How Alfred Cordon’s mission to England in the 1840s changed my life
I remember Elder William R. Walker of the LDS Church’s Seventy making the following statement during his remarks at the April 2014 general conference:
“It would be a wonderful thing if every Latter-day Saint knew the conversion stories of their forefathers … Each of us will be greatly blessed if we know the stories of faith and sacrifice that led our forefathers to join the Lord’s Church.”
A few years ago I learned that it was Alfred Cordon, a British convert himself (1817-1871), who taught my ancestor, John Toone, the gospel of Jesus Christ in 1849. I have always wanted to know more about this Alfred Cordon guy, how he came to be a missionary in England where he found John Toone, and if he could provide more detail about John’s conversion.
More than a month ago, I came across a man named Alfred S. Cordon from Kaysville, Utah. In an email exchange, I learned he was a descendent of the same Alfred Cordon who baptized John Toone. I asked him if he could tell me about the life of his ancestor, and if he had come across any mention of John Toone in his research.
Cordon replied with a hand-written letter and a copy of an article he wrote for Pioneer Magazine in 1993. This is what I learned.
Cordon was born in England, the second son of a family of 10. His grandfather and father managed a pottery. He received an education, which led him to be a good journal keeper.
He married Emma Parker in 1836. Within three years he joined a Bible group and was even a class leader. It appears that through this Bible study group he was introduced to Mary Powell, a Latter-day Saint, and first heard about the LDS Church.
In 1839 he recorded in his journal that he traveled 20 miles to Manchester to hear the sermon of a Mormon elder. He was so moved that after the sermon he requested baptism. His wife converted less than a month later. Within a few months he was ordained an elder by William Clayton.
During this period several Apostles were laboring in the British Isles. Cordon served with the likes of Wilford Woodruff and is mentioned in Woodruff’s journals. Alfred was called by Heber C. Kimball to serve as a missionary. He left the pottery business and preached the word for a time. He was so bold in his preaching that he earned the nickname “Alfred the Bible Lion.”
Alfred and Emma traveled to America and settled in Nauvoo in 1843. He joined the Nauvoo Legion and worked for small wages in a brickyard.
“After hearing just one sermon by the Prophet Joseph Smith, I was repaid for all the trials and tribulations that I had gone through since joining the church,” Alfred wrote in his journal, “and there were many!”
In 1844, Alfred had a strong desire to go on a mission and was not surprised to be called by the Quorum of the Twelve to go to Vermont. Joseph and Hyrum were killed shortly after he and his companion left.
Following that mission, Cordon returned to Nauvoo and prepared to go west with the Saints. He, Emma and their children were sealed together in the Nauvoo Temple. The Cordons crossed the Mississippi on Feb. 5, 1846, but only made it as far as Burlington, Iowa, before Alfred was called to be a branch president. His assignment was to plant and harvest crops for Saints making their way west. A few months later he was called to return to England as a missionary.
On Tuesday morning, April 2, 1849, Elder Alfred Cordon recorded in his journal:
Mr. John Toone presented himself for baptism. It was half past five. We repaired to the water and immersed him in the water in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. We rejoiced in having the privilege of seeing him initiated into the church. He was a fine, intelligent man, had been connected with the methodist church for some time, had preached for some time, and had been pressed by them many times to become an itinerant preacher, but he would not do it. I confirmed him into the church and was clothed with the spirit of prophecy and revelation and told him in the name of the Lord that he would be called to do a mighty work in this last dispensation, that he would be called to preach the gospel of Christ, that his family would embrace the gospel and be blest upon the land of Zion. I went to coventry and preached in the evening.
On Thursday, April 19, 1849, Cordon wrote:
“I attended fellowship meeting in the evening and unanimously carried that William Chival and John Toone be ordained to the office of Elder. Also that Elder Toone would be presiding elder of said branch. The ordinations were then attended to.”
Cordon’s great grandson, Alfred S. Cordon, then wrote in his letter:
“I’m sure that this is very interesting for you and your family … I am so grateful that my ancestor kept a daily journal.”
I am grateful as well. Reading these little details gave me goosebumps as I imagined John Toone entering the waters of baptism with Alfred Cordon. It was a life-changing moment for John and a decision that would influence thousands of his descendants through the blessings of the gospel.
What happened to Alfred after his mission to England?
He arrived in Utah in 1851 and was appointed to settle in Willard City (Box Elder County), where he was set apart as a bishop by Brigham Young.
Like many church leaders, he had multiple wives. He married four women and three of them gave him 22 children. His first wife, Emma, had 14 children but only raised seven.
Bishop Cordon was asked to dedicate the southwest corner stone of the Salt Lake Temple in 1853. He continued to serve as bishop until his death in 1871.
Tonight I salute Alfred Cordon for the faithful life he lived and how he changed my ancestor’s life, which ultimately impacted my life.