John Taylor: Third Prophet of the Church was Canadian

John Taylor: Third Prophet of the Church was CanadianThis article previously appeared in Pioneer Magazine, 2010 Vol.57 No.2

The foremost man in Utah after the death of Brigham Young was , who succeeded Brigham as President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. John Taylor was by birth an Englishman; [born in] Milnthorpe, near Lake Windemere, in the county of Westmoreland, Nov. 1, 1808. The son of James Taylor, a government exciseman, and his wife Agnes, a descendant of Richard Whittington, famous in song and story as Lord Mayor of London, young Taylor at the age of 14 became a cooper’s apprentice in Liverpool and subsequently learned the turner’s trade at Penrith in Cumberland.

His first schooling was at the village of Hale, Westmoreland, where his parents lived on a small estate bequeathed to the head of the house by an uncle. They were members of the Church of England, as was their son, who had been baptized into that church in his infancy. When about 16, yielding to the conviction that the Methodists had more light than the Established Church, he joined them and became a local preacher of that persuasion.

About the year 1830 he emigrated to America, following his parents, who were then residing at in Upper Canada. There he connected himself with the local Methodist Society. Among the members of that body was Miss Leonora Cannon, daughter of Captain George Cannon, of Peel, , and aunt to George Q. Cannon, the future Apostle. She had come to America as companion to the wife of a Mr. Mason, private secretary of Lord Aylmer, Governor-General of Canada. John Taylor was her class leader; an attachment sprang up between them and in the year 1833 they were married. Mrs. Taylor was a refined and intelligent woman, well educated, witty, and withal beautiful. Her husband had had fewer opportunities, but he was an extensive reader and had acquired a rich fund of general information. He was a close student of the Bible, well versed in history, an able writer, an eloquent speaker and a skilled debater. Dignified in mien, stalwart in frame, he was courageous, independent, firm as a rock, of blameless life and unwavering integrity. When not filled with serious thoughts, he was brimming with jovial good nature.

John Taylor had not been long in Toronto when he united himself with a number of scholarly gentlemen, sincere seekers after religious truth, who were fasting, praying, and poring over the scriptures, in the hope of receiving fresh light to guide them. The result of their earnest quest was a conviction that something better than was offered by modern Christianity, with which they were all dissatisfied, had been or was about to be revealed for the salvation of humankind.

Such was John Taylor’s frame of mind when, early in the year 1836, Parley P. Pratt, one of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, came to the city of Toronto, introducing Mormonism in that part of the country. Prejudiced against the Mormons from the many wild tales and rumors afloat concerning them, John Taylor received their representative with some reserve and cautiously compared Pratt’s teachings with the doctrines of the Bible. Finding to his astonishment that they were the same, with encouragement from Leonora, he gradually overcame his prejudice, and he and his wife were baptized as Latter-day Saints May 9, 1836. Ordained an elder by Apostle Pratt, John Taylor was shortly afterwards set apart by him and Apostle Hyde to preside over the branches of the Church in Upper Canada.

In March 1837, he visited Kirtland, where he first met the and was his guest while sojourning there. It was a period of disaffection among leading men of the Church and feelings of intense bitterness prevailed. Attended a meeting in the Temple at which Warren Parrish made a violent attack upon the character of the Prophet, Elder Taylor defended the absent leader and endeavored to pour oil upon the troubled waters. Soon after his return to Canada he was subsequently visited by the Prophet, who ordained him a High Priest.

The following winter he removed to Kirtland, proceeding thence in the general exodus of the Saints to Missouri. Near Columbus, Ohio, he awed into respectful silence and by his tact and eloquence wrung courteous treatment from a mob that had come into a meeting for the purpose of tarring and feathering him. At DeWitt, Carroll Co., Missouri, he and his party, numbering 24, were confronted by an armed mob of one hundred and fifty who after some parleying retired and permitted them to continue on to Far West. He was a witness to the outrages perpetrated by the Missourians upon the new settlers and was a participant in the scenes of peril and disaster ending in the imprisonment of the Prophet and other leaders and the expulsion of the Mormon community from the state. That he bravely and unflinchingly bore his part of the general burden of sorrow and trial we may be sure. John Taylor knew no fear and shirked no responsibility or sacrifice that his duty entailed.

