BENBOW, John: Man of Faith and Generosity

BENBOW, John: Man of Faith and Generosity

This article originally appeared in Vol.65, No.4 (2018) of Pioneer Magazine.

by Jay A. Parry
BENBOW, John: Man of Faith and Generosity
John Benbow

’s astounding experience with the in 1840 is one of best-known events in Latter-day Saint missionary history. Most of his success came at John Benbow’s farm in Herefordshire, England. But who was John Benbow—and what became of him and his family?

John Benbow Before the Latter-day Saints Came

John Benbow was born in Herefordshire, England, on April 1, 1800, the tenth of eleven children. Thomas Benbow, his father, died when John was only five years old, leaving his mother, Ann Jones Benbow, to raise a very large family by herself.1 Little is known of John s early life, but at age eighteen he went to work for Squire Jenks, a local farmer, and was so effective that Jenks doubled his wages each of the next two years. John then moved on to work for himself, leasing a hop2 farm from Squire Gardner, “and managed it so well as to make considerable money.”3

When he was twenty-six, he married Jane Holmes, who was thirty-four. She had property of her own, and by combining their resources they secured a lease on about three hundred acres at a place called .4 John and Jane’s children died in childbirth or infancy, but in time they took in a niece and a nephew from John’s side of the family and another niece and nephew from Janes side.5

John was a man with deep religious yearnings. He was actively involved in the United Brethren, a working-class religious group dissatisfied with certain teachings and practices of their former congregation, the Primitive Methodists, which had broken away from the Methodist Church to re-establish early practices of John Wesley, the founder of Methodism. John Benbow was a member of a ten-person church committee that met monthly to discuss “the operations of the United Brethren.”6 Also, according to family records, the Benbows allowed , the leader of the United Brethren preachers, to stay at their farm without charge for eight years.7

A Believing and Giving Soul

One month before John Benbows fortieth birthday. Latter-day Saint missionary Wilford Woodruff arrived unannounced at the , accompanied by John’s younger brother, William, who had recently been baptized.8 Both John and Jane were spiritually prepared to receive Elder Woodruff’s message; the evening of his arrival, they stayed up until 2am hearing his teachings, and they were baptized the very next day. Wilford Woodruff recorded the reception the Benbows gave him:

“I spoke the word of God unto him & his house & he received my testimony & we had a good time.”9

From that day forward. Hill Farm became the center point of the Latter-day Saint missionaries’ efforts in that part of England Elder Woodruff and others preached in the large hall John licensed for that purpose,10 and one or more of the missionaries stayed at the Benbow home on a regular basis.11 Converts were baptized in the Benbows’ pond, including ten members of the Benbow family—John and Jane, John’s mother, and several of John’s siblings, nieces, and nephews— and five of Jane’s relatives.12

John and Jane were generous with their means, often providing room and board for the missionaries. When Brigham Young and Wilford Woodruff needed funds to publish a British edition of the Book of Mormon and the Latter- day Saint hymnbook, the Benbows donated £250, much of the total amount needed. They gave Elders Woodruff and Theodore Turley £35 to help meet their personal expenses, and then donated £100 to help as many as forty of their fellow Saints emigrate to the United States. Along with co-owner Thomas Kington, who had also been baptized, John Benbow donated the Chapel to the Church. Two years later it was sold to raise more funds for emigration.13

Making His Way to Zion

John Benbow was ordained an elder within weeks of his baptism. In June 1840, he was called to preside over the Saints at Frooms Hill.14 That September, John and Jane joined about two hundred other Saints on the ship North America, departing from Liverpool, England, for the US. Their journey took them on a sailing ship across the Atlantic, then on canal boats along the Erie Canal and a steamship across the Great Lakes to Chicago. They traveled by team and wagon from Chicago to Dixon, Illinois, where they planned to continue by steamboat down the Rock River to the Mississippi River and then south to Nauvoo. The boat they had originally booked to Nauvoo was not available when they arrived at Dixon, but John Benbow paid half the purchase price of another boat so the Saints could continue their journey.15

After the Benbows and their fellow Saints finally arrived in Nauvoo, William Clayton, who had been traveling with them, recorded:

“Thus ended a journey of over 5000 miles having been exactly 11 weeks and about 10 hours between leaving Liverpool and arriving at our journeys end. We had been much exposed to cold weather and suffered many deprivations and disconveniences yet through the mercy of God we landed safe and in good health with the exception of 8 persons one of whom died soon after landing. We were pleased to find ourselves once more at home and felt to praise God for his goodness.”16

The Benbows spent nearly six years in Nauvoo, where they established a farm about six miles out of town. In January 1842, Wilford Woodruff visited their farm, recording in his journal,

“This was the first time I had been to his [John Benbows] house since my return to Nauvoo. I spent the time vary plesantly…. His farm looked almost like the garden of Eden. I never had seen more work done in one year on a prairie farm than on his. He had surrounded it & crossed it with heavy ditches and planted thorn hedges. His dwelling, barns, sheds, garden yards, orchards, &c ware all beautifully arranged. It much resembled some of the farms of old England. It will be a plesant retreat for a summers ride from Nauvoo.”17

