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William Clayton Homesite

On the northwest corner, where the streets West Temple and North Temple intersect, was the house of William Clayton.

On the northwest corner, where the streets West Temple and North Temple intersect, was the house of William Clayton. Guests were often invited to social activities in the Clayton home. Dances were held in the large living room, and other activities were accompanied by instrumental music played by the Clayton children. William played several instruments and enjoyed band music.

William Clayton Homesite

William, an early convert to the Church in England, immigrated to Nauvoo, Illinois, in 1841 at age twenty-seven. He was appointed as a personal secretary to the Prophet Joseph Smith, and later to Brigham Young. His writing and record-keeping abilities provided much useful Church history from the nineteenth-century.

A Pioneer Anthem

A portrait of William and Diantha Clayton.
Photo by Utah State Historical Society

William was a member of the original pioneer company to enter the Salt Lake Valley. An avid reader, William carried his collection of books under his wagon seat, which included the Letters of Voltaire and the Works of Frederick the Great. While on the journey, he kept an extensive journal, from which he later authored the Latter-day Saints’ Emigrants’ Guide, which became the primary source of information for many who traveled to the West.

As a resident of Salt Lake City, William participated in civil and religious affairs and ran a boardinghouse and a bookstore. William served God and his fellowmen faithfully until he passed away on December 4, 1879. He is buried in the Salt Lake City Cemetery.

William Clayton was an excellent writer and poet. His hymn “Come, Come, Ye Saints,” is deemed the “pioneer anthem” and was written in the midst of a storm during the first pioneer trek.

Conditions were miserable and to add to Clayton’s worries, he had left his expectant wife, Diantha, with her parents in Illinois. A son was born March 31, but Clayton didn’t hear the good news until April 15 while camped at Locust Creek. . . . It was this happy news that motivated the 31-year-old pioneer to write “Come, Come Ye Saints.” His journal entry for that day reads, in part:

“This morning Ellen Kimball came to me and wished me much joy. She said Diantha has a son. I told her I was afraid it was not so, but she said Brother Pond had received a letter. I went over to Pond’s and he read that she had fine fat boy, . . . but she was very sick with ague and mumps. Truly I feel to rejoice at this intelligence but feel sorry to hear of her sickness.. . . This morning I composed a new song—All is well.” . . .

The Lyrics to “Come, Come, Ye Saints” in William Clayton’s handwriting are found on the right side of the page. The song is on permanent display in the Museum of Church History and Art in Salt Lake City.
Photo by Ronald Read

Clayton’s four short verses . . . form an American epic which has been called “one of the most beautiful hymns of western history.” It became the grand marching song of all the Mormons who trudged across the plains during the next 40 years and remains today as the rallying song of church members all over the world.

The lyrics William Clayton penned have come to characterize the hopes and desires of the persecuted and driven pioneers during their exodus to the West:

Come, come, ye Saints, no toil nor labor fear;
But with joy wend your way.
Though hard to you this journey may appear,
Grace shall be as your day.
’Tis better far for us to strive
Our useless cares from us to drive;
Do this, and joy your hearts will swell—
All is well! All is well!

The power and strength of William Clayton’s hymn “Come, Come, Ye Saints” can be seen from an incident told to President Heber J. Grant by his father-in-law, Oscar Winters:

One night, as we were making camp, we noticed one of our brethren had not arrived, and a volunteer party was immediately organized to return and see if anything had happened to him. Just as we were about to start, we saw the missing brother coming in the distance. When he arrived, he said he had been quite sick; so some of us unyoked his oxen and attended to his part of the camp duties. After supper, he sat down before the campfire on a large rock, and sang in a very faint but plaintive and sweet voice, the hymn, “Come, Come, Ye Saints.” It was a rule of the camp that whenever anybody started this hymn all in the camp should join, but for some reason this evening nobody joined him; He sang the hymn alone. When he had finished, I doubt if there was a single dry eye in the camp. The next morning we noticed that he was not yoking up his cattle. We went to his wagon and found that he had died during the night. We dug a shallow grave, and after we had covered his body with the earth we rolled the large stone to the head of the grave to mark it, the stone on which he had been sitting the night before when he sang:

“And should we die before our journey’s through, Happy day! All is well! We then are free from toil and sorrow too; with the just we shall dwell. But if our lives are spared again to see the Saints their rest obtain, O how we’ll make this chorus swell—All is well! All is well!”

I noticed tears in my father-in-law’s eyes when he finished relating this incident; and I imagined the reason he did not relate to me another far more touching incident to him was the fear that he might break down.

Interesting Facts

An odometer similar to the one William Clayton used to log the number of miles he traveled.
Photo by Robert L. Hall

During the original pioneer trek, William was responsible to log the number of miles traveled each day. He did this by tying a piece of cloth to one of the spokes on a wheel and counting the number of revolutions it made. After only a couple of days of this wearisome task, he came to the conclusion that he could build a device that would record the distance traveled. He designed what he called a “roadometer” to measure mileage, a replica of which can be seen mounted on a wagon in the Museum of Church History and Art.