George Benjamin Wallace


George Benjamin Wallace

Born in Epsom 1817 - Mormon man of Prominence

George Benjamin Wallace (1817- 1900)

Our Pioneer Heritage Volume 9
The Heroic Pioneer
Worthy Pioneer
Emigrant's Guide


George Benjamin Wallace was born February 16, 1817, in Epsom, Merrimack County, New Hampshire, the son of John Wallace and Mary True. They had a family of 12 children, 7 girls and 5 boys. His mother died when he was about eleven years of age. George worked hard and helped on the farm, and also learned the trade of carpentry. Later on, when John Wallace became ill, he requested George to remain at home offering him one-half of his possessions if he would help him manage the farm. His decision was in the negative, as he was planning marriage with a distant relative and a very different career. When he was twenty-three years old he married Mary C. McMurphy who was born April 27, 1818, at Boston, Massachusetts. This marriage was performed either the 13th or 14th of February, 1840, in Boston, where they resided for some time, George becoming a building contractor. They were affiliated with the First Baptist Church.

Mormonism was brought to the attention of George by Elder Freeman Nickerson and "after conversing with him for about fifteen minutes, I was convinced I was building upon a sandy foundation. I invited him to go home with me and we spent the time from about 10 a.m. until evening, conversing in the parlor. I was convinced he was a servant of the living God. I purchased the only Book of Mormon he had." George was baptized in December 1842 by Elder Nickerson.

The following is taken from the journal of George Benjamin Wallace:

March 5th, 1845. Church meeting. I laid before the Saints the necessity of gathering to Nauvoo immediately to help build the House of the Lord and to prepare for their endowments, stating to them that I had been called to go to Nauvoo by Elder Ezra Taft Benson, leaving my wife and children until I can return; stating to them that I had one dollar to assist me in getting there; stating to the Saints that if they thought it was the will of God that they should help me to obtain money to go with, for them to come forward and do so; and they immediately raised money to take me to Nauvoo, and I blessed them in the name of the Lord. I ordained Brother Rogers to preside over them and he was received by unanimous vote, after which I received a vote of thanks for my past services and a letter of recommendation by unanimous vote.

March 7th, Friday. Left New Bedford with family for Boston to start from there on the 11th in company with others.

March 18th, Monday. Saw my wife and the children aboard the cars for New Hampshire and bid them farewell. Oh! May the Angel of the Lord protect them.

April 8th, Tuesday morning. Arrived in Nauvoo, Illinois. In good health after four weeks in company with about forty Saints. The yearly Conference was in session.

May 24th, Saturday morning at Nauvoo. 6 o'clock. The apostles, bishops, elders and Saints of God of the last days gathered around the Temple to witness the last cornerstone placed on the southeast corner of the Temple by Brigham Young, president of the entire church. A band played two tunes, after which the stone was laid in place. Then they prayed to God to protect and deliver us from the hand of our enemies, that we might be permitted to finish the Temple and receive our endowments. The whole multitude shouted, 'Hosannah, Amen' until the Heavens, as it were, said Amen. Then the people dispersed to hallow the day. (End of journal.)

Later, George returned to Boston as a missionary for the Church. It is not known whether his wife, Mary, joined the Church. He endeavored to persuade her to return to Nauvoo with him but she and her people were now very bitter against the principles of the Church, particularly polygamy. They did not want her to have anything whatever to do with it. This condition culminated in a separation between them, after a marriage of four years. She took their three children, Emma A., James Barnay and Sarah Ellen and returned to her parents. George returned to Nauvoo saying, "I feel I have done my full duty toward my wife Mary, and toward my God." He could not deny the faith; he had joined the Church completely, but it was tremendously difficult for him to give up his family.

There was previously, under date of January 29, 1844, a political meeting held in Nauvoo, at which time Joseph Smith was nominated for the President of the United States and on the 17th of the following May, at a state convention held there, the nomination was sustained. Mr. Wallace compaigned for Joseph Smith and delivered a political speech in Faneuil Hall in Boston. He was ordained a high priest October 18, 1844, and was given a patriarchial blessing by John Smith April 10, 1845, in the Nauvoo Temple. He acted as undertaker during some of the terrifying times in Nauvoo.While George Wallace was presiding elder of the Boston Branch of the Church, Howes Crowell and his wife, Melissa Mandana King Crowell, requested a recommend transferring their membership from Boston Branch to Nauvoo. Later, when George went to Nauvoo, he again met Melissa who was heartbroken with grief at the death of her husband and their two children. Their friendship ripened into love and they were married June 4, 1845, in Nauvoo. When the Saints were leaving this ill-fated city, the Wallaces fitted themselves out for the long journey west and left for Winter Quarters where they spent the winter of 1846–47. Their first child, Mary Melissa, was born January 8, 1847, and a few months later they started their trek to Utah.

George Benjamin Wallace was appointed captain over fifty in Abraham O. Smoot's company of one hundred, which was organized June 17, 1847, on the west bank of the Horn River. They arrived in Salt Lake Valley September 26, 1847, and camped in the Old Fort. Their baby girl, Mary Melissa, died September 27, 1847, the day after their arrival. She was buried on a hillside in the northeastern part of the Valley. George Crowell Wallace was born June 12, 1848, died August 14, 1848, and is also buried there. The little girl, Mary Melissa, was the first person buried in that area.

