Edited by Lavina Fielding Anderson
Lucy’s Last Years
[p.779]In October 1845, Lucy Mack Smith declared publicly that she wished to go West with the Saints; Brigham Young responded that the church would take her. Certainly her presence would have been a validation of the Twelve’s authoritative claims second only to the presence of Emma Smith and her sons; yet when the Mormon wagons rolled out of Nauvoo, Lucy stayed behind. As late as 30 May 1847, W. W. Phelps wrote to Reuben Miller in Wisconsin: “Brother McCleary came with me to take his wife, and Mother Smith if she wishes, on to the camp” (Phelps). And no doubt Young would have arranged for Lucy to be transported on her very deathbed, if she had so chosen. But she did not.
We may never know what slippage occurred; probably Emma Smith’s growing distance from Brigham Young and William’s excommunication meant that the chasm between Joseph’s church and Joseph’s family was too great for the septagenarian Lucy to bridge alone. The unquestionable rigors of the journey, especially without her own children around her, must have also given her pause.
Lucy was living with Emma Smith at the time of the assassinations. In September 1844 she moved with her daughter Lucy and Arthur Millikin to the Jonathan Browning house provided by the church. On Christmas day, W. W. Phelps wrote to William Smith that Lucy had “cried for joy” and “blessed you in the name of the Lord” when she read his letter (Phelps to W. Smith). In January 1845, she wrote William, “I live with Arthur and Lucy who are very kind and send their love” (L. Smith to William). She was still there when returned to Nauvoo in May 1845. The next month, on the anniversary of Joseph’s and Hyrum’s deaths, she had her three-part vision that showed William as both head of the church and in mortal danger.
Up to this point, Lucy’s relationships with the Twelve seemed to be frequent and warm; but as William’s ambitions and suspicions—not all of them groundless—soured his standing in the quorum, Lucy also distanced herself. This trajectory, though not commented on directly, can be glimpsed in diaries and official documents.
When Wilford Woodruff visited the grief-stricken Lucy on 23 August 1844, two months after the assassinations, he found “the Old Mother and Prophetess … most heart broaken at the loss of her Children and the wicked and Cruel treatment she had recieved from the hands of the gentile world. She begged a blessing at my hands” (Woodruff 2:451). Speaking by “the Spirit of God,” Woodruff pronounced a blessing that affirmed her achievement as the wife of the patriarch and the mother of the prophet:
[p.780]Beloved Mother in Israel according to your request I lay my hands upon your head, in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth and by virtue of the Holy Priesthood and the [symbol] of the kingdom of God to bestow a blessing upon you for thou art worthy of all blessings.
As I lade my hands upon thy husband Joseph Smith sen. the Patriarch of the Church by his request to bless him as he lay upon his bed like Jacob of old ready to gather up his feet and sleep with his fathers, and I about to take my departure over the sea to visit foreign nations, which was the last time we ever met on earth in like manner do I essteem it a blessing and a privilege to lay my hands upon your head, in your decline of life to leave with you my parting blessing as I am again Called to bid farewell to my native Country and visit foreign Climes to bear record of the word of God.
We may never meet again on earth. But I thank my God that I have this privilege of blessing thee, for my heart is full of blessings for thee for thou art the greatest Mother in Israel. The sons thou hast bourn and Cherished are the most noble spirits that ever graced humanity or tabernacled in flesh. Their work shall be had in honorable remembrance through all generations of men. Though counted among transgressors, they like the Messiah have shed their blood for the sins of the people, and freely offered their lives and sealed their testimony.
Thou hast lived and stood to see the fall of thy sons by the rage of gentile hands. And like an impenatrible rock in the midst of the mighty deep thou hast remained unmoved untill God has given thee [the] desires of thy heart in seeing the keys of the Kingdom of God held in the hands of thy Posterity so planted in the earth that they shall never be taken from it untill he reigns whose right it is to reign.
Let thy heart be Comforted in the midst of thy sorrow, for thou shalt be had in honorable rememberance forever in the Congregations of the righteous. Thou shalt be remembered in thy wants during the remainder of thy day. And when thou art called to depart thou canst lie down in peace having seen the salvation of God, in laying an everlasting foundation for the deliverance <of Israel> through the instrumentality of thy sons.
I seal upon your head all the blessings of the fulness of the gospel and of the Church of the first born, and all those blessings that have been sealed upon you heretofore. If we meet no more on earth we will meet in the morn of the first resurrection whare you shall recieve thrones, powers, a dominion and kingdom, in Connexion with thy husband in his high exhaltation in the linage of his fathers. … (2:451-42)
Brigham Young and Heber C. Kimball together “visited Mother Smith” on 30 September 1844 (HC 7:279). Heber C. Kimball made separate visits on 4 October 1844, 4 February, and 9 February 1845 but does not say what they talked about (HC 7:371; Kimball, Potter’s, 95, 96). According to Hosea Stout, on 23 February 1845, Lucy spoke to the congregation gathered at Bishop Jonathan Hale’s:
[p.781]Told her feelings and the trials and troubles she had passed through in establishing the Church of Christ and the persecutions and afflictions which her sons and husband had passed through, and the cruel and unheard of martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum which had took place so lately. And exhorted the brethren and sisters to be faithful and bring up their children in the way they should go and not have them running about in the streets as was too much allowed now. All were deeply affected with the remarks of this “Mother,” of the “Mothers in Israel” for she spoke with the most feeling and heart-broken manner of the troubles she had passed through.1
At some point during 1845, Mother Lucy, Arthur, and Lucy moved into a house owned by William Marks. With William Smith’s return in May came the rift in the lute. On 30 May 1845, Heber C. Kimball learned at a meeting of the Twelve that “Wm. Smith not sattisfid other wise the Twelve are one.…
Mother Smith com in to our council at two Oclock, to Express hur feelins, before the Twelve. Cold [called] us hur children. The feelins of the Twelve ware expressed by our president to[w]ards the familes of the Smiths that we would do all we could for them” (S. Kimball, 96).
