Wendy Woodfield and Dr. Alex Baugh, Church History
He most lives who thinks most, feels the noblest, acts the best.
-Tombstone of John Farnum Boynton
Brigham Young, Parley P. Pratt, and nearly all of the original twelve apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are familiar names in the homes of many church members. Their memories have lived on to our day through the many publications of church historians. However, one of these original church leaders seems to have faded from memory due to a lack of information. John F. Boynton also served as one of the original twelve apostles, impacted the lives of early church leaders, and was an outstanding advocate for the church during his years of missionary service. Andrew Jenson, a church historian who was baptized by Boynton, wrote the following biological sketch after his death:
“Joseph Smith baptized John Boynton in September of 1832. He was twenty-one years old. At age twenty-three he had served three fruitful missions and was ordained as one of the original twelve apostles. He served a final mission with the Twelve Apostles to the Eastern States and Canada. However, on September 3, 1837 Boynton was disfellowshipped from the church. After leaving the church, Boynton’s focus turned to invention and he was employed by the government to invent torpedoes and other implements of war. Boynton has his name on 36 patents in the National Patent Office. A.H. Hale wrote about Boynton’s life after leaving the church in the late 19th century. Hale wrote, ‘He has always been considerate to his former friends in the ministry and never said or did anything against the church.’ In fact, Boynton visited President Brigham Young in Utah. He denounced the persecution of the Saints. He also counseled Erastus Snow, whom he had ordained a teacher, to, ‘stick with [Mormonism], for it is good.’ Furthermore, he declared that ‘if anything is right, Mormonism is!’” (Andrew Jenson, LDS Biographical Encyclopedia. [Salt Lake City: Deseret Press] 1:91).
Despite Boynton’s position and service in the early church, I found that little more than Jenson’s brief biographical sketch was readily available. This lack of information prompted me to make a more thorough investigation of Boynton’s life. I decided to place an emphasis on Boynton’s service in and interactions with the church. First, I used secondary sources such as Milton V.
Backman’s The Heaven’s Resound to gain a greater familiarity with the history of the church during the 1830s. Next, I traveled to the LDS Church Library and Archives and searched through journals on microfilm and church publications of the period. Also, I contacted an aspiring historian in another state who visited Boynton’s hometown and discovered records of Boynton’s birth, death, and information concerning the area in which Boynton grew up. He also directed me towards several primary sources that I could use in my research. I have combined all of this information and greatly amplified Jenson’s brief biographical sketch. I have written on John F. Boynton’s early life, conversion to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, his missionary journeys, service as an apostle, and his interaction with the church shortly before his death. I would still like to find more information concerning his apostasy and later accomplishments before I publish my work.
I would like to end this report on a personal note. This ORCA project has changed my life. I was thrilled when your office approved my research proposal and I began to work diligently to uncover the life of the mysterious John Boynton. I quickly realized that Boynton was a powerful missionary who had tremendous success. As I read the letters that he wrote home during his mission, I was filled with the fire of missionary work. I soon decided to serve a mission of my own and was granted a deferral of my ORCA project submission. When I returned home, I continued to research and began to compile my findings into the paper that I am currently preparing for publication. I also decided to apply for law school and utilize my research skills in a slightly different field. I worked intensely to become a competitive applicant and was pleasantly surprised by the results. Several of the top law schools in the nation attempted to recruit me for their programs. While flattering, this route also implied substantial debt and obtaining employment in the higher paying sectors, which I had little interest in. I was distressed by the situation. One admissions dean unknowingly pushed me towards an answer to my dilemma. I noted in my application that I had received an ORCA scholarship. He asked me about the subject of my research and I briefly described what I have outlined in this report. As I described Boynton, a thought came clearly to my mind. Boynton had a tremendous intellect, energy, and passion. When he used those assets to forward the work of the church he changed innumerable lives and had tremendous success. I felt a strong desire to follow his example and invest my energy into forwarding the purposes of the church through law. Consequently, I applied to BYU Law School and received my acceptance letter just last week.
The successes and failures of John F. Boynton have inspired me to reach for greater heights of service and commitment to the church that he served as a missionary and an apostle. I hope that, upon publishing my findings, others may also draw on his experiences and make life-changing decisions.