Friday, July 22, 2011

Happy 204th Birthday, Thomas Grover (1807-1886)!

Gawain's second-great-grandfather

Thomas is perhaps the most prominent of our pioneer ancestors, with over fifty children and a large posterity.  He was said to be the handsomest man in Nauvoo.  Given his curious divorces, he is also somewhat enigmatic.  Plus he's mentioned in scripture, D&C 132:124.

Thomas’ early New England ancestry includes the first governor of Martha's Vineyard, and a grandfather who was a leader of Shay’s Rebellion in the Revolutionary War.  This same Captain Thomas Grover was a minuteman in the Continental Army and witnessed the surrender of General Burgoyne.  His son Thomas (father of our pioneer) was a soldier in the Revolutionary War for one year.  Our Thomas is actually Thomas Grover III, and he was the youngest child, born posthumously to his father and raised in New York by a widowed mother.  At age twelve he became a cabin boy on a boat on the Erie Canal.  Twelve years later he became captain of the boat Shamrock. 

Thomas was married with several daughters when he became an early member of the Church.  Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon shared the gospel message and baptized him, and Thomas moved to Kirtland in March 1835 and helped build the Kirtland Temple.  Shortly after his arrival, he called on Joseph who said, “How do you do, Brother Grover.  If God ever sent a man he sent you.  I want to borrow every dollar you can spare for immediate use.”  Thomas gave five hundred dollars to Joseph Smith to help build Kirtland Temple, and was promised his name would never be forgotten by posterity.  This prophecy’s fulfillment continues.

Thomas was called to serve on the Kirtland High Council in January 1836 to replace Luke Johnson, who was called as an apostle.  He was ordained a high priest by Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon, and was present in a solemn assembly on January 21, 1836, where Joseph Smith recorded the ministering of angels and Thomas received his endowment.  He and his family were privileged to attend the dedication of the Kirtland Temple.

During the Missouri persecutions, the Grover family fled to Far West.  At one point an armed mob rushed into their home and a man threatened to kill Thomas by cutting off his head with a Bowie knife in front of his wife and children.  Thomas begged him to spare his life and the man backed down. The mob destroyed his cornfield and frequently stole food and harassed the family.  Thomas had to hide outside in winter and became quite ill.  At last the family left in the dead of night, although singing on the way (his daughter remembered that he was a splendid singer), and his wife gave birth on the journey.  The woman who let them stay in her home for the delivery asked the favor of naming the child (Eliza Ann).

Thomas served in the Nauvoo Legion and was one of Joseph’s forty bodyguards, helping on rescue missions, particularly when Joseph was kidnapped and jailed in Rock Island, and often took provisions to Emma Smith and her children.  Thomas served three missions between 1840-1844, to Michigan, New York, and southern Canada.  When he was called to serve his first mission in 1840, Thomas lay ill on what seemed to be his deathbed, and Joseph Smith gave him a healing blessing and Thomas was immediately strengthened.  

While on a mission near Kalamazoo, Michigan, in June 1844, Thomas was warned in a dream to return to Nauvoo.  This dream was repeated three times, so he awoke his companion and they took the shortest route possible, arriving at Carthage just after the martyrdom.  Thomas and his companion accompanied the Smith bodies to Nauvoo and assisted in burial preparations.  At the request of Emma Smith, Thomas used a sword Joseph had given him previously (now located in the DUP military room) to cut off a lock of Joseph’s hair.  Emma divided the lock with him.

Thomas Grover's sword
Thomas accepted the principle of plural marriage after a message from the Lord, and married Hannah in Nauvoo as his first plural wife after she appeared to him in a dream.

As they crossed the Mississippi, the flatboat began to sink because an evil man squirted tobacco juice in the ox’s eyes and they stampeded; expert swimmer Thomas swam to loosen the oxen and saved the twenty-two passengers including his young family (although tragically, genealogy records and valuables were lost in the river).  

Thomas was on the High Council in Winter Quarters and served as camp butcher there; in that capacity he killed and cut up many hogs and one or two cows daily.  He left his family at Winter Quarters and accompanied Brigham Young with the first pioneer company.  Crossing the Platte River, Thomas supervised and operated a ferry, and remained behind to help other pioneers cross.  This was the beginning of commercial ferrying in the Rocky Mountains.  At one point his group ran out of provisions and survived on one skunk for three days; an Indian chief then rescued them with a kettle of buffalo meat, which Thomas said was the best meal he’d ever tasted. Thomas was appointed to the first High Council in Salt Lake. He settled in Farmington and raised three hundred bushels of wheat despite the crickets.  They dug a ditch around the field, filled it with water, and walked along the banks and killed the crickets with switches as they attempted to jump across. Once a widow sent her young son to buy a little wheat from Thomas who filled the boy’s sack to the brim with flour.  Not having much money, the concerned young man asked how much a whole bag of flour cost.  Thomas replied, “I don’t sell flour to widows and fatherless children.” 

