Thursday, May 29, 2014


Pioneer, Leader and Prominent man of Salt Lake City, Utah

Maternal Grandfather of Lucy Lavinia Macdonald Bluth
John Van Cott
John Van Cott’s life began September 7, 1814 in the tiny New York village of Canaan, Columbia County, New York.  John Van Cott descended from the first settlers of Long Island, New York, who came from Holland in 1640, and had (for ten generations previous) belonged to the nobility of Holland. His parents were Losee Van Cott and Lavina Pratt (uncle and aunt to Parley P. Pratt and Orson Pratt).   John was the only boy in the family, and when only ten years old his father died after an illness of seven years, leaving his widow and children surrounded with peace and plenty. This occurred on June 29th, 1824 and his father, Losee was buried in a small cemetery near the family farm in Canaan.

Parley Pratt at the age of sixteen came to board with his Aunt Lavina Van Cott, who was like a mother to him. A year or so after Parley was baptized, he returned to her home.  He wrote: “This residence of my Aunt Van Cott was the place where I had spent some of the happiest seasons of my youth.” He left a copy of the Book of Mormon with his aunt, which she and her son, John, read and believed; but he was not baptized until twelve years later.

On September 15th, 1835 he married Lucy Sackett, a young lady of a very fine family. Their first daughter, Martha, was born on February 28, 1838 in Canaan. Lucy would go on to bear 6 more children over the next 13 years.
Their second daughter, Lucy, was born December 16, 1839 and their first son, John Losee Van Cott Jr., was born January 16, 1842.  Lucy and John Jr. both died young; Lucy on September 9, 1843 and John Jr. on November 16, 1843. They were both buried in the cemetery next to their grandfather, Losee Van Cott. Their 4th child, Mary, was born in Canaan on February 2, 1844. The 5th, Losee, was born 23 August 1847 while the family was enroute to the Salt Lake Valley.  He died in Salt Lake City on March 18, 1851 at the tender age of 3.
The last 2 children, Fanny (Lucy Lavinia Macdonald's mother) and Byron, were born on April 18, 1850 and March 2, 1852 respectively.  Byron like many of his other siblings died young on November 19, 1853 in Salt Lake City.
John traveled to Nauvoo and was baptized in 1845, but his 2 sisters never joined the Church. Together with his wife and mother, he left New York on 3 February 1846, starting for Nauvoo, Illinois enroute to traveling with the Saints to Utah.  While residing temporarily at Nauvoo in the home of Parley P. Pratt, he contributed $400 in gold to building the Nauvoo temple and also donated to the Church a number of lots which he had purchased in Nauvoo.  He received his endowment and was eternally sealed to his wife and children in the Nauvoo Temple.
Nauvoo Temple
In the fall of 1846 he left Nauvoo for Winter Quarters, where he spent the winter of 1846-47, having built a one-room log house. Here he became acquainted with Brigham Young, to whom he became greatly attached, their friendship culminating in the marriage of his daughter (Mary) to the President in 1868.  He was ordained a Seventy in the Priesthood and a member of the 8th quorum of the Seventy. This ordination was done by Joseph Young on February 25, 1847.

In the summer of 1847 John, together with his mother, wife and two children (Mary and Martha) left Winter Quarters for the West in Captain Daniel Spencer’s company; he fitted up an extra team and wagon which was driven by a hired man.  In this wagon his daughter, Martha, then about nine years old, rode across the plains.   He served as a captain of ten within the company and the listing of individuals in his group shows 34 individuals including Parley P. Pratt and his family. That number became 35 when his son, Losee, was born near Independence Rock, Wyoming.

John and his family arrived in the Valley September 25, 1847.  President Brigham Young sent John back to help some of the saints, who were delayed on the journey to be able to make it into the Salt Lake Valley.   
Upon his arrival in Salt lake Valley he was given the southwest quarter of the city block that is bounded by Main Street, West Temple, South Temple and First South Street.  Upon this corner he built one of the substantial home in Salt Lake City at that time. Later he moved to the big field south of 13th South and west Temple, that area became Farmer’s Ward.  The house which he built there still stood in 1947 as a monument to his industry and taste. It was in this home that he died.
Mission to England and President of Scandinavian Mission

