Grampa Bill's General Authority Pages
William B. (Bowker) Preston

1830 - 1908

  • Born 1830 Franklin County, Virginia
  • Baptized 1857
  • Ordained Elder 1857
  • Married Harriet Thatcher 1858
  • Ordained Bishop 1859
  • Called as Presiding Bishop 1884
  • Resigned as Presiding Bishop due to ill health 1907
  • Died 1908 Salt Lake City, Utah

    This biographical Sketch was penned by Elder Orson F. Whitney, Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ. It appeared in the LDS Biographical Encyclopedia published by Andrew Jensen, Volume 1, page 232. Supplemental material is from the LDS Biographical Encyclopedia, Volume 3, page 771.

    Preston, William Bowker, the fourth [?] presiding Bishop of the Church, and the present incumbent of that office, is by birth an American, a native of Franklin county, Virginia, where he was born Nov. 24, 1830.

    The name of Preston was known in the annals of history, as early as Malcolm 1st, of Scotland, who reigned from A. D. 944 to 953. Leolphus De Preston was the first of that name, of whom there is any record. It is supposed that the town of Preston, famous in the Church annals as the place where the first gospel sermon was preached by Latter-day Saint Elders in Europe in this dispensation, took its name from that of the Bishop's family. During the Catholic persecutions which marked the reign of Queen Mary, called "bloody Mary" for her crimes, the Prestons, who were stout Protestants, fled to Ireland, and during subsequent persecutions by the Catholics in the "green isle," several members of the family emigrated to America and settled in the Old Dominion.

    The Bishop's father was Christopher Preston, a cousin of William Ballard Preston, of Virginia, and W. C. Preston, of North Carolina, both members of Congress from their respective States. His mother's maiden name was Martha Mitchell Claytor. He was the third son and child in a family of seven. Christopher Preston was a well-to-do farmer, and, naturally enough, his son William's earliest recollections are those of the harvest field, where he doubtless acquired something of that knowledge of subduing and cultivating the earth which in after years fitted him for his career as a pioneer, farmer and colonizer.

    At the age of nineteen he changed his avocation as a tiller of the soil for that of clerk in a store, first in the immediate vicinity of his home and afterwards at Lynchburg, forty-five miles from where he was born. He continued in that occupation until the year 1852, when, as a youth in his twenty-second year, he left home and his native State to see and battle with the world. He had often heard of the wonderful land of California—the golden magnet of the great west, and with the motive of the sight-seer rather than the placer hunter, he was drawn thither to behold that marvelous amalgamation of men of all characters and nations, which the gold-thirsty stream of emigration was pouring down the Pacific slope into the lap of the new El Dorado.

    Caring little or nothing for the life of a gold hunter, and having gratified the original desire which impelled him westward, he settled down as a farmer and stock raiser in Yolo county, California. He had for his neighbors the Thatcher family, who were "Mormons," and it was through them that he became acquainted with the history and religion of the Latter-day Saints, of whom till then he had scarcely heard. William B. Preston was baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by Elder Henry G. Boyle, in the month of February, 1857. Immediately afterwards, he was called into the ministry by Pres. George Q. Cannon, then in charge of the Pacific Coast Mission, and, being ordained an Elder by Geo. Q. Cannon, traveled in Upper California, and the regions round about.

    He labored in that capacity until Pres. [Brigham] Young, in the fall of 1857, called home all the Elders and Saints, in consequence of the invasion of Johnston's army. The company in which Elder Preston traveled to Utah, included Moses Thatcher, his future brother-in-law. Henry G. Boyle was captain of the company, he being one of the "Mormon Battalion and familiar with the route. It being too late in the season to cross the plains, they traveled south from Sacramento along the coast, and by way of Los Angeles and San Bernardino into southern Utah, thence north to Salt Lake City where they arrived on New Year's day, 1858.

