Philemon Christopher Merrill

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About Philemon Christopher Merrill

Philemon Christopher Merrill was born November 12, 1820, in Byron, Genesee County, New York to Samuel Merrill and Phoebe Odell. He married Cyrena on September 20, 1840, in Nauvoo, Hancock, Illinois. They were listed in the 1850 U.S. Federal Census for the Great Salt Lake, Utah Territory as follows: Philemon C. Merrill, 30, working as a farmer, with wife, Cyrena, 32, and Mary, 17 (soon to be his plural wife), and children Sabrina, 8, Allsander, 6, Lucy, 2 and Morgan, 1 year old. Also living with them was Dudley Justin, 18, who was working as a laborer. Living next door was Bechias Dustin, 56, and his plural wife, Emily Merrill, 47, (Philemon's sister) and her children from her first husband Orrin Merrill, Lafayette Merrill, 15, Mary, 11 and Orin P., 8, years old. Bechias was also working as a laborer. Living next door on the other side was Philemon's brother, Samuel B. Merrill, 39, and his wife, Elizabeth, 32, and children, Adelbert, 13, Cynthia, 11, Justin, 9, Elthura, 8, Margaret, 6, Samuel, 5, Jacob, 4, Jeannine, 2, and Lucy, 6 months old. Samuel was also working as a farmer.

With the permission of his wife, Cyrena, Philemon married second, Mary Jane Smith; on April 5, 1851, in Salt Lake City, Salt Lake, Utah; He married third Rhoda Sylvia Collette on October 9, 1873; Salt Lake City, Salt Lake, Utah. Philemon died on September 16, 1904. in Safford, Graham County, Arizona

The following information is by Darryl James from 'JAMES/HATCH ONE MINUTE HISTORIES' (1994): Philemon Christopher Merrill went through the early hardships, persecutions and trials of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He was born Nov. 12, 1820, at Byron, Genesee County, New York to Samuel Merrill and Phoebe Odell. At the age of 11 he accompanied his parents to Nauvoo, Illinois, arriving in 1837. He was baptized into the Mormon Church in March 1839 and filled a mission to Wisconsin in 1840-41.

On September 20, 1840, he married Cyrena Dustin and went into housekeeping in Nauvoo. Philemon worked on the temple which the Saints were trying hard to complete. He was closely associated with the Prophet Joseph Smith and tradition says he was one of the Prophet's bodyguards. Philemon helped evacuate Nauvoo when persecutors drove the Saints out, and he was one of the guards to cross the Mississippi River with Church records.

Philemon enlisted July 16, 1846, at Council Bluffs as a Private in Company B as a volunteer in the Mormon Battalion and endured the long march to the Pacific Coast. He was promoted to 3rd Lieutenant of the Company at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, in August, and was promoted to 2nd Lieutenant and appointed Battalion Adjutant, to succeed Lieutenant G.P. Dykes, on the Rio Grand near Socorro, New Mexico, on March 30, 1845. He marched with the Battalion across southern Arizona and was honorably discharged as 1st Lieutenant at Los Angeles, July 16, 1847.

Philemon Merrill's sisters also were in the Mormon Battalion. They are Albina Marie Merrill Williams, wife of Thomas Stephen Williams, and Phoebe Lodema Merrill, who served as a nurse. From Diary of Albina Merrill Williams: "Spring came at last and then the word was conveyed to the isolated little colony that a start had been made by the pioneers at Council Bluffs to find a new home in the far west. No time was lost in bidding farewell to the old fort on the Arkansas. Captain Brown's Company fell in the wake of the pioneers and all but overtook them before the Valley of the Great Salt Lake was reached. As a matter of fact, some of the Battalion people came in with the pioneers, but the wagon containing Mrs. Williams and her sister did not arrive on the banks of City Creek until five days after President Young had pitched a tent there." --Heart Throbs of the West, Vol. 2, 1940, page 72.

Philemon had left his wife and three children in Iowa to await his return. Once in California, Philemon stayed at headquarters in San Diego until the army discharged him in 1847. He then made his way back to Iowa to rejoin his family; however, Philemon never saw his youngest child again because she had died shortly after his enlistment. In the spring of 1849 the Merrill's made ready and crossed the plains to Salt Lake Valley, arriving Oct. 16, 1849.

With the permission of Cyrena, Philemon entered plural marriage April 5, 1851, with Mary Jane Smith. Then in June 1853 Philemon left to fill a mission for the Church to England until 1856. After his return, the Church called him to help settle parts of southern Idaho. The two families moved to Liberty, Idaho, near Bear Lake in 1869 and then to Soda Springs, Idaho. While at Liberty, Philemon married a third woman, Rhoda Sylvia Collett, on Oct. 9, 1873.

In 1877 the Church called Philemon to help settle parts of central and southeastern Arizona.By then his second wife had died, so he took his two remaining families in August, 1877, and headed for the San Pedro Valley.

They had a great deal of faith, for the departure was with provisions only enough to last two days. The company made camp about one half mile south of the present town of St. David, Arizona, building a small stone fort of six or eight rooms. Philemon had first seen the area with the Mormon Battalion in 1847. It was here in 1878, while nearly all the settlers were suffering with chills and fever, that Erastus Snow set apart Philemon to preside over the Saints in the area. In 1881 Philemon asked that he be relieved of his responsibilities as Presiding Elder and left St. David in 1890, settling in Safford, Arizona.

He later held the office of Patriarch, being ordained by John Henry Smith. Philemon was a good public speaker and loved to talk about the Prophet Joseph Smith. About 1900 he moved to San Jose, Arizona, and died at his home there Sept. 15, 1904, at the age of 84.


1.) Unpublished autobiography of Cyrena Dustin;

2.) "Patriarchs: Philemon Christopher Merrill." The 25th Stake of Zion (On record at Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, UT).


4.) U.S. Census records for 1850.

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Philemon Christopher Merrill's Timeline

November 12, 1820
Byron, Genesee, New York, USA
August 21, 1841
Age 20
Nauvoo, IL, USA
November 15, 1845
Age 25
Nauvoo, Hancock County, Illinois, USA
April 7, 1846
Age 25
Nauvoo, IL, USA
September 10, 1848
Age 27
Council Bluffs, IA, USA
February 17, 1850
Age 29
Salt Lake City, UT, USA
October 31, 1851
Age 30
Salt Lake City, UT, USA
January 3, 1853
Age 32
Salt Lake City, Salt Lake, Utah, USA
March 4, 1853
Age 32
Salt Lake City, UT, USA