An Apostle from the summer of 1846, one of the Pioneers of 1847, and otherwise a man of mark in the Mormon community, the subject of this sketch will be best remembered for the part played by him in the settlement and development of Cache valley. Two names are pre-eminently connected with its colonization. They are Ezra T. Benson and Peter Maughan; the latter the pioneer, and the former the highest presiding authority for nearly a decade in that always promising and now prosperous section. Needless to say that he was a man of force and energy; such qualities were indispensable in the founders of Utah. A fearless and able expounder of his faith, an earnest and industrious worker in whatever he undertook, he enjoyed the confidence of his associates, and exercised a potent influence over the people in their temporal as well as their spiritual affairs.
The first son of John and Chloe Benson, he was born February 22, 1811, at Mendon, Worcester county, Massachusetts. His father was a farmer, noted for his industry, and Ezra, until sixteen years of age, remained at home, working upon the farm. He then went to live with his sister and her husband, who kept a hotel in the town of Uxbridge. He remained with them three years, when the sudden death of his grandfather Benson, also a farmer, who fell dead while at work in the field, brought about another change in his life. At the request of his widowed grandmother, he became the manager of her farm.
When twenty years of age Ezra T. Benson married Pamelia Andrus, daughter of Jonathan H. and Lucius Andrus, of Northbridge, in his native county. The next year he quit farming and went to hotel-keeping, buying out his brother-in-law and running that business for about two years. He made considerable money, with which he hired a cotton mill, and with his wife’s brother began the manufacture of cotton in the town of Holland, Massachusetts. Through a combination of causes it proved an unprofitable venture, and retiring from it, Mr. Benson took a hotel in the same town, and again made money. He was also appointed postmaster. Though prosperous, he was not content, having a great desire to go to the West.
This desire was partly put into effect in the spring of 1837, when he and his family started westward. At Philadelphia, however, a gentleman whose acquaintance he there formed, persuaded him to go to the town of Salem, promising to assist him in setting up in business at that place. He remained at Salem for about a year, at the expiration of which time, though his neighbors offered to render him any aid he might need in a business way, he again yearned for the West and finally started in that direction,
At St. Louis he procured a small stock of goods and proceeded up the Illinois river, not knowing where he should land. Meeting upon the boat a man who proved to be his father’s cousin, and who was living at Griggsville, Illinois, Mr. Benson concluded to stop there, and did so, but not for long. He moved to Lexington in the same State, and then to the mouth of the Little Blue, where he and one Isaac Hill laid out and named the town of Pike. Here Mr. Benson built a dwelling house and a warehouse and prepared to stay, but the place was sickly, and he soon longed to be elsewhere.
Early in 1839 he was induced to go to the city of Quincy in quest of a home, and there he met with the Latter-day Saints, who had just been driven by mob violence out of Missouri. He heard of them as a very peculiar people, but in listening to the preaching of their Elders, and in conversing with them, he found them very agreeable. During the following winter he boarded with a family of Latter-day Saints and formed a high opinion of them.
In the spring of 1840 he took up his residence at Quincy, securing two acres of land in the town and building a house thereon. He still associated with the Saints, with whom he strongly sympathized on account of their persecutions, and held conversations with [p.43] them concerning their doctrines. He first saw the Prophet Joseph Smith at a debate in Quincy between some of the Mormon Elders and a Dr. Nelson, who was much opposed to them. This debate convinced him that the Latter-day Saints believed and practiced the truths of the Bible. Though pleased with their victory over Dr. Nelson, Mr. Benson at that time had no idea that he himself would become a Mormon. Their principles, however, were the chief topic of conversation with himself, his family and the neighbors, and he and his wife attended their meetings. She was first to avow a belief in the doctrines. When the word went out that the Bensons were believers in Mormonism, a strong effort was made by their non-Mormon friends to get them to join some other church. About this time Apostles Orson Hyde and John E. Page visited Quincy, having started on their mission to the Holy Land. Their preaching resolved Mr. and Mrs. Benson upon joining the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and they were accordingly baptized by the president of the Quincy branch, July 19, 1840. They recognized in this event the explanation of the strong desire that had possessed them to come West, and the feeling of discontent they had experienced in their previous places of residence.
