Knowing Brother Brigham and His Times

Knowing Brother Brigham and His Times

Q: Who were Brigham Young's Parents?

A: Born in 1763, John Young was bound out as an indentured servant to a local landowner in his youth before running away to serve three campaigns with the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War. Abigail Howe, born in 1766, met John following his return from military service, and in 1785, they married. They would ultimately have 11 children together before Abigail's death from tuberculosis on June 11, 1815. Both were strict Methodists, but John was remembered as stern and disciplinary while Abigail was described as more sympathetic in her general disposition. After living in Hopkinton, Massachusetts for sixteen years as rural farmland tenants, they migrated to Whitingham, Vermont. Finding the land unsuitable for much cultivation, the family moved to Sherburne, New York in 1804. They would move again in 1813 to Auburn, New York, prior to Abigail's passing. After most of the Young family parted ways following Abigail’s death, John would remarry in 1817 to a woman named Hannah Brown. He was later baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and became its first ordained patriarch. He died on October 12, 1839.


Suggested Readings:

        • Leonard J. Arrington, Brigham Young: American Moses (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1985): 7-9, 21.
        • Rebecca Cornwall and Richard F. Palmer, "The Religious and Family Background of Brigham Young," BYU Studies 18 (Spring 1978): 286-310.

Q: Who were Brigham Young’s Siblings?

A: Brigham Young was the ninth of eleven children born to John and Abigail Young. Except for Nabby Young (1793-1807) – who died at a young age of tuberculosis – all the Young children were eventually baptized as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Eldest child Nancy (1786-1869), due to the disabled condition of her mother, was often in charge of looking after the rest of the children in the early years of the Young family. She left home to marry Daniel Kent around the age of seventeen in 1803. After joining the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1833, she would go on to cross the plains among other pioneers to resettle in the intermountain west. Widowed in 1853, she would take up residence in the Lion House, the home of her brother Brigham, and passed away in 1860.


Fanny (1787-1859) developed a close relationship with her baby brother Brigham, often being the one to hold and bottle-feed him when he was young. Like her elder sister Nancy, she also left the Young household in 1803, marrying Robert Carr. She would subsequently separate from Carr and return home for a brief period to care for her dying mother. It was she who gave Brigham a Book of Mormon, having received it herself from her father and upon study deciding it to be a revelation from God. With her new husband Roswell Murray (and a large portion of her immediate family) she was baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in April of 1832. Like other siblings, she was among the pioneers who crossed the plains to resettle in the west.


Rhoda (1789-1841) had been left behind with grandparents when the Young family moved from Hopkinton to Whittingham, Vermont in 1801. Reunited with her siblings and parents in 1809, she later married a Methodist minister named John P. Greene in 1813. Both she and Greene would be baptized into the Church in April of 1832 and relocated to Kirtland, Ohio that same year. She experienced the mob violence that struck Latter-day Saint communities in Ohio and Missouri and would die in Commerce, Illinois.


John Jr. (1791-1870) had joined the Methodist Church in his early teens and was a devoted member until he converted to the restored Gospel taught among the Latter-day Saints. Baptized in October 1833, he later served in various ecclesiastical capacities like that of Stake Patriarch. His sister Susannah (1795-1852) married a builder and horticulturist named James Little, with whom Brigham briefly lived as an apprentice. After Little’s death in 1822, Susannah married William Stilson in 1829. They were baptized into the Church in June of 1832. She would be widowed once more before crossing the plains to the west in 1849 and passing away in Salt Lake City.


Joseph (1797-1881) had been a Methodist preacher for years before being baptized into the new faith of his siblings in April of 1832. He had been highly influential to Brigham’s youthful spiritual thought, but it was Brigham who later traveled to Kingston, Ontario to share the restored Gospel with Joseph while the latter was engaged in a Methodist preaching mission. His devotion to his new faith continued throughout the remainder of his life, joining the Zion’s Camp expedition in 1834, being called as the Church’s first president of the Seventy (a leading Church council of traveling ministers), and serving a preaching mission with Brigham to New England. He was present at Brigham’s passing in 1877.


Phinehas Howe (1799-1879) had struggled to find a religious identity for himself and drifted in direction before becoming a Methodist circuit rider as a young man. He eventually received a Book of Mormon from Samuel Smith (a younger brother of Joseph Smith) in 1830. Determined to find errors in the book, he studied it for a week and was impressed by its teachings. He lent it to his father, who later passed it on to his elder sister Fanny. After his conversion to the new faith, he served with devotion to its cause for the rest of his life, most notably as a guide for various groups of pioneers en route to the west. Upon his settlement in the Salt Lake Valley, he planted one of its first orchards and many new trees.


The two children born after Brigham were Louisa (1804-1833) and Lorenzo Dow (1807-1895). Louisa was baptized into the Church with her husband Joel Sanford in late 1832. She relocated to Missouri in 1833 and died in Independence that same year. Lorenzo was considered by his siblings as the most saintly and spiritual member of the family, but he demurred from joining any religious denomination until his baptism in April of 1832. He reported having a dream at the age of nine wherein Jesus Christ inquired after his family and particularly for Brigham. He was among the first company of pioneers to enter the Salt Lake Valley in 1847.


Suggested Readings

  • Leonard J. Arrington, Brigham Young: American Moses (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1985): 7-35.
  • Leonard J. Arrington and JoAnn Jolley, "The Faithful Young Family," Ensign (August 1980).

Q: Did Brigham Young Put People to Death?

A: Several factors contribute to the accusations of murder that have been levelled against Brigham Young both during his lifetime and long after his death. Such factors include his preaching style, the "Mormon Reformation" of the mid-1850s, and the events of the Mountain Meadows Massacre. The first has been fodder for misunderstanding if removed from proper context; the second was a tense period for Mormons in general and gave rise to many bitter and hostile accusations within and without the membership; the third involved a massacre that took years to fully understand and reconcile. Taken together, they have characterized Brigham Young in the public mind as a ruthless and conspiratorial tyrant.


