Working the Divine Miracle
by Richard D. Poll
Stan Larson, ed.

The Pioneer Moyles

[p.1]Progenitors of Henry D. Moyle’s family were among the Normans who came to England as conquerors in A.D. 1066. When President Moyle came to England nine centuries later and gave a parry for scores of British Moyles at London’s posh Claridge’s Hotel, he discovered no direct links with the landed and titled bearers of the name-past or present. He did, however, make many friends for himself, his family, and the church that had taken his obscure forebears from Cornwall and Devonshire to a new life in the American West. One of the new friends sent him a 1915 newspaper clipping with some antiquarian tidbits and a thoughtful historical observation. There were Moyles in Cornwall in medieval times who had a mule on their coat of arms. One could only speculate on whether the name suggested the symbol; Henry Moyle found it amusingly apt. On the other hand, one could be sure that “branches of a family established by younger sons who fail to acquire landed estates are frequently lost sight of, and fall away in a few generations from the main stock as strangers.” From one such branch came the Mormon Moyles.

John Rowe Moyle, born in Cornwall in 1808, was a stonecutter who learned his trade from his father. He was working in Plymouth when he and his wife, Phillippa, seven years younger than he, first became aware of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He had already won some enmity and a reputation for independence by refusing to participate in a strike that involved issues in far-away London. Now, as he heard [p.2]reports of what the Mormon elders were saying in their public meetings, he remarked to his son James, “Those people are either the best or the worst people on earth because they profess mote than all others.” Soon there was a meeting in the Moyle home, and within a year John, Phillippa, and the older children were baptized.

In 1852 England was responding to the second great proselyting effort of the church founded in New York in 1830 on the basis of the revelations and writings of Joseph Smith. Thousands of mostly working-class men and women had listened to the teaching of the Mormon apostles and elders who came between 1837 and 1845, and many accepted the invitation to gather to Nauvoo, Illinois, and other Mormon communities on the Mississippi River. The death of the prophet Joseph and the stresses attending the westward migration of most of his followers led to a lull in missionary endeavors. But as soon as the foundations of the Great Basin Kingdom were laid, Brigham Young called missionaries to go to the land that had heard his testimony a decade before. These were the missionaries who found the Moyles and promoted the greatest migration of British Mormons in history.

As the first-born son, nineteen-year-old James Moyle accepted the challenge of going to Utah and earning enough money to help his parents and six brothers and sister emigrate. He, too, was a stonecutter, and the homes, shops, churches, and temple under construction there should certainly provide employment. So he borrowed a few pounds from the Perpetual Emigrating Fund, took ship from Liverpool to New Orleans with about 400 other Mormons, and then made his way by river boat and wagon train to Salt Lake City. He arrived in September 1854. According to his reminiscence, he found work immediately on the new home with the lions on the front that President Young was building for some of his families. He was paid $3.00 a day, an uncommonly good wage for the time. Within a year he had paid off his debt and begun depositing money in the emigrating fund “on the promise of Daniel H. Wells that my father and his family should come the next season.”

John Rowe Moyle, Phillippa, and the children made the journey to Utah in 1856. Cholera problems on the lower Mississippi had by then led the church to reroute the immigration through east-coast ports. A thirty-six-day crossing brought the Moyles and many fellow Saints to Boston, then railroad boxcars carried them to Iowa City, departure point for the handcart companies that were being formed for the first time that year. [p.3]John became a tent captain in the first division of the band of 497 pilgrims. Their leader was Edmund Ellsworth, a returning missionary, and their transport consisted of 100 handcarts, five wagons, twenty-five oxen, and four mules. It was a tedious 1,200-mile walk and there were inevitably accidents and deaths, but the Ellsworth company reached the Salt Lake Valley on 26 September and so was spared the horrors of later handcart companies that encountered winter in the mountains.

