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William Clayton (Mormon): Wikis


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William Clayton (July 17, 1814 – December 4, 1879) was an early leader in the Latter Day Saint movement and acted as a clerk and scribe to the Mormon religious leader Joseph Smith, Jr. Clayton, born in England, is recognized as an American pioneer journalist, scribe, inventor, lyricist and musician.

Clayton was born in Penwortham, Lancashire, England, the son of Thomas Clayton and Ann Critchley. He was the eldest of fourteen children. He married Ruth Moon on October 9, 1836.


Early Church service

In 1836, Clayton investigated the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, now known as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or "Mormon" Church. Taught by Church Apostles, Heber C. Kimball and Orson Hyde, he and his wife soon joined the church and he was ordained a Priest in 1837 and a High Priest in 1838. Clayton's parents and siblings also joined the church. Clayton put aside his employment as a factory clerk to devote his time to missionary service in England, and was successful in founding an LDS branch in Manchester. In 1838, he served as second counselor to the British Mission's President Joseph Fielding, with Willard Richards as first counselor.

In September 1840, Clayton led a group of British converts and emigrated to the United States. He and his family first attempted to farm in Iowa Territory, then settled in the predominantly Latter Day Saint community of Nauvoo, Illinois. There he acted as a clerk and scribe to the prophet Joseph Smith. In an 1840 letter, now held in archives of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Clayton wrote Church members in Manchester, England, about interacting with Smith:

We have had the privilege of conversing with Joseph Smith Jr. and we are delighted with his company. We have had a privilege of ascertaining in a great measure from whence all the evil reports have arisen and hitherto have every reason to believe him innocent. He is not an idiot, but a man of sound judgment, and possessed of abundance of intelligence and whilst you listen to his conversation you receive intelligence which expands your mind and causes your heart to rejoice. He is very familiar, and delights to instruct the poor saints. I can converse with him just as easy as I can with you, and with regard to being willing to communicate instruction he says, 'I receive it freely and I will give it freely.' He is willing to answer any question I have put to him and is pleased when we ask him questions.

Clayton was responsible for maintaining many church records in Nauvoo, including those considered private and sacred. Other positions in the church and community included:

  • recorder and clerk of the Nauvoo City Council,
  • elected treasurer of Nauvoo,
  • secretary pro tem of the Nauvoo Masonic Lodge,
  • an officer in the Nauvoo Music Association,
  • a member of the church's influential Council of Fifty, and
  • a member of Joseph Smith's private prayer circle where the Latter Day Saint temple ceremonies were first introduced.

Plural marriage

In 1843, Smith dictated a revelation on plural marriage to Clayton. As the practice of polygamy was initially secret, Clayton evidently spent time dealing with rumors and innuendo about the practice both in the church and surrounding community. Clayton accepted plural marriage as a religious principle, and ultimately married ten wives and fathered 42 children. Three of his wives later left him.

Journal and personal records

His impressions of day-to-day activities, recorded in a series of personal journals, are also of significance. They describe the social activities of mid-nineteenth century America and the evolution of LDS religious culture. For example, while ministering to the sick, Clayton anointed the stricken with perfumed oil and rum. He also performed baptisms to heal the sick. Church services were referred to as "going to meeting", and seem to have been held irregularly, with attendance being elective. He testified of people "speaking in tongues" in public meetings.

After Smith's death, Clayton helped prepare Joseph Smith's official history, using his personal journals as a major source for many entries. Generally his personal records were incorporated into official Mormon scripture and history without recognition of their source. His notes were one of four sources used to reconstruct a famous sermon by Smith known as the King Follett Discourse. Published sections of Clayton's journals also provide a detailed description of the Nauvoo Temple and an account of the Saints' efforts to complete temple endowments for all interested members before being forced to leave Illinois.

Migration to the west

Early in February 1846, Clayton left Nauvoo with the first Latter Day Saint group in their exodus to the West. He spent the winter of 1846-47 at Winter Quarters, Nebraska. The following year, Clayton was a member of the initial vanguard company that crossed the plains to select a western site for Mormon colonization. He acted as recording scribe for Brigham Young, President of the LDS Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, during the journey. The group traveled along the Platte River, into present day Wyoming territory and crossed the continental divide, ultimately reaching the Great Salt Lake Valley in modern Utah.

Clayton's pioneer journal, later published, is the most well-known account of the expedition. He noted that land in the Salt Lake valley would be easy to clear as it had limited timber, and expressed concern over the apparent scarcity of rainfall. He later prepared and published The Latter-day Saints' Emigrants' Guide, a meticulous description of the route from Winter Quarters to Salt Lake City, with suggestions for camping places. Using his odometer (see below), the guide had the most accurate distances of the day. It was a valuable guide for Mormon migrants, but was also used by pioneers bound for the Oregon and California territories.

"Come, Come, Ye Saints" and other hymns

In April 1846, while camped near Locust Creek on the plains of Iowa, Clayton wrote the words to the popular LDS hymn, now known as "Come, Come, Ye Saints" which is sung to the music of a traditional English song, "All is Well." The hymn was in response to good news from Mormons still living in Nauvoo. One of his plural wives, Diantha, had given birth to a healthy baby boy, William Adriel Benoni Clayton. In his journal, he stated that he "...composed a new song—'All is well.' I feel to thank my heavenly father for my boy and pray that he will spare and preserve his life and that of his mother and so order it so that we may soon meet again."

To modern Latter-day Saints, this hymn has come to signify the difficulties and faith involved in the Mormon migration to the west. It is a favorite LDS Hymn and is placed as hymn number 30 in the current edition of the LDS hymn book. The hymn also appears in the Protestant New Church Hymnal, with new lyrics for the charged LDS oriented third verse created by lyricist Avis B. Christianson.[1]

Some of Clayton's other poems have also been put to music, including "When First the Glorious Light of Truth", also used as a hymn by the LDS Church.

The "roadometer"

Clayton is credited with inventing a version of the modern odometer, during this trip across the plains from Missouri to Utah, with the help of Apostle and mathematician Orson Pratt. He was assigned to record the number of miles the company traveled each day. After three weeks, Clayton tired of personally counting the revolutions of a wagon wheel and computing the day's distance by multiplying the count by the wheel's circumference. After consulting with Pratt, he developed a design consisting of a set of wooden cog wheels attached to the hub of a wagon wheel, with the mechanism "counting" or recording by position the revolutions of the wheel. The apparatus was built by the company's carpenter Appleton Milo Harmon. Clayton's journal records: "About noon today Brother Appleton Harmon completed the machinery on the wagon called a 'roadometer' by adding a wheel to revolve once in ten miles, showing each mile and also each quarter mile we travel, and then casing the whole over so as to secure it from the weather." The "roadometer" was first used on the morning of May 12, 1847.

Life in Utah

Once settled in Utah, Clayton continued to help maintain church records as well as participating in various public and private business activities. He became an auditor for the Territory of Utah, as well as recorder of marks and brands, holding both positions until his death. He also worked as treasurer of the Deseret Telegraph Company and as secretary of Zion's Co-operative Mercantile Institution (ZCMI), a church based cooperative business enterprise. Private ventures included collecting debts, filing land claims, acting as a legal advocate, lending money, merchandising, farming, and mining speculation.

Clayton was active in cultural activities in the Salt Lake Valley, particularly those associated with music. He died in Salt Lake City on December 4, 1879.

See also


  1. ^ Cracroft, in Walker and Dant, pp. 143-145

External links


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