John Van Cott, one of the First Seven Presidents
of Seventies from 1862 to 1883, was born Sept. 7, 1814, in Canaan, Columbia
county, New York.
He was descended from the first settlers of Long
Island, N. Y., who came from Holland in 1640, and had for ten generations
back belonged to the nobility of Holland. His parents were Losee Van Cott
and Lavina Pratt (uncle and aunt to Parley P. and Orson
Pratt). John Van Cott 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.
John embraced the fulness of the gospel under the
administration of his uncle, Parley P. Pratt,
at Nauvoo, Ill., in September, 1845, twelve years after he first heard
the gospel; his sister never joined the Church.
On September 15, 1835 he married Lucy Sachett, a
young lady of a very fine family, who also joined the Church. Together
with his wife and mother, he left New York, Feb. 3, 1846, starting for
Nauvoo, Illinois. While residing temporarily at Nauvoo in the home of Parley
P. Pratt, he contributed $400 in gold to the Temple and also donated to
the Church a number of lots which he had purchased in Nauvoo; he received
his blessings in the 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
to the President.
He was ordained a Seventy Feb. 25, 1847, by Joseph
In the summer of 1847 Elder Van Cott, together with
his mother, wife and two children (Mary and Martha) left Winter Quarters
for the West in Capt. 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. Bro. Van Cott and his
family arrived in the Valley Sept. 25, 1847. Pres. Young sent Bro.
Van Cott back to help into the Valley some of the saints, who were delayed
on the journey. After his arrival in the Valley, Bro. Van Cott settled
in what became known as the Farmer's Ward, on the corner of Tenth South
street and West Temple street.
In 1852, agreeable to call, he went on a mission to Europe, and after
reaching England, he was sent to Scandinavia to succeed the late Willard
Snow in the presidency of the Scandinavian mission. He presided in that
capacity nearly four years, and returned to his mountain home in 1856,
after a most successful ministry.
After his return, he yielded obedience to the law
of celestial marriage and took five wives, by whom he became the father
of twenty-eight children.
During the "Utah War," at the time of "The Move"
in 1858, he was one of the men deputized to remain in Salt Lake City and
set fire to the property, in case the soldiers on their arrival in the
Valley should prove hostile.
In 1859 he was called on a second mission to Scandinavia
and again presided over the mission, this time about two and a half years.
He returned home in 1862. On these two 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
After his return home from his second foreign mission,
he was chosen as one of the First Seven Presidents of Seventies, being
first sustained in that capacity at the October conference, 1862. Soon
afterwards he was called on a special mission to the Scandinavian Saints
in Utah, and while laboring in that calling made his home temporarily in
He continued his labors among the Seventies with
zeal and fidelity until his death, which occurred at his home a short distance
south of Salt Lake City, Feb. 18, 1883, after a lingering illness of several
In an obituary notice published in the Deseret
News, the editor of that paper says: "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, whenever Brother Van
Cott adjourned, he was regarded with esteem and regard, his very presence
and appearance inspiring sentiments of that nature."