Joseph Edward Taylor (1830-1913) is one of those workhorse Latter-day Saints who shouldered much of the Church in the second half of the 19th century, but about whom you may know little or nothing. If after reading this account of his first mission you want to know more, here is an obituary, largely autobiographical, to learn a little more about him.
His first mission, in his own words, written in 1910 when Taylor was 80 years old::
A Most Unique Introduction of the Gospel to English Country Villages in the Year 1849
In the latter part of the month of February, 1849, I had been a missionary about four months. I had walked a distance of thirty miles one Sabbath day in a rain storm, and finding that a notice for a meeting that night had failed to reach its destination, I felt impressed to attend a Methodist revival meeting announced to be held in their chapel at 6:00 p.m., thinking that perhaps something might occur to open the way for introducing the gospel to the people in that neighborhood, there being only two Latter-day Saints (late converts) within an area of several miles around. I little thought at the time of the outcome of that revival service.
After an impassioned discourse by the minister, who dealt largely in hellfire and brimstone, coupled with an eternal damnation for all unbelievers – which was their usual stock in trade upon such occasions – the congregation was invited to take their seats in the body of the chapel. I suppose this was for the reason that those who were ready to declare their belief in Jesus might the more easily be reached by the minister and his assistants.
I selected an extreme back seat under the front gallery for the purpose of watching the procedure, and had bent forward resting upon the back of the seat in front of me and was listening intently with my eyes closed. Pretty soon I was touched upon the shoulder. Looking up I saw a middle-aged man with jet black hair and a black bushy beard, who said in a deep bass voice: “Young man, do you want salvation?” – emphasizing in a loud, but drawling tone the first syllable of the word, “sal.”
I confess to a strong feeling for the ridiculous, to which I yielded (chapel though it was), and replied: “Sal who?”
He answered, “I did not mean that. I asked you if you wanted salvation,” this time laying an extra stress upon the syllable “sal.”
I replied, “Who is she? I suppose it is some servant girl and I would suggest that it would be more polite to call her by her Christian name, ‘Sarah.’”
With horror depicted upon his dark face, he now spoke in an excited and I thought angry tone. “I tell you, I did not mean that at all. I want to know if you want salvation?” – this time emphasizing with still greater force that first syllable.
I replied very calmly, and to cut him off short, for I thought this had gone far enough. “I am not a married man and consequently have no use for a servant girl” (now speaking in a positive manner). “Therefore, I tell you I do not want this particular Sal, nor any other Sal. But I repeat what I said before, you had better call her by her proper name.”
With that he left me, as I then supposed for good.
Becoming quite interested in the very noisy demonstrations, interspersed as they were by acclamations such as, “Praise the Lord,” “Bless God,” “Glory, hallelujah,” etc., I had forgotten my friend, whom I now recognized standing again by my side who in a very stern and commanding manner said, “Young man, where did you come from?”
Replying in the same tone of voice which he used, I replied, “From Heaven.”
This staggered him for a while but he rallied, and in a milder tone said, “If you came from heaven, what are you doing here?”
I answered, “I was sent on a special mission to this earth, and upon my return if anything is said about these meetings tonight, I shall be compelled to report the very untruthful, unscriptural statements made by your minister, and also the farcical proceedings in this so-called prayer meeting,” – even in a more serious and impressive tone of voice adding, “For let me tell you, sir, there is no God in it; on the contrary, it is all of the Devil.”
I watched my friend whom I afterwards learned was a class leader in his church, as he slowly and seemingly thoughtfully walked to where the minister stood. After a brief consultation, a venerable gray haired man by request arose and dismissed the meeting by prayer (it was now about 10:30 p.m.), remarking in his prayer, “Oh, Lord, we thank Thee we are all of a sort.” Not knowing then of my conversation with this class leader, I presume the idea in his mind was, that all in the house were believers. Suffice it to say, there were no converts made that night, which failure was afterwards attributed to the presence of “that wicked blasphemer.”
Upon my passing by the minister and the class leader, which I have named, to reach the outside door, they both gave me a look which to me was intermingled with curiosity, horror, and hate, although they had at the time no idea who I was or what I represented.
