Brigham Young's Presence
in the Finger Lakes
Lives on in Legend and in Fact
Although tracing the life of Brigham Young's half-brother, Edward, is of no particular historical importance, it nevertheless posed some interesting detective work for an investigative reporter—a real challenge since more than a century has elapsed. More interesting is the fact that even Brigham himself lost track of his half brother.
Continuing with our story, Edward and his wife are listed in the 1850 U. S. Census of Steuben County. He was 27 years old, listed as a fanner, and his wife was 18. They had a son, Leray, who was one year old, and they lived next door to Mrs. Young's brother, Washington Vanderworken, in the town of Campbell.
Edward next appears in the 1860 census of Liberty, McKean Co., Pennsylvania, with four additional children: a girl named California, another daughter, Clara E., and two sons, Francis and Harris L.
According to one account, Edward, at the urging of Brigham, moved to Salt Lake City for a short time, but later returned because Mrs. Young "was afraid her daughters would marry Mormon deacons." At the time, a small percentage of Mormons were practicing polygamy which was generally not accepted outside the sphere of the Utah territory.
Exactly how many children Edward had is not known. The Vanderworken genealogy lists the names of John, Clarence and Pamelia as his children. But published genealogies can be notoriously inaccurate. Since there were other Vanderworkens living in McKean County, it is thought that the Youngs moved there with them.
Edward's mother, Hannah Young reappears on the scene in 1861, applying for a pension on the premise that her husband, John Young, had served in the Revolutionary War and consequently she was entitled to widow's benefits. While still living in Mendon, south of Rochester, John had applied for and eventually received a small pension for his service between 1780 and 1783 while he was still living in Hopkinton, Massachusetts. Eventually he was awarded a pension of $34.65 a year which he appears to have received until his death.
At the time Hannah applied for benefits, she was 81 years old and was living in poor circumstances with her sister and brother-in-law, Phoebe and Elijah Bond, near Bath. In her deposition, Hannah stated she and Edward had merely returned home to visit relatives, and during this time, the Mormons left Kirtland, Ohio, for Missouri.
She said she and her son were about to start out for Nauvoo, Illinois, a Mormon city on the banks of the Mississippi, "when they heard of her husband John Young's death and they never went to Illinois but returned to the state of New York." After filing the necessary documents, Hannah eventually won her claim, and appears to have died a short time later, although the exact date isn't known.
The rather bizarre story continues with Edward Young's removal to Wisconsin during the Civil War. On Sept. 5, 1864, he enlisted as a Private in Company D, 1st Regiment, Wisconsin Heavy Artillery, for a one-year term.
While in the service he contracted malaria in April 1865, and was treated by the regimental surgeon at a hospital in Brasure City, Louisiana. He was discharged at New Orleans on June 30, 1865. He then returned to his farm in Appleton, Outagamie County, Wisconsin, where he found two of his children very ill. They soon died, and it took all of his bounty money to pay the doctor bills. He found it difficult to support his wife and three surviving children—two boys 4 and 16, and a 14-year-old girl.
On occasion, Brigham Young would commission his sons to look Edward up while serving as missionaries in the East. However, they were never able to persuade him to "join the fold" in the Valley of the Great Salt Lake. Eventually, Edward and his family did move west, but to a remote area of Idaho called Carey, which was located or ihe Little Wood River. Here, he was a lumberman and farmer. Edward died on February 15, 1894. Mrs. Young, perhaps ignorant of the fact that she was following the steps of her late mother-in-law, applied for a widow's pension based on her husband's military service during the Civil War. Records show, however, that she received only one pension check for $12 on June 4, 1898 She may have died a short time later.
If it wasn't for his prominence in the early history of the Mormon Church, Brigham Young's life undoubtedly would have been equally difficult to trace, and there probably wouldn't have been any reason to pursue it.
Because of who he was, people in this region remembered him and left behind their memories often shaded by their biases against Mormonism. It is interesting that a man still living in 1904 could vividly recall details of Brigham's presence in the 1820s—especially since he was only three or four years old at the the time. Such accounts tend to be embroidered with the passing of years.
The authenticity of some accounts is questionable when a little research is done. One old man said Brigham brought a 25-pound cannonball with him when his family moved to New York from Vermont. Brigham must have been an exceptionally strong one-year-old as that is how old he was when they moved here.
Brigham's early life is as much of a challenge to document as that of his half brother. It is only because of his prominence in later life, that facts and fictions of his youth have been preserved.
Brigham worked in his early days as a carpenter, painter and glazier. Local mythology credits him with the creation of assorted fireplace mantles, chairs, bricks, a turning lathe, and other artifacts including old furniture in Auburn and Mendon. Because an old high-button shoe showed up during excavation of a sawmill he operated, it must have belonged to his wife.
One museum in this region lays claim to a large collection of alleged Brigham Young relics. Since little or no documentation exists, the authenticity of most of this collection is brought into question. However, a number of documents do exist in this region, such as old promissary notes and letters, that prove Brigham did once live here.
© 1995, Richard F. Palmer
The author's book, Brigham Young: The New York Years, attempts to sort the truth from the folklore.