Mormon Missionary Diaries
About the Collection
John Ray Young
by Brian A. Warburton
John Ray Young, a nephew of Brigham Young, was born 30 April 1837 in Kirtland, Ohio, to Lorenzo Dow Young and Persis Goodall. His family moved to Missouri when John was still a baby, but they were forced to leave their home when the Mormons were driven from Missouri under the extermination order of Governor Boggs. John and his family then moved to Nauvoo, Illinois, where he was well acquainted with many prominent church leaders. One of John’s earliest memories was of Joseph Smith promising him that he would recover from a fever and “live to aid in carrying the gospel to the nations of the earth.” These words excited John and he later said “from that hour I looked forward to the day when I should be a missionary.”1 In 1846 the Mormons were driven from Nauvoo and in 1847 John and his brother Franklin crossed the plains with the Jedediah M. Grant Company and arrived in Salt Lake on 2 October 1847. After their arrival in Salt Lake John’s father was the first person to build a house and move outside the newly built fort.
At April conference 1854 John was called to serve a mission to the Sandwich Islands, although he was only seventeen years old. He left Salt Lake on 4 May 1854 in a company led by Parley P. Pratt, and traveled to the Mormon settlement of San Bernardino, California; from there they continued on to San Francisco, where they stayed for several months earning money to pay for their passage to Hawaii. Since John was still young and small of stature he was not sent out as a laborer, but instead Parley Pratt assigned him to go out tracting in San Francisco to raise money by selling copies of the Book of Mormon. John also worked for a time in the home of the man that would one day murder Parley P. Pratt.2 On 29 August 1854 John sailed for the Sandwich Islands, suffering from sea sickness the whole time.
Upon arriving in Hawaii John was assigned to work in a tin shop to earn money for the Mormon missionaries. He hated the work and prayed that he would soon be able to preach the gospel. His wish was finally granted and he was taken to a native village, where he was left to live with the natives for a time. While living at the village he had a powerful spiritual experience that set a tone for the rest of his mission. He was having problems with his eyesight, possibly caused by the bright reflection of sunlight from the ocean, and was confined in a dark hut to recover. During this time he prayed and fasted that he would be healed. One day after much praying and fasting he had a vision of Joseph and Hyrum Smith coming toward his hut, Joseph told him that Hyrum would bless him, then Hyrum layed his hands upon his head and said “Be of good cheer; you shall be healed, and you shall speedily learn the language and do a good work. Now do not worry anymore.”3 After the vision closed he found himself outside and his eyesight was restored.
In April 1856 John was called to Molokai, leaving for that island on 16 April 1856. The canoe he traveled in capsized during the journey and John was dragged for a quarter of a mile over a reef and thrown ashore, amazingly he had no injuries.4 While on Molokai, John was the presiding church authority and handled all church matters. He often wrote of the many different duties he performed during his stay on Molokai. “In the forenoon I preached upon the first principals of the gospel to a large congregation, at noon a young man by the name of Kakaio was baptized…I also blessed three children, and administered the sacrament, Elder Kahakauwila was cut off from the church for apostatizeing”.5
After spending three years as a missionary and gaining a great love for the Hawaiian people, John was released from his mission on 4 October 1857 and on 7 November 1857 he sailed for home. After arriving in San Francisco he worked for a time to earn the money needed to travel back to Utah. In March 1858 he joined a company of Mormons traveling to Salt Lake and later joined an advance party that went ahead of the main group. While traveling they were attacked by Indians, but John and his companions escaped with only one man being slightly injured.
He reached Salt Lake in June 1858 and on 1 January 1859 he married Albina Terry. The couple moved to Payson, where they bought a farm and John married a plural wife named Lydia Knight on 1 January 1861. In the fall of 1861 John was called to help settle “Dixie” (Southwestern Utah). In 1864 he was called to serve another mission to the Sandwich Islands and on 28 April of that year he left for San Francisco and Hawaii. He later recorded in a published book of memoirs that while on the ship to Hawaii he testified to several men that Joseph Smith was a prophet, one of the men became very upset and claimed that he helped kill Joseph Smith. John told this man that if his claim was true then the Curse of God was upon him. That night John awoke to find the man near his bed with a knife, threatening to kill him. John said a prayer and the man suddenly fell dead.6 John found that apostasy had taken hold of many of the members of the church in Hawaii and he spent much of his time helping people return to the church. Because of his family’s extreme poverty John’s mission was cut short and he returned home in late 1865.
He served in many church capacities throughout the years including High councilor in the Saint George Stake. He served another mission in 1877-1878 this time to Great Britain. He moved his family from Orderville to Loa, Utah and not long after he again moved with his wife Lydia to Mexico to avoid arrest for breaking polygamy laws. He lived in Mexico until President Wilford Woodruff issued the manifesto announcing that the church would no longer practice polygamy. John moved back to the United States and lived in Fruitland, New Mexico and later in Blanding, Utah, where the last years of his life were spent.
John had four wives, all of whom he outlived and he had twenty-two children. He died 15 September 1931 in Provo, Utah, where he was spending time with one of his daughters. He was buried in a family plot in Blanding.
1 John R. Young, Memoirs of John R. Young (Salt Lake City: The Deseret News, 1920; reprint Grantsville, Utah: LDS Archive Publishers, 1997), 10 (page citations are to the reprint edition).
2 Ibid., 71.
3 Ibid., 77.
4 Ibib., 79.
5 Young, “Diary” 25 May 1856.
6 Young, Memoirs. 130.
Britsch, R. Lanier. Unto the Islands of the Sea: A History of the Latter-day Saints in the Pacific. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1986.
Esshom, Frank. Pioneers and Prominent Men of Utah. Salt Lake City: Western Epics, 1966.
Jensen, 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. Salt Lake City: Andrew nc., 1926.
Young, John R. “Diary, 1856-1857,” VMSS 26, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University.
________. Memoirs of John R. Young. Salt Lake City: The Deseret News, 1920. Reprint, Grantsville, Utah: LDS Archive Publishers, 1997.