Faith of Our Fathers: John Tanner

One reason we as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints focus so much on family history is because through studying about our ancestors we increase in our feelings of kinship with them. Part of the goals of the gospel include welding generations together for all eternity. As we read about our ancestors we might find our love and appreciation for them growing. I have a great love and respect for many of my ancestors but I’d like to share part of the life of one of them who was quite conspicuous in the early days of the church.

My great-great-great-great grandfather, John Tanner joined the LDS church in 1832 under miraculous circumstances. Two Elders, Jared and Simeon Carter, were in New York preaching the gospel. John Tanner was confined largely to bed due to a terrible and painful disease he had in his left leg. He did have a wheelchair that he used to move around though. When John heard these Mormon elders were going to be in the area, he wanted to attend the meeting to put them in their place and make sure they spoke no heresy or false doctrine. He never heckled them, instead inviting them afterward to his home. After a night of discussion with the brothers Cater, John wanted to be baptized. However, because he could not walk (and had not even been able to put his foot on the floor in six months), he didn’t think he could be baptized. The elders asked if he had faith to be healed; he said he believed the Lord could heal him. Elder Jared Carter commanded him to arise and be healed. John said, “I arose, threw down my crutches, and walked the floor back and forth – back and forth, praising God, and I felt light as a feather.” Shortly later John walked to Lake George and was baptized by Simeon Carter. With that miraculous beginning in the church, John never wavered.

John was a wealthy man with a large family. In the fall of 1834 he had a dream that he was needed in Ohio. He left shortly thereafter, arriving in Kirtland in time to loan the Prophet Joseph $2000 dollars (John came to Kirtland with $10,000 in gold and silver), which was needed to stop the impending foreclosure on the farm upon which the temple was being built. He also loaned the temple committee $13,000 in merchandise (which was worth considerably more there on the frontier in Ohio); in addition, he later gave money directly for the building of the Kirtland Temple. Further, he signed a note with the Prophet Joseph for $30,000 in goods purchased in New York (meaning he was financially responsible, in part, for the loan). Just for the money he directly loaned (he forgave some of the loans and did not get any of the other money back), its estimated worth in 2009 U.S. dollars is anywhere from $500,000 to millions of dollars. The $2000 in cash he directly loaned Joseph for the mortgage of the temple lot is the equivalent of roughly $50,000 today. John loved the Prophet Joseph and the church. John invested much of his money in the Kirtland Safety Society bank in order to support it and give it better financial grounding; the bank failed (along with a lot of other banks at the time) and John, who had gone to Kirtland with many thousands of dollars in cash and merchandise, left for Missouri with a “borrowed team and one old broken down stage horse, and an old turn pike cart, a cag of powder, and $7.50 in cash.” John remained faithful. Many left the church after the Kirtland bank failed but John did not. He had participated in the glorious events of the Kirtland Temple dedication and knew and loved the Prophet Joseph. He had a testimony of the gospel and made the sacrifices he was asked to make.

Of the $2000 loaned to the Prophet Joseph, we have the following account. “At the April Conference, 1844, Father Tanner was called to take a mission to the Eastern States. Before starting he went to Nauvoo to see the Prophet, Joseph Smith, whom he met in the street. He held the Prophet’s note for $2,000 loaned in 1835 [9 years previously], to redeem the Kirtland Temple farm, and in the course of the conversation he handed the Prophet his note. The Prophet, not understanding what he meant by it, asked what he would have him do with it, and Father Tanner replied: ‘Brother Joseph you are welcome to it.’ The Prophet then laid his right hand heavily upon Father Tanner’s shoulder and said: ‘God bless you, Father Tanner, your children shall never beg bread.'” The Prophet Joseph did not live long after that experience. John was able to forgive the loan directly to the Prophet before he died.

John was a faithful follower of Christ. He gave his all to the gospel and the Church and always remained true to the faith. John in no small manner was responsible for the building of the Kirtland Temple. He also donated much to the building of the Nauvoo Temple. Among his descendants were at least four apostles (including N. Eldon Tanner and Hugh B. Brown) and other church leaders. His descendants number in the tens of thousands – many of those alive are still active members of the Church. He created a legacy of faith that blesses my life and the lives of countless others every day. I hope that I can continue on with the legacy he started.

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