When James, now twenty-one, welcomed his footsore family, he had a new bride to introduce. Seventeen-year-old Elizabeth Wood was the daughter of the founders of Woods Cross, a settlement just north of Salt Lake that would later figure prominently in the business career of Henry Moyle. Daniel and Mary Snyder Wood had joined the Latter-day Saints in eastern Canada in 1832; they were among the first converts of Brigham Young. They shared the vicissitudes of the church at Kirtland, Ohio, and Fat West, Missouri, and were living in Mount Sterling, in west central Illinois, when Elizabeth was born. She was seven when her family participated in the exodus to Iowa and a year older when she accompanied them to the Salt Lake Valley in 1848.

James Moyle went to work for Daniel Wood early in 1856, when his savings ran out. It was pick-and-shovel work for $10.00 a month and board, and he later remembered it as the hardest labor he ever did in his life. He was tempted by offers to go to California, but after praying about the matter he decided to leave the decision to chance—or providence. He wrote: “I noticed a flat stone. I took it in my hand, spit on one side of it, and said that if it fell with the dry side up I would stay. So I tossed it up, and it fell so that I had to stay. I was a little disappointed. I went on and got there in time for breakfast, and went to work with the spade. I felt better.”

Perhaps Elizabeth served the breakfast. The work with Daniel Wood lasted only two months, but the marriage that Brigham Young performed in his office on 22 July 1856 lasted almost thirty-five years. James died when his grandson Henry was an infant, but Elizabeth lived until he was nineteen.

The John Rowe Moyles settled in Alpine, Utah County, where John farmed for a living but kept his stonecutter skills active by building a substantial home for his family and a tower in the fashion of a castle battlement that was for many years a landmark in the area. James and Elizabeth elected to seek their fortunes in Salt Lake City, but their ties with both [p.4]sets of parents remained close.1

The young couple had barely launched their life together when they were caught up in the excitement and dislocations of the Utah War. When President James Buchanan decided to replace Brigham Young as governor of Utah Territory and sent an army of 2,500 troops to insure that the successor would be accepted, Young rallied the Saints at Brighton on 24 July 1857 and pledged resistance if the army came in without permission. James Moyle spent part of the following winter building fortifications in Echo Canyon with the Nauvoo Legion, as the local militia was called. Negotiations between the new governor and the old, arranged by Colonel Thomas L. Kane, promised to resolve the impasse peacefully, but because the conduct of the army was unpredictable, the Mormon leadership instructed the people in northern Utah to seek safety through flight. So the now-pregnant Elizabeth traveled to Utah County while James remained behind to help destroy the abandoned settlements—if it became necessary. Happily, the reinforced army came in without incident, and within a few weeks the refugees were back in their homes.

Thus it came to pass that his parents were together in Salt Lake City when their first-born son—the father of Henry D. Moyle—came into the world on 17 September 1858. They named him James Henry.

James Moyle was such a competent craftsman that he was able to support his dependents at an increasing level of affluence; his skills and management abilities are reflected in millstones, meetinghouses, bridges, homes, and both commercial and public buildings in northern Utah, as well as the Salt Lake temple. Conspicuous among the shapers of his values were his father and his church. James never forgot several childhood experiences that illustrate the influence of John Rowe Moyle. On one occasion James was so attracted by a hymn book in a local Methodist chapel that he took it home and told his parents he had found it. Not only did his father instruct him to take it back, but “he said that if I was found guilty of finding anything more before it was lost, he would whip me to the extent that I would never forget it.” James also wrote in his reminiscences:

Father often used to tell me that if ever he heard of my insulting [p.5]anyone he would chastise me, and if anyone insulted me and I did not resent it and have satisfaction he would chastise me for that. I have often heard him say that I was never known to come home with any tales that some boy had interfered with me, but often complaints would come to him about me, though on investigation he would find that I had only been trying to carry out his instructions.

As for his Mormonism, James wrote that at the time he joined the church he “covenanted with the Lord that I would serve Him through good and evil report. It was the turning point in my life, as it kept me from evil company.” As a young man, he shared his testimony with his children and taught them to resent the persecution of the Saints. He witnessed to his faith by engaging in plural marriage and going to prison rather than abandon his wives.2 James Henry Moyle would be profoundly affected by these things and share them in time with his own sons.

