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Joel H. Johnson
Born March, 1802
Grafton, MA
Died September 24, 1883
Kane County, UT
Occupation Missionary and Hymn Writer
Spouse(s) Anna P. Johnson (1826 - death)

Joel Hills Johnson (March 23, 1802 – September 24, 1883) was a Latter-day Saint (LDS) missionary and hymn writer, most famous as the author of "High on the Mountain Top" (hymn #5 in the 1985 LDS hymnbook, English edition). Johnson was also the founder of Enoch, Utah.


Early life

Johnson was born in Grafton, Massachusetts on March 23, 1802.[1] His parents were Ezekiel Johnson and the former Julia Hills. When Johnson was still a child, his family moved to Vermont. Johnson eventually moved to Cincinnati and then back east to Pomfret, New York.

Latter Day Saints

Around the year 1830, Johnson sold his farm in Pomfret and moved to Amherst, Ohio.[2] It was in Amherst where Johnson was baptized a member of the Church of Christ on June 1, 1831.[3] Soon afterwards, he became president of the church's Amherst branch. He went on a mission to New York in 1832.


Kirtland and Ramus

In 1833, Johnson moved to Kirtland, Ohio where he operated a saw mill. He went on another mission to both Ohio and Kentucky in 1835, and often preached and baptized in the vicinity of Kirtland.[1] Johnson was an organizer of the Kirtland Camp in 1838. He stopped at Springfield, Illinois and did not continue to Missouri, thus avoiding the Mormon War of 1838. He organized a branch in Springfield and became the first Latter-day Saint to preach in Carthage, Illinois.[1] Johnson later had a large amount of success in baptizing families that lived along Crooked Creek. After this, Johnson directed his new converts in the forming of the town of Ramus (now Webster, Illinois).[4] The Ramus stake was organized on July 4, 1840 with Johnson as president.[5]

Book of Mormon

A poem written in 1841 by Johnson is sometimes used by opponents of the authenticity of the Book of Mormon to demonstrate that Oliver Cowdery at times wavered in his testimony as one of the Three Witnesses of the Book of Mormon. Proponents argue that Johnson supporting the Book of Mormon and following the leaders of the church were one and the same.[6] They also note that the use of "denied" in the poem may mean to set aside, and not to speak against, and that this poem involves many statements that are not strictly true, such as that Paul had killed Christians. Poetry should not be taken as analytical evidence when it has not been collaborated.[3]

In 1846, mobs forced Johnson to flee Ramus and movet to Knox County, Illinois.[3] He later joined the Saints at Winter Quarters, Nebraska.

Salt Lake City

Johnson arrived in Salt Lake City on October 11, 1848. He crossed the plains in Willard Richards' company.[7] He served as a justice of the peace and as bishop of the Mill Creek Ward. Johnson built a saw mill in Mill Creek Ward from 1849-1851 at the mouth of Mill Creek Canyon.[8][9]

In 1849 and 1850, Johnson served in the Utah Territorial Legislature.[1]


Johnson was the founder of Enoch, Utah. He settled there in 1851. When other settlers arrived in 1854, they built a fort which they named "Johnson's Fort".[10]

Johnson later helped settle southern Utah. In 1853, he was appointed to serve as a missionary among the Piedes of Iron County, Utah.[11]

Poetry and hymns

Johnson was a prolific poet and hymn writer. His journal contains 736 hymns.[1] Collections of his writings were published in the pamphlet "Voice from the Mountains" in 1881 and a 344 page book of poems in 1882. His most sung hymn "High on the Mountain Top" was written on February 19, 1853.[1] The only other hymn by Johnson in the current English edition of the LDS hymnbook is "The Glorious Gospel Light Has Shone" (hymn #283).

Personal life

On November 22, 1826, Johnson married Anna P. Johnson.[1] He maintained a journal in which the earliest source for the interpretation of "Hot Drinks" in The Word of Wisdom was found as being coffee and tea.[12] Anna P. Johnson died September 11, 1840. He married Susan Bryant on October 20, 1840. He later married Janet Fife on October 25, 1845. Lastly, he married Margaret Therekold in 1861.

Johnson has been included in a list of "75 significant Mormon poets"[13] Other texts by Johnson have were set to music in the 1980s.[14] In fact in 1982 there was a Joel Hills Johnson Music Contest.[15]


Johnson died in Johnson, Utah (now Kane County, Utah) on September 24, 1883.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Cornwall, J. Spencer. Stories of Our Mormon Hymns (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1975) pgs. 69-71
  2. ^ Mormon History Gazetteer for Ohio (1830–1839)
  3. ^ a b c Matthew Roper (Fall 1993), "Comments on the Book of Mormon Witnesses", Journal of Book of Mormon Studies (FARMS) 2 (2),  
  4. ^ - Ensign Article - Spokes on the Wheel: Early Latter-day Saint Settlements in Hancock County, Illinois
  5. ^ Deseret News Church Almanac. 2006 edition, p. 207
  6. ^ - Ensign Article - I Have a Question
  7. ^ Pioneer Details
  8. ^ Jenson, Andrew. Latter-day Saint Biographical Encyclopedia (Salt Lake City: Deseret News Press, 1936) p. 444
  9. ^ Tooele Transcript-Bulletin
  10. ^ Utah History Resource Center
  11. ^ Larson, Andrew Karl. Erastus Snow: The Life of a Missionary and Pioneer for the Early Mormon Church. (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1971) p. 251
  12. ^ The Word of Wisdom, Caffeine, and Hypocrisy
  13. ^ 75 Significant Mormon Poets
  14. ^ "Praise to Zion’s King", New Era, August 1985,  
  15. ^ - Ensign Article - Winners of the 1982 Writing Contests


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