Born on April 3, 1814, in Ohio, Lorenzo Snow was the fifth of seven children born to Oliver and Rosetta Pettibone Snow. After the birth of their first two children, Lorenzo’s parents moved the family from New England to frontier America in Ohio to begin a new life.
Moving the family to Ohio proved to be an arduous task. They had to clear the land, fell trees, and make the land fit for farming. Lorenzo learned early that idleness was not accepted in such a large family. As his father’s work included being away from home frequently, the bulk of the farm work was left to Lorenzo and his younger brothers. The farm became quite successful and, as the years passed, the Snow family became prosperous and influential in Ohio. Mantua became a town of well-educated and prosperous families who had come and made their way on the frontier of Ohio.
Lorenzo’s parents encouraged each of their children to pursue an education through cultural, social, and intellectual endeavors. Lorenzo went further in his studies than his average contemporary. He attended high school in the nearby town of Ravenna and completed one term at the newly founded Oberlin College.
Lorenzo’s parents professed to be Baptists, but encouraged their children to explore other religious interests. They were encouraged to research religion and discuss the information they obtained with their family. Family discussions were never allowed to become intolerant or narrow-minded. Each family member was encouraged to voice his or her opinions and views on all religious topics.
Four miles from the Snow farm in the nearby town of Hiram, the Prophet Joseph Smith resided. It was at this time that Lorenzo heard about a new religion called Mormonism and that Joseph Smith, its founder, claimed to be a Prophet of God. His sister, with whom he was very close, first began exploring Mormonism when it became established near the family home and she introduced him to it. He wrote to her from Oberlin College, where he was attending, with questions about religion, and she answered them.
Lorenzo’s own account relates how he remembers hearing the Book of Mormon being read in his home and how he later met with the Prophet in his home in 1831. At this time, Mormonism was not looked upon as a religion, but as a whim that would soon pass. Lorenzo chose to decide for himself if this so-called Prophet was really who he said he was. Contrary to the accusations that were being made, Lorenzo found him to be an honest and sincere man. He later recorded that, “A light arose in my understanding which has never been extinguished.”1
It wasn’t long after that that Lorenzo’s mother and two oldest sisters were baptized into the Mormon Church. Throughout Snow’s young life, organized religion had never attracted him. He chose to be uncommitted at this time and returned to Oberlin College.
While at Oberlin College, Lorenzo had a chance meeting with Apostle David Patten, who was eager to answer Lorenzo’s questions regarding the Mormon Church. Seeing an opportunity to continue his studies in Kirtland, Lorenzo moved with his two sisters. He continued to study the new religion, listening to the Prophet Joseph Smith as he delivered numerous discourses. Lorenzo was also taught by Joseph in private. He observed members of the Church and their strong testimonies of the restored gospel and found that there was nothing pretentious about the gospel – it was plain and simple and strong in conviction. Lorenzo attended a Hebrew class taught in the Mormon community, which Joseph Smith also attended.
Lorenzo recorded the following observation, “Previous to accepting the ordinance of baptism, in my investigations of the principles taught by the Latter-day Saints, which I proved, by comparison, to be the same as those mentioned in the New Testament taught by Christ and His Apostles, I was thoroughly convinced that obedience to those principles would impart miraculous powers, manifestations and revelations [following my baptism and confirmation]. The manifestation did not immediately follow my baptism as I had expected, but, although the time was deferred, when I did receive it, its realization was more perfect, tangible and miraculous than even my strongest hopes had led me to anticipate…I had not obtained a knowledge of the truth of the work… I laid aside my books, left the house, and wandered around through the fields under the oppressive influence of a gloomy, disconsolate spirit, while an indescribable cloud of darkness seemed to envelop me…[I] kneeled [in] secret prayer. I had no sooner opened my lips in an effort to pray, than I heard a sound, just above my head, like the rustling of silken robes, and immediately the Spirit of God descended upon me, completely enveloping my whole person, filling me, from the crown of my head to the soles of my feet, and O, the joy and happiness I felt! No language can describe the almost instantaneous transition from a dense cloud of mental and spiritual darkness into a refulgence of light and knowledge, as it was at that time imparted to my understanding. I then received a perfect knowledge that God lives, that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and of the restoration of the holy Priesthood, and the fullness of the Gospel.”2 Lorenzo was baptized on June 19, 1836.
