PHILO JOHNSON (1814-1896)
Rockmason, Hatter, Gunsmith,
Member of the First Pioneer Company of 1847
was born 6 Dec 1814 in Newtown, Fairfield County,
Connecticut, the 6th of ten children of Samuel Johnson (1780-1862)
and Sarah ("Sally") Abigail Griffin (1782-1864).
Philo was descended from many early American colonial families,
including Nichols, Harmon, Peck, Adams, Booth, Sanford, Wheeler,
Osborn, Sperry, Frost, and Bennett families. His mother was also a
descendant of Huguenots (French protestants) Pierre Lodisoir,
Pierre Daucet and Pierre Feret (surname later anglicized to Ferry),
who in the 1600's had fled to England and later to America, to
escape religious persecution. Philo had married at age 23, in Apr.
1838, to Sarah Maria Mills. There were no children by this marriage.
Philo and his wife both joined the LDS ("Mormon") Church in
1841, and in 1842 they moved to Nauvoo, Illinois, which was the
gathering place of the church at the time. Philo worked on the temple
in Nauvoo for about a year, laying rock and brick. He helped finish
it, and he and his wife received their endowments there.
He was driven out of Nauvoo, along with the other members of the
church, in 1846. Thousands of destitute people crossed the Mississippi
River and made their way across Iowa. They didn't have permission to
stop for any length of time, so they had to push on all the way to the
Missouri. There they spent the winter in tents and dugouts. Hundreds
of people died and were buried on the hill near the camp. All winter,
Philo was employed digging graves for those who had died. (This was the
same winter that the Donner Party was stranded in the Sierra Nevada
Mountains on their way to California.)
In 1847, Philo was called by Brigham Young to be a member of the
"Pioneer Company" to go west and search out a location for the Saints
to settle. The pioneers were organized in groups of ten. Philo
Johnson was in the "9th Ten", along with Heber C. Kimball and his wife
Ellen Sanders Kimball, Howard Egan -- captain of the 9th Ten,
William Clayton, Robert Baird, George Billings, Thomas P. Cloward,
Hosea Cushing, William King, and Edson Whipple.
In WILFORD WOODRUFF, HIS LIFE AND LABORS 26:272:22, William
Clayton, the official camp historian, wrote under date of May 8, 1847:
"I have counted the revolutions of a wagon wheel in order to get the
exact distance we have traveled. The reason why I have taken this method
which is somewhat tedious, is because there is generally a difference of
two, and sometimes four, miles in a day's travel between my estimation and
that of some others, and they have all thought I underrated it. This
morning I determined to take pains in order to know for a certainty how
far we would travel today. Accordingly I measured the circumference of one
of the hind wheels of Brother Kimball's wagon, being the one I sleep in,
in charge of Philo Johnson. I found the wheel exactly fourteen feet
eight inches in circumference, not varying one eighth of an inch. I then
calculated how many revolutions it would require for one mile and found it
precisely 360, not varying one fraction, which somewhat astonished me.
I have counted all the revolutions during the day's travel and find it to
be a little over 11 miles. According to my previous calculations we were
285 miles from Winter Quarters this morning before we started, and after
traveling ten miles I placed a small cedar post in the ground with these
words inscribed on it with a pencil:
From Winter Quarters 295 miles
May 8, 1847 -- Camp all well
Some have estimated the day's journey at 13 and some 14 miles, which
serves to convince more strongly that the distances are overrated. I
have repeatedly suggested a plan of fixing machinery to a wagon wheel
to tell the exact distance we travel, and many begin to be sanguine
(enthusiastic) for carrying it into effect. This ... led to a mechanical
contrivance which was later put into effect."
Howard Egan, Captain of the "Ninth Ten" which included Philo Johnson,
wrote in his journal May 14, 1847,
"Brother William Clayton has invented a machine and attached it to the
wagon that Brother Johnson drives, to tell the distance we travel.
It is simple yet ingenious. He got Brother Appleton Harmon to do the
work. I have understood that Brother Harmon claims to be the inventor,
too, which I know to be a positive falsehood. He, Brother Harmon, knew
nothing about the first principles of it; neither did he know
how to do the work only as Brother Clayton told him from time to time.
