John Taylor (Mormon)

John Taylor (1 November 1808 25 July 1887) was an English-born religious leader who served as the third president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) from 1880 to 1887. He is the first and so far only president of the LDS Church to have been born outside the United States.

John Taylor
3rd President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
October 10, 1880 (1880-10-10)  July 25, 1887 (1887-07-25)
PredecessorBrigham Young
SuccessorWilford Woodruff
President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles
April 10, 1875 (1875-04-10)  October 10, 1880 (1880-10-10)
PredecessorOrson Hyde
SuccessorWilford Woodruff
End reasonBecame President of the Church
Quorum of the Twelve Apostles
December 19, 1838 (1838-12-19)  October 10, 1880 (1880-10-10)
Called byJoseph Smith
End reasonBecame President of the Church
LDS Church Apostle
December 19, 1838 (1838-12-19)  July 25, 1887 (1887-07-25)
Called byJoseph Smith
ReasonReplenishing Quorum of the Twelve[1]
at end of term
Marriner W. Merrill, Anthon H. Lund, and Abraham H. Cannon ordained[2]
Personal details
Born(1808-11-01)1 November 1808
Milnthorpe, Westmorland, England
Died25 July 1887(1887-07-25) (aged 78)
Kaysville, Utah, United States
Resting placeSalt Lake City Cemetery
40°46′37.92″N 111°51′28.8″W
Spouse(s)Leonora Cannon
Elizabeth Kaighin
Jane Ballantyne
Mary Ann Oakley
Sophia Whitaker
Harriet Whitaker
Margaret Young
Josephine Elizabeth Roueche

Early life

Taylor was born in Milnthorpe, Westmorland (now part of Cumbria), England, the son of James and Agnes Taylor. He had formal schooling up to age fourteen, and then he served an initial apprenticeship to a cooper and later received training as a woodturner and cabinetmaker. He claimed that as a young man, he had a vision of "an angel in the heavens, holding a trumpet to his mouth, sounding a message to the nations"—which he would later identify as the angel Moroni.[3] He was christened in the Church of England, but joined the Methodist church at sixteen. He was appointed a lay preacher a year later, and felt a calling to preach in North America. Taylor's parents and siblings emigrated to Upper Canada (present-day Ontario) in 1830. Taylor stayed in England to dispose of the family property and joined his family in Toronto in 1832. He met Leonora Cannon from the Isle of Man while attending a Toronto Methodist Church and, although she initially rejected his proposal, married her on 28 January 1833.

Between 1834 and 1836, John and Leonora Taylor participated in a religious study group in Toronto. The group discussed problems and concerns with their Methodist faith, and quickly became known as the "Dissenters." Other members included Joseph Fielding and his sisters Mary and Mercy, who later also became prominent in the Latter Day Saint movement. While in Toronto, Taylor continued to work in his trade as a woodturner.

Early church service

Taylor and his wife first came in contact with the Church of the Latter Day Saints in 1836 after meeting Parley P. Pratt, an apostle in the church, in Toronto. Leonora was the first to join the church and she persuaded Taylor to continue his studies with Pratt. After the couple's baptism into the church, they were active in preaching and the organization of the church in Upper Canada. Taylor for a time presided over six branches in the Toronto area. In July 1837 he was closely involved in coordinating Joseph Smith's visit to the Toronto area.[4] They then moved to Far West, Missouri, where Taylor was ordained an apostle on 19 December 1838. He assisted other church members as they fled frequent conflicts to Commerce, Illinois (soon after renamed Nauvoo).

In 1839, Taylor and some of his fellow apostles served missions in Britain. While there, Taylor preached in Liverpool and was responsible for Mormon preaching in Ireland and the Isle of Man.


