This Biographical sketch adapted and amended from
the LDS Biographical Encyclopedia, Andrew Jenson, Vol. 1, p.206
and other sources. Grampa Bill's editorial additions in brackets, .
George Reynolds, one of the First Seven Presidents of
Seventies since 1890, was born Jan. 1, 1842, in Marylebone, London, England.
His father, George Reynolds, was from Totnes, Devonshire; his mother, originally
Miss Julia Ann Tautz, was of German descent. George's father was a master
tailor in the West End of London.
The first that George heard of "Mormonism" was in
a conversation among the workmen who were sitting, "tailor fashion," cross
legged, in a circle round a large, upright gas burner on his father's shopboard.
The men were talking about religion, and much to George's disgust, for
he was then very young, probably about seven years old, he heard one of
the men laughingly declare that his was no every day religion; he was going
up to heaven in a balloon with both ends on fire. This sacrilegious speech
drew the child's attention and he listened to what followed. Soon he heard
the tailors talking of a young man in America who had discovered, in the
ground, some plates which he had translated by the help of the Urim and
Thummim. George had been told by some one that the Urim and Thummim mentioned
in the Bible had been carried from Jerusalem to Rome by the Roman soldiery
and had been lost in the river Tiber; and he could not understand how these
holy things got to America. It never entered his mind that there could
be more than one Urim and Thummim.
George spent much of the early portion of his life
with his maternal grandmother, that is his mother's mother. When he was
nine years old she lived in a large house in London, parts of which she
rented to two aged maiden ladies. One of these ladies had a little servant
maid who was called Mary, though her real name was Sarah White. Now George
was a very timid little boy; he had a terrible fear of the darkness, he
disliked the moonlight and was in terror of ghosts. One day he summoned
up courage enough to speak to Mary, and the first thing he said was, "Mary,
are you afraid of ghosts?" The acquaintance thus strangely begun, ripened
into a strong friendship, and George, who was of a strongly religious nature,
began making inquiries as to whether Mary went to church. Learning from
her that she did, he obtained his grandma's permission to go with her.
She took him to the meetings of the Paddington branch of the Church of
Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and he no sooner heard the principles
of the gospel taught by the Elders than he was satisfied of their truth
and wished to be baptized.
Then war began. He being so young, the brethren would
not baptize him without his parents' consent; and notwithstanding all his
pleadings and persuasions they remained firm in their refusal, and George
had to remain unbaptized for several years. In the meantime, George, by
many childish artifices, used to evade his parents' wishes and now and
then attend the meetings and visit the Saints whom he had met. As the years
rolled by, the boy, with the feeling then so prevalent in the Church that
the coming of the Savior in glory was "nigh, nigh at hand," made an elaborate
mathematical calculation that before he was twenty-one years old Christ
would come. Consequently, if he had to wait until he was that age before
he could be baptized without his parents' consent he would be outside the
Church at the time of that glorious appearing and would be damned. So,
when fourteen years old he went to another branch of the Church (the Somers
Town), where he was not known, and asked for baptism.
He was baptized Sunday, May 4, 1856, and the next
Sunday was confirmed by Elder George Teasdale, who was then president of
the branch. The Lord in His kindness had given George a testimony of the
truth of "Mormonism" long before he was baptized, for it was not his fault
that he had not obeyed this sacred ordinance, or as we sometimes say, the
Lord "took the will for the deed."
In the December following his baptism George was
ordained a Deacon, and if you were to ask him he would tell you he never
magnified any office in the Church as well as he did that one. He took
a pride in never being absent from meeting, and in being there the very
first to open the doors and prepare the rooms. The next May he was ordained
a Priest and sent out, with an older companion, to preach in the streets
of London. He was small of his age, and occasionally some youthful listener
about his own age would advise him to get a sheet of brown paper to stand
upon so that the people could see him.
The first time he went out, a few days after his
ordination as a Priest, his companion was Elder Francis Burrell, who chose
that well known London thoroughfare, the Tottenham Court Road, as the place
to hold forth. He borrowed a chair, mounted it and began to talk of the
Kingdom of God; that the kingdom would necessarily have a king, territory,
laws and officers. "And here comes one." cried a voice in the crowd. Then
a policeman appeared and ordered Brother Burrell to "move on," as no preaching
was permitted at that corner. So they moved on.
