John Tanner and Joseph Smith
Question: What part did John Tanner play in helping the Prophet Joseph at a time of great need in Kirtland, Ohio?
Answer: John Tanner, son of Joshua and Thankful Tanner, was born August 15, 1778, in the state of Rhode Island. At the age of thirteen years, he moved with his parents to Greenwich, Washington county, New York, where his father, who had been a farmer, died.
John took over his father’s farm, and in the year 1800, he married Tabitha Bentley, by whom he had one son, Elisha, born March 23, 1801. The mother died on the 9th of April of the same year. Subsequently, John Tanner married Lydia Stewart by whom he had twelve children, nine sons and three daughters.
In the spring of 1818 John Tanner moved with his large family to North West New York, where a son and daughter were born. In 1823, he moved to the town of Bolton where in 1825, another son was born. In May of that year his wife Lydia Stewart died. He then married a third wife, Elizabeth Beswick by whom he had six sons and two daughters. At this time, notwithstanding his large family responsibilities, he had acquired wealth and had become a man of much influence.
In 1832 a terrible calamity overtook him in the form of a painful disease, which seemed incurable and unknown by the physicians. His left leg from the thigh down was covered with black sores. He employed seven of the most eminent physicians in the area, but all their efforts were in vain.
For six months Mr. Tanner had neither let his diseased limb hang down nor his foot touch the floor. He was obliged to keep his leg at a right angle with his body and resting it on pillows placed on some object directly in front of him. Yet with all his bodily suffering, his mind was active. He had a vehicle so constructed that he could move himself from place to place without assistance.
Early in September, 1832, notice was circulated in the community where he lived that two Latter-day Saint elders would preach on a certain evening at a specified place not far from Mr. Tanner’s residence. The announcement, he hailed with delight. He was conversant with the Bible and felt himself amply qualified to discuss such heresy as he thought the Latter-day Saints were propounding in their efforts to spread Mormonism.
When the hour for meeting arrived, he took his place in his wheel chair directly in front of the elders whom he sincerely believed were impostors. The elders to whom he listened were Simeon and Jared Carter. Long before their discourses were ended, a change came over the mind of Mr. Tanner, and when they closed the evening services, he invited them to his home.
These men engaged him in conversation until the hour of eleven o”clock. He told the missionaries he was then ready to be baptized, but that he would not be able to receive the ordinance due to his lameness. Thereupon one of the elders wanted to know if he did not think there was power enough in the gospel of Jesus Christ to heal all manner of diseases, to which he replied that he believed the Lord could heal him. Whereupon, Elder Jared Carter arose and commanded John Tanner in the name of Jesus Christ to arise and walk. “I arose, threw down my crutches, walked the floor back and forth, praised God, and felt as light as a feather.” That night he walked three quarters of a mile to Lake George and was baptized by Simeon Carter. Walking back he gave thanks to God for his complete restoration to health.
As soon as the Word of Wisdom was made known to him, he quit the use of tobacco, tea, coffee and liquor and never touched them again throughout the remainder of his life. In the spring of 1834, Mr. Tanner fitted out his two sons, John J. and Nathan, and sent them up to Kirtland, where they joined Zion’s Camp and went to Missouri with their team and wagon. In the fall of the same year, he sold his two large farms and twenty-two hundred acres of timber land preparatory to moving to Missouri the coming spring.
About the middle of December, he received an impression by dream or vision of the night, that he was needed and must go immediately to the Church in Kirtland. On Christmas day he commenced his journey, a distance of 500 miles. He reached Kirtland about the 20th day of January 1835. On his arrival there, he learned that at the time he received the impression that he must move, Prophet Joseph Smith and some of the other brethren met in prayer meeting and asked the Lord to send them a brother or some brethren with means to assist them in lifting the mortgage on the farm upon which the temple was then being built.
On the second day of his arrival in Kirtland, by invitation of the Prophet, John Tanner and his son Sidney met with the High Council, where he was informed that the mortgage on the temple block was about to be foreclosed. Thereupon, he loaned the Prophet $2,000.00, and took the Prophet’s note at interest. With this amount, the block or farm was redeemed. Mr. Tanner also loaned to the Temple Committee, Hyrum Smith, Reynolds Cahoon and Jared Carter, $13,000.00 in merchandise at the cost price in New York, and took their note for the merchandise. He also made liberal donations to the building of the temple. He signed a note with the Prophet Joseph Smith and others for $30,000 of goods.
