Ezra T. Benson, a member of the Council of Twelve Apostles
from 1846 to 1869, was the first son of John and Chloe Benson, and was
born Feb. 22, 1811, in Mendon, Worcester county, Mass. His father was a
farmer and a very industrious man—a quality which his son inherited—and
Ezra T. lived with him, helping him on the farm until he was sixteen years
old. He then went to live with his sister and her husband, who were keeping
a hotel in the center of the town of Uxbridge. With them he remained three
His grandfather Benson was also a farmer, and while
engaged at work in the field he fell and suddenly died. At the death of
his grandfather, by the request of his grandmother, young Ezra T. took
charge of the farm, and when twenty years old he married Pamelia, the daughter
of Jonathan H. and Lucina Andrus, of Northbridge, Worcester county, Mass.
In 1832 he moved from the farm and bought out his brother-in-law, the hotel-keeper,
and kept the house about two years. In this business he made considerable
money, which he invested in hiring a cotton-mill and commencing, with his
wife's brother, the manufacture of cotton in the town of Holland, Mass.
Through a combination of causes, over which he had no control, he lost
money in this business, and retiring from it took a hotel in the same town.
He was also appointed postmaster. Though he made money in this business
he could not be content; he had a desire to visit the West. In the spring
of 1837 he had his family started.
While in Philadelphia he made the acquaintance of
a gentleman who spoke discouragingly about the West, and persuaded him
to go to the town of Salem, and he would assist him to go into business.
He remained in this place one year, and though his neighbors offered to
render him any assistance he might need to establish himself in business,
he still yearned for the West, and he started in that direction.
He touched at St. Louis, obtained a small stock of
goods, and then went up the Illinois river, not knowing where he should
land. But while on the river he made the acquaintance of a man, who proved
to be his father's cousin. He was living at Griggsville, Ill., and at that
town he concluded to stop. But he did not remain long there. He moved to
Lexington, in the same State, and afterwards to the mouth of the Little
Blue, where he and a man by the name of Isaac Hill laid out a town and
called it Pike. Here he built himself a dwelling-house and a warehouse.
But the place was sickly, and he was restless. In relation to these days,
he afterwards said that he felt the Lord was preparing him for the future
which awaited him, and later he could understand why he could not feel
contented in the various places where he visited, and where, so far as
worldly prospects were concerned, he had every opportunity of doing well.
Early in 1839 he heard of Quincy, Ill., and he was
led to go there in search of a home. There he met with the Latter-day Saints,
who had just been driven out of Missouri by mob violence. He heard they
were a very peculiar people; yet, in listening to the preaching of their
Elders, and in conversation with themselves, he found them very agreeable.
He boarded, during the winter, with a family of Latter-day Saints, and
formed a high opinion of them. In the spring of 1840 he secured two acres
of land in the town, fenced it in, and built a house upon it. During this
time he still associated with the Latter-day Saints, and his sympathies
were much moved towards them, and he held conversations with them about
their principles. A debate was held in Quincy between the Latter-day Saints
and Dr. Nelson, who was opposed to them, at which the Prophet Joseph
Smith was present.
From this debate he became convinced that the Latter-day
Saints were believers in and observers of the truths of the Bible. Though
pleased that the Saints had come off victorious, he had no idea at that
time that he would ever become one himself, yet their principles were the
chief topic of conversation with himself and family and neighbors, and
he and his wife attended their meetings. His wife was the first to avow
her belief in the doctrines, and when the word went out that they were
believers in what was called "Mormonism" a strong effort was made to get
him to join a sectarian church.
Elders Orson Hyde
and John E. Page visited Quincy about
this time, having started on their mission to Jerusalem, to which they
had been appointed. Their preaching seemed to have the effect to remove
whatever doubts there were remaining, and he and his wife were baptized
by the president of the Quincy branch, July 19, 1840. In the fall he went
to the conference of Nauvoo, and was ordained an Elder. After his return
to Quincy, he was visited by President Hyrum
Smith, who ordained him a High Priest, Oct. 25, 1840, and appointed
him to be second counselor to the president of the Stake, which he had
About the first of April, 1841, he moved to Nauvoo.
He bought a lot, fenced and improved it, and built a log house upon it.
June 1, 1842, he started on a mission to the Eastern States, where he remained
until the fall of 1843. He returned and remained until May, 1844, when
he again started east in company with Elder John Pack. When the news of
the death of Joseph, the Prophet, reached them, they returned. That fall
he was called to be a member of the High Council in Nauvoo, and in December
of that year was again sent east on a mission. He presided over the Boston
conference until the beginning of May, 1845, when he was counseled to gather
up all the Saints who could go and move them out to Nauvoo. The remainder
of that summer and fall he worked on the Temple, and at night frequently
stood guard to keep off the mob.
He moved out of Nauvoo with his family in the first
company in 1846. At Mount Pisgah he was appointed a counselor to Father
William Huntington. While at this place he received a letter from President
Young informing him of his appointment to the Quorum of the Twelve, instead
of John E. Page. He moved up to the main camp at Council Bluffs, where
he was ordained to the Apostleship, July 16, 1846, by Brigham
Young. Shortly afterwards he was sent east on a mission, from which
he returned Nov. 27, 1846. The next spring he accompanied President Young
as one of the Pioneers to Great Salt Lake valley, and after their arrival
there he was sent back to meet the companies which were coming on, to inform
them that a place of settlement had been found. After he met the companies
he returned to the valley, and then started back to Winter Quarters with
Another mission east had to be performed, and he
left the camp about the last day of 1847, and was absent several months.
Upon his return he was appointed to preside in pottawattamie county, Iowa,
being associated with president Orson Hyde and George
A. Smith. In 1849, in company with Geo. A. Smith, he moved to the valley.
He was dangerously sick on the road, and was not expected to live; but
the camp fasted and prayed for him, and he recovered. In 1851 he left the
valley on a mission to Pottawattamie county, to gather up the Saints, and
returned in August, 1852.
In 1856 he was appointed a mission to Europe, and,
with Elder Orson Pratt, presided over
the British mission until the fall of 1857, when he returned home. In 1860
he was appointed to preside in Cache valley, at which point he continued
to reside until his death.
With Apostle Lorenzo
Snow, and accompanied by Elders Joseph
F. Smith, Wm. W. Cluff and Alma L. Smith, he went on a mission to the
Sandwich Islands in 1864, and the boat in which they were landing on one
of the islands capsized. Brothers Benson and Snow were almost miraculously
saved from drowning. Having successfully performed their mission, they
returned to Utah, this being the last time Ezra T. Benson left Utah.
Besides performing these missions, Elder Benson filled
many important missions at home. He was also a member of the Provisional
State of Deseret, previous to the organization of the Territory; was a
member of the Territorial house of representatives for several sessions,
and during the last ten years of his life he was elected to the Territorial
council every term.
In 1869 he associated himself with Brothers Lorin
Farr and Chauncey W. West in taking a large grading contract on the Central
Pacific Railway. The fact that he was not able to obtain a settlement with
the railway company caused him considerable anxiety. On Sept. 3, 1869,
just as he had arrived at Ogden from his home in Logan, he died suddenly
while doctoring a sick horse. His body was conveyed to Logan, where the
funeral took place the following Sunday (Sept. 5th).