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Who was Brigham Young?

Updated on December 26, 2016

Brigham Young was a American religious leader and colonizer. Born Whitingham, Vt., June 1, 1801. Died Salt Lake City, Utah, Aug. 29, 1877.

Young was a foremost leader of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, popularly called Mormons. In his early life he worked as a painter and glazier in New York State. He became interested in Mormon-ism and, following a great religious transformation, was received into the Church in 1832. He was ordained an elder in the same year and began an active ministry in New York. Thereafter he brought Mormon converts to the settlement at Kirt-land Hills, Ohio, made a successful preaching tour of the eastern United States, and distinguished himself in a semimilitary expedition to relieve persecuted Mormons in Missouri. In recognition of his abilities, Young was made an original member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, which became one of the most powerful Mormon institutions.

By 1839, Young had become the senior member of the council, and he organized the emigration of persecuted Mormons from Missouri. He led them to Hancock County, 111., where for a short time he worked to establish Nauvoo, a thriving new Mormon capital. Young then went to Britain, where he spent the years from 1839 to 1841 as a missionary.

Returning to the United States, Young again preached in the East before returning to Nauvoo. In 1844, after the murder of the Mormon leader Joseph Smith, Young took over interim leadership of the church. Persecution continued, however, and in 1846 the Mormons were once again forced to emigrate. Young declared that he would lead them to a land that was so desolate that no one would covet it or try to take it from them. He led his flock of several thousand persons westward across the country, and in 1847 they reached the valley of the Great Salt Lake. There, Young founded Salt Lake City as the center of Mormonism.

Under his direction, Young's followers set to work constructing irrigation facilities, bringing the land under cultivation, building the new city, and laying the foundations for the Mormon temple. Young set up the Perpetual Emigration Fund to provide financial help for new converts settling in the area and established more than 350 communities. He named the new Mormon homeland the State of Deseret and established a theocracy.

In 1850, Young was made territorial governor of the region, which the U.S. Congress had made the Territory of Utah. That year he also founded the University of Deseret, which later became the University of Utah. Young was deprived of the governorship in 1858, when he refused to suppress the Mormon practice of polygamy, or plural marriage, but he continued in fact as leader of the territory. In 1871 he was indicted for polygamy and accused of murder, but he was freed from both charges.

During his last years, Young continued his work of building the Utah Territory and strengthening his Church. He sent missionaries to Asia and Europe, bringing thousands of immigrants to the United States.


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