April 14, 1832, was a snowy day in Mendon, Monroe County, New York. In spite of the cold, thirty-year-old Brigham Young went down into the waters of the river near his home and was baptized by Elder Eleazer Miller. Immediately after, at the river’s edge, he was confirmed a member of the Church of Jesus Christ. Brigham Young had given his heart to a great cause, and he never wavered from the promises he made that day.
The story is told that shortly after his baptism, Brigham went to the man for whom he was doing some carpentry work and informed him, “I am not going to work for you any longer, sir; I am going to do something better—preach the everlasting Gospel!”
A few months later Brigham set out on foot with his brother to preach the gospel in Canada. They traveled over 250 miles in snow “a foot and a half deep with a foot of mud under it,” and in two months they converted 45 souls. Whatever the price, Brigham was willing to pay it in order to build up the kingdom of God on the earth. “I was as destitute of language as a man could be … ,” he said, “but I was so gritty that I always tried my best.”
Born in Whittingham, Vermont, on June 1, 1801, Brigham was the ninth child in a family with five sons and six daughters. Although he had only “eleven days schooling,” he was taught to read by his mother. He also learned to “make bread, wash the dishes, milk the cows and make butter.”
When Brigham was fourteen years old, his mother died and he was apprenticed to a neighbor to learn carpentry and painting. At sixteen, he was in business for himself.
Although the Youngs were a Bible-reading family and three of Brigham’s brothers became itinerant preachers for the Methodist Reformed Church, Brigham himself was not really converted to any church until he received a copy of the Book of Mormon from his brother Phinehas and studied it. Even then “I weighed the matter studiously for nearly two years,” he said, “before I made up my mind to receive that Book.”
In the fall of 1831 five elders from an isolated branch of the Church in Pennsylvania came to the neighborhood to preach. Brigham and his friend Heber C. Kimball listened to them and believed what they taught. Within a few months they were both baptized. Father Young, all Brigham’s brothers and sisters, and his ailing wife also became members.
A few days after his wife’s death in September 1832 Brigham left his two little daughters in the care of Vilate Kimball, Heber’s wife, and traveled to Kirtland to meet Joseph Smith. He later wrote, “Here my joy was full at the privilege of shaking the hand of the Prophet of God, and received the sure testimony, by the spirit of prophecy that he was … a true Prophet.”
And Joseph said of Brigham, “The time will come when Brother Brigham Young will preside over this Church.”
That time came all too quickly for Brigham, who developed a deep love for and loyalty to Joseph. Brigham followed the young Prophet unquestioningly through many difficult times, and at the Prophet’s call Brigham left his family again and again to preach the gospel in the eastern United States, in Canada, and in England. He was in Boston on June 27, 1844, the day Joseph and Hyrum were killed in Carthage, Illinois. Though rumors of the brothers’ deaths spread rapidly, it was not until July 16 that Brigham learned for certain of their martyrdom.
As President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Brigham Young gathered the other members of the quorum who were also preaching throughout the eastern states and returned with them to Nauvoo.
A conference was held in Nauvoo on August 7 and 8, and Brigham addressed the grieving Saints. Benjamin F. Johnson reported that “as soon as [Brigham] spoke I jumped upon my feet, for in every possible degree it was Joseph’s voice, and his person, in look, attitude, dress and appearance … ; and I knew in a moment the spirit and mantle of Joseph was upon him.”
As Brigham took over the leadership of the Saints, he knew they would soon have to leave Nauvoo. They had been driven from their homes before. Brigham himself had organized their move from Missouri to Illinois when Joseph was in Liberty Jail and the persecutions in Missouri were great. Because many of the Saints at that time were poor and ill, Brigham had had everyone sign a covenant stating that none would leave unless all could leave. Those with more would share with those who had less. Brigham made the trip several times to help others.
Now as he faced the task of moving the Saints from Illinois to the Rocky Mountains to once again escape their enemies, he showed this same concern for his people. In the spring of 1846 he left Nauvoo with an advance company. They established several settlements where crops were planted to help those who would follow. At Winter Quarters the Saints settled in to prepare for the trek ahead and to wait for spring. Here Brigham established schools, and within two months 538 log homes and 83 sod homes had been built. “Where the Saints do all they can,” he said, “the Lord will do the rest.”
Early the next spring Brigham Young led 143 men, 3 women, and 2 children across the plains, through the mountains, and finally down into the Great Salt Lake Valley. Almost immediately he began the journey back to Winter Quarters to help others prepare for the journey. On the way he passed companies of Saints led by Daniel Spencer, Parley P. Pratt, John Taylor, and Jedediah M. Grant.
The next spring Brigham Young left Winter Quarters once again for the Salt Lake Valley, this time leading a great company of “397 wagons, 1229 souls, 74 horses, 19 mules, 1275 oxen, 699 cows, 184 cattle, 411 sheep, 141 pigs, 605 chickens, 37 cats, 82 dogs, 3 goats, 10 geese, 2 beehives, 8 doves, and 1 crow.”
The remainder of Brigham’s life was to be spent in the West, where he directed the settlement of many towns and cities. He established schools, was governor of the territory, began work on the Salt Lake Temple, and saw the St. George Temple completed. During his presidency, missionaries were sent throughout the United States and Canada and to many other countries.
Brigham Young led the Church for twenty-nine years until his death on August 29, 1877, never forgetting the promise he had made to build the kingdom of God. “This is the business of the Latter-day Saints,” he once said, “and it is all the business that we have on hand.”
The year before the Prophet Joseph Smith was killed, he said of Brigham, “I can fervently say, may the Lord bless his way before him, and bless those that obey his teachings wherever they are with ears to hear and hearts to feel. He is worthy to be received and entertained as a man of God.”