    The acquaintance of Elder Preston with the Thatcher family, and their subsequent friendship, had ripened into a fonder feeling for one of its members, and on Feb. 24, 1858, the second month after their arrival in this city, he took to wife Miss Harriet A. Thatcher. The organization of "Minute Men," one thousand strong, by Pres. Young, to meet the exigencies of those stirring times, included William B. Preston, who was also in the Utah exodus or "move," and went south as far as Payson. Early in the spring of 1858, he went back to the Platte bridge, with twenty-two others, to bring to Utah a lot of goods and merchandise, cashed there by the "Y. X. Company," at the outbreak of the troubles between the people of Utah and the government. This expedition involved considerable risk, as the "Utah war" was hardly over, and the troops at Fort Bridget were still watching "Mormon" movements with suspicious eyes. After some narrow escapes, the mission of the bold and trusty twenty-three was successfully accomplished, and they returned in safety to their homes.

    Brother Preston prepared to settle at Payson, and with this object in view built himself a house, making the adobies and shingles with his own hands. The winter following, he went with a company of others to California, to purchase clothing and merchandise for Father Thatcher's store, returning, after an eventful experience both ways, in the spring of 1859, with two wagon-loads of merchant freight, of which the people in those early times stood much in need. He now reconsidered his intention of locating permanently at Payson, and recognizing in the settling of the virgin valley of Cache, opportunities for growth and enterprise which the more thickly settled locality he was then in did not present, he, in connection with Father Thatcher and his family resolved to move north and assist in colonizing Cache valley.

    Their intention was carried into effect in August, 1859, when William B. Preston, with his wife and two of his brothers-in-law, John B. and Aaron Thatcher, left Payson and journeyed to Cache valley, then a region of grass and sage-brush. They camped and prepared to locate on the present site of the city of Logan, of which they were among the principal founders. "This is good enough for me,"—the laconic speech of William B. Preston, as he halted and staked out his horses on the grassy banks of Logan river, has almost become a proverb with the inhabitants of the flourishing vale now known as "Utah's Granary."

    They were busy at work erecting their house, when, in November of that year, Apostles Orson Hyde and Ezra T. Benson were sent by Pres. Young to organize the settlements of Cache valley, which had been located under the direction of the veteran pioneer, Peter Maughan. "Who are you going to have for Bishop of Logan?" inquired Apostle Hyde of Bishop Maughan. The latter, pointing out Preston's house, said: "There is a young man living in that house, who seems to be a very enterprising, go-ahead man, who, I think, will make a good Bishop. He and the Thatcher boys have done the most in the shape of building and improving during the time they have been here. They have worked day and night." The Apostles seemed satisfied with this honest, plain-spoken recommend, and accordingly, on Nov. 14, 1859, William B. Preston was chosen, ordained and set apart as Bishop of Logan, under the hands of Orson Hyde, Ezra T. Benson and Peter Maughan. At that time the population of Logan was made up of seventeen families.

    The next enterprise in which the young Bishop took a leading and active part was the construction of the Logan and Hyde Park canal, and its successful accomplishment with the beneficent results that have followed are due in no small degree to the native energy and character force of William B. Preston. Early in the year 1860, while two feet of snow yet "lingered in the lap of spring," he assisted Surveyor Jesse W. Fox to lay off the city of Logan, and during that year spent much of his time in receiving new-comers, who now began to immigrate thither in great numbers and apportioning off and selecting for them homes.

    In 1860-61, a new apportionment of representation having been made, by which Cache county was given two representatives and one counselor in the Territorial assembly, at the ensuing election Bishop Preston was chosen a representative and spent the winter of 1862-63 in the legislature. Having made two trips to the Missouri river with ox teams to immigrate the poor, in the years 1863 and 1864, he spent the winters of those years as a member of the legislative assembly.

    At the April conference of the Church in 1865, he was called with forty-six others on a mission to Europe, and was given charge of the company as far as New York. In those days of ox teams and stage coaches, such a trust meant much more than it possibly could mean nowadays. They left Salt Lake City May 10, 1865. On arriving at New York the Bishop decided, before sailing, to visit his parents in Virginia, whom he had not seen for thirteen years, and of whom he had heard nothing during the civil war. He found them broken up and ruined in property by the war, but enjoyed a very pleasant visit with them, and after a brief stay among his relatives, returned to New York and sailed for Liverpool.

