Question: Why is Thomas Bullock given the title of “the Lord’s clerk?”
Answer: Thomas Bullock was born on December 23, 1816, in Leek, Staffordshire, England. He was the youngest of nine children born to Thomas and Mary Hall Bullock. His career as a clerk began when he was only thirteen. In nineteenth-century England, many boys were apprenticed out to learn a skill or trade. In 1838, Thomas began working in the government’s excise department. On one occasion, he referred to himself in this position as “one of Her Majesty, Queen Victoria’s Officers of Excise.”
In 1838, Thomas married Henrietta Rushton. On November 20, 1841, Thomas and Henrietta were baptized members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by Elder William Knight. Thomas and Henrietta soon began making plans to move to America and unite with the Saints in Nauvoo.
On March 8, 1843, Thomas, his wife, and three children boarded the ship Yorkshire and embarked on their journey to the United States. Their date of arrival in Nauvoo was May 31, 1843. Much to his delight, on the day Thomas arrived in Nauvoo, he met the Prophet Joseph Smith. It did not take long for the Prophet to recognize Bullock’s skills, and within five months he called Thomas to be his personal clerk, a position he would hold until Joseph was martyred.
One of the first major responsibilities Joseph Smith assigned to Thomas was to be clerk for the April 1844 general conference. This occasion provided the setting for the Prophet’s King Follett Discourse. Thomas was one of four men who recorded that discourse.
On April 18, Thomas joined the Masons and within ten weeks was appointed clerk of the Nauvoo Masonic Lodge. Unfortunately, Thomas’s close association with Joseph Smith came to a tragic end when the Prophet and his brother Hyrum were brutally martyred in the Carthage Jail on June 27, 1844. Thomas wrote a touching tribute to the martyrs: “I do know they were the anointed of the Lord, the Prophet and Patriarch of God; they died martyrs for the truth, and they sealed their testimony with their blood; and their testimony is true, and all the powers of earth and hell can not render it null and void.”
On December 8, 1844, Elder Willard Richards appointed Thomas Bullock as deputy city recorder. Thomas began putting the Nauvoo city records in order, inasmuch as they had been neglected for several months due to Elder Richards’s extended illness.
In February 1845, Thomas began writing the manuscript for the “History of Joseph Smith” known today as the History of the Church. Thomas, under the direction of Elder Richards, wrote an incredible 674 pages of the history. Then on February 4, 1846, Thomas and Richards packed the manuscript for the pioneer trek to the Rocky Mountains. Because of the western migration, Thomas’s further work on the “History of Joseph Smith” would be suspended until 1854.
Thomas Bullock recorded many of the most important events pertaining to the Latter-day Saint exodus from Nauvoo. As assigned, he recorded the sorrowful demise of Nauvoo as the Mormon capital. Thomas arrived at Winter Quarters on November 27, 1846.
On April 11, 1847, President Young called Thomas to be the chief clerk for the vanguard company of pioneers going to the Salt Lake Valley. Accordingly, two days later Thomas left his family behind, departing from Winter Quarters to the Rocky Mountains with eight Apostles and a total of 143 pioneers. Thomas’s journal is the official record of the vanguard pioneer company and one of the most important documents in Church history. On September 1, Thomas accompanied 107 men on a return trip to Winter Quarters. Thomas again was the official clerk for the expedition. They arrived back at Winter Quarters two months later on October 31, 1847.
The apostles met on December 5, 1847, at Elder Orson Hyde’s home at Kanesville, Iowa. After much discussion the Apostles in attendance voted unanimously to sustain Brigham Young as President of the Church. President Young chose Heber C. Kimball and Willard Richards to serve with him in the First Presidency. On December 27, Thomas recorded that the membership of the Church unanimously sustained the new First Presidency.
As the spring of 1848 approached, Thomas with his family began making preparations to return to the Salt Lake Valley. Again President Young assigned Thomas to keep the official journal for the trip. In addition, Thomas was given the responsibility of caring for the Church records during the journey. They departed on May 24 and arrived in the Salt Lake Valley on September 22.
One of the first responsibilities President Young gave to Thomas, as his clerk, was to issue land inheritances. The three men who had the responsibility of issuing the plots were Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, and Thomas Bullock.