In 1852 he was called on a mission to England, but in 1853 he was transferred to Denmark as president of the Scandinavian Mission.
Of his first mission he wrote that he left on September 15, 1852. On the journey back across the plains he tells of an incident where the prairie was on fire. It was coming towards them rapidly with the flames lashing about 20 feet high. To escape the fire, they fled to the river bottoms, burned out the grass around them and then took refuge in the river.
They generally traveled 20-30 miles a day and had to deal with all the rain, mud, and snow along the way. On November 19, 1852 they arrived in Montrose, Iowa, just across the river from Nauvoo. He wrote “We beheld the once beautiful City of Nauvoo, now in a state of desolation, no Temple to be seen, except the west wall a part of which was standing. It caused me to reflect upon the many labors, and toilsome hours that my brethren, had spent in days that are past and gone to make the place beautiful.”  
After arriving in Saint Louis they went by boat to Cincinnati and then on to Albany, New York by rail. On November 30, 1852 he stopped in his hometown of Canaan to visit various family members still in the area.  He spent some time with his sister Sarah and her husband, Dr. Clark.  He says, “I found them well, and much pleased to see me, they listened to me attentively and appeared to receive my testimony.  My sister was willing to be baptized, but the Doctor wished her to postpone it for the present as he wished to investigate further, and be baptized when she was.  I told them delays were dangerous if they did not step forward and obey the Gospel now as they had the opportunity.
During my stay at Canaan I visited my old homestead where I was born and had lived until I moved west in the year 1846, everything appeared strange, the roads looked as narrow again as they used to, the hills as steep again, the rooms appeared to be much smaller than they use to be . . .   I visited the graves of my father, and my 2 children that I had lost.”   

John Van Cott

He left there and boarded a ship for Liverpool, England arriving on December 20, 1852. The voyage was rough and he was quite seasick for several days with no appetite and very weak.
He jumped right into the work going to various meetings with the brethren and other elders. He wrote that at one conference, “I was among the number of Elders called upon to address the meeting. This was my first speech in Public. I relied upon the spirit of the Lord to assist me, and I can say of a truth that I was assisted by the spirit, for I had much liberty, and enjoyed myself much after a long and tedious journey to be in company with such a number of Elders brought to mind the many happy meetings that I had participated in, far from this even in the valleys of the mountains, my heart was filled with joy and satisfaction.”
After a short while in England he was transferred over to work in Scandinavia for the next 3 years. He returned home by way of Liverpool, leaving there by ship on February 15, 1856.
After his return, he yielded obedience to the law of plural marriage and took five wives, by whom he became the father of twenty-eight children. At the time of the move in 1858 (this refers to the incident involving the Saints and Johnson’s army), he was one of the men deputized to remain in the city and set fire to the property, in case the soldiers on their arrival in the Valley should prove hostile.
Scandinavian Mission President Again
So successful was he in this work (his mission to Scandinavia) that President Brigham Young sent him back to the same mission in 1859, again to serve as the President of that mission. Elder John Van Cott and the Scandinavian Saints had a great love for one another, and when he returned to Utah three years later, he accepted a special call to labor among the emigrants from these countries as they adjusted to their newly found religion and homeland.
On his two Scandinavian missions he became very much endeared to the Scandinavian Saints, whose sterling qualities and integrity he learned to appreciate. He also acquired the Danish language to a considerable degree of perfection.
He became a member of the First Council of the Seventy about the same time and magnified that important calling until 1883.  
He was a businessman and distinguished for his ability as a missionary. He was a man of superior intellectual endowment and known for his eloquence as a preacher.
He also served as a member of the House of Representatives from 1864-1866, a member of the Salt Lake City council, Street Supervisor and City Marshal.
He died February 18, 1883 at his residence near Salt Lake City.  His passing was mourned by the whole Church, especially the Scandinavian Saints for whom he had done so much. The Deseret News of February 20, 1883 reported:
“It would be difficult to find a more exemplary or conscientious man than Brother Van Cott. He was a good man in the broad sense, not negatively so, but as a producer of the good fruits of a well spent life. He was one of those whose character and motives appeared so far beyond reproach that we doubt if they have ever been the subject of even suspicion . . . At home and abroad, wherever Brother Van Cott sojourned, he was regarded with esteem, his very presence and appearance inspiring sentiments of that nature.”  A humble beginning in Canaan, New York, ended nearly seventy years later and 2,500 miles to the west in Salt Lake City.  It could scarcely have been predicted that he would die respected and loved by thousands of people who had come to Utah from many parts of the world to unite themselves with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints     
Grave of John Van Cott and Lucy Sackett Van Cott

1 Mighty Men of Zion, Lawrence R. Flake, pgs. 414-415.

2 LDS Biographical Encyclopedia, Andrew Jenson, Volume 1, pgs. 198-199

3 LDS Biographical Encyclopedia, Andrew Jenson, Volume 2, pgs. 728-729

4 Van Cott Pioneers of Utah. Arthur D. Coleman, pgs. 111-121

5 Diaries of John Van Cott, BYU Special Collections

6 Pioneers and Prominent Men of Utah, Frank Esshom, 1912 pg. 1222

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