Question: What about claims that John Taylor held important meetings dealing with polygamy on September 27, 1886?

Why are the described September 27, 1886 meetings important?

In the 1920s Lorin C. Woolley recalled an eight-hour meeting attended by thirteen people where the 1886 revelation was received and written down. At one point, John Taylor is described as floating above the ground as he declared he would never sign a manifesto. According to Woolley, the eight-hour meeting was followed by a five-hour meeting where special priesthood ordinations were performed. Woolley identified five men along with John Taylor, and a resurrected Joseph Smith, as present in the second meeting.

Is there any contemporaneous evidence for important meetings being held on September 27, 1886?

No. Journal entries from the three of the men listed as being in attendance, Samuel Bateman, George Q. Cannon, and L. John Nuttall (scribing for President Taylor), have been published and none mention important meetings being held that day or during the days before or after.[1] No references to it in letters, diaries, or other contemporaneous writings have been found.

Such important meetings would have been remarkable in 1886, likely representing a spiritual highlight in the lives of attendees. What is the earliest reference to either meeting in the historical record?

No one mentioned the meetings or ordinations for over 35 years.  In the early 1920s, Lorin Woolley remembered them, but that was the first time even he had mentioned them to anyone.

Were those in attendance sworn to secrecy?

No. Keeping the meeting secret was not required so the decades of silence from the attendees are puzzling.

Did anyone other than Lorin Woolley corroborate that these meetings actually happened?

In 1929, Daniel Bateman remembered the eight-hour meeting, but did not explain why he had never mentioned it before. He plainly stated he was not present for the second meeting.

How many witnesses of the priesthood ordinations (performed in the second meeting) are there?

Only Lorin Woolley left a record concerning the ordinations. The other twelve men and women reportedly in attendance at the first meeting and the five other men listed as being at the second meeting left no records at that time or anytime thereafter. Woolley’s voice is the only voice standing as a witness of these ordinations.

Did Lorin Woolley’s account say any copies of the revelation written in the first meeting were made?

Yes. Lorin Woolley remembered that after writing the original, John Taylor had five additional copies made: “After the meeting referred to, President Taylor had L. John Nuttall write five copies of the revelation. He called five of us together: Samuel Bateman, Charles H. Wilkins, George Q. Cannon, John W. Woolley, and myself. . . . He then gave each of us a copy of the Revelation.”[2]

Have any of the five copies been found or referred to since that date?

No.

If there were no meetings that day, then when and how was the revelation found?

John W. Taylor, the president's son, reported in 1911: “I found it [the 1886 revelation] on his desk immediately after his death when I was appointed administrator of his estate.”[3]

Who were the thirteen people Woolley listed as attending?

Lorin Woolley recalled: “President Taylor, George Q. Cannon, L. John Nuttall, John W. Woolley, Samuel Bateman, Charles H. Wilkins, Charles Birrell, Daniel R. Bateman, Bishop Samuel Sedden, George Earl, my mother, Julia E. Woolley, my sister, Amy Woolley, and myself.”[4]

Were any of those thirteen people put under covenants during that meeting?

Woolley recalled that during the meeting, John Taylor “put each person under covenant that he or she would defend the principle of Celestial or Plural Marriage, and that they would consecrate their lives, liberty and property to this end, and that they personally would sustain and uphold that principle.”[5]

Were the five men who reportedly received a priesthood ordination put under an additional covenant?

Yes. According to the account: “He [John Taylor] called five of us together: Samuel Bateman, Charles H. Wilkins, George Q. Cannon, John W. Woolley, and my self. He then set us apart[6] and place us under covenant that while we lived we would see to it that no year passed by without children being born in the principle of plural marriage. We were given authority to ordain others if necessary to carry this work on, they in turn to be given authority to ordain others when necessary, under the direction of the worthy senior (by ordination), so that there should be no cessation in the work. He then gave each of us a copy of the Revelation.”

Did the thirteen attendees, including the five men ordained, keep the covenants they reportedly made during those meetings?

The documented behavior of the thirteen individuals attending the eight hour meeting in 1886 does not support that they sought to keep the two covenants Lorin Woolley described. Especially surprising are the actions of the five men. See the chart below: 

This chart tabulates the men's involvement with new plural wives and plural children after the 1890 Manifesto.[11]

In addition, Amy Woolley, Lorin’s sister, began her own journal just weeks later, but her entries do not reflect a compulsion to sustain plural marriage.[12] In fact, when Lorin Woolley began fighting church leaders in the 1920s regarding polygamy, Amy distanced herself from her brother, staying with the church.

* On 4 October 1886, John W. Woolley wed Ann Everington Roberts for time only. It seems that since this sealing occurred only one week after the reported meeting and was only for time, it was probably planned weeks or months earlier.

** In 1892, Charles Barrell, of the Salt Lake Stake, entered into a plural marriage—not by approaching any of the five men reportedly ordained in 1886, but through mutual covenants with a woman, by whom he fathered a child. The high council excommunicated him “for desecrating one of the most sacred ordinances or rites of the Holy Priesthood, and for adultery.” Salt Lake Stake High Council Minutes, 22 March 1893, 8 June 1898; Joseph H. Dean, Diary, 16 June 1895.


[1] See Samuel Bateman Diaries, CHL, for date; George Q. Cannon Journal, September 26, 1886, First Presidency Vault, Salt Lake City; Jedediah S. Rogers, In the President's Office: The Diaries of L. John Nuttall, 1879–1892 (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2007), 170; Anderson, Polygamy Story, 34, 45–47. See also Briney, Silencing Mormon Polygamy, 192n2.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Drew Briney, Apostles on Trial: Examining the Membership Trials of Apostles Taylor and Cowley, [Salt Lake City]: Hindsight Publications, 2012, 107; see also Fred Collier and Knut Knutson, eds., The Trials of Apostle John W. Taylor and Matthias F. Cowley (Salt Lake City: Colliers, 1987), 10. At his trial in 1911, John W. Taylor explained: “Brother Joseph Robinson came to me and asked for a copy of it upon the suggestion of Brother Cowley and he got it from Brother Badger. Brother Joseph F. Smith Jr., also got a copy, but I don't know how many have got copies from these.” (Briney, Apostles on Trial, 117.)

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] On 27 September 1932, Musser recorded Woolley saying: “Instructions to the Five: You will have the weight of this world upon you, and one of you will have to stand alone. Joseph S[mith] laid his hands upon the heads while J[ohn] T[aylor] set them apart or acted as mouth.” (Musser journals, CHL.)

[7] On 4 October 1886, John W. Woolley wed Ann Everington Roberts for time only. It seems that since this sealing occurred only one week after the reported meeting and was only for time, it was probably planned weeks or months earlier.

[8] In 1892, Charles Barrell, of the Salt Lake Stake, entered into a plural marriage—not by approaching any of the five men reportedly ordained in 1886, but through mutual covenants with a woman, by whom he fathered a child. The high council excommunicated him “for desecrating one of the most sacred ordinances or rites of the Holy Priesthood, and for adultery.” Salt Lake Stake High Council Minutes, 22 March 1893, 8 June 1898; Joseph H. Dean, Diary, 16 June 1895.

[9] Born in 1871, George Earl did not marry until 1892 and was never a polygamist.

[10] Amy Woolley remained the monogamous wife of her husband Thomas Cherry after their 1893 wedding.

[11] Data from Hardy, B. Carmon, Solemn Covenant: The Mormon Polygamous Passage (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1992), appendix (unnumbered pages after 394) and www.familysearch.com.

[12] See Amy Woolley diaries, 1886–1992, Harold B. Lee Library, Provo, Utah.