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The Conversion of Brigham Young

They were a typical large New England family–very poor—so poor in fact that the children were not afforded the luxury of an education. The only learning they received came in the form of hard work on the farm.

The parents were “some of the most strict religionists upon the earth.” To violate the family’s religious standards would bring forth swift paternal discipline. Mother was of a more gentle approach and revered by her children. She encouraged them to “do everything that is good; do nothing that is evil; and if you see any persons in distress administer to their wants.”

But then tuberculosis claimed Nabby Young resulting in the family being broken up and scattered. When he was only 16 years old Nabby and John Young’s ninth son, Brigham, left home to make his way in the world.

About this time that Brigham’s brother Lorenzo had a dream where he saw a gold carriage drawn by a beautiful pair of white horses. The Savior was in that carriage. When it stopped before Lorenzo, “the Savior inquired, ‘Where is your brother Brigham?’ After answering his question He inquired about my other brothers, and concerning my father….He stated that he wanted us all, but especially my brother Brigham.”

Brigham matured and became a skilled and conscientious craftsmen. When he was 23 years-old he married Miriam Works who was described as a “beautiful blond with blue eyes and wavy hair; gentle and lovable.” Together they had two children, Elizabeth and Vilate.

Brigham Young was fiercely independent. Though he never drank, when members of his family urged him to sign a temperance pledge, he refused, saying “I wish to do just right, without being bound to do it; I want my liberty. My independence is sacred to me.”

This independence carried into religion. He developed his own ideas of God and the scriptures. Amidst the fervor of revivalism he remained skeptical of Churches. They were empty to him. He wanted to know God, and how to find Him, but none could answer his questions. Angry ministers called him an infidel.

Brigham became discouraged. His questions remained unanswered—his quest unfulfilled.

Then came the Book of Mormon into the family. Father, brothers, sisters, and relatives all embraced it quickly, but not Brigham. He was leery of being taken in. For 18 months he pondered the Book, compared its teachings to the Bible, and scrutinized those who believed in it. It was not enough to feel or believe it was true, he had to know. Then came the day when Eleazar Miller bore humble testimony to the truth of the Restoration and Brigham’s soul was filled with light and certainty. He was baptized April 14, 1832. Miriam would follow three weeks later.

Brigham was reborn. “I wanted to thunder and roar out the Gospel to the nations,” he said, “It burned in my bones like fire pent up.” And preach the gospel he did, but he could never go far from home. Miriam had contracted tuberculosis and was slipping away. Each day Brigham “got breakfast for his wife, himself, and the little girls, dressed the children, cleaned up the house, carried his wife to the rocking chair by the fireplace and left her there until he could return in the evening. When he came home he cooked his own and the family’s supper, put his wife back to bed and finished up the day’s domestic labors.”

In September 1832, Miriam Young passed away, she and Brigham confident they would be together again forever. With his wife gone and his daughters under the motherly watch-care of Vilate Kimball, Brigham Young closed his shop, gave away his earthly possessions, and set out to change the world.

Source: Ronald K. Esplin, Conversion and Transformation: Brigham Young’s New York Roots and the Search for Bible Religion, in Regional Studies in Latter-day Saint Church History: 1992 (p. 165-201)

5 Responses

  1. Heber C. Kimball and Brigham were both taught the gospel from my ancestor
    Alpheus Gifford. During one of his prayers he began to speak in tongues and Brigham also began to speak in tongues bearing witness to the spirit.

  2. We just came back from Nauvoo – we heard you had been there. Friends from SC are missionaries there. One special part of our visit was touring the FM shops that Mike & Sue are working in. We thought of our beloved saints when we looked down on the frozen Mississippi – Did you know it is a $10,000 fine to walk on the ice? Two of our best friends in Kalamazoo are from Quincy. I think of their ancestors reaching out to the saints who so desperately needed help. Isn’t the world small? Thank you for writing!

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