Giuseppe Efisio Taranto

What follows here is the Biography of Giuseppe Efisio Taranto commonly known as Joseph Toronto. He was an Italian sailor who ran a small business in Boston harbor selling supplies to ships. It was here that he met the Mormon missionaries as they travelled to Britain and he quickly became converted to the Restored Church. He is the first Italian and the first Catholic to join the Church. He later travelled to Nauvoo and gave $2,600 in gold coin, everything he had, to Brigham Young to finish the construction of the Nauvoo temple. This story was recounted in a three part series in The Friend in the 2009 Jan. – Mar. editions and is reproduced on this website here. Giuseppe then travelled west with the Saints and was called by Brigham Young to serve a mission with Lorenzo Snow to open the land of Italy for the restoration of the Gospel. The following biography is quite comprehensive and was written in 1983 by great grandson James Toronto. Giuseppe was an amazing man and his stories are equally amazing so read on…

Download PDF file




Lord Macauley once said, “A people that take no pride in the noble achievements of remote ancestors will never achieve anything worthy to be remembered with pride by remote descendants.” A Book of Mormon prophet taught the same principle to his children with these words:

Behold, I have given unto you the names of our first parents. This I have done that when you remember your names ye may remember them; and when ye remember them ye may remember their works; and when ye remember their works ye may know how that it is said, and also written, that they were good.

Therefore, I would that ye should do that which is good, that it may be said of you, and also written, even as it has been said and written of them.
Helaman 5:6-7

It is in the spirit of recalling the past in order to prepare better for the future that the present history has been prepared. It is our sincere hope and prayer that this Book of Remembrance will be an acceptable offering to the Lord; a pleasing and accurate record of events, experiences, and memories for Joseph, Eleanor, Anna, and Catharina to enjoy; and above all a source of pride and inspiration to the many descendants of these noble, faithful ancestors whose lives have touched our own so deeply.


Chronology of Events

          Prepared by James A. Toronto

Historical Background
From Palermo to Nauvoo
The Italian Pioneer
A Mission Call to His Native Land
The Italian Patriarch in Utah
Concluding Tributes


          Prepared by Clara R. Toronto


APPENDIX A: From the Isles of the Sea
          The Search for Taranto Roots in Italy Written by Brian M. Leese

APPENDIX B: Joseph’s Patriarchal Blessings

Born: 25 June 1816

Cagliari, Sardinia, Italy

Died: 6 July 1883

Salt Lake City, Utah

1816 25 June, born in Cagliari, Sardinia (Italy) 1818 Moved with family to Palermo, Sicily

1818 -1843 Sailor in Mediterranean Merchant Service. Went to U.S.A in
about 1838. Lived in New Orleans and later in Boston.

1843 Baptized in Boston, Mass. at age 27 by Elder George B. Wallace.

1845 Spring, moved to Nauvoo, Illinois, after near-drowning experience in Boston Harbor.

7 July, donated his life savings to the Church to help complete the Nauvoo Temple. Taken into the care of Brigham Young and his family.

6 October, ordained an elder in the Melchizedek Priesthood.

1848 27 June, left Winter Quarters on journey westward with saints. Served as Pres. Young’s herdsman throughout the trek.

20 September, arrived in Great Salt Lake Valley along with the other pioneers in the 1st Division led by Brigham Young.

10 May, received first patriarchal blessing from John Smith, Patriarch.

22 July, ordained a Seventy by Henry Harriman.

6 October, called during general conference to accompany Lorenzo Snow to Italy as missionaries.

19 October, departed from Salt Lake City in company with 35 other men leaving for missions.

11 December, arrived in Kanesville, Iowa.

1850 26 February, sailed for England from New Orleans on board ship “Maine.”

15 June, departed from England en route to Italy. 25 June, arrived in Genoa, Italy along with Elders Snow and Stenhouse, the first LDS missionaries to that country.

1 July, traveled with Elder Stenhouse to La Tour, Piedmont to investigate the prospects for missionary work among the Waldenses.

August, took leave of his missionary ‘companions in Piedmont and spent the remainder of his mission among his family and friends in Sicily.

19 September, Elders Snow, Stenhouse, and Woodard hold meeting on Mt. Brigham near La Tour to dedicate Italy for the preaching of the Gospel.

15 August, arrived back in Piedmont from Sicily before returning to the U.S.A.

30 July, arrived in Salt Lake City after completing three year mission.

8 March, Brigham Young instructed money be sent to help Joseph’s relatives in Palermo, Sicily.

Fall, married Eleanor Jones, a Welsh girl. They buy a lot between A and B Streets in Salt Lake for $2.50 and begin to build a home.

1854 3 May, first child, Joseph Brigham, born.

1856 20 April, second chi ld, Frank, born. 1861 5 January, third child and first daughter, Ellen, born.

1865 5 February, fourth child, Jonathan Jones, born. 29 May, Ellen, age 4, died.

1867 13 June, Joseph and Eleanor sealed in Endowment House.

1870 8 July, received second patriarchal blessing from John Smith, Patriarch.

1872 22 January, married Anna Catharina Johansson, a Swedish convert, in the Endowment House.

1873 19 April, first child by Anna, John Charles, is born.

1874 9 November, married third wife, Catharina Andersson,a widow from Sweden, in Endowment House.

1875 4 March, Rosa Anna, second child by Anna, is born.

1876 January, left Utah at age 60 to serve another mission in Italy among his Sicilian relatives and friends.

1877 May, returned to Salt Lake City with 14 Sicilian immigrants including two sisters and several nieces, nephews, and cousins.

August, Brigham Young, long-time friend and benefactor, died.

1878 4 February, Albert, the last of Joseph’s children, born to Anna.

1879 22 February, John Charles, first child of Joseph and Anna, died at age 5 after being kicked by horse.

1883 6 March, Frank, second son of Joseph and Eleanor and the only married child, accidentally killed.

6 July, Joseph Toronto, age 67, died at his home in Salt Lake City, Utah.



Historical Background

The island of Sicily has had a colorful, turbulent, and tragic history. Its mild climate, fertile soil, and lucrative fishing and agricultural industries have made it the envy of powerful monarchs through the years. Its protected harbors and strategic location at the crossroads of the Mediterranean world have made it the coveted prize of one conquering army after another, a pawn to be passed back and forth as the balance of power has shifted from one empire to another. For twenty-five centuries Sicilians have seen a succession of foreign governments, peoples, and cultures come and go: the Greeks, Romans, Arabs, and Vikings each in their turn invaded and subjugated Sicily. At various times it has been annexed by North African powers and cut off from Europe. Pirates and smugglers have frequently used the Sicilian coast and surrounding islands as a haven for their illicit activities. In more modern times it has been ruled from Vienna, Madrid, and Constantinople, and Germans, French, and British have also exercised control over it.

In the first half of the nineteenth century, the period of interest to us in this history, Italy as we know it today did not exist: it consisted of several monarchies and the Vatican state struggling against each other for power. Sicily was part of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies controlled by the Franco-Spanish Bourbon family in Naples, a government the Sicilians despised and occasionally resisted in open revolt. With the unification of Italy in 1860 under King Victor Emanuel, Sicily was finally joined politically and culturally to the Italian mainland. But the long-awaited dream of regional self-rule was not yet realized: the government in Turin (later in Rome), believing the Sicilians too backward and unsophisticated to manage their own affairs, denied them any measure of political autonomy until 1946.

This political turmoil and mingling of cultures through the centuries has had a telling impact in Sicily. Vestiges of each successive people are readily found in the architecture, customs, speech, agricultural methods, and physical appearance of the Sicilians. The economic exploitation of alien governments, the destruction of invading armies over the years, and devastating earthquakes and volcanic eruptions left the island, once so fertile and productive, economically depressed and impoverished. Understandably, then, Sicilians learned to struggle for survival, to live with hardship, to receive promises of political change and economic improvement with cynicism, and to view foreigners and foreign ideas with suspicion bordering on hostility. Sicilian society, as a result, came to be a closed, conservative one, difficult for outsiders to comprehend and even more difficult to penetrate. Moreover, contributing to the insular nature of this society has been the Catholic Church which has held an iron grip on the hearts and minds of the people of Sicily for centuries. Two brief examples will illustrate the Church’s powerful influence in Sicilian life in the early part of the 19th century. When a person was caught working on a Catholic saint’s day, he or she could receive a prison sentence, and when the fishing industry was threatened by an increase of sharks in coastal waters, Sicilian fishermen appealed to the Pope for help!

The years 1800-1850 in particular were marked by high unemployment, severe poverty, and widespread suffering from the effects of hunger. Epidemics of malaria and cholera sometimes wiped out entire villages. Illiteracy among the population was nearly total: most Sicilians spoke one of the many local dialects but could not understand, read, or write the official language of government and scholarship. Only the educated elite at that time, a few priests, magistrates, and scholars could communicate in the standard, “pure” Italian which originated from northern Italy and which eventually became the national language spoken and written today.

With these events and considerations in mind, one can more fully under­stand and appreciate the life of Joseph Toronto. Against this historical and cultural backdrop, the accomplishments of this Mormon pioneer and patriarch from Sicily appear all the more remarkable and admirable.

From Palermo to Nauvoo

Giuseppe Efisio Taranto’ was born June 25, 1816, in Cagliari, a fishing town on the southern shore of the island of Sardinia in the Mediterranean Sea. He was the first son and third of seven children of Francesco Matteo Antonio Taranto and Angela Maria Fazio. His father’s ancestors were a hardy and courageous people who had endured many hardships in colonizing and inhabiting the desolate but beautiful islands north of Sicily. (See Appendix A for more details on the Taranto ancestors life on the islands.) After living a few years in Sardinia and the islands, the family settled in the major Sicilian seaport, Palermo, not far up the coast from Trapani, Angela Maria’s home town. It was not unusual at that time for families to move frequently: food and work were scarce, and Francesco and Angela Maria had to provide for a growing family.

The main industries in Palermo were fishing and shipping, and Giuseppe no doubt was familiar with both at an early age. As a young man in his early twenties, he joined the Mediterranean Merchant Service, a commercial shipping company which carried goods to distant foreign ports. Later he worked as a seaman on American vessels. For the first thirty years of his life Giuseppe followed his father’s footsteps and was intimately involved with the life of the sea as a fisherman and sailor. His travels with the shipping business brought him to New Orleans where he lived and worked for a time, and subsequently to two other bustling American seaports, New York and Boston.

One time as he sailed towards New York, he became fearful that someone in the city might steal the money he had been saving for some time to take back to his family in Palermo. That night as he slept, he had a dream in which a man told him to take the money to “Mormon Brigham” and he would be blessed. When he arrived in New York, he began to inquire about “Mormon Brigham,” but no one seemed to know him.

From New York Giuseppe went to Boston. He apparently liked that New England city and decided to settle there for a time and to go to work for himself. He gave up his job with the Italian shipping firm and purchased a small boat of his own. He made a living by buying fruits and vegetables from the wholesale vendors in Boston and then selling them to the large ships at anchor in the harbor. It was during his stay in Boston that Giuseppe first heard the Mormon missionaries preaching the Gospel as restored through Joseph Smith only a few years before. In the fall of 1843 at the age of 27, he was baptized by Elder George B. Wallace. It is believed that Giuseppe Efisio Taranto thus became the first native Italian and the first Catholic to join the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in this dispensation.

