Brigham Young was born on 1st June 1801 in Whitingham, Vermont to farmer John Young and his wife Abigail (Howe). He was the ninth child of eleven. When aged three, Brigham moved with his family to New York, from where Brigham left following the death of his mother in 1815, to work as a travelling carpenter and blacksmith, and other handyman trades.
Following his conversion to the Methodist faith in 1823, Brigham married in 1824 to Miriam Angeline Works. In 1830, Young read the recently published Book of Mormon by Joseph Young, and officially joined the Church two years later, following the death of his wife, moving to Kirtland, Ohio to undertake mission work, whilst working as a carpenter. The Mormons were later to be driven from Ohio by angry locals.
In 1835, Young was ordained as an apostle and joined the Quorum of the Twelve, who operated the mission, emigration and settlement side of the Church administration. In 1838-9 following his “promotion” to leadership of the Quorum, Young organised the mass relocation of around 14,000 Mormons from Missouri to Illinois, following episodes of violence between the Mormons and the Missourians. Church leader Joseph Smith and five of his senior members were arrested. Following a trial by grand jury in Davis County, and possibly with the assistance of guards, Smith escaped.
By way of his subsequent conversion of John Bennett, Illinois quartermaster general, Smith was able to gain civil powers of religious freedom and form his own militia, answerable only to state and federal law. In 1840, he pronounced new “revelations” that permitted the practice of baptism of the dead which would later be used to forcibly convert unwilling deceased into the church, and the following year, further revelations courtesy of Smith’s direct line to God, claimed that He wanted the Church to practice polygamy in order to promote procreation within the ranks. His wife Emma later categorically denied Joseph’s involvement in both the idea and the practice of polygamy, and recent DNA tests have so far proven that the only children fathered by Joseph were those he had with Emma. Despite this a list of fifty other “wives” continues to be linked to Joseph Smith.
In 1844, founder member and President of the Church, Smith, was murdered in jail whilst imprisoned on charges of treason following the reinstatement of previous charges after his arrest for enticing a riot which led to the destruction of a printing press. Smith and his brother were both shot by an armed mob who broke into the jail. His brother died immediately, with a bullet to the face, Smith was killed after being shot several times and falling from a window he was attempting to escape from.
After his death, a crisis over leadership of the Church grew, resolved by Brigham Young to a large audience which included the council and other senior members. He disputed the Council claims of nomination and succession, claiming that the only legitimate succession on an equal footing with the president was the Quorum, and as their leader, Brigham was the rightful successor. The vote was carried.
Following his elevation and the subsequent dissention in 1847, Young as President, moved the Church to Salt Lake City, Utah. Now known as home of the Saints, where he became Governor. Under his leadership, the University of Deseret (now University of Utah) was founded, as well as a mail service, The Brigham Young Academy (now the Brigham Young University), a relief society for women, youth groups for both sexes, several temples and votes for the Church Women. Brigham was involved with the transcontinental telegraph, the later connection of all Mormons settlements to Utah again by telegraph, the transcontinental railroad and the subsequent connection of Mormon communities by rail.
Young has been attributed to the banning of black priests, previously allowed by Smith, stating that they should only be considered when all the white men are dead, and further stating that if a white person should produce children with a black person, then they too should be condemned to death. The roots of Polygamy have also often been placed firmly on the shoulders of Brigham Young rather than Smith. Whilst Smith’s extensive list of wives has never been conclusively verified, nor legally validated, nor have any paternity claims been confirmed, Brigham Young had a total of 55 wives in his life, including Miriam. He kept his extended family of wives and children in two large houses, Lion House and Beehive House, each divided into separate lodgings with a key for each of his wives. By sixteen of his wives, Brigham had a total of 56 children, ten of whom died as children.
Brigham died on August 29th 1877, from peritonitis, following a ruptured appendix, complicated by gastroenteritis and inflammation of the bowels. He was pre-deceased by at least 19 of his wives, divorced from a further ten, of the remaining 23, 16 still lived with him. These sixteen jointly inherited his estate. Brigham was buried on 2nd September in the grounds of the Mormon Pioneer Memorial Monument (also known as the Brigham Young cemetery) in Salt Lake City, along with his second legal wife, Mary Ann Angell, three of his polygamous wives and two of his children with Mary Ann.