George and Melissa built a log cabin inside the Old Fort. In this cabin four persons were set apart and ordained apostles, in a meeting held by the First Presidency of the Church. They were Charles C. Rich, Lorenzo Snow, Erastus Snow and Franklin D. Richards. On February 22, 1849, in this home, when the Valley was divided into two wards, bishops of Salt Lake Valley wards were ordained under the direction of President Young, with President Heber C. Kimball, the Twelve Apostles and others. The next day another meeting was held in this log cabin home and Reynolds Cahoon and George Wallace were set apart as counselors to John W. Young in the High Priests Quorum; and Daniel Spencer was set apart as president of Salt Lake Stake.

The corner of First North and Second West Street was chosen by George Wallace as his property. It was then thought that this would be the future business street. The Union Hotel was built on the opposite corner and John Squires built a barber shop on the Wallace corner. The hotel was eventually used for a first class school known as the Union Academy, and still later the building was used as a temporary headquarters for the University of Deseret, Deseret Hospital and finally as a warehouse for the Salt Lake Knitting Works. George built a one-room adobe house near the corner. The bricks were made from a mixture of red clay and fine gravel; the roof was covered with boards and the cracks filled with rags. After it was completed, he moved the little log room, their first home in the Old Fort, to their new homesite.

On September 20, 1849, another child was born to George and Melissa whom they named Louisa King. She was one month old when George was called as one of the first missionaries to be sent from Utah, leaving for Great Britain, October 18, 1849. He gave a neighbor a yoke of oxen and several acres of land to look after Melissa and her little girl and to furnish fuel and other meagre necessities. She was given a dress by Vilate, wife of Heber C. Kimball, who advised her to reverse the material to the other side and Melissa made a fine dress for herself. Melissa learned to do work she had never done before, such as milking cows, growing a garden, raising livestock, taking in boarders, sharing her little dwelling with another family in exchange for fuel. She had a great faith and an undaunted spirit. Before George left for his mission she was concerned about a timepiece as the only one they owned was a silver watch he had brought from Boston. She asked him what she would do if he took the watch. President Young said, "Brother Wallace, if you will leave that watch with your wife, I will promise you that you will come home with a gold one." This promise was fulfilled for he did come home with a gold watch and chain, a gift from the Saints while on his mission. Before he left Salt Lake City, a little elderly lady at the depot pressed his hand in 'God speed' and left enough money in it to pay his fare and a few cents over. The Lord blessed him so he was able to send a little money home to Melissa and was able to bring back a parasol for her, the only thing she requested from him in the way of a gift.

Mr. Wallace, highly respected and loved by the Saints, remained in Great Britain nearly three years as first counselor to President Franklin D. Richards. He had issued a small circular among the Saints and friends with whom he labored to help pay his expenses home, and as a result had a purse of $800 in cash, also many other presents given to him by the Saints. He boarded the steamer Canada for the trip home, leaving Liverpool March 20, 1852, arriving in Boston approximately May 31, 1852. He went directly to
Epsom, Merrimack County, New Hampshire, in an endeavor to see his estranged wife, Mary C. McMurphy. She was not at home and he was unable to locate her, so he reluctantly left Epsom for his home in the Salt Lake Valley.

In obedience to the law of plural marriage, George Benjamin Wallace under date of October 15, 1852, married the three Davis sisters, Lydia, Hannah and Martha, whom he had converted to the Church when in England. The parents, Edward and Sarah Drabble Davis of London, Middlesex, England, were also baptized. Lydia Davis, born June 15, 1830, died March 8, 1869, Salt Lake City, Utah; Hannah Davis, born May 4, 1832, died February 5, 1896, Granger, Salt Lake County, Utah; Martha Davis, born January 9, 1836, died October 7, 1913, Salt Lake City.

Three or four more rooms were added to the original red brick room and the family increased at a rapid rate. For Melissa it was quite a period of adjustment. Years later, on one occasion, Mr. Wallace received complimentary tickets from a circus manager for himself and family. Imagine the look of dismay on the manager's face when he saw George, his four wives and twenty or more children march past him!

In 1860 Mr. Wallace was chosen to act as second counselor to President Daniel Spencer of the Salt Lake Stake. In 1866 he was first counselor, and in 1874 was called to preside over the Salt Lake Stake, which position he held for about two years. In 1867 he was instrumental, with others, in organizing Brighton Ward on the west side of Jordan River. In October 1869 he filled another mission to the Eastern States. He left home in a wagon, accompanied by Nathan Eldredge. This mission was short as he returned the following April. He had charge of the territorial farm located where the Fairgrounds now stand, receiving this appointment from President Brigham Young. From 1877 until his death in 1900 he was president of the High Priests Quorum in Salt Lake Stake.

In 1875 George homesteaded 120 acres of land in Granger, where his wife, Hannah, lived. Martha and her sister Lydia resided at the home located at 168 North 2nd West, Salt Lake City. Melissa lived there for awhile, until her son Howes built her a home on Second Avenue in Salt Lake. Mr. Wallace planted the first trees in the community of Granger and his first nursery business stood where West High School now stands.During the years of hardship the large Wallace families experienced, George was loving, patient and kind. He never aspired to any public office, either ecclesiastical or civil. He was not particularly shy, but never put himself forward. If his services were required, he was always ready and willing to respond. The last twenty-five years of his life were spent on his homestead; most of his family were now married, leaving him almost free from worry. During his residence on the farm, raids were made on many known polygamists but he seemed unafraid, traveling back and forth from the city home to the farm, visiting his wives with utmost concern. He was arrested and imprisoned for a term.

George Benjamin Wallace died January 30, 1900, at his home in Granger, Salt Lake County, Utah. Funeral services were held in the Assembly Hall on Temple Square, when high tribute was paid him. —Geneva Watson Graham