Heritage Gateways

Official Sesquicentennial K-12 Education Project
sponsored by the Utah State Board of Education, the BYU-Public School Partnership and the Utah Education Network

Historical Pioneer Biographies

William Clayton

Born: 1814 Died: 1879

William ClaytonImage courtesy of: Heritage Gateway Project Images, These images have been gathered to support the Sesquicentennial celebration of the immigration to Utah.

One of the original company, William Clayton served as historian and secretary for the pioneers, keeping a detailed journal of the wagon train's journey. He is most know for coming up with the idea of the odometer which helped the pioneers measure the distance traveled.

Biography: William Clayton was one of the remarkable characters of early Utah history. Born in the county of Lancashire, England, July 17, 1814, he was educated in one of the schools of his native town, and grew to manhood with a love for books and nature. An early convert of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter -day Saint, he conducted one of the first companies from England to Nauvoo, and there became one of the trusted secretaries of the Prophet Joseph Smith. With the exodus from Nauvoo, he was Clerk of the Camp of Israel, and when the Mormon Pioneers left Winter Quarters in April, 1847, he as appointed by Brigham Young one of the historians of that noted company. His journal of that memorable expedition over the plains is one of the most valuable diaries we have of that early period of western history. He kept careful account of the distances traveled each day, and his writings are full of descriptions of the country over which they traveled. He has noted the topography, the fauna and flora of the trail; and his descriptions of the activities of the company indicate a well trained intellect in social study. His language is simple and direct, and his care in keeping each day's distance and important facts of the journey show order and method. His hymn, "Come, come, ye Saints" takes its place as one of the most beautiful hymns of western history, for it is full of joyfulness, and expresses an optimism and faith in God that will always be an inspiration to the one who sings it. It indicates that William Clayton had much of the artistic in him, although we do know that he took a virile part in the activities of life. His journal should be read by all people who are interested in the west's development. It is certainly one of the distinct contributions of that early day, and shows that a man of strength of character wrote it. It will inspire many people to a greater love and regard for the work of the pioneers of Utah. Levi Edgar Young Salt Lake City, Utah, April 192l

William Clayton Born in England, 1814; died in Utah, 1879 The Claytons of England originally came from France. During the time when w William the Conqueror and King Harold were quarreling, a call came from the former for volunteers among his chieftains to go to war. A man named Robert was among those who responded. Robert was skilled in arms. After the Battle of Hastings in 1066, in which Robert rendered heroic service, William the Conqueror conferred upon his the English Manor of Clayton as a mark of merit. Robert was afterwards known as Robert de Clayton and Lord of the Manor of Clayton. From Lord Robert Clayton came all the Claytons of England and America and by genealogical research, the line has been brought down to the subject of this sketch. William Clayton was born July 17, 18l4, in the village of Charock Moss, Township of Penwortham,,, County Palatine of Lancaster, England. He was the son of Thomas and Ann Critchley Clayton, who were born in Lancashire, England. William was the eldest of fourteen children. Three of these children died in infancy and were buried in England. Through the influence of the eldest son, the father, mother and surviving children joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and came to America. The mother died in Nauvoo, Illinois, July l5, 1848, and the father in St. Louis, Missouri, June 16, 1849. A brother James died anointer Quarters, November 28, 1847. The remainder of his brothers and sisters survived the persecutions of mobs and the early privations of the Church and came to the valley of the Great Salt Lake with the pioneers of Utah. William Clayton first heard the Gospel preached in England by Heber C. Kimball and Orson Hyde. With his wife, Ruth Moon Clayton, whom he married in England, October 9, 1836, he listened to the teachings of these missionaries, but he was not easy to convert. His wife received the Gospel first, and many evenings had to be spent before William Clayton became a believer in "Mormonism." He was ordained a Priest December 25, 1837, and a High Priest, April 1, 1838, at which time he was appointed with Willard Richards, Counselor to Joseph Fielding who presided over the Church in Europe. September 8, 1840, he left England in the packet ship North America, arriving in New York, October 11, 1840, and in Nauvoo November 24, 1840. In this city, he became a trusted friend of the founders of the Church, so much so that on February 10, 1842, he was appointed secretary to Joseph Smith the Prophet. October 7, 1842, he became Temple Recorder and Recorder of Revelations. In 1842, he became Treasurer of the City of Nauvoo. These appointments are indicative of the zeal with which William Clayton served the Church throughout his life. What of the personal characteristics of our subject? As will appear from his portrait on the frontispiece, William Clayton did not tend to frivolity or mirth but rather to seriousness and earnestness. Yet he was witty and had a keen sense of humor. In the home he was not demonstrative; although he had great love for his home and family and provided well or their comfort. He was methodical, always sitting in his own arm chair, having a certain place at the table and otherwise showing his love for order, which he believed the first law of heaven. His person was clean and tidy; his hands small and dimpled. He wore very little jewelry but what little he had was the best money could buy. He would not carry a watch that was not accurate, and his clothing was made from the best material. His children remember him best in black velvet coat and grey trousers and, in cold weather, a broad-cloth cloak in place of overcoat. The man-timber in William Clayton came from sturdy trees. His character was above all littleness. He believed that what was good for him was good for all men, and that the measurement of our lives was based upon our daily conduct towards each other. To him that was God's standard. He believed in perfect equity in the adjustment of the affairs of life. Had he loved money, he could probably have had in it because of his education, and executive ability. But he cared little for material gain, centering his zeal in the pursuit of honor and right. William Clayton was honest and nothing to him could justify an untruth. He deplored waste or extravagance, yet he never withheld from a neighbor in distress, or from the widow or orphan. Many are those who knew his generosity. When his harvest was gathered, bushels of grain and fruit found place among those of scanty store. And many pairs of shoes and much warm clothing were given to comfort the needy. Nor was the homless forgotten, but the orphan was given a home and joy by his own fireside. His religion was deeply rooted and nurtured by association with the testimony of an eye witness to the living God. His love for Joseph Smith was love seldom shown in man for man. Few men possessed stronger faith and courage. These qualities alone could inspire a man under heart-rendering circumstances, to write such hymns of faith and comfort as "Come, come, ye Saints," and "The Resurrection Day." The record of William Clayton in Utah kept pace with that of previous years. His home was open always to his friends who loved to gather there for social hours. Civic welfare always interested him. He was a musician and played in the pioneer orchestra and that of the Salt Lake Theatre. He was a lover of community features and took part in dramatic functions. He was treasurer of Zion's Cooperative Mercantile Institution, Recorder of Marks and Brands, Receiver of Weights and Measures, and was Territorial Auditor. His love for education prompted many sacrifices and he tried hard to give his children the essentials of good schooling. He had a strong will, although a tender conscience. Cowardice had no place in him. Truly he could say, "My heart is fixed. I know in whom I trust." Joseph Smith believed that they should meet and associate in the Celestial Kingdom of God as they had here.

William Clayton died December 4, 1879, in Salt Lake City. Services were held in the Seventeenth Ward Chapel at which his own funeral hymn was sung. He left a large posterity. Victoria C. Mccune Salt Lake City, Utah June, 1921.

Source: William Clayton's Journal Published by the Clayton Family Association, and edited by Lawrence Clayton. To the best of our research, this contents of this book are no longer under copyright.