About the Collection
by Jeffrey S. Hardy
John Lyon was born on 4 March 1803 in Glasgow, Lanarkshire, Scotland, to Thomas Lyon and Janet McArthur. Eight years later Thomas died and in 1815 John became a weaver’s apprentice to help support his family. After completing four years of training John engaged in his new profession, but also found employment as a newspaper reporter for the liberal Western Watchman. On 1 December 1825 he married Janet Thomson, a fellow Scot; during the next twenty-five years she would bear him twelve children. John found some success in the newspaper profession; in 1832 he wrote a report on the economic depression for the London Times and was privileged to read it in the House of Commons. He also opened a private weaving business and began composing and publishing poetry.
On 31 March 1844 John was baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS). Of his conversion he later wrote:
<blockquote> <em>How sweet the Gospel message came,</em><br /> <em> When first I learn’d its light and power;</em><br /> <em>‘Twas all an anxious heart could claim,</em><br /> <em>It and the Scriptures were the same:</em><br /> <em> I was a “Mormon” from that hour!<sup><a href="#_ftn1" name="_ftnref1" title="" id="_ftnref1">1 </a></sup></em> </blockquote>
After only a few months he became an elder in the Church and heeded a call to preach the gospel in the British Mission. In 1848 he was appointed president of the Worcestershire Conference. He immediately began organizing a system of distributing tracts and spent much time traveling to preach to and visit with the Church members in Worcestershire. Lyon’s desire to further the work of the Lord is evident in his journal; one short, though representative entry reads: “This day I held communion with the Saints, and in evening preached to goodly number on the Doctrine of Baptism. O may the Lord incline the honest hearted to come and hear the truth.” 2 His hard work and devotion indeed brought many to the Church; over the next three years he personally baptized three hundred and sixty persons in the Worcestershire Conference.
In 1852 he returned to his native Scotland to preside over the Glasgow Conference, where he remained until his emigration to America the following year. During this period of full-time Church service he continued to write and publish poetry; from 1849 to 1852 he penned at least seventy poems, eighteen of which were included in the Millennial Star, the official Church journal in Great Britain. 3 The LDS Church at this time placed great emphasis on gathering to Utah as many members of the Church as possible. In order to help the poor in Europe make the expensive trans-Atlantic voyage, the Perpetual Emigration Fund (PEF) was established. Lyon believed strongly in the benefits of this organization and in 1853 published a book of poetry entitled The Harp of Zion, donating all proceeds to the PEF. Several of the compositions from this collection were soon set to music and included in the hymnals of the Church.
On 21 February 1853 he and his family embarked from Liverpool aboard the ship International, arriving in New Orleans on April 24. During the voyage John served as first counselor to President Christopher Arthur, who presided over this body of LDS emigrants. Of Lyon, Arthur remarked that he “is one of the best men I have ever met.” 4 During that voyage the ship’s captain and many of its sailors were baptized after listening to the preaching of Lyon and others. After journeying to Keokuk, Iowa, the Lyons joined the Jacob Gates Company and prepared to cross the Great Plains. They departed Keokuk on 3 June 1853 and arrived in Salt Lake City in late September, Lyon serving as captain of fifty and chaplain for the expedition.
John settled in Salt Lake City and established a weaving and wood-turning business. He also secured a position with the Deseret News, writing primarily art and drama critiques, and wrote freelance poems and articles for other local newspapers. On 28 March 1856 he married Caroline Holland in polygamy; they were blessed with seven children. In 1859 Lyon was called to be recorder in the Endowment House, a position he held until his death. He assumed an additional ecclesiastical responsibility in 1872 when he was ordained a patriarch by Wilford Woodruff. John also joined various clubs and organizations, including the Deseret Press Association, Mechanic’s Dramatic Association and the Universal Scientific Society, and served as librarian for the Territorial Library. John Lyon died on Thanksgiving Day, 28 November 1889, at the age of eighty-six. The Deseret News eulogized him as “a trusted man, in all respects, honest, brave, intelligent and full of testimony to the truth.” 5 After his death John’s son David compiled many of his poems, songs, and essays, and published them as the Songs of a Pioneer.
1 John Lyon, “Reminiscence of My Early Ignorance of ‘Mormonism,’” in Songs of a Pioneer: Containing Writings in Verse and Prose, ed. David R. Lyon (Salt Lake City: Magazine Printing Co., 1923), 81.
2 Lyon, “Journal, 1849,” 24 April 1849. MSS 1595, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University.
3 T. Edgar Lyon, John Lyon: The Life of a Pioneer Poet (Provo, Utah: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1989), 141.
4 Kate B. Carter, ed., Our Pioneer Heritage, vol 12 (Salt Lake City: Daughters of Utah Pioneers, 1958), 460.
5 Deseret News, “Death of Elder John Lyon,” 29 November 1889.
Ancestry World Tree Project. Provo, Utah: MyFamily.com Inc., 2003. 15 June 2004 available from http://www.ancestry.com/trees/awt/main.htm.
Carter, Kate B., ed. Heart Throbs of the West. Vols. 4, 5, 11. Salt Lake City: Daughters of Utah Pioneers, 1947.
________. Our Pioneer Heritage. Vols. 1, 12, 20. Salt Lake City: Daughters of Utah Pioneers, 1958.
Deseret News. “Death of John Lyon.” 29 November 1889.
Esshom, Frank. Pioneers and Prominent Men of Utah. Salt Lake City: Western Epic, Inc., 1966.
Lyon, John. “Additions to the John Lyon Collection, 1795-1989.” MSS 2371, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University.
________. The Harp of Zion: A Collection of Poems &c. Liverpool, England: S.W. Richards; London: T. C. Armstrong, 1853.
________. “Papers, 1803?-1906.” MSS 1595, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University.
________. Songs of a Pioneer: Containing Writings in Verse and Prose. Edited by David R. Lyon. Salt Lake City: Magazine Printing Co., 1923.
Lyon, T. Edgar. John Lyon: The Life of a Pioneer Poet. Provo, Utah: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1989.
Martin, Ruth J. Twentieth Ward History, 1856-1979. n.p., 1979.
Mormon Pioneer Overland Travel, 1847-1868. Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2003. 15 June 2004 available from http://www.lds.org/churchhistory/library/pioneercompanysearch/.
Whittaker, David J., Todd Kim, and Erin Parker. Register of the John Lyon Collection. Provo, Utah: Division of Archives and Manuscripts, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, 1991.