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John Lyon research collection by T. Edgar [Ted] Lyon Jr, 1803-1863

Identifier: MSS 1595 Series 4

Scope and Contents note

From the Collection:

Manuscripts of John Lyon and research materials assembled by his great grandson, T. Edgar Lyon, Jr., for a biography of John Lyon. The items include personal history documents (1853-1903); stories and poems (1824-1887); journals (1849-1884); photographic material (1850-1906); correspondence (1849-1878); and a scrapbook of obituaries and published articles by and about John Lyon.

Additional materials added in 2023


  • Other: 1803-1863


Conditions Governing Access note

Open to public research.

Conditions Governing Use note

It is the responsibility of the researcher to obtain any necessary copyright clearances. Permission to publish material from the John Lyon collection must be obtained from the Supervisor of Reference Services and/or the L. Tom Perry Special Collections Board of Curators.

The donor, T. Edgar Lyon Jr., has retained the literary rights to this collection.

Biographical History

From the Collection:

Scottish immigrant and convert to the Mormon Church who became a leader in several Utah groups. He was a poet and a Mormon patriarch.

John Lyon was born March 4, 1803 in Glasgow, Scotland. The third of four children, he was the only one to survive. In 1811, when John was eight, his father, Thomas Lyon died of debilitating asthma. Finding herself in poverty and pressured by the demands of supporting a young boy, his mother, Janet Thomas Lyon, extended the hours of her personal hand loom business and enlisted John's help. John was taught the rudiments of writing from his father, but it was not until his father died, and they were forced to move, that he finally attended school. Here he excelled, but for economic reasons only attended for a year and a half. It was his only formal childhood schooling.

In 1812 Lyon entered an apprenticeship as a weaver; unfortunately it was also a year of heavy depression for the weaving industry. Lyon worked diligently to receive his licence, but before he could, his master, having himself fallen on hard times, gave up the trade and granted all his apprentices unconditional liberty. At twelve, Lyon worked in the spinning business, but was again released before he could merit a licence. Around 1820 to 1821, his mother remarried. Lyon did not approve of the situation and at the age of seventeen, he states, "...[I] left to face the world on my own account." From this time, Lyon, "removed from one place to another as a journeyman weaver, and made nothing of it." But he did again enroll in one of Glasgow's "charity schools," and took on diligent study in the evenings. Besides study, he also invested time in the theatre, dancing halls and sparring. By the end of his teen years, Lyon was 5 ft. 11 in. tall and very athletic. He also exhibited the talents of serving and teaching others, as he helped many a friend with the basics of reading and writing during this time.

In 1824, at the age of twenty-one, he left the busy streets of Glasgow for the small town of Kilmarnock. This was mainly due to doctor's orders as Lyon's health was diagnosed as "weakness and palpitation." In Kilmarnock Lyon found a loon for hire, and after proving himself at weaving, rented the apparatus and 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.

By the year of 1824, Lyon had already courted many young ladies in the area, one of which was Janet Thompson of Kilmarnock. On December 4, 1825, Lyon, at the age of twenty-two, and Janet Thompson at the age of sixteen were married in the local Kilmarnock chapel. They soon settled down and in 1827 their first son, Thomas Lyon was born. In the following years eleven more children would be born to them: Thomas, Janet, Annie, Robert, John, Jr., Lillias, David C., Matthew T., Mary, Margret, Agnes, Franklin D. Richards. Lyon, still thirsting for learning, joined different intellectual circles. He developed his skills of writing the English language to the point he became a writer of feature articles for the local papers. He soon progressed to full-time writer and his work took him all over Scotland in search of the news, particularly human interest stories. He also wrote poetry.

Kilmarnock, as well as many other towns of the day were highly religious in nature. In October of 1843, the first town meeting of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was held at Kilmarnock and John Lyon was in attendance. Lyon met often with the missionary William Gibson and at the age of forty-one, on the 30th of March, 1844, became the first convert baptized into the new faith from Kilmarnock. He was a faithful convert and on June 20, 1844 was ordained an Elder, a priesthood calling to preach and baptize. Soon he was the presiding Elder of the small branch (February 1845), becoming a preaching-traveling minister.

With a new outlook on life, his poetic writing turned more to spiritual themes. His first "Mormon" poem was entitled, "Man" and published in the L.D.S. Millennial Star, November 15, 1845. He also wrote several more poems published for the benefit of fellow members, including his second, "Exodus," published, March 1, 1846. His works became increasingly more popular, and they also increased his dedication to his church. He wrote, "I might have risen to literary eminence, had not the gospel attracted my notice and spoiled all ambition as an author."

