Question: What service did George Cannon perform when the Prophet Joseph and his brother Hyrum were killed?
Answer: George Cannon was born December 3, 1794 in England to George Cannon and Leonora Callister. He was only 16 years old when his father died. The family's circumstances were suddenly altered. The father, Captain Cannon, was apparently prosperous. But with the father's death, a complete and sudden change took place in the family's circumstances.
While not left penniless, for they had their home and its valuable contents, as well as some scattered shipping interests, they soon found themselves without a regular income. They rented their home, and the widow and her small children moved into a smaller house. The two older ones, George and Leonora, went out to shift for themselves as well as help their mother. George went to Liverpool, and Leonora crossed to England to act as a companion of a wealthy lady.
George married Ann Quayle in St. Thomas Church in Liverpool, on October 24, 1825. Ann was born in Peel on August 26, 1798. She was the third of eleven children born to John Quayle and Ellinor Callister. Leonora Cannon and Ellinor Callister Quayle were first cousins, and their children George and Ann were second cousins, except that their grandfathers were half instead of full brothers. Ann possessed the trait of thrift and careful management in temporal affairs. George had mastered the trade of carpenter and joiner (or cabinet-maker), and he was an industrious workman. Both were of a religious and inquiring of mind, but neither could be satisfied with any of the sects or denominations.
This is the story of how Mormonism was brought into the Cannon household: Leonora Cannon [George’s sister] had a friend who was going to Canada. She asked Leonora to go with her. Leonora declined to go, but she had a dream which directed her to go. So she went to Toronto, Canada in 1852. There she met and married John Taylor. They were converted to Mormonism by Parley P. Pratt. John Taylor went on a mission to England where he went to see his wife's family [George Cannon and Ann Quayle Cannon].
The first time John Taylor came he did not speak of religion, but after that first visit, Ann remarked "There goes a man of God." Brother Taylor told them of the Gospel on his next visit. Before he left, Ann especially became a firm believer. George was impressed, but not fully responsive. He determined to investigate fairly and devote as much time as possible reading the Book of Mormon until Elder Taylor returned. As he read the book, his interest grew with every page, and he could hardly lay it down. He read it all.
When Elder Taylor returned, George said he accepted it as of God. After being further instructed in Gospel principles, he and his wife were baptized members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on February 11, 1840, exactly a month after Elder Taylor had set foot within their door. The children were baptized later, the three oldest at the same time, and the others as they reached the right age. George and Ann started saving money for their voyage to America to join the Saints. George paid the entire passage money for some of those who made the voyage with him, besides helping materially, several others.
Various causes combined to delay the family's departure from Liverpool during the year 1841. For one thing Leonora was still a babe in arms, and none too vigorous in health. Also it was felt that it would be desirable that some resident stalwarts remain on hand at the port of sailing to give assistance and encouragement to any who hesitated going on board ship.
Their relatives and friends used every possible argument to get them not to go. It was very plain that it was Ann, who, as time went on, became more impatient at the delay in setting forth on the journey. She was impressed that if another season passed before the family left, that she would not be alive to urge the journey. She was afraid that her husband, being broken-hearted would indefinitely defer going, might indeed not go at all. Even if she should die before they completed their journey, she would know that her children would be with the people with whom they belonged. She had a sure premonition that she should not live to reach America.
They left Liverpool on September 18, 1842. Ann died at sea on October 28, 1842, and was buried in the sea. George and the six children reached St. Louis on the 11th of December, and here George spent the winter. In April he made his way to Nauvoo by way of steamboat. Their journey was finally ended, and they reached Nauvoo. George knew Joseph Smith at first sight. He had come to meet the boat. George needed a mother for his children. He married Mary Edwards White on February 24, 1844.
After Joseph and Hyrum were killed on June 27, 1844, George helped prepare the remains for burial. He made the coffins, and as he was one of the few in the city who had knowledge of the process, he took plaster casts of the faces and heads of the dead leaders as they lay in state. To George Cannon, therefore, and his versatility and skill, future generations have cause to be grateful for a correct outline of the heads and features of the brothers who sealed their testimony with their blood.
Son David, age six at the time of the death of the Prophet Joseph later recalled: "At the time of the death of the Prophet Joseph Smith, I remember my father standing at the gate at the front of the house, his arms kind of leaning on the gate. He turned and as he did so, said, 'My God, they have killed our Prophet.' My father (George Cannon) made the drag on which they brought the body in. At the time the Prophet and his brother Hyrum were lying in state, my father was the one who made the death masks of the two. I remember going with my father at the time this took place. A lock of the Prophet's hair was caught in the plaster mask, and I remember father taking some scissors and clipping the hair and then giving me the scissors to hold while he went on with his work."
George felt compelled to go to St. Louis for employment. Without warning, he died on August 19, 1844, a victim of sunstroke. His place of burial is unknown.
Son, Angus Cannon in speaking of his father's death, said, "The loss of father and mother was a cause of great grief to us, but not equal to what we felt when we realized that the prophet of God had been martyred, knowing as we did, the reliance our parents placed on the faithful ministrations of God's anointed and inspired seer." Angus was ten years old, when his father died. Already motherless and now orphaned, Angus and his younger brother and sister [David Henry, age 6 and Leonora age 4] made their home with the oldest sister, Mary Alice, then scarcely sixteen, and her husband Charles Lambert. Ann, age 12, went to live with her Aunt Leonora and Uncle John Taylor, where her brother George Q. was living.
Source: Copied from the "Cannon Family Historical Treasury," FamilySearch.org.