Alexander Neibaur (1808-1883)
Saturday, September 20, 2014, marked the 166th anniversary of the arrival of Alexander Neibaur, the first dentist in the Salt Lake Valley and an early Jewish convert to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Neibaur’s story is a fascinating one that is not well known.
Alexander Neibaur was born January 8, 1808, to Nathan and Rebecca Peretz Neibaur, a Jewish family, in Ehrenbreitstein, Alsace-Lorraine (near present-day Koblenz, Germany), which was at that time part of France. He was first educated to be a rabbi but concluded to become a surgeon and dentist, and he received his degree from the University of Berlin in 1826 at the age of eighteen.
Neibaur converted to Christianity approximately two years later, and in 1830 moved to Preston, England. On September 15, 1834, he married Ellen Breakel, a member of the Church of England, and they had 11 children together. It was in England where Neibaur learned about the Mormon faith. Prior to meeting preachers from the Church, he had had dreams of a book being given him, but he did not know what they meant. When he heard of Mormon elders in the area, he approached them and asked if they had a book, which they did and gave him a copy of the Book of Mormon. Neibaur recognized this book as the one from his dreams, and he read it in three days. He wanted to be baptized immediately, but was convinced to wait until he had a chance to fully investigate the Church. Neibaur was baptized on April 9, 1838, becoming one of the first Jews to join the Church. Three years later he and his wife migrated to the United States and joined the Saints in Nauvoo in April 1841. There Neibaur established a dental practice in Brigham Young’s front room and developed a close friendship with Joseph Smith, whom he helped study German and Hebrew.
After the martyrdom of Joseph Smith and the eventual evacuation of Nauvoo in early 1846, Neibaur and his wife remained in Nauvoo due to Ellen’s pregnancy. He was among the defenders of the city during the Battle of Nauvoo (see last week’s posting). Neibaur and his family soon after left behind Nauvoo to join the rest of the Saints migrating west, arriving in the Salt Lake Valley in September 1848. He continued to practice dentistry and manufactured matches.
Neibaur’s daughter, Rebecca, married Charles W. Nibley, later Presiding Bishop of the Church and a member of the First Presidency, in 1869. Neibaur’s first wife, Ellen, passed away in December 1870, and in September 1871 he was sealed to a widow Elizabeth Hiley. Alexander Neibaur died in Salt Lake City, Utah, on December 15, 1883.
To learn more about this fascinating man and early Jewish Latter-day Saint, come visit Special Collections. Here we have a typed copies of Neibaur’s diary kept from 1841-1862 (MSS 438), the original of which is in the Church History Library; and recent photographs of his dental office in Nauvoo, which was in Brigham Young’s front room, and his Nauvoo property (found in MSS 8214). Also, you can find published biographies or other works on Neibaur, including: The life and times of Alexander Neibaur : journey of the first Mormon Jew by Bruce Alan Newbold (BX 8670.1 .N315n 2013); and, Writing between the lines : a selection of poetry inspired by notations in Alexander Neibaur’s journal from 1841 until 1862 by Theda Lucille Bassett.