Question: What contributions did Benjamin T. Mitchell make in the early days of the Church?
Answer: Benjamin T. Mitchell was born January 12, 1816, in Munch township, Lycoming County, Pennsylvania. the son of Abraham and Anna Mitchell.
From Benjamin’s journal we read: “When I was about two years old father moved to Ohio on the western reserve where I was raised in the backwoods without a chance of education until I was seventeen and then went and learned the stone-cutters trade with a man by the name of Brown. Then I went to Akron where I worked at my trade until I was about twenty when I married Sarah Trasback in Apr. 1835.
“The fifteenth day of June following, I was baptized into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints by Bro. Millet and in about one year after that I sold my property and sent some means by Singley to Missouri to buy land and started to go up the next season but on account of the river being very low I was compelled to stop at Madison, Indiana.
“Before spring the word came that the saints were driven out and scattered and for some time I was unable to learn where they located a gathering place. In the meantime, I moved to Marton Co. Iowa, and bought a farm and made some improvements for about two years. Then Bro. Litts and Henderson came along and told me that the Stake of gathering was at Nauvoo, Illinois.
“In the spring of 1841, I moved to Nauvoo where I went to laying brick for Laws and others because the temple committee would not give me work at stone-cutting until Bro. Joseph told them to push the temple and then I got work and labored constantly until it was finished.
“While living in Nauvoo in 1843, I met with a heavy loss, the companion of my youth who had born me three fine healthy children. She died with the measles on the 23rd day of Aug. 1843. I married Lavinia Buckwalter Oct. 10th of the same year.
“I labored constantly by day and standing guard at night to keep our enemies at bay until they succeeded in killing the prophets Joseph and Hyrum and driving the saints from Nauvoo in 1846. I started to the west not knowing where I was going and made a settlement on the Missouri River called Winter Quarters, where we stayed two winters and one summer. I made nine trips to Missouri for goods and provisions and raised a crop and made an outfit for the mountains. While tarrying there buried a child. Started in the spring of 1848 to the valley of Great Salt Lake and was made Captain of ten and arrived in September of the same year, and helped survey the Great Salt Lake City, and built a house the same fall.
“Before harvest came in, I with my family lived about two months without bread stuff, dug roots and got greens from the canyons and was cutting stone on the Council House and Public works, till the 6 of September 1852 when I was called to take a mission to Nova Scotia and British America.’
On his return to Utah Benjamin led another company of emigrants across the plains. He was one of the first settlers of the Fifteenth Ward in Salt Lake City and became the Bishop on December 24, 1856, succeeding Nathaniel V. Jones.
During this time he was appointed captain of a company of fifty of the Nauvoo Legion which held drills west of the Jordan river. He served in that office until the companies were disorganized. He afterwards moved to the Sixteenth Ward, where a portion of his family still reside. Bro. Mitchell was closely associated with Pres. Brigham Young, Truman Angell and others in drawing the plans for the Salt Lake Temple. He served as one of the committee appointed to decide whether sandstone or granite should be used in the construction of the foundation of the building, and he had active charge of the stone cutting for a number of years, more particularly from the years 1861 to 1863.
Salt Lake City home
He also assisted in the construction of various other important buildings in the city, among which were the Deseret National Bank building and the old city jail. He was also a stockholder of the Zions Cooperative Mercantile Institution and was interested in the establishment of the paper mills, in what is now known as Sugar House.
Benjamin was master of four different trades and very active in the up-building of Zion. He had a very large family consisting of forty-two children. Some of his boys worked for a great number of years in cutting stone for the Temple, learning their trade under his guidance. He, with some of his family were instrumental in the settlement of Kamas, Summit county, commonly known in the early days as Rhodes’s Valley, where he was interested in the tilling of the soil and the raising of cattle and sheep.
Benjamin Mitchell left a large posterity, numbering into the hundreds. He died March 9, 1880, in Salt Lake City, and was buried in the city cemetery, where a number of beautiful headstones bear evidence of his skill as a stone cutter to this day.
Benjamin Mitchell’s distinctive contributions include the following:
- He was a stone mason for the Nauvoo, Illinois Temple, dedicated May 1, 1846. As documented in official Church temple construction records, B.T. Mitchell sculpted the first sunstone for the Nauvoo temple. One of the original 30 sunstones is currently on display at the Smithsonian American History Museum in Washington D.C. The Sunstone at the Smithsonian has a chiseled (M) marked on the upper left hand corner-likely indicating that the Sunstone at the Smithsonian was sculpted by Benjamin T. (M)itchell.
- He was ordained a Seventy at the Nauvoo Conference on October 6th, 1844 and was chosen as a Counselor in the 16th Quorum of the Seventies on January 19, 1845.
- On his first Mormon pioneer trek, he was a Captain in the Heber C. Kimball Company, 1848.
- He carved the Salt Lake City Meridian Marker, currently located in the Church Museum.
- He was a stone mason/foreman for the Salt Lake City, Utah Temple, dedicated April 6, 1893. Benjamin Mitchell was a close associate with Brigham Young, Truman Angell and others in drawing up the plans for the Salt Lake temple.
- He served a mission in Nova Scotia, Canada, 1852-1855.
- Returning from his mission and on his second Mormon pioneer trek, he led a Mormon Pioneer company, the Benjamin T Mitchell Company, 1854.
- He served as the Bishop of the Salt Lake City, Utah 15th Ward in 1857.
- He sent two of his sons to work as stone masons on the Saint George, Utah Temple, dedicated April 6, 1877.
- He helped develop “Deseret,’ Salt Lake City, as a stone mason by constructing commercial and government buildings such as the ZCMI, the Courthouse and a bank building.