After his baptism, Giuseppe was counseled to join the other members of the Church gathering in Nauvoo. But for the time being he declined to do so, perhaps because his fruit and vegetable business was doing well. As a seaman he had frugally saved his wages, and this money, together with his profits as a merchant would enable him, the eldest son, to assist his poverty-stricken family in Sicily. For at least another year and a half, the new convert remained in Boston buying and selling his goods, trying to cope with a new language and culture, and learning and progressing in the Church.

It must have been approximately at this time that Giuseppe began to be called permanently by his English name, Joseph, and that his last name became anglicized to the “Toronto” we have today. How the spelling change took place is a matter of speculation, but it seems entirely plausible and probable that such a change resulted from Joseph’s illiteracy. He, like most Sicilians of his time, could neither read nor write the Italian dialect he spoke, and as a recently arrived immigrant, he was still I struggling to make sense of a strange new language, English. Since Joseph could not spell his name, someone else had to do it for him–someone who needed his name for a record of some kind and who wrote the foreign sounds as best he could while Joseph pronounced them. It could have been a commercial license, an immigration document, the title to a boat, or a baptismal certificate upon which the name “Toronto” first appeared. Perhaps the similarity between Taranto and the Canadian city, Toronto, not to mention the relative ease for English speakers in pronouncing the latter, contributed to its eventual adoption. In any case, Joseph would have been unaware that his last name in America was being written differently than his father’s and family’s name in Sicily, although he certainly recognized the different American pronunciation of that name.

Joseph might have stayed in Boston much longer were it not for a near fatal accident he had in the spring of 1845. One day, while transporting a load of fruits and vegetables in Boston harbor, his boat collided with a larger vessel and was capsized. He lost his cargo of goods and nearly lost his life by drowning. One of the ironies in Joseph’s life is that he spent much of his life on the water and was skilled as a seaman, yet he never learned to swim. As a result he had at least two near-drowning experiences: this one in Boston harbor, and another in the Great Salt Lake (discussed later). It was a terrifying and traumatic event for him, one which became a turning point in his life. This accident made him feel that he should now heed his church leader’s counsel to go to Nauvoo with the saints. So it was that in the spring of 1845 he sold his boat and his business and headed to the western frontiers of the United States.

The Italian Pioneer

At the time of the Prophet Joseph Smith’s martyrdom in June 1844, the Nauvoo temple was but one story high. Yet less than a year later on May 24, 1845 at 6:00 a.m., the capstone was laid amid the general rejoicing and shouts of hosanna from the assembled thousands of saints. Joseph Toronto arrived in Nauvoo not long after the capstone laying ceremony. Work on the interior of the temple was progressing, but persecution and financial hardships made it difficult to provide food and clothing for the workmen. Laborers were often seen working on the temple barefoot and shirtless. When the situation became critical, President Brigham Young instructed those in charge of the temple funds to deal out all the remaining provisions with the promise that the Lord would give them more. One account by an Elder Bernhisel reports that on Sunday July 6, 1845, Pres. Young announced to the assembled saints that work on the temple would have to cease. Tithing funds were depleted, and his appeal for saints coming from overseas to contribute their money to finish the Lord’s house had not produced the hoped-for revenue. So work on the temple would have to stop, thereby jeopardizing the salvation of the Mormon people.

Joseph was in attendance at that Sabbath meeting and heard the President’s fervent appeal to the membership of the Church. The newly-arrived convert from Sicily was deeply moved, and he determined to do whatever he could to help move the work along. The next afternoon, Monday, July 7, Pres. Brigham Young (according to his diary account) “had an interview with Bro. Joseph Toronto.” His journal entry for the next day, Tuesday the 8th, states: “went and lay at the feet of the Bishops Whitney and Miller $2600 in gold that I had received of Brother Toronto.” When the manuscript history was compiled in the 1850’s, the account read as follows: “Brother Joseph Toronto handed to me $2500 in gold and said he wanted to give himself and all he had to the up building of the church and kingdom of God; he said he should henceforth look to me for protection and counsel. I laid the money at the feet of the bishops.”

Brigham Young blessed Joseph and told him he should stand at the head of his race and that neither he nor his family should ever want for bread. When he consigned the money to the bishops, Pres. Young told them: “The law was to lay the gold at the apostle’s feet; and I lay it at the bishop’s feet. Now go and buy flour for the workmen on the Temple and do not distrust the Lord any more; for we will have what we need.”

Other sources give more details about this episode which reveals so much about the faith and humility of Joseph Toronto. The apostles were gathered in Willard Richard’s office on that Monday afternoon to discuss the problem of financing work on the temple. Elder John R. Young, who lived in Nauvoo at the time, says that Joseph came into the office and took off his leather money belt which was gorged with gold coins. “He laid the money on the table, merely asked for a receipt, and would apparently have left without further explanation if Brigham had not detained him. The money was sorely needed, and the act so deeply appreciated, that the humble, trusting man was taken to the President’s home and became a permanent member of the family.” (A minor point: some later accounts speak of oyster cans filled with $20 gold pieces rather than a money belt. Perhaps the cans were carried around Joseph’s waist in a money belt.)

Just how closely attached Joseph became to Brigham Young and his family can be seen from several examples. Brigham continued to take a personal interest in Joseph’s well being over the years, affording him the fatherly “protection and counsel” he needed after giving all his earnings to the Church. Joseph was entrusted with the care and supervision of the family’s herds and gardens for several years, and up until his first marriage in 1853, he was commonly known as “Joseph Young.” Pres. Young had money sent to Palermo to help Joseph’s family there, and his gentle prodding and encouragement led to Joseph’s marriage to Eleanor and later to Anna Catharina. In addition, John R. Young’s record offers this insight:

At Winter Quarters, a man by the name of Majors, a gentleman of wealth and scholarly attainments, came to Brigham and said that one of his thoroughbred mares was down from starvation and could not get up–then asked him if he had better not kill her. “No,” replied the President. “Never destroy life. Try to save her. If you can’t provide for her, give her to Toronto and I will tell him how to provide for her.” He further arranged to have a windlass erected and the mare swung up. The sods were cut. Of them a stable was built around her, and so the animal was saved.

Afterwards I saw Brother Toronto sell a pair of her colts to Kinkaid of Salt Lake for seven hundred dollars. Moreover Joseph Toronto, humble, untutored Italian sailor, became, under the wise counsels of Brigham Young, a man of property, raised up an honorable family and gave his children a good education.

Samuel W. Taylor, in his book Nightfall at Nauvoo, recounts the experiences of Elder Bernhisel, a prominent church leader in Nauvoo and a contemporary of Joseph Toronto. This account is particularly revealing in shedding light on the way some of the members in Nauvoo regarded this recent convert from a distant land and an alien culture:

Joe Toronto was the only Italian convert in the city, his olive skin, jet hair, and black eyes contrasting to the fair complexion of the northern Europeans predominating. Joe Toronto was a young Sicilian sailor who’d arrived in town soon after the capstone ceremony. Because he was unique, he was looked upon with some condescension. If he realized that he wasn’t quite accepted, Joe Toronto never showed it. His white teeth flashed constantly in a happy smile, and he was friendly as a puppy dog. He loved to bear his testimony in meeting, and didn’t seem to notice that as the spirit came upon him and he became emotional about the gospel, his accent became thicker and thicker, until the Saints ducked their heads with tongue in cheek to repress smiles.

On Monday afternoon, July 7th, the day after Pres. Young’s appeal for financial help, as Bernhisel sat in council with the brethren, Joe Toronto arrived, hat in hand. He hadn’t understood, he said; he hadn’t known. But in the Italian navy he had saved his wages instead of spending them on wine and women. There had also been a small inheritance. He wanted to donate what he had saved to keep the work going on the house of the Lord. As he spoke he fumbled under his shirt and drew forth a money belt. Opening it, he spilled his offering upon the table, $2500 in gold.

At this moment Bernhisel felt sheepish at his superior attitude toward a man because of his olive complexion and strange accent.

Because of the commitment and testimony of Joseph Toronto and others who gave their all to build God’s kingdom, work on the Nauvoo temple resumed. Many saints were thus able to receive their endowment of temple blessings before their expulsion from Nauvoo (the following February, 1846) and arduous journey across the plains. The temple, however, was not completed in detail until April 30, 1846, two months after the main exodus of saints from Nauvoo.

The first group of saints to make the long and dangerous trek to the Salt Lake Valley arrived there in July 1847; Joseph was in the emigration from Illinois to Utah which took place the next year, 1848. This group con­sisted of three divisions: the 1st Division in charge of President Brigham Young; the 2nd Division in charge of President Heber C. Kimball, and the 3rd Division in charge of President Willard Richards. Joseph Toronto’s name appears on the roster of the 1st Division (with Brigham Young, General Superintendent and Leader, and Daniel H. Wells, Aide-de-Camp), in the Third Company (with Lorenzo Snow, Captain of Hundred).

According to the Journal History, the 1st Division was composed of 1229 souls and had with them 397 wagons, 74 horses, 19 mules, 1275 oxen, 699 cows, 184 loose cattle, 411 sheep, 141 pigs, 605 chickens, 37 cats, 82 dogs, 3 goats, 10 geese, 2 hives of bees, 8 doves and one crow. This division left the Elkhorn River June 1st and spent several days in Winter Quarters. The camp journal kept by Thomas Bullock contains the following entry, dated June 27th, written at Winter Quarters:

At sunset the captains of companies and others met at the President’s wagon to arrange about driving the cattle. Bro. Hanks and Cahoon volunteered a horse each; John Harris volunteered a driver to go with Joseph Toronto, the President’s herdsman. It was left to the President to appoint buffalo hunters and the teamsters were not to leave their wagons. Much pleasantry was indulged in throughout the evening and there was some singing also.

Elder George A. Smith remarked that same evening that he did not believe in staying at Winter Quarters 24 hours longer as the stench and the affluvia rising from the place was sufficient to bring disease upon all. Lorenzo Snow’s camp departed on its journey westward just before Elder Kimball’s camp arrived, and they reached Great Salt Lake City with the rest of the 1st Division on September 20, 1848 and on the few following days.

A Mission Call to His Native Land

During the year after his arrival in Salt Lake, Joseph Toronto continued to work for Brigham Young. But his friend and mentor had other, more important plans for him. On Sunday April 29; 1849, Pres. Young, In conversation with his counselors and the Twelve, stated his intention “to send Brother Joseph Toronto to his native country and with him someone to start the work of gathering from that nation.” It is not surprising that Brigham was interested in Italy as a prospective mission field: surely he felt, judging from the example of Joseph Toronto, that there would be other worthy people there anxious to hear the Gospel. On May 10th Joseph received his first patriarchal blessing containing these words: “The Lord … hath called thee from thy native land to make of thee a messenger of salvation to thy native land, even to thy brethren.” Three months later on Sunday July 22, Joseph was ordained a Seventy (he was previously ordained an Elder in Nauvoo) by Elder Henry Harriman in the house of Brigham Young.