George was not altogether sorry. He used in those
days to wear a little round jacket like those we see in the pictures of
the boys of Eton and other English public schools. He came to the conclusion
that if he bought a coat, he would look more like a man and people would
listen to him better. Before the next Sunday he did so, but it was not
altogether a success—to use an expression of a facetious friend, "it fitted
him like a sentry box, all over and touched nowhere." In plain English
it was too large. But it answered its purpose. George felt more of a man
in it, and he took great pleasure in bearing his testimony week after week,
year after year at the street corners.
George's parents soon discovered that he had joined
the Church, and then that he was engaged in street preaching. His father
used to talk to his customers about the matter. One advised that he tie
his son up to the bed post and thrash "Mormonism" out or him; another that
the boy be confined in a lunatic asylum; a third that he be taken before
a magistrate and committed to prison; but "in a multitude of counselors
there was safety" for George, for his father never adopted any of these
harsh measures, and by degrees became reconciled to the course his son
George, notwithstanding his youth, soon had numerous
duties conferred upon him. He was made secretary of the branch Sunday School;
secretary and afterwards president of its tract society; he was appointed
an acting teacher, and the secretary of the branch. In August, 1860, he
was ordained an Elder, and in May, 1861, he was called into the traveling
ministry and appointed to labor in the London conference, under the presidency
of Elder William C. Staines. In 1863 he was changed to the Liver
pool office, as emigration clerk to Pres. George
Q. Cannon, and later as chief clerk, in which capacity he also served
under Pres. Daniel H. Wells. During
this time he was made superintendent of the Liverpool branch Sunday school
and afterward president of the branch.
In May, 1865, he was released to emigrate to Zion,
and reached Salt Lake City July 5th of the same year. His trip to Zion
was an unusually quick one for that period, as he did not travel with any
regular company of immigrants, but had only two companions—Elders Wm. S.
Godbe and Wm H. Shearman. It was the time of the Sioux war, the stage company
could not take them, so Brother Godbe purchased an outfit, and after a
few adventures, such as being chased by the hostile Indians, they arrived
safe in Salt Lake City.
Shortly after his arrival in Salt Lake City, Brother
Reynolds secured employment from Brother William Jennings, but before the
close of the year he went to work in Pres. Brigham
Young's office, and soon after became his secretary. His time was engaged,
with brief exceptions, in the employ of the Church from that time to his
Elder Reynolds married his first wife Mary
Ann Tuddenham on July 22, 1865 only weeks after his arrival at Salt Lake
City.The couple had twelve children.
Soon after his arrival in Utah, Brother Reynolds
joined the Territorial militia—the old Nauvoo Legion. He was a lieutenant
in the third regiment of infantry, and secretary of the regiment. In the
former capacity he commanded Company H at the famous Wooden Gun Rebellion,
in November, 1870, but, unlike most of the other officers, he was not arrested
and sent to Camp Douglas.
In February, 1869, Elder Reynolds was elected by
the legislative assembly of the Territory a member of the board of regency
of the University of Deseret, and was again elected to that office by the
next and later legislatures. In May, 1871, Brother Reynolds returned to
Europe, he having been called to assist Elder Albert Carrington in the
editorship of the "Millennial Star." In the following September Pres. Albert
Carrington was called back to Zion on account of complications growing
out of legal persecutions, and Elder Reynolds was left in charge of the
spiritual concerns of the European Mission. Shortly before this he had
suffered a severe attack of smallpox, and on Pres. Carrington's return
to Liverpool, in May, 1872, Brother Reynolds was released to return home,
as his health remained quite poor.
Determined to live the Gospel of Jesus Christ as
he understood it, and accepting the principle of plural marriage, on August
3, 1874, Elder Reynolds took as his second wife Amelia Jane Schofield.
She would present him over the years with twelve more children.
Soon after his return he was placed by Pres. Brigham
Young first as treasurer and afterwards as manager of the Salt Lake Theatre.
