Brigham Young (June 1, 1801 – August 29, 1877) was the second prophet and president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church; see also Mormonism), and is, after church founder Joseph Smith, Jr. perhaps the most important person in LDS history.
Young was born to a farming family in Vermont and worked as a travelling carpenter and blacksmith, among other trades. Young first married in 1824.
Though he had converted to the Methodist faith in 1823, Young was drawn to Mormonism after reading the Book of Mormon shortly after its publication in 1830. He officially joined the new church in 1832 and traveled to Canada as a missionary. After his first wife died in 1833, Young joined many Mormons in establishing a community in Kirtland, Ohio.
Young was strongly committed to his new faith. In 1840 and 1841, he went to England and converted many people to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Many of these converts moved to the United States to join Mormon communities there. In the 1840s Young was among those who established the city of Nauvoo, Illinois on the Mississippi River. It became the headquarters of the church and was larger than the city of Chicago.
Church founder Joseph Smith was impressed by Young's devotion, and appointed him President of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles 1841, generally considered second only to Smith in influence.
After Smith was murdered in 1844, there were several claimants to his role as prophet and leader of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Most members—including Smith's mother and brothers—considered him, as leader of the Quorum of the Twelve, Smith's most legitimate successor. However, a number of Mormons—later including Smith's wife and children (who originally sustained him)—rejected Young's leadership.
Within two years persecution drove the "Saints" to territory outside the boundaries of the United States. Young played a crucial role in keeping the church together by organizing the journey that would take the faithful to Winter Quarters, Nebraska, in 1846, then to Utah's Salt Lake Valley on July 24, 1847, a date now recognized as a holiday in Utah known as Pioneer Day.
In Utah, Young directed religious and economic matters. He encouraged independence and self-sufficiency. Many cities and towns in Utah and neighboring states were founded under Young's direction.
Young was perhaps the most famous polygamist of the early church, although he was preceded in the practice of "Plural Marriage" by Smith, who introduced it. Young married approximately 27 women and had 56 known children. In 1856 he built The Lion House to accommodate his family.
Although proof of Young's involvement in the Mountain Meadows Massacre is generally regarded as circumstantial evidence, critics have variably charged that Young either knew of, approved of or directed the event. Most historians, including Juanita Brooks—perhaps the massacre's preminent scholar—concluded that Young had no knowledge of the event when it happened. Some critics also charge that Young actively covered up the debacle or that he was responsible for minimizing or delaying justice to the perpetrators. John D. Lee was executed for the crime and the only person convicted for involvement.
Young spoke publicly about the Adam-God theory, one of a number of controversies regarding The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
In addition to founding the University of Utah, Young also organized the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Brigham Young University is named after him. In 1950, the state of Utah donated a marble statue of Young to the U.S. Capitol's National Statuary Hall Collection.
Football player Steve Young is a descendant of Brigham Young, among many others.