Thomas had a serious dispute with his brother-in-law William Deuel in 1848.  William pressed charges of attempted murder against Thomas before the High Council (of which Thomas was a member).  Jedediah Grant presided over the trial and Thomas paid fifty dollars in damages.  He remained a trusted envoy of Brigham Young, however, and right after this went to California to settle matters with the Brooklyn Saints and some cattle business for the Church, and worked in the gold mines for a year.  Thomas collected thousands of dollars in gold dust from the California Church members and turned it into the Church tithing fund along with his own generous contribution; Brigham Young put his hands on Thomas’ shoulders and said, “Brother Grover, if every Latter-day Saint would do as you have done, there would be no need of a tithing among this people.” Thomas also brought home in wooden chests three thousand dollars of gold he had earned, along with provisions for his family.

Thomas took some of his family east with him in 1850 as he conducted more Church cattle business and brought his mother-in-law Hannah Tupper back to Utah. Thomas was a splendid marksman and provided food along the trail. He contributed twenty-five cows to transport granite blocks for the temple construction, and for many years sent an annual driver and wagon east to the Missouri to bring in poor immigrant Saints (his future plural wives Emma and Elizabeth arrived in the 1856 handcart company).  As part of the Reformation of 1855, Thomas preached locally and took four new wives after a decade’s break from weddings.

Thomas served three terms in the legislature (some of that in Fillmore), and was a probate judge.  There is an account of Thomas Grover and John Welch plowing a field together.  The family moved south and camped in the Provo River bottoms during the Johnston Army siege. Many apostles stayed at the Grover home in Farmington (121 W 600 N) as they traveled, and in 1864 Brigham Young rebuked an east wind there that overturned his carriage.  In 1874, Thomas served a mission to the Eastern States, where he had the opportunity to visit his old home and relatives. 

Given his many wives, Thomas was a target during the anti-polygamy raids, yet managed to escape.  Once Thomas was on a train when a U.S. Marshal boarded.  His son Joel came up to his father with a sporting twinkle in his eye and said, “Father, Marshal Dyer is on the train, shall I introduce you?  You might arrange a compromise.”  “What,” said Thomas, “Compromise with the devil? Never!” Another time a deputy came to his home to serve a writ on polygamy, and when he announced that he had a writ to serve, Thomas shouted in his deep voice, “Read it, read it.” The officer fumbled in his pocket nervously but could not find it.  At the repeated command by the large man, “Read it,” the officer turned and fled in terror.  That warrant was never served. A third story involves Joseph Smith’s sword. Thomas' wife Loduska answered the door to find a marshal on the porch. Thomas warmly said, “Show him in, show him in!”  Thomas was very cordial, asking politely about his welfare.  When the marshal announced that he had come to deliver Thomas to the authorities, Thomas arose and said, “Doiska, get me Brother Joseph’s sword, and watch while I cut this man’s head off!” The marshal quickly departed without making his arrest.

His daughter Emmeline said her father was loved by all. He never spoke evil, did not take honor to himself, or boast. Many times he divided his last meal with a sufferer. He was incapable of a mean or treacherous trick, and none of his children apostatized. He was also noted for being an athlete, a big stalwart man zealous for the LDS cause. He was kind and generous, one of the most punctual men that ever lived, and his word was as good as his bond. A common saying with him was, “A debt can never be outlawed; a dollar is due until it is paid. If I were going to be hanged I should go on time.”

Various wives came and went in his lifetime, and Thomas’ last child was born when he was seventy-three years old. At the time of his death, he had twenty-six living children and twenty-six who were deceased, as well as 134 grandchildren and one hundred more born after he died.  Given the fluctuation in his marriages and the number of children’s deaths he grieved, Thomas must have known much joy and sorrow in his family life. He was particularly disturbed by the defection of his wife Hannah, and wrote Brigham Young a letter about their marriage.

All during his later years Thomas seemed to feel that his special mission was to testify to the divine mission of Joseph Smith.  The last Sunday of his life, Thomas attended Sacrament Meeting, and after the last Amen when people were about to leave, Thomas suddenly raised his hand and said, “Wait a minute, Bishop.” He said he could not go home until he had born testimony that the gospel was true and Joseph Smith was a true prophet.  

There are a number of biographies written about Thomas, in my opinion the best one is online here.  I would give him a birthday calendar to keep track of all his family anniversaries and birthdays!


  1. I think it would be hilarious if he and his wives did a Baby Ballet together with their children. I bet they had enough little ones!

  2. WOW—what a legacy in the Wells/Grover lineage!

    Great job in writing it.

  3. Wonderful Anita,
    These are so powerful and sweet at the same time.

    The lives are so fantastic I just want to know who they are.

  4. Hi I am also a descendant of Thomas Grover and an avid family historian. The picture you have of him as a younger man intrigues me. I have never seen that picture before. Could you please tell me where you got it? I would love to have a copy of it. Please email me at Thanks cousin!

  5. My line comes through Caroline Whiting. I have never seen a picture of this woman. I was wondering if there was one to see, purchase or down load? Your assistance is greatly appreciated Ron in Idaho