John Lyon collection

John Lyon collection

Dates: 1795-1989

The collection contains mostly photocopies of (1) John Lyon documents; (2) John Lyon miscellaneous and related items; (3) printed items; (4) correspondence; (5) various maps of Scotland, the United Kingdom, and the journey west to Salt Lake City; and (6) pictures of Scotland, Great Britain, and parts of the United States, particularly those on the journey to Salt Lake City.

  • Extent: 1 box (0.5 linear ft.)
  • Creator: Lyon, John, 1803-1889
  • Call Number: MSS 2371
  • Repository: L. Tom Perry Special Collections; 19th Century Western & Mormon Manuscripts; 1130 Harold B. Lee Library; Brigham Young University; Provo, Utah 84602;
  • Access Restrictions: Open to public research.
Languages and Scripts
The collection is organized into folders by material genre and then by subject: general documents; personal miscellaneous; printed items; correspondence; maps of Scotland; maps of the United Kingdom; maps of the journey West; pictures of Scotland; pictures of Great Britain; pictures of the United States; and pictures of people.
Conditions of Use
It is the responsibility of the researcher to obtain any necessary copyright clearances. Permission to publish material from the Additions to the John Lyon collection must be obtained from the Supervisor of Reference Services and/or the L. Tom Perry Special Collections Board of Curators.
Preferred Citation
Initial Citation: MSS 2371; Additions to the John Lyon collection; 19th Century Western and Mormon Manuscripts.; L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University. Following Citations: MSS 2371, LTPSC.
Custodial History
The material in this collection was donated to the L. Tom Perry Special Collections on 17 December 2001 by Thomas Edgar [Ted] Lyon, great-grandson of the creator of the collection.
Acquisition Information
Donated; Thomas Edgar [Ted] Lyon; 2001.
See also: Lyon, T. Edgar Jr., T. Edgar Lyon: A Teacher in Zion (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 2002).
Other Finding Aids
Item-level inventory available online.
Related Material
See also the John Lyon papers (MSS 1595), John Lyon photographs (MSS P 1595), the David Ross Lyon collection (MSS 2370), the Thomas Edgar Lyon, Sr. collection (MSS 2341), and the Thomas Edgar Lyon, Jr. collection (MSS 2372).
Subject Terms
Endowment House (Salt Lake City, Utah); Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; Religion; Glasgow (Scotland); Kilmarnock (Scotland); Liverpool (England); London (England); Mormons--Emigration and immigration; New Orleans (La.); Salt Lake City (Utah); Worcester (England)
Genre / Form
Biography; Letters; Photographic prints; Photographs; Poetry
Processing Information
Processed; David J. Whittaker & Erin Chapman; May 2002.
Appraisal Information
19th Century Western and Mormon Manuscripts.
Finding Aid ID Number
Finding Aid Title
Lyon (John) collection
Finding Aid Author
Finding aid prepared by David J. Whittaker & Erin Chapman
Finding Aid Creator
This finding aid was produced using the Archivists' Toolkit 2013-07-08T12:29-0600
Finding Aid Language
Finding aid encoded in English.
Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) grant, 2007-2008
Biographical Info:

Biographical History

John Lyon was born 4 March 1803 in Glasgow, Scotland, to Thomas and Janet MacArthur Lyon. He was baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in March 1844. He was the president of the Worcester, England Conference from 1849-1852, and then over the Glasgow, Scotland Conference from 1852-1853. He was the author of "The Harp of Zion" and "Songs of a Pioneer." He also served as territorial librarian in Salt Lake, superintendent of the Endowment House, and as Patriarch in the Church. He died on 28 November 1889.

John Lyon, son of Thomas and Janet McArthur Lyon, was born in Glasgow, Scotland on 4 March 1803. He was the third of four children, but would be the only child to survive past the age of five. In 1811, at the age of eight, his father died of debilitating asthma. His mother, finding her self in poverty and pressured by the demands of supporting two children, extended the hours of her personal hand loom, and enlisted John's help. John was taught the basics of writing from his father, but it was not until his father died and they were forced to move to poorer section of Glasgow, was he able to attend school. At first, one of the older boys in his class and farthest behind, he excelled. But, he was only able to attend school for a year and a half. It was his only formal schooling.

