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Brigham Young (June 1, 1801 ‚Äď August 29, 1877) was an American leader in the Latter Day Saint movement and a settler of the western United States. He was the president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) from 1847 until his death and was the founder of Salt Lake Citymarker and the first governor of Utah Territory, United Statesmarker. Brigham Young Universitymarker was named in his honor.

Young had a variety of nicknames, among the most popular being "American Moses," (alternatively the "Modern Moses" or the "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 also dubbed the "Lion of the Lord" for his bold personality, and was commonly called "Brother Brigham" by Latter-day Saints. However, Young's legacy is controversial, as he is perhaps best known outside of Mormon circles as the most prominent Mormon polygamist. He is also largely credited by historians for revoking the priesthood and the right to temple ordinances from black members of the church. Additionally, concerns persist about his role in the Utah War against the United States government and in the Mountain Meadows massacre.

Early life until Joseph Smith's successor

Young was born to a farming family in Whitingham, Vermontmarker and worked as a traveling carpenter and blacksmith, among other trades. Young first married in 1824 to Miriam Angeline Works. Though he had converted to the Methodist faith in 1823, Young was drawn to Mormonism after reading the Book of Mormon shortly after its publication in 1830. He officially joined the new church in 1832 and traveled to Upper Canada as a missionary. After his first wife died in 1832, Young joined many Mormons in establishing a community in Kirtlandmarker, Ohiomarker.

While in jail awaiting trial for alleged treason charges, Joseph Smith, president of the church, was killed by an armed mob in 1844. 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, Illinoismarker, 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 Apostles were "equal in authority and power" to the First Presidency, so Young claimed that the leadership of the church fell to the Twelve Apostles. Many of Young's followers would later reminisce that while Young spoke to the congregation, he looked or sounded similar to Joseph Smith, to which they attributed the power of God. For many in attendance at this meeting, this occurrence was accepted as a sign Young was to lead the church as President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Young was ordained President of the Church in December 1847, more than two and a half years after Smith's death. Rigdon became the president of a separate church organization based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvaniamarker and other potential successors emerged to lead what became other denominations of the movement...

Governor of Utah Territory

As colonizer and founder of Salt Lake Citymarker, Young was appointed the territory's first governor and superintendent of Indian affairs by President Millard Fillmore. During his time as governor, Young directed the establishment of settlements throughout Utah, Idaho, Arizona, Nevada, and parts of southern Colorado and northern Mexico. Under his direction the pioneers built roads and bridges, forts, irrigation projects, and established public welfare, organized a militia, and pacified the Native Americans. Young organized the first legislature and established Fillmore as the territory's first capital. In 1856 he organized an efficient mail service. In 1858 he stepped down to his successor Alfred Cumming.

Church Presidency

Initial actions as church president

After three years of leading the church as the President of the Quorum of the Twelve, in 1847 Young reorganized a new First Presidency and was declared president of the church on December 27, 1847. Repeated conflict led Young to relocate his group of Latter-day Saints to a territory in what is now Utahmarker, then part of Mexicomarker. Young organized the journey that would take the faithful to Winter Quarters, Nebraska, in 1846 , then to the Salt Lake Valley. Young arrived in the Salt Lake Valley on July 24, 1847, a date now recognized as Pioneer Day in Utah.


The LDS church under Brigham Young is perhaps best known for its practice of polygamy. Though most historians think that polygamy among Latter Day Saints was taught and practiced by Joseph Smith, Young's predecessor, many adherents to other Latter Day Saint denominations such as the Community of Christ believe that polygamy in the Mormon church originated under Brigham Young. The church's first official statement on the subject was given by Brigham Young in 1853 after the church had arrived in Utah. Young's words came nine years after the purported original revelation by Joseph Smith, and five years after the Mormon Exodus to Utahmarker following Smith's death in Illinoismarker.

Family life

Young was perhaps the most famous polygamist of the early American church, marrying a total of 55 wives, 54 of them after becoming a Latter Day Saint. He 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 due to differences in what observers have considered to be a "wife". There were 55 women that Young was sealed to during his lifetime. While the majority of the sealings were "for eternity", some were "for time only". However, it is suspected that not all of the 55 marriages were conjugal, and Young did not live with a number of his wives or publicly hold them out as wives, which has led to confusion on numbering. This is in part due to the complexity of how wives were identified at the time. If a woman was married and her husband died, she was often remarried to someone else in proxy of her former husband so that all of the children she should have became her former husband's children. Furthermore, for a time women were having themselves sealed to men without a man even knowing about it.