The James Moyle family was frequently stricken by death. The three children who followed James Henry did not live until their first birthdays, and only six of the fourteen children born by Elizabeth Wood Moyle lived beyond childhood. Margaret Cannell married James Moyle in 1870; three of her nine children also died in infancy.3

Henry D. Moyle’s father grew up in a city that was rapidly losing its frontier aspects. He was taught reading, writing, and arithmetic in schools in which the concept of separating education from religion was seen as heresy, if it was thought about at all. Later he studied at the proprietary Morgan Commercial School under John Morgan, who subsequently became his mission president. When he was given a heifer by his father, he decided, at eleven, to become a rancher. But the animal was sent out of town for boarding and breeding, and there it died. At thirteen he saw the first train that came to Salt Lake City, and at seventeen he lost the first finger of his left hand in a hunting accident.

He moved naturally into politics. In the 1860s the capital of Utah Ter-[p.6]ritory was the center of a polarizing process that arrayed the Latter-day Saint majority against a growing number of non-Mormon officials, soldiers, businessmen, miners, and railroad, telegraph, and commercial employees. Polygamy was the most conspicuous issue; between 10 and 15 percent of the Mormons were in plural families and the anti-polygamy act passed by Congress in 1862 only increased the community support of the marital system that Joseph Smith had introduced in Nauvoo. Control of political and economic affairs in the territory was the fundamental issue. The gentile Liberal Party won no election contests with the church-sponsored People’s Party, but it lobbied vigorously in Washington, D.C., for federal measures to make the Mormons conform to nineteenth-century American norms. James heard these subjects discussed as a child. Gordon B. Hinckley, in his biographical study commissioned by Henry D. Moyle, records that when James was fifteen he heard an intemperate talk by one of the territorial governors and resolved “to lift his people out of the bog and mire of misunderstanding into which they had been pushed by such self-righteous bigots.”4 He was nineteen when he was appointed a special guard at the Lion House, and a little later he guarded Brigham Young’s coffin while it lay in state at the Tabernacle.

James served a mission in the old South from 1879 to 1881. The region had recently witnessed the killing of three Mormon missionaries and other acts of savage hostility. In meeting the challenges of this unfriendly environment, James discovered the testimony which at his farewell service in Utah he had denied having and which Apostle Charles W. Penrose had said was only dormant. He must have found friends, too, for according to his later recollections he received only $24.00 from home in two years. He was appointed president of the Carolina District and launched an effective proselyting effort in South Carolina before leaving for home.

Debating with anti-Mormon hecklers may have helped James to select the law as a career. When he returned to Utah, he faced two obstacles. One was inadequate preparation for law school, which he overcame in part by attending the University of Deseret; he supported himself by cutting stone for the still-unfinished temple. The other obstacle was a [p.7]deep-seated suspicion of lawyers by many church leaders. Only after winning the support of Angus M. Cannon, his stake president, and George Q. Cannon, former congressional delegate and now counselor in the First Presidency, was he able to secure the approval of church president John Taylor. The blessing that he received from the head of the church was also a warning against the perils of worldly pursuits.

A happy coincidence brought James to the University of Michigan campus at Ann Arbor at the same time George Sutherland arrived from Provo, Utah.5 They decided to room together. It worked out well, even though they were opposite in almost every way. James noted in his diary that George was slender, studious, and deliberate, a brilliant scholar, a non-Mormon, and a Republican. He, on the other hand, was robust and athletic, “a persistent digger” at his studies, a “man of action,” a Mormon, and a Democrat.6

Since Utah politics did not then divide on national party lines, Ann Arbor gave James his first real opportunity to test the political waters. He emerged a Democrat-and sixty years later he died a Democrat. In 1884 his father arranged for him to attend the Democratic National Convention in Chicago as a correspondent for the Salt Lake Daily Herald. He was delighted when Grover Cleveland secured the nomination and went on to the White House. He also participated in law school politics, narrowly missing out in the race for president of his class and then handily winning election as president of the prestigious Webster Society. His performance in an informal debate on the proposition, “Resolved: Mormonism should be suppressed by the Government,” contributed to his selection to head the debating club.