In general conference the following October during the Saturday morning session, Pres. Heber C. Kimball delivered a stirring oration on the subject of missionary work and the obligation of taking the gospel to every nation: “We want to feel for the welfare, not only of this people, but all of the inhabitants of the world of the earth. Shall we debar one portion of the inhabitants of the world of what we have obtained? How should we feel if they had received it and would not commit it to us? We want this people to take an interest with us in bearing off the Kingdom to all the nations of the earth.” In the afternoon session, several motions were made and carried that certain brethren go on foreign missions. Among other calls to France, Denmark, England, and the Society Islands, “Motioned that Lorenzo Snow and Joseph Toronto go on missions to Italy.” All motions carried unanimously.

The next evening, Sunday October 7, was a memorable and inspiring occasion for the newly-called missionaries as they met with the First Presidency and the Twelve to be set apart. One of the clerks, Thomas Bullock, describes the evening’s activities:

The brethren who have been appointed to go on missions were called together in the evening, for the purpose of receiving instructions, etc., whereupon the First Presidency proceeded to lay their hands on the quorum of the Twelve and set them apart for their respective missions.

The Twelve then laid their hands on the Elders who had been appointed missions to the different nations of the Earth, and set them apart predicting their success, and the remarkable scenes that will transpire during their absence from their family. A joyful meeting was continued until twenty minutes past ten, when the meeting was dismissed, all enjoying the peaceable influence of the spirit of God and filled with faith that the Lord God of Israel would speedily work a great and glorious work on the earth.

Less than two weeks later, on Friday October 19, 1849, Joseph Toronto and Lorenzo Snow left Great Salt Lake Valley in company with 35 other men, mostly missionaries destined for different mission fields. This was the first company of missionaries to have left the Valley to preach the Gospel abroad. Some were on their way to Sweden, Denmark, Scotland, and France, and others were going to the United States (of which Utah was not yet a part). The group included a number of notable figures in church history such as John Taylor, Franklin D. Richards, Erastus Snow, Abraham O. Smoot, and Jedediah M. Grant. The hardship and toil of another trip across the plains lay ahead as did the perils of a long ocean voyage and the uncertainties of life in a foreign land. Lorenzo Snow’s own account of the journey describes his and the other men’s feelings and some of the miraculous events which occurred along the way:

Recalling the scenes of the past, my mind reverts to the 19th of October, 1849, when, in solemn silence, I left what, next to God, was dearest to my heart–my friends, my loving wife, and little children. As I pursued my journey, in company with my brethren, many conflicting feelings occupied my bosom–the gardens and fields around our beloved city were exchanged for the vast wilderness which lay spread out before us for a thousand miles. If my mind still glanced onward, there was the stormy main, and, in the far distant perspective, a land of strangers–the field of my mission. We were hastening further and still further from the mighty magnet – HOME! but we knew that the work in which we were engaged was to carry light to those who sat in darkness, and in the Valley of the Shadow of Death, and our bosoms glowed with love, and our tears were wiped away.

Some judged our horses were too enfeebled to bear us over the mighty plain; but when the snows began to fall, winds swept our pathway, and enabled us to pass without difficulty, while, on our right and left, the country was deeply covered for hundreds of miles.

One day, as we were taking our noon-tide meal, and our horses were quietly grazing on the prairies, the following scene occurred. A startling shout resounded through our little camp – To arms! To arms! The Indians are upon US! We looked, and beheld a spectacle, grand, imposing, and fearful. Two hundred warriors upon their furious steeds, painted, armed, and clothed with all the horrors of war, rushing towards us like a mighty torrent. In a moment we placed ourselves in attitude of defence. But could we expect with thirty men to withstand this powerful host? Onward came the savage band with accelerated speed, as a mighty rock, loosed from the mountain’s brow, rushes impetuously downward, sweeping overturning, and burying everything in its course. We saw it was their intention to crush us beneath the feet of their foaming chargers. Now, they were within a few paces, and in another moment we should be overwhelmed, when, lo! an alarm like an electric shock struck through their ranks, and stayed their career, as an avalanche, sweeping down the mountain side, stops in the midst of its course by the power of a hand unseen–the Lord had said, “Touch not mine anointed and do my prophets no harm.”

Many incidents occurred which often called forth the remark, that, in our past experience, the hand of the Lord had never been more visibly manifested. When we arrived on the banks of the great Missouri, her waters immediately congealed for the first time during the season, thus forming a bridge over which we passed to the other side; this was no sooner accomplished than the torrent ran as before.

On arriving at Kanesville, we were saluted with shoutings, firing of cannons, songs of rejoicing, and other demonstrations of welcome. During the few days of our stay, we experienced universal kindness from the Saints.

Things certainly appeared strange to me when I thought of the unknown future of my mission. But the Lord of the whole earth had sent me, and in his name I was resolved ever to go forward…. Before me is a land of strangers, whose tongues soon will sound in my ears like the jargon of Babal. I have been refreshed with the company of so many kind friends, and go forth on my mission with renewed energy of body and mind.

Joseph Toronto no doubt shared these sentiments to a degree, but for him, the “land of strangers” was his homeland where he would be reunited with family and friends, and the “jargon of Babal” was his native tongue which would sound like music to his ears. Certainly the latter half of 1849 and the early part of 1850 were joyful months for Joseph: his heart was full of gratitude to Presidents Young and Kimball for their inspiration and vision in sending missionaries to his beloved land; of anticipation and excitement at the prospect of reunion with his loved ones in Sicily after an absence of nearly ten years; of longing and enthusiasm to share the light and truth and joy of the restored Gospel of Christ with his family and countrymen. It is reasonable to suppose that, during the long trip from Salt Lake to Kanesville, Joseph had discussions with his missionary companion, Lorenzo, teaching him a few basic phrases in Italian and answering his questions about the people, culture, and religion of Italy. And surely he was comforted and encouraged by the words of his patriarchal blessing, received the previous May, informing him that he would be a “messenger of salvation” to his native land, that he would have power and the spirit of God to work miracles, if necessary, for the salvation and protection of his people, that he would eventually have “numerous posterity,” and that his name would be had in “honorable remembrance among the saints.” (See Appendix B for the complete text of this and his second patriarchal blessing.)

The company of missionaries arrived in Kanesville, Iowa, on December 11, 1849, after a two months’ journey across the plains. After resting for about two weeks, the men split up (probably to avoid arousing suspicion in this area where anti-Mormon sentiment was still strong) and took various routes to their respective mission fields. Lorenzo Snow, because of his apostolic duties, traveled through Nauvoo, Carthage, St. Louis, and New York on his way to England visiting and strengthening the branches of the Church along the way.

Joseph Toronto left Kanesville on December 29th along with Joseph W. Young, Peter O. Hansen, and Job Smith, journeying in Bro. Robert Caldwell’s wagon to St. Louis, Missouri. Elder Smith’s journal records that they traveled through the towns of Linden, Oregon, St. Joseph, Plattsburg, Carrollton (a hold of mobocrats), New Brunswick, Columbia, Sheridan and St. Charles. At many of the places the Elders found the spirit of mobocracy rife, and sometimes they found it necessary to disguise themselves, or to refrain from telling where they came from. The little party arrived safely in St. Louis early in January, 1850. Elder Erastus Snow, who left Kanesville the same day as Joseph Toronto but in a different company, described the journey to St. Louis in these words: “As we traveled along our means increased by gifts from the brethren. The journey thence to St. Louis … was rough and tedious. The last one hundred and fifty miles we walked almost the whole way as there was a thaw and the mud was hub deep in the lanes.” Both parties arrived in St. Louis during the month of January.

After a few days’ rest in St. Louis, where a thriving branch of 4000 members received them warmly, the elders continued on to New Orleans, the southern seaport in which Joseph had once lived and worked. On Tuesday, February 26, 1850 Joseph Toronto and seven other missionaries who had left Great Salt Lake Valley the previous October, sailed from New Orleans per ship “Maine” bound for England. Joseph joined Elder Snow in Southampton from where they and Elder T. B. H. Stenhouse, a recent English convert, departed for Italy on June 15th. The three missionaries traveled on board the steamboat “Wonder” to Le Havre, France, and continued overland from there to Paris, Lyons, and Marseilles. From Marseilles they went by boat along the seacoast to Nice (at that time part of Italy), and then on to Genoa, arriving there June 25, 1850. They covered the 1200 miles from England to Italy in ten days, much quicker than they had anticipated, having spent only three nights in bed. These three gentlemen were the first elders of the L.D.S. Church to set foot on Italian soil as missionaries of the restored Gospel of Christ.

Genoa is a picturesque harbor city situated at the base of the mountains. Elder Snow in particular was captivated by the beauty and charm of the city and the surrounding area but disheartened by the poverty of the people and the superstitions and follies promulgated by the Catholic Church:

Before me I have a most lovely and interesting view of the port of Genoa, and then of the Mediterranean, bearing upon her broad bosom multitudes of fishing boats, schooners, war frigates, steamers, and ships of many nations…. At a little distance from the city, I have the fascinating scenery of Italy’s picturesque mountains, and over my head is a sky of clearest blue. My eyes are filled with tears while attempting to picture the glorious view. It recalls to mind the more than lovely–the sacred scenery of the far-off West – the Valley of the Great Salt Lake…. The city is filled with armed men; so, in fact, is almost every seaport town and city through which we have passed since leaving England. Little money is circulating, and commerce languishes on every side… Since the revolution, the working class have suffered severely from the depression of business… Many of the customs, laws, and institutions are very singular. Priests are seen in great numbers on every side. I meet them in every street. I am alone and a stranger in this vast city, eight thousand miles from my beloved family, surrounded by a people whose manners and peculiarities I am unacquainted. I am come to enlighten their minds, and instruct them in principles of righteousness; but I see no possible means of accomplishing this object. All is darkness in this prospect.

During the weeks prior to leaving England, Elder Snow had studied and prayed to know where in Italy the Lord would have the missionaries begin their work. He had concluded, based on his conversations with Joseph Toronto, that “”all was dark in Sicily, and hostile laws would exclude our efforts” and that “no opening appeared in the cities of Italy.” But the history of the Protestant Waldenses (in French, “Vaudois”) attracted his attention, and as he read and thought about the subject, “a flood of light seemed to burst upon my mind.” These people lived in the mountain valleys of the Piedmont region of northwestern Italy governed then by Sardinia. For centuries they had been bitterly persecuted and attacked by the Pope’s armies but had remained steadfast to their beliefs. Having arrived in Genoa and observed first-hand the “wickedness and gross darkness” of the inhabitants of “Roman Catholic country” and knowing from his studies that “no other portion of Italy is governed by such favourable laws,” Elder Snow soon became convinced that this Protestant people were worthy to receive the first proclamation of the Gospel in Italy.

