John Whittaker Taylor was a member of the Council
of Twelve Apostles from 1884 to 1905. He was the son of Pres. John
Taylor and Sophia Whittaker, and was born May 15, 1858, in Provo, Utah
county, Utah. This was at the time when Johnston's army was approaching
Utah with hostile intent; the Saints living in Salt Lake City prepared
to burn their homes, and then moved southward to various places in Utah
county. Pres. John Taylor and family were among the exiles who located
temporarily in Provo, where they rented from Roger Farrar a house of small
dimensions and unpretentious appearance. In this humble abode the subject
of this sketch was born.
Upon the settlement of the trouble which caused
the exodus from the northern settlements, Pres. Taylor and his family returned
to their home in the Fourteenth Ward, Salt Lake City. Here Brother John
W. was reared until he attained his twenty-fifth year, when he married
and removed to Cassia county, Idaho. In his boyhood days, as in later life,
he was industrious in his habits, being richly endowed with bodily health
and a strong, active mind.
He worked some at farming, and spent considerable
time laboring in his father's saw mill, which was near Kamas, towards the
headwaters of the Provo river. His father being somewhat hampered financially,
the children's opportunities for scholastic education were not so abundant
as those afforded the sons and daughters of some other families; but with
Pres. Taylor the education acquired in the schoolroom, though not deprecated
in the least, was regarded only as a small part of the broader education
to be gained in the practical walks of life. He taught his children with
great emphasis that whatever they undertook to do they should seek to do
well—that people, on examining a piece of work they admired, would first
ask who did it, but would care little about knowing what length of time
it required to complete it. He taught them to respect each other's rights;
and instead of governing his family by personal direction, he instructed
them in the principles of righteousness and placed them upon their own
responsibility to act for themselves. The grand and noble truths he sought
to implant within the hearts of his children were conspicuously exemplified
in his own life; and withal he possessed a spirituality and a veneration
for God and truth so great that few men in this world have equaled him
in the possession of such qualities.
The mother of John W., Sophia Whittaker Taylor,
was of a highly spiritual nature. She was patient, industrious and God-fearing.
Indeed she was the ideal type of a true Saint. No one of the numerous posterity
of Pres. Taylor inherited more of his excellent characteristics or developed
them in a stronger measure than did his son John W. In his early youth
he displayed an understanding of principle usually found only in persons
of more mature years. He attended Sunday Schools and meetings with great
regularity, and with his bosom friend and neighbor, Matthias
F. Cowley, studied the Scriptures and memorized scores of passages
bearing upon the most important principles of the gospel. By the time he
concluded his first mission in the Southern States he had memorized and
arranged in systematic order some four hundred such passages, chiefly from
the Old and New Testaments.
At about the age of fourteen years he was ordained
a Deacon, and magnified his calling by the faithful performance of the
duties of that office. Two years later he became a Teacher in the Ward
and worked faithfully in this capacity for a number of years. After receiving
his blessings in the house of the Lord, and being ordained an Elder, he
was chosen counselor, with Brother Matthins F. Cowley, to Pres. Edward
W. Davis of the Elders' quorum. In this capacity he also collected donations
for the building of the Salt Lake Temple at a time when contributions for
that purpose was raised through the quorums of the Holy Priesthood.
Brother Taylor was also an active worker in the
Fourteenth Ward Sunday School. He had charge of the primary class, consisting
of about one hundred pupils. His ability to entertain and an the same time
to impress the children with good, sound doctrine was very marked. He possessed
a vein of humor and a happy faculty for making appropriate comparisons
which enabled him to attract and retain the attention of children. The
general assistant superintendent of Sunday Schools, Elder George Goddard,
pronounced Brother Taylor the best primary teacher he knew of in the Church.
A little incident which occurred one day in his
Sunday School class will show his practical way of teaching, and at the
same time illustrate his novel yet graceful and effective manner of correcting
what he regarded as an erroneous idea. The Fourteenth Ward meeting house
being near to the principal hotels of the city, tourists from the east
and west would frequently visit the Sunday School held therein. Upon one
occasion when a large number of these visitors came into Bro. Taylor's
classroom he invited some of them to address the children. One religious
gentleman exhorted the children to be very prayerful, and reminded them
how nice a prayer was the simple rhyme
Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep;
If I should die before I wake,
I pray the Lord my soul to take.
