Home Features Community John Porter speaks to Sons of Utah Pioneers

John Porter speaks to Sons of Utah Pioneers


On Nov. 20, the Morgan Chapter of the Sons of Utah Pioneers held their monthly luncheon meeting at Larry’s Spring Chicken Inn. The guest speaker was John Porter. John was born in Idaho. He and his wife, Connie, live in Porterville and have four children. He has held many church callings including bishop, stake president, Young Men’s President and as a counselor in a stake mission presidency. He served as a missionary in the Scotland Edinburgh Mission and later as mission president of the Ohio Cincinnati Mission. He is founder and CEO of FOCUS Services.
John is a descendant of Sanford Porter, who was one of the first settlers in Porterville. His life is a fascinating story. His family came to the Americas in the 1640s. Sanford was born in 1790 in Massachusetts. He was raised in a family with 12 children, he being second to the youngest. His parents were religious Bible readers. They attended the Baptist Church, but Sanford’s father would never join because he said it was not the Biblical Church. They did not teach what the New Testament church was, stating there should be apostles and prophets.
By the time he was 3 or 4 they were living in the Green Mountains of Vermont. Most everywhere he went he was a true frontiersman. He fought in the war of 1812 and married that same year. Not being able to make a decent living in Vermont, he moved to upstate New York. There he planted ginseng and had a distributer who would take it and sell it to China. He had a partner who talked him into letting him travel with the product to China to get a better price. The partner accompanied the product, got a better price, but kept the money. This caused Sanford to sell what he had and move to Liberty, near Cincinnati, Ohio. It seemed like everywhere they went they had problems.
As a young boy, Sanford had several experiences where he saw miracles occur. As he grew older he experienced different religions, each fighting among each other, expressing that they were the true church. His own belief was that the Bible was not true. He believed that some parts of it were true but with all the confusion over religion, he was not even sure he believed in a God.
When he was 25 years old, he had a friend die. It started him thinking about separation, death, and about God. His son Nathan said he went about his work but he stopped eating, he stopped drinking, wasn’t interacting with anyone. Sanford wrote that he finally knelt down and prayed and ask that if there were a God, would he make himself known to him and tell him what was right. Almost immediately, he describes an audible voice stating that there is a God and he would hear it three times and would know what was right. He described the voice as being mild, but going completely through him. When he came to himself again, he began to think that someone had heard his prayer and spoke the words he heard as a prank. He searched the whole house. After finding no one there, he sat by the fire, pondering what he had heard. He eventually went to bed, where he experienced other manifestations which convinced him that there was a God an that His church would be restored.
A couple of years later they moved to Tazewell County, Illinois, near Peoria. There Sanford built a sawmill, and for the first time he was making money. He built a cabin that had a glass window, which was unusual for the time. There he also met the Morris Phelps family and the Charles C. Rich family, and became close friends. He also related his earlier experiences about God to both families. Around June of 1831, Phelps had been in Chicago, were he heard two preachers teaching about a religion that had been restored on the earth that had a prophet and was the same as the New Testament church. They talked about a book written on gold plates. Phelps wrote a letter of introduction and told them that they needed to go to Tazewell County and find a man called Sanford Porter. The missionaries left Chicago and travelled to Tazewell County, found Sanford Porter and gave him the letter of introduction.
In his own words: “I stepped out of the house one morning to go to the mill and met two strange men. We passed the time of day and one of them handed me a letter. It was sealed. I opened it and found it was from Morris Phelps who then lived about thirty miles from Chicago. My friend tells me you are preachers of a new profession. We will walk into the house gentlemen. I bade them to remove their knapsack and be seated and asked if they had any breakfast. They had not.” Sanford gave them breakfast, sent the children outside to do chores and then he said, “Well gentleman, I am ready to hear you expound your doctrine.” The missionaries told him of the restoration of a church with prophets and apostles, the authority to baptize, heal the sick, and many other truths that had been revealed. They showed him a new book they had with them and how it was obtained. He took the book and together they searched it, almost without stopping. Sanford asked question after question. After three days, Sanford told the missionaries that he was convinced that what the missionaries were teaching him was true. When asked if he would be baptized, he said, “No, I will not join until I hear from the same being that gave me the message. Then I will join.” The missionaries returned each day, and each day Sanford told them “I believe, but I have to know.” The day before the missionaries were to leave the area, Sanford retired to bed and offered a prayer telling God that he had to know. He heard the same soft voice telling him that it was true and he should arise and be baptized. That morning he and his wife and daughter were baptized. His sons joined shortly after.
This happened at a time where this was the first time he had any money, the first time he had a business that was working, the first time he had a house with glass windows. They left all this behind and travelled in November with a small wagon train to Independence, Missouri. One morning, one of his youngest sons named Justin Theodore was walking behind a horse when it kicked him in the temple. The young boy died. Sanford asked another of his sons to go to the wagon and bring the holy oil. Sanford used the oil to bless him and commanded him to live. The boy returned to live and completed the journey to Independence. Eighteen months later the saints were driven out of there.
As a frontiersman, Sanford did not like living close to people. When the moved to Independence, he settled 20 miles out in a place called Prairie. When the saints were driven from there to Caldwell County, he settled in and went over to Dewitt County. When they were driven to Farr West, he settled further out. When they were driven to Nauvoo, he crossed the river and settled in Zarahemla. When they came to the Salt Lake Valley, he settled in Mill Creek Canyon. When there were too many people there, he went to Centerville and when there were too many people there, he came to Porterville.
While they lived in Nauvoo, they worked on completing the temple. They were anxious to complete the ordinances performed there but the pressure of the mobs was increasing. Brigham told them they would have to leave. He promised they would build other temples where the ordinances could be performed. The crowds did not leave with Brigham. Seeing this, he came back and for the next six days and performed the temple ordinances. After, they crossed the plains and settled in Mill Creek Canyon, where he describes the winter of 1847-48 when they were on a quarter cup of flour rations and had to chew twigs to try and relieve the hunger. Sanford became a bishop in Centerville. While there he receive a 12-page letter from Lyman Wight, the missionary who had baptized him and who had become an apostle. He later lost his faith and took a group of saints to Texas to start the church there. The letter was to convince Sanford to join them. Sanford never left.
Sanford Porter was never a stake president or an apostle, never the governor or the mayor or a legislator. What he was, was a covenant-keeping member if the kingdom. He, at great sacrifice, understood and kept his covenants and left a lasting legacy for his family.

Please follow and like us: