Joseph Young

[Orson F. Whitney, History of Utah, 4 vols. (Salt Lake City, Utah : George Q. Cannon & Sons Co., 1892–1904), Volume IV.—Biographical, 443–45]

Loved for the purity of his life and the sweet saintliness of his nature, “Uncle” Joseph Young will live in history as the senior President of the Seventies in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. His sacred calling, with his faithful and long-continued service in the ministry, to which most of his time was necessarily devoted, has driven from the minds of many people and kept from many others the knowledge of the fact, that this good and worthy man had a secular calling as well, one which he practiced when opportunity afforded or necessity required, and by virtue of which he takes the place assigned him at the head of this group of biographies. Like his younger brother, President Brigham Young, he was a painter and glazier, a skilled workman in his line of labor, which he carried on industriously in his younger years and until the demands of public duty in spiritual directions rendered it impossible for him to pursue it longer.

Joseph Young, the second of ten children, issue of the marriage of John Young and Nabbie Howe, was born April 7, 1797, at Hopkinton, Middlesex county, Massachusetts. He early imbibed the spirit of religion, and became a member of the Methodist church, whose doctrines he was engaged in preaching when, early in the spring of 1832, his brother Brigham came to Canada, where Joseph was laboring, bringing him a copy of the Book of Mormon, assuring him that a Prophet had arisen, and that the Church of Jesus Christ had again been established upon the earth. Both brothers then returned homeward, Brigham to Mendon, Monroe County, New York, where he was baptized a Latter-day Saint on the 14th of April. Joseph had been baptized just eight days before by Elder Daniel Bowen, at Columbia, Pennsylvania. A few days later he was ordained an Elder under the hands of Ezra Landon. After preaching in the State of New York for several months, he was called on a mission to Canada, to which part he proceeded with his brother Phineas, Eleazer Miller and others. They were gone about four months, during which time they raised up two small branches. In the autumn of 1832 Joseph Young, with his brother Brigham and Heber C. Kimball, visited Kirtland, Ohio, and there met for the first time the Prophet Joseph Smith. His next mission was to Canada, where in the winter of 1832–3 he and his brother Brigham baptized upwards of forty souls and organized at West Lowboro a branch of about twenty members. On the 18th of February, 1834, he married Jane Adeline Bicknell.

This was the year of the Zion’s Camp expedition. Joseph Young was one of that historic organization, whose members offered their lives, ostensibly to reinstate their plundered and driven co-religionists upon their lands in Jackson county, Missouri; in reality to prove their integrity and demonstrate their worthiness to bear a sacred and important responsibility soon to be placed upon many of them. Under the heading “A Scrap of History” President Joseph Young writes as follows in relation to the organization of the Seventies: “On the 8th day of February, in the year of our Lord, 1835, the prophet Joseph Smith called Elders Brigham and Joseph Young to the chamber of his residence in Kirtland, Ohio; it being the Sabbath day. After they were seated and he had made some preliminaries, he proceeded to relate a vision he had seen, in regard to the state and condition of those Elders who died in Zion’s camp in Missouri. He said: ‘Brethren, I have seen those men who died of the cholera in our camp; and the Lord knows, if I get a mansion as bright as theirs, I ask no more.’ At this relation he wept, and for some time could not speak because of his tender feelings in memory of his brethren. When he had somewhat relieved himself, he resumed the conversation, and addressing himself to Brother Brigham Young he said: ‘I wish you to notify all the brethren living in the branches within a reasonable distance from this place, to meet at a general conference on Saturday next. I shall then and there appoint twelve special witnesses to open the door of the Gospel to foreign nations, and you (speaking to Brother Brigham) will be one of them.’” The prophet, according to the narrator, then explained the duties of [p.444] the Twelve Apostles, after which he turned to Joseph Young and said with much earnestness: “Brother Joseph, the Lord has made you President of the Seventies.”