    Young's preaching style was informal in manner and extemporaneous in execution, yet he always aimed for a general effect among his listeners with the words he used. He presented himself as a loving but crusty father over the people, given both to comfort and amuse as well as to rebuke them. He could be even-handed in recognizing the virtues of others (members, non-members, high officials, etc.), but he did not withhold blistering criticism or flashes of temper. His hearers largely understood this, and many enjoyed his speaking activities, for they recognized that he held genuine anxiety for them and spoke in a manner that they could understand. Only he could get away with saying some of the things he did, for he was deeply loved by his followers. His occasional use, however, of rough humor, harsh hyperbole and graphic imagery has been denounced by his critics and used with the intent to misrepresent his life’s work and to injure the Church over which he presided. This is no more apparent than with his activities and statements during the "Mormon Reformation" movement.


    Beginning in the mid-1850s, the so-called "Mormon Reformation" came about because of Church leaders' concerns that the general membership had grown complacent, less committed, and focused more upon materialism than establishing the Kingdom of God upon the earth. Brigham Young at first oversaw varied mild efforts of reform, but when these proved unfruitful, he inaugurated a campaign of stern and heated rhetoric to get through to his hearers. Among the devices that he and others utilized was the idea of "Blood Atonement," which was a theoretical concept designed to heighten one's awareness of personal sin. Hearkening to a theocratic society in the mold of the Old Testament, "Blood Atonement" stated that the voluntary shedding of one's own blood in the form of capital punishment would be required of any who had committed especially grievous sins like murder for the sake of completing the repentance process. Such a scenario was presented within inhibiting provisions that left it off for the conceivable future and not for practice in the present. The idea, above all, was for the salvation of individuals through their voluntary submission; taking the lives of others would have had no place in such a scenario.


    Although “Blood Atonement” was not then nor is it now a doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, much of the tension, fear and violence that occurred during the 1850s among Church members and non-members has been prevalently attributed to these teachings. This is largely due to the sensationalized newspapers and books that were produced throughout the century. Claims of dissenters and strangers being secretly put to death by a covert vigilante group known as the Danites or "Destroying Angels" on Young's orders were common and widely circulated by the printed word, although no evidence exists to prove these accusations. Although some particularly overzealous Latter-day Saints were liable for some of the mistreatment and violence that occurred against non-members and “apostates” in the Utah Territory at the time, it was widely popular to attribute all unsolved murders as the work of Blood Atonement by the Mormons, and by Brigham Young in particular.


    Rumors of secret murders and general misunderstanding of the “Blood Atonement” device only served to exacerbate an already tumultuous decade. Many during this period were leaving Utah and the Church for a variety of reasons, such as disappointment over living conditions, homesickness, disaffection, objections to polygamy, resentments and personal offense, and natural disasters like extreme drought and crop failure. On top of these concerns was an expected siege from the American federal government on the orders of President James Buchanan. It is this last anxiety that must be understood so that a tragedy like the Mountain Meadows Massacre can be grasped at all, and since both have contributed to allegations that Brigham Young directed the murder of others.


    Anticipating a hostile raid by the U.S. Army and wishing to store grain and livestock for the starvation it would cause among both Indians and Mormons, Brigham Young reversed his prior policy of forbidding Indian raids upon emigrant trains. With the prospect of trade resulting from such a decision, he discussed this with Paiute and Pahvant Ute leaders on September 1, 1857. Asked by a Church leader from southern Utah whether the passing Baker-Fancher party should be penalized, Young responded that they should be allowed to pass in safety. There is no evidence to suggest that he knew what would subsequently be done to the Baker-Fancher group. Calling Church members back to Utah from Canada, Europe, and the eastern United States, Young anticipated the abandonment of Mormon settlements and later adopted a proclamation of martial law with his counselors and other Church leaders. They specified with this proclamation that passing emigrant trains should be left alone. Within a few days, however, he received reports of bloodshed having occurred in southern Utah.


    On September 11, 1857, the California-bound Baker-Fancher emigrant train (consisting of approximately 120 men, women, and children) was attacked by Mormon militia members and southern Paiute Indians as they were camping at Mountain Meadows. Having heard rumors that the emigrants had threatened and harassed local Mormons as they travelled and with the Mormon expulsion from Missouri and Illinois still fresh in collective memory, Isaac Haight (major of the Second Battalion for the Iron County militia and an ecclesiastical leader in Cedar City, Utah) and John D. Lee (major of the Fourth Battalion) sought to incite local Paiutes against the Baker-Fancher party. The plan was opposed by community leaders when it was presented to them, but word did not reach Lee, who was already on his way to join the auxiliary Indian force at Mountain Meadows. The emigrant train was surrounded and attacked, and while they fought back against their attackers for a time, they were eventually lured out with promises of protected transport to Cedar City. All emigrants over the age of 8 were subsequently massacred.


    In reporting the events to Brigham Young and Apostle Wilford Woodruff in Salt Lake City, Lee claimed that the Indians were the sole participants of the massacre, and that he came afterward to help bury the dead. Similar reports from Chief Arapeen and Indian Agent George W. Armstrong came in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy, so Young initially dismissed the conflicting charges from Jacob Forney (Superintendent of Indian Affairs), several federal officials, and Californian non-Mormons who asserted that both Utah militiamen and the Paiutes were involved. Further conflicting reports came to Church leadership, and so beginning in the summer of 1858, Young and his associates began an extended investigation. Federal investigation also commenced with a prosecutor and jury that were more intent on proving Young responsible than the participants of the killings. No convictions were secured, and although Young and other prominent members of the Church offered to assist Governor Cumming with money and security for the investigation and trial, they were rebuffed by Utah Chief Justice Delana R. Eckels. The outbreak of the Civil War slowed the federal investigation in 1861, but Young repeatedly extended his offer to help them through the next few years.


