Brigham Young was the second prophet and President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Brigham led the Church after Joseph Smith died, and succeeded Joseph as prophet in 1847. He was known as a bold leader and oversaw the trek west of between 60,000 and 70,000 Mormon pioneers across the rugged American wilderness to the Salt Lake Valley.[i]
Brigham Young’s Early Life
“Brother Brigham,” as Church members often called Brigham Young, was born to John Young and Abigail Howe in Whittingham, Vermont, on June 1, 1801. Brigham’s mother died when he was only 14 years old.[ii] He was then raised by his father, a stern man.[iii] For much of Brigham’s youth, the Young family eked out a meager living on the rough American frontier. Brigham later said, “I used to work in the woods logging and driving team, summer and winter, not half clad, and with insufficient food until my stomach would ache.”[iv]
Brigham began learning the trade of carpentry after his mother died.[v] Brigham’s father remarried in 1817, and about the same time Brigham began experiencing new freedoms and opportunities when he started an apprenticeship. At 18, Brigham opened a successful carpentry business in upstate New York. In 1823 the young carpenter met Miriam Works, whom he married a year later.[vi]
Brigham Young’s Conversion
Brigham and Miriam moved to Oswego, New York, and joined the Methodist Church.[vii] However, they felt a longing for something more and continued seeking for religious truth.[viii] Brigham first learned of the Book of Mormon after the Prophet Joseph Smith’s brother Samuel left a copy of the book with Brigham’s brother Phineas in 1830.[ix]
Several members of the Young family quickly accepted the Book of Mormon as the word of God, but Brigham’s conversion was more gradual.[x] Brigham later said of his conversion, 'I examined the matter studiously, for two years, before I made up my mind to receive that book. I knew it was true, as well as I knew I could see with my eyes, or feel by the touch of my fingers. . . . Had not this been the case, I never would have embraced it to this day.”[xi] In 1832, Brigham Young was baptized into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.[xii]
Miriam also joined the Church in 1832, but died soon afterward, leaving Brigham with the care of their two young daughters. Brigham married again, this time to a fellow convert named Mary Ann Angell.[xiii] Later, Brigham practiced plural marriage, or polygamy. This practice, by which one man is married to more than one woman, was followed by early Church members but is now strictly prohibited by the Church and has not been practiced by Church members for more than 100 years.[xiv]
After his conversion, Brigham became an enthusiastic missionary and supporter of the young Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. A few years later, in 1835, he was ordained as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, a leading council of the Church. Then, from 1839 to 1841, Brigham served a mission to Great Britain, where he helped bring between 7,000 and 8,000 people into the Church.[xv]
Brigham Young’s Leadership and Legacy
Brigham Young became the President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1847.[xvi] In the early and mid-1840s, not long before Brigham became the President of the Church, Church members had suffered from intense religious persecution in Illinois.[xvii] Church members sought refuge approximately 1,300 miles away in Utah, an unsettled part of the American West.[xviii] Brigham became the President of the Church during this period of westward migration, and oversaw the trek of tens of thousands of Latter-day Saints over several decades. He is one of the greatest colonizers in American history, and oversaw the settlement of nearly 400 communities in the American West.[xix] Because of this, “[He] is sometimes referred to as the American Moses.”[xx]
Brigham Young was the first governor of Utah. He also developed businesses and industries that helped Utah become prosperous. Brigham was a firm believer in the benefits of new technologies and welcomed both telegraph and railroad lines to Utah.[xxi] Despite Brigham’s limited formal education, he was a proponent of education for both men and women and helped establish multiple schools, two of which later became universities that are still thriving today.[xxii]
Brigham Young was also a renowned builder who oversaw construction work on various buildings, including two Latter-day Saint temples in Utah and the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City.[xxiii] The Tabernacle, today home to the famous Mormon Tabernacle Choir, was constructed in its signature “turtle back” shape at Brigham Young’s request.[xxiv] Brigham instructed builders to construct the Tabernacle, which was built to hold religious services, without pillars or posts supporting the roof because he didn’t want these supports to interfere with the audience’s view.[xxv] The Tabernacle, which has since been remodeled and renovated, is still used today for gatherings and musical performances.
Latter-day Saints past and present consider Brigham Young to be a prophet of God. To learn more about God’s prophets on the earth today, visit comeuntochrist.
[ii] See Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young , vii, 1.
[v] See Teachings: Brigham Young, vii.
[vii] See Encyclopedia of Mormonism (1992), “Young, Brigham,” 1602.
[ix] Encyclopedia of Mormonism, “Young, Brigham,” 1602.
[x] Leonard J. Arrington and JoAnn Jolley, “The Faithful Young Family,” Ensign, Aug. 1980, 55.
[xii] See Encyclopedia of Mormonism, “Young, Brigham,” 1602.
[xiii] See Encyclopedia of Mormonism, “Young, Brigham,” 1602–3.
[xiv] See “Brigham Young,” newsroom.churchofjesuschrist.org.
[xv] See Encyclopedia of Mormonism, “Young, Brigham,” 1602, 1603, 1604.
[xvi] See Presidents of the Church Student Manual (Church Educational System manual, 2013), 21.
[xvii] See Doctrine and Covenants Student Manual, 2nd ed. (Church Education System manual, 2001), 315.
[xviii] See “Great Salt Lake: Valley Emigration Square,” history.churchofjesuschrist.org.
[xix] See Encyclopedia of Mormonism, “Young, Brigham,” 1607.
[xx] “Brigham Young,” newsroom.churchofjesuschrist.org.
[xxi] See “Brigham Young,” newsroom.churchofjesuschrist.org.
[xxii] See Encyclopedia of Mormonism, “Young, Brigham,” 1608.
[xxiv] See “History of the Tabernacle,” newsroom.churchofjesuschrist.org.
[xxv] See “The Salt Lake Tabernacle and Other Historic Civil Engineering Landmarks,” thetabernaclechoir.org.