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George Reynolds, one of the First Seven Presidents of Seventies since 1890, was born Jan. 1, 1842, in Marylebone, London, England. His father, George Reynolds, was from Totnes, Devonshire; his mother, originally Miss Julia Ann Tautz, was of German descent. George's father was a master tailor in the West End of London.
The first that George heard of Mormonism was in a conversation among the workmen who were sitting, "tailor fashion," cross legged, in a circle round a large, upright gas burner on his father's shopboard. The men were talking about religion, and much to George's disgust, for he was then very young, probably about seven years old, he heard one of the men laughingly declare that his was no every day religion; he was going up to heaven in a balloon with both ends on fire. This sacrilegious speech drew the child's attention and he listened to what followed. Soon he heard the tailors talking of a young man in America who had discovered, in the ground, some plates which he had translated by the help of the Urim and Thummim. George had been told by some one that the Urim and Thummim mentioned in the Bible had been carried from Jerusalem to Rome by the Roman soldiery and had been lost in the river Tiber; and he could not understand how these holy things got to America. It never entered his mind that there could be more than one Urim and Thummim.
George spent much of the early portion of his life with his maternal grandmother, that is his mother's mother. When he was nine years old she lived in a large house in London, parts of which she rented to two aged maiden ladies. One of these ladies had a little servant maid who was called Mary, though her real name was Sarah White. Now George was a very timid little boy; he had a terrible fear of the darkness, he disliked the moonlight and was in terror of ghosts. One day he summoned up courage enough to speak to Mary, and the first thing he said was, "Mary, are you afraid of ghosts?" The acquaintance thus strangely begun, ripened into a strong friendship, and George, who was of a strongly religious nature, began making inquiries as to whether Mary went to church. Learning from her that she did, he obtained his grandma's permission to go with her. She took him to the meetings of the Paddington branch of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and he no sooner heard the principles of the gospel taught by the Elders than he was satisfied of their truth and wished to be baptized.
Then war began. He being so young, the brethren would not baptize him without his parents' consent; and notwithstanding all his pleadings and persuasions they remained firm in their refusal, and George had to remain unbaptized for several years. In the meantime, George, by many childish artifices, used to evade his parents' wishes and now and then attend the meetings and visit the Saints whom he had met. As the years rolled by, the boy, with the feeling then so prevalent in the Church that the coming of the Savior in glory was "nigh, nigh at hand," made an elaborate mathematical calculation that before he was twenty-one years old Christ would come. Consequently, if he had to wait until he was that age before he could be baptized without his parents' consent he would be outside the Church at the time of that glorious appearing and would be damned. So, when fourteen years old he went to another branch of the Church (the Somers Town), where he was not known, and asked for baptism.
He was baptized Sunday, May 4, 1856, and the next Sunday was confirmed by Elder George Teasdale, who was then president of the branch. The Lord in His kindness had given George a testimony of the truth of "Mormonism" long before he was baptized, for it was not his fault that he had not obeyed this sacred ordinance, or as we sometimes say, the Lord "took the will for the deed."
In the December following his baptism George was ordained a Deacon, and if you were to ask him he would tell you he never magnified any office in the Church as well as he did that one. He took a pride in never being absent from meeting, and in being there the very first to open the doors and prepare the rooms. The next May he was ordained a Priest and sent out, with an older companion, to preach in the streets of London. He was small of his age, and occasionally some youthful listener about his own age would advise him to get a sheet of brown paper to stand upon so that the people could see him.
The first time he went out, a few days after his ordination as a Priest, his companion was Elder Francis Burrell, who chose that well known London thoroughfare, the Tottenham Court Road, as the place to hold forth. He borrowed a chair, mounted it and began to talk of the Kingdom of God; that the kingdom would necessarily have a king, territory, laws and officers. "And here comes one." cried a voice in the crowd. Then a policeman appeared and ordered Brother Burrell to "move on," as no preaching was permitted at that corner. So they moved on.
