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July 24, 2013
Rambling Thoughts on Church History
The Story of "Come, Come, Ye Saints."
by James B. Allen

As July 24 approaches each year, Latter-day Saint congregations worldwide almost invariably remember the Mormon pioneer story and celebrate it, in part, by singing the most famous of all LDS songs, “Come, Come, Ye Saints.” It is now that time of year, and I thought it appropriate to remember not only the pioneers themselves but also the story of the “hymn that went around the world.”

My resolution became even stronger when, as I was writing this article while listening to Pandora Radio on my computer, the Paul Cardal station treated me to a beautiful instrumental rendition of that famous hymn.

The amazing impact of “Come, Come, Ye Saints” was described in an article by Paul Dahl:

More than a century and a third has passed since William Clayton identified himself as the composer of this “new song.” However its popularity has spread far beyond the campfires of those Mormon pioneers and even beyond the singing by present-day Mormons in their various worship meetings.

The Tabernacle Choir is widely recognized for its rendition of the great hymn of the plains, receiving requests that it be included in every broadcast. People of different faiths in many nations now thrill to its sound as do the Mormons.

The song has been translated into many languages and is sung by Mormons and non-Mormons around the world. It is published, by permission, in two public school music series as one of the ten best American hymns, comparing favorably with two of the great hymns of the world — France’s “La Marseillaise” and Martin Luther’s “A Mighty Fortress Is our God.”

It is one of the few hymns to have a special display, in its honor, in a non-Mormon museum at Corydon, Iowa, most likely only a few miles from the spot where the hymn was composed. The hymn has even been publicly recognized by a president of the United States [Jimmy Carter].”2

In addition, the year 1946 was not only the 100th anniversary of “Come, Come, Ye Saints,” but also Iowa’s 100th year of statehood. As part of the commemoration, churches around the state, Mormon as well as non-Mormon, sang the hymn, which was written April 15 while William Clayton was crossing the state.3

Clayton’s new song quickly became a favorite of the Mormon pioneers as they crossed the plains to Utah, camped for the night and sang it around the campfire. One pioneer, Oscar Winters, recalled a particularly soulful occasion:

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 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!”4

William Clayton had no idea of the remarkable long-range effect his new song would have. He called it “All is Well,” and set it to an old English tune by the same name. At the moment, however, he was hardly concerned with publicity or historical notoriety. He had more serious things on his mind. The background and setting for what he did includes stories of plural marriage, love, hardship, discouragement, and joyfulness all wrapped together.

In a way the story began in 1844, when the thirty-year-old William Clayton started to court his fifth wife, sixteen-year-old Diantha Farr. Plural marriage was still practiced only secretly in Nauvoo, but the idea was becoming accepted among some of Joseph Smith’s closest associates, including the Claytons and the Farrs.

There is no space here for the full story, but suffice it to say that it was not long before Diantha fell deeply in love with her suitor. They were married in the home of her parents on the night of January 9, 1845, by Heber C. Kimball. But at what a sacrifice to the romantic young bride! She could not make it public or even be with her husband on their wedding night. He went home shortly after the ceremony and Diantha was left only with her thoughts.

Diantha continued to live with her parents, though her husband visited her often and on occasion she spent the night at the Clayton home. His first two wives, Ruth Moon and her sister Margaret, welcomed her into the family, though the strange new situation was not without its strains.

This is understandable when one imagines the feelings of the mature sisters trying their best to welcome into the fold a beautiful young girl who was not even out of school. They would be less than human if at least a small streak of jealousy or pride did not pierce their faithful souls, as it did Diantha's. At the same time Clayton was accepted warmly in the Farr household.

Sometime late in the summer Diantha became pregnant. Undoubtedly Clayton felt a particular concern for one so young, and it provided some kind of special satisfaction for him to conduct her through the endowment ceremony in the temple on December 29. Then, on January 26, his venture into the principles of both eternal and plural marriage reached a fitting zenith when he took Ruth, Margaret, and Diantha all to the temple at the same time. There, clothed in robes of white, they were all sealed to each other by Brigham Young.

But the now seventeen-year-old Diantha was only a month away from delivering her first child when, in February 1846, William Clayton was forced to leave his home. The Mormons were on their way west, and Clayton was one of those required to go first. But Diantha, frail and pregnant, was in no condition to face the hardships of a wintry trek.

Besides, her husband had three other wives (another had left him) and four children to care for, and no place to live except on the frigid Iowa prairie in a wagon or tent. On February 27 he took all of them, except Diantha, across the frozen Mississippi. The youngest Clayton wife remained where she had been all her married life, with her parents.

It was no simple matter for Clayton to prepare to leave Nauvoo, but perhaps a brief description will set the stage for some of the feelings that went into the inspiring song he wrote six weeks later. Having the responsibility of nearly all the official records of the Church, Clayton not only had to pack them safely but also get all his wives, children, and in-laws ready to go. He spent Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, February 8-11, packing office records.

Only on Thursday did he spend the full day at home preparing to move. The next day he sent four wagonloads of good across the Mississippi, and for the next few days he continued packing, sending goods across, and riding around town hunting for teams of horses. By February 18, he was nearly ready to go himself, but the next several days were so windy, cold, and snowy that crossing the river was impossible.

Finally, on Friday, February 27, he decided to go. Early in the morning he began to send wagons and teams over on the ice, and about noon he took his family across. That night they pitched tents and camped on the freezing plains of Iowa, having joined the company of the Nauvoo Band. The camp consisted of nearly four hundred heavily loaded wagons, and the prospects for the immediate future were less than hopeful.