When James arrived at the law school, he was told that it might take him five years to obtain the degree because he still lacked an adequate formal educational background. He finished in three; the dean of the law school was later reported to have recommended him in two years but was overruled by the faculty. After passing the Michigan bar examination, he was awarded an LL.B. degree on 25 June 1885.

One of the memorable experiences of his life was James Henry Moyle’s visit with David Whitmer on his way back to Utah. Whitmer, one [p.8]of the three witnesses whose testimony appears in the Book of Mormon, was living on a farm in Missouri. He was about eighty years of age. James talked with him for more than two hours and examined his 464-page transcript of the original Book of Mormon manuscript.7 Fledgling lawyer that he was, James questioned Whitmer closely; finding him “somewhat spiritual in his explanations. He was not as materialistic in his descriptions as I wished.”8 The diary account of the meeting notes Whitmer’s affirmation that he “did not handle the plates, only saw them. Says Martin Harris and Cowdery did, so they say.” He also saw the angel “and heard him speak, but that it was indescribable, that it was through the power of God. …”

Despite the trace of skepticism in the diary account of what transpired in June 1885, James came away with a strengthened conviction of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. He told and retold the Whitmer story through the years. His son Henry heard it as a child, and in time it became a part of the testimony that he carried to the far corners of the earth.

By the time James returned home, he had already arranged for part-time work as assistant city attorney and as deputy county attorney. In addition he found private clients, being one of only a handful of Mormon attorneys then actively practicing in Salt Lake City. With the federal prosecution of polygamists under the Edmunds Act of 1882 moving toward a climax, he quickly became involved as counsel for the defense. There was little he could do in most such cases because the prevailing judicial interpretation of the law automatically produced guilty verdicts, except where polygamous husbands were willing to renounce the religious covenants that linked them to their plural wives. Years later he recalled being credited “with having more clients in the penitentiary than any other attorney in the country of my age.”

His own father was among those arrested early in 1886. James advised him to offer no defense, lest his family be subjected to the humiliation of [p.9]court examination without affecting the outcome. Protesting his innocence of any other offense than following God’s law, Henry Moyle’s grandfather was sentenced to six months in the territorial prison and fined $300 and court costs. He was one of about 1,300 Latter-day Saints convicted during the anti-polygamy “crusade” of the 1880s.9

Another of the imprisoned “cohabs”10 in 1886 was Henry Dinwoodey. James Henry Moyle first met his prospective father-in-law during a visit to the “pen.” Because female visitors were not permitted, Alice Evelyn Dinwoodey sat in the carriage outside the walls while her gentleman friend visited both of their fathers. Neither parent, apparently, raised any objections to the developing relationship, and both were free to help celebrate the marriage a year later. Alice Dinwoodey was the only child of Sarah Emily Kinnersley, the third wife of Henry Dinwoodey. She was born to wealth, her father being already a successful furniture manufacturer by the time he married Sarah. She grew up beautiful, too, so she was a real prize for whoever might win her hand.

Henry Dinwoodey was a sometime brickmason and ironmonger when he boarded with a Mormon convert in a village near Liverpool, England, and then joined the church in 1845. He was twenty and already engaged to Ellen Gore, another convert. They married early in 1846 and joined the migration to America. Like many English converts during the years of the church’s relocation to Utah, they found work in New Orleans and St. Louis to earn money for the remainder of the journey. Not until 1855 did Henry and Ellen cross the plains to Salt Lake City. There he opened a cabinetmaking shop, and after the Utah War interruption he expanded into the furniture business. He married Ann Hill in 1861 and Sarah Kinnersley in 1864. Both plural wives were English. Sarah was born in Herefordshire in 1841 to parents who were already Latter-day Saints. She walked across the plains as a teenager and then supported herself as a glovemaker until her marriage. Henry provided separate homes for each of his wives. Ann had no children and Sarah bore seven. Ellen died while he was in the penitentiary.

Alice Dinwoodey was born on 13 September 1865 in Salt Lake City. [p.10]She lived with her mother and an adopted sister. Sarah saw that the girls had the best educational opportunities the community afforded. after attending several private schools, Alice entered the University of Deseret at thirteen. Before she was sixteen, she won certificates from the Literary and Normal (Teaching) departments. She then studied music and painting—part of the “finishing” process for young ladies of status in her generation. She became proficient on the piano and she might have studied dramatic arts in the East, if her father had not objected to her going away.