    The gradual revelations about the massacre that came to Church leaders from southern Church members showed that Young had been misinformed about what had happened, and that some who took part in the killings had done so under false assumptions given to them by their local leaders. By October 1870, Brigham Young met with the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles to vote on what to do with Haight and Lee, both of whom had evidently lied to them about the events and their own involvement. Both were expelled from Church membership, and Lee would eventually be convicted and executed for murder in 1876 after two trials. Though others were as involved as Lee in the massacre, he was the only one to be charged and convicted for the crimes. Although Lee claimed in his posthumous book Mormonism Unveiled that Young had ordered the massacre to take place, there is no evidence to suggest that the latter was complicit with or an accessory to the events at Mountain Meadows.


    The Mountain Meadows Massacre, the tensions of the Utah War, the rhetoric of the Mormon Reformation, and Brigham Young's personal speaking style have all been used by writers and commentators (both past and present) to allege that Young fostered a culture of violence and fanaticism among Latter-day Saints in the 1850s. Despite these claims, there is nothing other than the polemical attacks of contemporary writers to support these conclusions. Young and his counselors did indeed utilize uncompromisingly harsh and strident rhetoric in their sermons during the Mormon Reformation era, but such gave way to a more relaxed attitude of seeking middle ground by the 1860s. Brigham Young, despite his personal frailties and excesses and his often misconstrued remarks, neither condoned nor attempted to conceal the violent actions of others when he learned of them, and even after the tensions of the Utah War had subsided he maintained his support for the service of justice unto the guilty by proper authority.


Suggested Readings:

  • Thomas G. Alexander, "Wilford Woodruff and the Mormon Reformation of 1855-57," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 15 (Summer 1992): 25-38.
  • Thomas G. Alexander, Brigham Young, the Quorum of the Twelve, and the Latter-day Saint Investigation of the Mountain Meadows Massacre, Leonard J. Arrington Mormon History Lecture Series, No. 12 (Logan, Utah: Utah State University Press, 2007)
  • Gustive O. Larson, "The Mormon Reformation," Utah Historical Quarterly 26 (January 1958): 45-63.
  • Ronald W. Walker, "Raining Pitchforks: Brigham Young as Preacher," Sunstone 8 (May-June 1983): 5-9.

Q: What were Brigham Young’s Favorite Pastimes?

A: Brigham Young viewed recreation and amusement as crucial elements to a healthy and happy life. Even with his many responsibilities in local, state, and ecclesiastical affairs, he made time to enjoy himself, particularly when in the company of members of his extensive family. He took loved ones to the Warm Sulphur Springs Bath House in Salt Lake City on winter weekends, to musical performances and territorial fairs, to picnics, to the theater, and to other events during holiday celebrations. His children enjoyed variety at home in the recreation room that he had built for them as well as in the house gymnasium and schoolhouse. He most enjoyed the nightly hour with his assembled family, during which they not only prayed together, but discussed the topics of the day and put on family programs, which could include poetry, music, and skits.


Among his personal pleasures were dancing, music, and the theater. As far back as his time in Nauvoo, he enjoyed attending and acting in theatrical productions and was a bass singer. By the time the Latter-day Saints had relocated to the intermountain west, he oversaw the construction of the Salt Lake Theater and functioned as one of its producers and managers for several years. He saw theater and music as important instruments in teaching truths and improving people. He reportedly favored plays by William Shakespeare, Edward Bulwer-Lytton, and Richard Sheridan. He was described by one of his daughters in being, even in his seventies, “as graceful on the dancing floor as any young man” (Susa Young Gates, “How Brigham Young Brought Up His 56 Children,” Physical Culture, Feb. 1925, 30), and would have most often participated in such dances as the pioneer quadrille, the cotillion, and the money-musk.


In his culinary habits he most preferred buttermilk and cornbread and his breakfasts often consisted of cornmeal mush with milk. Other frequent foods were johnnycake, codfish gravy, boiled eggs, herbal tea, apples, berries, and pigeon squabs as well as many other fruits and vegetables. One delicacy he enjoyed was fresh popped corn with cream and sugar and he maintained an affection throughout his life for maple syrup from his native Vermont. He never ate pork in his meals and strove to eat in moderation, often bypassing the customary lunch time. He sought different kinds of fruits and vegetables to plant in the family garden, and peach drying became a regular group activity when in season.


Suggested Readings:

  • Leonard J. Arrington, Brigham Young: American Moses (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1985): 288-293, 330-331.
  • Susa Young Gates, "How Brigham Young Brought Up His 56 Children," Physical Culture (Feb. 1925): 29-31, 138-144.
  • Susa Young Gates, The Life Story of Brigham Young (New York: Macmillan, 1930): 328-332.
  • Dean C. Jessee, "'A Man of God and a Good Kind Father': Brigham Young at Home," BYU Studies 40 (April 2001): 44-47.

Q: How Many Wives Did Brigham Young Have? How Many Children Did He Have?

A: Because Brigham Young was reluctant to discuss something as personal as his familial relationships during his lifetime, and because of the complex nature of the associations that he and other prominent Latter-day Saints fostered in this period of the Church’s history, it remains a point of debate when considering precisely how many wives Brigham Young married. The unions that he contracted throughout his ministry carried different purposes and connotations, whether theological, social, or economic. The understanding that 19th century Latter-day Saints held regarding their doctrines of eternal marriage must also be considered for a modern audience to fully grasp their thought and practice.