She asked John Taylor to read and evaluate her manuscript (or part of it) two weeks later on 17 June (Jessee, John Taylor, 60). A week later came her vision of William as president of the church but endangered by murderous men. She defused this tense situation by steadfastly making her revelation a matter of domestic spirituality, not church governance.
Published just weeks after this crisis was a poetic tribute to Lucy by Eliza R. Snow.2 Quite peculiarly, considering the formal subject and Lucy’s probable acquaintance with traditional forms, Eliza selected blank verse for her tribute—not unheard of for her but certainly rare and certainly a departure from the forms in which she memorialized the other Smiths. (See Appendix.)
THE VENERABLE LUCY SMITH:
by Miss Eliza R. Snow
The aged, venerated, much belov’d
Mother in Zion, and the mother of
The greatest men this generation had
[p.782]To boast. One, only one, of all her sons
Survives—the others sleep the sleep of death!
The great anointed seer and prophet, she
Has nurs’d upon her bosom and has watch’d
In helpless, cradled infancy: her heart
With deep solicitude had often yearn’d
Over his tender childhood, ere the God
Of heav’n reveal’d the glorious purpose which
Was pre-determined in the courts above,
Should be accompli[s]h’d in the present age:
But when she realiz’d the Lord had call’d
Him in his youth and inexperience to
Re-introduce the “ancient order” and
Confront the prejudices of the world;
The throbbings of her breast, none can describe;
And she can tell a tale that none besides
She’s suffer’d much and much she has
Enjoy’d. I oft have sat beside her and
Have listen’d with sweet admiration to
Her strains of heav’nly eloquence while she
Describ’d the glories that are soon to be
She’s witness’d change succeeding change
Roll up the tide of revolution till
Its heaving waves accumulating seem
About to burst and overwhelm the world!
The standard of our country, she has seen
Rising in glorious majesty, and wave
Its fam’d, unrival’d banner gracefully,
Till other hands than those that rear’d it, sapp’d
Its broad foundation, and its ensign marr’d—
Tott’ring and tremulous it now appears
Ready to fall and in its fall to make
The most tremendous crash the civil world
Has ever known!
She’s seen the church of God
Start into being and extend itself
From shore to shore and plant its footsteps on
The islands of the sea.
[p.783]She once beheld
Her lord, her consort dragg’d to prison while
With tears and supplicating words, she plead
His innocence, and begg’d for his release.
“Commit the Book of Mormon to the flames”
Replied the “officer of justice” “and
Your husband shall be liberated:” But
Her noble spirit scorn’d to purchase his
Release, on terms so base! at such a price!
She lov’d the truth and fear’d the God of heav’n.
She’s seen her children driv’n from place to place
And hunted like the mountain deer. She’s stood
Beside the death bed of her noble lord
Who, ere the lamp of life became extinct,
Like ancient Jacob, call’d his children round
And bless’d them one by one.
I knew him well,
For he was Zion’s first great Patriarch;
And from his lips I’ve felt the sacred pow’r
Of blessing on my head. But he has gone,
And she in lonely widowhood remains!
She’s follow’d to the grave, five noble sons!
She stood beside the bleeding forms of those
Great brother-martyrs of the latter-day.
Ah! think of her, ye tender mothers, when
Her feeble, tott’ring frame that bow’d beneath
The weight of years and life’s infirmities,
Accumulated by the toils and cares,
Anxieties and oft heart-rending griefs;
Stood o’er her murder’d sons! She laid her hand
Upon their marble foreheads, while the blood
Was freely gushing from their purple wounds!
And yet she lives, and yet bears witness to
The truth for which they fell a sacrifice.
Yes, venerable Lady, thou shalt live
While life to thee shall be a blessing. Thou
Art dear to ev’ry faithful saint. Thousands
Already bless thee—millions yet to come
Will venerate thy name and speak thy praise.
[p.784]William fled from Nauvoo during the summer of 1845 and was not present in October when Lucy addressed the conference and made a spirited but futile effort to defend him against Brigham Young. On 29 October 1845, less than two weeks after his excommunication, William published a “Proclamation” nine and a half columns long in the Warsaw Signal accusing Brigham Young by name and in detail of “usurpation, anarchy and spiritual wickedness,” including implied death threats against William himself (W. Smith, “Proclamation,” 1). Thomas Sharp had opened his paper to William, but openly said that William was “doubtlessly actuated … by selfish and interested motives.”
Perhaps some of those motives involved Lucy. Although it is true that William was in a sorry financial plight himself, it is also true that there is no record of his contributing in any way to Lucy’s support. Rather, his public expressions of pity and concern for his “poor old mother” can be read, without any great stretch of the imagination, as designed to raise funds and to bolster his own claims to authority in the church. He painted a pitiable picture of “the care worn visage of my poor old mother, broken down, as she is and almost worn out with the accumulated troubles of years” and of his “three sisters, with their husbands, struggling hard in the midst of poverty.” While any son might justly express indignation when a mother is “ridiculed on the public stand, and by the very men over whom she has acted as a mother in the church,” he seemed to take the greatest umbrage at the fact that his family, of which he was undeniably the head, “should be deprived of all honor and station in the church, have no word of controlment in the affairs of the church, and that those who did seem to have a voice, should be now shut out” (W. Smith, “Proclamation,” 1, 4). William’s future public statements also tended to be along these same lines: making use of Lucy’s age and poverty to rouse pity and open pocketbooks.
About five months later on 15 November 1845, at a prayer circle meeting attended by Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, Willard Richards, George A. Smith, and Parley P. Pratt of the Twelve, along with George Miller, William W. Phelps, Orson Spencer, Lucien Woodworth, and Newel K. Whitney, “it was decided that Mother Lucy Smith should be furnished with food, clothing, and wood for the winter” (Quinn, Origins, 512).
The next month, on 10 December 1845, Lucy arrived at the temple, the first time she had been in the upper story where the endowments were performed.3 She had already received some temple ordinances from her son. On 8 [p.785]October 1843, she had participated in an anointing and sealing ceremony, probably with Emma officiating. Sister-in-law Clarissa Lyman Smith, Elizabeth Ann Smith Whitney, and Harriet Denton Adams received the same ceremony at this time while the second anointing was performed for Hyrum and Mary Smith. Then, a month later on 12 November, she and Joseph Sr. (by proxy) received the second anointing (Quinn, Origins, 496, 497; Faulring, 418, 426).
At the December 1845 ceremony, Lucy was accompanied by Elizabeth Ann Whitney, Agnes Coolbrith Smith, Mary Fielding Smith, and Mercy Fielding Thompson. Lucy probably did not know or want to know that Agnes had become Joseph’s plural wife after Don Carlos’s death and that Mercy had become Hyrum’s after Robert Thompson’s fatal illness. Heber and Vilate Kimball hosted them at lunch. Lucy, apparently seeing Heber make notes in his diary, teased, “Write that I ate hearty.” Then Mary Ann Angell Young, Vilate, and Elizabeth Ann began the washings and anointings part of the ceremony, followed, when they joined the men, by the endowment.4 “Mother Smith went through the holy ordinances that evening with those who have been previously mentioned as receiving them in the lifetime of the Prophet,” Heber’s diary noted (Hozapfel and Holzapfel, 293). According to D. Michael Quinn, Lucy
avoided further association with the Twelve thereafter, and even declined to receive from Brigham Young’s hands the proxy sealing to her husband in the temple. In the Nauvoo temple in December 1845 Mother Smith received the endowment ceremony from the hands of women who (like herself) originally received the sacred ordinances during Joseph Smith’s life. She did not re-enter the Nauvoo temple in January 1846 to receive the re-performance of her marriage sealing and second anointing which she had received directly from her son in November 1843. In 1846 Brigham Young personally re-administered those ordinances to the couples (or the surviving spouse and a proxy) who had received them from Smith, and Lucy declined to accept that option.5
Probably in December, perhaps after the favor of receiving the confirmation of her endowments in the temple, Lucy contributed to a memorial gift that Wilford Woodruff sent to Elder Samuel Downs as a New Year’s Day present on 1 January 1846: “Hair from the Heads of Joseph Smith the Prophet And all the Smith family of Male members also Mother Smith And from most all the quorum of the Twelve Also A peace of Joseph Smith Handkerchief ” (3:3).
[p.786]In April 1846, the church deeded Lucy the Joseph Noble home where Lucy lived with the companionship and assistance of Mary Bailey Smith, the eight-year-old daughter of her son Samuel and her dead daughter-in-law Mary Bailey (ibid., 202);6 but this act of generosity was accompanied by bitterness. On 10 March 1846, Almon Babbitt and Joseph Heywood, acting, according to William, on “the counsel of the Church”—whether on Brigham Young’s orders or behind his back is not known—told Lucy that they would not give her the deed unless William supported the Twelve or unless she forbade him the house (Shepard and Hajicek, 6; W. Smith to Strang, 11 March 1846). Isaac Paden, who would be Strangite president of the Nauvoo district a year later, wrote a gossipy letter to James Adams, describing how someone had “anointed” with excrement “William Smiths stand & seats which he had fixed in his Mothers door yard. I spoke my mind in full to those who approbated the act in this wise they that did the act … should be looked upon as below the Brute Creation and those who approbated such acts were as bruit beasts and no better than them that did the act.” He was also in Nauvoo when Babbitt’s and Haywood’s letter was delivered to Lucy. As he described it, this letter communicated that “she need not look for any support from the Church while she sufered William to stay about her house.” Paden, rose to her defense:
I wrote to Bro Babbit that my astonishment have [sic] been aroused to a greater highth than it ever had before that such an unreasonable hardhearted [response?] Could be asked at the hands of Mother Smith a woman of her age an old lady placed under Such Circumstances connected with the Church as she and how be drove to the necesity (after wading through seas of trouble) to drive from her embrace and shut her door against her only live son on earth it was asking too much. I then plead in behalf of the Church in behalf of Mother Smith in behalf of humanity and for Gods sake to withdraw the inhuman Request and pay her yearly a Reasonable sum together with a Comfortable house and let the old lady’s children eat drink and sleep under her roof if She wished on this Subject I closed many mouths shewing that Such acts was positive credance that they have lost natural affection . . . (Paden)
Lucy, possibly with the assistance of a scribe, counterattacked indignantly. She accused Babbitt and Heywood (and, by extension, the Twelve) of forcing her to “put limits to my affections, threaten me with poverty, if I do not drive [p.787]my children from my door,” and demanded the deed and the quarterly allowance that Young had promised her (Shepard and Hajicek, 8-9; L. Smith to Babbitt). William, who was in Nauvoo at the time, had been “summoned” in January by J. J. Strang, along with the rest of the Twelve, to answer charges of “usurpation.” Strang had, apparently simultaneously, offered William an apostleship and the patriarch’s position in his new church if he would bring Lucy, the Egyptian mummies,7 and the bodies of Joseph and Hyrum. William balked at the last item but wrote a letter to Strang on 1 March 1846 reporting Emma’s recollections that Joseph had received a letter from Strang and that a strange woman had passed through the room in which eight-year-old Joseph III was resting, saying “this church would go to Voree.” William continued with a reported vision by Joseph Smith and statements announcing his imminent death and that Brigham Young and Heber C. Kimball, if they became church leaders, would “lead it to hell.” He summarized: “The whole Smith family of the Joseph stock join in sustaining J. J. Strang.” A postscript certified “that the Smith family do believe in the appointment of J. J. Strang.” William had signed first as “Patriach,” followed by Lucy as “Mother in Israel,” “Arthur and Nancy [sic] Milliken, W. J. and Catherine Salsbury, and Sophronia McLerie.”8 Katharine later denied signing the letter (W. Smith to Strang; Newell and Avery, 232). He followed this letter almost immediately with another on 11 March 1846, describing the family’s plight—suffering from “falsehoods, … the confiscation of their goods; their rights of church property taken from them, until the bleeding heart of an aged mother wrung with anxiety & disgust sinks with anguish.… Hear it, O ye Latter Day Saints: your Mother in Israel, who ofttimes has nursed you at her side, and with her motherly care and teaching comforted [p.788]your hearts, must now be driven from your midst, penniless—robbed of her inheritance in the city of Joseph by the cruelty of your rulers.” He hinted: “I … would be glad to attend your conference had I the means of doing so” (W. Smith to Strang).
In April, as Lucy confronted Babbitt and Heywood with her most potent weapon—as “mother in Israel”—William was one of two apostles (John E. Page was the other) to acknowledge Strang’s presidency. He “made a satisfactory excuse for not appearing according to [Strang’s] sumons” and was “cordially and affectionately invite[d]” to become an apostle in Strang’s church (Chronicles, 63-64). This same conference at Voree also authorized William Marks, newly appointed “Bishop of the Church,” to “take such measures as he shall deem fit at the expense of the Church for the removal and support of Mother Lucy Smith” (ibid., 69).
William responded promptly and at length to Strang’s invitation from Nauvoo on 12 April, recapitulating the furor over the house deed but this time describing a public meeting held on 8 April: “They [the apostles] discoursed most of the forenoon in a slanderous, as well as rediculous manner, concerning Wm. Smith, and the mother of the Prophet, whether it was right to fulfil their promises in deeding to mother Smith a house & lot.” According to him, their chief concern was that “William, or the Smith family would be benefitted after her death.” He also averred that the Twelve, “by hints, and winks,” implied that “Emma Smith and her son Joseph, William and mother Smith with all the family were going with them to deceive wavering saints. … At the close of the meeting a blank letter with a bullet in it, was handed to [Orson] Hyde, then a hurrah was raised against Wm. Smith and the Strangites.” Hyde blamed William for the frontier joke and attempted to “excite a persecution.” While shrugging it off, William’s uneasiness showed through: “Several brethern have just called into Mother’s to see us, Mother is in tears, I am cautioned, my life is threatened, and some have said that I will be a murdered man in one week’s time.” He returned again to his grievance: “Eve[r] since Joseph & Hyrum’s death the Twelve … have done every thing they could possibly do, against me, and the whole Smith family, my mother and Mrs. Emma not excepted” (W. Smith to Strang, 12 Apr. 1846).
The next month, William wrote to Reuben Hedlock in England on 11 May 1846, announcing that “the whole Smith family … excepting Hyrum’s widow uphold Strang, and say this wilderness move is not of God.” This letter was accompanied by one of Lucy’s to Hedlock on the same day, complaining: “The Twelve (Brighamites) have abused my son William, and trampled upon my children; they have also treated me with contempt.… I am satisfied that Joseph appointed J. J. Strang. It is verily so.” A postscript certifying “that We [p.789]the undesigned [sic] members of the Smith family fully accord with the sentiments expressed above” was signed by Arthur and Lucy Milliken, and W. J. Jenkins and Catharine Salisbury (W. and L. Smith to Hedlock).
On 19 May 1846 Wilford Woodruff reports visiting a gathering in Nauvoo attended by “Mother Smith & others together. They were some of them Advocating the cause of Strang. Some unplesant feelings were manifest upon the subject” (3:49).9
By 11 June 1846, William had made his way to Voree where Strang and a counselor ordained him “to the office of Patriarch and f[a]ther unto the whole Church according to his right by revalation and blessing. Also to be an Apostle and Special witness of the name of Christ in all the world so long as his strength shall be sufficient.…” The minutes show that William promptly joined with Strang and others in ordaining elders and other officers (ibid., 82-85). William began making arrangements to build a house for Lucy on a contributed lot in Voree. Also in June, a notice in the Voree Herald begged “the brethern scatered abroad” to “send in a mere trifle to pay the travelling expenses” of Mother Smith and to ease “her sufferings in her declining years.”10 In July, William, writing as “your spiritual father,” penned another ringing affirmation of Strang’s prophetic calling: “I entertain no doubt whatever, as his appointment by my brother Joseph, and his confirmation by angelic administration, is in strict accordance with the law of God by revelation, for so Jehovah hath revealed it unto me” (W. Smith to “Beloved Brethren”).
More tellingly, Lucy’s indignant letter to Babbitt and Heywood with its implied criticism of Brigham Young’s government also appeared in the August 1846 issue of the Herald. Conference minutes show that William Smith was still in Voree at least as late as September. On 19 October 1846, a committee of three was appointed “to provide ways and means for the removal of Mother Smith to Voree” (Chronicles, 113). William was not among them. The December 1846 issue of Zion’s Reveille (formerly the Voree Herald) reported that William was in Knoxville, Illinois, with Lucy and that “he and all the Smith family will remove to Voree early in the spring” (W. Smith to “Beloved Brethren”).
[p.790]Still in expectation, on 6 April 1847, the general conference in Voree, with William in attendance, voted to “raise, by donation, the means necessary to remove John E. Page and Mother Smith to Voree, in pursuance of their expressed desires.”11 The realities of poverty overcame good intentions. The bishop’s financial report on 4 October 1847 showed that $19.25 had been subscribed to move Page but that “a small amount”—presumably less—had been “donated” to move Lucy. Tellingly, he adds that “at any time persons interested” may call “and receive back their donations,” suggesting that these plans had come to a definite end.12 They had. Three days later on 7 October, William was excommunicated in absentia “for adultery and apostasy” and “delevered over to the buffitings of Satan untill he repent and make satisfaction.”13
During this brief (and for Lucy, long-distance) encounter with Strangism, Brigham Young reported a curious dream to the apostles and other brethren:
I dreamed of seeing Joseph the prophet last night and conversing with him, that Mother Smith was present and very deeply engaged reading a pamphlet, when Joseph with a great deal of dignity turned his head towards his mother partly looking over his shoulder, said, “Have you got the word of God there?” Mother Smith replied, “There is truth here.” Joseph replied, “That may be, but I think you will be sick of that pretty soon.” (Manuscript, 11)
Sixteen days later on 27 January 1847, in the middle of a lengthy epistle signed by Brigham “for the Twelve” to the Saints, he jeered at Strang (“If a man is known by the company he keeps, we think it will be a long time before Strang will perfect the kingdom of God on the earth or in any other world”), reported rumors that Lucy and William were at Knoxville, Illinois, and that “she was a Strangite … but we think she will not be long” and added with genuine warmth: “It would rejoice our hearts if Mother Smith was with us so that we could minister to her necessities” (Manuscript, 25).
[p.791]Lucy’s real opinion of Strang and his claims is not known; most likely she was involved only through the fickle and inconsistent William. And probably she had only limited energy to engage in the constant turmoil. At this point, Lucy had again moved twice. In the fall of 1846, she prudently moved with Arthur and Lucy to Knoxville, Illinois, to avoid the battle of Nauvoo, which involved considerable violence and destruction. According to Heman C. Smith, the Millikins, Lucy, and granddaughter Mary Bailey Smith, moved back to Nauvoo in the spring of 1847. Lucy was still in Nauvoo in late 1847 when William McLellin visited her. He reported in an article published in December 1847 that “her faith and confidence in her religion, seemed only to have gathered strength by the varying vicissitudes through which she had passed during a long life” (Porter, “Odyssey,” 343-44). Mother Lucy, daughter Lucy, and family then moved to Webster in Hancock County in the fall of 1849. Two years later, they moved to Fountain Green. Granddaughter Mary Bailey Smith was with Lucy all of this time.
Dates vary on Lucy’s next and final move—to become part of Emma’s household, which now included her sons, her new husband, Major Lewis C. Bidamon, whom Emma had married on what would have been Joseph’s forty-second birthday (23 December 1847), and the residents or guests at the Mansion House, which Emma was running as a boarding house. Mary continued her care of Lucy until she married Edward Kelteau in late 1854 or early 1855, but much of the burden inevitably fell upon Emma. Heman Smith says the move occurred in the spring of 1852. It may, however, have been as early as January 1849—a year after Emma’s marriage—for Lucy sent William a letter datelined “Nauvoo, the 4th of January, 1849” in which she complains, “I am sick and feeble” (L. Smith to William, 1849). And Lucy was certainly living with Emma on 10 September 1849 when John Bernhisel wrote to Brigham Young from New York, giving a report of St. Louis and Nauvoo, which had been points on his itinerary. “Mother Smith’s health is very feeble,” he reported, “and in all human probability she will not survive another winter.”14 In contrast to Emma, who had received Bernhisel with every kind and hospitable attentiveness but who had conspicuously not asked once about “the valley, the church, or any of [p.792]its members,” Lucy “inquired after you and others” (Young, Manuscript, 245-46).
Either this illness, Lucy’s passivity, William’s instability, or a combination of all three may have headed off William’s attempt to enlist Lucy in her “martyr mother” role as he struck up associations with the temporarily willing Isaac Sheen in Kentucky and Lyman Wight in Texas. As with Strang, nothing came of these brief alliances, but William’s modus operandi is familiar. He again used the dramatic account of a mother, forced to choose between shelter and her son, to win sympathy and financial support. In August 1848 Lyman Wight, then loyally carrying out Joseph’s instructions to establish a colony in Texas, received an account of the fracas over the deed in a letter from William Smith. Indignantly Wight wrote to Lucy on 21 August 1848 from Zodiac, vowing, “I shall never forget the day nor the hour that we crossed the lake together,” expressing the highest allegiance to Emma and young Joseph, denouncing the church leaders, singling out Orson Hyde for special abuse (“begging the coppers from dead negroes eyes to support his claim of infamous rascality, while he pretends to be a saint of the Most High God, and reproaching the Smith family who have most gloriously and triumphantly brought forth the seventh and last dispensation of God”), and promising Lucy “a liberal support, either in Nauvoo or in Texas as shall seem you good,” in which William “shall share abundantly.” In telling imagery, he exalted Lucy: “We took a joint resolution today of the whole body that you should stand as John said Mary stood when he was on the isle of Patmos. She had a crown of gold upon her head and twelve stars in that crown. And that you are the mother of the Angel of the seventh and last dispensation of God on earth.” He signed himself: “I remain … a child to Mother Smith, a brother to Joseph and Emma …” (Wight to Lucy Smith).
In an equally indignant letter to William, written the next day, Wight continued the same theme, identifying the disputed allowance as $200 a year and heaping scorn on the attempt to make Lucy turn William away “after she had been a mother in Israel for the last 18 years, and being the mother of the seventh Angel of the seventh and last dispensation of God on earth, she will eventually be the mother of all those in the last dispensation or thousand years.” He assured William that his church of 240 souls at Zodiac pledged themselves that, if Lucy “sees fit to come to Texas, she can have all she wishes for her support on earth, and a home for her children, and if she wishes her bones to be carried to Nauvoo, I pledge myself it shall be done. If she wishes to remain there, our support will not be withheld from her as oft as we can make remittances, and if she should come here, she can have the privilege of going to and from as oft as she shall think it necessary” (Wight to William Smith).
Isaac Sheen, who briefly espoused William’s claims to the presidency, pub-[p.793]lished Wight’s and William’s letters in his short-lived Melchisedic and Aaronic Herald in Covington, Kentucky, during the spring and summer of 1849, generating a blistering response from Orson Hyde, who was then editing the Frontier Guardian in Kanesville, Iowa. On 14 November 1849, he reported that William had accused church leaders of “oppress[ing] and wrong[ing]” Lucy “out of a living.” Hyde first denounced William as lazy, violent, and so immoral that his good opinion of another “may be regarded as a strong presumptive evidence of like depravity”; pointedly asserted that it was William’s job, not Brigham Young’s, to support Lucy; and finally laid out “the facts,” namely:
we proposed to furnish Mother Smith a comfortable house, free of rent, and to settle upon her one hundred and fifty dollars yearly for life; and to pay her quarterly in advance: Mr. Babbitt is a witness to this transaction or proposal, for it was made through him. William, at this time, was his mother’s adviser. He was opposed to her accepting it, and concluded that the Church would go so far away that they would never pay the installments; and William thought it best to make as large a grab, at once, as he could, and let the rest go. It was, therefore, Williams [sic] advice, and the old lady’s conclusion to ask the Church to purchase for her a house and lot, that she might have a home that she could call her own. She selected her house and lot and it was agreed by her and William that if the church would buy that house and lot and give her a deed of it, they would release the Church from any farther obligation for Mother Smiths’ support. We told them that they were unwise, and would probably rue their course: But they insisted, and nothing else would satisfy.
We went and borrowed the gold and paid it over to Mr. Joseph R. [sic] Noble, four hundred dollars, for his house and lot, and he, Noble, executed a deed of the premises to Mother Smith where she has resided from that time till the present; and by diligence and close financiering, we have succeeded in repaying all.
These are the facts of the case, and if William does not remember the whole circumstances, we will refresh his memory. It was just about the time that he made application to us through Mr. Babbitt to come back into the Church; but the conditions of his coming back among the apostate Brighamites as he calls us, were too severe upon him. They were, that he go to work like an honest man and support himself by his own industry. That he cease to be idle and learn to tell the truth and to be a virtuous upright man. These were burthens too grievous for him to bear, and the prospect being so gloomy, that he concluded to say that he never made any such application.…
Shame on a man, in the prime of life, that will whine because somebody else will not support his mother! (“Mother,” 1)
Mormon visitors to Nauvoo during the early 1850s frequently called on “Mother Smith,” and she always greeted them with pleasure and affection. Perrigrine Sessions, son of David and Patty Sessions, visited Nauvoo on 29-30 No-[p.794]vember 1852. He kept a contemporary diary (bold), which he later recopied with expansions (type changes here limited here to references to Lucy):
crost the Mississippi river to Nauvoo put up/staid to [t]he Mansion house [30 Nov.] saw the Mother of the Prophet Joseph she was quite feble but recollected me and apered quite glad to see me saw Emma/Emmy the Prophets Wife and his mother she was glad to hear my voice but could not see me Emma seamed verry cool and indifferent and though so well aquainted in days gone by seamed to bee a stranger to me and to that spirit [that] caracturized her and the Prophet when he lived and she has four children but looked as though of atruth they were without a Father they once had evry thing looked gloomy about the mansion the Spirit of God has departed Nauvoo and the home of the Prophet. (Smart, 166-67)
Smart wonders if Sessions’s comment that Lucy “was glad to hear my voice but could not see me” meant that her sight was failing. However, Lucy seemed to recognize other visitors without difficulty (none of whom mentioned blindness among her health problems), her mind remained keen, and she greatly enjoyed conversing with visitors, especially those with whom she shared memories of the great days of the early church. Perhaps Lucy was suffering from a temporary ailment.
