“Among Family and Friends: John Taylor—Mission to the British Isles,” Ensign, Mar. 1987, 37
It had been a rather stormy twenty-three-day voyage. John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff, and Theodore Turley gratefully left behind their cramped steerage quarters aboard the packet ship Oxford and walked down the gangway onto the pierhead in Liverpool to begin revitalizing missionary work in the British Isles.
Elder Taylor immediately made his way to No. 43, Norfolk Street, where his brother-in-law George Cannon lived with his wife, Ann Quayle Cannon, and their five children. Because he had never met the Cannons, Elder Taylor brought a letter of introduction from his wife, Leonora, George’s sister. Elder Taylor planned to share the gospel with the Cannons and other friends and relatives of his wife in Liverpool and on the Isle of Man, the British island home where she had grown up.
George was not at home when his brother-in-law called, so Elder Taylor visited briefly with Ann and the children, who received him warmly. It was Saturday, 11 January 1840, the thirteenth birthday of the eldest son, George. Although Elder Taylor left without having taught the gospel to the family, Ann Cannon turned to her son and said, “George, there goes a man of God. He is come to bring salvation to your father’s house.”1
The elder George Cannon and his sister Leonora had left the Isle of Man as teenagers and moved to England seeking work after their father’s death.
George had established himself as a skilled turner and cabinetmaker in Liverpool. There he married his second cousin, Ann Quayle, also from the Isle of Man. Leonora had returned to the island, but she later accompanied a newlywed friend on her wedding trip to Canada. Leonora met and married John Taylor in Toronto; and they joined the Church there.
It was Leonora’s great desire to welcome George and other family members into the Church, so she and her husband were delighted when Elder Taylor was called to his native land, England, as a missionary.
After his first visit, Elder Taylor returned to the Cannon home on the evening of January 11 and was heartily welcomed by his brother-in-law. Though religious by nature, George was dissatisfied with the doctrines taught by churches of his acquaintance and was looking for a religion he could believe in. John Taylor wasted no time in sharing the message of the restored Church with the Cannon family. He sang a few songs of Zion, testified to the divine calling of the Prophet Joseph Smith, and left a copy of the Book of Mormon, promising to spend more time with them as soon as he had completed important business in the city of Preston.
On Monday, Elder Taylor, Elder Woodruff, and Elder Turley boarded an evening train for Preston, thirty-five miles to the north. There they spent several days with Willard Richards, who was presiding over the mission until April, when Brigham Young and four other members of the Twelve were scheduled to arrive.
In the interim, Elder Taylor was assigned to proselyte in Liverpool with his new companion, Elder Joseph Fielding, a close friend from their days in Canada. The two men became the first missionaries to labor in Liverpool since the gospel had been introduced in England in 1837, three years earlier. The city was somewhat familiar to John Taylor; his family had lived there from 1808 to 1814, while his father worked for the Excise, a tax department of the British government, before moving to a small estate in Hale, Westmorland.
It may have been during this early period in Liverpool that John had a remarkable spiritual experience, for as a young boy “he saw, in vision, an angel in the heavens, holding a trumpet to his mouth, sounding a message to the nations.”2
Joseph Fielding was likewise looking forward to teaching the gospel in Liverpool, because his brother-in-law, the Reverend Timothy R. Matthews, preached in a church on Hope Street and Elder Fielding wanted to teach the members of his congregation. Three years earlier, Elder Willard Richards and his companion had taught the Reverend Matthews in Bedfordshire. Reverend Matthews had believed and prepared for baptism, having left the Church of England earlier because he felt it lacked the gifts of the Spirit and was not preparing its members for the second coming of Jesus Christ. But at the last moment, Mr. Matthews had withdrawn as a candidate for baptism and had begun attacking the LDS church. As a nonconformist preacher, he taught principles he had learned from the missionaries and established congregations throughout England, including one in Liverpool.
Mr. Matthews was absent when Elders Taylor and Fielding visited his Hope Street congregation. They were given an opportunity to preach; then, when they were not allowed to speak at subsequent meetings, the brethren received an invitation from William Cook Mitchell, one of the Reverend Matthews’ preachers, to hold services in his home. Mr. Mitchell was converted during the first gathering. Investigators increased so rapidly in numbers that a hall on Preston Street was rented, and it was soon filled nearly to capacity each time the brethren held meetings. Mr. Mitchell and his wife, Eliza Ridsdale Mitchell, were soon baptized, along with eight others, the first of many who would join from the followers of the Reverend Matthews.