As early as the fall of 1837 he had been told by the Prophet that he would be chosen an Apostle, and at a conference in Far West, Oct. 1838, it was voted that he fill a vacancy in the Quorum of the Twelve. He was ordained an Apostle under the hands of Brigham Young and Heber C. Kimball.

He was among the defenders of and Far West, and after the imprisonment of the First Presidency he visited them several times in the jail at Liberty. He was one of a committee appointed to memorialize the Missouri Legislature for redress of grievances and was also appointed with Bishop Edward Partridge to draft a similar petition to the general government. He assisted President Young in superintending the exodus of the Saints from Missouri and was with Brigham and others of the Twelve when they made their famous ride from Quincy to Far West, prior to starting upon their mission to Great Britain.

At a council held in Preston with Elder and others in charge of the British Mission, it was decided that Apostle Taylor should labor in Liverpool, with Elder Joseph Fielding to assist him. They immediately began operations in that city, where they gained their first converts. Apostle Taylor was still in Liverpool when President Brigham Young, with Apostles Heber C. Kimball, Parley P. Pratt, , George A. Smith, and Elder arrived from America. He was appointed one of a committee to select hymns and compile a hymn book for the Latter-day Saints. The choice was a happy one, since John Taylor, as well as Parley P. Pratt, his associate in that work, had poetic tendencies.

He returned to America with President Young and other Apostles, arriving at Nauvoo July 1, 1841. At Nauvoo he was a member of the city council, one of the regents of the university, judge advocate with the rank of colonel in the Nauvoo Legion, associate editor and afterwards chief editor of the Times and Seasons. He was also editor and proprietor of the Nauvoo Neighbor, in the columns of which paper, in Feb. 1844, he nominated Joseph Smith for the presidency of the United States.

His connection with the press at Nauvoo explains his presence there and at Carthage during the events leading up to and including the murder of Joseph and Hyrum Smith; all the other Apostles, excepting Willard Richards, the Church Historian, being absent, electioneering in the interest of the Prophet, at the time of his assassination. Prior to the tragedy, in the midst of the troubles threatening Nauvoo, after the destruction of the Expositor press and the placing of the city under martial law, John Taylor and John M. Bernhisel went to Carthage and presented to Governor Ford the true state of affairs. They received from him the most solemn assurances that if the Prophet and his friends would come unarmed to Carthage to be tried, their lives should be protected. Governor Ford pledged his and the faith of the State for their safety.

When Joseph and Hyrum, on the 24th of June, set out for Carthage, to surrender themselves as the governor had proposed, John Taylor was one of those who accompanied them, and when they were thrust into jail, he and Willard Richards voluntarily shared their imprisonment. In the afternoon of the fatal 27th, while the four friends sat conversing, Apostle Taylor, outraged by the treatment they had received, said, “Brother Joseph, if you will permit it and say the word, I will have you out of this prison in five hours, if the jail has to come down to do it.” His idea was to go to Nauvoo and return with a sufficient force to liberate his friends. But the Prophet would not sanction such a step. The Apostle then sang a hymn to raise their drooping spirits, and soon after the jail was assaulted by the mob who shot to death the Prophet and the Patriarch.

Martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum, by Gary Smith. Courtesy Museum of Church History and Art.

In the midst of the melee Apostle John Taylor stood at the door with a heavy walking stick, beating down the muskets of the assassins that were belching deadly volleys into the room. After Joseph and Hyrum were dead, John Taylor himself was struck by a ball in the left thigh, while preparing to leap from the window whence the Prophet had fallen. Another missile, from the outside, striking his watch, threw him back into the room, and this was all that prevented him from descending upon the bayonets of the mob. In his wounded state he dragged himself under a bedstead that stood near, and while doing so he received three other wounds, one a little below the left knee, one in his left hip, and another in the left forearm and hand. The Prophet’s fall from the window drew the murderers to the yard below, which incident saved the lives of John Taylor and Willard Richards, the latter the only one of the four prisoners who escaped harmed. As soon as practicable, Apostle Taylor, who had been carried by Doctor Richards for safety into the cell of the prison, was removed to Hamilton’s hotel in Carthage and subsequently to Nauvoo.

