleaned from him and the records in his possession, the following items: He was present when the preface to the Book of Commandments [D&C 1] was given, and says that Sidney Rigdon wrote it down as it was dictated by Joseph [Smith]. A committee had been appointed to draft a preface, consisting of himself, O. [Oliver] Cowdery and I think Sidney Rigdon, but when they made their report, the "Conference then requested Joseph to enquire of the Lord about it, and he said that he would if the people would bow in prayer with him. This they did and Joseph [Smith] prayed.
When they arose, Joseph dictated by the Spirit the preface found in the Book of Doctrine and Covenants while sitting by a window of the room [John Johnson home in Hiram, Ohio] in which the conference was sitting; and Sidney Rigdon wrote it down. Joseph would deliver a few sentences and Sidney [Rigdon] would write them down, then read them aloud, and if correct, then Joseph [Smith] would proceed and deliver more, and by this process the preface was given.
In reply to the question, "Did Joseph [Smith] seem to be inspired at the time? that is, did any thing of unusual character appear to be moving him?" He said, "There was something a hold of him."