Soon after his baptism, Lorenzo observed the missionaries returning from their missions and sharing their numerous experiences of laboring for the Lord and proclaiming of the gospel. He yearned to serve as a Mormon missionary and to share the gospel himself. He left on his first mission for the Mormon Church in the spring of 1837. He first returned to his hometown of Mantua, where he taught and baptized some of his friends and family, and later preached in Missouri, Illinois, and Kentucky. He would later serve missions to England, Italy, France, and Switzerland. Like many of his predecessors, he would bring thousands into the Mormon Church.
As he left on his first mission, he recorded the following: “Early in the spring of 1837, I shouldered my valise and started out like the ancient missionaries, ‘without purse or scrip,’3 on foot and alone, to proclaim the restoration of the fullness of the Gospel of the Son of God, and to bear witness of what I had seen and heard, and of the knowledge I had received by the inspiration of the Holy Ghost. It was, however, a severe trial to my natural feelings of independence to go without purse or scrip…for, from the time I was old enough to work, the feeling that I ‘paid my own way’ always seemed a necessary adjunct to self respect, and nothing but a positive knowledge that God required it now, as He did anciently of His servants, the Disciples of Jesus, could induce me to go forth dependent on my fellow creatures for the common necessaries of life. But my duty in this respect was clearly made known to me, and I determined to do it.”4
In 1838, Lorenzo Snow moved to Missouri with the other Mormons in an effort to escape persecution. However, the persecution there was far more intense and he suffered along with the others. He then left on a mission to Kentucky, Illinois, and Missouri, and was on that mission when he learned the Mormons had been forced out of Missouri. He walked 500 miles to Kirtland, Ohio, where he taught school for two years.
While serving a mission in 1840, he prepared a beautiful richly bound copy of the Book of Mormon and had it delivered to the Queen by Sir Henry Wheatley. On his return trip home, he led a group of Mormons, who were safely delivered to Nauvoo, Illinois.
He was serving a mission in Ohio when he learned Joseph Smith, first prophet of the Mormons, had been murdered.
After returning to Nauvoo from his mission to Britain, Lorenzo would learn of the principle of plural marriage from the Prophet Joseph Smith. In obedience to that law, Lorenzo would marry Charlotte Squires, Mary Adaline Goddard, Sarah Ann Prichard, and Harriet Amelia Squires before leaving Nauvoo in the 1846 exodus. The trip would prove to be very strenuous for his family. They would stop in Iowa because of his illness and one of three children who were born along the way died and was buried. Lorenzo was called to preside over the temporary settlement in Mt Pisgah, Iowa, where he actively raised money to aid the Saints in their move west. The family was able to move on to the Salt Lake Valley in 1848.
In 1849, Lorenzo was called to serve a mission in Italy. This would be the first time he would leave a family behind. After an absence of three years, he would arrive home to find that his wife Charlotte had died.
In 1853, President Brigham Young, then Prophet of the Mormon Church, would call Lorenzo to be a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. At the same time, he was asked to move his family to Brigham City, Utah, where he would preside over the membership there. There he would organize and establish a drama society, a public school system, and the Brigham City Mercantile and Manufacturing Association. In 1852, he was elected to the Utah legislature and served in this position for 29 years.