There were only about half enough teams of horses to make a rapid trip, and many of the exiles had provisions for only a few days. Others were destitute. The temperature at 6 pm was 21 degrees Fahrenheit. Nevertheless, that night the band, of which Clayton was a member, entertained the camp! What better way for them to begin the most difficult months of their lives?

The Claytons and their friends marched westward across Iowa in weather that was cold and stormy. The roads were muddy, the ground was often frozen, cold winds toppled their tents, and no one escaped the hell of winter chill and wetness. Understandably there were times when William was less than happy.

Nerves wore thin, some of the pioneers lost their tempers, and Clayton, always the most loyal of disciples, even hinted at dissatisfaction with the fact that Brigham Young was able to get wood for a wagon box, but he, William, could not. And all the time he was wondering about Diantha, writing to her frequently, and preparing for her to join the family after the baby was born.

Diantha, meantime, was lonely for her husband. Her letter of March 16 undoubtedly intensified William’s own longing for her. It also expressed the most tender feelings a marriage can evoke, even under such a system as polygamy. "My beloved but absent William," she began,

It rejoised my heart to heare a word from you but it would have given me more joy to have had a line from you but I am thankful for a little you know that is the way to get more.

To tell you I want to see you is useless yet true you are constantly in my mind by day and I dream about you almost every night, as to my helth it is about the same as when you left onley a little more so I often wish you had taken your house a long for it looks so lonesome it seems a long time sinse I saw you but how much longer it will be before I can have the priviledge of conversing with you face to face it is yet unknown to me father is [ ] as fast as he can he wants to get away soon after conference if possible Mother sends her best respects to you, and often says how lone- some it seems don’t you think Wm will come to night I expect it would cheer her heart as well as mine to hear your voice once more, dear Wm as often as you can send for one line from you would do my heart good.

I must draw to a close for I am in haste

I will try to compose myself as well as I can. I never shall consent to have you leave again.

Farewell, Farewell

Clayton was not in a particularly pleasant mood on the morning of April 15. He was tired, for he had spent the night on watch, and he became particularly frustrated because cattle and horses were breaking into tents and wagons. He needed something to lift his spirits, and suddenly it came. Helen Kimball found him and told him that Brother Pond had just received a letter that said that Diantha had given birth to a son!

He hurried to Pond's wagon to read the letter for himself. “She had a fine fat boy on the 30th,” he wrote that night, “but she was sick with ague and the mumps. Truly I feel to rejoice at this intelligence but feel sorry to hear of her sickness.”

That evening the proud and happy father invited a group of friends to his tent for a “social christening.” It was a joyful celebration with music, singing, and rejoicing until midnight. They "drank health to my son," he said, and in this long-distance christening they called him Adriel Benoni Clayton. It was only for the moment, however, for his real name became Moroni. That night Clayton also got permission from Brigham Young to send for Diantha as soon as they reached the Grand River.

It was in this atmosphere of longing, hardship, tenseness, and sudden rejoicing that William Clayton unknowingly performed his special service for posterity. That morning, almost as soon as he heard the news, he sat down and wrote the song that not only had special meaning for him but would also bring tears and inspiration to Mormons for generations to come and would become known worldwide. The combination of tribulation and exhilaration that came rushing over him is obvious in the words:

Come, come, ye Saints, no toil nor labor fear
        But with joy wend your way
Tho' 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!

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!

The pioneers continued westward and William continued to think of and write to Diantha. Finally, on June 22, Clayton learned that she was with her brother, Lorin, about twenty miles east of the temporary settlement of Mt. Pisgah. He was several miles beyond Pisgah, but he made up his mind to go after her the next day.

But a new problem arose the next morning when Ruth's eighteen-month-old daughter became ill, and William had to stay with the family. That day, however, he received two letters from Diantha telling him where she was and how anxious she was that he should come to her or send for her. He could wait no longer, and the next day he started.

Four days later, on a Sunday morning, he arrived at Mt. Pisgah and learned that Diantha was only four miles away. He hurried on and at five in the afternoon found his bride of about a year-and-a-half and her little son. The touching scene is recorded in his pioneer journal:

Diantha was very glad to see me and burst into tears. My little boy is far beyond all my expectations. He is very fat and well formed and has a noble countenance. They are both well and I feel to thank my heavenly Father for his mercies to them and Father Chase and his family and may the Lord bless them for it, and oh Lord, bless my family and preserve them forever. Bless my Diantha and my boy and preserve their lives on the earth to bring honor to Thy name and give us a prosperous journey back again is the prayer of thy servant William. Amen.

Clayton's family of four wives, five children, and two mothers-in-law were together again, but not for long. On April 14, 1847 Brigham Young suddenly called Clayton to leave the rest behind and join the company heading out from Winter Quarters to select the final place of refuge in the West. He did not see them again until late that fall, when he returned to Winter Quarters from the Great Basin.

Would such tests of faith never end? One wonders how often William Clayton sang “All is Well” to himself during these times of trial.


1. ost of this article is taken from my book Trials of Discipleship: The Story of William Clayton, a Mormon (Urbana, University of Illinois Press, 1987), republished as No Toil Nor Labor Fear: The Story of William Clayton (Provo: BYU Studies, 2002). For more in depth on some aspects of the story, see Paul H. Dahl, “‘All is Well. . .’: The Story of ‘The Hymn that Went Around the World,’” BYU Studies 21:4 (1981), 515-27.

2. Dahl, “‘All is Well...,’” 526.

3. There is some controversy over whether Clayton’s company was actually in Iowa or just across the border in Missouri. But until more clear evidence to the contrary is discovered, we assume it was Iowa.

4. See Heber J. Grant, “Our Favorite Hymns,” Improvement Era, June 1914, 781-83.

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