In accordance with that conviction Elder Snow sent Elders Toronto and Stenhouse to “scout out” conditions among the Waldenses and to explore prospects for missionary work among them. They left Genoa on July 1, 1850 to visit the mountain villages of Piedmont and less than three weeks later sent back a positive, encouraging letter.

Upon receiving their report, Elder Snow was confident that the Lord had directed them to a branch of the House of Israel:

I have felt an intense desire to know the state of that province to which I had given Elders Toronto and Stenhouse an appointment, as I felt assured it would be the field of my mission. Now, with a heart full of gratitude, I find that an opening is presented in the valleys of Piedmont, when all other parts of Italy are closed against our efforts. I believe that the Lord has there hidden up a people amid the Alpine mountains, and it is the voice of the Spirit that I shall commence something of importance in that part of this dark nation.

On July 23rd he too left Genoa, passing through the city of Turin, the capital of the Sardinian States, and arrived at La Tour, in the valley of Lucerne, to rejoin his companions.

The Waldenses were indeed a privileged and remarkable people. Evidence that the Lord had prepared the way for them to receive the Gospel can be seen by the fact that little more than two years before the elders’ arrival in Italy, military and political events had transpired which resulted in a liberalization of law and an atmosphere of leniency unique to the Piedmont region. The King of Sardinia, on February 18, 1848 had granted these people for the first time the right to exercise their religion, to enjoy civil and political rights, and to attend schools and universities. As Lorenzo Snow observed: “liberty is only as yet in the bud.” Had this relaxation of restrictions not occurred, the missionaries most assuredly would not have been allowed the freedom to travel and preach among these Protestant mountain dwellers.

Through divine intervention and inspiration, then, Elders Snow, Stenhouse, and Toronto were enabled to live with and teach the Waldenses. The missionaries found them to be very poor but hard-working, simple and honest. They had few conveniences of life. Their homes were often built of stone on the steep, rugged mountain side. On holidays many still dressed in their native costumes which were very colorful. Many aged ones, men and women, toiled up and down the mountain side with heavy loads on their backs. Their great national hero was Henri Arnaud, a pastor-warrior who had led them in the recapture of their mountain valleys from their Catholic enemies. (An article in the August 1982 Ensign discusses the history of the Waldenses and contains color photographs of the Piedmont region.) Shortly after his coming to La Tour (Torre Pellice today), Elder Snow recorded these observations:

The country in which I now found myself, bears a striking resemblance to the valley of the Great Salt Lake…. The Protestant inhabitants … number about 21,000: there are also about 5,000 Catholics. The fertile portions of these valleys are rich in their productions: but two-thirds, or more, present nothing but precipices, ravines and rocky districts…. The inhabitants are far too numerous, according to the nature of the soil. They are often compelled to carry mould on their backs to form a garden amid the barren rocks.

He also points out that French was the language generally used and understood, even though spoken imperfectly at times and mixed with local Italian dialects. Italian, he says, was understood by a considerable number of people but not extensively used, and there were at least five distinct dialects spoken by different classes in the area.

The miraculous and memorable events attending the labors of the Mormon missionaries among the Waldenses are well known in church history and need not be recounted in detail here. We know from Lorenzo Snow’s letters to Brigham Young, Franklin D. Richards, and Orson Hyde that the work at first was “slow and tedious” and that the three elders of necessity maintained a low profile (“comparative silence”) in their operations. Yet, from day to day, they “were always engaged forming some new acquaintance, or breaking down some ancient barrier of prejudice.” Elder Stenhouse wrote to his wife of their difficulties in communicating with the people and in providing food and shelter for themselves.

The important thing to keep in mind relative to Joseph Toronto’s activities is that he took leave of his missionary companions barely a month after arriving in La Tour and departed for his home in Palermo. Elder Snow’s explanation is as follows:

During our protracted journey, the health of Elder Toronto had been considerably affected; but this salubrious clime having re-invigorated his frame, he became very anxious to visit his friends in Sicily. As I felt it proper for him to do so, he took his departure at the beginning of August. (italics added)

The slowness of the work during those first weeks in the mountains, Joseph’s longing to see his family again and teach them the Gospel, and the fact that French, not Italian, was most widely spoken and understood among the Waldenses probably contributed to Elder Snow’s decision that his Italian companion’s testimony and native language skills would be of greater service in Sicily. (However, it is worth noting that, because he had been a seaman for many years, Joseph was acquainted with several languages and so could probably speak some French and northern Italian.)

Thus, Joseph was absent when, during the months of September and October 1850, some of the notable events of the Italian Mission took place: the miraculous healing of little Joseph Guy which demonstrated the power of the priesthood to the Waldenses; the glorious meeting on the mountain overlooking La Tour in which Elders Snow, Stenhouse, and Woodard (who arrived from England on Sept. 18th) organized the Church in Italy and dedicated that land for the preaching of the Gospel; and the first convert baptisms in Piedmont. That Joseph Toronto was not present during that period is substantiated by the fact that Elder Snow’s dedicatory prayer on “Mount Brigham,” Sept. 19, 1850, contained a petition “to bless Elder Toronto in Sicily, and give him influence and power to lead to salvation many of his father’s house and kindred.” In December Elder Snow reported that he had still not heard from Elder Toronto.

Within four years over one hundred souls had been baptized into the Church from the Piedmont area of the Italian Mission, many of whom subsequently emigrated to Utah. These converts from Italy have many notable and faithful descendants in the Church today among whom are the Malan, Cardon, Beus, Stahle, Barker, Rubin, Francis, and Bertoch families. Even though Joseph Toronto was already in Sicily and thus notable to witness the fruition of the missionary labors in northern Italy, his contribution in laying the groundwork for this harvest of souls was significant and must not be underestimated. He rejoiced when he heard of the success of his missionary companions among his countrymen, but it must have been even more gratifying and exhilarating for him to experience the long-awaited moment of reunion with loved ones and of sharing newfound convictions with them.

One can only imagine the tearful embraces and the excitement in Francesco and Angela Maria’s household as their eldest son unexpectedly returned home after an absence of nearly ten years. Surely there were old friends to look up; new nieces, nephews, and in-laws to meet; celebrations in his honor to attend; and long, absorbing conversations with family and friends about his experiences in America. The revelation that he had left the Catholic faith and embraced a new, “foreign” religion no doubt elicited a good deal of hostility and criticism in his Sicilian neighborhood. But Joseph was undaunted in his resolve to share the joy of the Gospel with those he loved most. In Boston he had intended to bring home a money belt full of gold to help his family financially; instead, having given his life’s savings to build the Lord’s House in Nauvoo, he brought them something even more valuable: a true message of eternal peace, happiness, and salvation. By the time he left Palermo in August 1851 (a stay of one year), he had baptized some of his relatives and others were investigating the Gospel. Joseph returned to the Piedmont region on August 15, and a year later, on July 30, 1852 he arrived in Salt Lake City having served honorably and valiantly as a missionary overseas for nearly three years.

The Italian Patriarch in Utah

On his return to the Great Basin, Joseph Toronto resided with and once again worked for Brigham Young. Brigham’s family and the other saints considered him almost an “adopted” son, calling him Joseph Young during this time, and the President continued to show his concern for Joseph’s welfare. When he learned that the newly-returned missionary was anxious about his poor relatives in Sicily and wanted to help them, Brigham sent a letter (dated March 8, 1853) to Br. Samuel W. Richards at the European headquarters of the Church instructing him as follows: “I wish to pay to Joseph Toronto the sum of seven hundred dollars. Br. Toronto advanced the money for the construction of the temple in Nauvoo and a considerable amount besides. His people in Sicily are very poor and he wishes to assist them some. Enclosed are his instructions in Italian to his brother-in-law Vincenzo Corrao being at Palermo. He says that he wants you to forward the enclosed to the address with a letter from you.” This episode illustrates not only the President’s personal interest in Joseph’s well-being, but it also reflects the strong love and sense of responsibility that Joseph felt toward his family despite the vast distance separating them. Noteworthy too is the letter’s implication that Joseph had written something in Italian: perhaps he had learned to write a little by 1853, or possibly one of the other Italian converts in Utah had written down his instructions.

Brigham Young even picked a wife for his young friend–a lovely young emigrant from South Wales. One day Pres. Young called Joseph in and said, “There is a nice Welsh convert named Eleanor Jones, and I think that you should marry her.” Joseph, age 37, and Eleanor, age 29, were married in the fall of 1853, and a reception was given them by Zina D. Young at the Lion House. There were six nationalities present at the dinner: American, English, Norwegian, Swedish, Italian, and Welsh. From this marriage four children were born: Joseph B., Frank, Ellen, and Jonathan J. Toronto.

Through advice from President Young, the Toronto’s took up the half block
on First Avenue between A and B Streets, paying $2.50 for it. Joseph’s son,
Jonathan, gives this description of the house they built and some of the family’s activities there:

At this time (1853), Father and Mother commenced building their home on the A Street property. At that time there were neither water nor streets in this location and water was packed for culinary purposes. The ground was mostly cobbles but with hard work the cobbles were dug up and the ground prepared for cultivation. This was done by Father and Mother.

The cobbles were used to build the first story of the house which stood on the space where the present house now stands, and for a wall around the property. The second story was of sun-dried adobies and plastered on the outside. A long porch the full length of the house, both downstairs and upstairs, was built on the south front of the house. Later on, water from City Creek Canyon was brought around the hillside and down to this section of town.

Soon after, fruit trees were planted–peach, plum, apricot, apples, grapes and almond nuts. In a few years they were gathering much delicious fruit. At that time there were no fruit bottles nor cans for preserving fruit, and the only way they had for preserving was by sun drying. Father and Mother dried hundreds of pounds of fruit. Most of it was sold and shipped to Montana and the mines.

Along the north wall several small cabins were built. Here, many emigrants lived until they could find a home or be properly located. At one time a dancing teacher, a Scandinavian named Brother Larson, gave dancing lessons in a log cabin that was attached to the back of the house. Not long ago Sister Elizabeth Felt, now in her ninety second year, told me she took dancing lessons from him in the log cabin.

Along the inside wall grape vines grew and were trellised on the wall. All kinds of old-fashioned flower beds were found in every nook and corner. The lilac bushes and some of the old-fashioned moss roses are still in our garden. One beautiful red rose that Mother had has never ceased to bloom. We had a fine barn where we kept a cow and chickens, and a horse which gave us many pleasant hours driving around in our little old fashioned buggy.

Every night the gates to the wall were locked from the inside by the last one to come home. Near the kitchen door was a huge spreading apple tree, which was the joy of all who came here during the summer evenings. It served as a regular playhouse, having a hammock, chairs, table, etc., where refreshments were served during hot weather.

On the northeast corner of the lot, at one time, was a pottery and burning kiln. Here flower pots, jars and vases were made from clay and burned… The furniture in this first home was made by Bro. Shieb. His furniture shop was on South Temple between Second and Third East, on the south side of the street. It was… purchased by Mother in 1853.

