Timeline: The life of Brigham Young
On Sept. 20, Harvard University Press published a major new biography of Brigham Young, the second president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, colonizer of Utah and much of the intermountain West, and fiercely loyal supporter of church founder and first president Joseph Smith. Following are some of the significant milestones in Young’s life.
June 1, 1801: Birth of Brigham, the ninth of 11 children born to farmer and Revolutionary War veteran John Young and wife Abigail Howe, at Whitingham, Vt.
1815: Brigham Young is 14 at the time of the death of his mother, Abigail Howe Young, who died after years of struggling against tuberculosis.
1816: At age 16, Brigham Young leaves home to make his way in the world, eventually becoming an apprentice carpenter, painter and glazier in Auburn, N.Y., and environs. Young later remarked that one memorable aspect of becoming an adult was abandoning all play: “When I was 16 years of age, my father said to me, ‘You can now have your time; go and provide for yourself,’ and a year had not passed away before I stopped running, jumping, wrestling and the laying out of my strength for naught.”
Oct. 5, 1824: After several years of itinerant labor, Brigham marries Miriam Angeline Works. The newlyweds initially settle in Haydenville, N.Y., and join the Reformed Methodist Church. Despite have been raised in a religious household, Young had previously refrained from aligning with any church. Upon joining the Methodists, Young insisted that his baptism be by immersion — the Reformed Methodists accepted a variety of different baptisms, believing that the ordinance itself was more important than the precise means of undertaking it.
Sept. 26, 1825: After relocating to Port Byron, N.Y., Brigham and Miriam Young welcome their first child, daughter Elizabeth. About three years later, a second child, daughter Vilate, joins the family.
April 1830: Samuel Smith, brother of Joseph Smith, passes a copy of the Book of Mormon to Phineas Young, brother of Brigham Young. Phineas believed the book right away, but Brigham read and studied it for two years before agreeing to be baptized.
April 15, 1832: Brigham is baptized in his own millpond by Eleazar Miller. Miller’s testimony had inspired Young, and the new convert began laboring to spread his own witness almost immediately. As he later put it, “I wanted to thunder and roar out the Gospel to the nations. It burned in my bones like fire pent-up.”
Sept. 8, 1832: Miriam Young dies of tuberculosis after being largely bedridden for nearly four years.
1833: After visiting the community of Latter-day Saints in Kirtland, Ohio, in the summer, Brigham relocates to Kirtland to help build the kingdom.
Feb. 18, 1834: A few months after arriving in Kirtland, Brigham Young marries his second wife, former factory worker Mary Ann Angel of Seneca, New York.
May 4-July 3, 1834: Brigham Young marches to Missouri as part of the Zion’s Camp rescue expedition led by Joseph Smith to assist dispossessed and harassed Latter-day Saint settlers. Young regarded the difficult journey as a formative experience that laid much of the groundwork for his later church service.
Feb. 14, 1835: He becomes an original member of the Quorum of the Twelves Apostles under Joseph Smith. Members of the quorum are assigned seniority by age, making Young the third most senior member.
Dec. 22, 1837: After being a staunch defender of Joseph Smith for years, Brigham Young is forced to flee from Kirtland for his safety when the mood among the Latter-day Saints there turns against Smith in the aftermath of the failure Kirtland Safety Society. Young and his family join the body of Latter-day Saints in Far West, Mo.
1838-1839: When Joseph Smith and other Latter-day Saint leaders are imprisoned at Liberty Jail in Missouri, Brigham Young, the senior member of the Quorum of the Twelve, directs the evacuation of Latter-day Saints to Quincy and other communities in Illinois.
September 1839: Though sick and ailing at the time, Brigham Young leaves on a mission to Great Britain. Later on he said of departing under extremely trying circumstances, “I was determined to go to England or to die trying. My firm resolve was that I would do what I was required to do in the Gospel of life and salvation, or I would die trying to do it.”
April 1840: Brigham Young arrives in England after many months of travel and is formally sustained as president of the Quorum of the Twelve (after having acted in that capacity since 1838). Over the following year, missionary work in England meets with astonishing success, with nearly 8,000 people baptized and more than 5,000 copies of the Book of Mormon distributed.
