John Taylor was born November 1, 1808, to James and Agnes Taylor. Eight sons and two daughters were born to this couple, although three sons did not survive past infancy and another son passed on at the age of twenty-two. These children were blessed with loving and kind parents who taught their children to read and believe in the Bible. John’s belief and trust in Christ carried him throughout his life in that he called upon the Lord often in prayer. His upbringing in the Church of England settled in him a deep devotion and love for God. He remarked that he had always, “…made it a practice to go and call upon the Lord…many a time I have gone into the fields…would bow before the Lord and call upon Him to guide and direct me. And he heard my prayer…that was the spirit that I had when a little boy…my spirit was drawn out after God then; and I feel the same yet.”1
At the age of sixteen, John left the Church of England and joined the Methodist Church. One year later, he was appointed to be a lay preacher in the Church, which was quite unusual for a young man of his age. It was during this time that John received a strong impression that he would preach the gospel of Jesus Christ in the United States one day.
In 1830, John’s parents and family members emigrated to Canada, leaving John behind to sell the farm and settle all other family business. When he was finished with his duties, he boarded a ship bound for New York. During this voyage, a severe storm was encountered, wherein the captain knew that the ship would be destroyed. Through all the chaos, John was reminded of the impression that he had years earlier; that of preaching the gospel in the United States. He remained calm in the midst of chaos on the ship and knew that they would arrive safely in New York.
After a few months in New York, John traveled to Toronto to join his family. It was at this time that he met and married Leonora Cannon, who was a devout Methodist herself, and had recently immigrated to Canada from England.
During his stay in Canada, John studied the Bible in hopes of increasing his understanding of the truth. At the same time, a missionary named Parley P. Pratt arrived in Toronto. John had heard about Elder Pratt and his request to preach – had heard that he was a Mormon, and all the rumors that were circulating about this Church.
Upon rejection from the city officials and ministers and with no hope of preaching, Elder Pratt decided to leave Toronto. John’s neighbor offered to feed and house Elder Pratt and allowed him to hold meetings in which to preach the gospel. John attended these meetings along with many of his friends. All listened intently and believed in the words of Elder Pratt, until he taught them about the Prophet Joseph Smith and the gold plates. It was then that several of the men refused to listen any further. John reminded them that, “We are here, ostensibly in search of truth. Hitherto we have fully investigated other creeds and doctrines and proven them false. Why should we fear to investigate Mormonism? This gentlemen, Mr. Pratt, has brought to us many doctrines that correspond with our own views…we have prayed to God to send us a messenger, if He has a true Church on earth…if I find his religion true, I shall accept it, no matter what the consequences may be.”2 It was at this time that the Holy Spirit bore witness of the truthfulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and John and Leonora were baptized. From this time forward, John never wavered in his belief of the Gospel or any principle of the Mormon faith.
After joining the Mormon Church in Canada, John Taylor was called to serve as the presiding officer for the Church members in that area. His responsibilities required him to travel extensively in overseeing the spiritual and temporal matters of the members.
Up to this point, he had not met the Prophet Joseph Smith and desired to do so. So, in 1837, he traveled to Kirtland, Ohio, where the Prophet was residing. His feeling at shaking the hand of the Prophet Joseph Smith was described as being “like an electrical shock.” This first meeting began a friendship that would never be broken despite the years of trial and hardship to come. It was at this time that a tremendous amount of controversy raged in regards to the Prophet Joseph Smith and the principles he taught. Meetings were held to discredit the Prophet and many were blatantly outspoken with their comments. At this time, Elder Pratt, who had taught John Taylor, approached him and expressed some disapproval concerning the Prophet Joseph Smith. Elder Taylor replied by saying, “I am surprised to hear you speak so, Brother [Pratt]. Before you left Canada you bore a strong testimony to Joseph Smith being a Prophet of God…Now Brother [Pratt], it is not man that I am following, but the Lord. The principles you taught me led me to Him, and I now have the same testimony that you then rejoiced in. If the work was true six months ago, it is true today; if Joseph Smith was then a prophet, he is now a prophet.”3 John Taylor’s testimony of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ and the Prophet Joseph Smith never wavered.
In 1838, Elder Taylor was ordained an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ. He served four separate missions between the years 1839-1957 – two to Great Britain and France/Germany, and one to New York. He was the first missionary to preach the gospel in Ireland and on the Isle of Man and he helped prepare the first edition of the Book of Mormon to be published outside the United States.
Elder Taylor was blessed with excellent writing skills, through which he was able to spread the word of the gospel through print. He was appointed to be the associate editor of the Times and Seasons, the Mormon Church’s main newspaper publication at the time. After a year, he was appointed editor, and remained so until 1846. At a later time, he became editor of the Nauvoo Neighbor, which contained information about the arts, science, religion, and general news of Nauvoo.