Joseph Smith’s 1831 revelations on marriage (not written down until 1843) spoke of ‘sealing’ a man and a woman together by the authority of God to create a family unit that could continue into the eternities. Within this doctrinal framework were explanations as to why some of the Biblical patriarchs practiced polygamy in their day and why such arrangements carried Divine sanction. In keeping with the concept of a restoration of all things, both from Old and New Testament times, plural marriage was considered another ancient practice with specific purposes and was considered valid only under express command from God. Viewed as an advanced requirement for the faithful in preparation for the afterlife, a select group of Smith’s associates were taught of these ideas and were subsequently sealed to additional wives. In tandem with the practice of plural marriage was a dynastic understanding of eternal bonds that caused many to ‘seal’ themselves to a prominent Church leader rather than to their deceased ancestors (the latter activity being the practice within the Church today). Their concern was for grafting an individual into a chain or ‘kingdom’ of priesthood that would extend through the ages, as opposed to binding one’s self to departed forebears whose acceptance of the Gospel in the Spirit World was uncertain.


Two types of sealings were typically administered within the Church: 1.) a traditional sealing of a man and a woman for time and eternity, and 2.) a proxy sealing of a woman to one man for time and another (i.e. a deceased spouse or Church leader) for eternity. Somewhat echoing the Levirate Law of Marriage from the Old Testament, in which a dead man’s brother should marry a widow and raise a family to the dead man (Deut. 25:5-10), the children produced from this second type of sealing could be counted as those of the deceased. In both forms of sealing, a connubial relationship could either be fostered or remain unconsummated. Sometimes a dead husband could be adopted to his wife’s second husband to keep him in the family chain. Such varied sealing and adoption arrangements were largely ameliorated by later Church president Wilford Woodruff in 1894, when he directed members to trace their own family lines and confine sealings among their departed dead, further broadening the Latter-day Saint conception of salvation.


In total, Brigham Young was sealed to approximately 55 women throughout his life, having 57 children with 16 of these women and adopting several more into the families. 30 of these sealings were of the non-conjugal variety, wherein the participants would neither live nor have children together. To the 16 women who bore him children, as well as many others, he provided homes, an inheritance, and support for their children from previous marriages. Young and his wives believed these sealings and marriage relations to be Divinely-sanctioned and pertinent to their eternal salvation. They did nonetheless view these sealings as flexible and consequently divorces were freely granted upon request in amicable terms.


Speaking for many in early Mormonism upon their initial hearing of the plural marriage teachings, Brigham Young reminisced that it "was the first time in my life that I had desired the grave" (Journal of Discourses, 26 vols. [Liverpool: F.D. Richards, 1855-86] 2:266). His and Mary Ann Angel's acceptance of Joseph Smith's revelation on plural marriage was a wrenching experience, but by the time Smith was murdered in 1844, Young had been sealed to four additional women. He continued to forge sealings with others as the Latter-day Saints concluded their stay in Nauvoo, crossed the plains to Utah, and lived as an established society in relative seclusion from the general populace of the United States. Although the increase of progeny and the establishment of a stable sealing line for eternity were evident concerns to these people, the regulation of community behavior and the support of widows, divorcees, lone converts and children were also elements of this extensive and somewhat ambiguous set of associations.



Miriam Works

(Approx. 18 years old)

Married 8 Oct. 1824. Died in 1832.

Two children.

Mary Ann Angel

(26 years old)

Married 10 Feb. 1834.

Six children.

Lucy Ann Decker Seeley

(20 years old)

Married June 1842.

Seven children, with one additional child adopted.

Augusta Adams Cobb

(41 years old)

Married 2 Nov. 1843.

Harriet Elizabeth Cook

(19 years old)

Married 2 Nov. 1843.

One child.

Clarissa Caroline Decker

(16 years old)

Married 8 May 1844.

Five children.

Emily Dow Partridge (20 years old)

Sealed to Joseph Smith, proxy marriage to Brigham Young Sept. 1844.

Seven children.

Clarissa Ross

(30 years old)

Married 10 Sept. 1844.

Four children.

Louisa Beaman (29 years old)

Sealed to Joseph Smith, proxy marriage to Brigham Young 19 Sept. 1844.

Five children.

Eliza R. Snow

(40 years old)

Sealed to Joseph Smith, proxy marriage to Brigham Young 3 Oct. 1844.

Elizabeth Fairchild

(16 years old)

Married 3 Oct. 1844,

divorced in 1855 and married another.

Clarissa Blake

(48 years old)

Married 8 Oct. 1844.

Rebecca Holman

(20 years old)

Married 9 Oct. 1844.

Diana Chase

(17 years old)

Married 10 Oct. 1844, divorced and married another in 1849.

Susannah Snively

(29 years old)

Married 31 Oct. 1844.

One adopted child.

Olive Gray Frost

(28 years old)

Sealed to Joseph Smith, proxy marriage to Brigham Young 7 Nov. 1844.

Mary Ann Clark

(29 years old)

Married 15 Jan. 1845, divorced in 1851.

Margaret Pierce

(22 years old)

Sealed to Morris Whitesides (deceased), proxy marriage to Brigham Young 16 Jan. 1845.

One child.

Mary Pierce

(24 years old)

Married 16 Jan. 1845.

Emmeline Free

(19 years old)

Married 30 April 1845.

Ten children.

Mary Elizabeth Rollins

(27 years old)

Sealed to Joseph Smith and married to non-member Adam Lightner. Married Brigham Young 22 May 1845.

Margaret Alley

(21 years old)

Married 14 Jan. 1846.

Two children.

Olive Andrews

(28 years old)

Married 15 Jan. 1846.

Emily Haws

(23 years old)

Married 15 Jan. 1846.

Martha Bowker

(24 years old)

Married 21 Jan. 1846.

One adopted child.

Ellen Rockwood

(17 years old)

Married 21 Jan. 1846.

Jemima Angel

(43 years old)

Married 28 Jan. 1846.