While attending the fall conference of 1840 at Nauvoo, Ezra T. Benson was ordained an Elder, and after his return to Quincy he was visited by President Hyrum Smith, who ordained him a High Priest and appointed him second counselor to the president of the stake which he there organized. April, 1841, found him a resident of Nauvoo, where he bought a lot, fenced and improved it, and built a log house for his family. From June, 1842, until the fall of 1843 he was upon a mission in the Eastern States, and in May, 1844 again started East in company with Elder John Pack. They were recalled to Nauvoo by the tidings of the martyrdom.
The autumn of 1844 found him acting as a member of the High Council at Nauvoo, and in December of that year he was again sent East upon a mission. He presided over the Boston Conference until the beginning of May, 1845, when he was counseled to gather up all the members of the Church who could go, and move them to Nauvoo. In the ensuing summer and fall he worked on the Nauvoo Temple, frequently standing guard all night to keep off the mob then threatening.
In the exodus of 1846 he and his family left in the first company that started for the West. At Mount Pisgah he was appointed a counselor to Father William Huntington, who presided there. While at that place he received a letter from President Brigham Young on the Missouri, informing him of his appointment as an Apostle, to take the place made vacant by the excommunication of John E. Page. He now moved on to the main camp at Council Bluffs, where he was ordained to the Apostleship and received into the Quorum of the Twelve, July 16, 1846. Shortly afterwards he was sent East upon a mission, from which he returned on the 27th of November.
The next spring found him enrolled as a member of President Young’s band of Pioneers and on his way to the Rocky mountains. After their arrival in Salt Lake valley he was sent back to meet the oncoming emigration of that season and inform them that a place of settlement had been found. Having discharged this duty, he returned to the valley, and then accompanied President Young back to Winter Quarters. About the close of the year 1847 he started upon another mission to the East, and upon his return at the expiration of several months was appointed to preside over the Saints in Pottawattamie county, Iowa, in which charge he was associated with Apostles Orson Hyde and George A. Smith.
In the year 1849, in company with Apostle Smith, he moved with his family to Salt Lake valley. He was dangerously sick while on the way, and was not expected to live, but the camp fasted and prayed for him, and he recovered and reached his destination. In 1851 he was commissioned to proceed to the frontier, gather up the Saints in Pottawattamie county, and bring them to Utah. From this mission he returned in August, 1852. He remained at home until 1856, when he was appointed upon a mission to Europe, where in conjunction with Apostle Orson Pratt, he presided over the British mission until the fall of 1857, when he was released to return home.
The year 1860 witnessed his removal to Cache valley, where he had been appointed to preside, virtually as president of the Stake; Peter Maughan being also in authority as presiding Bishop of those northern settlements. President Benson made his home at Logan, and continued to reside there until the day of his death.
In the year 1864 he, with Apostle Lorenzo Snow, Elders Joseph F. Smith, William W. Cluff and Alma L. Smith, were sent upon a special mission to the Sandwich Islands, to set in order the affairs of the Church in that land, which had been much disturbed by the nefarious operations of the imposter, Walter M. Gibson, who had palmed himself upon the credulous native Saints as a sort of kingly and priestly ruler, to whom they must pay [p.44] abject homage. Apostle Benson and his companions faithfully executed their errand, though in attempting to land upon one of the islands, he and Apostle Snow, by the accidental capsizing of their boat, came very near being drowned. This mission, from which he returned the same year, was his last absence from Utah.
He continued, however, to be prominent in public affairs at home. He had taken active part in organizing the Provisional Government of Deseret, and after the Territory of Utah was created he was a member of the House branch of the Legislature for several sessions. During the last ten years of his life he was continuously a member of the Council.
When the railroad came, he with Lorin Farr and Chauncey W. West, of Ogden, took a large grading contract on the Central Pacific and built many miles of that road. President Benson’s mind was much preyed upon during this period through the inability of himself and his partners to secure a settlement with the railroad company, and it is supposed that these troubles superinduced his death, which was sudden, like that of his grandfather, many years before. It was Friday, September 3, 1869, and he had just arrived at Ogden, from his home in the north, and was in the act of caring for a sick horse, when he fell dead, stricken with apoplexy. The funeral and burial took place at Logan on the following Sabbath.
Like most of the Mormon leaders of his time, Ezra T. Benson was the husband and father of several families. Among his living sons are Messrs. Don and Frank Benson, the former for several terms City Marshal of Logan. The Apostle was the father also of Mrs. Belle Goodwin, of Logan; Mrs. Dr. Norcross, formerly of that place; and the late Mrs. Boliver Roberts, of Salt Lake City.
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