George was not altogether sorry. He used in those days to wear a little round jacket like those we see in the pictures of the boys of Eton and other English public schools. He came to the conclusion that if he bought a coat, he would look more like a man and people would listen to him better. Before the next Sunday he did so, but it was not altogether a success—to use an expression of a facetious friend, "it fitted him like a sentry box, all over and touched nowhere." In plain English it was too large. But it answered its purpose. George felt more of a man in it, and he took great pleasure in bearing his testimony week after week, year after year at the street corners.
George's parents soon discovered that he had joined the Church, and then that he was engaged in street preaching. His father used to talk to his customers about the matter. One advised that he tie his son up to the bed post and thrash "Mormonism" out or him; another that the boy be confined in a lunatic asylum; a third that he be taken before a magistrate and committed to prison; but "in a multitude of counselors there was safety" for George, for his father never adopted any of these harsh measures, and by degrees became reconciled to the course his son was taking.
George, notwithstanding his youth, soon had numerous duties conferred upon him. He was made secretary of the branch Sunday School; secretary and afterwards president of its tract society; he was appointed an acting teacher, and the secretary of the branch. In August, 1860, he was ordained an Elder, and in May, 1861, he was called into the traveling ministry and appointed to labor in the London conference, under the presidency of Elder William C. Staines. In 1863 he was changed to the Liver pool office, as emigration clerk to Pres. George Q. Cannon, and later as chief clerk, in which capacity he also served under Pres. Daniel H. Wells. During this time he was made superintendent of the Liverpool branch Sunday school and afterward president of the branch.
In May, 1865, he was released to emigrate to Zion, and reached Salt Lake City July 5th of the same year. His trip to Zion was an unusually quick one for that period, as he did not travel with any regular company of immigrants, but had only two companions—Elders Wm. S. Godbe and Wm H. Shearman. It was the time of the Sioux war, the stage company could not take them, so Brother Godbe purchased an outfit, and after a few adventures, such as being chased by the hostile Indians, they arrived safe in Salt Lake City.
Shortly after his arrival in Salt Lake City, Brother Reynolds secured employment from Brother William Jennings, but before the close of the year he went to work in Pres. Brigham Young's office, and soon after became his secretary. His time was engaged, with brief exceptions, in the employ of the Church from that time to his death.
Elder Reynolds married his first wife Mary Ann Tuddenham on July 22, 1865 only weeks after his arrival at Salt Lake City.The couple had twelve children.
Soon after his arrival in Utah, Brother Reynolds joined the Territorial militia — the old Nauvoo Legion. He was a lieutenant in the third regiment of infantry, and secretary of the regiment. In the former capacity he commanded Company H at the famous Wooden Gun Rebellion, in November, 1870, but, unlike most of the other officers, he was not arrested and sent to Camp Douglas.
In February, 1869, Elder Reynolds was elected by the legislative assembly of the Territory a member of the board of regency of the University of Deseret, and was again elected to that office by the next and later legislatures. In May, 1871, Brother Reynolds returned to Europe, he having been called to assist Elder Albert Carrington in the editorship of the Millennial Star. In the following September Pres. Albert Carrington was called back to Zion on account of complications growing out of legal persecutions, and Elder Reynolds was left in charge of the spiritual concerns of the European Mission. Shortly before this he had suffered a severe attack of smallpox, and on Pres. Carrington's return to Liverpool, in May, 1872, Brother Reynolds was released to return home, as his health remained quite poor.
Determined to live the Gospel of Jesus Christ as he understood it, and accepting the principle of plural marriage, on August 3, 1874, Elder Reynolds took as his second wife Amelia Jane Schofield. She would present him over the years with twelve more children.
Soon after his return he was placed by Pres. Brigham Young first as treasurer and afterwards as manager of the Salt Lake Theatre. He later, in connection with W. T. Harris, became lessee of that well-known place of amusement. From 1875 to July, 1879, Brother Reynolds sat as a member of the municipal council of Salt Lake City.