The elders made it a practice to teach people of all economic and social backgrounds, in spite of the pronounced class consciousness then prevalent in English society. One convert recalled a dream in which he “saw two men come to Liverpool, they cast a net into the Sea and pulled it out full of fishes, he was surprised to see them pick the small fish out first and then the large.” Recounting the dream by letter to his wife, Leonora, Elder Taylor reacted, “Well, if we get all the fish I shall be satisfied.”3
George and Ann Cannon were among those caught in the gospel net. They were baptized on 11 February 1840, just one month from the day of Elder Taylor’s first visit. Ann had been a believer from the beginning. George had not responded as quickly, but once he began reading the Book of Mormon, he became so absorbed that he read as he labored at his joiner’s bench, during his meals, and far into the night. He read it through twice, then declared to Elder Taylor that the book was of God, for “no wicked man could write such a book as this; and no good man would write it, unless it were true and he were commanded of God to do so.”4
Early one day in June, Elder Taylor had just finished breakfast with Elder Parley P. Pratt, who was visiting him at the Cannons, when Elder Pratt, as if moved by sudden inspiration, queried, “Elder Taylor, have you preached the Gospel to these children? Some of them want to be baptized now.” Looking directly at the Cannons’ daughter, Mary Alice, he asked, “Don’t you?” “Yes, sir,” she promptly answered.5
Elder Taylor was embarrassed that George, Mary Alice, and Ann, all of baptismal age, had been overlooked when their parents were baptized in February. That matter was resolved within a few days.
Soon afterward, thirteen-year-old George quit school to work full-time in a counting-house to supplement the family fund to emigrate to America. His zeal and determination were eventually channeled into many opportunities for church service. In 1860, he would be ordained an Apostle and would later serve as counselor to four prophets of God. As an adult, he adopted his mother’s family name, Quayle, as his middle name—George Quayle Cannon.
Early in his mission, John Taylor became the first elder to take the gospel to Ireland. There was good reason for interest in that country, for at that time one-quarter of the population of Manchester and one-seventh of Liverpool’s 223,000 citizens were Irish immigrants. Many had come to England to escape nearly intolerable political, economic, social, and religious conditions.
Of Liverpool’s thriving branch of nearly thirty members, several were Irish. Among the first to join the Church that spring was James McGuffy. Soon after his baptism, James invited Elder Taylor to his home, where he met Mr. Thomas Tate, an Irish farmer who was visiting while on business in Liverpool. The three men discussed the gospel late into the night. As Elder Taylor prepared to leave, he suddenly prophesied that Mr. Tate would be the first man baptized into the Church in Ireland. This startled Elder Taylor, for there were no plans to send missionaries to that country.
About this same time, in Manchester, 55-year-old William Black—a weaver, master hosier, and former British Army officer—and his wife, Jane Johnston Black, desired to return to Ireland with the message of the gospel. The Blacks had moved from Lisburn, County Antrim, in 1838 to seek work in Manchester, then known as the cotton manufacturing center of the world. They were introduced to the gospel by Elders William Clayton and Joseph Fielding and were baptized in 1839.
In July, Elder Taylor agreed to accompany Brother McGuffy on a visit to his former home in Newry, County Down, where they planned to teach the gospel to his relatives and friends. The brethren were joined by William Black, who was a newly ordained priest.
The three men boarded a steamship on the River Mersey on 27 July 1840 for the overnight voyage on the Irish Sea. The following morning they disembarked at Warrenpoint, County Down.
Five miles to the north of Warrenpoint is Newry, a beautiful country village and market town on the banks of the Newry River. There, Brother McGuffy arranged for Elder Taylor to preach in the Sessions House, a court house, that evening at 7:00 P.M. A crowd of nearly seven hundred gathered to hear Elder Taylor deliver the message of the restored gospel for the first time on Irish soil.
Toward the end of the service, Elder Taylor invited all who desired baptism to step forward. No one responded. During a second meeting, held the following evening, the few who were in attendance were restless and indifferent, coming in and leaving, so Elder Taylor concluded the meeting and left his address for those who wished to ask questions.
That night, Elder Taylor saw in vision a man who asked him to stay in Newry so he could be taught the gospel. The next morning, as the brethren prepared to leave, the man Elder Taylor had seen stopped them and asked them to remain. The man was informed that Brother McGuffy planned to return within a day or two to preach, and the men proceeded on their journey.