Taylor returned to Nauvoo, Illinois, to serve as a city councilman, a chaplain, a colonel, a newspaper editor, and a judge advocate for the Nauvoo Legion. Taylor edited two newspapers in Nauvoo, Times and Seasons and the Nauvoo Neighbor. Times and Seasons was the official organ of the Latter Day Saint church; he was officially the assistant editor under Joseph Smith, but due to Smith also being president of the church, Taylor made most of the editorial decisions. Taylor also edited the more politically concerned Nauvoo Neighbor[5] and the Wasp, the predecessor of the Nauvoo Neighbor, for about a year.[6] Taylor was thus the editor of Nauvoo's two main papers from 1842 to 1846.

In 1842, Taylor was present at the organization of the Relief Society. He set apart Sarah Cleveland and Elizabeth Ann Whitney as counselors to Emma Smith.[7]

Pocket Watch worn by John Taylor during the martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum Smith.

In 1844, Taylor was with church founder Joseph Smith, his brother Hyrum Smith, and fellow apostle Willard Richards in the Carthage, Illinois, jail when the Smiths were killed by a mob. Taylor was severely wounded in the conflict. His life may have been spared when a musket ball directed towards his chest was stopped by a pocket watch which he was carrying at the time.[8] However, recent analysis shows the watch may instead have been damaged when Taylor fell against the windowsill.[9]

In 1845, Taylor became the president of the Nauvoo Tradesmen Association. This group worked to encourage local manufacturing of goods for both local use and export. Taylor had two assistants who aided him in running this group, Orson Spencer and Phineas Richards.[10]

Migration to the Salt Lake Valley

In 1846–1847, most Latter-day Saints followed Brigham Young into Iowa then the Salt Lake Valley, while Taylor went to England to resolve problems in church leadership there. On his return, he and Pratt led more Latter-day Saints, a group of about 1500, to the Salt Lake Valley, where Young and the others had settled and established Great Salt Lake City.

Government positions

Taylor applied for and was granted United States citizenship in 1849. That same year he was appointed an associate judge in the provisional State of Deseret. He later served in the Utah territorial legislature from 1853 to 1876. Taylor was elected Speaker of the House for five consecutive sessions, beginning in 1857. In 1852, he wrote a small book, The Government of God, in which he compared and contrasted the secular and ecclesiastical political systems.

From 1868 to 1870 Taylor served as a probate judge of Utah County, Utah. He also served as superintendent of schools for Utah Territory beginning in 1876.[11]

Mission president

Taylor served as president of two missions of the LDS Church. In 1849, he began missionary work in France and was the first church mission president in the country. While in France, Taylor published a monthly newspaper called L'Etoile du Deseret with the help of Louis A. Bertrand. He also supervised missionary work in Germany, but did not himself go to any of the countries that would later form Germany.[5]

In 1852, the Book of Mormon was published in French, with Taylor and Curtis E. Bolton credited as translators.[12] Taylor supervised the translation, which was carried out by Bolton, Bertrand, Lazare Auge, and a "Mr. Wilhelm".[12]

Taylor later served as president of the Eastern States Mission, based in New York City. In this capacity he published a newspaper that presented the position of the Latter-day Saints.

Utah economic development

While serving as mission president in France, Taylor was directed by church president Brigham Young to prepare to establish a sugar industry in Utah Territory. This was done under the auspices of the Deseret Manufacturing Company. Taylor purchased sugar-making equipment in Liverpool while returning to the United States. These early attempts to produce sugar in Utah proved unsuccessful.[11]

Musical ability

Taylor is reported to have had a marvelous singing voice. At the request of Hyrum Smith, he twice sang the song "A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief" in Carthage Jail just before the Smith brothers' murders.[13]

Taylor wrote the lyrics to several hymns, some of which are still used by the LDS Church. In 2005, Taylor's hymn "Joseph the Seer" was sung at the LDS Church's celebration of the 200th anniversary of Joseph Smith's birth. The 1985 English-language edition of the LDS Church hymnal includes two hymns with lyrics by Taylor, "Go Ye Messengers of Glory" (no. 262) and "Go, Ye Messengers of Heaven" (no. 327).

