25 High Council and Plural marriage

                                                           William Warner Major

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Jill C. Major, Author

High Council - February 1849

On Thursday February 15, 1849 the Prophet, Brigham Young, apostles and other leaders met at the house of George B. Wallace and organized the High Council of Salt Lake City. Isaac Morley was president. The members of the High Council were Eleazer Miller, Titus Billings, Levi Jackman, Shadrach Roundy,1 John Vance, Ira Eldridge, Henry G. Sherwood,2 Phinehas Richards,3 Edwin D. Wooley, William W. Major and Elisha H. Groves. Hosea Stout records that on that day it was "snowing some. Warm & Cloudy." During this leadership meeting "The city was also divided into 19 wards each ward to contain 9 blocks that is three blocks square and appointing a Bishop over each ward."1

This was the only high council in Salt Lake for several years so each general conference thereafter, until William W. Major was called to a mission, he was sustained as a member of this council. As part of his duties, William was often called to speak in conference and other meetings. This entry was recorded in the Journal History of the Church:

Thursday, 26 April 1849: "A very strong south wind prevailed in G.S.L.[Great Salt Lake] The day was also cloudy. This day was observed as a fast day in the city and an assembly of the saints met at the stand to fast, pray and speak. Among the speakers were Isaac Morley, Wm. Henrie, John Taylor, John Smith, Wm.W. Major and John Murdock."

One Thursday each month was designated as a fast day and the Saints fasted, attended a meeting and gave the money to the poor which they saved from not eating.

Plural Marriage - December 1849

Sarah and William most likely were taught about plural marriage by the Prophet Brigham Young in Winter Quarters. On December 3, 1849 at their home in Salt Lake City at 6:45 p.m. William married a second wife, Elizabeth Langford Trimmer. In 1844 the Trimmers had sailed from Liverpool aboard the Norfolk. Elizabeth was the oldest of five children and the only girl. She had made the exhausting, arduous trip across the plains in Captain Silas Richard's Company and arrived 25 October 1849. This marvelously courageous woman made this trek without her family.4 Her parents and brothers Edward, Robert, John and Williams came across the plains in Captain James W. Cummings Company, arriving in December 31, 1851. Although Elizabeth's father, Edward Trimmer and mother, Elizabeth Mould Trimmer were born in England, Elizabeth was born September 3, 1830 in Edinburgh, Scotland. On her wedding day, Elizabeth had been in the valley a little over a month. She was nineteen and William was forty-five. The marriage was performed by Brigham Young and witnessed by Thomas Bullock.

At this time the law of "Celestial Marriage" had not been publicly announced. It is believed that Joseph Smith had revealed it to a few friends as early as 1839. In 1842 he gave oral instructions concerning this law to the twelve apostles upon their return from their missions in England and on July 12, 1843 the law was written. It was viewed as an exceedingly difficult doctrine by the apostles, who dearly loved their wives and did not wish to inflict any pain on them. Brigham Young said, "I was not desirous of shrinking from any duty, nor of failing in the least to do as I was commanded, but it was the first time in my life that I had desired the grave, and I could hardly get over it for a long time. And when I saw a funeral, I felt to envy the corpse its situation, and to regret that I was not in the coffin."2 The practice of polygamy was limited, less than three percent of the church ever participated in it. If the first wife gave her permission to the addition of a plural wife and if the husband obtained the permission of the President of the Church, then a plural wife could enter the family. Because of the persecutions in Illinois, polygamy was formally denied by the Church leadership and many who came across the plains did not know of its practice until they arrived in Salt Lake City. No doubt this doctrine was terribly difficult for William and Sarah. At the time of the marriage, Sarah was six months pregnant. There were no children born to the union of William and Elizabeth.

Enoch Helaman Coles Major - March 1850

To the joy of all the family, another son, Enoch Helaman Coles Major, was born to William and Sarah in March of 1850. Later, he was blessed by Edward Hunter5 on December 26, 1850.

1850 Census - November 1850

When Brigham Young learned in November of 1850 that it was his responsibility to take a census, he moved quickly. Without special instructions or forms he appointed census takers. This work went on until July of 1851. In this record the Major family was recorded as follows:

Name age sex Occupation Value of Birthplace

Real estate

William W. Major 45 M Portrait Painter 175.00 England

Sarah 37 F England

William 15 M England

Enoch* 12 M Ill.

