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Joel Hills Johnson

Question: What two songs did Joel H. Johnson write that are in our Church Hymn book today? What was the name of the city in Utah that he was the founder of?

Answer: Joel H. Johnson was born on March 23, 1802, in Grafton, Massachusetts to Ezekiel Johnson and Julia Hills. He was the brother of Benjamin F. Johnson. When Joel was still a child, his family moved to Vermont. Joel eventually moved to Cincinnati and then back east to Pomfret, New York. He married Anna P. Johnson on November 22, 1826, and they had six children.

Around the year 1830, Joel sold his farm in Pomfret and moved to Amherst, Ohio. It was in Amherst where Joel was baptized a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on June 1, 1831. Soon afterwards, he became president of the Church’s Amherst Branch. He met the Prophet Joseph in 1831. In 1832, he was called on a mission to New York.

In 1833, Joel moved to Kirtland, Ohio, where he operated a saw mill and furnished lumber to finish the temple. He went on another mission to both Ohio and Kentucky in 1835, and often preached and baptized in the vicinity of Kirtland. He attended the dedication of the Kirtland Temple.

In 1838 Joel helped organize the Kirtland Camp. He stopped at Springfield, Illinois, and did not continue to Missouri, but organized a branch in Springfield and became the first missionary to preach in Carthage, Illinois.

Joel later had a large amount of success in baptizing families that lived along Crooked Creek, which was seven miles from Carthage. In April 1839 he organized these converts as the Crooked Creek Branch. After this, Joel directed his new converts in the forming of the town of Ramus (now Webster, Illinois). In February 1840 Joel moved to the area, where he purchased a sawmill. The Ramus Stake was organized on July 4, 1840, with Joel as president. Joel’s wife died in September 1840. He was here in Ramus when the Prophet Joseph and Hyrum were martyred in June 1844.

In 1846, mobs forced Joel to flee Ramus and moved to Knox County, Illinois. He later joined the Saints at Winter Quarters, Nebraska. Joel arrived in Salt Lake City on October 11, 1848. He crossed the plains in Willard Richards’ Company. He served as a justice of the peace and as Bishop of the Mill Creek Ward. Joel built a saw mill from 1849 to 1851 at the mouth of Mill Creek Canyon. In 1849 and 1850, Joel served in the Utah Territorial Legislature.

Joel was the founder of Enoch, Utah, settling there in 1851. When other settlers arrived in 1854, they built a fort which they named “Johnson’s Fort.” Before it became Enoch, it was named Elk Horn Springs. Joel later helped settle other areas in southern Utah. In 1853, he was appointed to serve as a missionary among the Piedes of Iron County, Utah. Joel recorded in his journal that he “made eleven different places.’

Joel was a prolific poet and hymn writer. His journal contains 736 hymns. Collections of his writings were published in the pamphlet “Voice from the Mountains” in 1881 and a 344-page book of poems in 1882. His most sung hymn, “High on the Mountain Top,” (no. 5) was written on February 19, 1853. Other estimates place Joel’s total work in writing hymn texts and poems at about 1,000. The only other hymn by Joel in the current English edition of the LDS Church hymnal is “The Glorious Gospel Light Has Shone” (no. 283).

Joel was a polygamist and fathered several children from five wives. Joel maintained a journal in which was found the earliest source for the interpretation of “hot drinks” in the Word of Wisdom meaning coffee and tea. He recorded hearing the Prophet Joseph teach this principle.

Joel has been included in a list of “75 significant Mormon poets.” Joel died September 24, 1882 in Johnson, Utah Territory (now Kane County, Utah) at age 80. He was buried in the Johnson Cemetery in Johnson, Utah.

Source: Cornwall, J. Spencer. Stories of Our Mormon Hymns (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1975) pp. 69-71; Jerry Earl Johnson, “Joel Johnson’s hymn is one in 1,000,000” in Deseret News, Aug 31, 2016;, Pioneers and Prominent Men of Utah; findagrave,com.

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