This little verse he repeated to the children several
times, and sought to impress the beauty of it upon their minds. When he
concluded his remarks, Brother Taylor arose and questioned the pupils in
substance about as follows: "How many of you say your prayers?"
All hands went up.
"When do you pray?"
The answer came, "Night and morning."
"To whom do you pray?"
"To the Lord," was the ready response.
"For what do you pray?"
"We pray for what we want," again came the answer.
"Very good," said the teacher, "these ladies and
gentlemen are going on a visit to California. Would you like them to have
a good time and to return home alive and well?"
"Yes, sir," was the hearty reply.
"How will you help them to do that?" inquired the
"By praying for them," once more came the children's
"Will you say in your prayer, "Now I lay me down
to sleep?" etc., asked the teacher, leading the class to the point he wished
to make, and gently reproving the visiting speaker, by the emphasis he
placed upon the question.
"No, sir," shouted the children in chorus.
"Then what will you say in your prayer?" came the
"We'll ask the Lord to keep the train from jumping
the track," was the sensible reply.
The lesson thus taught would not be forgotten very
soon either by the children or the visitors.
At this period Bro. Taylor was only about nineteen
years old, and, besides being a Sunday School teacher, was a worker in
the Mutual Improvement Association, a Teacher in the Ward and a counselor
in the Elders' quorum; and for daily employment he secured a position in
the county recorder's office. He afterwards was employed for some time
in the office of the "Deseret News." As a penman he was among the best
in the country; and his ingenuity in mechanical pursuits was also of an
In his boyhood days, while working at his father's
sawmill, he received some remarkable dreams that were prophetic in their
nature, and which have since been verified. These manifestations were living
testimonies to him that Jesus is the Christ and that Joseph
Smith was truly a Prophet of God. So vivid were these dreams that they
are as clear on his memory to-day as when they were given. In 1876 he received
a patriarchal blessing under the hands of Patriarch William McBride, in
which his call to the public ministry was predicted, together with other
most remarkable prophecies, several of which have already been fulfilled.
In the fall of 1880 Elder Taylor was called upon
a mission to the Southern States, and with Elder Matthias F. Cowley, the
companion of his boyhood, was assigned by Pres. John Morgan to introduce
the gospel into Terrell and Randolph counties, southwest Georgia, they
being the first Elders in that part of the State. He labored in those two
counties during the winter of 1880-81, baptized two individuals, and bore
testimony to hundreds of people. In the spring the two Elders went north
to Clayton, Campbell and Henry counties, where they labored a few months,
and after the conference of the State, held in Harolson county, he labored
with Elder William J. Packer in Polk and other counties, where, in a short
time between thirty and forty people received the gospel through their
Elder Taylor was then sent to the State of Kentucky.
Here he labored with Jacob G. Bigler with great success, baptizing about
eighteen people. He was released in the spring of 1882. During this mission
he enjoyed much power in preaching the gospel, and the spirit of prophecy
rested upon him to a great extent. Many times when standing before a congregation
of people, his countenance was resplendent with the light and inspiration
of the Holy Ghost. Many people were impressed with the divinity of the
message which he bore, and some honest-in-heart remarked, "Surely you must
be inspired, or you could not speak as you do!"
In missionary labor Bro. Taylor in a happy manner
always adapted himself to the circumstances of the people with whom he
labored. He would help them plow the corn, work in the cotton or tobacco
fields, and while side by side with the farm laborers he was equal or superior
to them in speed and endurance; while thus working in the field he would
preach the gospel to those about him. He had great faith in administering
to the sick, and many were healed under his administration. The spirit
of prophecy was enjoyed to a marked extent by Elder Taylor.
The following occurrences will serve to bear out
his statement: When he read the inaugural address of President James A.
Garfield, a spirit of inspiration came upon him and he remarked, "Something
will happen to that man!" On learning of the assassination of the President,
some months later, Elder Taylor's missionary companion, to whom the prophetic
utterance was made, recalled the prediction While laboring with Elder Bigler,
the two approached a house one evening and applied for entertainment Filled
with the gift of inspiration Brother Taylor, in his characteristic manner,
said, "We have a message for you from heaven; and if you will entertain
us, it shall be made known to you by dreams this very night that we are
the true servants of the Lord." They were invited in and their wants provided
for. That night the father of the household as well as some of the children
had dreams that were satisfying to them that the Elders they were entertaining
were servants of the Lord.
