Benson, Ezra Taft

Andrew Jenson, ed., Latter-day Saint Biographical Encyclopedia (1901), 1:99

Benson, Ezra Taft, a member of the Council of Twelve Apostles from 1846 to 1869, was the first son of John and Chloe Benson, and was born Feb. 22, 1811, in Mendon, Worcester county, Mass. His father was a farmer and a very industrious man—a quality which his son inherited—and Ezra T. lived with him, helping him on the farm until he was sixteen years old. He then went to live with his sister and her husband, who were keeping a hotel in the center of the town of Uxbridge. With them he remained three years. His grandfather Benson was also a farmer, and while engaged at work in the field he fell and suddenly died. At the death of his grandfather, by the request of his grandmother, young Ezra T. took charge of the farm, and when twenty years old he married Pamelia, the daughter of Jonathan H. and Lucina Andrus, of Northbridge, Worcester county, Mass. In 1832 he moved from the farm and bought out his brother-in-law, the hotel-keeper, and kept the house about two years. In this business he made considerable money, which he invested in hiring a cotton-mill and commencing, with his wife’s brother, the manufacture of cotton in the town of Holland, Mass. Through a combination of causes, over which he had no control, he lost money in this business, and retiring from it took a hotel in the same town. He was also appointed postmaster. Though he made money in this business he could not be content; he had a desire to visit the West. In the spring of 1837 he had his family started. While in Philadelphia he made the acquaintance of a gentleman who spoke discouragingly about the West, and persuaded him to go to the town of Salem, and he would assist him to go into business. He remained in this place one year, and though his neighbors offered to render him any assistance he might need to establish himself in business, he still yearned for the West, and he started in that direction. He touched at St. Louis, obtained a small stock of goods, and then went up the Illinois river, not knowing where he should land. But while on the river he made the acquaintance of a man, who proved to be his father’s cousin. He was living at Griggsville, Ill., and at that town he concluded to stop. But he did not remain long there. He moved to Lexington, in the same State, and afterwards to the mouth of the Little Blue, where he and a man by the name of Isaac Hill laid out a town and called it Pike. Here he built himself a dwelling-house and a warehouse. But the place was sickly, and he was restless. In relation to these days, he afterwards said that he felt the Lord was preparing him for the future which awaited him, and later he could understand why he could not feel contented in the various places where he visited, and where, so far as worldly prospects were concerned, he had every opportunity of doing well. Early in 1839 he heard of Quincy, Ill., and he was led to go there in search of a home. There he met with the Latter-day Saints, who had just been driven out of Missouri by mob violence. He heard they were a very peculiar people; yet, in listening to the preaching of their Elders, and in conversation with themselves, he found them very agreeable. He boarded, during the winter, with a family of Latter-day Saints, and formed a high opinion of them. In the spring of 1840 he secured two acres of land in the town, fenced it in, and built a house upon it. During this time he still associated with the Latter-day Saints, and his sympathies were much moved towards them, and he held conversations with them about their principles. A debate was held in Quincy between the Latter-day Saints and Dr. Nelson, who was opposed to them, at which the Prophet Joseph was present. From this debate he became convinced that the Latter-day Saints were believers in and observers of the truths of the Bible. Though pleased that the Saints had come off victorious, he had no idea at that time that he would ever become one himself, yet their principles were the chief topic of conversation with himself and family and neighbors, and he and his wife attended their meetings. His wife was the first to avow her belief in the doctrines, and when the word went out that they were believers in what was called “Mormonism” a strong effort was made to get him to join a sectarian church. Elders Orson Hyde and John E. Page visited Quincy about this time, having started on their mission to Jerusalem, to which they had been appointed. Their preaching seemed to have the effect to remove whatever doubts there were remaining, and he and his wife were baptized by the president of the Quincy branch, July 19, 1840. In the fall he went to the conference of Nauvoo, and was ordained an Elder. After his return to Quincy, he was visited by President Hyrum Smith, who ordained him a High Priest, Oct. 25, 1840, and appointed him to be second counselor to the president of the Stake, which he had organized there. About the first of April, 1841, he moved to Nauvoo. He bought a lot, fenced and improved it, and built a log house upon it. June 1, 1842, he started on a mission to the Eastern States, where he remained until the fall of 1843. He returned and remained until May, 1844, when he again started east in company with Elder John Pack. When the news of the death of Joseph, the Prophet, reached them, they returned. That fall he was called to be a member of the High Council in Nauvoo, and in December of that year was again sent east on a mission. He presided over the Boston conference until the beginning of May, 1845, when he was counseled to gather up all the Saints who could go and move them out to Nauvoo. The remainder of that summer and fall he worked on the Temple, and at night frequently stood guard to keep off the mob. He moved out of Nauvoo with his family in the first company in 1846. At Mount Pisgah he was appointed a counselor to Father William Huntington. While at this place he received a letter from President Young informing him of his appointment to the Quorum of the Twelve, instead of John E. Page. He moved up to the main camp at Council Bluffs, where he was ordained to the Apostleship, July 16, 1846, by Brigham Young. Shortly afterwards he was sent east on a mission, from which he returned Nov. 27, 1846. The next spring he accompanied President Young as one of the Pioneers to Great Salt Lake valley, and after their arrival there he was sent back to meet the companies which were coming on, to inform them that a place of settlement had been found. After he met the companies he returned to the valley, and then started back to Winter Quarters with the Pioneers. Another mission east had to be performed, and he left the camp about the last day of 1847, and was absent several months. Upon his return he was appointed to preside in Pottawattamie county, Iowa, being associated with president Orson Hyde and George A. Smith. In 1849, in company with Geo. A. Smith, he moved to the valley. He was dangerously sick on the road, and was not expected to live; but the camp fasted and prayed for him, and he recovered. In 1851 he left the valley on a mission to Pottawattamie county, to gather up the Saints, and returned in August, 1852. In 1856 he was appointed a mission to Europe, and, with Elder Orson Pratt, presided over the British mission until the fall of 1857, when he returned home. In 1860 he was appointed to preside in Cache valley, at which point he continued to reside until his death. With Apostle Lorenzo Snow, and accompanied by Elders Joseph F. Smith, Wm. W. Cluff and Alma L. Smith, he went on a mission to the Sandwich Islands in 1864, and the boat in which they were landing on one of the islands capsized. Brothers Benson and Snow were almost miraculously saved from drowning. Having successfully performed their mission, they returned to Utah, this being the last time Ezra T. Benson left Utah. Besides performing these missions, Elder Benson filled many important missions at home. He was also a member of the Provisional State of Deseret, previous to the organization of the Territory; was a member of the Territorial house of representatives for several sessions, and during the last ten years of his life he was elected to the Territorial council every term. In 1869 he associated himself with Brothers Lorin Farr and Chauncey W. West in taking a large grading contract on the Central Pacific Railway. The fact that he was not able to obtain a settlement with the railway company caused him considerable anxiety. On Sept. 3, 1869, just as he had arrived at Ogden from his home in Logan, he died suddenly while doctoring a sick horse. His body was conveyed to Logan, where the funeral took place the following Sunday (Sept. 5th).