Joseph 6 M Ill.

Elizabeth Trimmer 21 F Scotland

 

*I have recorded this census as it is written, but as is the case here, the census taker often made mistakes. If the census was taken in March of 1851 (which is possible since it took months to record) then Enoch would have been 12 months old which is perhaps what they meant. He was born in Salt Lake. Elizabeth Trimmer is listed under her maiden name, because a formal announcement of "Celestial Marriage" had not yet been made by the First Presidency of the Church.

The Major family witnessed and participated in another great birth: the birth of the Territory of Utah. Even after all of the persecution, the martyrdom of their prophet, the burning of their homes and temple and even a Governor's order to exterminate the Mormons, the pioneers wished to be part of the United States of America and form a government under the Constitution of the United States. They knew that the constitution was inspired by God and prayed that the constitution "be established forever." (D & C 109:54.) They wanted a state, the State of Deseret, and in fact, established that state in hopes that the government would ratify it. Unfortunately, that wouldn't happen for fifty-six years. Instead, the Congress voted and formed the Territory of Utah on September 9, 1850. President Fillmore appointed Brigham Young as Governor. Other territorial officers who were not "Mormons" were also appointed3 and began arriving in Utah. As Utah's government expanded, so did William's speaking opportunities:

"Sunday, 15 June 1851, The usual meetings were held in the Bowery G.S.L. City, commencing respectively at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. ... Jerome Kempton, William W. Major, David Fullmer, Heber C. Kimball and Willard Richards preached in the afternoon."4

"Sunday, 27 July 1851, Meetings were held as usual in the Bowery, in G.S.L. City. Jedediah M. Grant and Heber C. Kimball preached in the forenoon meeting and Wilford Woodruff and William W. Major in the afternoon or sacrament meeting."5

"Sunday, 17 August 1851 "At the afternoon meeting held in the Bowery, G.S.L. City, William W. Major and Reynolds Cahoon preached."6

 

Judge Brocchus - September 1851

On Monday, September 8, 1851 at general conference, the high council was sustained as usual, and William Warner Major's name was listed among them, so he was there when Brigham Young stood and gave a strong reprimand to the government of the United States who allowed the killing of the Prophet Joseph Smith. Judge Brocchus, a judge appointed by President Fillmore, then asked permission to speak. He stood and made a speech defending the government and condemning the Mormons for the immorality of their women (because of plural marriage) and their lack of patriotism.7 That didn't set very well with Brigham Young and according to Hosea Stout, "President B. Young replied warmly."8 Wilford Woodruff recorded in his journal that "President Young then arose and said that Judge Brocchus was either profoundly ignorant or willfully wicked..."9 That must have been a day buzzing with news and gossip in the community.

This set the stage for the next entry which Stout records:

"Sunday, 28 Sept 1851, "Went to meeting. Gov. Young said that he made friends with the U.S. officers...and Brocchus apologized for insulting the conference..."10 The Journal History recorded on that same day: "The usual meetings were held in the Bowery. David Fullmer, Heber C. Kimball and Brigham Young preached in the forenoon and Patriarch John Smith, Wm W. Phelps and Wm W. Major in the afternoon." That day Brocchus and other appointed officials started back to Washington, D.C. The Pioneers called them the "runaway officials". These officials charged Brigham Young and the Saints with acting unlawfully and having seditious tendencies. Brigham Young, who had long experience with the government, knew that he had better tell his own side of the story. He sent Jedediah M. Grant and others to Washington with a letter for President Fillmore. After an investigation by Daniel Webster, then the U.S. Secretary of State, the "runaway officials" were ordered to return to their posts or resign. The Saints were relieved when they resigned. It was one of the few times the government had supported the Mormons. This carried a positive impact on the Saints. The territorial capital was created in Millard County and the county seat, Fillmore, was named after the President. President Fillmore went on to appoint officials who were more friendly to the Pioneers.

After this historic September meeting, William W. Major also preached the next two months in Sunday services:

"Sunday, 12 Oct 1851, "At the forenoon meeting held in the Bowery, G.S.L. City, Seth M. Blair, Simeon Carter and William W. Major preached..."11

 

"Sunday, 2 Nov 1851. Meetings were held as usual in the Bowery, G.S.L. City. Wilford Woodruff preached in the forenoon and William W. Major in the afternoon."12