John Tanner Home Kirtland, Ohio
When the temple was finished, he participated in the dedication, took part in the “Solemn Assembly,’ and the glorious manifestations of that memorable occasion. In this first temple built in this dispensation, John Tanner received his temple anointings.
With his characteristic energy, he put forth his best efforts to assist the Prophet in sustaining the Kirtland Bank, but it fell. Those who had invested most were naturally the greatest losers, and Mr. Tanner was one of the foremost. He was now completely crippled financially. About this time, religious persecution became so unendurable that the Saints had to leave Kirtland. John Tanner, who had now become an elder in the Church, set out on a journey of 1,000 miles to Far West. He found himself not only destitute of means but also in debt.
In April, 1838, he started with his family eleven children in all, for Missouri. His family was under the necessity of appealing to the benevolence of inhabitants along the road for food. He had two children, a son and a daughter, born to him in Kirtland. One of these, the daughter, died on this tedious journey. On his arrival in Missouri, in conversation with a friend, he said, “Well, if others have come up easier, they have not learned so much.”
He arrived in Far West on the 3rd day of July, and there he and his sons went to work. He soon paid up his debts and had sufficient means on hand to meet the demands of life. Due to the persecution by mobs at this time, a number of Elder Tanner’s stock were stolen, and he was taken prisoner. As soon as he was set at liberty, he began preparations to get his things together and to leave the State. On March 3, 1839, he started with his family and his sons’ families for Illinois.
He arrived in New Liberty about the first of April. Here he stopped for one year to recruit and during that time was much prospered in his efforts. About the middle of March 1840, he again gathered his effects and moved within four miles of Montrose, Iowa, where his daughter Sariah was born in July1840. Here he purchased a large farm, plowed 250 acres and used about 200 acres for pasture. He continued to live there for six years and was greatly prospered.
At the April conference in 1844, he was called on a mission to the Eastern States. Before starting out, he went to Nauvoo where he saw the Prophet Joseph. Meeting him on the street, Elder Tanner gave the Prophet Joseph his note for the $2,000 loaned him in Kirtland in January 1835, for the purpose of redeeming the temple land. The Prophet asked him what he wanted done with the note, Elder Tanner replied, “Brother Joseph, you are welcome to it.” The Prophet then. laid this hands on Elder Tanner’s shoulders, saying, “God bless you Father Tanner, your children shall never beg for bread.” Elder Tanner later aided in the building of the Nauvoo temple and received his second anointings there.
In the spring of 1846, John Tanner sold his farm at a nominal price and set out upon his journey with the Saints to the Rocky Mountains. He left Nauvoo, the “City of Joseph,” and started out to join the stream of Latter-day Saints in their exodus from Illinois. He also paid the expenses for the removal of two families, besides his own, to Council Bluffs. On the 16th of July, he outfitted two of his sons, Albert and Myron, and sent them with the Mormon Battalion. In the latter part of June 1848, Elder Tanner fitted out five teams and wagons, and with 18 months’ provisions, started for Salt Lake. A six-year-old grandson fell from the tongue of a wagon loaded with about 3,500 pounds, and he died within twenty minutes. They arrived in the Salt Lake Valley on the 13th of October 1848, and located in South Cottonwood.
John Tanner died on April 13, 1850 in South Cottonwood, Salt Lake, Utah Territory at age seventy-one. He was buried in the Sal Lake City Cemetery.
Note: Several general authorities (e.g., Hugh B. Brown, Nathan Eldon Tanner, Victor L. Brown, Amasa Lyman, Francis Lyman, Richard Lyman, Marion D. Hanks) have come from his family. (Leonard J. Arrington, “The John Tanner Family,’ Ensign, Mar 1979, 46)
Source: Excerpts from the story published in 1883 as “Sketch of an Elder’s Life,’ Chapter 1 and 2 of Scraps of Biography, tenth book of the Faith Promoting Series, written by Nathan Tanner, Jr., son of Nathan Tanner who was the son of John Tanner; FamilySearch.org; FindAGrave.com.