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William Clayton

Question: What special song did William Clayton write that is still sung in the Church today?

Answer: William Clayton was born 17 July 1814 in Charnock Moss, Penwortham, Lancashire, England to Thomas Clayton and Ann Critchley. He worked as a factory clerk until shortly after his conversion to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1837.

William first heard the gospel preached by Heber C. Kimball and Orson Hyde. With his wife, Ruth Moon Clayton, whom he had married in Penwortham Church, October 9, 1836, he listened to the teachings of these missionaries. His wife accepted the Church first. William was baptized in the River Ribble on October 21, 1837, by Heber C. Kimball, and ordained a priest December 25th of the same year. He was ordained a high priest on April 1, 1838. In 1838, he served as second counselor to the British mission president Joseph Fielding, with Willard Richards as first counselor.

William, Elder Clayton, was one of the presidency left to preside over the British Mission after the return of Apostles Kimball and Hyde to America. It was through his labors that Mormonism obtained a footing in the great manufacturing town of Manchester, which soon rivaled Preston in the number of its converts, and before long became the headquarters of the mission. Elder Clayton had charge of the work in Manchester until he emigrated to America in the year 1840.

Joseph’s Red Brick Store where his office was on the second floor. Nauvoo, Illinois

William left Liverpool, England on September 8, 1840 on the ship The North America and then traveled on to Nauvoo, Illinois. There he became an intimate associate of, and scribe to, the Prophet Joseph Smith.

William was responsible for keeping many of the important church records in Nauvoo, including those that were considered the most private and sacred. He was also recorder and clerk of the Nauvoo City Council, secretary pro tem of the Nauvoo Masonic Lodge, an officer in the Nauvoo Music Association, a member of the Council of Fifty, and a member of Joseph Smith’s private prayer circle where the LDS temple ceremonies were first introduced. William later helped prepare Joseph Smith’s official history, and his personal journals became the source for many entries in that history. Early in February 1846, William was among the first Mormons to leave Nauvoo during the exodus to the West.

In March, while camped on the plains of Iowa, he wrote the words to the hymn now known as “Come, Come, Ye Saints,” which is sung to the music of a traditional English song, “All is Well.”

To listen to the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square sing “Come, Come, Ye Saints,’ Click Here!


He also possessed considerable inventive genius. William is credited with inventing a version of the modern odometer, during this trip across the plains from Nauvoo, Illinois to Utah. During his journey, William was tasked with recording the number of miles the company traveled each day. He tied a red flag onto one of the wagon wheels and counted the revolution of the wheel. He would multiply the number of revolutions by the circumference of the wheel. The process was painstaking and after three weeks he sought for a easier method.  After consulting with Orson Pratt, he developed a design consisting of a set of wooden cog wheels attached to the hub of a wagon wheel, with the mechanism “counting” or recording by position, the revolutions of the wheel. The apparatus was built by the company’s carpenter Appleton Milo Harmon. The “roadometer’ registered from day to day the number of miles traveled by the Saints. It was first used on the morning of May 12, 1847.

William spent the winter of 1846-47 at Winter Quarters, Nebraska, and was with the vanguard pioneer company that crossed the plains to Utah in 1847 and selected the site for the new gathering place in Salt Lake Valley. Just months later, William returned to Winter Quarters to help prepare his family and others to make the overland journey the following year. They traveled in the Heber C. Kimball Company, leaving on 7 June 1848 and arriving at Salt Lake City on 24 September 1848.

William’s published pioneer journal is the most well-known account of that expedition. He also prepared and published The Latter-day Saints’ Emigrants’ Guide, a meticulous description of the entire route from Winter Quarters to Salt Lake City, with suggestions for camping places. It became an invaluable guide not only for Mormon migrants, but also for thousands of pioneers bound for Oregon and California.

While living in Utah, he continued for a time to help keep the records of the church, and he also engaged in various public and private business activities. He became auditor for the Territory of Utah as well as recorder of marks and brands, holding both positions until his death. He also worked for a time as treasurer of the Deseret Telegraph Company and secretary of ZCMI. He also continued to participate in cultural activities, particularly those associated with music.

William and his wife, Ruth, had two children born to them in England, four more were born in Illinois, and their last four were born in Salt Lake City. William married in polygamy and fathered forty-three children.

William died in Salt Lake City, Utah on December 4, 1879, one month before he would have turned seventy years of age. He is buried in the Salt Lake City Cemetery.

Source: William Clayton (17 July 1814 – 4 December 1879), “Pioneer Journalist, Scribe, Businessman, Musician, and Composer,”; History of Utah by Orson F Whitney, Vol IV; Wikipedia.

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