Text Box: John Telford
by Effie Lenore Wiser and Eunice Tidwell Merrill

John Telford, a Utah pioneer of 1851, was born March 2, 1802, in the city of Armagh, province of Ulster, Ireland. His parents were George Telford and Jane Dodds. He was the sixth child in a family of seven children and was left an orphan when he was nine years of age.	.

The city of his birth is situated in the north central part of Armagh County and is known as the "Orchard of Ireland" and is the parliamentary borough. Armagh was also the ancient metropolis of Ireland and a seat of learning, as well as a religious center.

The Telfords were members of the Episcopal Church, and according to tradition, their political affiliations were with the Old Order of Finns, the Champions of Erin, whose legendary hero, Finn, was comparable to the legends of King Arthur and the "Round Table."

An event in proof of this tradition occurred one evening when John Telford was about seven years of age. As he and his cousin, Doctor Willis, were returning home, they found their street closed by Orangemen, a secret society in opposition to the Fenians, who had many fires burning.  As it was late, John and his cousin decided to take a chance and pass the fires rather than take the long, tiresome way home. They were attacked by the Orangemen who fought with burning torches.  John was beaten and severely burned.  But Doctor Willis fought the men off, and John ran to safety.  He was, however, burned so severely across his shoulders that he carried the scares to his grave.

John Telford's family had been in Ireland for many years and were a well-to-do-people for their day and were very fastidious in their dress. They were soldiers and landholders, having been given grants of land by the king. The Telford estate was on the border of the hunting court where the "High Lords of London" gathered to hunt. An interesting tradition concerning the hunting tells how misfortune came to the family, causing John's father to seed new opportunities in America. According to this tradition, one of the English aristocracy who was in Ireland on a fox hunt was among a party of hunters on this court. During the chase, a rabbit they were pursuing crossed over the border of the court onto the Telford property and was killed by their dog. Three angry hunters pursued the dog; and Mrs. Telford, hearing the disturbance, stepped through the door and into the yard. The dog fled to his mistress for protection and hid under her skirts as the three mounted men charged into the yard and right up to the door. The English nobleman demanded the dog and threatened to kill it. But Mrs. Telford refused to give up her dog. When he persisted, she defied him. Incited to unreasoning anger, the Englishman brought suit against the Telfords and fought the case in the Irish courts for years. The Telfords won the suit; however, the defense of their rights cost them the loss of their property.

When John Telford was nine years old his father, George, and the two older sons, James and William, left Ireland for America and secured work in Philadelphia. The altitude of the mountainous region was too high for George, who was used to the low country, and he contracted that dread disease known as "mountain fever" and died. His wife, Jane D. Telford, who came over to the United States to take care of her two young sons during their father's illness, also contracted the fever and passed away, leaving the two youngsters alone in a strange land. John and his baby sister, Eliza, were left in Ireland with their three older sisters and other relatives.

After the death of his parents, John was apprenticed to a weaver, and although he was used to a good home and plenty, he was now forced to make his own living, which he did from the time he was a boy of nine years. John became an expert weaver of the finest linens; but he did not like the work, as he was interested in agriculture and wanted to be a landowner and live the free, independent life that was the heritage of his forefathers. John's people were loyal to England and were always ready to fight in her defense, but their sympathies were with the oppressed and liberty-loving Irish people and their desperate struggle for freedom.

When John was a lad of thirteen years, Britain and her allies went to war with France. John's uncles, true to family tradition, went to war for their country. One was killed in the Battle of Waterloo and another was deafened from the roar of the cannon in that same battle that brought death to about 50,000 brave men.	.

John was married in March 1825 to his cousin, Jane Telford, in Scotland. After their marriage, John secured work and they remained in Scotland for about two years. They then returned to Ireland with their son, Robert, and had two more children while there. In 1830, they sailed to Quebec in an emigrant ship sent out by the English government with a company of Irish colonists to settle in Canada. Among this company of colonists were John’s sister, Mary, and her husband, Joseph Irwin, and Joseph’s brother, Tom and wife, Jane.

This was a long and a trying voyage. It nearly proved disastrous a number of times during the trip across the ocean. There were incidents causing excitement and thrills, as well as dread and tragedy. [See Jane's history for smallpox epidemic.] While at sea they were also caught in a violent storm. Huge waves washed overboard, causing much damage. In the darkness they collided with another ship, became entangled and spun like tops in the storm, and were nearly sunk. The sailors, however, were very fortunate and succeeded in cutting the ships apart. But so much damage had already been done to the ship that they had to work desperately for days pumping water to save the ship and to keep it from sinking while repairs were made. A lot of damage was also done to the effects of the passengers by the salt water that washed overboard. John Telford's family records were destroyed along with other valuable articles.