The mother also had a dream or vision which was
most assuring to her mind that these men were sent of God. In this dream
a heavenly messenger appeared to her. She had been for some time in a quandary
about which of the religions she was acquainted with was the right one
So she enquired of this messenger concerning the matter. Thereupon there
passed before her all the preachers she was acquainted with or had ever
seen in the neighborhood. Then the messenger asked if she was satisfied
with either of them. She replied that she was not. She was next carried
away in a vision to a steep cliff the top of which she was trying to reach.
One of the sectarian preachers whom she had before met appeared above her
and offered her something to grasp and thereby draw herself up to the summit
of the rock. What he held out to her proved to be nothing but a straw,
and it snapped in two the moment she caught hold of it. He next offered
a stick, but this too proved to be useless as it was rotten. Presently
Elder Taylor appeared on the top of the cliff. He offered his hand to help
her up, and she at once gained the desired footing upon the rock. Still
she was not entirely satisfied as to who had the truth.
Another scene then presented itself to view. An
open field spread out before her in which appeared all the preachers she
previously saw in vision. In a moment they all vanished from her sight
and directly before her there stood the two "Mormon" Elders who had received
shelter under her roof. Upon being asked again by the messenger if she
was satisfied, she replied that she was. The family was afterwards baptized
into the Church. Some time later Elder Taylor, on leaving the house, one
very clear, bright morning, said to a little girl, belonging to this same
family, whom he saw in the front yard, "My little girl, a storm is coming
here today." The child told her parents what the Elder had said, and they
in their honest confidence in the word of Bro. Taylor, without waiting
for further indications of a storm, housed themselves up and waited for
its approach. Sure enough in the afternoon the howling tornado came and
did considerable damage. But the family who believed in a living Prophet
prepared for the predicted event and escaped all harm.
While laboring in Rochester, Butler county, Kentucky,
March 19, 1882, on this same mission, he wrote a letter to Elder Matthias
F. Cowley, who at the time was also laboring as a missionary in St.
Louis, Missouri. In this letter he made this prediction: "I believe I speak
by the spirit of prophecy when I say, if you are faithful you will yet
become one of the Twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ in all
the world, and by the power of God and the eternal Priesthood will become
great in wisdom and knowledge. Amen." No one but the two Elders knew of
this prophecy until after its fulfillment, fifteen years later, when Elder
Cowley was chosen and ordained an Apostle.
Another incident in his career will serve to show
his inspirational nature: While addressing a public meeting on the principles
of the gospel, during his labors in the Colorado mission, he became impressed
that a certain lady who was present would accept the gospel. At the close
of the meeting he inquired of her what she thought of the doctrines she
had heard. The lady expressed herself as being pleased, and willing to
hear more about the faith of the Latter-day Saints. An appointment was
therefore made for Elder Taylor to visit her and her husband. The result
was that the lady soon afterwards joined the Church.
Upon his return from the Southern States, Elder
Taylor was called as a counselor to Elder Joseph H. Felt, president of
the Young Men's Mutual Improvement Associations of the Salt Lake Stake.
In this position he labored with his characteristic energy and vim. In
the spring of 1884 he was chosen to fill a vacancy in the quorum of the
Twelve Apostles, being ordained an Apostle on April 9th, of that year,
by his father, who was then President of the Church. Years previous to
his ordination to this office it had been predicted that he would receive
this calling. The prediction was made by a sister who spoke in tongues
in a fast meeting in the Fourteenth Ward, Salt Lake City.
After his call to the Apostleship much of his time
was devoted to the ministry, and he fulfilled many important calls of a
public character which have been made upon him by those in authority. Once
he went to Washington, D. C., in company with others and presented to President
Grover Cleveland an appeal from the Saints for their rights. In 1884 he
went on a mission to Mexico, and had the privilege while there of meeting
President Diaz. On his return from this mission he served a term in the
Utah legislature. Another mission given him was to preach to the people
of the Uintah Stake. Here he performed a good work, bringing a large number
of people there into the Church, and awakening to renewed spiritual life
many Church members who had become cold and indifferent.
He had considerable business transactions with the
government officials of Canada, by whom he was held in high esteem. In
1887 he had an interview with the then Canadian premier, Sir John A. McDonald,
and to whom he had the privilege of bearing testimony to the truth of the
gospel. His labors in the interest of the colonies of the Latter-day Saints
in Canada were persistent and fruitful. By his practical preaching and
inspired prophesying he has greatly encouraged the Saints in that newly-settled
country, and endeared himself to them by the interest he took in their
spiritual as well as temporal welfare.