It shows the weakness of human nature."
Considering the circumstances of the pioneers, it was very
extraordinary that such an odometer should be constructed at such a time
and under such circumstances. This "roadometer", suggested by William
Clayton, was designed by Orson Pratt and built by carpenter Appleton
Harmon. It was attached to the rear wheel of one of Heber C. Kimball's
wagons, mentioned above, since this wheel was of the exact measurement
desired. This wagon which measured the mileage, upon which William Clayton
based his famous "Emigrant's Guide," was driven by Philo Johnson all the
way to Salt Lake City.
William Clayton was Philo Johnson's traveling companion in the same wagon,
but Brother Clayton seldom mentioned Philo at all in his journal. Perhaps
Philo was a rather quiet, inconspicuous man, who just faithfully stuck to
his job with the team and wagon. He was not mentioned in any of the other
pioneers' journals either, and he has been overlooked in Church History as
the driver of the wagon which had the odometer on it. Besides the quotes
above, the only other mention of Philo Johnson was when William Clayton
wrote that he and Philo slept at night in the same wagon, and they had
only one blanket to share between the two of them, and got very cold.
On Sunday, July 25, the day after entering the Salt Lake Valley,
the pioneers held several sabbath meetings, and sermons and prayers
were given. Heber C. Kimball also "held a special meeting with those
brethren who were part of his family by adoptive sealing," and counseled
and organized them, left Bishop Edson Whipple in charge while he
(Heber) was gone back to Winter Quarters, and he offered a prayer and
invoked the blessings of the Lord upon them and their families. Robert
Baird, Hans Hansen, Thomas Cloward, Philo Johnson, Edson Whipple, and
Charles Harper are among those mentioned as being present at this special
meeting, indicating that they had been sealed by adoption to Heber
C. Kimball. At this meeting Philo Johnson was appointed to make some hats
(which was the trade he was best trained for), and Thomas Cloward was asked
to make shoes.
NOTE: In the early days of the church, it was quite common for men to be
sealed to church leaders, especially if their own families had not become
members. Philo's parents had not joined the church, so it would not have
been unusual for him to be sealed by adoption to someone like Heber C.
Kimball. The fact that Philo was the driver of one of Kimball's wagons
on the journey to the Salt Lake Valley also fits this theory. Philo was
probably one of the men who were called "Brother Kimball's boys" by William
Clayton in his journal, when he said these "boys" built a ferry at the
Green River crossing.
Sarah Maria Mills Johnson came to Utah with the Ezra T. Benson company, arriving in October, 1849, to join her husband, who had already been in the Salt Lake valley for over two years.
About a month earlier, the German Ellsworth family had entered the valley with the Samuel Gully/Orson Spencer company. The father of the family, German, was very ill, and the mother was pregnant with her seventh child. The baby was born in October, and the father died in November.
On 17 March 1850, Philo entered plural marriage, marrying the widow,
Experience ("Speedy") Brown Ellsworth.
Speedy had been born 25 May 1820, in Leeds, Ontario, Canada; the second of seven children
of David Hubble Brown and Lucinda Batchelder.
Philo Johnson and Experience Almeda Brown Ellsworth were married in Salt
Lake City by Heber C. Kimball. (This is another incident which shows the
close association between Philo Johnson and Heber C. Kimball.) Philo was
35 years old and Speedy was 29 when they were married. She already had
borne seven children by her first husband, and she and Philo had seven more.