One of Joseph’s first endeavors after his marriage was to raise stock on Church Island, but due to lack of adequate pasture there he moved his herds to Point of West Mountain, later called Garfield. He took along a young lad known as Jack Toronto to work for him. This young man (one of the fifty or so converts from Piedmont who had emigrated to Utah by 1854) went by that name until he married, when with gentle persuasion from Joseph Toronto, he assumed his own name which was James Bertoch. Brother Bertoch was put in charge of Joseph’s and Brigham Young’s cattle on Antelope Island for two years, and later he took over supervision of the Toronto ranch.

On his ranch Joseph raised cattle and horses and did some dry farming. There was a large cave in the mountain side which was used as a stable for horses. This cave, dedicated in later years as a Utah historical landmark and still known today as “Toronto Cave,” afforded him an ideal place for cattle raising: it was large enough at that time to permit the hay stacks to be built in front of the cave opening as a means for protecting the animals from the storms. A log cabin was also built nearby, and Joseph and his family lived there during the summer, moving back to Salt Lake City for the winter months.

It was while working near this ranch that Joseph had his second brush with death by drowning. His grandson, John S. Toronto, recounts this near fatal experience:

I am not certain of the name of the island involved in the following account. However, the island in question was connected to the mainland by a sandbar at the time of this incident. I assume this same sandbar extended from the island to an area on the south shore of the lake in the general vicinity of Black Rock near the former town of Garfield. This same sandbar served as a natural road for the movement of men and beasts to and from the island.

As I recall my father telling the story, it was late one afternoon when Grandfather Toronto left the island and started for the ranch home. However, before he reached the mainland a storm of high intensity erupted. This storm brought heavy rainfall and strong winds. Whether Grandfather was afoot or horseback, I do not know. Anyway, if he was riding a horse, he apparently had to dismount and go by foot. Somehow, perhaps because of the intensity of the storm. darkness or a combination of both, he strayed from the sandbar–the one and only natural roadway to the mainland.

The next morning he was found lying on the shore of the lake. He was completely exhausted. It seems he had swallowed large amounts of salt water; his eyes were extremely irritated from the salt water and his body and limbs were sore from having been tossed and turned by the raging waters.

Incidentally, Grandfather Toronto, from the time of his early youth and up until the time he joined the Church and moved to Nauvoo, had served in the Italian merchant marine or engaged in work that required being in open water. Yet, he had never learned to swim.

After nearly twenty years of marriage. Joseph and Eleanor hired a young Swedish convert. Anna Catharina Johansson to live with them and help care for the family. In time Eleanor and Anna developed a close friendship and because Anna had no other family to support her, Eleanor suggested that Joseph take her as a second wife. Reluctantly, and only after much persuasion from Eleanor and Brigham Young’s endorsement, Joseph agreed, and on January 22, 1872 he married Anna in the Endowment House. He was 56 at the time; she was 30. From this marriage three children were born: John Charles, Rosa Anna, and Albert Toronto.

The final decade of Joseph Toronto’s life was full of joy and sorrow, fulfillment and tragedy, exhilaration and despair. Within a span of five years, 1873 -1878, three more children came into his household bringing the total to seven. This was undoubtedly a source of great happiness to him. Two and a half years after marrying Anna, he was sealed to a third wife, a Swedish widow of about his same age on November 9, 1874 in the Endowment House. His ranch, gardens. and fruit trees were thriving as was Carlgreen Toronto Pottery Co. which supplied Z.C.M. I. and other retail establishments with flower pots, jars, and vases.

But even as a prosperous landowner and busy father, he did not forget his relatives in Sicily. A second patriarchal blessing on July 8, 1870 contained reassuring words: “The time is not far distant when thy prayers shall be realized and thy heart shall be comforted to know of thy kindred who will accept the truth. (Complete text in Appendix S.) By the end of 1875 he had received (no doubt at his own request) a second mission call to the land of his birth, and he departed for Italy in January 1876 at the age of 60. He spent most of his time with his relatives in Sicily: his father and mother had died a few years before, and as eldest son, it was his traditional duty to look after his sisters and younger brothers’ families. When he returned home a year and a half later in May 1877, he brought with him fourteen of his family and friends and paid all boat and train expenses for the long journey himself. This was a very costly endeavor for him, but his fervent hope and expectation was that once they were away from negative influences in Sicily and living among the saints in Utah, they would join the Church. The Deseret News carried this delightful account of Joseph’s arrival in Salt Lake with his merry band of immigrants:

A Surprise

Mr. Joseph Toronto, of the 18th Ward, who went to his native land, Sicily, on a mission sixteen months ago, returned to the city last evening, bringing with him fourteen Sicilians, who came here to reside. Nine of them are relatives of Mr. Toronto.

The first intimation that the gentleman’s friends had of his coming was his arrival, when the little party assembled in front of Mr. Toronto’s residence and treated the family to a charming serenade. It was a pleasant surprise and characteristic of Mr. Toronto.

They came direct from Palermo, and arrived in good health and spirits. We understand the Sicilians will engage in the manufacture of macaroni, gunpowder and cheese.

Among the nine Taranto relatives were the following: Joseph’s older sister, Efisia Agras, a widow; his younger sister, Maria Grazia Scappatura, also a widow; Maria’s four children Antonio, Francesco, Vincenzo, and Angelina; Giuseppe Corrao, a relative of Joseph’s eldest sister, Giovanna Corrao; and some cousins named Adoraiddio. They were a happy, exuberant group, and the Scappatura family were noted for their musical talents. Joseph relished the experience of at last having his American family and some of his Italian family together. In addition to the demands of his own household, he now assumed personal responsibility for the welfare and comfort of the new immigrants, trying as best he could to ease their transition into a foreign environment – a transition he himself had made successfully forty years before.

But the euphoria gradually dissipated as the weeks and months went by. The realities of adjusting to a strange culture, a puzzling language, and a harsh climate began to take their toll. Many of the Sicilians were discouraged and disappointed with conditions here, finding them so different from their native land. One family returned to Italy while another moved to California where the climate was more to their liking. Maria Grazia Scappatura elected to stay in Salt Lake City with her children, and the federal census records of 1880 indicate that Efisia Agras became a permanent resident of Joseph’s household along with his three wives, three sons, and one daughter. Ultimately, only one or two of his Italian relatives joined the Church in America–a severe disappointment to a man of such deep faith and conviction. Worry and distress about his relatives eventually resulted in a nervous breakdown and an illness which lingered for the next six years.

Life went on, however, and there were as always many gratifying, joyful events and activities to divert his mind from such concerns. Association with his wives and children and service in the Church continued to be a constant source of comfort and happiness to him. In February 1878, less than a year after Joseph’s return to Utah, another son, Albert–his last child–was born. Joseph also loved gardening and had brought back from Sicily roots of fig trees, lemons, oranges, English walnuts, bamboo cane, and some tropical fruits. He was an expert horticulturist, having one of the finest fruit gardens in the city (although the climate proved too cold for the tropical fruits and only a few of them grew), and he derived much pleasure and satisfaction from planting and landscaping his yard. The block he owned on First Avenue from A to B Streets was surrounded by a rock wall over which grape vines trailed. The garden was laid out after the fashion of the terraced gardens he had seen on the mountain slopes of Sicily and northern Italy. He planted one of the pioneer peach orchards in Salt Lake City and successfully nurtured and raised to fruition the fig, almond, walnut, and bamboo roots carried to Utah from Sicily. The fig trees were bent while young so that they could be covered in winter with straw and soil to prevent freezing. Many a slip was taken from this original tree.

It is often true that great men and women must pass through great adversity and sorrow. So it was in the life of Joseph Toronto, the irony being that the most disheartening, painful trials for him seemed to be reserved for the final years of a lifetime marked by unfaltering devotion and a succession of generally happy, rewarding experiences. In May of 1865 his little girl, Ellen, passed away. She was four years old and his only daughter at the time. In August 1877, three months after returning from his second mission to Italy, Joseph was saddened by the passing of his beloved friend and benefactor, Brigham Young.

In February 1879, with his health already in a serious state of decline due to anxiety about his Sicilian relatives, Joseph suffered another heartbreaking setback: five year old John Charles, his first child by Anna, died after a tragic accident at the Toronto ranch. Following is the account of this sad incident published in the Deseret News February 26, 1879:

Last week a little five year old “son of Mr. Joseph Toronto of the 18th Ward was kicked by a horse and so badly injured that his death was considered almost inevitable. The accident occurred at the Point of the West Mountain, and the little sufferer was immediately brought to this city, everything being done that medical skill could suggest to relieve him. The child died, however, on Saturday [Feb. 22, 1879].

The funeral services took place this morning at the residence of the parents. A large congregation of sympathising friends were present; and words of consolation and instruction were spoken by Elders John T. Caine and Robert Patrick and Bishop F. Kesler of the 16th Ward.

Tragedy struck again four years later when Joseph’s second oldest son, Frank, was killed after being thrown from a horse. His death was particularly grievous because Frank was the only married child at that time and he left behind a wife, Rose Hannah, and two young sons–Frank, age 6 and Ernest, age 2 (Joseph’s and Eleanor’s first grandchildren). The newspaper report of March 6, 1883 reads:

Fatal Accident

On Thursday night at 6 o’clock Frank Toronto left E.T. City [Tooele] on horseback for his home at the Point of the Mountain West. It is probable that he was thrown from his animal and struck with his face upon a sharp rock, as he reached the house of Mr. Spencer, not far from his own residence at 3 o’clock a.m. yesterday [Friday] in a dazed condition with a fearful wound on his face…. He was brought to the residence of his father in the Eighteenth Ward of this city yesterday, when an operation was performed for the removal of a quantity of broken bone, by Dr. Anderson, but it appears the injury was necessarily fatal. This morning the attending surgeon and other gentlemen of the profession held a consultation, when it was concluded that the case was hopeless. The unfortunate young man expired at half-past 1 o’clock today [Saturday, March 17] Deceased was about 26 years old, son of Joseph Toronto, of the 18th Ward.

The combined effect of the untimely death of several children and of the distressing turn of events with his Italian family proved too much for Joseph’s
fragile health to bear. On Friday July 6th 1883 just four months after Frank’s death, Joseph Toronto died at his home in Salt Lake City. He was 67. His obituary appeared in the Deseret News on July 11:

Death of Joseph Toronto

At a quarter past ten o’clock this morning, Brother Joseph Toronto, after an illness extending over a period of six years, breathed his last at his residence in the Eighteenth Ward. The deceased was an old member of the community, and much respected for his exemplary conduct. He was a native of the Island of Sardinia….

The life of Brother Toronto exhibits many interesting incidents reflecting credit on the goodness of his heart…. He came to this Valley with the pioneers, traveling to President Young’s company, with whom he resided for several years. In 1853 he located in the Eighteenth Ward.

Among other labors he performed in connection with the Church was a mission to Italy… soon after he came to this Valley. He performed another mission to Sicily, going in 1875 and returning in 1877, when he brought here at his own expense, a company of [fourteen] Sicilians. Subsequent circumstances connected with that event appeared to bear heavily upon his mind, materially affecting his health, and he never recovered his former balance.

While many people know a great deal of good about Brother Toronto, we do not think there is anyone who can truthfully say anything bad about him.

