Brigham Young (June 1, 1801 – August 29, 1877) was an American religious leader, politician, and settler. He was the second president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) from 1847 until his death in 1877. He founded Salt Lake City and served as the first governor of the Utah Territory. Young also led the foundings of the precursors to the University of Utah and Brigham Young University.
Young had many nicknames, among the most popular being “American Moses” (alternatively, “Modern Moses” or “Mormon Moses“), because, like the biblical figure, Young led his followers, the Mormon pioneers, in an exodus through a desert, to what they saw as a promised land. Young was dubbed by his followers the “Lion of the Lord” for his bold personality and commonly was called “Brother Brigham” by Latter-day Saints. A polygamist, Young had 55 wives. He instituted a ban prohibiting conferring the priesthood on men of black African descent, and also led the church during the Utah War against the United States.
Young was born the eighth child of John Young and Abigail “Nabby” Howe, a farming family in Whitingham, Vermont. When he was three his family moved to upstate New York settling in Sherburne, New York. At age 12 he moved with his parents to Aurelius, New York close to Cayuga Lake. When he was 14 his mother died of tuberculosis. After that he moved with his father to Tyrone, New York.
At age 16, Young’s father made him leave home. He first worked odd jobs and then became an apprentice to a John C. Jeffries in Auburn, New York. He worked as a carpenter, joiner, glazer and painter. One home that Young helped paint in Auburn was that of Elijah Miller, which later became the residence of William Seward. It is now a local museum (see William Seward House). It is also claimed by locals that the fireplace mantle of this house was created by Young. With the onset of the depression of 1819 Jeffries dismissed Young from his apprenticeship and Young moved to Port Byron, New York.
Young had converted to the Reformed Methodist Church in 1824. This was after a period of deep reading of the Bible. He insisted when joining the Methodists on being baptized by immersion instead of their normal practice of sprinkling.
Young was first married in 1824 to Miriam Angeline Works, whom he had met in Port Byron. They first lived in a small unpainted house adjacent to the pail factory which was at the time Young’s main place of employment. Also in Port Byron, Young joined a debating society. Shortly after the birth of their first daughter the family moved to Oswego, New York on the shores of Lake Ontario. Later on in 1828 they moved to Mendon, New York. Most of Young’s siblings had already moved to Mendon, or did so shortly after he moved there. It was here he first became friends with Heber C. Kimball. Here he worked as a carpenter and joiner and built a saw mill that he operated. In 1832, Miriam died and Young and his two young daughters moved into the household of Kimball and his wife, Vilate.
By this point Young had for all intents and purposes left the Reformed Methodist, becoming a Christian seeker, unconvinced that he had found a church with the true authority of Jesus Christ. As early as 1830, Young was introduced to the Book of Mormon by way of a copy his brother, Phineas H., had obtained from Samuel H. Smith. In 1831, five missionaries of the Latter Day Saint movement (Eleazer Miller, Elial Strong, Alpheus Gifford, Enos Curtis, and Daniel Bowen) came from the branch of the church in Columbia, Pennsylvania to preach in Mendon. A key attraction of the teachings of this group to Young was their practicing of spiritual gifts. This was partly experienced when Young traveled with his wife and Kimball to visit the branch of the church in Columbia, Pennsylvania.
Young was drawn to the new church after reading the Book of Mormon. He officially joined the Church of Christ on April 14, 1832, being baptized by Eleazer Miller. A branch of the church was organized in Mendon, and Young was one of the regular preachers to the branch. He quickly expanded his area of sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ, traveling southwest to Warsaw, New York and southeast to various towns along Lake Canandaigua. Shortly after this, Young saw Alpheus Gifford speak in tongues and in response Young also spoke in an unknown language. In November 1832, Young travelled with Kimball to Kirtland, Ohio and visited Joseph Smith. During this trip Young spoke in a tongue that was identified by Smith as the “Adamic language”.