Of his 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 are unknown.

In 1856, Young built the Lion Housemarker to accommodate his sizable family. This building remains a Salt Lake City landmark, together with the Beehive Housemarker, another Brigham 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, with the status of four unknown. 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.

Grave marker of Brigham Young.

Circumstances leading to banning the priesthood from black members

Brigham Young is generally credited with having been responsible for revoking the priesthood and temple blessings from black members of the LDS Church, who had been treated equally in this respect under Joseph Smith's presidency

During the Mormon flight from Illinois towards Utah in 1847, Brigham Young received a letter informing him of an inter-racial marriage by the son of a prominent black member, Walker Lewis. The letter was written by William Ivers Appleby, a Mormon elder, who desired to know if interracial marriage was an acceptable practice. Appleby sent the letter to Young at Winter Quarters, Nebraska, but Young was actually in Utah, and therefore did not receive Appleby's missive until December 1, 1847, when he returned to Winter Quarters. Quite coincidentally, Appleby himself arrived in Winter Quarters on December 2. Young read Appleby's letter and then had him personally report to Young and the eight apostles who were then in Nebraska. In 1863, Young reported that he said, "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" (Journal of Discourses, vol. 10, p. 110).

After settling in Utah in 1848, Brigham Young announced a priesthood ban which prohibited all men of black African descent from holding the priesthood. In connection, Mormons of African descent could not participate in Mormon temple rites such as the Endowment or sealing. These racial restrictions remained in place until 1978, when the policy was rescinded by President of the Church Spencer W. Kimball.

Conflict with U.S. government

Shortly after the arrival of Young's pioneers, the new Mormon colonies were incorporated into the United Statesmarker through 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. The troops passed by the bloody Kansas‚ÄďMissouri war without intervening in it, as it was not open warfare and only isolated sporadic incidents. When Young received word that federal troops were headed to Utah with his replacement, he called out his militia to ambush the federal column. During the defense of Deseret, 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 made plans to burn Salt Lake Citymarker and move his followers to Mexico, but at the last minute he 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.

Mountain Meadows massacre

A controversial issue is the extent of Young's involvement in the Mountain Meadows massacre, which took place in Washington Countymarker in 1857. Leonard J. Arrington reports that Brigham Young received a rider at his office on the same day. When he learned what was contemplated by the members of the Mormon Church in Parowan and Cedar City, he sent back a letter that the Fancher party be allowed to pass through the territory unmolested. Young's letter supposedly arrived two days too late, on September 13, 1857. As governor, Young had promised the federal government he would protect immigrants passing through Utah Territory. But he had also allegedly told local Native American leaders that they had his permission to steal cattle from these wagon trains. Over 120 men, women and children were killed by the Mormons and their Native American allies. It is clear that local Mormons were the principal perpetrators. United States Army officer James Henry Carleton was sent to investigate the massacre and was convinced that the Mormons were the perpetrators. Only children survived, the murdered members of the wagon train (known as the Fancher Party) were left unburied, and the surviving children were cared for by local Mormon families. The remains of about forty people were found and buried and 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 warning 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". However, others claim it was torn down and then re-built in 1864 by the U.S. military

Other notable actions

Young organized the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and in 1850 founded the University of Deseretmarker, which is now the University of Utahmarker. In 1875, just two years before his death, he founded Brigham Young Academy, which later became Brigham Young Universitymarker. In 1950, the state of Utah donated a marble statue of Young to the National Statuary Hall Collection at the United States Capitolmarker.


Before his death in Salt Lake City at 4:00pm on August 29, 1877, Young was suffering from 'cholera morbus and inflammation of the bowels'. His funeral which took place on September 2, 1877, was held in the Tabernaclemarker with an estimated 12,000 to 15,000 people in attendance.


Reference in literature

Sir 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", Conan 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." However, Doyle's daughter stated that "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 Brigham Young in his book Roughing It.

Notable descendants

Brigham Young has several noteworthy descendants:

See also



External links

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