In 1812, when John was nine, his mother apprenticed him to a weaver to help pay for the daily costs of living. Unfortunately, this was a year of heavy depression for the weaving industry. Lyon worked diligently to receive his license, but before he could, his master gave up the trade, having himself fallen on hard times, and granted all of his apprentices unconditional liberty. At the age of twelve, John worked in the spinning business, but was again released before he could merit a license. Around 1820 or 1821, his mother remarried. Lyon did not approve of the situation and at age 17, left to face the world on his own. From this time on, Lyon moved from one place to another, working as a journeyman weaver. He enrolled himself in one of Glasgow's "charity schools," and took on diligent study in the evenings. Determined to make a better life for himself, and meager as were his opportunities, he devoted all his energies to the acquirement of knowledge. During this time, he also taught others to read and write, and some eventually became "self-made men," as would Lyon.

In 1824, John left the busy streets of Glasgow for the small town of Kilmarnock. He left primarily because of doctor's orders as Lyon's health was diagnosed as "weakness and palpitation." In Kilmarnock, Lyon found a loom for hire, and after proving himself at weaving, rented the apparatus, a tiny flat, and started his own regular job. His experience in weaving and trade in the Glasgow markets soon helped him enjoy mild prosperity and success. At this time, he also met Janet Thompson, whom he would later marry on 4 December 1825. They settled down in Kilmarnock and had twelve children there.

Lyon, still thirsting after learning, joined several intellectual circles, and very quickly gained respect from his peers. Furthermore, in his mid-twenties, John achieved a literary reputation through the publication of his poems and articles in the local press. His writings enabled him and his family a second income in addition to weaving. Very soon, he became known as a writer first, then a weaver.

Previous to John's introduction to Mormonism (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or LDS Church), he had not been an active participant of any faith. He first heard Elder William Gibson preach the doctrines of "Mormonism," in the fall of 1843. After nearly six months of study, debate, prayer, and eventually spiritual confirmation, John was baptized into the Church in March 1844 at Kilmarnock. He was the first convert baptized into the new faith from Kilmarnock. On 20 June 1844, just three months later, he was ordained as an Elder, a priesthood calling to preach and baptize. Not long after, he was appointed presiding Elder of the small branch in Kilmarnock, becoming a preaching-traveling minister.

John was known to preach with fervor and had many successes. In January 1849, he was called to preside over the Worcestershire, England Conference. Though times were not good for his family, he heeded the call and left his family in Kilmarnock. After his release three years later, he was called to preside over the Glasgow Conference, this time removing his family with him. From the beginning of his membership in the church, he became acquainted with many general authorities, including John Taylor, Orson Pratt, and Franklin D. Richards. President Richards was the President of the European Mission in the early 1850s and was responsible for the Perpetual Immigration Fund, which would enable those saints who couldn't afford to migrate to have the means to do so. He asked John to collect his poems, have them published, and then to donate the profits to the Perpetual Immigration Fund. The poems were published under the title, The Harp of Zion, and became the first volume of poetry published by a member of the church. Thousands of copies were printed and sold. On 25 February 1853, John and his family bid farewell to Scotland and began their trek to "Zion." He and his family arrived in Salt Lake in September of that same year.

After his arrival in Salt Lake City, John became acquainted with many elite members of the Church. He wasted no time with his literary talents and wrote articles for the Deseret News and other publications. In 1854, he was ordained the leader of the 37th Seventy's Quorum and held that position for thirty years. In 1855, he was appointed an assistant to the territorial librarian, William C. Staines, and superintendent of the Endowment House--serving there for thirty years and being the only superintendent since the Endowment House's founding. He performed small jobs such as carpentry and weaving to assist the family income, and even taught weaving to President Brigham Young's daughters. He also acted as critic at the Salt Lake Theater for several years. On 7 May 1873, he was ordained a Patriarch by President Wilford Woodruff.

As a local leader, he often came into contact with many church leaders who were polygamists. He had a dream of his own plural marriage and was not long after approached by President Young to marry a second wife. After an extremely short courtship, he married Caroline Holland on 28 March 1856, and during the next fifteen years, Caroline bore seven children to him. At the time of his death on 28 November 1889, he was the father of 19 children, and his grandchildren and great grandchildren, living and dead, numbered over 100.

John Lyon's two collections of verse were published seventy years apart. His first book of verse, The Harp of Zion, was published in 1853. Songs of a Pioneer was published posthumously by his son, David Ross Lyon, in 1923. Lyon's poetry, like that of Eliza R. Snow, provides interesting literary and historical insights into early Mormonism.

Bibliographic Note

1. Marten, Ruth J., Twentieth Ward History 1856-1979 .

2. Lyon, T. Edgar Jr., John Lyon: The Life of a Pioneer Poet. Provo: Religious Studies Center, BYU, 1989.

3. Biographical sketch, Register of the John Lyon Collection, MSS 1595, 1991.

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Ryan Lee
Curator - 19th Century Western & Mormon Manuscripts