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

John Wesley Norton

Born: 1820 Died: 1901

John Wesley NortonPart of the original company in 1847 that paved the way for the pioneer migration to the Great Salt Lake valley.

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

Biography: (The author of this biography is unknown.)

The persecutions continued, and in May 1846 John Wesley started the westward journey with the Saints. After reaching Council Bluffs (Winter Quarters) camp was made for the winter. While at Council Bluffs, he married Rebecca Ann Hammer, daughter of Austin Hammer and Nancy Jane Elston Hammer, on 20 Jul 1846. Rebecca was born 20 Aug 1824 at Yanketown, Butler, Ohio. Four children were born of this marriage: Elizabeth Ann born 9 May 1847, John David born 30 Jan 1850, Rebecca Ann born 28 Dec 1855, and Nancy Ann born 2 Jan 1869.

John Wesley remained at Council Bluffs until 1847, when he was selected to go with the first company of Saints to go west. They were under the leadership of Brigham Young and his counselors, Heber C. Kimball, William Richards, George A. Smith, Orson Pratt and Woodruff A. Lyman. He was selected for his blacksmith skill, but he also served as a hunter for the company. His name is mentioned three times in the official journal, kept by William Clayton, in connection with securing meat.

They reached the Salt Lake Valley in Jul 1847. While in the valley he assisted to establish the colony and to prepare accommodations for the nine companies of saints already in route to join the first company. John Wesley remained only until Aug and then started back to Winter Quarters for his family. He found that a daughter, Elizabeth Ann, had been born in his absence, on 9 May 1847. He spent but a few weeks with his family and then went into Missouri to work all winter for money to take his family to Utah. On 9 May 1848 he started west again with his family and his father's (David Norton) family. They reached the Salt Lake Valley on 20 Sep 1848. It is known that his father's family (and possibly, John Wesley's also) followed the gold rush to California against the Prophet's advice. The trip to California was not successful and they returned. A David Norton is listed in the 1850 census of Eldorado, California, under the occupation of hotel keeper.

John Wesley began working on the Public Works in Salt Lake on 8 Apr 1850. He remained at this until 12 Apr 1852. There is a record of his ordination as Assistant President of the 29th Quorum of Seventies on 11 Apr 1852. His family is listed in the 15th Ward in Salt Lake City in 1852-53.

On 1 Jun 1852 John Wesley married Martha Menurva Reynolds and had both of his wives sealed to him in the Endowment House. Nothing is known about the circumstances leading to the second marriage except the note: "Martha Reynolds was sealed to Lewis Dunbar Wilson in Nauvoo by President Young and she is now released by President Young because Wilson is not providing for her and has not seen her since August 1846." Martha was born 3 Feb 1828 in Boonsville, Cole, Missouri, daughter of John and Phebe Ramsey Reynolds. Martha died 23 Feb 1901 in Panguitch, Garfield, Utah and was buried there 26 Feb 1901. She bore seven children: Albert Wesley born 14 Jul 1852, Riley Reynolds born 22 Jun 1855, Ephraim F. born 10 Oct 1858, Martha Jane born 6 Feb 1962, William born 22 Sep 1864, Squire Taylor born 2 Nov 1867, and Sarah May born 18 Oct 1874.

John Wesley and his family moved to Lehi, Utah. A fort was constructed there in 1853 and listed as living on the north side ,among others were Henry Norton, John W. Norton, J. Wiley Norton, Riley Judd and David Norton.

According to a partial history he wrote, John Wesley said, "At the January Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, held at Great Salt Lake City April 6, 1855, I was called on a mission to Israel, and was blessed and set apart on Sunday, April 1855 [and] I received my Patriarchal blessing." He was set apart for a mission to the Lamanites of the White Mountain by Orson Pratt and Charles C. Rich in the Seventy's Council Hall. No details of the mission are known , except that it was honorably filled. (LDS Collectors Library : Early LDS Membership states"From 1854 to 1857 Elder Norton filled a mission to Australia". No other source lists this mission and I feel this is in error.)

John Wesley was appointed Sexton of Lehi in 1861. He also served as Alderman 1856-1858 and 1861-1862. He served as Councilor 1859-1860. In the 1863 election he was named as the Sexton and in 1865 as the Inspector of Wood. Two of his children were buried in Lehi.