Church president

Following Brigham Young's death in 1877, the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles governed the church, with John Taylor as the quorum's president. Taylor became the third president of the church in 1880. He chose as his counselors Joseph F. Smith and George Q. Cannon, the latter being the nephew of his wife, Leonora.

As church president, Taylor oversaw the expansion of the Salt Lake community; the further organization of the church hierarchy; the establishment of Mormon colonies in Wyoming, Colorado, and Arizona as well as in Canada's Northwest Territories (now in Alberta) and the Mexican state of Chihuahua; and the defense of plural marriage against increasing government opposition.

While he was church president, Taylor also established Zion's Central Board of Trade to coordinate local trade and production, which was done largely through the local stakes, on a wider basis.[11]

In 1878, the Primary Association was founded by Aurelia Spencer Rogers in Farmington, Utah Territory. For a time, the organization was placed under the direction of Relief Society General President Eliza R. Snow. In 1880, Taylor organized the churchwide adoption of the Primary Association and selected Louie B. Felt as its first general president. In October 1880, the Pearl of Great Price was canonized by the church.

Taylor also oversaw the issuance of a new edition of the Doctrine and Covenants. During his term as church president, the seventies quorums were also more fully and regularly organized.[14]

In 1882, the United States Congress enacted the Edmunds Act, which declared polygamy to be a felony. Hundreds of Mormon men and women were arrested and imprisoned for continuing to practice plural marriage. Taylor had followed Brigham Young's teachings on polygamy and had at least seven wives. He is known to have fathered 34 children.

Taylor moved into the Gardo House alone with his sister, Agnes, to avoid prosecution and to avoid showing preference to any one of his families.[15][16] However, by 1885, he and his counselors were forced to withdraw from public view to live in the "underground" and were frequently on the move to avoid arrest. In 1885, during his last public sermon, Taylor remarked, "I would like to obey and place myself in subjection to every law of man. What then? Am I to disobey the law of God? Has any man a right to control my conscience, or your conscience?... No man has a right to do it."[17]

Many viewed Mormon polygamy as religiously, socially, and politically threatening.[18] In 1887, the US Congress passed the Edmunds–Tucker Act, which abolished women's suffrage in Utah Territory, forced wives to testify against their husbands, disincorporated the LDS Church, dismantled the Perpetual Emigrating Fund Company, abolished the Nauvoo Legion, and provided that LDS Church property in excess of $50,000 would be forfeited to the United States.

For two-and-a-half years, Taylor presided over the church from exile. During this period, some Mormon fundamentalist groups claim that he received the 1886 Revelation.[19] Photographs of the original document exist.[20] It restated the permanence of the "New and Everlasting Covenant", which these fundamentalist groups consider to be a direct reference to the practice of plural marriage. The validity of the revelation is rejected by the LDS Church, which does not consider it to be authentic,[21] but it is used by fundamentalist groups as justification for their continued practice of polygamy.[22]


Taylor died on 25 July 1887, from congestive heart failure in Kaysville, Utah Territory. Taylor was buried at the Salt Lake City Cemetery in The Avenues, Salt Lake City, Utah. For two years after his death, the church again was without a presidency. The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, with Wilford Woodruff as president of the quorum, assumed leadership during this interim period. In the April 1889 church general conference, the First Presidency was reorganized with Wilford Woodruff as the president. Six months later, in the October general conference, Anthon H. Lund was called to fill Woodruff's vacancy in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

Taylor's teachings as an apostle were the 2003 course of study in the LDS Church's Sunday Relief Society and Melchizedek priesthood classes.