May 4, 1842: After Joseph Smith introduces the temple endowment, Brigham Young is among the first seven people to receive the full endowment under Smith’s hand.
June 14, 1842: Having learned about plural marriage from Joseph Smith, Brigham Young marries the first of his polygamous wives, Lucy Ann Decker Seeley, at age 41 (Decker was 20). Young devoted much study and prayer to the subject of plural marriage before agreeing to participate with extreme reluctance, and with the permission of wife Mary Ann. Young later said of his introduction to plural marriage, “I was not desirous of shrinking from any duty, nor of failing in the least to do as I was commanded, but it was the first time in my life that I had desired the grave, and I could hardly get over it for a long time.”
Young eventually married at least 27 women, 16 of whom bore him children (56 in all).
March 1844: A few months prior to his martyrdom, Joseph Smith instructs Brigham Young and the Quorum of the Twelve regarding the governance of the church and the building of the kingdom, informing them that they now have all keys necessary to lead the church successfully.
June 27, 1844: On the date of Joseph Smith’s martyrdom, Brigham Young is presiding over missionary efforts in and around Boston. Though he didn’t receive any direct news of the martyrdom until weeks after Smith’s death, on July 16, Young later recalled being in a railway station on the date of the martyrdom and finding himself overcome with a profound “depression of spirit.”
Aug. 8, 1844: A few days after returning to Nauvoo, Brigham Young, along with the Quorum of the Twelve, is sustained to assume the leadership of the church. Before being sustained, Brigham addresses the Latter-day Saints with energy and authority. Many eyewitnesses later reported that at the time of this address, Young appeared to take on the character, voice and even some of the features of Smith.
December 1845: Brigham Young supervises the commencement of temple endowment and sealing work in the still-unfinished Nauvoo Temple.
February 1846: Leery of federal government intervention, Brigham Young begins the exodus of the Latter-day Saints from Nauvoo, sending thousands across the Mississippi River in the dead of winter.
July 24, 1847: Having set out for the Utah Territory on April 5, Brigham Young arrives at the valley of the Great Salt Lake and directs the early phases of settlement. Just four days after arriving, Young marks out the future location of the Salt Lake Temple on July 28.
After staying in the Salt Lake Valley fewer than two months, Young sets out to return to Winter Quarters on Aug. 26.
Dec. 27, 1847: After leading the church as president of the Quorum of the Twelve for more than three years, Brigham Young and the Twelve reorganize the First Presidency in Council Bluffs, Iowa. Young is sustained to succeed Smith as president of the church, with counselors Heber C. Kimball and Willard Richards. The following spring, he departs Winter Quarters, returning to the valley of the Great Salt Lake for good.
March 1849: Brigham Young organizes the provisional State of Deseret, with himself as governor. The state borders proposed to congress are eventually dramatically reduced, with the question of statehood set aside and the Utah Territory established the following year in September.
Feb. 28, 1850: A board of regents organized by Brigham Young establishes the University of Deseret, which would later become the University of Utah.
Feb. 3, 1851: President Millard Fillmore appoints Brigham Young first territorial governor of the Utah Territory, an appointment later renewed by President Franklin Pierce. Young serves in the post for seven years, before being replaced on April 12, 1858, by Alfred Cumming, at the time of the arrival of Johnston’s Army.
Feb. 14, 1853: Brigham Young presides as church members gather to dedicate the site and break ground for construction of the Salt Lake Temple. After Heber C. Kimball offers the dedicatory prayer, Young breaks ground for the new temple. Later, on April 6, Young lays the cornerstone.
October 16, 1875: With the purchase of an existing building in Provo, Young launches the creation of Brigham Young Academy, which would later become Brigham Young University.
April 6, 1877: With construction of the Salt Lake Temple still underway, Brigham Young presides at the dedication of the St. George Temple, the only temple to be completed in Utah prior to his death.
Aug. 29, 1877: At the age of 76, Brigham Young dies at his home in Salt Lake City. The cause of death is believed to have been peritonitis, the result of a ruptured appendix.
Sources: LDS.org, Y Facts (Brigham Young University), The Religious Educator (Brigham Young University). Photos by Intellectual Reserve, Wikimedia Commons