Even though this time in Nauvoo was prosperous for the Church members, it was also tainted with much persecution against the Saints and the Prophet Joseph Smith. False accusations were pronounced upon the heads of the leaders of the Church, but primarily on the Prophet. Elder Taylor made a point through his editorials in the newspapers to tell the truth and to hopefully alleviate the false accusations that had been made. It was done to no avail – the Missourians were angry and their hearts were hardened.
One of the most horrific events of Elder Taylor’s life was the martyrdom of the Prophet Joseph Smith. Elder Taylor, along with Elder Richards, the Prophet Joseph Smith, and Joseph’s brother Hyrum, were imprisoned in Carthage Jail on June 25, 1844, on false charges. Members of the Mormon Church had come to Carthage in hopes of obtaining justice for the men, but nothing could be done.
As the day wore on, a feeling of great sadness enveloped the four men. As Elder Taylor sat on the ledge of one of the front windows, he saw a number of men with painted faces heading towards the jailhouse. Hyrum Smith and Willard Richards immediately braced themselves against the door in hopes of preventing the mob from entering. The mob fired shots through the door, hitting Hyrum in the face; at the same time, another shot came from the window, hitting his back. He fell, speaking his final words, “I am a dead man!”
The mob continued firing and forcing their rifles through the partially open door. Elder Taylor stood next to the doorway and tried to ward off the rifle barrels with his walking stick. Aware that their situation was hopeless, Elder Taylor leaped to the window. As he did, a shot from inside the jail struck him in the left thigh, while a shot from outside the jail struck the watch in his breast pocket, hurling him back into the room. At this point, Elder Taylor tried to crawl under a bed; as he did, he was shot three more times. One shot entered below his left knee, another lodged in the palm of his left hand, and the third struck the fleshy part of his left hip, which tore away several inches of flesh. Despite the fact that he was badly wounded and in a tremendous amount of pain, Elder Taylor survived the attack and was later taken home to Nauvoo by several of the Saints.
Within moments after Elder Taylor was shot, the Prophet Joseph attempted to leap from the jail window, but was immediately shot, and fell to the ground outside. When Elder Taylor learned of the death of the Prophet, he recorded that he felt “a dull, lonely, sickening sensation.”
Doctrine and Covenants 135 is an account of the Martyrdom written by John Taylor, along with his powerful testimony. He wrote that: “Joseph Smith, the Prophet and Seer of the Lord, has done more, save Jesus only, for the salvation of men in this world, than any other man that ever lived in it…He lived great, and he died great in the eyes of God and his people; and like most of the Lord’s anointed in ancient times, has sealed his mission and his works with his own blood.”4
Elder Taylor continued his life of service to God in defending the Mormon Church and its faith to the end of his life. He was sustained as President of the Church in 1880 and continued as prophet, seer, and revelator until his death in 1887. During his presidency, the Pearl of Great Price was added to the canon of scripture of the Mormon Church – the Holy Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price. A new edition of the Doctrine and Covenants was published, including 27 new sections. He continued to utilize his talent of writing, and wrote The Mediation and Atonement in 1882. He declared, “Having noticed the great blessings, privileges, powers and exaltations that are placed within the reach of man, through the atonement of Jesus Christ, it next becomes our duty to enquire what is required of man to place him in possession of them.”5
His continued service as President of the Mormon Church brought new programs, which would draw the members closer to their Heavenly Father and bring them peace in this life and the next. While president, he organized the priesthood organization into quorums to better serve the members. He made clear the duties of each priesthood holder and exhorted them to fulfill their duties. He organized quarterly stake conferences throughout the Church so that the members could receive counsel from the leaders of the Church and increase their understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Elder B. H. Roberts of the Seventy recorded: “The Saints received much teaching and instruction from the Apostles, more perhaps than at any previous time in the history of the Church. The result was a great spiritual awakening among the Saints.”6
Another important event was the organization of the Primary in 1878. This organization would serve the children of the Church in teaching gospel principles in a more formal setting.
President Taylor worked tirelessly throughout his life to establish the kingdom of God on the earth – the many programs he established and his personal efforts toward promoting freedom of religion and the rights of every human being continued until his death on July 25, 1887, but the many programs he established have thrived beyond his years to benefit the membership of the Church.
1 “Deseret News”, Semi-Weekly, Jan 3, 1882, p.1
2 “Teachings of Presidents of the Church”, John Taylor, 2001, p.209-210
3 “Teachings of Presidents of the Church”, John Taylor, 2001, p.77
4 Doctrine and Covenants 135:3
5 “Teachings of Presidents of the Church”, John Taylor, 2001, p.53
6 “The Life of John Taylor”, p.329