Upon the 28th of that month the first quorum of Seventy were chosen and ordained, under the hands of the Prophet and other Church leaders. Joseph Young was the second name upon the list, and he was one of the original Seven Presidents of that body. Soon afterwards he succeeded to the first or senior place, which he retained to the end of his life, thus realizing the Prophet’s forecast concerning him. Not long after the organization of this quorum the Prophet said in the course of an address to them: “Brethren, some of you are angry with me because you did not fight in Missouri; but let me tell you, God did not want you to fight. He could not organize his Kingdom, with twelve men to open the Gospel door to the nations of the earth, and with seventy men under their direction to follow in their tracks, unless he took them from a body of men who had offered their lives, and who had made as great a sacrifice as did Abraham. Now the Lord has got his Twelve and his Seventy, and there will be other quorums of Seventies called, who will make the sacrifice, and those who will not make their sacrifices and their offerings now will make them hereafter.”

At Kirtland and at other places where he resided, Joseph Young, in the intervals of his ministerial labors, worked as a painter and glazier. He was loved by the Prophet, and was popular with the people, not alone for his integrity, but for the sunny charitableness of his soul, his genuine kindness of heart. He would share his last crust with any one in need, and thought little of material things as compared with the riches of eternity. His appropriate place was in the ministry, and wherever he labored he met with success. In 1835, in company with Elder Burr Riggs, he fulfilled a mission to the States of New York and Massachusetts, and later, under instructions from the Prophet, accompanied his brother Brigham to the East, where they visited among relatives and friends, many of whom afterwards came into the church.

On the 6th of July, 1838, he and his family, with many other Latter-day Saints, left Kirtland for Missouri, to which part the main body of the Church was then moving. He arrived at Haun’s Mill, about twenty miles south of Far West, on the 28th of October, and there was an eye-witness to the horrible massacre of a score of his hapless co-religionists, just two days later. He and his loved ones escaped almost by miracle, and during the following winter were driven with the rest of the Saints out of Missouri, under the exterminating order of Governor Boggs. The month of May, 1839, found them at Quincy, Illinois. There he farmed one season, and then, in the spring of 1840, moved to Commerce, the site of Nauvoo, in the building up of which place he played a full part, working at his trade and attending to his ministerial duties. He was on a mission in Ohio, laying before the people of that State the political views of the Prophet Joseph Smith, then a Presidential candidate, when he learned of the murder of Joseph and Hyrum Smith in Carthage jail. He immediately returned to Nauvoo.

The year 1846 found him on his way west, in the general exodus of his people. He reached Winter Quarters, and moved from there to Carterville, Iowa, where he remained until 1850, when with his family he crossed the plains in wagons drawn by ox teams. Settling at Salt Lake City, he lived here during the remainder of his life. He traveled and preached extensively in Utah and adjacent parts, and in 1870 fulfilled a prediction made by the Prophet concerning him nearly thirty years before, by crossing the ocean and preaching the Gospel in Great Britain. He never wearied of proclaiming the principles of his faith. Several weeks prior to his death he manifested the weakness and debility incident to old age, and on July 16, 1881, quietly fell asleep, surrounded by his kindred and friends.

He had several families, and left quite a numerous posterity. Among the more noted of his children are President Seymour B. Young, who has succeeded to the office held by his sire in the First Council of Seventy; Judge LeGrande Young a leading member of the Utah Bar; and Mr. Brigham Bicknell Young, the talented vocalist, now a resident of Chicago. Many of his family are musically inclined, and he himself was a great lover of music, a sweet singer, and a composer of hymns. His thoughtful disposition and general literary style are shown in the following choice passage from a treatise upon one of his favorite themes: “Man of himself is an instrument of music; and when the chords of which he is composed are touched, the sounds appeal to his spirit, and the sentiment to his understanding. If the strains are harmonious, he enjoys them with supreme delight; whether the tones are from a human voice or from an instrument, they arrest his attention and absorb his whole being.”

President Joseph Young was a man of mercy and benevolence, full of kindness and good works, of integrity to the cause which he espoused in his early manhood, [p.445] and to which he gave nearly fifty years of his blameless and devoted life. Sensitive and high-spirited, as unwilling as any man to be imposed upon, he had full control over his feelings, was patient and affable, a sympathizer with others in affliction, and an example of charity and philanthropy to all.