The funeral services will be conducted at the Eighteenth Ward Chapel at 4:30 p.m. on Sunday, the 8th of July.

The Legacy of Joseph Toronto

Joseph Toronto’s life is remarkable, inspiring, and instructive in many ways, most of which are obvious and need no elaboration. But it is worth observing that the life of this humble man is a testament to the manner in which the Lord guides, blesses, and nurtures His children here on earth and keeps His promises to them. It also illustrates the tremendous influence, both spiritual and temporal, that one righteous, steadfast individual can have in the lives of future generations. Surely the untutored sailor from Sicily could not have fully envisioned the far-reaching impact of his decisions to embrace a new faith in Boston, move to Nauvoo, and give his life’s savings to the Church. Brigham Young’s promise that Joseph would stand at the head of the Italian race and that his family would never want for bread was comforting and uplifting as was his patriarchal blessing which spoke of his becoming eventually a “messenger of salvation” to his family and of having a “numerous posterity” and a name held in “honorable remembrance among the saints.” But certainly he, like most people, could not fully grasp the profound implications of righteous decisions and marvelous promises such as these for shaping the quality of life and affecting the destinies of men and women yet to be born.

While most of these promises were fulfilled by the time of his death in 1883, some were not. He and his family had indeed become prosperous, respected members of the Church and community, but with only four children and two grandchildren alive then, prospects for a numerous posterity were not very encouraging, and his success in bringing salvation to his family, despite his valiant efforts, had been minimal and extremely disappointing.

But the Lord’s timetable for the realization of prophecies and promised blessings is frequently not the same as man’s. His is eternal and merciful in scope; ours is finite and often short-sighted and impatient. The lives of Joseph Toronto’s descendants have continued through the years to be blessed spiritually and temporally as a result of his faith and courage, and now, 100 years after Joseph’s death and with the advantage of a century’s perspective and hindsight, it is clear that the rest of the Lord’s promises to him have literally been fulfilled. His posterity surpassed “numerous” long ago and is well on its way to the “sands of the sea” category: as of June 1983 Joseph’s direct descendants number 231 including 7 children, 17 grandchildren, 54 great-grandchildren, and 153 great-great grandchildren. (We stopped counting at the fifth generation: there are more beyond that.)

As for becoming a “messenger of salvation” to his family and people, this blessing has been realized in several ways: Joseph himself has continued his missionary labors for the past century on the other side of the veil; extensive genealogy and temple work performed by descendants of Joseph have made the ordinances of salvation available to literally thousands of his Italian relatives in the spirit world; the descendants of those first Italian converts from Piedmont are multitudinous in the Church today, many having served as missionaries in Italy; and finally, Joseph’s own posterity has included a great number of missionaries and church leaders who have worked with the Italian people in various parts of the world.

The ancient proverb wisely says: “Children’s children are the crown of old men; and the glory of children are their fathers.” (Proverbs 17:5) Equally true is this modern conclusion: “The faithfulness of the fathers won great blessings for their children’s children; and the faithfulness of the children will bring glory to their forefathers.” This inter-relationship of blessings between parents and posterity was never more clearly demonstrated than in the life story of Joseph Toronto, the Italian pioneer and patriarch. His faithfulness won the promise of blessings to his posterity forever, and his children’s children have continued to reap those blessings and to bring honor to his name.

Concluding Tributes

Two tributes are a fitting conclusion to this history. The first is by Angela Bowen Haight, a great-granddaughter of Joseph Toronto who shares her feelings about some of his qualities and about the missionaries who taught him the Gospel:

First of all, he had flexibility. He had the ability to make changes in his life, to learn a new language, to come to a strange land, to change his profession, to accept a new religion. Secondly, he was courageous. He did the right thing. I’m sure it must have been difficult for him to face his Catholic relatives and tell them that he had joined this Church, which must have seemed like an upstart cult to most of the people of that day. Thirdly, he was obedient. After-a little nudge, he did go to Nauvoo, he fulfilled the missions that he was called upon, he drove cattle across the plains, he did what he was told, he even married the woman that he was counseled to marry. And finally, he had commitment. He gave all he had materially to the Church, and I think that he gave a great deal of service. He was faithful and endured to the end of his life in this new religion that he had embraced, and he passed it on as a great inheritance to his own family.

I am very grateful for the unknown missionaries who preached to my grandfather. It was 137 years ago, and I’m sure that they had no conception of what the effects of their efforts would be in the long span of time since then.

The second tribute (written by the Toronto family genealogist, Brian M.
Leese, who did the extensive searches on the Taranto lines in Italy in the
late 1950’s) honors not only Joseph Toronto and his descendants, but the
Taranto ancestors as well:

Certainly I could look with a certain satisfaction at the results of these searches. Certainly I knew that heavenly beings had guided my steps, had opened paths to me and had protected me throughout my travels. Certainly the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of Joseph Toronto, holding prominent and honoured positions in Church and State in the United States of America, felt rewarded for their confidence and faith and for the financial sacrifice that they made in order to finance these extensive searches. Certainly they can be justly proud to be the sons of such an honest race of brave and godfearing men who tilled the soil, faced the tumult of the seas and raised their families in the shadows of those great volcanoes. And as the descendants of Giovanni Giacomo Taranto have come from these distant islands to prosper in far-off lands through their courage and integrity, so they have been gathered together from the isles of the sea according to the words of the prophecy.

If the members of the Toronto family today have reason to feel justly proud of their upright lineage, so must Giovanni Giacomo Taranto, who stands as patriarch at the head of this widespread family, look proudly at his sons, and his sons’ sons through four hundred years. This was my thought as I sailed away from Alicudi last September and watched the glorious sun sink into the bright sapphire waters off the Mediterranean, a breathtakingly beautiful scene, silhouetted against the dark purple mountain rock which is the isle of Alicudi, the cradle of a truly noble race of men, the salt of the earth.


Born: 13 April 1824

Clynmarch, Carmarthen, Wales

Died: 14 August 1900

Salt Lake City, Utah


There is very limited written information about Joseph’s first wife, Eleanor (Ellen) Jones: most of what we know about her is based on oral family tradition. She was born April 13,1824 in Clynmarch, Carmarthen, Wales. Her father, John Jones, and her mother, Ann Lewis, were a poor farming family who, in keeping with the custom of the day, hired out their older children to other farms and businesses to help support the family. Ellen joined the Church during a time when the Mormon missionaries were doing extensive missionary work in South Wales and converting large groups of people. She was baptized on May 18, 1847, but her sister, Jane, was the only other member of the family to join the Church with her.

After her baptism Ellen stayed in Wales for another five years with her family. One account states that her father died suddenly and that that event was the impetus for the emigration of the rest of the family to America. The same account says that Ellen, her sister, Jane, her brother, John and her mother left Wales together to come across the ocean but that her mother contracted pneumonia on the ship and died before reaching the States. It is known that Jane’s husband also emigrated with the family and that Ellen, Jane, and Jane’s husband crossed the plains to Utah in a handcart company in 1852. Ellen subsequently settled in Salt Lake City while Jane and her husband made their home in Malad, Idaho. It is not known what became of Ellen’s brother John, but in later years other members of the Jones family immigrated from Wales and settled in upstate New York. Correspondence was carried on at times between them and their Toronto relatives in Utah.

Shortly after Ellen arrived in Utah, President Brigham Young introduced her to his young Italian friend, Joseph Toronto, who had just returned from his mission to Italy. At the President’s suggestion and with his encouragement, Joseph and Ellen were married in the fall of 1853. He was 37 and she was 29. Zina D. Young, wife of Brigham, sponsored a reception and dinner at the Lion House for the newlyweds. Pres. Young arranged for them to buy a lot on First Avenue between A and B Streets on which they built a house and raised their family. Joseph and Ellen had four children: Joseph Brigham (the middle name a reflection of Joseph’s and Ellen’s love and esteem for Pres. Young who had such a tremendous influence in both of their lives), Frank, Ellen, and Jonathan Jones. Their daughter died at age 4 in 1865 and their second son, Frank, was accidentally killed in 1883 at the age of 27. Joseph B. was never married and was a professor of mathematics for 25 years at the University of Utah. Their youngest child, Jonathan, was the Tabernacle organ technician for many years.

The children of Joseph and Eleanor have many fond memories of the home on First Avenue and of their growing up years there. The yard, with its gardens, flowers, and fruit trees, was a delightful place in which to play and visit with friends and relatives. The boys enjoyed spending the summers on the ranch at Toronto Cave, but apparently Ellen was not so enthusiastic: Indians often camped nearby and came to the house asking for food, and she always felt frightened and uneasy about the safety of the children. The Indians also told them that the cave was an ancient burial spot and still haunted by spirits: the strange sounds and eerie feeling inside its dark interior always made the boys feel uncomfortable. Also, the Pony Express stopped and watered their horses at the cave, and the children used to enjoy talking with the men and hearing the fascinating yarns they would weave.

Other details about Eleanor’s life are related in family tradition. She and three of her Welsh friends in Salt Lake formed a club. The three ladies would often bring their cows to the Toronto lot on First Avenue and spend the afternoon enjoying each other’s company and conversation. The children were close friends of Pres. Young’s children, frequently spending the night with them. Giuseppe would say to Ellen some evenings, “The boys aren’t home tonight–where are they?” and he would reply, “Sleeping at the Lion House with Brigham’s kids.” Eleanor worked hard helping her husband with their fruit business which was one of their main sources of income: picking the fruit, drying and boxing it, and having it shipped out to various markets, primarily to mining towns in Montana.

During her later life Ellen was in delicate health. It was for this reason that she and Joseph hired a young Swedish convert, Anna Catharina Johansson, to assist her in caring for the children. Ellen and Anna developed a close relationship, and it was at Ellen’s behest that Joseph took Anna as his second wife. The children remember Ellen as having a beautiful, even-tempered disposition–as being “an angel on earth”–and her love for Anna and unselfish desire to have her join Joseph’s family are certainly evidence of this quality. It is interesting to note that both Joseph and Anna were natives of other countries and so were not at their ease trying to speak English. In addition, after Joseph brought several of his family from Sicily to Utah in 1877, these Italian relatives spent much time at the Toronto home. Joseph built a bower in the yard where the Scappatura family would entertain the Torontos and their neighbors by singing Italian songs and playing the guitar and other instruments. Eleanor was an excellent cook and learned from her Sicilian in-laws to prepare many delicious Italian dishes. Being surrounded by and accepting so warmly and readily non-English speaking immigrants reveals much about the depth of her patience, sensitivity, and concern for others.

Eleanor was extremely pleased when Jonathan married and brought his wife, Clara, home to live with her and her son, Joseph. She died a year and a half later, however, on August 14, 1900. After her death the home was occupied by Joseph B. and Jonathan and his family. All of Jonathan’s children were born and I lived there till they were married. This statement by Jonathan reflects Ellen’s influence in her home and in the lives of her children: “This home has been greatly blessed. It has been a haven of joy and peace to our many friends and to strangers. It was greatly loved by our children and grandchildren.”