In December 1832, Young left his daughters with the Kimballs and set out on a mission with his brother, Joseph, to Upper Canada, primarily to what is now Kingston, Ontario. Later they extended their preaching to various towns along the north shore of Lake Erie. In February 1833, they returned to Mendon. A few months later Young again set out on a mission with his brother, Joseph, this time traveling into the north of New York and then on into modern Ontario.
In the summer of 1833, Young moved to Kirtland, Ohio. Here he met Mary Ann Angell and they were married on February 18, 1834. In Kirtland, Young continued to preach the gospel; in fact Mary Ann first encountered him through hearing him preach. Young also resumed work on building houses. In May 1834, Young became a member of Zion’s Camp. He traveled to Missouri and was part of it until it disbanded on July 3, 1834. After his return to Kirtland, Young focused his carpentry work on the Kirtland Temple and also prepared for the birth of his third child, his first son, Joseph A. Young. Mary Ann had largely provided for Young’s two daughters on her own while pregnant with her first child while Young was away with Zion’s Camp. In Kirtland, Young was involved in adult education including studying in a Hebrew language class under Joshua Sexias.
Young was ordained a member of the original Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in May 1835. Later that month, Young left with the other members of the Quorum of the Twelve on a proselytizing mission to New York state and New England. In August 1835, Young and the rest of the Quorum of the Twelve issued a testimony in support of the divine origin of the Doctrine and Covenants. He was then involved in the dedication of the Kirtland Temple in 1836. Shortly after this Young went on another mission with his brother, Joseph, to New York and New England. On this mission he visited the family of his aunt, Rhoda Howe Richards. They converted to the church, including his cousin Willard Richards. He then returned to Kirtland where he remained until events related to anger over the failure of the Kirtland Safety Society forced him to flee the community in December 1837. He then stayed for a short time in Dublin, Indiana with his brother, Lorenzo, and then moved on to Caldwell County, Missouri.
Young became the quorum president in March 1839. Under his direction, the quorum served a mission to the United Kingdom and organized the exodus of Latter Day Saints from Missouri in 1838.
In 1844, while in jail awaiting trial for treason charges, the church’s president, Joseph Smith was killed by an armed mob. Several claimants to the role of church president emerged during the succession crisis that ensued. Before a large meeting convened to discuss the succession in Nauvoo, Illinois, Sidney Rigdon, the senior surviving member of the church’s First Presidency, argued there could be no successor to the deceased prophet and that he should be made the “Protector” of the church. Young opposed this reasoning and motion. Smith had earlier recorded a revelation which stated the Quorum of the Twelve was “equal in authority and power” to the First Presidency, so Young claimed that the leadership of the church fell to the Twelve Apostles. The majority in attendance were persuaded that the Quorum of the Twelve was to lead the church, with Young as the quorum’s president. Many of Young’s followers would later reminisce that while Young spoke to the congregation, he looked or sounded exactly like Smith, which they attributed to the power of God. Young was ordained President of the Church in December 1847, three and a half years after Smith’s death. Rigdon became the president of a separate church organization based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and other potential successors emerged to lead what became other denominations of the movement.
See also: Mormon pioneers
Repeated conflict led Young to relocate his group of Latter-day Saints to the Salt Lake Valley, which was then part of Mexico. Young organized the journey that would take the Mormon pioneers to Winter Quarters, Nebraska, in 1846, then to the Salt Lake Valley. By the time Young arrived at the final destination, it had come under American control as a result of war with Mexico, although U.S. sovereignty would not be confirmed until 1848. Young arrived in the Salt Lake Valley on July 24, 1847, a date now recognized as Pioneer Day in Utah. Young’s expedition was one of the largest and one of the best organized westward treks. On August 22, 29 days after arriving in the Salt Lake Valley, Young organized the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
After three years of leading the church as the President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Young reorganized a new First Presidency and was sustained as the second president of the church on December 27, 1847.