In 1865 John Wesley received a call to assist in strengthening the settlements in southern Utah and in the fall of that year he moved with his family to Panaca, Washington County, Utah. (Panaca is now in Lincoln County, Nevada) They camped in wagons that first winter and the following summer. John Wesley worked to build a fort as protection against the Indians. He acted as sheriff and also postmaster in Panaca for a number of years.

In 1871 John Wesley and his family joined a company led by George W. Sevy to resettle Panguitch, Utah. They lived for some time in the fort constructed there. While in Panguitch he was senior president of the 86th Quorum of Seventy. He served as postmaster from May 1878 until 7 Dec 1881, and was also appointed as Justice of the Peace in 1871. His trade was blacksmith and wheelwright, and he worked a these until later in life when he was afflicted with rheumatism.

John Wesley answered to an indictment in the District Court for unlawful cohabitation, but was allowed to return to his home with a verdict of "Not Guilty." He lived peacefully with his two wives, both of whom precede him in death, Rebecca on 9 Feb 1900 and Martha on 23 Feb 1901. Merritt L. Norton, a grand son, recalled visiting the home when he was a boy about 10, and of the beautiful harmony there.

On 18 Apr 1897, on the occasion of the State's Semi-Centennial, John Wesley sent the following letter to the commission for that celebration:

"I thought I would write you a few lines to let you know that I was on the land and amoung the living, and that I was one of the 144 men that helped blaze the route from civilization across the plains in 1847 to Salt Lake Valley. I arrived in the Valley July 24, 1847. I am getting old and feeble, yet I have a desire of commemorating the day with my Brethren on the 50th year of our arrival in the valley.

"I am 76 years old and crippled with rhumatics in my knee, but sound in body, and if the way will be opened Iwant to come to Salt Lake City and have a good time with the heroes of 1847. My means is limited, my clothing is getting quite old and worse for wear, I have no means to pay for my passage. I have two ladies that would like to visit there old pioneer home. Please correspond with me if you have the time and let me know how the public is prospering."

John Wesley Norton died 20 Oct 1901 in Panguitch, Garfield County, Utah, where he is buried. He was aged 80 Years 11 months and 14 days. He had six boys, five girls, and 55 grandchildren and was a most respected citizen, patient and cheerful with his physical disabilities. Funeral services were held 22 Oct 1901. Speakers were Elders M. M. Steel, Joseph Haywood and Allen Miller. John Wesley Norton was a pioneer of whom his decedents can justly be proud.

Obituary of John Wesley Norton

Our aged and most respected citizen, Uncle John Wesley Norton, died here Oct. 20 at 10 A. M. of general debility, at the age of 80 years, 11 months. and 14 days. He was born Nov. 6th, 1820, in Indiana, Wayne County. He moved with his father's family to Missouri in 1836, and passed through the Jaun's Mill Massacre. March 16th, 1838, he was baptized by David Evans and moved to Illinois in 1839. Ordained an Elder Nov. 5th, 1844. A seventy in 1845 in Nauvoo. May 1846 he left for the west, and wintered at Council Bluffs. Married Rebecca Hamer July 20th, 1846. March 15th, 1847 he left with President Brigham Young's company, arriving in Salt Lake Valley July 24th, 1847. He went back to the Bluffs again in Nov. to his wife and babe, the latter born May 5th 1847. May 9th 1848, he left with his father's family for the mountains, arriving Sep. 20. He accompanied Elder Parley P. Pratt on his exploring expedition to Southern Utah. Helped to settle Lehi. Moved to Panaca, Nevada, in 1864 and to Panguitch in the spring of 1872. Was president of the 29 th Quorum of Seventy and when the 86th Quorum of Seventy was organized in Panguitch. He was made senior President which position he held until he was ordained a High Priest. He buried his two wives within 23 months past, was the father of 6 boys and 5 girls, 8 of which are living, with 55 grandchildren to cherish his memory. He was postmaster and Justice of the Peace in Panaca and Panguitch for many years. He answered an indictment in the district court for unlawful cohabitation, but was allowed to return home verdict, "Not Guilty". He was one of the last of the pioneers we had in our midst. He suffered very much for many years with rheumatism. The funeral services were held at 10 o'clock this morning (Oct. 22 nd). Elders M. M. Steel, Joseph B. Haywood and Allen Miller were the speakers.

Source: Miscellaneous personal histories This information has been gathered by various people interested in Utah history. These are unpublished biographies.