The children were:
ELIZABETH ELLSWORTH (b. 1839 in Michigan,
d. 1857 in Payson at age 17)
EPHRAIM ELLSWORTH (b. 1841 in Michigan,
d. 1887 in Spring Lake, Utah,
had 10 children)
EVALINE ELLSWORTH McCALL ALLEN SIMMONS (b. 1842 in Michigan,
d. 1892 in Salt Lake City,
had 7 children)
ESTHER ELLSWORTH DOWDLE DALEY POTTER (b. 1844 in Iowa,
d. 1918 in Payson,
had 7 children)
MINERVA ELLSWORTH ZUFELT (b. 1846 in Iowa,
had 6 children)
ISRAEL ELLSWORTH (b. 1848 in Council Bluffs, Iowa,
d. 1849 in Council Bluffs)
GERMAN ELLWORTH, Jr. (b. 1849 in Salt Lake City,
d. 1922 in Payson,
had 19 children)
PHILO JOHNSON, Jr. (b. 1851 in Salt Lake,
had 7 children)
EMILY JOHNSON WIGHTMAN (b. 1853 in Salt Lake,
d. 1926 in Salt Lake,
had 10 children)
MELISSA JOHNSON (b. 1855 in Salt Lake,
HANNAH MOSLEY JOHNSON FAIRBANKS BIGELOW (b. 1856 in Salt Lake,
had 5 children)
REUBEN WILLIAM JOHNSON (b. 1858 in Payson,
d. 1863, accidentally shot
by his older half-brother GERMAN ELLSWORTH, Jr.)
CELESTIA ADELAIDE JOHNSON FAIRBANKS (b. 1861 in Payson,
had 6 children)
SPEEDY ALICE JOHNSON DOWDLE (b. 1865 in Payson,
had 6 children).
All of the Ellsworth and Johnson children were sealed to their mother
and her first husband, German Ellsworth, in 1888 in the Manti
temple, although they were all raised by her second husband, Philo
Johnson. Many descendants of both Ellsworths and Johnsons were
named after Philo, which shows how much he was esteemed by all of
his family. Several girls were also named Speedy, after their mother
Philo lived in Salt Lake from 1847 to 1857.
In the 1850 census, Sarah Maria Mills (Philo's first wife) is recorded living next door to Philo and Almeda Johnson. After that, we have no further record of her. Philo didn't mention her in his autobiography (written in 1895) -- perhaps she died shortly after 1850.
Philo had a hat shop in Salt Lake,
and made hats with Joseph and Shelmardine Haller.
(The following interesting advertisement appeared in the Deseret News
HATS! HATS! HATS!
The undersigned has opened a hat manufactory
under the superintendence of PHILO JOHNSON,
4th Ward, G. S. L. City,
where orders will be filled for
Fashionable, Comfortable, and Rough and Ready Hats.
Joseph L. Heywood
(N.B. Otter, Beaver, Muskrat, Mink and Fox skins taken in exchange.)
In the summer of 1857 word was received that Johnston's Army was
approaching with threats of establishing military rule in the territory.
The leaders of the church advised the people to abandon their
homes and move out of the Salt Lake Valley. The Mormons
were prepared to burn everything rather than have it fall into the hands
of the enemy. The Johnson family moved to the southern part of Utah Valley
at this time, to the small town of Payson, which
became their permanent home.
In the book OUR ELLSWORTH ANCESTORS, German Ellsworth Jr.'s
biography says that after they moved to Payson, Philo Johnson built a
stone house and planted one of the first apple orchards of the area,
and states that one seedling became famous as the "Johnson Apple."
NOTE: This old tree is still living (in the year 2000), almost 150 years
after it was planted. It is still bearing fruit, although the trunk of the
tree is just a hollow shell. It is growing near the home that German
Ellsworth Jr. built when he started his own family. This house has been
occupied by his descendants ever since then, who have cared for the old
trees growing on the property. The present occupant (a grand-daughter of
German Ellsworth Jr.) said that Philo Johnson worked side by side with his
step-son German in building the house, and that Philo also built the nearby
log cabin which was once used as shelter for the family until the larger
house could be completed. Philo was an experienced mason, and was very
handy at doing just about anything.
The book also states that "water shortage and Indian trouble, together with
a large pioneer family, accounts for a later statement by German that it
seemed he never had enough to eat until after he was married. Years
later, he seemed to enjoy eating thistle stalks, sego lily bulbs, and
other wild plants, for which he had acquired an appetite during his
childhood." German Ellsworth Jr. was raised by his mother Speedy and
his stepfather Philo Johnson, since his father had died when he was only
a month old.
NOTE: Speedy was usually the disciplinarian in the family. German told
his children and grandchildren that sometimes his mother would send him
to bed without any supper, as a punishment. But he said that his step
father Philo would always sneak some food into the bedroom for him.
Philo was the only father German knew, and he adored him.