In 1896 he was called to open a mission of the Church
in the adjoining State of Colorado. Elders Herbert A. White, William C.
Clive, J. H. Boshard, Horace S. Ensign and Fred. C. Graham were assigned
as missionaries to the same field, to assist him in the work. In the latter
part of December, 1896, he proceeded to Denver, some of his fellow-missionaries
having gone there a few days before. Here the brethren at once began active
labors, traveling without purse or scrip. Their efforts were attended with
success, and within six months some forty-four persons were baptized.
In many respects Apostle Taylor was quite unlike
the generality of mankind, as he possessed a combination of traits that
was somewhat uncommon. And while these traits are what might be regarded
as peculiarities, they were nevertheless evidences of moral strength and
independence of spirit, as well as originality of thought and action. He
was pre-eminently spiritual-minded, as will be readily perceived from what
has been related in the foregoing; and his talents, while not of a showy
kind, are such as to fit hint admirably for the public ministry. As a missionary
he was highly successful. He baptized over two hundred and fifty new converts
to the gospel, most of whom accepted the truth through his personal ministration.
Having had a wide acquaintance with the Scriptures,
and being sound in doctrine, as well as apt in illustration by means
of anecdote and incident, he was always able to hold the attention of his
hearers, whether in private conversation or in public speaking. What is
more important, his preaching evinced great freedom of the Spirit. At times
he spoke with much power and his words carried conviction to the hearts
of those who listen. Again, particularly when speaking upon everyday duties,
his remarks were replete with wise counsel and suggestion, accompanied
often with quaint humor.
Though a great missionary, and often filled with
the spirit, a difference of opinion arose between him and the First Presidency
of the Church and the members of his own quorum in regard to the manifesto
issued by President Wilford Woodruff concerning plural marriages, Bro.
Taylor resigned from his position as one of the Twelve Apostles in April,
1906. This was followed six years later by his excommunication. His blessings were restored after his death. After the resignation, he retired to private life and spent the remainder of
his days attending to necessary labors in providing for his large family.
Bro. Taylor died at his home in Forest Dale, Salt
Lake county, Utah, Oct. 10, 1916. In an obituary published in the "Deseret
Evening News" on the day of his demise the following occurs: "Early in
life John W. Taylor developed a marked spirituality and was the recipient
of many manifestations of the power of God. His testimonies of the gospel
and of the missions of the Savior and the Prophet Joseph Smith were deeply
grounded in his soul, and to them he remained firm and unshaken to the
end. . . . His inspired discourses will never be forgotten.
He will be remembered as one filled with the inspiration
of the Holy Ghost; his teachings and testimonies were a source of renewed
diligence and encouragement to the Latter-day Saints. He was filled with
the spirit of prophecy, and many of his utterances have realized a striking
fulfillment. In a temporal capacity he took great interest in the colonization
of the unsettled parts of the country, and he was especially interested
in the development of the settlements in Canada. The Saints there never
weary of telling how much support he gave them by word and deed and how
remarkably his predictions concerning the future of that country have been
fulfilled. The Taylor Stake of Zion in southern Alberta was named in his
honor. He was also highly respected by the non-Mormon business men of Canada
and in this country.
He also presided over the Colorado Mission with
marked ability, and by those who knew him in the mission field he is esteemed
as one of the best of missionaries ever known in the Church. His happy
disposition, coupled with a vein of humor, and his remarks filled with
holy inspiration in public and private, won for him the confidence and
respect of all around him. He got out of harmony with the Church and as
a result the Council of the Twelve excommunicated him from the Church;
but he never became bitter toward the Church. Like his illustrious father,
he was a man of deep and strong convictions, 'The Kingdom of God or nothing,'
was his motto. He loved righteousness and hated iniquity. His life was
clean and pure, his language chaste and elevating. His family and friends
who stood by his bedside during his last illness will never forget his
beautiful teachings and exhortations, upholding the doctrines of the gospel,
the authority of the holy priesthood, exhorting all to keep the commandments
He was blessed with a numerous family, all of whom
survive him except three of his children. They all have an honorable standing
in the Church with good moral characters. They are true, loving and loyal
to each other and filled with love, confidence and respect for their honored
husband and father."