Governor of Utah Territory
As colonizer and founder of Salt Lake City, Young was appointed the territory’s first governor and superintendent of American Indian affairs by President Millard Fillmore on February 3, 1851. During his time as prophet, Young directed the establishment of settlements throughout present-day Utah, Idaho, Arizona, Nevada, California and parts of southern Colorado and northern Mexico. Under his direction, the Mormons built roads and bridges, forts, irrigation projects; established public welfare; organized a militia; issued an extermination order against the Timpanogos and after a series of wars eventually made peace with the Native Americans. Young was also one of the first to subscribe to Union Pacific stock, for the construction of the First Transcontinental Railroad. Young organized the first Utah Territorial Legislature and established Fillmore as the territory’s first capital.
Young organized a board of regents to establish a university in the Salt Lake Valley. It was established on February 28, 1850, as the University of Deseret; its name was eventually changed to the University of Utah.
In 1851, Young and several federal officials, including territorial Secretary Broughton Harris, became unable to work cooperatively. Harris and the others departed Utah without replacements being named, and these individuals later became known as the Runaway Officials of 1851.
Young supported slavery and its expansion into Utah, and led the efforts to legalize and regulate slavery in the 1852 Act in Relation to Service, based on his beliefs on slavery. Young said in an 1852 speech, “In as much as we believe in the Bible … we must believe in slavery. This colored race have been subjected to severe curses … which they have brought upon themselves.”
In 1856, Young organized an efficient mail service. In 1858, following the events of the Utah War, he stepped down to his successor, Alfred Cumming.
LDS Church president
Young was the longest-serving president of the LDS Church in history, having served for 29 years.
On October 16, 1875, Young deeded buildings and land in Provo, Utah to a board of trustees for establishing an institution of learning, ostensibly as part of the University of Deseret. Young said, “I hope to see an Academy established in Provo … at which the children of the Latter-day Saints can receive a good education unmixed with the pernicious atheistic influences that are found in so many of the higher schools of the country.” The school broke off from the University of Deseret and became Brigham Young Academy, the precursor to Brigham Young University.
Within the church, Young reorganized the Relief Society for women in 1867, and he created organizations for young women in 1869 and young men in 1875.
Young was involved in temple building throughout his membership in the LDS Church, making it a priority of his church presidency. Under Smith’s leadership, Young participated in the building of the Kirtland and Nauvoo temples. Just four days after arriving in the Salt Lake Valley, Young designated the location for the Salt Lake Temple; he presided over its groundbreaking on April 6, 1853. During his tenure, Young oversaw construction of the Salt Lake Tabernacle and he announced plans to build the St. George (1871), Manti (1875), and Logan (1877) temples. He also provisioned the building of the Endowment House, a “temporary temple” which began to be used in 1855 to provide temple ordinances to church members while the Salt Lake Temple was under construction.
The majority of Young’s teachings are contained in the 19 volumes of transcribed and edited sermons in the Journal of Discourses. The LDS Church’s Doctrine and Covenants contains one section from Young that has been canonized as scripture, adding the section in 1876.
Though polygamy was practiced by Young’s predecessor Joseph Smith, the practice is often associated with Young. Some Latter Day Saint denominations, such as the Community of Christ, consider Young the “Father of Mormon Polygamy”. In 1853, Young made the church’s first official statement on the subject since the church had arrived in Utah. Young acknowledged the suffering the doctrine created for women, but stated its necessity for creating large families, proclaiming: “But the first wife will say, ‘It is hard, for I have lived with my husband twenty years, or thirty, and have raised a family of children for him, and it is a great trial to me for him to have more women;’ then I say it is time that you gave him up to other women who will bear children.”
One of the more controversial teachings of Young was the Adam–God doctrine. According to Young, he was taught by Smith that Adam is “our Father and our God, and the only God with whom we have to do”. According to the doctrine, Adam was once a mortal man who became resurrected and exalted. From another planet, Adam brought Eve, one of his wives, with him to the earth, where they became mortal by eating the fruit of the Garden of Eden. After bearing mortal children and establishing the human race, Adam and Eve returned to their heavenly thrones where Adam acts as the god of this world. Later, as Young is generally understood to have taught, Adam returned to the earth to become the biological father of Jesus. The LDS Church has since repudiated the Adam–God doctrine.