He later, in connection with W. T. Harris, became lessee of that well-known
place of amusement. From 1875 to July, 1879, Brother Reynolds sat as a
member of the municipal council of Salt Lake City.
In the fall of 1874, when [the despicable] Judge
McKean was chief justice of Utah, strong efforts were made to find indictments,
under the Congressional law of 1862 against polygamy, and the arrest of
a number of the leading authorities of the Church was threatened. The Latter-day
Saints, believing this law to be unconstitutional, and that it would be
so declared by the Supreme Court of the United States, the representatives
of the Church agreed to furnish a test case.
This idea the federal officers readily accepted and
agreed to give the accused a fair trial so that the constitutionality of
the law could be decided. Brother Reynolds was chosen to stand in the gap.
He furnished the witnesses and testimony to the grand jury, and on October
23rd, that body found a true bill against him. On March 31, 1875, his trial
before [the contemptible] Judge Emerson commenced. It lasted two days.
He was found guilty and sentenced to one year's imprisonment and to pay
a fine of three hundred dollars.
He appealed to the supreme court of the Territory,
who set the indictment aside on the ground of the illegality of the grand
jury who found it. Oct. 30, 1875, another indictment was found against
him, and on Dec. 9, 1875, his second trial commenced, this time before
[the wretched] Chief Justice White. The jury returned a verdict of guilty,
and he was sentenced to two years' imprisonment with hard labor and to
pay a fine of five hundred dollars. An appeal to the Territorial supreme
court was again taken. The case came up June 13, 1876, and the decision
of the lower court was unanimously sustained.
An appeal was then taken to the Supreme Court of
the United States, but the case was not called up until Nov. 14, 1878.
Jan. 6, 1879, [the vile] Chief Justice Waite delivered the decision of
the court confirming the decisions of the lower courts; the hard labor
clause being eliminated by the Supreme Court as being in excess of the
law. The corrected sentence was pronounced by the district court June 14,
1879, and on the 16th Brother Reynolds started, in charge of two deputy
marshals, for the Nebraska State penitentiary at Lincoln. 'There he was
shaved, had his hair cropped close, was dressed in the broad blue and white
stripes, and became known as U. S. Prisoner, No. 14.
He was appointed bookkeeper in the knitting department.
The Lincoln penitentiary was then carried on under the silent system. No
prisoner was allowed to speak outside the cells. There were two prisoners
in each cell; Brother Reynolds' cell mate was a party by the name of Johnson,
convicted of burglary. When the prisoners left their cells for the work
shops they always walked in the lock step. His right hand used to be on
the shoulder of a murderer, while the burglar had his right hand on Brother
He only remained in Lincoln twenty-five days—very
long ones to him—when he was brought back to Utah and placed in the Territorial
penitentiary. In those days things were pretty rough at that institution,
its regulations were very primitive, and vermin was abundant. There were
no cells. Brother Reynolds was placed in one of the iron cages which were
contained in a thin lumber building, and had Brother Lorenzo Colton as
his companion. A new bunk house was shortly after built. Into it Brother
Reynolds was transferred. It was made of two-by-four green lumber. There
was a crack every two inches through which the winter winds blew. No fire
was permitted for fear the prisoners might burn it down. The thermometer
is said to have gone down to thirty degrees below zero, and how some of
the prisoners who had only one shoddy blanket to cover them escaped being
frozen to death is a mystery. Brother Reynolds was supplied with plenty
of bed clothing by his friends, but he generally went to bed with all his
clothes on and a woolen comforter wrapped around his head. In the morning
his beard would be one solid mass of ice. More bed clothing only added
to the weight, it did not increase the warmth.
He was released Jan. 20, 1881, having served his
full time, less his good conduct allowance. While in prison Brother Reynolds
did a great deal of writing in the prison yard, and for some time taught
a school composed of prisoners. Ever since his arrival in Utah, Elder Reynolds
took an active interest in Sunday Schools. In 1867 he was secretary of
the Eighth Ward (Salt Lake City) Sunday School and the teacher of the boys'
Bible class. Having removed his residence to the Twentieth Ward, he became,
in 1868, librarian and a teacher in its Sunday School, and in December,
1869, was chosen its superintendent. This position he retained (with the
exception of the periods of his absence on his mission and during his imprisonment)
until the spring of 1885.