James Henry Moyle first noticed Alice when both were students at Deseret. He was twenty-three and she was sixteen. He was chatting with one of the teachers, Joseph B. Toronto, when she alighted from a horse-drawn phaeton nearby. To his inquiry the professor replied, “She’s one of our brightest students.” But James had law school on his agenda, and five years passed before he encountered Alice again. This time he recruited Professor Toronto to accompany him on a visit to her home, as custom dictated if a young man had serious intentions. Thereafter as James remembered, “I did not let the grass grow under my feet.” During a carefree vacation at Brighton in the summer of 1887, with Sarah Dinwoodey as chaperon, James and Alice decided that they were right for each other, and soon they were engaged. The attachment that the pair always felt for the lovely dell at the head of Big Cottonwood Canyon, then called Silver Lake, is easy to understand, as is James’s later purchase of a sizeable tract of land there.

A proud and thankful James Henry Moyle took his bride to the brand-new Mormon temple in Logan, Utah, to be married on 17 November 1887. He had just been elected to the territorial legislature and to the post of Salt Lake County Attorney. He was twenty-eight and in good health. His law practice was doing well and he was becoming a factor in the People’s Party. And he was marrying one of the loveliest and most accomplished young women in Utah. His patriarchal blessing had promised that he would find “a wife suited to his station.” After fifty years of marriage, he wrote, “In my opinion no two ever lived more happily, more united, and better fitted for each other.”

Into the lives of this happy couple came Henry Dinwoodey Moyle, on 22 April 1889. Seven other children followed, but because he was the first, Henry was in a special way the focus of his parents’ hopes and expectations. He never forgot, and he never gave up trying to measure up. [p.11]After proof-reading part of Gordon B. Hinckley’s book in 1951, he wrote in his diary: “Father’s life and the experiences of his family are typical of Mormonism and what it does for people who join the church, and especially their posterity. I attribute whatever I am to what has gone on before in the lives of my wonderful progenitors.”

It is likely that Henry did nor consciously include himself when he added, “There would seem to be some improvement in each generation.”


1. Years later Henry Moyle spearheaded and contributed substantially to a project to rehabilitate the Wood family cemetery and establish a Wood family organization.

2. The polygamist James Moyle was convicted and imprisoned from 1 March to 04 August 1886. For references to James Moyle, see Stan Larson, ed., Prisoner for Polygamy: The Memoirs and Letters of Rudger Clawson at the Utah Territorial Penitentiary, 1884-87 (Urbana: University of Illinois, 1993), 102, 118, 121, 135, 223, 233.—Ed.

3. Six youngsters in the two households succumbed to a contagious disease in April and May 1880, while James Henry Moyle was serving as a Mormon missionary in the Southern States.

4. Gordon B. Hinckley, James Henry Moyle: The Story of a Distinguished American and an Honored Churchman (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1951), 88. In Poll’s typescript he accidentally omitted the words “and misrepresentation,” which should be added after the words “the bog and mire of misunderstanding.”—Ed.

5. A member of the first class at Brigham Young Academy, Sutherland later became a justice of the United States Supreme Court.

6. One can see attributes of his son Henry in this self-portrait of James Henry Moyle.

7. Whitmer claimed that he had the original manuscript of the Book of Mormon, but it was actually the copy made by Oliver Cowdery and known as the Primer’s Manuscript. See Royal Skousen, “Piecing Together the Original Manuscript,” BYU Today 46 (May 1992): 18-24.—Ed.

8. In Poll’s typescript he incorrectly wrote “as naturalistic in his descriptions as I wished” and this has been revised, using the word materialistic, based on the James H. Moyle diary.—Ed.

9. Since some polygamists served two—or even three-separate imprisonments, the number of different Mormon men imprisoned was about 900.—Ed.

10. The term “cohabs” refers to the imprisoned Mormon polygamists, most of whom were charged with “Unlawful Cohabitation.” —Ed.