Online George Q. Cannon Journals: A Rich Source of Church History

Contributed By R. Scott Lloyd, Church News staff writer

  • 27 April 2016

The Cannon family school, June 23, 1884. Photograph by Charles R. Savage.  Photo courtesy Church History Library.

Article Highlights

  • The journal of George Q. Cannon is now available online through the Church Historian's Press.
  • Learn from the experiences of this remarkable writer and leader.

Apostle, missionary, newspaper and magazine publisher, statesman, writer, orator, and counselor to President Brigham Young and three other Church Presidents—few luminaries in 19th-century Church history shine brighter than George Q. Cannon.

His 50-volume journal is among the richest sources of Church history available. Now, for the first time, that journal is being made available online, a publication of the Church Historian’s Press, an imprint of the Church History Department. All are invited to view his writings on the home page of “The Journal of George Q. Cannon.”

Eventually, it will comprise some 2.5 million words. For now, journals from 1855 to 1875, spanning 16 physical volumes, are accessible. Future installments will follow, until the entire journal is online with the exception of some passages withheld in accordance with policies of the Church History Library to redact sacred, private, and confidential information, such as temple ceremonies and Church disciplinary councils.

The first three volumes of the journal, covering 1849-1854, are already in print, having earlier been prepared by the Church History Department for publication by Deseret Book. They will be featured online later with the rest of President Cannon’s journal.

For now, the online publication offers information that has never been publicly available.

“The half century covered in the journal allows readers to see wide-sweeping change not only in the Church but also in politics, technology, travel, and other areas,” reads the information on the journal website.

“For instance, the journal mentions arduous travel by team or horseback in the early period and ends at the turn of the [20th] century with rapid travel by rail. Topics found in the journal include Cannon’s many travels in the United States and Europe; his counsel to and relationships with his family, which consisted of six wives and 43 children; his meetings with political leaders, including U.S. president Abraham Lincoln, congressmen, and senators promoting Utah statehood and battling anti-Mormon legislation; his participation in founding and leading schools and universities; his involvement with temple construction; his close relationships with Church leaders and his counsel to Church members; his financial dealings; his life in prison after being arrested for practicing plural marriage; and his deep faith and defense of the Church to which he was determinedly devoted.”

George Q. Cannon, an Apostle and counselor to four early Church Presidents, kept 50 years of journals. The first installment of an online publication of the entire set of journals is now freely accessible from the Church Historian's Press. Photo courtesy Church History Library.

George Q. Cannon, an Apostle and counselor to four early Church Presidents, kept 50 years of journals. The first installment of an online publication of the entire set of journals is now freely accessible from the Church Historian's Press. Photo courtesy Church History Library.

George Q. Cannon, an Apostle and counselor to four early Church Presidents, kept 50 years of journals. The first installment of an online publication of the entire set of journals is now freely accessible from the Church Historian's Press. Photo courtesy Church History Library.

George Q. Cannon, about 1880. Photograph by Charles R. Savage, a prominent Salt Lake City photographer of the day. Photo courtesy Church History Library.

The website affirms that the journal has value not just to Latter-day Saints and declares that “it ranks as one of the most voluminous and valuable journals in American religious history. Cannon’s broad interests, extensive connections with people both within and outside of the Latter-day Saint faith, and cogent observations will also make his journal of particular interest to scholars and students of western U.S. history and U.S. political history.”

Born in Liverpool, England, in 1827, Elder Cannon joined the Church in 1840 and went to Nauvoo, Illinois, in 1843. He was a “gold missionary” during the California Gold Rush, with his earnings going to the Church. He also did missionary work in the Sandwich Islands (present-day Hawaii) for four years and presided over the European Mission for four years.

Called to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in 1860, he served in the Church’s highest councils for the next four decades, most of the time in the First Presidency as a counselor to Presidents Brigham Young, John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff, and Lorenzo Snow.

His writing and publishing ventures include being the first editor of the Deseret News and founding Deseret Book Company.

Brother Cannon was a territorial delegate from Utah in the United States Congress. As a teenage orphan, he was apprenticed in a print shop and was largely self-taught.

“He had a gift of working with words and considered writing and record keeping to be part of his divine calling,” the website content relates, adding that he “employed secretaries to help him keep the journal, and extensive portions of it were typed rather than written by hand. The journal entries became much more detailed over time as Cannon increasingly dictated entries to secretaries.” Matthew J. Grow, director of the Publications Division of the Church History Department, said, “As a prolific writer and publisher, George Q. Cannon was a trusted voice of the Church, … both to Church members and outsiders. “Thanks to the dedicated work of employees, missionaries, and descendants, George Q. Cannon speaks again through his journal—his last, great publication project.”

An exhibit, “George Q. Cannon: A Mighty Instrument,” will be on display at the Church History Library until May 13. The exhibit shares information about President Cannon’s life and features original journals, photos, and other historical information.

George Q. Cannon and some members of his family when he went to Hawaii in 1900 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Hawaiian Mission. Photo courtesy Church History Library.