    Arriving at that port, the headquarters of the European Mission, on Wednesday, Aug. 23, 1865, he was assigned to the Newcastle and Durham conference as its president, where he labored until January, 1866, when, at a conference held in Birmingham, he was called by the presidency of the mission to the Liverpool office, to take charge of the business department. Here he labored three years, during which time he visited the Paris Exposition in August, 1867.

    Released from his mission at the expiration of three and a half years, he sailed from Liverpool for home July 14, 1868, on the steamship "Colorado," in charge of a company of six hundred Saints, and reached Salt Lake City early in the following September.

    The advent of the great railroad, which was then being pushed ahead, gave him a new field in which to operate, and in the winter of 1868-69, we find him in Echo canyon, a sub-contractor under Pres. Brigham Young, engaged in constructing the Union Pacific railroad.

    Returning to Logan, he resumed his duties as Bishop, and at the next election was again sent to represent Cache county in the legislature of 1872. He also served as a member of that body in 1876, 1878, 1880 and 1882.

    After the death of Bishop Peter Maughan, April 24, 1871, Bishop Preston was called to act as presiding Bishop in Cache valley. The Utah and Northern railroad was projected in the month of August, 1871. Bishop Preston was one of the leading spirits in the enterprise, and under the advice and direction of Pres. Young, perhaps did more than any one else in uniting the people of Cache valley upon the execution of the project. A company was organized for this purpose in 1871, with John W. Young as president, and William B. Preston as vice-president and assistant superintendent. The road was completed to Franklin in May, 1874. Bishop Preston was its vice-president until the property passed into the possession of the Union Pacific Company.

    In the month of May, 1877, the Cache Stake of Zion was re-organized by Pres. Young, and Moses Thatcher appointed president, with William B. Preston as his first counselor. This position he held until Pres. Thatcher was called into the quorum of the Twelve, April, 1879, when he succeeded the latter as president of the Cache Stake. The death of Presiding Bishop Edward Hunter Oct. 16, 1883, left that office vacant until the following spring, when, in general conference. April 6, 1884, William B. Preston was called to the high and responsible position which he now occupies.

    Thoroughly practical in his views and methods, he combines the intelligence of the progressive business man with the energy and ability to put his ideas into execution—a man more of deeds than of words, though not lacking in either when occasion for their use arises. Bishop Preston has made his presence and influence felt in the sacred and important calling, for which he was evidently by nature and Deity designed.—Orson F. Whitney.

Bishop Preston resigned his position as presiding Bishop of the Church, owing to ill health, and was succeeded in that office by Charles W. Nibley, Dec. 11, 1907. He died at his home in Salt Lake City Aug. 2, 1908.

    The following was published in the "Deseret Evening News" at the time of his demise:

    "Bishop William B. Preston, now called to another sphere of action, was one of the noble band of men who were selected by providence to lay the foundations and begin the superstructure of this great and glorious State [Utah]. He is one of a band of God-fearing devoted pioneers, whom generations after generations, to the end of time, will call blessed. He accomplished a great work and has gone to receive his reward. Bishop Preston was a man possessed of unusual gifts and talents. Wherever duty called him, he naturally became a leader. As an empire-builder, a law-maker, a missionary, and ecclesiastical or municipal official, at home or abroad, he distinguished himself by wise counsel and solid, enduring work. And, above all, he was faithful to the cause of God, and as loyal to his brethren as to his country. No matter what were the circumstances in which he was placed, his faith was firm, and his love for the brethren (that divine quality without which all others are as naught) burned steadily, without flickering. He was faithful to the end."

    Orson F. Whitney, LDS Biographical Encyclopedia, Vol.1, p. 232
   Andrew Jenson, LDS Biographical Encyclopedia, Vol. 3, p.771
    2005 Church Almanac, p.93

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