Accompanied by his family he left that city in the exodus, Feb. 16, 1846. The 17th of June found him at Council Bluffs, from which point, the same summer, he with Parley P. Pratt and Orson Hyde started for Liverpool, to set in order the affairs of the British Mission. He and his associates fully accomplished this and on Feb. 7, 1847, the three Apostles sailed for America and reached Winter Quarters soon after the pioneers left that place.

President Young and other leaders returned to meet Apostles Pratt and Taylor and receive from them not only a report of their mission, but from the latter about two thousand dollars in gold, sent by the British Saints to aid the Church in its migration into the wilderness. Apostle Taylor also brought with him a set of surveying instruments, with which Orson Pratt, a few months later, laid out Salt Lake City.

After the departure of President Young and the pioneers in April, Parley P. Pratt and John Taylor exercised a general superintendency over affairs at Winter Quarters and with Isaac Morley and Newel K. Whitney organized the immigration that crossed the plains that season. It was about June 21 when these Apostles, with six hundred wagons and upwards of fifteen hundred souls, began the journey from the Elk Horn.

John Taylor’s division met and feasted the returning pioneers at the upper crossing of the Sweetwater and continuing westward entered Salt Lake valley on Oct. 5. During the following two years he shared the hard experiences common to the lot of the first settlers of this region.

In 1849 he was called to head a mission to France, and in company with Lorenzo Snow, Erastus Snow, and Franklin D. Richards, who were on their way to Italy, Denmark and England, respectively, he set out on Oct. 19 to re-cross the plains. At Boulogne-sur-Mer, where he arrived on June 18, he delivered a course of lectures, wrote letters to the press, and held a public discussion. He then visited Paris, where he studied French, preached, baptized a few souls, organized a branch and made arrangements for translating the Book of Mormon into the Gallic tongue. In May 1851, he began publishing a monthly periodical, Etoile du Deseret. Having held a farewell conference with the French Saints, he went back to England and sailed for home, arriving at Salt Lake City Aug. 20, 1852. He brought with him machinery manufactured in Liverpool for a beet sugar plant,

Two years were spent in Utah and then came a call for him to preside over the Eastern States Mission, to supervise the emigration and publish a paper in the interest of the Mormon cause.

From 1857 to 1876, John Taylor was a member of the Utah Legislature, and for the first five sessions of that period Speaker of the House. From 1868 to 1870 he was probate judge of Utah County. In 1877 he was elected territorial superintendent of schools, and served as such for several years.

The next important event in his history was his elevation to the leadership of the Church, to which he virtually succeeded at the death of President Young, Aug. 29, 1877. He had been for some years President of the Twelve Apostles. He continued to act in that capacity until Oct. 1880, when the First Presidency was again organized, with John Taylor, George Q. Cannon, and Joseph F. Smith. Meantime the Church in 1880 celebrated its jubilee.

In the latter part of Dec. 1881, President Taylor moved into the Gardo House, a stately and beautiful mansion built by President Young and owned by the Church, the use of which as a family residence had been voted to him at the April conference of 1879. His first act after taking up his abode there was to give a New Year’s reception to his friends and the general public, about two thousand of whom, Mormons and Gentiles, called upon him, tendered their congratulations, and partook of his hospitality.

It was the calm before the storm. Two months later came the enactment of the Edmunds law, which was later supplemented by the Edmunds-Tucker law, under which most of the property of the Mormon Church was forfeited and escheated to the government.

One of the First Presidency (George Q. Cannon), two of the Apostles (Lorenzo Snow and Francis M. Lyman), and hundreds of other elders—among the most reputable men in the community—were fined and imprisoned, and nearly all the Church leaders were driven into exile.

President Taylor’s last appearance in public was on Sunday, Feb. 1, 1885, when he preached his final discourse in the Tabernacle at Salt Lake City. He had just returned from Mexico and California, after a tour through the settlements of the Saints in Arizona. That night he went into retirement and was never again seen in life except by a few trusted friends, most of them his bodyguards or the companions of his exile. He died July 25, 1887, at the home of Thomas F. Rouche, in Kaysville, Davis Co., Utah, a martyr to his religious convictions. His funeral was held four days later, at the Tabernacle in Salt Lake City.

This history of John Taylor consists of excerpts from the monumental work, Orson F. Whitney’s History of Utah (Salt Lake City: George Q. Cannon & Sons, 1890–1904). Visuals courtesy LDS Church Visual Resource Library.

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