(The information for this brief sketch was obtained from John S. Toronto and Verona A. Bowen, two of Eleanor’s grandchildren, in June 1983.)


Born: 24 July 1842

Broby, Skaraborg, Sweden

Died: 16 September 1928

Salt Lake City, Utah


Anna Katrina Johansson was born 24 July 1842 in Broby, Sweden. 3y the time she was about 18 years of age she was an orphan, having recently lost her mother and two sisters from scarlet fever. She went to live with an aunt, where she lived a real-life Cinderella existence: cleaning and scrubbing for the aunt who mistreated her and otherwise was unkind to her.

We don’t know how or where Anna heard the gospel, but we do know she was baptized 28 March 1868 when 26 years old. At any rate, it is speculated that perhaps her membership in the Mormon Church was cause for part of the aunt’s unkind treatment of her. While living with the aunt, Anna also worked for other people who paid her for her services. Gradually, coin by coin, Anna was able to save enough money to come to America and on to Utah to be with the Saints.

Before she left Sweden the missionary who baptized her told her that when she got to Utah to come to his home in Huntsville, a little town about 40 miles north of
Salt Lake City. This Anna did; but after living with this family for several months she felt the desire and the need to go to Salt Lake City. She told them that she wanted to see the temple, shake hands with the prophet, and live with the Saints there; she also said that she had been able to save enough money to pay her way there. The good Brother told Anna he would take her there, because he so appreciated the fine work she had done for his family.

She had been living with the Hatch family in Bountiful for quite some time, when a Brother Joseph Toronto of Salt Lake City came seeking her services to care for his family because his wife was expecting another baby soon. While Anna was living with the Toronto family, she and Sister Toronto, Eleanor, became very close friends. After a bit, Eleanor suggested to Joseph that he marry Anna and take her as a second wife. Eleanor used the arguments that Anna had no home here in Utah, no family anywhere, and that since she loved Anna like a sister they would be a happy family together. Joseph didn’t take to the idea too readily; but after much persuasion and insistence from Eleanor, and after discussing the matter with Brigham Young who heartily gave his approval, Joseph and Anna were married on 22 January 1872 in the Endowment House. Joseph was 24 years older than Anna, who was 30 years old when they were married.

A small house was built for her on property owned by Joseph on “A” Street at 1st Avenue. She also spent much time in a home near the Oquirrah Mountains south west of Salt Lake City where Joseph was herdsman for Brigham Young’s cattle. There were many cattle in big pastures; the grass was high; and there were no close neighbors. It was here that a cave in the side of the mountains sheltered the cattle from Winds and storms; and in later years this cave also sheltered people as they traveled from Tooele to Salt Lake City, and it was called “Toronto Cave”.

Anna had three children: Charles, Who was killed at the age of six when a horse kicked him in the head, and Rosa and Albert who grew to maturity. Her husband died when Albert was five years old, and Anna and her two children moved to the home on “A” Street. Because there were limited finances from her husband’s estate, Anna planted a garden and sold the vegetables, and she also took in washings to help keep herself and the children.

When Joseph died he had money, but had turned it over to Joe, his and Eleanor’s oldest son. Joe was not a business man, but he had friends who invested the money in stocks for him, and he became wealthy. However, he never offered anything to Anna or her family. If Anna was desperate for clothes or some needed item for herself or the children, she would have to ask Joe for money. Never did he offer her extra for a few niceties, only the bare amount required at the time of a request.

As Rosa and Albert grew older they were a great help in adding to the family finances. Albert started working at about age 10 at Barton’s clothing store as a cash boy. Rosa worked at the Deseret News. Albert was able to graduate from the University of Utah with a degree in business; Rosa also graduated. This higher education probably was due to the influence of Joe, who was an outstanding mathematics professor at the University.

Between the years 1899 and 1902 Albert was on a mission to Germany. During these years Anna’s left eye became infected from an ordinary cold. The infection became so bad it was necessary to remove the eye, and for quite some time it was feared the other eye also might have to be removed; but it was cured and she was able to see with it. After this she wore glasses with the left lens frosted. Rosa’s work at the Deseret News helped keep Albert on his mission; she also met him in Germany, and they toured Europe for several weeks. Anna declined going because of her eye and general poor health at the time.

Several years after Albert’s mission, Rosa married, and she and her husband were instrumental in building a fine two-story brick home on the “A” Street property. Within a few years, however, Rosa’s husband died; then Rosa and Anna lived together in the home. Anna lived here the rest of her life.

Anna had difficulty in understanding and speaking the English language, neither could she hear too well, so she didn’t take much active part in Church activities, even in her own Ward. She did enjoy visiting other Swedish Saints and talking with them in their own native language. She died 18 September 1928 at the age of 86 years.

(Information for this life sketch was obtained in August 1969 by Clara R. Toronto through conversations with Etta Toronto, Albert’s wife.)

Other spellings of Anna’s name which have caused a lot of difficulty in locating genealogy data about her are: Anna Katerina Johansson and Ana Katerina Johansen.


Born: 27 February 1817

Hjalstad, Skaraborg, Sweden

Died: (Date Unknown)


Little is known of Joseph’s third wife, Catharina. She was born and joined the Church in the Skaraborg region of Sweden, the same area that Anna Catharina came from. She was baptized in 1863 and emigrated to Utah in 1873. Catharina was a widow who, it appears, had no children. It is very likely that upon her arrival in Salt Lake City, she became acquainted with Anna Toronto who often hosted and visited with the other Swedish saints in the Valley. Catharina, age 57, was sealed to Joseph, age 58, in November 1874, just three years after he had married Anna. The federal census of 1880 shows her as a resident of Joseph’s household along with Eleanor, Anna, Efisia Agras (Joseph’s Sicilian sister), Joseph B., Jonathan, Rosa Anna, and Albert.


From the Isles of the Sea

The interesting and inspiring story of Joseph Toronto, the young Sicilian sailor who came to New York, and was inspired to seek out and join the Saints, then in Nauvoo, has often been written in magazine articles, and even recounted over the television on a program devoted to him and his descendants. I was honored to participate in that program and asked to give advice to the descendants of Joseph Toronto as to how an accurate genealogical record of his ancestry might be obtained. I studied the problem thoroughly and made some suggestions. To my great pleasure the family decided to follow up these suggestions and a couple of years later when I was in Italy I was retained by the family to compile the genealogy of Joseph Toronto.The interesting experiences involved, and the abundant results eventually obtained, will not, I believe, fail to interest genealogical enthusiasts and perhaps kindle a spark of interest in those who have not given much attention to this fascinating study.Joseph Toronto, according to his own statement, was born on 25th June 1816 at Cagliari on the Island of Sardinia, the son of Francesco Toronto and Angela Fazio. Joseph Toronto also left record that his father was born on the Island of Ustica, and his mother in the town of Trapani, Sicily, but gave no dates of birth, of death or other information concerning them. It was known that after his establishment in Utah, Joseph Toronto, who had crossed the plains with Pioneers from Nauvoo, returned to his native land to visit his family. When he returned to America he brought a group of his relatives with him. Some of these went on to California and we have lost trace of them but one sister Mrs. Maria Grazia Scappatura remained in Salt Lake City and died there, and Salt Lake City records show the names of her four children who accompanied her, Antonio born 1850 in Palermo, Sicily, Francesco,Vincenzo born 1856 in Palermo, Sicily, and Angelina. The death record of Maria Grazia Scappatura filed in the archives of the Utah Board of Health showed her to be the widow of Giovanni Raffaele Scappatura. Some early papers also mentioned cousins called Adoraiddio.

Having thoroughly explored all the available sources in the United States I was ready to begin the research in Italy. At the beginning I was struck by the unusual fact that these people seemed to have moved about very considerably. I decided to begin my searches in the civil records of Palermo with the most recent dates available, those of the births of the children of Maria Grazia Toronto Scappatura, the sister of Joseph Toronto. My idea in doing this was to obtain some definite details on these people in Sicily, which would furnish a reliable starting point for research. Not without considerable difficulty I obtained permission to make searches personally in the archives of the Municipality of Palermo. Armed with my permission from the Tribunal of the First Instance I presented myself at the archives and a rather surprised employee led me to the rooms where the records are stored. Suddenly he turned on his heel and vanished in case I should call on him for assistance, and I found myself in a dusty hall lined with hundreds of volumes of births, marriages and deaths, for the City of Palermo (population 500,000) commencing in 1820 when Ferdinand, King of Naples and Sicily ordered civil records to be kept throughout his dual kingdom. The enormous leather-bound tomes were in a state of supreme disorder, and I almost gave up in despair in advance. However, after a few strenuous hours, carrying volumes to and fro, I had arranged them in fairly good order, from 1820 to 1870, missing only one volume, and after 1870, the records were in order, as they are more frequently in use. Once the volumes were in order, it was a straightforward task to begin searches, and I found the birth records of five children of Giovanni Raffaele Scappatura and his wife Maria Grazia Taranto confirming the correct original spelling of the name), including Antonio, Vincenzo and Francesco who died in Salt Lake City. I followed this up by tracing the marriage of this couple which the civil records showed to have taken place on 17 September, 1846. I went to the Parish Church where the marriage had been celebrated (one of many parishes in the town) and asked permission to look up the entry in the parochial register of marriages of that date. The original entry of marriage showed that the bride, Maria Grazia Taranto was born in Palermo on 21 October 1820, the daughter of Francesco Matteo Taranto, a sailor, and his wife Angela Fazio. This sent me hurrying back to the civil archives where I found the birth record of Maria Grazia in 1820 in the very first volumes of the civil records, and also, continuing my searches there, the births of three younger children, Vincenzo 1824, Luigi 1827, and Rosalia 1832. I continued working in the civil records for several days, determined to exhaust all the possibilities of that valuable source before moving on.

By the time I finished my searches in that archive I was fully satisfied with the results. Among other things I found the marriage of Rosalia Taranto, the sister of Giuseppe (Joseph) to Vincenzo Adoraiddio, confirming the connection with that family, and also the record of two older sisters, Giovanna and Efisia, with their marriages and several family groups of their descendants. Another valuable find was the death record of Angela Fazio Taranto, the mother of the emigrant Joseph. She lived to an advanced age and died in Palermo in 1870. From 1865 onwards the records are considered “private” as they contain information concerning living persons, and are not available for consultation, so I requested and obtained an official copy of the death record of Angela Fazio Taranto. The certificate issued to me stated she was born in Trapani (which confirmed the family record) and that she was a daughter of Vincenzo Fazio and Giovanna Signone.

A year later when I made extensive searches in the archives of several parishes in Trapani, and compiled a fine pedigree of Angela Fazio reaching back for several generations, I found that, in fact, her mother’s name was Giovanna Margaqliotta. The seeming error was the fault of the clerk who wrote out the death certificate, he was not competent to read the records and miscopied, for what the register actually recorded was Glovanna ——– “s’ignore” . Indicating that the person who registered the death ignored the name of this woman!