Young is generally considered to have instituted a church ban against conferring the priesthood on men of black African descent, who had been treated equally in this respect under Smith’s presidency. After settling in Utah in 1848, Young announced the ban, which also forbade blacks from participating in Mormon temple rites such as the endowment or sealings. On many occasions, Young taught that blacks were denied the priesthood because they were “the seed of Cain”, but also stated that they would eventually receive the priesthood after “all the other children of Adam have the privilege of receiving the Priesthood, and of coming into the kingdom of God, and of being redeemed from the four-quarters of the earth, and have received their resurrection from the dead, then it will be time enough to remove the curse from Cain and his posterity.” These racial restrictions remained in place until 1978, when the policy was rescinded by LDS Church president Spencer W. Kimball, and the LDS Church subsequently “disavow[ed] theories advanced in the past” to explain this ban, thereby “plac[ing] the origins of black priesthood denial blame squarely on Brigham Young.”
In 1863, Young stated: “Shall I tell you the law of God in regard to the African race? If the white man who belongs to the chosen seed mixes his blood with the seed of Cain, the penalty, under the law of God, is death on the spot. This will always be so.”
Young was a vocal opponent of theories of human polygenesis, being a firm voice for stating that all humans were the product of one creation.
Shortly after the arrival of Young’s pioneers, the new Mormon colonies were incorporated into the United States through the Mexican Cession. Young petitioned the U.S. Congress to create the State of Deseret. The Compromise of 1850 instead carved out Utah Territory and Young was installed as governor. As governor and church president, Young directed both religious and economic matters. He encouraged independence and self-sufficiency. Many cities and towns in Utah, and some in neighboring states, were founded under Young’s direction. Young’s leadership style has been viewed as autocratic. When federal officials received reports of widespread and systematic obstruction of federal officials in Utah (most notably judges), U.S. President James Buchanan decided to install a non-Mormon governor. Buchanan accepted the reports of the judges without any further investigation, and the new non-sectarian governor was accompanied by troops sent to garrison forts in the new territory. When Young received word that federal troops were headed to Utah with his replacement, he called out his militia to ambush the federal force. During the defense of Utah, now called the Utah War, Young held the U.S. Army at bay for a winter by taking their cattle and burning supply wagons. The Mormon forces were largely successful thanks to Lot Smith. Young eventually relented and agreed to step down as governor. He later received a pardon from Buchanan. Relations between Young and future governors and U.S. Presidents were mixed.
The degree of Young’s involvement in the Mountain Meadows massacre, which took place in Washington County in 1857, is disputed. Leonard J. Arrington reports that Young received a rider at his office on the day of the massacre, and that when he learned of the contemplated attack by the members of the LDS Church in Parowan and Cedar City, he sent back a letter directing that the Fancher party be allowed to pass through the territory unmolested. Young’s letter reportedly arrived on September 13, 1857, two days after the massacre. As governor, Young had promised the federal government he would protect immigrants passing through Utah Territory, but over 120 men, women and children were killed in this incident. There is no debate concerning the involvement of individual Mormons from the surrounding communities by scholars. Only children under the age of seven, who were cared for by local Mormon families, survived, and the murdered members of the wagon train were left unburied. The remains of about 40 people were later found and buried, and Union Army officer James Henry Carleton had a large cross made from local trees, the transverse beam bearing the engraving, “Vengeance Is Mine, Saith The Lord: I Will Repay” and erected a cairn of rocks at the site. A large slab of granite was put up on which he had the following words engraved: “Here 120 men, women and children were massacred in cold blood early in September, 1857. They were from Arkansas.” For two years, the monument stood as a memorial to those travelling the Spanish Trail through Mountain Meadow. Some claim that, in 1861, Young brought an entourage to Mountain Meadows and had the cairn and cross destroyed, while exclaiming, “Vengeance is mine and I have taken a little”.