In 1864, Elder Snow would serve a short-term mission to the Sandwich Islands – now known as the Hawaiian Islands. While attempting to go ashore in turbulent waters, the missionaries left the steamer and boarded a small boat. As they were crossing, huge waves capsized their boat. All the missionaries that were accompanying Elder Snow were safely rescued, but he was not. His body lay unconscious in the water. His companions brought him to shore and worked to revive him for one hour, but to no avail. Elder Cluff, one of his companions, explained what happened, “We did not only what was customary in such cases, but also what the spirit seemed to whisper to us. After working over him for some time, without any indication of returning life, the by-standers said that nothing more could be done for him. But we did not feel like giving up, and still prayed and worked over him, with an assurance that the Lord would hear and answer our prayers. Finally we were impressed to place our mouth over his and made an effort to inflate his lungs, alternately blowing in and drawing out the air, imitating, as far as possible, the natural process of breathing…After a little, we perceived very faint indications of returning life…These grew more and more distinct, until consciousness was fully restored.”5
In the General Conference of the Mormon Church in April 1889, Lorenzo Snow was sustained as President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Upon completion of the Salt Lake Temple in 1893, he became the first president of the temple. In 1898, when President Snow learned of the sickness of President Woodruff, he was weighed down heavily with the burden that would be his should President Woodruff pass away. President Snow went to the temple to pray concerning the matter, hoping that God would spare President Woodruff a while longer and save President Snow from this responsibility. “Nevertheless,” he prayed, “Thy will be done. I have not sought this responsibility, but if it be Thy will I will present myself before thee for Thy guidance and instruction. I ask that Thou show me what Thou wouldst have me do.” President Snow awaited an answer, but he seemed to not receive one. As he was leaving the celestial room, deeply disappointed, he received a marvelous vision. Years later, he related his experience to his granddaughter, Allie Young Pond. She relates this experience:
“After we left his room and while we were still in the large corridor, leading into the Celestial room, I was walking several steps ahead of Grandpa when he stopped me, saying, ‘Wait a moment, Allie, I want to tell you something. It was right here that the Lord Jesus Christ appeared to me at the time of the death of President Woodruff. . . . ’
“Then grandpa came a step nearer and held out his left hand and said, ‘He stood right here, about three feet above the floor. It looked as though He stood on a plate of solid gold.’
“Grandpa told me what a glorious personage the Savior is and described His hands, feet, countenance and beautiful white robes, all of which were of such a glory of whiteness and brightness that he could hardly gaze upon Him.
“Then grandpa came another step nearer me and put his right hand on my head and said: ‘Now, granddaughter, I want you to remember that this is the testimony of your grandfather, that he told you with his own lips that he actually saw the Savior here in the Temple, and talked with Him face to face.’ ” 7
After President Woodruff’s death, President Snow was sustained as Prophet, Seer, and Revelator of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
President Snow came into the presidency with the Church owing $2.3 million in debt. The major cause of debt was the confiscation of Church property by the United States government under the provisions of the Edmunds-Tucker Act of 1887. The federal government had seized most of the Church’s assets, including tithing funds donated by the Church members. Some of the members reacted by holding back their financial donations, which included paying tithing.
With this debt weighing heavily on President Snow, he went to the Lord for an answer to the financial problem. He received the following revelation: “This is the answer to our financial problems. Even though as a Church we are heavily in debt, I say unto you that, if this people will pay a full and honest tithing, the shackles of indebtedness will be removed from us.”6 President Snow would carry this message to all the Saints throughout the territory and recommitted them to the principle of tithing. Before he passed away, the Church’s debt problems were resolved.
As a new century dawned, President Snow reiterated the responsibility the Apostles and leaders of the Church had – that of spreading the gospel and preparing the Saints for the Second Coming of the Savior. He would introduce missionary work to Russia, Austria, and Latin America, and would reopen missionary work in Mexico. Young men in the Church were called to serve as local missionaries in their areas and were asked to recommit to participating in the established Young Men organization. He oversaw the translation of the Book of Mormon into numerous languages and prepared and published pamphlets on the Mormon Church.
In 1901, at the age of 87, President Snow passed away in his residence in Salt Lake. At the time of his death, after the short time that he served as President of the Mormon religion, he would leave 292,931 members of the Church. 25,680 of them were baptized during his three-year presidency.
For more information on Mormonism please see the following website:
- “Lorenzo Snow Journal”, Mormon Church Archives, Feb 1937, p.82-83
- “Biography and Family Record”, Smith, p.7-9
- Definition: no money
- “Biography and Family Record”, Smith, p.15
- “Life of Lorenzo Snow”, Romney, p.203-204
- “Journal History”, entry, May 8, 1899
- Deseret News, Church Section, April 2, 1938, p. 8
- Every Person in the Doctrine and Covenants by Lynn F. Price, Cedar Fort, 2007