When the colonists reached the harbor at Quebec, they were attacked by another ship which attempted to ram their vessel and sink them in the harbor. Due to the Captain's presence of mind and the quick dexterous work of the helmsman, they escaped injury and no harm was done to the ship. One of the passengers, observing the suspicious maneuvering of the other ship, sounded the alarm. The Captain, who was below deck, came on the run with his sword calling, "Jack, take the helm." The passengers also rushed to the assistance of the Captain at the rail. After the hostile demonstrations were over and they had escaped damage or injury by out-maneuvering the onrushing ship, the Captain, who was a Scotchman, took up his speaking tube and called to the crew of the other ship: "Thank you, gentlemen, except for that act we wouldn't have known your nationality." The affair was hushed up and nothing was ever done about it. After their long voyage of eight weeks on the ocean, the colonists landed in Quebec.

During his residence in Canada, John also ran a logging crew and had quite a number of men working for him in the timber on his land. During the winter it was intensely cold in the woods. After the strenuous work of felling trees, the men had to put on their heavy coats and run up and down the felled logs to keep from freezing while they ate their lunch, which had previously been buried in the deep snow to keep it from freezing solid.

It was about eight years after John Telford settled in Canada that he and his wife joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He was converted by John Lander and subsequently baptized on the 17th of January 1838 by John Witt. Immediately after joining the church, John began preparations for a speedy departure for the United States to join the main body of Saints at Kirtland, Ohio. Because of the opposition and the prejudice of the people against his unpopular belief, John did not try to sell any of his property. He just locked up his house and left everything intact. [Jane's history gives more details.]

Kirtland, once a refuge of this people and a prosperous community, was situated in the loveliest spot in Northern Ohio. It was a beautiful town with its hills and vales, clear streams of water, and with their far-famed temple built upon the highest bluff overlooking the shimmering waters of Lake Erie in the distance. Due to persecution, the Saints had to leave all this and seek new homes in another state. So on July 6, 1838, nearly all the Saints left Kirtland and moved in a body to Missouri under the leadership of the Seventies. It is thought, however, that John was not a member of the "Kirtland Camp" but that he and his family left about the same time and went some distance away from that vicinity where he got work in a farming district for the summer and then joined the Saints in Missouri.

The terrible experiences of the Saints during the Missouri persecutions are among the most tragic events in the history of the Church.  No words can describe the misery and suffering of this people during the tragic winters of 1838 and 1839 when about 15,000 Saints were driven from their homes by armed mobs. Their property was destroyed and the people were expelled fromthe state and once again forced to seek shelter in another state. [See Jane's story regarding the mob persecution.]

This exodus was under the direction of Brigham Young. Many of the Saints went to Quincy, Illinois, and located temporarily. John and his family later went to Hancock County and located in Nauvoo, the beautiful city which they helped to build and develop. Nauvoo, first called Commerce, was built on a magnificent site overlooking the Mississippi in a majestic curve of the river which formed a half circle around the city. Nauvoo grew rapidly from an unhealthy marshland with few inhabitants into a beautiful, prosperous city, the largest in the State of Illinois at that time. It became famous for its industry and beauty, for its educational opportunities, its comfortable homes and magnificent temple.

John Telford was in Nauvoo when the comer stone of the temple was laid on 6 April 1841. He worked on the temple until it was completed. He built a good one and one-half story brick home for his family which was located one-half mile north of the temple. He also owned two city lots in Nauvoo. Here they were again happy and comfortable when the persecutions were renewed in Nauvoo and the vicinity as they had been in Ohio and Missouri.

On 27 June 1844, the greatest sorrow of all befell the Mormon people when their beloved prophet and patriarch, Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum, were martyred at Carthage, Illinois. This was a distressing and difficult period for the grief-stricken Saints. But under the leadership of the Twelve Apostles, the work of the church and the city continued to advance. Although persecutions ceased for a short time after the martyrdom, they were then renewed. With increased determination, the work on the temple continued in all kinds of weather and with the Saints suffering much so they might complete their temple before being driven out once again. [See Jane's story regarding their children Robert, George, Joseph and Emma Jane.] When the temple was complete enough to perform ordinances, John and his wife Jane and their three oldest children had the opportunity of receiving their endowments before the Saints were expelled from the state.

They left their home in Nauvoo in February 1 846 at the beginning of the general exodus west. They lived in open camps, suffering untold hardships, in the vain hope of thus avoiding further hostilities and bloodshed and the destruction of their property by the mobs. But after leaving Nauvoo, the Telfords went back to Quincy and secured work. They lived for two years at Quincy Bottoms where the men split rails which they sold to a steamboat company. In this way they earned the money to purchase their equipment for the journey across the plains to the Salt Lake Valley. During this unsettled period, John and his family also lived for a short time at Calhoon Point and Garden Grove.

In 1848 they started for the journey into the wilderness with the Garden Grove Company. John had three wagons packed with flour and provisions, seeds for planting and other necessities. One of the wagons, an extra large one, was loaded with bolts of cloth, fine linen and other materials which lasted the family for years after they reached their destination--all of which he divided with poorer families after he reached the valley. His wagons were built especially for the trip and according to his own specifications so that no space was wasted. Two of his wagons were extra large, and he also had a light one-horse wagon in which his family rode. It was equipped with a specially-built upholstered seat to add some comfort to the long dreary journey across the plains. There were only four of his children left, however, to make this journey as three had died during the distressing period due to the persecutions.

When they began the journey west; he had enough horses for all his wagons, but on the plains the Indians stole or shot his horses. He. was thus forced to use cows and oxen the remainder of the journey. The fine black mare which his daughter Anna drove on the light wagon was killed by a poisoned arrow, so she had to drive a cow the remainder of the way to Utah. And Victoria, the youngest daughter who drove a team, had to use a cow and a horse on her wagon after a stampede. This company arrived in Salt Lake City in September 1 851. They settled in Bountiful.

The first few years in this territory was a critical time for the pioneers. The partial crop failures due to drought and grasshopper plagues, their isolation from manufacturing centers, and the slow means of transportation had left many of them almost destitute of clothing and other necessities. But John's foresight enabled him to provide his family with plenty of material for clothing. After seven years there was little to choose from, and they made their dresses for every day and Sunday from the same bolt of cloth. The only difference was that their best dresses were made with very full skirts according to the mode for dress occasions.

Added to the difficulties of building a new empire in this arid and isolated region was also the political oppression and misrepresentation they were forced to endure. Then during the summer of 1857, the pioneers were faced with what they feared was utter ruin and disaster when they received word that an army was marching against them. The troops were sent to Utah by the Federal Government because of false reports received in Washington against the pioneers. When it was rumored that the Army was planning a "Mormon Conquest" and the army expected to take over the homes and possessions of the pioneers, the Saints prepared to defend themselves. They stationed a picket guard at Weber Camp in the mouth of Echo Canyon to watch the movements of the U.S. soldiers during the winter. All the mountain passes were guarded by the Utah Militia. The pioneers also planned to burn their homes and destroy everything they had built, leaving the valley a blackened ruin rather than again leave their homes to be enjoyed by their enemies.

In the spring of 1858, the family along with pioneers of the other northern settlements left their homes and moved "en masse" for the south, leaving only enough men in the deserted communities to burn the buildings and lay waste to the country. The people went to Provo and waited for a peaceable settlement of their difficulties. When word came that the Army had passed through Salt Lake City on the 26th of June and were locating in the Cedar Valley forty miles from the city, most of the people returned to their deserted homes. They arrived in time to harvest a volunteer crop of grain which covered their fields. On this trip south, John was caught in the quicksand while fording the river and his wagon sunk, damaging their perishable goods. A lot of his valuable papers were destroyed, including the deeds to all the homes which he had given up and left unsold after joining the Church and his diary which covered a period of twenty years and gave daily accounts of all his travels and experiences during those turbulent years in the early history of the church.
On 13 March 1857, John married Elizabeth Robinson, a handcart pioneer of 1856. She was an educated and cultured woman from Beauvale, Nottinghamshire, England. She was a woman of supreme faith and courage who met the problems of this new country in the true pioneer spirit. 'n December 1857, Elizabeth's son William was born, the first of nine children.

John Telford lived many years in Bountiful where he was active in both the church and the community. He was a counselor to Bishop Anson Call, president of the Teachers Quorum and also a ward teacher. He was assistant superintendent of the Sunday School for many years and a teacher of theology. John was an authority on church doctrine and was well qualified for this position, as he was a high priest and had the privilege of being a member of the School of the Prophets which was first organized in Kirtland and taught by the Prophet Joseph Smith. This school was the first educational movement sponsored by the church and included only those holding the Melchizedek Priesthood who were considered worthy. This school took up an intensive study of many important subjects, such as history, science, the laws governing the universe, as well as the sublime truths of theology. They also studied subjects pertaining to health and proper living.  