The accidental discharge of an old "unloaded" gun in
the hands of 14-year-old German, killing his younger brother Reuben
Johnson, had a sobering influence on his entire life. (This was a gun
which someone had brought to Philo Johnson to be repaired). German
Ellsworth Jr. became a carpenter, farmer, and beekeeper. He was a
Patriarch in the church, and at one time was sent to prison for six months
for polygamy. (That was considered to be an honor at that time in Utah,
and the men were usually welcomed home as heroes when they were released.)
He served a mission to the Northern States Mission while
his son German E. Ellsworth was mission president there. German Jr.
and his wife Christine Nielson had 14 children. Three of their sons,
Lewis N., Jesse H, and Cyrus Ellsworth, became dentists; putting
themselves through BYU and then Chicago Dental School.
His son German Edgar Ellsworth served as president of the Northern
States Mission, with headquarters in Chicago, for 17 years, from 1903
to 1920. "An incident of significance to all subsequent missionary
activities occurred in June 1907, when German E., as guest of Apostle
George Albert Smith, visited New York State for the purpose of purchasing
for the Church the Joseph Smith homestead, located near Palmyra. While
waiting for the approval of title to the property, German E. frequently
walked the three miles from Palmyra to the Sacred Grove (where Joseph
Smith had his first vision) and to the Hill Cumorah (from which came the
ancient records which were translated into the Book of Mormon). One
early morning at sunrise on Cumorah, German E. heard a voice out of
heaven which greatly influenced his whole life. The voice said, "Son
of German, son of German, push the distribution of the record taken
from this hill. It will help bring the world to Christ."
"German E. followed this admonition by injecting enthusiasm and
inspiration for the value of the God-given Book of Mormon as a witness
for Christ. A picture postcard of the Hill Cumorah with the statement
which he heard ("Push the distribution of the record taken from this
hill; it will help bring the world to Christ.") was sent to all Northern
States missionaries and to all mission presidents around the world.
German E. was invited to visit all U.S. missions in order to spark the
wider use of the Book of Mormon as a missionary tool. From a few hundred
copies shipped to the missions of the Church at that time (printed
in Salt Lake City at 37 and a half cents per copy), at his instigation
a Chicago edition of 10,000 from new plates was printed at 27 cents per
copy. This was followed by a 15,000 copy edition at 24 cents per copy,
then many editions of 25,000 at 18 cents per copy over the years which
German E. served as mission president, and finally a 100,000 copy edition
was printed in Chicago at 12 and a half cents per copy, just prior to his
establishing Zion's Printing Company in Independence, Missouri, from which
place millions of books and tracts were printed. The patriarchal blessing
given to German E. Ellsworth as a boy said he would take part in the
beginning of the establishing of the Center Stake of Zion (in Independence,
Missouri). Since he was president of the first corporation the Church had
in Missouri, Zion's Printing and Publishing Company, this promise was
fulfilled. After he was released as mission president, German E. worked
for the U.S. Treasury Department (from 1925 to 1941), and retired at the
age of 70. After this he served again as a mission president, this time in
California, for 8 more years, during which time he and his wife sparked an
enduring campaign of chapel building. In his later years he also did much
genealogy and family history, and bore testimony to the importance of this
We have an "autobiography" of Philo Johnson
written in 1894, in his 80th year. Since we do not have anything else
written by him (and very scant reference to him by other people), we know
that he must have been a very quiet and uncommunicative man. Yet he had
been one of the chosen few to accompany Brigham Young and the vanguard
Pioneer Company to the Valley of the Great Salt Lake. He had experienced
many significant events which needed to be told from his own point of view
and in his own words. I suspect that someone else (possibly his wife,
"Speedy") actually wrote this autobiography. The writer probably sat down
with him, interviewed him, and wrote down his responses. It would have
been a great loss if this had not been done.
There is also an autobiography of Speedy Johnson
written in 1881, when she was 60 years old. It was sealed in time capsule,
which was opened fifty years later, in 1931.
Both Philo and Speedy lived to see Utah become a state in the union.
Speedy died March 13, 1896. Philo lived three weeks longer -- he died on
April 3, 1896. They are buried in the Payson city cemetery.
by Karen Bray Keeley
by Sandra S. Bray