Abigail Marks

(65 years old)

Married 28 Jan. 1846.

Phebe Morton

(70 years old)

Married 28 Jan. 1846.

Cynthia Porter

(63 years old)

Married 28 Jan. 1846.

Mary Eliza Nelson

(34 years old)

Sealed to John P. Greene (deceased), married Brigham Young 31 Jan. 1846. They divorce in 1850 and she marries another.

Rhoda Richards

(62 years old)

Married 31 Jan. 1846.

Zina Huntington

(25 years old)

Sealed to Joseph Smith and married to Henry Jacobs; proxy marriage to Brigham Young 2 Feb. 1846.

One child.

Amy Cecilia Cooper

(42 years old)

Married 3 Feb. 1846.

Mary Ellen de la Montague

(43 years old)

Married 3 Feb. 1846 and divorced on 13 Dec. 1846. She returns to her first husband.

Julia Foster

(35 years old)

Married 3 Feb. 1846.

Abigail Harback

(56 years old)

Married 3 Feb. 1846.

Mary Ann Turley

(19 years old)

Married 3 Feb. 1846. Divorced in 1851 and married another.

Naamah Carter

(25 years old)

Married 6 Feb. 1846.

Nancy Cressy

(66 years old)

Married 6 Feb. 1846.

Jane Terry

(28 years old)

Married 10 Feb. 1847 by request from her deathbed.

Lucy Bigelow

(16 years old)

Married 20 Mar. 1847.

Three children.

Mary Jane Bigelow

(19 years old)

Married 20 Mar. 1847. Divorced in 1851 and married another.

Sarah Malin

(43 years old)

Married 18 Apr. 1848.

Eliza Burgess

(25 years old)

Married 3 Oct. 1852.

One child.

Mary Oldfield

(59 years old)

Married 16 Dec. 1852.

Eliza Babcock

(25 years old)

Married prior to 1853 and later divorced in 1853.

Catherine Reese

(51 years old)

Married 10 Jun. 1855.

Harriet Barney

(26 years old)

Married 14 Mar. 1856.

One child.

Amelia Folsom

(25 years old)

Married 24 Jan. 1863.

Mary Van Cott

(21 years old)

Married 8 Jan. 1865.

One child.

Ann Eliza Webb

(24 years old)

Married 7 Apr. 1868, civil divorce in 1873. Excommunicated from the Church 10 Oct. 1874.

Elizabeth Jones

(55 years old)

Married 3 Jul. 1869.

Lydia Farnsworth

(62 years old)

Sealed 8 May 1870 while remaining married to Elijah Mayhew.

Hannah Tapfield

(65 years old)

Sealed for eternity to Brigham Young 8 Dec. 1872 while married to Thomas King.













Suggested Readings:

  • Leonard J. Arrington, Brigham Young: American Moses (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1985): 420-21.
  • Kathryn M. Daynes, More Wives Than One: Transformation of the Mormon Marriage System, 1840-1910 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2001).
  • Gordon Irving, "The Law of Adoption: One Phase of the Development of the Mormon Concept of Salvation, 1830-1900," BYU Studies 14 (Spring 1974): 291-314
  • Dean C. Jessee, "'A Man of God and a Good Kind Father': Brigham Young at Home," BYU Studies 40 (April 2001): 23-53.
  • Jeffery Ogden Johnson, "Determining and Defining 'Wife': The Brigham Young Households," Dialogue 20 (Fall 1987): 57-70.
  • "Plural Marriage and Families in Early Utah," The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,

Q: How Did Brigham Young View and Impact the Environment?

A: Brigham Young presided over the Church during a period of significant environmental change, not only in terms of the physical relocation involved for much of the membership, but also for the effect that the Latter-day Saints had upon their surroundings by settling in the intermountain west. Elaborating on the teachings of his successor Joseph Smith, Young taught that the earth was the creation of the Lord and that He alone possessed it. Mortal men and women could not claim private ownership of land but could at best manage it as stewards. Flora and fauna were living entities with souls that would, with the rest of creation, find paradisiacal renewal in the Millennium following the second coming of Jesus Christ. To prepare for such a time, Young and his colleagues taught, societies that had been entrusted with the fullness of the Gospel and its covenants (like the Latter-day Saints) were duty-bound to build the kingdom of God on earth and to prepare the earth as a beautified abode for exalted beings. Only when they learned to live in harmony with all elements of the natural world (including one another) could they receive the earth as an inheritance from the hand of the Lord Himself.


Such concepts were preached to encourage an active responsibility to work the land and to treat living things with kindness. Since the earth had acquired a fallen nature along with mortal beings, the Latter-day Saints did not view their environment as perfect, but neither did they generally view it with fear and disdain. Largely communitarian in their operations, they opposed the waste or exhaustion of natural resources, and tended to view those who neglected or misused such resources as timber, water and farmland as unfit stewards who should make way for those who would manage resources more wisely. Even so, many Latter-day Saints – whether in ignorance of their new ecosystem or through their personal desire for wealth – engaged in harmful land-use in a variety of ways which contributed to eventual over-grazing and grass depletion, over-irrigation and the loss of water resources, under-fertilization and soil erosion, air pollution through smelters, the over-cutting of local timber and the overhunting of animals they deemed destructive. Through their diverting of water, numerous rivers and natural springs disappeared, and through their clearing of fish in Utah Lake, they eventually eliminated some species and deprived the Native Americans from an established food source.


