Elijah Abel/Ables is such a fascinating figure. Thanks to the research that can be found in my book on him, we learn that we have probably been spelling his name wrong all this time.
Most renderings suggest that Elijah’s name was spelled “Elijah Abel.” Indeed, W. Kesler Jackson’s recent biography of him makes it appear that he has found the signature of Elijah Abel; however, as one of his editors told me, the “signature” was “just a pretty font.” The only instances we have of people spelling his name “Elijah Abel” are when white people are doing the recording.
According to two early manuscript sources, Elijah spelled his name alternatively as “Elijah Ables” and “Elijah Able.” In 1854, a letter from “Elijah Ables” came to the office of Brigham Young. The letter specifically indicates that this letter belonged to someone in the Appleton M. Harmon company, making it a positive ID for the first black Elder. Four years later, Elijah signed a receipt of payment as “Elijah Able.”
So before people get bent out of shape over an authorial decision, it would be well to look at the manuscript evidence first. As with many nineteenth-century Americans, he was not at all committed to one spelling. The 1860 and 1870 censuse reports render it as Able and Ables, respectively. Additionally, newspapers spelled the Able/Ables name as “Able,” “Ables,” “Abel,” and even “Abels,” sometimes within the same paragraph.
We misspellers are in good company.
1) Elijah Ables, Letter to Brigham Young, March 14, 1854
2) Elijah Able, Receipt of Payment, June 1, 1858