Before his death in Salt Lake City on August 29, 1877, Young was suffering from cholera morbus and inflammation of the bowels. It is believed that he died of peritonitis from a ruptured appendix. His last words were “Joseph! Joseph! Joseph!”, invoking the name of the late Joseph Smith, founder of the Mormon faith. On September 2, 1877, Young’s funeral was held in the Tabernacle with an estimated 12,000 to 15,000 people in attendance. He is buried on the grounds of the Mormon Pioneer Memorial Monument in the heart of Salt Lake City. A bronze marker was placed at the grave site June 10, 1938, by members of the Young Men and Young Women organizations, which he founded.
Business ventures and wealth
Young engaged in a vast assortment of commercial ventures by himself and in partnership with others. These included a wagon express company, a ferryboat company, a railroad and the manufacturing of processed lumber, wool, sugar beets, iron, and liquor. Young achieved greatest success in real estate. He also tried to promote Mormon self-sufficiency by establishing collectivist communities, known as the United Order of Enoch.
At the time of his death, Young was the wealthiest man in Utah, with an estimated personal fortune of $600,000 (equivalent to $14,405,625 in 2019).
A century after his death, one writer stated that
[Joseph Smith] was succeeded by one of the outstanding organizers of the 19th century, Brigham Young. If the circumstances of his life had worked out differently [he] might have become a captain of industry—an Andrew Carnegie or John D. Rockefeller or a railroad builder. Instead, this able, energetic, earthy man became the absolute ruler and the revered, genuinely loved father figure of all Mormons everywhere.
He credited Young’s leadership with helping to settle much of the American West:
During the 30 years between the Mormons’ arrival in Utah in 1847 and [his death in] 1877, Young directed the founding of 350 towns in the Southwest. Thereby the Mormons became the most important single agency in colonizing that vast arid West between the Rockies and the Sierra Nevada.
Memorials to Young include a bronze statue in front of the Abraham O. Smoot Administration Building, Brigham Young University; a marble statue in the National Statuary Hall Collection at the United States Capitol, donated by the State of Utah in 1950; and a statue atop the This is the Place Monument in Salt Lake City.
Young’s teachings were the 1998–99 course of study in the LDS Church’s Sunday Relief Society and Melchizedek priesthood classes.
Family and descendants
See also: List of Brigham Young’s wives
Young was a polygamist, marrying a total of 55 wives, 54 of them after he converted to Mormonism. The policy was difficult for many in the church. Young stated that upon being taught about plural marriage, “It was the first time in my life that I desired the grave.” By the time of his death, Young had 56 children by 16 of his wives; 46 of his children reached adulthood.
Sources have varied on the number of Young’s wives, as well as their ages, noting that some Mormons of the time were known to marry girls as young as 12 or 13, sometimes even members of their own family. This is due to differences in what scholars have considered to be a “wife”. There were 55 women who Young was sealed to during his lifetime. While the majority of the sealings were “for eternity”, some were “for time only”. Researchers believe that not all of the 55 marriages were conjugal. Young did not live with a number of his wives or publicly hold them out as wives, which has led to confusion on the number and their identities. This is in part due to the complexity of how wives were identified in the Mormon society at the time.
Of Young’s 55 wives, 21 had never been married before; 16 were widows; six were divorced; six had living husbands and the marital status of six others is unknown. In 1856, Young built the Lion House to accommodate his sizable family. This building remains a Salt Lake City landmark, together with the Beehive House, another Young family home. A contemporary of Young wrote: “It was amusing to walk by Brigham Young’s big house, a long rambling building with innumerable doors. Each wife has an establishment of her own, consisting of parlor, bedroom, and a front door, the key of which she keeps in her pocket.” At the time of Young’s death, 19 of his wives had predeceased him; he was divorced from ten, and 23 survived him. The status of four was unknown. One of his wives, Zina Huntington Young, served as the third president of the Relief Society. In his will, Young shared his estate with the 16 surviving wives who had lived with him; the six surviving non-conjugal wives were not mentioned in the will.
Main article: Descendants of Brigham Young
In 1902, 25 years after his death, The New York Times established that Young’s direct descendants numbered more than 1,000. Some of Young’s descendants have become leaders in the LDS Church.