Having completed my searches in Palermo I set forth for Ustica. Ustica is a remote island in the Mediterranean, now used as a Federal Penitentiary by the Italian Government, and the prisoners make up the major part of the population today, with the few islanders who have remained trying to eke out an existence on the rocky volcanic isle. The island is known to have been inhabited in prehistoric and ancient times, but by the middle ages it had become completely depopulated, due to its volcanic nature. In the seventeenth century it became the lair of dangerous pirates from the Barbary Coast of North Africa who used it as a base for their nefarious exploits, which included smuggling, wrecking, kidnapping and slave trafficking. This state became so bad that eventually about 1750 the King of Naples and Sicily sent a large force to raid the island and disperse the pirates. The King then gave the island to the Diocese of Palermo and asked the Bishop to arrange to have the island colonized in order to keep the pirates away. The reputation of Ustica was so bad, however, and such blood-curdling stories were told of the pirates who had used the island and were likely to return there, that not even the poor and landless peasants in the villages around Palermo could be persuaded to accept land there as a gift. Eventually a small group of fisherfolk from the Aeolian Islands, bred to the loneliness of such isolated places, and familiar with the volcanic soil and the angry seas accepted to colonize the island of Ustica. A roster in the state archives at Palermo lists the names of those to whom grants of land were confirmed in 1768. Forty families had sailed to Ustica in 1763, but several had returned to their home by 1768, and of the remaining heads of families who received land grants five were named Taranto, brothers and cousins, among them the grandparents and great grandparents of Joseph Taranto who emigrated to America. The history of the island during the first years of the colonization of 1763 is indeed exciting. From time to time the pirates would return, raid the island, menace the inhabitants, steal the crops and supplies, and carry off the young women. The Taranto men and their relatives and neighbors were hardy and persistent however, and the raiders eventually left them in peace. These first settlers achieved a certain measure of prosperity, they worked hard on the land and were industrious fishermen. Two generations later, the island was no longer able to support its populations. The first settlers had large families, and the population grew accordingly, the land was divided and re-divided according to the Italian custom where the property is divided equally between each of the children. Therefore in the winter of 1802 when the Count of Sant’Antiochio proclaimed that he was offering for colonization the small island of Sant’Antiochio off the coast of Sardinia, twenty-seven families from Ustica applied for grants.

These families left for Sardinia in 1803 and among them we find the twenty-five year old Francesco Matteo Antono Taranto father of Joseph Taranto. As his father had been a pioneer before him in Ustica, and as his son was to be a pioneer and colonizer in Western America, so Francesco Taranto set out to create a home for himself on a new island. He was doomed to misfortune, the crops failed, fever broke out and raged on the little island which had no doctor or medicines. All but a few of the settlers died, and those that survived mostly returned to Ustica. Francesco Taranto went to the Port of Cagliari in Sardinia where he was employed as a mariner, and where his son Joseph (Giuseppe) was born in 1816. In 1818 Francesco Taranto and his wife moved to Palermo in Sicily where their younger children were born and where young Joseph grew to manhood and like his father went to sea.

At five o’clock one morning I boarded the little boat for Ustica at the docks in Palermo. My presence was obviously incongruous and excited a certain amount of attention from the other passengers, one or two islanders returning home, twenty prisoners chained hand and foot going to the penitentiary, a few policemen accompanying them, and some warders. The sea was quite rough, the little boat rolled from side to side, a baby cried, the rough prisoners sang beautiful Sicilian love songs, I thought of many things, of home, of the peril of the seas, of the courage of these lonely islanders and the shattered lives of the prisoners and life seemed suddenly very and very short and very important.

Before noon we reached Ustica, the boats cannot enter the little harbour, which prevents the prisoners from escaping, none ever has. One has to transfer to a little rowing-boat which comes out alongside to carry in the passengers. A police inspector examines every passenger’s papers before he is allowed to land, and this one seemed very suspicious of me and my reasons for coming to the island. Anyway he allowed me to land, but I was later called twice to the police station and questioned. It must have seemed strange to them that anyone should come to this isolated rocky spot to look up the old church records, and I was the main attraction and center of attention on the island during my stay there. I found a room, and presented myself to the parish priest. I discovered that the parish was run by two kindly Franciscan monks, several priests from the mainland having been unable to support the loneliness of the place.

Lengthy and careful searches in the parish records yielded fruitful results. I found the birth records of Francesco Matteo Antonio Taranto in 1782 and many family groups of his brothers, cousins, uncles, etc. The islanders inter-married considerably and I was able to establish the complete record of all the related families back to 1763 when they came to Ustica and down to the present time. In 1900 over a thousand Usticans left the island to settle in the Mississippi delta area of Louisiana where many of their descendants are today. I met the only Taranto left on the island, a kindly old man named Pietro Taranto, a distant cousin of the family now in Utah. He had spent many years in Louisiana as a young man, had married his own niece, a strange custom, not infrequent in the islands, and she had died in America. He returned to his island home and re-married and raised twelve children, all living. One daughter lives on the volcanic island of Lampedusa between Sicily and North Africa. From their weatherbeaten island homes the sons and daughters of the Taranto family have scattered to the extremities of the globe, and the final enormous pedigree of this family shows branches allover Italy, at Tunis in North Africa, in New York, Louisiana, Utah, and California, in Australia and New Zealand.

When I had thoroughly covered the records in Ustica I went over to the Aeolian Islands, from whence the first Taranto pioneers had come to Ustica. The Aeolian group, consisting of Lipari, Vulcano, Alicudi, Filicudi, Salina, Panarea and Stromboli is scattered across the sea North of Sicily. Today the islands are quite well known. Many people come in the summer to Lipari, famous for its sport of under-water fishing, archeologist’s and nature lovers come to explore Vulcano, peace-seeking Romans and Neapolitans come to spend their summer vacations on quiet and beautiful Panarea, and Stromboli, the most beautiful of the islands, with its treacherous volcano belching red smoke into the deep blue Mediterranean nights, has become famous throughout the world since the epic film made there with Ingrid Bergman.

It took many days of tedious searching to establish the connections of the Ustica Tarantos with their old home. Eventually I found that they came from the tiniest and most remote island of the group … Alicudi, but their connections by marriage spread to every island of the group. Twenty-six typewritten pages of data, and a pedigree chart nearly ten feet long were the fruits of my labours, and I traced all the branches of the Taranto family back to a common ancestor Giovanni Giacomo Taranto born about 1590, who came to the Island of Lipari, and later moved to Alicudi. From this man and his wife Lucrezia Sicura or Segura, the daughter of a Spanish soldier sent in occupation (at that time the Spaniards held the islands) descend the hundreds of Taranto families who have spread through the islands and to America and Australia. The enormous progeny of the first Giovanni Giacomo Taranto and their confusing intermarriages and interrelationships was the subject of further research on a second visit to the Aeolian Islands last year and the record of a further 300 families of descendants of Giovanni Giacomo Taranto was prepared.

Certainly I could look with a certain satisfaction at the results of these searches. Certainly I new that heavenly beings had guided my steps, had opened paths to me and had protected me throughout my travels. Certainly the grandchildren and great grancdhildren of Joseph Toronto, holding prominent and honoured positions in Church and State in the United States of America felt rewarded for their confidence and faith and for the financial sacrifice that they made in order to finance these extensive searches. Certainly they can be justly proud to be the sons of such an honest race of brave and god-fearing men who tilled the soil, faced the tumult of the seas and raised their families in the shadows of those great volcanos. And as the descendants of Giovanni Giacomo Taranto have come from these distant islands to prosper in far-off lands through their courage and integrity, so they have been gathered together from the isles of the sea according to the words of the prophecy. If the members of the Toronto family today have reason to feel justly proud of their upright lineage, so must Giovanni Giacomo Taranto, who stands as patriarch at the head of this widespread family, look proudly at his sons, and his sons’ sons through four hundred years. This was my thought as I sailed away from Alicudi last September and watched the glorious sun sink into the bright sapphire waters off the Mediterranean, a breathtakingly beautiful scene, silhouetted against the dark purple mountain rock which is the isle of Alicudi, the cradle of a truly noble race of men, the salt of the earth.

Brian M. Leese

May 10, 1849

A Blessing by John Smith, Patriarch, upon the head of Joseph Toronto, son of Francesco and Angela (age unknown) born on island of Sardinia, Europe.
Joseph, I lay my hands upon thy head by the authority given me of Jesus Christ and in his name I seal a father’s blessing upon thee. Inasmuch as thou hast obeyed the gospel, the Lord is well pleased. For this end he hath called thee from thy native land to make of thee a messenger of salvation to thy native land even to thy brethren. Thy sins are forgiven thee, and inasmuch as you abide in the truth they shall be remembered no more against you forever. Thou art of the house of Jacob through the loins of Menasseh the son of Joseph and an heir to the holy priesthood which hath power over all things in Heaven and on Earth and all the blessings of the new and everlasting covenant. Thou shalt be endowed with power from on high and go forth in the spirit of the God of Elijah to the land of thy nativity and shall bring many thousand of thy brethren into the new and everlasting covenant, shall have power to do miracles before their eyes to astonish them, to heal the sick, cause the blind to see, and all other miracles, even to raise the dead, to rebuke the winds and the waves of the sea. All these miracles are to be done when it is necessary for the safety and salvation of thy people.Thou shalt have a numerous posterity, for the Lord shall give thee a companion after thine own heart to comfort thee. Thy name shall be had in honorable remembrance among the saints. You shall live to see the winding up scene of this generation, helping to build Zion with the saints, and receive a celestial glory. If you abide in the truth to the end no power shall take this blessing from you.

Even so.


Albert Harrington, Recorder

No. 1463
Salt Lake City
July 8, 1870

A Blessing given by John Smith, Patriarch, upon the head of Joseph Toronto, son of Francesco and Angela Toronto. Born Italian, Island Sardinia, Italy, year 1816.

Brother Joseph, I lay my hands upon thy head in the name of Jesus Christ and say unto thee thou art of the House of Israel and through the providence of God thou hast been brought from thy native land to be united with the Saints and be instrumental in the hands of God in saving some of thy kindred and bringing to the knowledge of the truth those of thy kindred who are honest in heart. Therefore be diligent and listen to the promptings of the Spirit. The time is not far distant when thy prayers shall be realized and thy heart shall be comforted to know of thy kindred who will accept the truth. See thy faith fail not. The Lord knoweth their integrity and will give unto thee as thou shalt merit.

Thy days and years shall be lengthened according to thy faith. Thou shalt be prospered in thy labors spiritually and temporally and thou shalt not lack for the comforts of life if thou wilt be humble and follow the promptings of the Monitor within thee. Thy mind shall be expanded. Thou shalt better see and understand things as they are and shall fill up the measure of thy creation and fulfill thy Mission upon the Earth.

Thou art entitled through thy lineage to the blessings of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob with many of the gifts of the priesthood and I say unto thee if thou wilt listen to the whisperings of the Spirit thou shalt be warned of the events of the future and see danger in time to escape.

This blessing I seal upon thy head and I seal thee up unto Eternal Life to come forth in the morning of the first resurrection.

Even so.


John Smith

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

This entry was posted in Biography, Genealogy, History and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>