Taylor practiced plural marriage and was married to eight wives: Leonora Cannon, Elizabeth Kaighin, Jane Ballantyne, Mary Ann Oakley, Sophia Whitaker, Harriet Whitaker, Margaret Young, and Josephine Elizabeth Roueche.[23] He was the father of 34 children.[24]

Taylor's son, John W. Taylor, continued to serve in the church and in politics and helped to shepherd Utah to statehood in 1896. John W. Taylor was ultimately excommunicated from the LDS Church for his opposition to the church's abandonment of plural marriage. His son, Samuel W. Taylor, became a writer, and the biographer of his father and grandfather.

Another son, William W. Taylor, served as one of the first presidents of the seventy and also served in the Utah territorial legislature.

Taylor's wife Margaret Young Taylor was a member of the inaugural general presidency of what is today the church's Young Women organization. Taylor's daughter Annie Taylor Hyde was a leader in the Relief Society general presidency and was the founder of Daughters of Utah Pioneers.


Wife Born Died
Leonora Cannon(1796-10-06)6 October 17969 December 1868(1868-12-09) (aged 72)
Elizabeth Kaighin(1811-09-11)11 September 181130 September 1895(1895-09-30) (aged 84)
Jane Ballantyne(1813-04-11)11 April 181326 December 1901(1901-12-26) (aged 88)
Mary Ann Oakley(1826-03-20)20 March 182630 August 1911(1911-08-30) (aged 85)
Sophia Whitaker(1825-04-21)21 April 182528 February 1887(1887-02-28) (aged 61)
Harriet Whitaker(1825-04-21)21 April 182516 July 1882(1882-07-16) (aged 57)
Margaret Young(1837-04-24)24 April 18373 May 1919(1919-05-03) (aged 82)
Josephine Elizabeth Roueche[25](1860-03-03)3 March 186027 November 1943(1943-11-27) (aged 83)


  • Taylor, John (1852). The Government of God. S. W. Richards.
  • — — (1882). An Examination into and an Elucidation of the Great Principle of the Mediation and Atonement of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Deseret News.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  • — — (1943). The Gospel Kingdom: Selections from the Writings and Discourses of John Taylor. compiled by G. Homer Durham. Bookcraft, Inc.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  • — — (1984). Samuel W. Taylor and Raymond W. Taylor. (ed.). The John Taylor Papers: Records of the Last Utah Pioneer, Vol I, 1836-1877, the Apostle. Taylor Trust.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  • — — (1985). Samuel W. Taylor and Raymond W. Taylor. (ed.). The John Taylor Papers: Records of the Last Utah Pioneer, Vol II, 1877-1887, the President. Taylor Trust.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  • — — (1996). Dean C. Jessee. (ed.). John Taylor Nauvoo Journal. Grandin Book.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  • — — (2001). Teachings of Presidents of the Church: John Taylor. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link) LDS Church publication number 35969.