The following morning – Monday – the sun came out brightly, giving promise of a fine day. I went at once to find the village crier, the man who attracted attention by ringing a large bell when about to make any special announcement.
I learned his price for such service. I told him if he would render some extra service by visiting the adjacent villages I would fully compensate him, to which he readily agreed. I gave him a paper to read as the announcement he was to make: “The man who said last night in the Methodist meeting he did not want SAL–vation,” laying heavy stress upon the first syllable, “would preach on the green near the church tonight at 5 p.m.”
As I anticipated, the news of the strange episode of the previous evening had spread like wild-fire in that country district and the invitation to hear the strange young man – I had just passed my eighteenth year – was responded to by nearly everyone in the village as well as those adjoining, from the aged sire and dame down to the toddling babe, despite the shock that was felt by the report of my unprecedented blasphemy.
Upon reaching the place where the dense throng was gathered, I asked some young men if they would kindly give my compliments to a nearby farmer and ask for the use of his tall wagon so that I could command a view of the faces of the people. The farmer who was in the crowd, upon hearing the request, readily consented. The wagon was brought and I took possession.
After the usual singing in which the congregation joined by invitation in a conglomerate discord of sounds, I offered prayer. After singing again, I opened by discoursing upon the first principles of the gospel and the signs promised the believer; relating a few instances of healing, supported by reliable evidence.
At this juncture one tall man with a lame leg presented himself at the side of the wagon with a request in the shape of a question as follows: “Can you cure my leg?”
I replied at once – for I perceived his spirit – “Yes, sir.” I turned to the audience and asked: “Is there anyone here who has a fine set saw and a sharp knife?”
One man replied, “I ’ave, sir; I’m a ‘bootcher.’”
I then requested that they be brought.
The man with the lame leg inquired, “What are you going to do?”
I told him to remain quiet until the tools were brought and resumed my discourse.
Pretty soon the “bootcher” returned, holding aloft the saw and a knife, remarking, “’Ere they har, sir.”
I examined the tools and pronounced them “just the thing.” I said, “Now, sir, I am ready. What is your name?”
Before he had time to reply, as many as a hundred voices under the excitement shouted loudly, “Billy Bartrum, the shoemaker.”
I turned to the audience and said, “I don’t want a repetition of last night’s experience, neither do I want any more nicknames used.” Addressing the lame man I asked him, “What is your Christian – christened – name?”
He replied, “William.”
I then said, “Now, Mr. William Bartrum, please step into this wagon. I will help you up and will respond to your request.”
Very excitedly and almost alarmingly, he asked, “What are you going to do, sir?”
I replied, “As it is impossible to cure the leg as it is, I am going to cut it off just above the afflicted part and put a new piece on.”
He replied, “Nae, you aint!”
Excitement was now at its height, and voices from every direction were heard shouting, such as, “Billy, where’s your faith?” “Billy, ow go and have your leg sawed off,” etc.
I at once turned the ridiculous into solemnity. Turning to this man I said, “I have done as the Scriptures direct, ‘Answer a fool according to his folly.’” I rebuked him for wanting a sign, quoting many of the sayings of Jesus and others upon the subject and told him if the words of the Savior were true he was one of a wicked and adulterous generation, for these were the ones who sought after signs. The audience listened to me in profound silence while I bore a powerful testimony to the gospel as revealed in these last days. This very strange seemingly perhaps – to some – an unwarranted course of procedure, nevertheless resulted in the baptism of many persons in the vicinity where it occurred, which was near to Dunham Bridge in Lincolnshire upon the borders of Nottinghamshire.
Sixty-one years have passed since that time and – beside myself – there is only one person now living of the many who were present upon that occasion and that afterwards embraced the gospel. nearly all the rest have laid their bodies down in Zion. The late Samuel J. Sudbury who died in Salt Lake City in December last  was a resident in this neighborhood. He was fully conversant with all the circumstances herein named and the after results, although he was not a member of the church at the time.
– Joseph E. Taylor