John Taylor was often referred to as “an English gentleman” because of his noble bearing and courteous manner. In England, where he was born, he became a woodturner by trade. Later, he emigrated with his family to Canada, where he became an itinerant (traveling) Methodist preacher. He and his wife were converted to the Church and baptized by Parley P. Pratt in 1836. At the age of twenty-eight Elder Taylor presided over the Church in Canada. A man of great faith and conviction, he often declared: “I do not believe in a religion that cannot have all my affections, but I believe in a religion that I can live for, or die for.”
Without purse or scrip, John Taylor traveled thousands of miles around the world preaching the gospel. He also became the editor or publisher of several Church publications, among them the Times and Seasons. Because of his strong desire to speak out and write editorials defending the Saints during the persecutions in Missouri, he was called the Champion of Liberty.
John Taylor was in Carthage Jail with the Prophet Joseph and Hyrum Smith when the two brothers were murdered. Unable to ward off the angry mob with a hickory walking stick that belonged to Stephen Markham, he turned and ran to the window. Before he could leap, however, a shot struck him in the thigh. Then another came through the window and would have entered his chest, killing him, but instead was stopped by a silver watch in his vest pocket. Three more bullets struck him, spattering his blood upon the walls and floor. Dr. Willard Richards dragged Elder Taylor into an inner cell and covered him with an old mattress to protect him. Many weeks later when he had recovered, he joined the Saints traveling west.
At the age of sixty-nine he became the third president of the Church. Although the seven years (1880–1887) he served were filled with hardship and persecution for him and for the Church, John Taylor remained a gentle and loving man to his family and associates. He enjoyed social gatherings and had a well-developed sense of humor. He often invited children to attend meetings with their parents. There he would show them his damaged pocket watch and they would listen eagerly as the tall, bearded man in his melodious voice would tell how it had helped to save his life in Carthage Jail.