John was Justice of the Peace in Bountiful for eight years. He helped with both money and labor to redeem the desert. He helped to build the first grist mill in Centerville; assisted in building the canal in Salt Lake City that supplied Gardner's Grist Mill; helped to bridge Weber River; assisted in building the tannery at Farmington; helped build Snow's Carding Mill at Brigham City; helped build roads, canals, and the Union Pacific Railway; and assisted in building the Co-op Store and tabernacle in East Bountiful.

John raised the first peaches in Davis County and paid the first "tithing peaches" in Utah. He and Joseph Holbrook raised the first early rose potatoes in Utah. They received two and one-half potatoes from the East for seed, which they divided for planting. John did pioneer work in Richmond where he moved in 1860. He lived in the Old Fort and helped with pioneer work in that community for a short time. He then moved to Brigham City for a few years where he continued his work of pioneering.
About 1864, he and his family returned to Bountiful where they remained until June 1881.

 They went back to Cache Valley and lived in Lewiston for about one year. John was now eighty years of age, and he bought a small farm and a three-acre lot in Richmond. He built a home there and resided in Richmond for the remainder of his life. His wife, Jane, died in her ninety-first year in 1886.

John Telford was a man of fine character and a natural leader. He was honest, industrious, straightforward and truthful. He had a high sense of justice and honor. He was broad minded, kind, understanding and generous to a fault. He despised hypocrisy, vulgarity and unfair dealing. He was a man of exceptionally good judgment and was held in high esteem by his town's people. He was always called to act as mediator in all the disputes in the community and his judgment was never questioned. Whatever his decision, all parties were satisfied that justice had been done.

John was a student of law, so was well qualified to fill the need of the early pioneer community in the capacity of legal advisor, investigator and judge. In his office of Justice of the Peace and as a member of the bishopric, he was called on to act in this capacity for many years. He was intellectual and of a highly spiritual nature and was very reverent.

He had good government in his family. He guided his children with a word or a nod of his head, and they never disregarded his wishes. He was as patient as Job and often imposed upon. But he had a high temper which was perfectly controlled and was able to wither one with a look when angry. People feared his displeasure. He was a good neighbor, loyal to his friends, his country and religion. He had great pride of ancestry but stood for individual accomplishment and had no false money values.

John loved fine horses and beautiful surroundings. He was especially interested in agriculture, horticulture, politics and religion. He loved music and had a good tenor voice and enjoyed singing. He also loved poetry and all good books. He knew and often repeated appropriate quotations from poetry, fiction or the scriptures to fit every occasion or situation. When he came to Utah he brought quite a number of books with him across the plains. Among these were all the church works, Walker's Dictionary, Biography of Distinguished Men, Pictorial History of America, Exercises on the Globe and Rollin's Ancient Histories. He also brought some volumes of poetry: Poems of the Seasons, Poetry of the Passions, Burns Sax's Poems and several other volumes of discourses, etc. He was a great reader and a student all his life. He was an educated and true gentleman. He always retained his keen active mind and was as straight as a soldier when he died. After a long life, rich in experience, he passed away at his home in Richmond on Sunday, January 19, 1896, a victim of pneumonia fever. He was 93 years old when he died.

He was survived by his wife Elizabeth and eight of his seventeen children. He also had forty-four grandchildren, one hundred eleven great-grandchildren, and one great-great-grandchild. Funeral services were held in the Richmond Ward Chapel on Wednesday, 22 January 1896, and were attended by a host of relations and friends. The speakers were all old friends of approximately forty years standing: Apostle Marriner W. Merrill, Elders Christian Hyer and Wallace Burnham of Richmond, and William Waddoups and Sidney Kent of Lewiston. John Telford was interred in the Richmond Cemetery where he lies at peace on that lovely, quiet hillside, an impressive marble shaft with an Emblem of Old Ireland marking his last resting place.

[This was adapted from the histories of John and Jane Telford written by Effie Lenore Wiser.  Eunice Merrill.]

John and Jane Telford are grandparents for both Loni and Allen.  So, after a fashion, Allen married his cousin.  Loni comes through a son, John Dodds Telford; Allen comes through a daughter, Eliza Telford.  Both Eliza and John Dodds are children of John and Jane.


John’s Picture

Telford Home in Ireland