Brigham Young: Pioneer Prophet

Brigham Young: Pioneer Prophet

by John G. Turner


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Brigham Young was a rough-hewn craftsman from New York whose impoverished and obscure life was electrified by the Mormon faith. He trudged around the United States and England to gain converts for Mormonism, spoke in spiritual tongues, married more than fifty women, and eventually transformed a barren desert into his vision of the Kingdom of God. While previous accounts of his life have been distorted by hagiography or polemical exposé, John Turner provides a fully realized portrait of a colossal figure in American religion, politics, and westward expansion.

After the 1844 murder of Mormon founder Joseph Smith, Young gathered those Latter-day Saints who would follow him and led them over the Rocky Mountains. In Utah, he styled himself after the patriarchs, judges, and prophets of ancient Israel. As charismatic as he was autocratic, he was viewed by his followers as an indispensable protector and by his opponents as a theocratic, treasonous heretic.

Under his fiery tutelage, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints defended plural marriage, restricted the place of African Americans within the church, fought the U.S. Army in 1857, and obstructed federal efforts to prosecute perpetrators of the Mountain Meadows Massacre. At the same time, Young's tenacity and faith brought tens of thousands of Mormons to the American West, imbued their everyday lives with sacred purpose, and sustained his church against adversity. Turner reveals the complexity of this spiritual prophet, whose commitment made a deep imprint on his church and the American Mountain West.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780674416857
Publisher: Harvard
Publication date: 10/06/2014
Pages: 512
Sales rank: 291,922
Product dimensions: 8.80(w) x 5.60(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

John G. Turner is Associate Professor of Religious Studies at George Mason University.

Read an Excerpt

From Chapter Five: Prophets and Pretenders

On 25 January 1846, Young adopted eight couples, including loyal followers Albert Rockwood, John D. Lee, and George Grant. As with Young’s own children, they were sealed to Miriam Works, with Mary Ann again serving as a ritual proxy. “[T]he Spirit of allmighty god attended the administration & filled our hearts to overflowing,” Young described the emotions of the day, “& many wept for joy that were adopted into my Family.” “Brigham kissed all his children,” recorded Thomas Bullock. George Laub, who alongside his wife was sealed to John D. Lee, recorded that Lee promised “to doo unto them as he would unto his own children,” and adopted children covenanted “to do all the good for his upbuilding and happyness.” Nearly two weeks later, several additional sons and daughters joined Young’s family as adopted children. In a departure from the customary practice of having adopted children sealed to a man’s first wife, Augusta Adams Young stood next to her husband as the adoptive mother, perhaps as a sign of Young’s favor following their resealing.

Amid the feverish pace of ritual activity, many church members—perhaps even including Brigham Young—probably did not understand the implications of the sealings and adoptions at the temple altar. It was a liminal time for Latter-day Saint family relations, as Smith’s plural marriage revelation and the temple rituals disregarded both Protestant convention and civil marriages. The sealings reshaped Mormon families and connected them in new ways. In one case, Young ritually adopted Robert and Hannah Pierce, parents of his plural wives Margaret and Mary Pierce. His parents-in-law became his spiritual children. In some instances, a sense of impermanence and flexibility remained, as parties continued to refashion their family connections. James and Mary Woodward—she was the passenger in Young’s omnibus carriage the night it foundered on a Nauvoo bridge—were both sealed to Brigham Young as his adopted children in early February. Two days after Mary became Young’s adopted daughter, she married her spiritual father. Sometime after she moved to Nauvoo with her husband, Mary had complained in a letter to Young that James “abused” her and asked Young for her “release from worse than death.” Hearing whispers of Nauvoo polygamy, she hoped Young would make her his wife. Perhaps aware of Mary’s desire, James may have requested the ritual adoption as a way of avoiding losing his wife. During the press of temple work, ,Young had little time to reflect on the future consequences of the ceremonies. He and his increasingly unwieldy family would have to wait to work out exactly how the temple sealings would shape their earthly futures.

As the washings, anointings, and sealings proceeded, Young and top church leaders decided to leave Nauvoo sooner than planned, having received false advice from Governor Ford that the federal government would intervene to arrest church leaders on the counterfeiting charges and prevent the Mormons from crossing the Rocky Mountains. Simultaneously, Young heard rumors that Ford intended to declare martial law under “mob militia” led by General Hardin, who, Young surmised, “will no doubt renew those writs that had been isued for the 12 & others & thereby commence harrassing us again.” Ford did not plan to arrest Young or other church leaders, but he did want to hasten the departure of the Mormons and, with them, his biggest political headache. Young, though, feared arrest for understandable reasons. Given ongoing mob activity in Hancock County, he expected the mob to kill him if he was arrested. By February 2, Young grew desperate in his anxiety to abandon the City of Joseph. “It is my opinion,” he told a clerk, “that if we are here 10 days that our way will be Hedged up ..we want to be 500 miles from here before they are aware of our move.”

Table of Contents

Preface vii

Prologue 1

1 A New Creature 7

2 The Tongues of Angels 29

3 Acts of the Apostles 55

4 New and Everlasting Covenant 80

5 Prophets and Pretenders 110

6 Word and Will 144

7 A New Era of Things 175

8 One Family 207

9 Go Ahead 230

10 The Whirlwind 265

11 Let Him Alone 301

12 The Monster in the Vale 338

13 The Soul and Mainspring of the West 372

Epilogue 408

Notes 415

Acknowledgments 487

Index 490

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