The intermountain west had already experienced significant alterations prior to the settlement of the Latter-day Saints due to periodic environmental shifts, overland travel of individuals and the concurrent habitation of Native Americans. When the Latter-day Saints arrived in the valleys, they altered the landscape even further with adobe houses and small dams, large blocks and gardens, ornamental trees lining walkways and irrigation ditches running down both sides of their wide streets. Additionally, they affected the plant and animal life by introducing new varieties into the area. Brigham Young encouraged a program of importing great numbers of foreign plants and animals into the valley along with preserving the native species already living there. This had the purpose of multiplying and replenishing the earth through diversification, but not all the species of plant had their desired effect, as some of them supplanted native vegetation and proved to be health and fire risks. Tragically on the human level, the Latter-day Saints also unintentionally brought with them diseases that sickened and killed many of the Native Americans who were also occupying the area.


Even with the complicated environmental legacy of the Latter-day Saints during his lifetime, Brigham Young himself evidently believed in the doctrinal concepts that were taught to him from Joseph Smith. One of his daughters reported that in their extensive family, they “were taught never to kill except where necessary for food only,” to love animals and to never let them suffer in traps. “He could never understand the pleasure of killing helpless creatures for the so-called ‘sport’ it afforded” (Susa Young Gates and Leah D. Widtsoe, The Life Story of Brigham Young [New York: Macmillan, 1930]: 263.) Even on the trail west, he chided members of the pioneer company for killing more animals than they could eat (see Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 1833-1898, 10 vols. Scott G. Kenney, ed. [Midvale, UT: Signature Books, 1983-85.] 3:178).


While many Latter-day Saints entered into mining ventures of varying kinds with his assent, Brigham Young made a point to decry the extractive search for gold. “Instead of hunting gold,” he said, “we ought to pray the Lord to hide it up. Gold is not wealth, wealth consists in the multiplication of the necessaries and comforts of life. Instead of hunting gold, go and raise wheat, barley, oats, get your bread and make gardens and orchards and raise vegetables and fruits that you may have something to sustain yourselves and something to give to the poor and the needy” (Journal History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 9 April 1868. See also The Deseret Evening News [9 April 1868]: 2). As the Transcontinental Railroad was completed, greater numbers of people inhabited the Utah region, and together with many Latter-day Saints, they increased in mining and merchandising activities, all of which took a great toll upon the local environment.


While in many respects Brigham Young was a man of his time, he nevertheless maintained adherence to the millennial principles that the restored Gospel contained regarding the earth and all living things. Having left the swampy and disease-ridden climate of Nauvoo, Illinois, the Latter-day Saints were impressed with the atmospheric clarity of the Salt Lake valley as well as its lake breezes, warm springs, and self-contained basin. “You are commencing anew,” Young once reminded them, “The soil, the air, the water are all pure and healthy. Do not suffer them to become polluted with wickedness” (Journal of Discourses, 26 vols. [Liverpool: F.D. Richards, 1855-86] 8:79). Although the activities of the Latter-day Saints produced widely mixed consequences for the environment and those already inhabiting it, Brigham Young sought to live as a steward in the best manner that he knew how and encouraged others to do likewise. That he and those who followed him did not entirely live up to their ideals should neither surprise nor excuse us today, but rather present examples from which to learn in today’s world, for better or for worse.


Suggested Readings:

  • Thomas G. Alexander, "Stewardship and Enterprise: The LDS Church and the Wasatch Oasis Movement, 1847-1930," in George B. Handley, Terry B. Ball, and Steven L. Peck, eds. Stewardship and Creation: LDS Perspectives on the Environment (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, 2006): 15-32.
  • Terry B. Ball and Jack D. Brotherson, "Environmental Lessons from Our Pioneer Heritage," BYU Studies 38, vol. 3 (1999): 63-82.
  • Jared Farmer, On Zion's Mount: Mormons, Indians, and the American Landscape (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2008): 19-53.
  • Hugh Nibley, "Brigham Young on the Environment," in Don Norton and Shirley S. Ricks, eds. Brother Brigham Challenges the Saints (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book/Provo, UT: FARMS, 1994): 23-54.
  • Jeanne Kay and Craig J. Brown, "Mormon Beliefs About Land and Natural Resources, 1847-1877," Journal of Historical Geography 11, vol. 3 (1985): 253-267.

Q: What Were Brigham Young’s Ideas and Activities regarding Politics?

A: Brigham Young’s views of government occasionally shifted throughout his life, but at the core of his thought were the concepts of man and God as taught by the restored Gospel of Jesus Christ. Human beings, as eternal intelligences begotten into male and female spirits by Heavenly Parents with the intent of future exaltation, developed best in conditions of free will. He rejected the notion of Original Sin, believing instead that man was naturally good but liable to the ignorance, wickedness and despair characteristic of Satan’s dominion in the mortal world. He recognized the real influences of tradition, environment, and other circumstances that could restrict or redirect a person’s agency but maintained that most of one’s choices and actions were in the hands of the individual alone. Not even the occasional intervention of God in human lives could control or annul a person’s agency. Even so, he recognized the importance of law in human affairs, particularly when one person’s rights undermined those of another. “Men should not be permitted to do as they please in all things,” he once said, “for there are rules regulating all good societies” (Journal of Discourses, 26 vols. [Liverpool: F.D. Richards, 1855-86] 4:39).


Young believed in a cosmic system of laws that operated within all universes and within which all beings, both heavenly and mortal, were to adhere if they sought to grow and develop. The foremost concepts of these laws included the liberty of one’s conscience and the freedom of worship. To him, the most complete embodiment of these universal laws was found in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but he also recognized that elements of these truths could be found to a smaller degree in various other religions and philosophies, as well as in civil documents like the United States Constitution. For all his devotion to the concepts of personal agency, he disregarded the frontier individualism and Social Darwinism of the nineteenth century, believing firmly in the brotherhood of man and of their eternal bonds to society. Indeed, he believed that governments were Divinely ordained and were to aid in the happiness of its citizens, doing the greatest good for the greatest number.


