George Quayle Cannon was born in Liverpool, England, 11 January 1827, the oldest child of George and Ann Quayle Cannon. George's parents and ancestors were originally from the Isle of Man. The Cannons' association with the Mormon Church occurred when his aunt, Leonora Cannon, with her husband and future president of the church, John Taylor, was baptized by Parley P. Pratt in 1836. Four years later, John Taylor, while on a mission in England, converted the Cannon family including thirteen-year-old George. The family left Liverpool two years later and sailed for America. During their voyage, George's mother died, leaving six children and a widowed husband to reach Nauvoo, Illinois, without her. Two years later, George's father also died.
Arriving in Nauvoo in the spring of 1843, George lived with John and Leonara Taylor's family. Soon thereafter, George began work as a printer's apprentice for his uncle in the publishing office of the Times and Seasons and the Nauvoo Neighbor. Following the assassinations of Joseph and Hyrum Smith, George watched over the affairs of the printing business while his uncle recovered from wounds he received at the Carthage Jail.
George Cannon accompanied the Taylors to Winter Quarters in 1846, and arrived in the Salt Lake Valley in October 1847. Two years later, he accompanied Charles C. Rich on a church mission to the California gold mines and then continued on to the Sandwich Islands with nine other missionaries.
Cannon quickly mastered the Hawaiian language and proselytized for four years among the island peoples. Upon his return to Utah, he was sent to California on another mission--to assist Parley P. Pratt in a newspaper venture. When George reached San Francisco, Pratt was preparing to return to Utah, but stopped long enough to set Cannon apart to preside over the California and Oregon missions. While in California, George published the first edition of the Book of Mormon in the Hawaiian language. He also established the Western Standard, a newspaper intended to defend the Mormon Church and spread its gospel. When word reached California of a possible war in Utah, Cannon returned to Salt Lake City and was given responsibility of the Deseret News publishing enterprise and commissioned an adjutant general in the Nauvoo Legion.
In September 1858 Cannon was called to preside over the Eastern States Mission; his duties included directing westward immigration and quelling falsehoods concerning Utah and the Mormons. The following year, he was sustained an apostle to fill the vacancy created by the murder of Parley P. Pratt.
Greater responsibilities followed when Cannon was sent to preside over the European Mission. His specific duties were to direct emigration and supervise the printing of the Millennial Star. However, within a few months he was notified that he had been elected as one of Utah Territory's two congressional representatives and was immediately needed in Washington, D.C., to assist in Utah's 1862 bid for statehood. At the adjournment of the 1862 congressional session, he returned to Europe for two years to continue his assignment as presiding authority.
Cannon returned to Utah in the fall of 1864 and became the private secretary to Brigham Young. At this time he stated that, with the exception of nine months, he had been absent from home for fifteen years in service to the church. Under the tutelage of President Young, Cannon became well acquainted with all aspects of church affairs, and, recognizing the need for appropriate reading material for the youth, established the Juvenile Instructor magazine in 1866. The following year he was called as general superintendent of the Deseret Sunday School Union, a position he held until his death. Later that year, he was appointed to oversee the Deseret News. One of his first decisions as president and editor was to renovate the semiweekly into a daily newspaper named the Deseret Evening News. He left the paper in 1872 when he was elected a Utah delegate to Congress.
Cannon's sincerity, gentlemanly demeanor, and intuitive diplomatic talents made him an effective statesman. For ten years he successfully defended Utah's interests in Washington, D.C., until his seat was declared vacant by the enactment of the Edmunds Act, which terminated numerous constitutional rights for Utah's polygamists. The ensuing years were some of the most difficult for the Cannon family. In 1885 George was forced to live in seclusion due to the raids attempting to arrest Mormon polygamists. His five wives and thirty-two children were often watched by marshals and deputies. In September 1888 he surrendered himself to local authorities and served nearly six months in Utah's federal penitentiary for cohabitation.
In 1880, three years after the death of Brigham Young, the First Presidency was reorganized with John Taylor as president and George Q. Cannon as first counselor. Cannon remained first counselor in the two subsequent administrations of Wilford Woodruff and Lorenzo Snow. During those years, his entrepreneurial aptitude became manifest. Before his death in 1901, at the age of seventy-four, Cannon had been associated with more than sixty Utah commercial, mercantile, and industrial businesses. His devotion to his family, his church, and his religion are an important legacy he left to the world.
Joseph A. Cannon and Rick Fish