See also

  • Cannon family

Notes and references

  1. The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles had not had twelve members since 3 September 1837, when Luke S. Johnson, John F. Boynton, and Lyman E. Johnson were disfellowshipped and removed from the Quorum. Since that time, William E. McLellin had been excommunicated and removed from the Quorum and David W. Patten had been killed. The ordinations of Taylor and John E. Page brought membership in the Quorum of the Twelve to nine members.
  2. Merrill, Lund, and Cannon were ordained at the same time to fill three vacancies in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles that had been created by the excommunication of Albert Carrington; the death of Taylor and the reorganization of the First Presidency; and the death of Erastus Snow.
  3. Pettit, Tom. "Moroni Appeared to 17 Different People!". Living Heritage Tours. Retrieved 18 April 2016.
  4. Prete and others. Canaadian Mormons. p. 35
  5. Smith 1992, p. 1438
  6. "The Life and Ministry of John Taylor". Retrieved 23 March 2018.
  7. Matthew Grow and others. Saints: The Story of the Church of Jesus Christ in the Latter Days Vol. 1. P. 450
  8. Taylor, John. Witness to the Martyrdom. pp. 91, 114–115. I think some prominent nerve must have been severed or injured for, as soon as the ball struck me, I fell like a bird when shot, or an ox when struck by a butcher, and lost entirely and instantaneously all power of action or locomotion. I fell upon the windowsill and cried out, "I am shot!" Not possessing any power to move, I felt myself falling outside the window, but immediately I fell inside, from some, at that time, unknown cause. ...The doctor [Willard Richards] had taken my pantaloon's pocket, and put the watch in it with the purse, cut off the pocket, and tied a string around the top; it was in this position when brought home. My family, however, were not a little startled to find that my watch had been struck with a ball. I sent for my vest, and, upon examination it was found that there was a cut as if with a knife, in the vest pocket which had contained my watch. In the pocket the fragments of the glass were found literally ground to powder. It then occurred to me that a ball had struck me at the time I felt myself falling out of the window, and that it was this force that threw me inside.
  9. Leonard, Glen (2002). A Place of Peace, a People of Promise. Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book. Taylor, close behind the Prophet, had been using Markham's 'rascal-beater' to knock against the muskets and bayonets thrusting into the room. Richards waited behind Taylor, beyond striking distance. Without any way to shoot back, and certain death threatening from the landing, Taylor suddenly dashed toward the east window, intending to jump. A ball from the landing behind him struck Taylor in the left thigh, grazed the bone, and pushed within half an inch of the other side. He collapsed on the wide sill, denting the back of his vest pocket watch. The force shattered the glass cover of the timepiece against his ribs and pushed the internal gear pins against the enamel face, popping out a small segment later mistakenly identified as a bullet hole.
  10. Leonard. Nauvoo. p. 483
  11. Smith 1992, p. 1439
  12. Rachel Brutsch, "Book of Mormon translation: French", Deseret News, 20 February 2012.
  13. B. H. Roberts (ed.) (1902). History of the Church, vol. 6, pp. 614–615; vol. 7, p. 101.
  14. Clark, James R. "Messages of the First Presidency, vol. 2"
  15. Cowley, Matthias F. Prophets and Patriarchs of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Kessinger Publishing, 2006, p. 68. ISBN 1-4286-0180-5.
  16. Taylor, Samuel Woolley. The Kingdom Or Nothing: The Life of John Taylor, Militant Mormon. Macmillan, 1976, p. 302. ISBN 0-02-616600-3.
  17. Journal of Discourses 26:152.
  18. Hansen, Klaus J. (1981), Mormonism and the American Experience, University of Chicago Press, p. page needed], ISBN 0226315525, OCLC 6554937
  19. Questions concerning the 1886 revelation Archived 10 June 2008 at the Wayback Machine,, Retrieved 22 May 2008.
  20. Revelation to John Taylor. September 27, 1826
  21. "Official Statement". Deseret News, Church Section. 18 June 1933. Retrieved 22 July 2013.- Reads: "Furthermore, so far as the authorities of the Church are concerned and so far as the members of the Church are concerned, since this pretended revelation, if ever given, was never presented to and adopted by the Church or by any Council of the Church, and since to the contrary, an inspired rule of action, the Manifesto, was (subsequently to the pretended revelation) presented to and adopted by the Church, which inspired rule in its terms, purport, and effect was directly opposite to the interpretation given to the pretended revelation, the said pretended revelation could have no validity and no binding effect and force upon Church members, and action under it would be unauthorized, illegal, and void."
  22. 1886 Revelation Archived 3 May 2008 at the Wayback Machine,, Retrieved 9 May 2008.
  23. B. H. Roberts, The Life of John Taylor (Salt Lake City, Utah: George Q. Cannon & Sons, 1897).
  24. Richard L. Jensen, "The John Taylor Family," Ensign, February 1980, pp. 50–51.
  25. Rogers, Jedediah S. ed. In the President's Office: The Diaries of L. John Nuttall, 1879-1892. Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2007, 174n8. ISBN 1-56085-196-1.


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