Horace S. Eldredge, who presided over the LDS branch in St. Louis and managed emigration preparations for several years, visited Nauvoo on 28 July 1853, staying at the Mansion House. His afternoon stroll about the city gave him “the most peculiar feelings that ever I had while walking those streets.” He contrasted what he saw with the former days of “gayety and pleasure and the Marks of industry and perseverence” by “a once happy people” who heard “principals of eternal truth” from a prophet whose place had been taken by “a rough uncooth profane aspirant.” He found Emma chilly. In fact, the only truly pleasant moments of his visit seem to have been spent with Lucy:
The old lady seemed to know me and was verry much pleased to See me, and made many enquiries about Hyrum & Samuel Smiths families who are in the Valey.… Mother Smith seemed to retain her recollection verry well of things that had transpired several years since. She wished me to remember her to many or all of her friends in the Valey. I handed her $5.00 and took my leave of her for that time. (Eldredge, Journal)
On 12 May 1853, British convert and poet Hannah Tapfield King called on Lucy. She was “‘pillowed up in bed’” but alert and articulate. Hannah recorded her impressions in a literary reminiscence: “She is a splendid old lady, and my heart filled up at sight of her—she blessed us all, ‘With a Mother’s blessing’ and bore her testimony to the work of the last days, and to Joseph Smith as a prophet of the Lord.” She continued, Lucy “made a great impression [p.795]on me.… She is a character that Walter Scott would have loved to portray and he would have done justice to her.” At the blessing, delivered in Lucy’s “own words, … my heart melted for I remembered my own dear mother left in England for the gospel’s sake, and the deep fountains of my heart were broken up.” As a present, she had her daughter give Lucy a ring that was a gift from Hannah. “I would not have let [my daughter] give it to anyone else,” she remarked (King, typescript, 136, 178). When Lucy died three years later, Hannah recaptured her feelings in a lengthy (four holograph pages) poem for the Deseret News. Although too mannered and elaborate for most modern tastes, it still captures her sensitivity to the place Lucy occupied in history:
Mother of Joseph! … I’ve seen thy face
And felt thy kiss imprinted on my cheek.…
Lady! Mother! Priestess! I rejoice
That thou hast blest the pilgrim on her way.…
Among the Women of this age thou art
Most blest, most favor’d in thy humble home.…
No Queen, no royalty that E’er I’ve seen
Impress’d my soul as did that aged Saint! (“Thoughts”).
In 1853, probably in the spring fairly close to Hannah King’s visit, Frederick H. Piercy, author of the famed trail guide, Route from Liverpool to Great Salt Lake Valley, also stayed at the Mansion House in Nauvoo. Of Lucy he wrote: “I could not fail to regard the old lady with great interest. Considering her age and afflictions, she, at that time, retained her faculties to a remarkable degree. She spoke very freely of her sons, and, with tears in her eyes, and every other symptom of earnestness, vindicated their reputations for virtue and truth” (qtd. in Newell and Avery, 265).
On 22 November 1855, Enoch Tripp visited. Lucy was within six months of her death, bedfast, “living in a lonely room in the eastern part of the house; she was … very feeble.… She arose in bed and placing her hands around my neck, kissed me exclaiming, ‘I can now die in peace since I have beheld your face from the valleys of the mountains’” (qtd. in Newell and Avery, 265). Tripp later reported this experience in a sermon. According to Wilford Woodruff, “She clasped him in her arms (they were formerly acquainted) & she said My son Enoch I am glad to again see you. I am glad to see a man again from Salt Lake. She cryed for Joy, and said she had desired for two years to be with the Saints in the vallies of the Mountains but others had hindered her. She alluded to Emma. She says give my love to Brigham & Heber & all the Faithful Saints for my heart is with them” (Woodruff 4:445).
[p.796]Lewis Bidamon, Emma’s second husband, was very kind to Lucy. When she could no longer walk, he made her a wheeled chair in which the children took her for strolls in the garden and around the house. Eventually the arthritis grew so severe that they also had to feed her. She remained mentally acute and active to the end.
Cared for by Joseph III and his wife, Emmeline, and by the young daughter of a neighboring farmer, Elizabeth Pilkington, Lucy died on 14 May 1856 on the Smith farm about two miles from town and was buried the next day near her husband behind the Smith family homestead at Nauvoo (Van Wagoner and Walker, 312). She was two months short of her eighty-first birthday.
A series of letters from twenty-three-year-old Joseph Smith III to John M. Bernhisel, who had periodically sent him experimental seeds, newspapers, books, and Congressional speeches, gave a running account of Lucy’s final illness. In January 1856, he wrote, “Grandmother is with us but is helpless.” On 7 May, a week before her death, he sounded as if the worst of the latest bad spells was behind her: “Grandmother has been quite unwell and is not yet quite recovered. We thought at one time she could not live.” Of her death a week later, he wrote sorrowfully: “Grandmother died the morning of the 14th of May last easily and with her senses to the last moment and we trust she has no wish to return from the ‘bourne.’ She appeared somewhat fearful of death at a little while before he came yet appeared resigned afterwards. I sat by her and held her hand in mine till death relieved her—The first death scene I ever witnessed—Long may I be spared the death scene of my mother” (Smith to Bernhisel).
George A. Smith wrote a lengthy and eloquent obituary for The Mormon, reprinted in the Millennial Star. In it, he followed Lucy’s own lead in hailing her as “mother of Joseph Smith, the Prophet; and … for the last twenty-six years familiarly known to all the Saints as ‘Mother Smith.’” He retells church history from her own book in summarizing her life, praises the “motherly care, attention, and skill” with which she nursed the sick of Missouri, and acknowledges that “she enjoyed the gifts and influence of the Holy Spirit much.” Still, he has only faint praise for her book:
The assassination of Joseph and Hyrum … so shocked and benumbed her sensibilities and her aged frame, that she never fully recovered.… Recovering somewhat from the effect of her afflictions, she composed a history of her life, which contains many thrilling incidents of herself as well as of her family, which are given in her own style, yet mingled somewhat with evidence of difficulty of her remembering dates. (“Obituary,” 557, 559)
[p.797]The reactions of Brigham Young and Martha Jane Coray did not, as far as I have been able to discover, become public.