To Brigham Young, the Kingdom of God was the only true and legitimate form of government for the earth, but since Adamic times, human government had degenerated into factions and parties. Whether or not they used their power for good, Young saw all governments as having derived their authority – as opaque and muddled in form as it was – with the permission of God. If such governments chose evil and oppressed others, they would neither be changed nor torn down until such choices had reached a fullness. For Young, governments were to be primarily concerned with the public welfare, and whenever officials ignored the public welfare, they were to be replaced. He rejected the idea of a spoils system and envisioned an arrangement by which public-minded persons served without pay for all people regardless of sect or party. He preferred laws to be simple, for citizens to behave well above the limits of the legal frame, and for litigation to be kept to a minimum, wary as he was of the habits and practices of lawyers.


Coming from a nineteenth century Yankee background and believing that Divine influences aided in the formation of his country of birth, Young was of the opinion that classical republicanism – and the United States in particular – had potential in drawing closest to the ideal of government. However, he neither believed his government nor its founding documents to be perfect, developed as they were by human beings. “The signers of the Declaration of Independence and the framers of the Constitution were inspired from on high to do that work,” he taught, “But was that which was given to them perfect, not admitting of any addition whatever? No, for if men know anything, they must know that the Almighty has never yet found a man in mortality that was capable, at the first intimation, at the first impulse, to receive anything in a state of entire perfection. They [the founders of the United States] laid the foundation, and it was for after generations to rear the superstructure upon it. It is a progressive – a gradual work” (Journal of Discourses 7:14). Conducive to his view of continual improvement, he believed that time and circumstances warranted governmental changes; indeed, in his mind, the future yet held in store a gradual rejuvenation of earthly governments back into the heavenly ideal of the Kingdom of God.


Whether in his capacities as President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or as a Territorial Governor, Brigham Young saw little difference between the roles of church and state, since they shared coinciding dominions. In both his political views and practices, he evinced less partisanship to a particular party than a devotion to the utopian vision of the restored Gospel. Every concern, whether social, economic, or political, was for him a religious principle and properly contained within the Gospel. Spiritual and temporal things were one and the same, and all of which were to be geared to the establishment of a heavenly society in incremental steps during mortal life and realized in perfection through Jesus Christ’s oversight during the Millennium. He disliked theorizing and was given more to the pragmatic application of his beliefs and ideas under both the civil and ecclesiastical positions he held, which contributed much to the decades of tension between the Latter-day Saints and the non-member “Gentiles” back east. He sought to use as much influence as he could in any direction, utilizing elders and lobbyists in both Democratic as well as Whig circles for state and Church interests.


Beginning with their arrival in the Salt Lake valley, Young and fellow Church members established first a theocratic government (with many state functions being handled through the auspices of the Church), and later a constitutional government for a State of Deseret. In both organizational forms, he oversaw the construction of public works projects (through direct planning and public utility franchises); the implementation of make-work welfare projects; the establishment of courts and cities; the regulation of public industries such as slaughterhouses, sawmills, and gristmills, and the control of community resources such as timber and streams. When the state of Deseret was reconfigured as the Territory of Utah by the United States government, Brigham Young was appointed as its first Governor. During his two terms in office, he supervised the establishment of a state university, petitioned for a transcontinental railroad, maintained delicate Native American relations, contended with famine, weakened the Mexican slave trade of Native Americans, and took a principal role in the Mormon-federal conflict of the “Utah War.”


He made little attempt to distinguish between his activities as a Territorial Governor and a Church President and often refrained from formalities in conducting both sets of affairs, including the expression of his beliefs and opinions over various issues in the context of his annual messages and legislative deliberations. This generally ambiguous and informal arrangement often invited suspicion and misunderstanding among federal appointees to the area, some of whom got along well with Young while others experienced strained relations at best. Much friction arose over issues such as censuses and appropriations, and Young chafed at the oversight inherent in Utah’s territorial status. At odds with Governor Young and disdainful of such Latter-day Saint practices as polygamy, several disgruntled federal officers later abandoned their posts and returned to Washington with reports of sedition against the Mormons. Before long, polygamy and the Mormons became national issues. Responding to these prolonged public controversies, Brigham Young, as was his custom, alternated between equanimity and blustering hyperbole. Although Young’s successor to the Governorship, Alfred Cumming, refuted the charges made against the Latter-day Saints, Mormon-federal tensions continued for decades, rising and falling from administration to administration.


Although he was no longer Governor, Brigham Young continued to exert considerable influence in the region. In a symbolic action hearkening back to Joseph Smith’s theo-democratic Council of Fifty, the Territorial Legislature drafted a new constitution for a future State of Deseret, in anticipation of a time when the coming Kingdom of God would utilize an appointed body of representatives and officials. Brigham Young was routinely voted in as an official of this envisioned State of Deseret, although he never actually governed in such a capacity. More tangible were his activities as Church President, wherein lay religious, economic, and social concerns that remained his focus to the end of his life. He continued to push for a transcontinental railroad, for Church members to turn more to home manufactures, and for the Latter-day Saints to make actual strides toward their professed communitarian ideal in his cooperative and United Order initiatives.


Believing that the earth and its properties were the Lord’s and that mankind could at best be stewards of such resources and goods, Young decried speculation and monopoly and valued social unity and group welfare as the primary characteristics of a society worthy to receive the Kingdom of God. While he occasionally expressed misgivings about issuing money to the able-bodied poor, he was also repulsed by the hoarding and competition of the rich. For him, the rich and poor alike were to be engaged in productive activity for the group welfare, each growing into stable individuals in the process. It was his conviction that economic inequalities had to be vanquished before the Latter-day Saints could legitimately fulfill their covenantal obligations of building a Zion people. “The earth is here, and the fullness thereof is here,” he once said, “It was made for man; and one man was not made to trample his fellowman under his feet, and enjoy all his heart desires, while the thousands suffer. We will take a moral view, a political view, and we see the inequality that exists in the human family. … The Latter-day Saints will never accomplish their mission until this inequality shall cease on the earth” (Journal of Discourses 19:46, 47).


