PHILO JOHNSON (1814-1896)
Rockmason, Hatter, Gunsmith,
Member of the First Pioneer Company of 1847


PHILO JOHNSON 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
                       Wm. Clayton
    
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:

  ELLSWORTH CHILDREN:
    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)



  JOHNSON CHILDREN:
    PHILO JOHNSON, Jr. (b. 1851 in Salt Lake,
        d. 1923,
	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,
        d. 1855)
    HANNAH MOSLEY JOHNSON FAIRBANKS BIGELOW (b. 1856 in Salt Lake,
        d. 1936,
	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,
        d. 1938,
	had 6 children)
    SPEEDY ALICE JOHNSON DOWDLE (b. 1865 in Payson,
        d. 1932,
	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 and grandmother.
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 in 1853:

                  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 work.

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.


Information Compiled
by Karen Bray Keeley

INTERNET Adaptation
by Sandra S. Bray