That evening they held a meeting in a large barn with many people in attendance, including several college students who asked many questions about the gospel. The following morning the brethren visited the farm of Thomas Tate, whom Elder Taylor had met at the home of Brother McGuffy in Liverpool. As the missionaries continued on foot to Lisburn, Mr. Tate accompanied them, insisting that he carry Elder Taylor’s valise.
While they walked along, Elder Taylor unfolded the plan of salvation from the scriptures. Mounting the summit of a hill, they saw the lovely Loch Brickland before them. Mr. Tate, quoting Acts 8:36, said, “Here is water; what doth hinder me from being baptized?” The two men waded into the lake, and Mr. Tate became the first to be baptized in Ireland, in fulfillment of Elder Taylor’s prophecy in Liverpool. He was confirmed and ordained a priest at the same time.
Arriving in Lisburn, John Taylor preached four times in Market Square, attracting much attention and drawing large crowds. He remained long enough to establish William Black in his labors and then left for Belfast, his final stop in Ireland. Before his departure, he received the news that Brother McGuffy was baptizing in Newry.
Elder Black labored in Lisburn until September, when he returned to Manchester to help his wife, Jane, and their three sons emigrate to the United States. Four years later, in 1844, Elder Taylor would call upon Sister Black, an excellent midwife and nurse, to attend to his wounds after his near death in the Carthage, Illinois, jail.
Elder Taylor preached briefly in Belfast, then departed on August 6 by ship for Glasgow, Scotland. He remained but a few days in Scotland, ordaining some men to the priesthood, speaking with the Saints, and encouraging the missionaries.
Returning to Liverpool, he met Elder Theodore Curtis, recently arrived from New York. Elder Curtis was appointed to Ireland to replace William Black and James McGuffy. It was a providential assignment, for against great odds Elder Curtis and his companion baptized twenty persons and established Ireland’s first branch of the Church by the end of 1840.
John Taylor delivered several lectures in the Music Hall on Bold Street in Liverpool, where the branch now met regularly. He wrote to Leonora, “I purpose going in a few days to the Isle of Man [President Brigham Young had earlier approved this plan] & E[lder] Clark is going with me—I feel a disposition to labor in the vineyard as much as ever I did & I feel that the Lord is with me in Liverpool.”6
On September 17, he left for the Isle of Man, almost exactly halfway between Ireland and England, with Elder Hiram Clark, an American, and Brother William C. Mitchell of Liverpool. After a seventy-mile journey by sea, the brethren arrived in Douglas, the capital of the Isle of Man.
Two days after their arrival, Elder Clark and Brother Mitchell began their walk toward the northern city of Ramsey, where they would labor briefly. Elder Taylor accompanied the brethren for a short distance and then led them into a secluded field where he ordained Brother Mitchell a deacon. They blessed one another, sang, spoke in tongues, and prophesied. The three then knelt in prayer, asking the Lord that the way would be opened for the proclamation of the gospel on the island.
Back in Douglas, Elder Taylor rented quarters in the North Quay home of Mr. Solomon Pitchforth, a prosperous Jewish businessman who, with his wife, Ann, became sympathetic to his work. They became part of a large circle of people who would lend support to Elder Taylor.
Elder Taylor rented the Wellington Market Hall in Douglas, the largest public hall on the Isle of Man, capable of seating a thousand people. There he delivered sermons to large audiences, but shortly “great excitement prevailed and a persecuting spirit soon manifest itself.”7 One Friday evening a party of Primitive Methodist preachers attended his services, and one young man among them, a Mr. Gill, made serious disturbances throughout the evening. Some of Elder Taylor’s friends defended him against the ministers and suggested that the Latter-day Saint missionary might meet one of them in debate.