Others who visited the Benbows’ Nauvoo farm included Joseph and Emma Smith and Hyrum and Mary Fielding Smith, as well as Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, John Taylor, Willard Richards, and George A. Smith, along with their families.18

On June 25, 1844, Joseph Smith, Hyrum Smith and thirteen others were arrested and brought to Carthage, Illinois, on charges relating to the destruction of the Nauvoo Expositors printing press, and the magistrate set a very high bail of $500 each, or $7,500 in total. To the courts surprise, John Benbow and three others who were not among the defendants combined their resources to cover the required amount Joseph and his companions were released that evening, but Joseph and Hyrum were rearrested in less than one hour on charges of treason and incarcerated in Carthage Jail. They were murdered two days later.19

Less than two months after the martyrdom, Wilford and Phoebe Woodruff were called to serve another mission in England. They left their four-year-old son Wilford Jr. with the Benbows, and he remained in their care for more than a year and a half.20

In January 1846, John Benbow took a plural wife, Agnes Taylor, the sister of John Taylor. She was fifty-eight and he was forty-six. There is no evidence that they ever lived together, and their marriage was ended in September 1847.21 Later in 1846, John and Jane Benbow sold their Nauvoo property for a significant loss and traveled to Winter Quarters, camping in their wagon on property where the Woodruffs were building a log cabin. Jane was very ill when they arrived and died only a month later on November 27. Sadly, at the time of his wife’s death, John was too ill to even accompany mourners to the cemetery. The Woodruffs had their own tragedies, losing a young son on November 12 and a newborn son on December 10.22

John made the journey from Winter Quarters to Salt Lake City in Brigham Young’s 1848 company and was assigned as a captain of fifty in the company. He arrived in the Salt Lake Valley in September of that year and, according to family tradition, moved in with his foster son and nephew, Thomas Benbow, who had settled in the South Cottonwood area.23 To avoid crowding his young host family, John reportedly dug a cave in the side of a nearby hill and spent his nights there during his first winter in the Valley.

Final Years

In September 1851, when John was fifty-one years old, he married Rosetta Wright King Peacock, who was thirty-two. She had been married twice before and had two children, but the older child had stayed with his father when his parents separated. Her younger child, a daughter named Mary, was three years old when John and Rosetta married. John began to raise her as his own, and she later changed her surname to Benbow. John and Rosetta began the backbreaking work of homesteading 160 acres in South Cottonwood, creating yet another farm from scratch.24 A daughter later recalled that “wolves and foxes were often seen” and “snakes were plentiful”25

In October 1852, Rosetta gave birth to another daughter, Isabella Markham Benbow, who was premature and weighed only 3.5 pounds but survived, becoming John Benbow’s only child to reach adulthood.26 John and Rosetta had four other children, but all died in infancy.27 Late in life, Isabella recalled her parents’ spiritual approach to parenting:

The first lesson taught me was prompt obedience to my parents.

I was requested to kneel with them night and morning in family prayer long before I knew the meaning of this attitude or understood the sentiment developed thereby.

One day my father received a letter from land, which told him of his mother’s death. That evening in prayer, Father’s voice, broken with row; attracted my attention and I realized for the first time that Father was talking to someone who had the power to give him the things he asked for. Thus was the idea of reverence and of Deity awakened in my mind….

There was no Sunday School in the ward then, so Father had us read in turn from the Bible and he would explain the passages to us. He would tell us of Jesus, how he taught and what he suffered. One day Father took the Book of Mormon and said to me, “My girl, if you will read this book carefully and relate to me what you read about, the book shall be yours when you finish it.” This was a pleasing proposition to me, for I wanted to know of its contents, as well as to claim the book for myself, so I set about the pleasing task.

I would read a while and then skip out and tell Father what I had read; he was never too busy or too tired to listen to my recital or to explain the parts that were not clear to my understanding.28

John continued to be remarkably generous with his means. He “sent his team and hired man six times across the plains, 1000 miles [each direction], to haul ‘Mormon emigrants to Utah.”29 He also responded to calls to provide wagons and teams to help haul stone for construction of the Salt Lake Temple.30 As part of a developing community, John was asked to help fund the construction of a schoolhouse.

He did so. Then local authorities asked him to fund another, and then another. He gave as requested. But when his bishop asked him to contribute to build a fourth one, John politely but firmly declined the invitation. He explained to the bishop, Andrew Cahoon,

“I haven’t moved and I’ve helped build three schools, and I don’t intend to help with a fourth.”

