On November 1, 1808, John Taylor was born in Milnthorpe, England. He was raised in the Church of England and developed a close relationship with God throughout his youth. He joined the Methodist church as a young man before immigrating to Toronto, Canada to meet up with his parents, who had moved some months earlier.
On the way to North America, President Taylor’s ship got caught in a violent storm. The crew and captain were certain the ship would sink. But the Spirit testified to President Taylor that he would preach the gospel in America. President Taylor recalled: “So confident was I of my destiny, that I went on deck at midnight, and amidst the raging elements felt as calm as though I was sitting in a parlor at home. I believed I should reach America and perform my work.” Sure enough, he arrived safetly in America, where he met his future wife, Leonora Cannon.
In America, he was also introduced to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by a young missionary named Parley P. Pratt. President Taylor took time to investigate the doctrine of the Church. “I made a regular business of it for three weeks,” he said, “and followed Brother Parley from place to place.” He was baptized in May 1836 and testified that he had “never doubted any principle of Mormonism since.”
President Taylor was with Joseph Smith at the time of his martyrdom, and in the hours leading up to his death, he sang “A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief” to calm the hearts of those in Carthage jail. President Taylor was shot twice during the attack that killed Joseph and Hyrum Smith. The first hit him in the thigh as he stood by the window. He was about to fall from the window when a second bullet from outside the prison struck his pocket watch, knocking him back into the room. His watch stopped the bullet from a fatal blow, and his life was spared.
John Taylor crossed the plains with the Saints to the Salt Lake Valley. After Brigham Young’s death, President Taylor presided over the Saints and in 1880 he was sustained as the President of the Church. He held that position until he passed away in 1887.