He was known to preach with fervor, and in January of 1849 he received a call to serve as a full-time missionary in the Worchester Conference of England. Times were hard for the family, but Lyon heeded the call and went, "without purse or scrip," to preside over the area.

Lyon wrote a day-by-day account of his mission in a journal in which he logged the many miles he traveled on foot to reach distant branches as well as the growth of the conference: an increase of 409 souls, 360 of which were personally baptized by Lyon. His journal during this time is filled with poetry. He wrote over seventy poems from 1849-1852, eighteen of which were later published.

On January 1, 1852, he was appointed to preside over the Glasgow Conference of thirty-four branches with 2,200 members.

The following year, was one of great accomplishments for Lyon. His first book of poems, The Harp of Zion, was published by the LDS Millennial Star, with the proceeds to go toward the Perpetual Emigrating Fund. In this way he sought to help those new converts too poor to obtain the necessary money to emigrate to Utah.

Lyon, himself, felt the call to gather to Utah. Thus, on February 25, 1853, Lyon, along with Janet and their five surviving children, bid farewell to friends and family and started the trek. The journey of over 5,000 miles, was documented in another of Lyon's journals including the miracle of the voyage: most of the entire crew including the captain were baptized. On April 23, the International reached New Orleans.

Lyon was now made responsible for one group of 237 saints. They traveled from New Orleans to St. Louis, and then to Keokuk, Iowa. Here Elder Lyon was put directly in charge of fifty saints and on Thursday, June 2, they left for Council Bluffs. After reaching Council Bluffs they regrouped, Lyon was called as the company's Chaplain and the entire company started for Salt Lake City. It was not until September 30, 1853, seven months after they left Scotland, that they arrived in the Salt Lake Valley.

That winter proved to be a harsh one, but fortunately John, Janet and their five children weathered it well. In the year of 1854 or 1855 Lyon built a log cabin in the twentieth ward district. Here he started to farm, and soon had a nice establishment. He wasted no time with his literary talents, and became the critic for the Deseret Dramatic Association, and writer for the Deseret News, The Mountaineer, The Mormon, The Contributor, Tullidge's Quarterly Magazine, and the L.D.S. Millennial Star. Lyon also took on other positions: an assistant to the territorial library in 1855, superintendent of the Endowment House, and small jobs such as carpentry and weaving to assist the family income. In 1854 he was ordained the President of the 37th Seventy's Quorum and held that position for thirty years. Even with the enormity of his obligations he continued his poetic pursuits. He was a leader in several groups, including the Deseret Press Association, the Universal Scientific Society, the Deseret Agricultural and Manufacturing Society, and the Deseret Dramatic Association.

As a local leader, he often came in contact with church authorities many of whom were polygamists. Even though his interest was not quite so keen on the subject, in early 1856, he had a dramatic dream of his own plural marriage. Shortly after, Brigham Young confirmed the dream as God's will and with very little courtship Lyon was married to Caroline Holland on March 28, 1856. During the next fifteen years Caroline bore seven children, Joseph Young, Sarah Elizabeth, William Augustus, David Ross, Alexander, James and the last, Eliza, born in 1872 during John Lyon's seventieth year.

In his later years Lyon published much more poetry, and met with other writers such as Horace Greeley, Richard Burton, Artemus Ward, and Mark Twain. He was also a teacher of "elocution," (stage gestures, voice projection, etc.)

Lyon held other church callings, including being ordained to the office of Patriarch on May 7, 1873. And despite various infirmities, Lyon continued work in the Endowment House, wrote poetry for the Deseret News, and produced many more stories of his life in Scotland. In 1885 he resigned as superintendent of the Endowment House, a position in which most of the members came to know of him. During his last years he wrote scores of stories and poems although most were not published.

On November 28, 1889 at the age of eighty-six, John Lyon died. He left behind two wives, nineteen children, forty-nine grandchildren, and fifty-one great grandchildren. The Deseret News noted at his death, " It is rare that Death lays his hand upon one who, without special official position in the Church, was so widely known."

Biographical Source Notes:

T. Edgar Lyon Jr., John Lyon: The Life of a Pioneer Poet (Provo: Religious Studies Center, volume six, Specialized Monograph Series, Brigham Young University, 1989).

See also David Ross Lyon, "John Lyon, Poet and Writer," The Improvement Era 13 (1910): 136-43; "Some of our Poets: John Lyon," Juvenile Instructor 36 (1902): 771-74; and Thomas E. Lyon, "John Lyon: Poet for the Lord," in Supporting Saints: Life Stories of Nineteenth-century Mormons, ed. Donald Q. Cannon and David J. Whittaker (Provo: Religious Studies Center, volume one, Specialized Monograph Series, Brigham Young University, 1985), pp. 213-33.


8 folders

Language of Materials