Brigham Young appeared at the end of Le Fil qui chante album, the last Lucky Luke album written by Goscinny.
The Scottish poet John Lyon, who was an intimate friend of Young, wrote Brigham the Bold in tribute to him after his death.
Florence Claxton’s graphic novel, The Adventures of a Woman in Search of Her Rights (1872), satirizes a would-be emancipated woman whose failure to establish an independent career results in her marriage to Young before she wakes to discover she’s been dreaming.
Arthur Conan Doyle based his first Sherlock Holmes novel, A Study in Scarlet, on Mormon history, mentioning Young by name. When asked to comment on the story, which had, “provoked the animosity of the Mormon faithful”, Doyle noted, “all I said about the Danite Band and the murders is historical so I cannot withdraw that though it is likely that in a work of fiction it is stated more luridly than in a work of history.” Doyle’s daughter stated: “You know father would be the first to admit that his first Sherlock Holmes novel was full of errors about the Mormons.”
Mark Twain devoted a chapter and much of an appendix to Young in Roughing It.
Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr., talking about his fondness of trees, joked in his The Autocrat of the Breakfast-Table: “I call all trees mine that I have put my wedding-ring on, and I have as many tree-wives as Brigham Young has human ones.”
Brigham Young was played by Dean Jagger in the 1940 film Brigham Young. Brigham Young was also played by Terence Stamp in the 2007 film, September Dawn. In the 1995 film The Avenging Angel, the role of Brigham Young was played by Charlton Heston.
Byron Morrow played Young in a cameo appearance in the Death Valley Days 1966 episode, “An Organ for Brother Brigham”. In the story line, the organ built and guided west to Salt Lake City by Joseph Harris Ridges (1827–1914) of Australia becomes mired in the sand. Wagonmaster Luke Winner (Morgan Woodward) feels compelled to leave the instrument behind until Ridges finds solid rock under the sand.
In another Death Valley Days episode in 1969, “Biscuits and Billy, the Kid”, Michael Hinn (1913–1988) of the former Boots and Saddles western series was cast as Young. In the story line, the Tugwell family, Jason (Ben Cooper), Ellie (Emily Banks), and Mary (Erin Moran), are abandoned by their guide while on a wagon train from Utah to California.
Gregg Henry depicts Young in the fourth (2014) and fifth (2015) seasons of the TV series Hell on Wheels, a fictional story about the construction of the First Transcontinental Railroad. As the competing rail lines approach Utah from the east and west coasts, Young supplies Mormon laborers to both railroad companies and negotiates with the railways to have them make Salt Lake City their meeting point. In the Season 5 mid-season finale, “False Prophets”, Young’s son, Phineas, attempts to murder his father. Persuaded by The Swede, Phineas believed he was the chosen one to go forward to lead the Mormons, instead of his father.
Since Young’s death, a number of works have published collections of his discourses and sayings.
- Teachings of President Brigham Young: Salvation for the Dead, the Spirit World, and Kindred Subjects. Seagull Press. 1922.
- Brigham Young (1925). Discourses of Brigham Young. selected by John A. Widtsoe. Deseret Book.
- Young, Brigham (1952). The Best from Brigham Young: Statements from His Sermons on Religion, Education, and Community Building. selected by Alice K. Chase. Deseret Book Company.
- Manuscript History of Brigham Young, 1801–1844. Eldon J. Watson. 1969.
- Manuscript History of Brigham Young, 1846–1847. Eldon J. Watson. 1971.
- Dean C. Jessee, ed. (1974). Letters of Brigham Young to His Sons. Deseret Book Company.
- Everett L. Cooley, ed. (1980). Diary of Brigham Young, 1857. Tanner Trust Fund, University of Utah Library.
- The Essential Brigham Young. Signature Books. 1992. ISBN1-56085-010-8.
- Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 1997. LDS Church publication number 35554
- Young, Brigham (2009). Richard Van Wagoner (ed.). The Complete Discourses of Brigham Young. 5. Smith-Pettit Foundation. ISBN978-1-56085-206-3.
Adapted from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia