Tanner Conversion


HEALING AND CONVERSION -- In 1832, when John Tanner was converted to the LDS Church, he had twelve living children, ten sons and two daughters. The oldest four (Elisha, William, Matilda and Sidney) had already married, settled nearby, and started families of their own, giving John Tanner five grandchildren at this time. In addition to John's twelve living children and five grandchildren, five of his children had already died in early childhood, and five more children would be born to John and Elizabeth after 1832; only two of whom, however, would survive childhood. The infant mortality rate in those days was very high, and it was not uncommon for families to lose a third or more of their children during infancy or childhood, as the Tanners did (8 of John's 22 children died young).

According to Nathan Tanner, "At this time at Bolton, notwithstanding his large family responsibilities, he had acquired wealth and had become a man of much influence, and was extensively known and universally respected." He had built a beautiful, spacious frame home for his large family (so well-built that it is still in use today, and is used as an inn, known as Green Acres). "He had commenced poor, but by hard work and economy, accumulated around him the comforts of life. John Tanner was the kind of man who could not be kept poor -- he prospered in everything he did. He carried on farming extensively; stock-raising and dairying on different farms which he had cleared from the surrounding forest, and he engaged in lumbering in all its branches, as he owned several sawmills and planing mills, and owned some 2,200 acres of timberland; he also had many acres of cleared land with homes and barns to accommodate a number of families (his married children and their families); and he had orchards in abundance." He also owned Green Island in Lake George, which at the time may not have been valuable, but later became the resort island on which the famous Hotel Sagamore was built. John Tanner "also kept a hotel at Bolton Landing of some considerable note (often he gave food and lodging to people who were unable to pay, and that he never turned anyone away). The poor and needy always found a friend in him; he would give them employment whereby to earn what they needed, if they were able to work, but would supply their needs just the same, whether they were able to work or not ... All of the various branches of business made work for his family and all he could hire."

Nathan says, "(My father) had a delightful home on the west side of Lake George, one of the finest sheets of water in the world ... In those days women turned the wheel by hand or foot that spun our yarn and made our cloth. In this we were not behind. We were a hard-working and hard-handed family. None of our means was willed to us, but earned by hard work and economy. My father used to say he enjoyed accumulating property around him, and if it could be spent wisely, it would prove a blessing. If spent otherwise it would prove a curse."

John Tanner was also an active Baptist lay preacher who was highly respected in the area. His name was said to be synonymous with benevolence, honesty and integrity.

Speaking of the situation in early Bolton; Warren County historian William H. Brown wrote, "The people who came here were not looking for an easy life. Making a living anywhere in the country in the year 1800 involved hard work and in many cases great hardship. However, a family could raise most of the things that were necessary, and there was everywhere the forest where logs could be cut and hauled or floated to sawmills. In fact most of the livelihood came from the forest in one way or another."

Brown pretty well sums up the situation for the Tanner family. Most of the things they needed they produced or bartered for with their surplus, but it was from the forest that John Tanner made his wealth. The Hudson River runs sixty-eight miles through Warren County, and in that distance there is a fall of 850 feet, assuring ample power to turn the mills of enterprising industry. There were, in addition, a number of swift running streams with sufficient water power to turn saw and planing mills. The extent of John Tanner's sawing and milling plants is not known, but from Nathan's account they must have been considerable.

Then in the early 1830's, when he was over 50 years old, a terrible calamity overtook John Tanner, in the form of a painful disease which according to the best doctors was incurable; indeed a disease of this kind was unknown by the medical community. His left leg from the thigh down became swollen and broke out in sores similar to fever sores. From these black sores fluid was continuously oozing to the surface. His infirmity was said to have developed because of complications from exposure and resulting circulation problems, since he was almost constantly engaged in hard work out of doors, through all kinds of weather conditions.

He employed seven of the most eminent physicians in the country, but all their efforts to relieve his condition were unavailing. The last one frankly told John Tanner that he could run up a bill for additional medical care, but, said he, "You are beyond the reach of medicine, and I can do you no good." It was the opinion of all the doctors that the leg could not be saved, and must be amputated or it would prove his death. To this he could not consent, but said he and the leg would go together. At this he set about making arrangements to settle up his business affairs.

For six months Mr. Tanner had been obliged to keep his diseased leg propped up on pillows at a right angle to the floor to prevent the swelling from going into the foot, and it was very painful. Yet with all his bodily suffering his mind was active, "and his noble, generous heart, ever sympathizing with his fellowmen, beat with untiring zeal for the welfare of humanity." Feeling he must soon die, Mr. Tanner sought opportunities for doing good. He had a type of wheel-chair constructed so that he could move himself from place to place without other assistance.

At this time, early in September, 1832 (when he was 54 years of age), he heard that a strange people called Mormons, who were "going about turning the world upside down," planned to preach about seven miles from where he lived. He hailed this announcement with delight; for it afforded him an opportunity (he thought) of doing an immense amount of good. He was very familiar with the Bible, and felt himself amply qualified to put down such heresy as he thought the Latter Day Saints were propounding in their efforts to spread Mormonism. Mr. Tanner believed that he could confer lasting benefit upon his fellow men by showing up the fallacies of the Mormon elders. That was his aim, and such his anticipation. So when the hour for meeting arrived, he took his place in his wheel-chair directly in front of the elders, whom he sincerely believed were imposters. The elders to whom he listened were Simeon and Jared Carter. Long before their discourses were ended, a wonderful change came over the mind of Mr. Tanner, and when they closed the evening services he invited them to his home.

That evening a new light was shed on his conceptions of religious life and teachings. These men engaged with him in further conversation at his home until the hour of eleven o'clock, and he then told the missionaries that he would like to be baptized but that he would not be able to receive the ordinance. They asked, "Why not?" He replied, "On account of my lameness." He explained that he had not put his foot to the floor in the past six months, and could not possibly do it. Thereupon, one of the elders asked him if he did not think there was enough power in the gospel of Jesus Christ anciently to heal all manner of diseases, to which he replied in the affirmative. He was then asked if he did not think that the same cause produced the same effect in all ages, and if there were not sufficient power in the restored gospel to heal him. Mr. Tanner replied that such a thought had not occurred to him, but that he believed the Lord could heal him. Whereupon, Elder Jared Carter then arose and commanded John Tanner in the name of Jesus Christ to arise and walk. "I arose and threw down my crutches, and walked the floor back and forth, back and forth; praising God, and I felt light as a feather," was the description which Mr. Tanner gave of this miraculous healing.

That night, even though it was near midnight, he walked with the elders three quarters of a mile to Lake George and was baptized by Simeon Carter. Walking back, he gave thanks to God for his complete restoration to health.
(This account is from the Faith Promoting Series, vol. 10, "Scraps of Biography," published by the Juvenile Instructor magazine in 1883. Other portions of this sketch are also taken from this source.)

In other accounts of this healing, it is said that

"Jared Carter stood up and laid his right hand upon Father Tanner's shoulder and commanded him in the name of the Lord to arise and walk. He then arose but dared not put his afflicted foot to the floor. But when Jared told him to put his foot to the floor in the name of the Lord, he did so, and was instantly healed, and the next day he walked without crutches or help a quarter of a mile to Lake George and was baptized by Simeon Carter, and walked back home, praising the Lord."
(written by apostle Francis M. Lyman from oral accounts given by his mother, Louisa Maria Tanner Lyman and other members of the family).

From another source we learn that after first hearing the elders preach,

"He borrowed and read the BOOK OF MORMON while they went on their way, and upon reading it was converted to the divinity of the work. After an absence of two weeks the Elders returned and Brother Tanner was (healed and) baptized." It is said that "he read the book over and over again and compared it with the Bible ... he decided that it was the work of the Lord, and went out in his horse and cart to notify the people of a meeting at his house the next day. (He was a "farmer-preacher" who, although un-ordained, had watch-care over all the Baptists in the area, as a pastor over them). When the Elders returned, and learned that Father had made up his mind that the BOOK OF MORMON was what it represented to be, Elder Jared Carter asked him (if he had faith to be healed) ... Elder Carter commanded him in the name of the Lord to rise and walk, at the same time clasping his hand on Father's shoulder. At this Father arose to his feet. Said the elder, "You need not be afraid to put down your foot. Remember, you do it in the name of the Lord." Father laid aside his crutch and walked back and forth from the front porch through a long hall and into a long kitchen. All this time he wept and praised God for his mercy in bringing the gospel and its attending blessings. The next day Father, Mother, and myself were baptized (in Lake George, which was only a block from the Tanner house at Bolton Landing). This being the first case of healing that we had ever seen, it caused a wonder and surprise, and the news went far and wide." (account by Nathan Tanner, given in 1884 at the Tanner reunion in Payson, Utah).

John's third wife Elizabeth Beswick wrote this account in 1884:

"Some of our neighbors joined the church and we attended some of the meetings..." (She particularly mentions a funeral sermon given by Jared Carter after the death of one of their neighbor's children). The elders had visited the Tanner home previous to this, but it seems John was not too impressed with their teachings until he heard this sermon (on Aug. 28, 1832, according to Jared Carter's journal). Elder Carter wrote that at this funeral there was a large congregation present, and the Lord enabled him to speak to them in the spirit. Many were converted as a result. Apparently this was the sermon during which the spirit first bore witness to John Tanner, and some of the neighbors joined the church. His wife Elizabeth says that at first John was cautious but investigated further, advising his Baptist friends not to fight against the elders' doctrines, for if the work were of God it would stand, and if not it would fall to the ground on its own. He said they would not want to be found fighting against God. Elizabeth's account continues, "He (John) was a man given to hold his opinions strenuously, and not easily led by new doctrines ... (he got a BOOK OF MORMON and studied it carefully) ... Bros. Jared and Simeon Carter visited him one day (a few weeks later) and after talking with him a while, administered to him and commanded him to arise and walk, which he immediately done, throwing away his crutches and never using them any more. The following day, September 17, 1832, we were both baptized in Lake George and confirmed on the water's edge by Jared and Simeon Carter. Our home was open from that time as a home for the elders who came to that part of the country."

In the journal of Jared Carter there is mention of a special meeting which John Tanner had arranged for them at his home and advertised among his neighbors (for years he had already been holding religious meetings in his home for the Baptist believers). The meeting at John's home at which the elders spoke was held Sunday, September 16, 1832 and is reported by Carter as follows:

"On Sunday held meeting to Brother Tanner's and the pleasure of the Lord was powerfully manifested. After meeting we baptized. Found while we were here the Lord had mercy upon a lame man by the name of Tanner, who was so lame that he could not bear his weight at all on one of his feet. He had been lame for months but we found he was a believer in the BOOK OF MORMON. I asked him to endeavor to walk in the name of Christ, he agreed to undertake. I then took him by the hand and commanded him in the name of Christ to walk, and by the power of Christ he was enabled to walk. Brother Simeon was not at the moment present, but I found after this, at the very time he (John Tanner) was healed Brother Simeon had an exercise of faith for him in secret prayer to God."

This account was the only one written at the time of the event; the others were all written down many years later from memory, but the accounts are all in agreement as to the basic facts of John Tanner's healing and conversion. Although there are slight differences in detail, by putting the known facts all together, a clear picture emerges. It is important to note that carefully studying the BOOK OF MORMON and gaining a testimony of its divinity played a major role in his conversion. The first edition copy of the BOOK OF MORMON owned by John Tanner, although scorched by fire at Winter Quarters, has been preserved and is in the hands of descendants of Sidney Tanner.

It appears from the accounts of their conversion that John Tanner (54), his wife Elizabeth (28), and son Nathan (17), were all baptized on Sept. 17, 1832. Sidney Tanner (23) and his wife Louisa Conlee Tanner (21), and also John Joshua Tanner (20), Louisa Maria Tanner (14), and Martin Henry Tanner (10) were all baptized within a few weeks after this date.

As soon as John Tanner learned about the Word of Wisdom, he quit the use of tobacco, tea, coffee, and liquor, and never used them again as long as he lived. (The Word of Wisdom was not yet considered a commandment at that time by most, but was left up to their own discretion.)

According to his wife Elizabeth, "he (was) strenuous in observing all of the laws of the church." One of his grandsons said that Father Tanner put his box of chewing tobacco out on the end of the mantle in plain sight, took a look at it each morning when he arose, then went to his daily tasks without touching it. This was characteristic of his willpower and determination.


Information Compiled
by Karen Bray Keeley

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INTERNET Adaptation
by Sandra Shuler Bray