Although Orson Pratt was severely chastised for publishing Lucy’s history, readers ever since have owed him a debt of gratitude for giving us a document that comes so close to Lucy’s final draft. He has thus helped to fulfill the prophetic statement in his own preface about the hunger to understand Joseph Smith: “Every incident relating to his life, or the lives of his progenitors, will be eagerly sought after by all future generations.”
1. Stout, 26. The History of the Church (7:375) summarizes: “Meeting at Bishop Hale’s. Elder Dunham preached, followed by Mother Smith, who gave a recital of the persecutions endured by her family, in establishing the church, and exhorted the brethren and sisters to bring up their children in the way they should go.”
2. Although the poem appeared in the issue of the Times and Seasons dated 15 May 1845 and is datelined as written in “May, 1845,” this issue did not appear until after June 23 (Quinn, Origins, 217). By coincidence, William’s announcement that he was taking up his patriarchal office and John Taylor’s editorial note on that article appeared in the same issue.
3. William Clayton, describing the celestial room of the Nauvoo Temple, identified Lucy’s portrait as among the decorations. The only other woman thus featured was Bathsheba B. Smith. The rest were of church leaders: Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, Orson Hyde, Willard Richards, John Taylor, George A. Smith (Bathsheba’s husband and an apostle), John Smith, and Lucius N. Scovil (G. Smith, Intimate, 206).
5. Quinn, Origins, 222. According to the History of the Church, on 10 December, she received the endowment in a company that included Mercy (HC 7:544). R. L. Anderson, “Lucy,” 1357, dates the washings and anointings to the 11th and the endowment to the 12th.
6. The Joseph B. Noble house was a tidy, two-story brick structure with stepped chimneys at either end. According to David and Della Miller, Noble, not the church, deeded the house to Lucy, which seems to be a mistake in light of Babbitt’s statement to her. They further state that Lucy lived here “only a few months and eventually deeded it to Archer [sic] Millikin, who had married her youngest daughter, Lucy” (215). See “The Domestic Spirituality of Lucy Mack Smith” for a discussion of the context over the deed to this house.
7. According to Stanley B. Kimball (“New,” 84-89), Lucy continued to exhibit the mummies and scrolls until September 1846 when she took them with her to Knox County to live with Lucy and Arthur Millikin. “There is no evidence that she possessed or exhibited the mummies after she left Knox County during the spring of 1847.” He found no evidence that these “antiquities returned to Nauvoo prior to their sale in 1856”; however, William apparently thought they “would strengthen his claim to leadership among the Mormons who did not follow Brigham Young west” and acquired them from Lucy. On 2 December 1846, William assured James J. Strang that “‘the mummies and records [papyri] are safe’” and, in a follow-up letter on 19 December, told Strang he was planning to bring them to Strang’s headquarters at Voree, Wisconsin. According to Almon W. Babbitt, writing to Brigham Young from Nauvoo on 31 January 1848, “William has got the mummies from Mother Smith and refuses to give them up.” Kimball’s exhaustive search of Illinois newspapers failed to turn up any evidence that William exhibited them. He hypothesizes that, because of William’s acute poverty, he may have leased them to another traveling exhibitor of curiosities or sold them to “A. Combs” with the understanding that William would repurchase them later, possibly as a condition imposed by Lucy. With her death, A. Combs arrived at Nauvoo within ten days, finalized the transaction, and took possession of the mummies.
9. Although Wilford Woodruff could not have approved of Lucy’s separation from the Twelve, they apparently healed the rift later. Reminiscing in October 1881, he recalled: “The last time that I saw President Joseph Smith the Patriarch I was on my way to England. Bro George A. Smith was with me. Father Smith was sick and he asked us to lay hands on him. We did so and I Blessed him. The last time I saw Mother Smith she asked to have a Blessing at my hands. I felt to Bless her” (8:73). He does not give the date of this final blessing, but his only recorded blessing of Lucy occurred on 22 August 1844, immediately after the murders of Joseph and Hyrum; and this final blessing must have been months later.
12. John W. Crane, Bishop, to President James J. Strang, 4 Oct. 1847, Strang Manuscript, Document #183, photocopy of holograph courtesy of William Shepard. Crane notes that $3.90 had been borrowed from this fund to “purchase paper to keep up the press” but had never been repaid, another indication of how straitened were the financial resources of the Voree members.
13. Van Noord, 65; Chronicles, 152. An affidavit by Sarah Ellsworth dated 23 April 1847 documented that William, boarding at her two-room house in July 1846, had intercourse with the maid, Abinadi [sic] Archer, whose pallet was on the floor in the same room as William’s bed. The two rooms were separated by “a loose partition … and a door way but no door,” so that Mrs. Ellsworth could distinctly hear their activities. She sent Archer away; but when the woman returned a week later late at night, she let her stay “to avoid a publick fuss.” An hour after Sarah and her husband went to bed, she “both heard and saw” that William “had carnal knowledge of her” (“Complaint for Adultery,” Strang Manuscripts, Document 181; photocopy of holograph courtesy of William Shepard).
14. William Smith and Isaac Sheen, in August 1849, described Lucy’s health as precarious: She “has been sick, nigh unto death, and although she has recovered, it is not expected that she will live long”—this according to a letter Jenkins Salisbury wrote to William. Using both her ill health and the apparent intention of the “Brighamite leaders” to “impoverish the Smith family, and to chastise them, as they say, until they will consent to unite with them,” William and Sheen appealed for “pecuniary aid” and promised that “the blessing of the God of Joseph, Hyram [sic] and William will rest upon you for so doing” (W. Smith and Sheen).