Heroes of the Nauvoo Temple Story: Joseph Toronto

by Matthew S. McBride
June 26, 2002

Printed from Mormon Life

Many laborers on the Nauvoo Temple were paid for their services with donated goods. These tithing goods were appraised by the temple recorders, Willard Richards and William Clayton and disbursed to the temple hands at the temple store, a small temporary structure on the temple grounds.

Early in the summer of 1845, the goods in the temple store began to dwindle and many temple hands were desperate for food and supplies with which to support their families. Brigham Young later recalled these worrisome circumstances: "We done a good deal of work at that time on the temple, and it was difficult to get bread for the hands to eat. I told the people or the Committee who had charge of the temple means to deal out all the flour they had and God would give them more and they done so."

Brigham Young's faith was rewarded on July 7. Heber C. Kimball recorded in his journal, "There was a brother come and gave up all he had which was twenty six hundred dollars." The brother, a complete stranger to Church leaders in Nauvoo, was Giuseppe Taranto, whose name was soon anglicized to Joseph Toronto.

Born in 1818, Joseph Toronto was a native of Sardinia, an island off the west coast of Italy. As a young man, he worked as a sailor in the Mediterranean Merchant Service and later on trans-Atlantic ships. He came to Boston in 1843 where he first heard of the Church and was soon baptized by George B. Wallace. Although he was counseled to gather with the Saints in Nauvoo, he decided to continue his trade of selling fruits and vegetables. However, his boat collided with another and capsized and Toronto nearly drowned. This experience motivated him to follow the advice of the elders, and he moved to Nauvoo, arriving July 7, 1845. Toronto had carefully saved his money during his years as a sailor and, upon reaching the city, went immediately to Brigham Young carrying several metal cans filled with money. "He rolled them across the table to President Young. When these were opened, there was [over] $2,500.00 in twenty-dollar gold pieces which he had saved during his seafaring life. He told President Young that he wanted to give himself and all that he had for the upbuilding of the Church and the Kingdom of God. Brigham Young blessed him and told him that he should stand at the head of his race, and that he and his family would never want for bread."

The following day, Brigham Young and Willard Richards took the money to the recorder's office. William Clayton reported that they "brought a bag containing $2599.75 in gold." Brigham Young reported this event in dramatic fashion:

The bishop and the committee met, and I met with them; and they said, that the law was to lay the gold at the apostles' feet. Yes, I said and I will lay it at the bishop's feet. So I opened the mouth of the bag and took hold of the bottom end and gave it a jerk towards the Bishop and strewed the gold across the room at his feet and I said now go and buy flour for the workmen on that temple and don't distrust the Lord any more for we will have what we need.

His contribution came at a critical moment in the construction of the temple. Just a few months later, Brigham Young signed the agreement that would lead to the evacuation of Nauvoo. It was therefore critical that the temple be finished before the end of the year, so that members of the Church could be endowed before their departure into the wilderness. The money Toronto donated allowed the Temple Committee to pay the hands and keep the work rolling forward.

Joseph Toronto was ordained a Seventy in 1849 and went on to serve with Lorenzo Snow and T.B.H. Stenhouse as the first missionaries to his native land of Italy. He was the first Italian to join the Church and was a friend and employee of Brigham Young for many years. For his timely contribution, he became one of the heroes of the Nauvoo Temple story.

© 2002 Deseret Book Company.