By the fall of 1848, there were approximately 4,200 people living in the valley, but there was no official currency for the community. Therefore, on December 28, 1848, the municipal council authorized President Young, President Heber C. Kimball, and Bishop Newel K. Whitney to issue paper money. The pioneers did not have a printing press so President Young assigned Thomas Bullock and Robert L. Campbell, clerks for the First Presidency, to write all the bills by hand.
In the meantime, somebody had discovered a case of type, and with it Truman O. Angell constructed a makeshift press that produced the first printed currency. This greatly expedited the printing of money. Then, on September 12, 1849, Thomas Bullock and John Kay started melting gold for the purpose of making hard currency. On the following day, they minted the valley’s first gold coins. In September 1848, Thomas was elected to the office of Salt Lake County recorder. Three months later, he also began taking minutes for the Council of Fifty.
On February 13, 1849, Thomas was appointed to serve on a committee to divide Salt Lake City into wards. In September 1849, Thomas was the clerk for President Young’s exploration party to Brownsville (later Ogden). Thomas would serve as clerk for several other exploration parties over the next seven years. He would act as clerk for all general conferences until 1856 when he departed on a mission to England.
Early in the year 1850, President Young called on four capable men to establish the first newspaper in the community, to be called Deseret News. Elder Richards became the first editor; Horace K. Whitney, the printer; Brigham H. Young, the pressman; and Thomas Bullock, the proofreader. On June 15 the first edition of the Deseret News rolled off the press.
In the fall of 1849, Church leaders established the Perpetual Emigrating Fund (PEF) to help finance the migration of these low-income individuals. On September 15, Brigham Young asked Thomas Bullock to be the official recorder for the organization. The PEF remained in business until 1887. It has been estimated that it “assisted more than 30,000 individuals to travel to Utah.”
In 1849, the Mormon pioneers organized a provisional government they called the State of Deseret. On December 2, 1850, Thomas Bullock was chosen as the official clerk for the House of Representatives. Soon thereafter, the State of Deseret was dissolved, but Thomas continued as clerk for the House of Representatives for several years after Utah officially became a United States territory. After Utah became a territory, Governor Young assigned Thomas the responsibility of taking a census for the entire territory. Thomas efficiently completed the arduous assignment three months later. His count reported 11,354 residents in the territory.
By 1852, the Mormons had been living in the Salt Lake Valley for nearly five years, but there was still no library in the city. Therefore, on January 9, 1852, Thomas helped organize the community’s first official library. “He assisted in making a catalogue of the books and stamped them with ‘Utah Library.’”
Soon after the pioneers entered the valley, they organized a militia and called it the Nauvoo Legion, with General Daniel H. Wells as commander. On April 12, 1852, Wells appointed Thomas Bullock to be the military secretary. Within the next three years, the dedicated clerk had achieved the rank of lieutenant colonel.
George A. Smith and Thomas Bullock, chief clerk in the Church Historian’s Office, resumed work on the “History of Joseph Smith” or History of the Church, on April 10, 1854. Though Thomas was not the immediate author of the manuscript, his journals and memory were extensively drawn on. He wrote the final or rough draft of the manuscript for each year from 1839 to 1844. It was completed in 1856.
As soon as Thomas completed his work on the “History of Joseph Smith,” the Church called him on a mission to his beloved homeland, England. There he served faithfully from 1856 to 1858. In 1863, the Territorial Legislative Assembly voted to make Thomas one of the regents of the University of Deseret (later University of Utah).
Thomas moved to the little town of Wanship, Summit County, east of Salt Lake City. Thereafter his assignments in the Salt Lake Valley began to decrease as he accepted increasing responsibilities in Summit County such as county clerk and recorder. In 1868, Thomas moved to Coalville, Utah, where he lived the rest of his days. He died on February 10, 1885, at age sixty-eight and was buried in the Salt Lake City Cemetery.
Final Note: Thomas Bullock’s service as secretary to the First Presidency, clerk for the Territorial House of Representatives, journalist for the vanguard pioneer company, chief clerk in the Church Historian’s Office, and major scribe for the “History of Joseph Smith” surely qualify him for greatness. He certainly magnified the distinctive title of “the Lord’s clerk,” leaving a lasting legacy in Salt Lake City as well as the entire Church.
Source: Excerpts from Arnold K. Garr, “Thomas Bullock: The Lord's Clerk,” in Salt Lake City: The Place Which God Prepared, ed. Scott C. Esplin and Kenneth L. Alford (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University; Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, Salt Lake City, 2011), 133–154; Joseph Smith Papers; FamilySearch.org; FindAGrave.com