George Quayle Cannon was born in Liverpool, England, 11 January 1827, the oldest child of George and Ann Quayle Cannon. George's parents and ancestors were originally from the Isle of Man. The Cannons' association with the Mormon Church occurred when his aunt, Leonora Cannon, with her husband and future president of the church, John Taylor, was baptized by Parley P. Pratt in 1836. Four years later, John Taylor, while on a mission in England, converted the Cannon family including thirteen-year-old George. The family left Liverpool two years later and sailed for America. During their voyage, George's mother died, leaving six children and a widowed husband to reach Nauvoo, Illinois, without her. Two years later, George's father also died.
Arriving in Nauvoo in the spring of 1843, George lived with John and Leonara Taylor's family. Soon thereafter, George began work as a printer's apprentice for his uncle in the publishing office of the Times and Seasons and the Nauvoo Neighbor. Following the assassinations of Joseph and Hyrum Smith, George watched over the affairs of the printing business while his uncle recovered from wounds he received at the Carthage Jail.