About the Collection

John Lyman Smith

by Jeffrey S. Hardy

See Diary

John Lyman Smith was born on 17 November 1823 in Potsdam, St. Lawrence County, New York, to John Smith and Clarissa Lyman. In 1832 Mormon missionaries converted the family to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS); the next year they moved to Kirtland to join the body of the saints and on 17 November 1836 John was baptized. Subsequent moves took the family to Missouri, where John witnessed the violence perpetrated against the LDS people, and then to Nauvoo, Illinois. In all of these locations John attended school and worked odd jobs, and in Illinois he joined the Nauvoo Legion just prior to the death of his cousin, Joseph Smith.

John married Augusta Bowen Cleveland on 9 July 1845 in Nauvoo; their union produced eight children, six of whom survived infancy. After the Mormon expulsion from Nauvoo in 1846, John and Augusta joined the Daniel Spence/Peregrine Sessions Company of the overland migration, departing from Winter Quarters, Nebraska, on 18 June 1847 and arriving in the Salt Lake Valley in late September. Of this occasion he remarked, "the feeling of joy that pervaded our bosoms when we found the place of rest, the home of peace,…made us unspeakably happy."1 After a few years in Salt Lake City, John was called in 1851 to help settle Parowan, Iron County, Utah, and soon became Iron County’s legislative representative for the territory of Utah. John married Mary Adelia Haight in polygamy on 2 March 1853; they were blessed with two sons, but both died in an industrial accident in 1882.

On 6 April 1855 John was appointed to labor as a missionary for the Church in Europe and the next month he left his family and began the long journey. After crossing the plains he stayed with Emma Smith and other relatives that had remained in Illinois for a few days before continuing his travels. Upon arriving in England on 11 August 1855 Franklin D. Richards called him to preside over the Swiss and Italian Mission. He spent his first several months learning German and becoming acquainted with the operations of the mission; on 23 October 1856 he reported, "I returned to Zurich, addressed the Saints in German in the evening, and from this time I had no difficulty in making people understand me."2 The persecution of the saints was great at this time and the missionaries were frequently harassed by both mobs and the police. On one occasion John wrote, "During the month I was stoned once and frequently followed from place to place by mobs of from 20 to 30."3 On 29 August 1857 he was released from his mission and returned to America after spending a few months in England. In crossing the plains he joined the John W. Berry Company and arrived in Salt Lake City on 21 June 1858, just before Johnston’s Army arrived.

After the cessation of hostilities John engaged in many pursuits in and around Salt Lake City such as working as a guard and a policeman; studying history, law, German, and photography; and serving in the territorial legislature. This period shortly ended, however, for on 22 September John was called to serve a second mission in Switzerland. He arrived on 4 January 1861 and immediately took control of the mission. He preached the gospel and oversaw the emigration of Church members to America. He demonstrated his faith to a fellow missionary, declaring that we must "speak plainly and boldly what the Lord gives us through his Spirit and…if we are faithful he will protect us."4 He also counseled to "Be wise in what you do, and let the girls alone."5 After three years laboring in this capacity John was released to return home. He led a group of immigrants across the Atlantic Ocean and then to Wyoming, Nebraska, where they joined the William Hyde Company on 9 August 1864 and crossed the plains, arriving in Salt Lake City at the end of October.

In November 1864 Brigham Young instructed John to move his family to Fillmore, Millard County, Utah, where he engaged in making furniture and merchandising to provide for his family. In 1869 he moved to nearby Meadow and began raising wheat, but the following year relocated to Beaver, Beaver County, Utah, to work in a factory and continue his furniture business. Wherever he lived John took an active role in civic and ecclesiastical affairs; he served as justice of the peace and county prosecutor in Fillmore, postmaster of Meadow, member of the Beaver Literary Institute, and high councilman and patriarch in the Church organization. As patriarch he traveled all over southern and central Utah and into Nevada to give blessings to worthy Church members.

In 1876 John moved to St. George, Washington County, Utah, in order to perform ordinances in the newly-constructed temple. To this work he devoted the remainder of his life. John Lyman Smith died on 27 February 1893 at home in St. George at the age of sixty-nine.


1 John Lyman Smith, Diary of John Lyman Smith, 1781–1894 (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Library, 1940), 16.

2 Ibid., 23 October 1856.

3 Ibid., 1 June 1857.

4 John L. Smith to J. T. Gerber, 11 September 1862.

5 John L. Smith to J. T. Gerber, 17 April 1862.


Ancestry World Tree Project. Provo, Utah: MyFamily.com Inc., 2003. 5 April 2004 available from http://www.ancestry.com/trees/awt/main.htm.

Andrus, Hyrum Leslie, and Richard F. Bennett. Mormon Manuscripts to 1846: A Guide to the Holding of the Harold B. lee Library. Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University, 1977.

Bitton, Davis. Guide to Mormon Diaries and Autobiographies. Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 1977.

Gerber, John T. "Correspondence, 1862." MSS 138, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University.

Jenson, Andrew. Latter-Day Saint Biographical Encyclopedia: A Compilation of Biographical Sketches of Prominent Men and Women in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Vol. 4. Salt Lake City: The Andrew Jenson History Co., 1901–1936.

Mormon Pioneer Overland Travel, 1847–1868. Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2003. 5 April 2004 available from http://www.lds.org/churchhistory/library/pioneercompanysearch/.

Smith, John Lyman. Diary of John Lyman Smith, 1781–1894. Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Library, 1940.

________. "Papers, 1792–1895." VMSS 680, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University.