Bishop Cahoon was offended and complained to Brigham Young. After consideration. President Young decided that Church leaders had asked too much of Brother Benbow, and he counseled the two men to shake hands and forgive each other, which they did.31

Through thrift and hard work, John built up a comfortable level of wealth during the first half of his life—but he didn’t hold onto that wealth to provide for his old age. Instead, because of his generosity, he placed himself in a position of working hard all his days. A great-grandson noted that he “lived in log and adobe homes from the time he entered the Salt Lake Valley until his death.”32 Nevertheless, he always had enough for his needs—and even in these “reduced circumstances,” he was ready and willing to help others.33

Hidden away in the rough grass to the side of one of the greens at the Murray Parkway Golf Course is a historical marker of John Benbow (6345 Murray Parkway Avenue). Fifty-two of the ninety-two acres of the golf course are part of the original John Benbow farm. John and Rosetta Benbow’s original tombstones are mounted on the wall of the Murray City Cemetery office building.

After a faithful and fruitful life, John Benbow died in May 1874 and was the second person buried in the Murray City Cemetery.34 He had lived to see the fulfillment of his patriarchal blessing, pronounced on his head by Hyrum Smith in 1842:

“You shall be blest upon the Land, to long enjoy it, with Health & length of Days, if your Faith fail not, in your House & in your Habitations, in your incomings & outgoings, in Basket & in Store, with Fields Flocks & folds, with a Heart of Gratitude & appreciation, & philanthropy, & the power of the Holy Priesthood.”

  1. Arthur B. Erekson, A History of John Benbow(Provo, UT: privately published, 1988), 2-3.
  2. Hops are the flower or seed cone of the vine-like hop plant and are used as a flavor additive and preservative in beer.
  3. Isabella Markham Benbow Erekson, quoted in Erekson 2.
  4. Isabella Markham Benbow Erekson, quoted in Erekson 2-3.
  5. Zelph Y. Erekson and Irma Erekson Holt, “John Benbow,”unpublished manuscript,[6], LDS Church History Library (CHL); Erekson 4-5,38,194.
  6. Erekson 48.
  7. Erekson 38-9.
  8. Erekson 11-2,17. William had been baptized earlier. James B. Allen and Malcolm R. Thorp, “The Mission of the Twelve to England, 184CMH: Mormon Apostles and the Working Classes,” BYU Studies 15.4 (Summer 1975): 6; Erekson 37.
  9. Wilford Woodruff’s Journal,1), ed. Scott G. Kenney (1983), 4 Mar 1840,423.
  10. Erekson 48.
  11. Elders Wilford Woodruff, Brigham Young, Willard Richards, George A. Smith, and Theodore Turley stayed with the Ben bows a total of ninety days, free of charge, during the spring and summer of 1840. In addition to her other normal farm and household duties, Jane would have provided their meals, prepared their beds, and likely helped wash and mend their clothing (Erekson 100-1).
  12. Wilford Woodruff, Leaves from My Journal (1882), 80; Wilford Woodruff’s Journal 379-81; Erekson 33-8.
  13. Joseph Smith, History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, ed. B. H. Roberts (1912), 188; Brigham Young, Manuscript History of Brigham Young, ed. Elden Jay Watson (1968), 20 May and 8 Sep 1840,76, 79-80; Erekson 68-70,74,77,97-101.
  14. Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 21 Jun 1840, 465.
  15. Erekson 112-21.
  16. William Clayton diary, 24 Nov 1840, 95-6, CHL; quoted in James B. Allen and Thomas G. Alexander, Manchester Mormons: The Journal of William Clayton, 1840 to 1842 (1974), 201.
  17. Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 1841-45 (vol. 2), ed. Scott G. Kenney (1983), 30 Jan 1842, 152-3.
  18. Joseph Smith Journal, 3 Jun 1842; Journal History of the Church, 11 Oct 1843, CH L; John Taylor Journal, 5 Aug 1845, quoted in Dean C.Jessee,”The John Taylor Nauvoo Journal: January 1845-September 1845,” BYU Studies 23.3 (Summer 1983): 73.
  19. Smith 6:568-9,617-8.
  20. Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 1841-45, 18-19 Aug 1844,448-9; Erekson 126-7.
  21. Erekson 133,152; Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 1846-50 (vol. 3), ed. Scott G. Kenney (1983), 7 Sep 1847,268. It is unclear whether the couple divorced or had their marriage annulled.
  22. Journal History of the Church, 21 Oct and 27 Nov 1846, CHL; Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 1846-50,3,12,27, and 29 Nov and 10-11 Dec 1846,94-7; Erekson 146-9.
  23. Journal History of the Church, 31 May and 31 Dec 1848, CHL.
  24. Erekson 163.
  25. “Reminiscence of Isabella Markham Benbow,”quoted in Erekson 167.
  26. Isabella married John Erekson in 1869, and had three children, two of whom survived to adulthood.
  27. Erekson 157-8,162,200.
  28. Erekson 169.
  29. Richard L. Evans, Mormonism In Great Britain {1937), 115.
  30. Erekson 186.
  31. Erekson 184.
  32. Ibid.
  33. Erekson 186.
  34. Erekson 185.
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