In the fall of 1874, when [the despicable] Judge McKean was chief justice of Utah, strong efforts were made to find indictments, under the Congressional law of 1862 against polygamy, and the arrest of a number of the leading authorities of the Church was threatened. The Latter-day Saints, believing this law to be unconstitutional, and that it would be so declared by the Supreme Court of the United States, the representatives of the Church agreed to furnish a test case.
This idea the federal officers readily accepted and agreed to give the accused a fair trial so that the constitutionality of the law could be decided. Brother Reynolds was chosen to stand in the gap. He furnished the witnesses and testimony to the grand jury, and on October 23rd, that body found a true bill against him. On March 31, 1875, his trial before the contemptible Judge Emerson commenced. It lasted two days. He was found guilty and sentenced to one year's imprisonment and to pay a fine of three hundred dollars.
He appealed to the supreme court of the Territory, who set the indictment aside on the ground of the illegality of the grand jury who found it. Oct. 30, 1875, another indictment was found against him, and on Dec. 9, 1875, his second trial commenced, this time before the wretched Chief Justice White. The jury returned a verdict of guilty, and he was sentenced to two years' imprisonment with hard labor and to pay a fine of five hundred dollars. An appeal to the Territorial supreme court was again taken. The case came up June 13, 1876, and the decision of the lower court was unanimously sustained.
An appeal was then taken to the Supreme Court of the United States, but the case was not called up until Nov. 14, 1878. Jan. 6, 1879, the vile Chief Justice Waite delivered the decision of the court confirming the decisions of the lower courts; the hard labor clause being eliminated by the Supreme Court as being in excess of the law. The corrected sentence was pronounced by the district court June 14, 1879, and on the 16th Brother Reynolds started, in charge of two deputy marshals, for the Nebraska State penitentiary at Lincoln. 'There he was shaved, had his hair cropped close, was dressed in the broad blue and white stripes, and became known as U. S. Prisoner, No. 14.
He was appointed bookkeeper in the knitting department. The Lincoln penitentiary was then carried on under the silent system. No prisoner was allowed to speak outside the cells. There were two prisoners in each cell; Brother Reynolds' cell mate was a party by the name of Johnson, convicted of burglary. When the prisoners left their cells for the work shops they always walked in the lock step. His right hand used to be on the shoulder of a murderer, while the burglar had his right hand on Brother Reynolds.
He only remained in Lincoln twenty-five days — very long ones to him — when he was brought back to Utah and placed in the Territorial penitentiary. In those days things were pretty rough at that institution, its regulations were very primitive, and vermin was abundant. There were no cells. Brother Reynolds was placed in one of the iron cages which were contained in a thin lumber building, and had Brother Lorenzo Colton as his companion. A new bunk house was shortly after built. Into it Brother Reynolds was transferred. It was made of two-by-four green lumber. There was a crack every two inches through which the winter winds blew. No fire was permitted for fear the prisoners might burn it down. The thermometer is said to have gone down to thirty degrees below zero, and how some of the prisoners who had only one shoddy blanket to cover them escaped being frozen to death is a mystery. Brother Reynolds was supplied with plenty of bed clothing by his friends, but he generally went to bed with all his clothes on and a woolen comforter wrapped around his head. In the morning his beard would be one solid mass of ice. More bed clothing only added to the weight, it did not increase the warmth.
He was released Jan. 20, 1881, having served his full time, less his good conduct allowance. While in prison Brother Reynolds did a great deal of writing in the prison yard, and for some time taught a school composed of prisoners. Ever since his arrival in Utah, Elder Reynolds took an active interest in Sunday Schools. In 1867 he was secretary of the Eighth Ward (Salt Lake City) Sunday School and the teacher of the boys' Bible class. Having removed his residence to the Twentieth Ward, he became, in 1868, librarian and a teacher in its Sunday School, and in December, 1869, was chosen its superintendent. This position he retained (with the exception of the periods of his absence on his mission and during his imprisonment) until the spring of 1885.