The following day Elder Taylor received a letter from Reverend Thomas Hamilton (actually written by Mr. Gill) challenging him to a public discussion, charging that Elder Taylor had misquoted, mutilated, and added to the scriptures, and that he was guilty of blasphemy. Elder Taylor accepted the invitation to debate the next Monday, and that night the Market Hall was filled to capacity. But the debate quickly became a farce. The Manx Liberal, a local newspaper, reported that as the Reverend Hamilton proceeded, “it soon became apparent that he was a mere braggadocia, possessing no qualifications save ignorance and presumption. … He managed to occupy his hour in the delivery of one of his favorite sermons on the origin, nature, and design of the gospel, but made not even the most distant allusion in reference to the gross and unfounded charges he had pledged himself to prove.”8
Elder Taylor had planned to return to Manchester to take part in the general conference scheduled for October 6, but he wrote and excused himself from the meeting: “I have had a controversy with a Primitive Methodist Preacher . …
“I baptized six today & many more are believing. I expect that with the blessing of the Lord we shall have an abundant harvest . … A Methodist publication has come out in opposition to it & the fire is beginning to rage & I do not wish to leave the field until my enemies & the enemies of God lay down their arms or till there is a sufficient army to contend with theirs.”9
The opposition he referred to grew intense. The Reverend Robert Heys, a Wesleyan Methodist preacher, gave three addresses against the Church, which were published in newspapers and reproduced in pamphlets. On October 6, Elder Taylor wrote to Brigham Young: “As I have got into the scrape I shall have to fight through. I have from 200 to 800 people hearing me at my meetings & a great many friends that of course makes some of those bigots angry.”10
Elder Taylor wrote three tracts in response to the Heys publications. But he ran into a serious problem. Penrice and Wallace, the printers, would not deliver the tracts until every penny of the debt was paid—five shillings per hundred—and Elder Taylor had no money. Nor would he ask anyone for assistance, as he had implicit faith that the Lord would always provide for his needs. He went into a private room, knelt in prayer, and told the Lord exactly how much he needed to pay the debt for the pamphlets published in defense of the Lord’s cause.
A few minutes later a knock came at the door. It was a young man, a stranger, bearing an envelope. The youth handed it to Elder Taylor and left. Inside was some money and a note which read, “The labourer is worthy of his hire.” The note was unsigned.
Shortly afterward a poor fish vendor came to the house and offered a few coins to assist in preaching the gospel. At first, Elder Taylor refused her offer, but she insisted that the Lord would bless her all the more and that she would be happy if he would accept the money. He was delighted to find that her money and the funds received in the envelope provided exactly the amount needed to pay the printers.11
In addition to answering Reverend Heys, Elder Taylor wrote several lengthy articles in the Manx Sun and Manx Liberal newspapers. He was replying to falsehoods and misrepresentations written by a Doctor J. Curran, as well as lectures attacking the beliefs of the Latter-day Saints delivered by Reverend Samuel Haining, an independent minister. In addition, he continued to prepare his nightly sermons for the Wellington Market Hall audience.
Before he left the Isle of Man for England, Elder Taylor found a growing interest in the gospel on the part of his Jewish landlady, Ann Pitchforth, and her four children. They attended many of his meetings and accompanied him as he taught in the homes of some of her friends. Elder Taylor reported: “I went to a country place on the island and sat down in the chimney corner, and talked to a few neighbors, who came in, and baptized [eight] and confirmed them the same night before I left them, nor would they wait until the morning.”12
Mrs. Pitchforth was interested in the Book of Mormon as an Israelite record and in the mission call of Orson Hyde to Jerusalem to bless the land in preparation for the return of her people to the Holy Land. When John Taylor challenged her to be baptized, she said yes. Six years later, writing to the Saints on the Isle of Man, she explained her action: “In spite of my Jewish unbelieving heart, I could not deny baptism and at the same time believe the New Testament; however, I was so resolved not to be deluded, that I thought I would just get baptized, and only go so far as I could see was right. Slow and cautious ever, I received the truth.”13 Sister Pitchforth and her four children joined the Church and moved to America.
Elder Taylor left the Isle of Man sometime in November or early December of 1840. Elders James Blakeslee, William Mitchell, Joseph Fielding, and others of the Lord’s servants followed him, proselyting on the island, and were able to increase the numbers of Latter-day Saints there. By April general conference, 1841, representatives of the various branches and districts of the mission where Elder Taylor had helped lay the groundwork were able to report such figures as 190 members for Liverpool, 90 members for the Isle of Man, and 35 members in Ireland.
Prior to leaving Great Britain for the United States in the spring, John Taylor summarized his mission in the Millennial Star: “I have never for once been at a loss for either money, clothes, friends, or a home from that day until now; neither have I ever asked a person for a farthing. Thus I have proved the Lord, and I know that he is according to his word. And now as I am going away, I bear testimony that this work is of God—that he has spoken from the heavens—that Joseph Smith is a prophet of the Lord—that the Book of Mormon is true; and I know that this work will roll on until ‘the kingdoms of this world become the Kingdoms of our God and His Christ.’”14