On April 26, 1885, notwithstanding the illegal imprisonment
he had endured, Elder Reynolds affirmed his testimony of the Gospel by
taking Mary Goold as his third wife. The couple had no children
At the Sunday School Convention held in November,
1900, he was chosen second assistant general superintendent, and at the
reorganization of the superintendency, owing to the deaths of Superintendents
Cannon and Maeser, he was appointed first assistant general superintendent.
Brother Reynolds was a very diligent and zealous worker in the Sunday School
Union—especially as the chairman of several standing committees of its
On March 18, 1866, Elder Reynolds was ordained a
Seventy by Elder Israel Barlow, and received into the sixth quorum. In
December, 1875, he was transferred to the twenty-fourth quorum and became
a member of the council of that quorum. At the April conference, 1890,
he was sustained as one of the First Seven Presidents of Seventies. He
was set apart to that position by the Twelve Apostles, Pres. Lorenzo
Snow being mouth, on the 10th of the same month.
Brother Reynolds did much literary work in connection
with the publications of the Church. At times he acted as an associate
editor on the Deseret News, and also as assistant to Pres. Geo.
Q. Cannon on the Juvenile Instructor, of which latter periodical
he became one of the associate editors. He also wrote a number of books,
of which the best known are his Story and his Dictionary of the
Book of Mormon. For over twenty-one years he was engaged in the preparation
of a Concordance of the Book of Mormon. This was a work the magnitude
of which few, who have not undertaken something similar, can understand.
Besides the callings he has held in the Church and
in connection with its auxiliary organizations, the subject of this sketch
occupied a number of positions in the business community, for instance,
as a director of Z. C. M. I., of Zion's Savings Bank, of the Deseret Telegraph
Line, etc., etc.
He was a strong believer in the divinity of the United
Order, and at the time Pres. Brigham Young was seeking to establish it
among the Saints, Brother Reynolds was an officer in the original order,
No. 1, and of the local organization where he resided.
Elder Reynolds was a member of the American Association
for the Advancement of Science.
Elder Reynolds continued his activities in the Church
until 1907, when he had a breakdown, due to over work, from which he never
fully recovered, and after long suffering passed peacefully to rest, Aug.
9, 1909, surrounded by his family, at his residence, at the corner of Wall
and Apricot streets, on Capitol Hill, Salt Lake City. Through his extensive
literary work and through his long association, a third of a century or
more, with the Sunday school work and other prominent Church activities,
Bro. Reynolds was as widely known as any man in Utah and wherever known,
was universally esteemed for his honor, integrity and kindness of heart.
He was a gifted writer.
He was secretary to the First Presidency of the Church
during a part of the administration of President Brigham Young and filled
the same position for all the First Presidencies up to the time of his
demise, being constantly in the employ of the Church. For many years he
was superintendent of the Twentieth Ward Sunday School, and at the time
of his death was the oldest member of the Deseret Sunday School Union Board,
being one of its officers since its inception. For many years he was a
member of the general superintendency and its treasurer. He was also deeply
interested in the affairs of the State schools.
The Deseret Evening News of Aug. 10, 1909,
commenting upon the life of George Reynolds, said: "Few men in the Church
have been more incessantly devoted to the work of the last dispensation
than the man who has just gone to his rest. His connection with the Church
dates from his early boyhood and was the result of his individual conviction
of the divinity of the message as he heard it declared by the missionaries
of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Before reaching his
teens, he was preaching the gospel on the streets of London and ceased
not to proclaim the glad tidings until the final summons of yesterday.
To him the gospel was meat and drink, breath and life. Elder George Reynolds
has manifested earnestness, sincerity, devotion and power, such as come
only through divine inspiration. As a patriarch he passes with honor, leaving
a large posterity to emulate his noble example."
[The Encyclopedia of Mormonism states that
Elder Reynolds fathered thirty-two children of record. The Ancestral
File lists only twenty-four.]