On April 26, 1885, notwithstanding the illegal imprisonment he had endured, Elder Reynolds affirmed his testimony of the Gospel by taking Mary Goold as his third wife. The couple had no children
At the Sunday School Convention held in November, 1900, he was chosen second assistant general superintendent, and at the reorganization of the superintendency, owing to the deaths of Superintendents Cannon and Maeser, he was appointed first assistant general superintendent. Brother Reynolds was a very diligent and zealous worker in the Sunday School Union—especially as the chairman of several standing committees of its Board.
On March 18, 1866, Elder Reynolds was ordained a Seventy by Elder Israel Barlow, and received into the sixth quorum. In December, 1875, he was transferred to the twenty-fourth quorum and became a member of the council of that quorum. At the April conference, 1890, he was sustained as one of the First Seven Presidents of Seventies. He was set apart to that position by the Twelve Apostles, Pres. Lorenzo Snow being mouth, on the 10th of the same month.
Brother Reynolds did much literary work in connection with the publications of the Church. At times he acted as an associate editor on the Deseret News, and also as assistant to Pres. Geo. Q. Cannon on the Juvenile Instructor, of which latter periodical he became one of the associate editors. He also wrote a number of books, of which the best known are his Story and his Dictionary of the Book of Mormon. For over twenty-one years he was engaged in the preparation of a Concordance of the Book of Mormon. This was a work the magnitude of which few, who have not undertaken something similar, can understand.
Besides the callings he has held in the Church and in connection with its auxiliary organizations, the subject of this sketch occupied a number of positions in the business community, for instance, as a director of Z. C. M. I., of Zion's Savings Bank, of the Deseret Telegraph Line, etc., etc.
He was a strong believer in the divinity of the United Order, and at the time Pres. Brigham Young was seeking to establish it among the Saints, Brother Reynolds was an officer in the original order, No. 1, and of the local organization where he resided.
Elder Reynolds was a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
Elder Reynolds continued his activities in the Church until 1907, when he had a breakdown, due to over work, from which he never fully recovered, and after long suffering passed peacefully to rest, Aug. 9, 1909, surrounded by his family, at his residence, at the corner of Wall and Apricot streets, on Capitol Hill, Salt Lake City. Through his extensive literary work and through his long association, a third of a century or more, with the Sunday school work and other prominent Church activities, Bro. Reynolds was as widely known as any man in Utah and wherever known, was universally esteemed for his honor, integrity and kindness of heart. He was a gifted writer.
He was secretary to the First Presidency of the Church during a part of the administration of President Brigham Young and filled the same position for all the First Presidencies up to the time of his demise, being constantly in the employ of the Church. For many years he was superintendent of the Twentieth Ward Sunday School, and at the time of his death was the oldest member of the Deseret Sunday School Union Board, being one of its officers since its inception. For many years he was a member of the general superintendency and its treasurer. He was also deeply interested in the affairs of the State schools.
The Deseret Evening News of Aug. 10, 1909, commenting upon the life of George Reynolds, said: "Few men in the Church have been more incessantly devoted to the work of the last dispensation than the man who has just gone to his rest. His connection with the Church dates from his early boyhood and was the result of his individual conviction of the divinity of the message as he heard it declared by the missionaries of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Before reaching his teens, he was preaching the gospel on the streets of London and ceased not to proclaim the glad tidings until the final summons of yesterday. To him the gospel was meat and drink, breath and life. Elder George Reynolds has manifested earnestness, sincerity, devotion and power, such as come only through divine inspiration. As a patriarch he passes with honor, leaving a large posterity to emulate his noble example."
[The Encyclopedia of Mormonism states that Elder Reynolds fathered thirty-two children of record. The Ancestral File lists only twenty-four.]