Brigham Young died a little more than a century ago, but he is remembered today as one of the most controversial and legendary personalities in American history—a dynamic religious leader and hearty pioneer who led the Mormons to the Great Basin in 1847. As a colonizer, he displayed remarkable leadership and business ability and was largely responsible for the settling of the vast Intermountain West stretching from Canada southward into the heart of Mexico. In addition, to being instrumental in establishing numerous communities, he pioneered in the construction of railroads, highways, telegraph lines, irrigation systems, churches, and tabernacles. And he established forts, factories, mines, banks, and stores.
What many do not know is that Brigham Young prepared for his life's mission in the state of New York. He was born in Vermont, taken to New York State as an infant, and raised on hard work by deeply religious parents. He lived and worked during most of his thirty years in the heart of the Finger Lakes region.
A willing worker, but lacking formal education, Brigham learned and practiced a variety of trades. At the age of sixteen he was apprenticed to a furniture and cabinet maker in Auburn. Young Brigham became, in time, an expert husbandman, farmer, gardener, carpenter, glazier, mason, furniture and cabinet maker, painter, and boat builder—and even took a turn at lay preaching.
Many of Brigham's closest associates in later life were old friends whom he had first met in New York State. Perhaps the most noted of these was his close confidant Heber C. Kimball, who also came from Vermont parentage. And there was Solomon Chamberlain, with whom Brigham later crossed the Plains. Chamberlain was to become one of the first members of the Mormon church and appears to have been the first unofficial missionary to make direct contact with the Young family.
Inspired by the late Mrs. Mary Van Sickle Wait of Auburn, this work has been carefully researched and chronicled, employing every available resource. Mrs. Wait and her husband, H. R. Wait, for many years spent their summers at a beautiful country home just west of Auburn. They had been told by the former owner that Brigham Young, as a youth, "had something to do with the construction of the house." In legacy to her community, Mrs. Wait set out to gather materials relating to Brigham Young's early life in Cayuga County. Eventually she published a small monograph, Brigham Young in Cayuga County (Ithaca, NY: DeWitt Historical Society, 1964).
Before Mrs. Wait's death in 1973 (and her husband's subsequent death in 1975), the authors were given permission to reprint the earlier work or to revise it based on new findings. The Waits expressed the hope that their work, together with any additional pertinent material, would receive wider distribution than had the initial publication.