Whether regarding economic affairs, aesthetic tastes, cultural enjoyments, civic operations, or religious practices, Brigham Young’s driving motivation was to lead his people closer to the ideal that the restored Gospel indicated when speaking of the Kingdom of God. Such a Kingdom, as Young taught, was the future world-state which would peacefully and gradually absorb nations and peoples through the leadership of Jesus Christ, beginning in a rudimentary state with the Church and expanding worldwide. Although Divine law would be accepted by all members of this Kingdom, not all would be of the same faith or religious background, and neither violence nor oppression would be allowed to continue among them. Such a state of affairs – the “government and plan of society possessed by holy beings in heaven” – would to Brigham Young’s view civilize mankind at long last (Journal of Discourses 8:7).


Summarizing Brigham Young’s political career and behavior, J. Keith Melville once wrote the following:

Inconsistent attitudes toward the role of the church and the state appear in Brigham Young’s thought possibly because he was not concerned with definitions. He did not trouble himself with the incompatibility of a church which by his own statements is volitional in nature; and a state which by definition and also by his own attitudes has a monopoly of legalized violence, or sovereignty; and the Kingdom of God, which appears to contain within it the volitional qualities of the church, but the governing powers of the state. Political developments in the Mormon domain resulted not from theory, but pragmatically from need. Practical requirements were accomplished in the most effective and expeditious manner possible. If the Church was best suited to act in a political capacity, then well and good, Brigham Young favored it.

The Kingdom of God, on the other hand, was a utopia to be fully realized in the future. It was considered quite carefully and to a greater extent theoretically. It was to be the most perfect form of government on earth, a pure theocracy. Brigham Young’s notions on the Kingdom suggests that it was to be quite different than a church or state alone. It was to be a blend of church and state, but the coercive characteristics of the state were to give way to the nonviolent features of the gospel. And as Paul distinguished between the law and the spirit in his letter to the Galatians, the Kingdom was to be an entirely new society to replace the decadent nation-states. (“Theory and Practice of Church and State During the Brigham Young Era,” BYU Studies 3 [Autumn 1960]: 55.)

Such was Brigham Young’s guiding star throughout his life, particularly in respect to his political thought and activities.


Suggested Readings:

  • Leonard J. Arrington, Brigham Young: American Moses (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1985): 223-249.
  • James Keith Melville, The Political Ideas of Brigham Young (PhD dissertation, University of Utah, 1956).
  • James Keith Melville, "Theory and Practice of Church and State During the Brigham Young Era," BYU Studies 3 (Autumn 1960): 33-55.

Q: What Did Brigham Young Believe about Adam’s Relationship to God?

A: At varied times during his ministry, Brigham Young taught that Adam, the first man as described in the book of Genesis, was God, the father of the spirits of mankind and the parent of their physical bodies. This concept has been alternatively treated by critics and defenders alike as speculative theory, human error, accepted doctrine, heretical divergence, and theological mystery. Because Young’s comments on the subject conflicted with official Church doctrine both before and after his administration, lingering controversy has ensued over his intended meaning. Young’s claims to Divine inspiration and the Church’s treatment of such teachings have subsequently incurred lingering criticism.


Among the Church leadership and laity of Brigham’s day, there were some who attempted to integrate his teachings on Adam into mainstream belief and doctrine, while others simply set them aside. While Young occasionally attributed his ideas to his predecessor Joseph Smith, none of his successors to the Church presidency continued these concepts or advocated for their implementation into general Church practice. When Young oversaw the first standardization of the Church’s temple ceremonies into a written format prior to his death in 1877, his teachings on Adam were also included. This element of the Church’s temple rites was infrequently presented in the following decades before they were removed altogether at the beginning of the twentieth century. The “Adam-God” theory has since been publicly repudiated on several occasions by Church leadership.


In seeking to understand Young’s controversial statements, several explanations have been advanced. Some have interpreted him to mean that Adam was merely the presiding priesthood holder of the human family, and since Latter-day Saints believe that priesthood is God’s power and authority bestowed upon man - both to administer in His Church and Kingdom and to potentially participate in other eternal prerogatives – Adam was in this sense the Divine Father to his mortal posterity. Some have wondered whether scribal limitations and less-than-adequate transcripts might be factors in the confusion over Young’s reported sayings. Others have queried whether Young was purposefully veiling his meaning before his listeners and using “Adam” as a specific title with theological connotations. Still others assert that since Church doctrine states even prophets are fallible human beings, Brigham Young was simply mistaken regarding Adam’s full nature. Because Brigham Young never brought his thoughts into harmony with official doctrine or developed them for further clarity, we may never know precisely what he intended regarding his assertions about Adam.


Suggested Readings:

Q: Where Did Brigham Young Die and What was the Cause?

A: Having led the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as its president for thirty years, Brigham Young enjoyed relatively good health for most of his life, but at the age of seventy-six and in decline, he died at his home on August 29, 1877 in Salt Lake City, Utah. His death was due to complications related to a rupture in the appendix. Still unknown within the nineteenth-century medical world and not officially recognized until 1886, Young’s appendicitis was listed under the broad term of “cholera morbus,” which encompassed several unrelated diseases. Due to the vagueness of such an outdated term, several alternative proposals have subsequently been advanced to explain what could have caused Young’s passing, such as a secondary kidney infection and even arsenic poisoning. The symptoms he experienced and the length of his illness far more likely point to what his own doctor judged to be appendicitis in hindsight.


Suggested Readings:

  • Lester E. Bush, Jr. "Brigham Young in Life and Death: A Medical Overview," Journal of Mormon History 5 (1978): 79-103.