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Lucy Mack Smith's Faith-Filled Speech That Parted the Ice on the Erie Canal

Lucy Mack Smith (1775–1856) was the mother of Joseph and Hyrum Smith and nine other children, and she was a strong voice in the early Church. She gave this speech to a gathering of emigrating Saints at Lake Erie in Buffalo, New York in May 1831.

In early May 1831, Smith was part of a company of approximately 80 church members from the Fayette, New York, area who were traveling to join the larger group of Latter-day Saints in Kirtland, Ohio. They hoped that the warm spring weather would allow them to travel along the waterways from New York to Ohio, rather than overland. According to her later account of the journey, both Solomon Humphrey, the oldest member of the Church at the time, and Hiram Page, one of the Eight Witnesses of the Book of Mormon, refused leadership of the group, instead deferring to Smith. Her later history records that the entire congregation agreed: “‘Yes,’ responded they all together, ‘just as Mother Smith says, so we will do.’” Smith recalled that before leaving, “I called them all round me. ‘Now,’ said I, ‘brothers and sisters, we have set out just as Father Lehi did to travel by the commandment of the Lord to a land that the Lord will show unto us if we are faithful, and I want you all to be solemn and lift your hearts to God in prayer continually that we may be prospered.” While traveling along the Cayuga-Seneca Canal and the Erie Canal, as she remembered it, Smith led the company in song and prayer and took charge of some of the finances, the food, and the lodging.

The journey proved less than ideal: adverse weather, suspicion on the part of local townspeople, and unprepared travelers with few supplies and unruly children created tension within the group. Five days after departure, the Fayette group arrived at Buffalo, where they met another group of Saints from Colesville, New York, who had been waiting for a week for the ice to break in Buffalo Harbor and allow boats to get through. According to Smith, the Colesville party encouraged the Fayette company to wait quietly for the weather to change without admitting their religious identity to the local population, which might incite prejudice that would prevent them from securing local lodging and transportation. Instead, Smith stood on the deck of the steamboat where her company was gathered and boldly proclaimed her Mormon beliefs to gathered townspeople.

After testifying to local spectators, Smith observed what she considered inappropriate behavior among the Saints on the boat, including debating, complaining, and flirting. Smith worried that the sight of unruly behavior would undermine her earlier public witness, and she turned to speak to the Saints as recorded in the discourse featured here. Just as she finished speaking, she recounted, “a noise was heard like bursting thunder, and the captain cried out, ‘Every man to his post!’ and the ice parted, leaving barely a pathway for the boat.” They crossed safely and quickly to Fairport Harbor in Ohio, about 12 miles northeast of Kirtland, and arrived around May 11, 1831. This exhortation was recorded by Lucy Mack Smith in her own words about 13 years later and demonstrates the authority she exercised as “Mother Smith,” a respected matriarch of the Church.

“BRETHREN AND SISTERS,” said I, “we call ourselves Latter-day Saints and profess to have come out from among the world for the purpose of serving God with a determination to serve him with our whole might, mind, and strength at the expense of all earthly things, and will you suffer yourselves to begin at the very first sacrifice of comfort to complain and murmur like the children of Israel? And even worse, for here are my sisters fretting for the want of their rocking chairs! And brethren, from you I expected assistance and looked for some firmness in you, but instead of that you are complaining that you have left a good house and now you have no home to go to and do not know as you shall have one when you get to the end of your journey, and more than all, you do not know but you will all starve before you get away from Buffalo. Who in the company has been hungry? Who has lacked anything to make them comfortable, as our circumstances would admit of? Have I not set food before you every day and made you all as welcome as my own children, that those who had not provided for yourselves might lack nothing?
“And even if this were not the case, where is your faith? Where is your confidence in God? Do you know that all things are in his hands? He made all things and still rules over them, and how easy a thing it would be with God if every Saint here would just lift their desires to him in prayer that the way might be opened before us. How easy would it be for God to cause the ice to break away, and in a moment’s time we could be off on our journey; but how can you expect the Lord to prosper you when you are continually murmuring against him?”
Just then a man cried out from the shore, “Is the Book of Mormon true?” “That book,” said I, “was brought forth by the power of God and translated by the same power. And if I could make my voice to sound as loud as the trumpet of Michael the Archangel, I would declare the truth from land to land and from sea to sea, and it would echo from isle to isle until not one should remain of the whole family of man but that was left without excuse. For all should hear the truth of the gospel of the Son of God, and I would sound it in every ear that he has again revealed himself to man in these last days and set his hand to gather his people together upon a goodly land, and if they will fear him and walk uprightly before him it shall be unto them for an inheritance; but if they rebel against his law, his hand will be against them, to scatter them abroad and cut them off from the face of the earth. For God is now going to do a work upon the earth, and man cannot hinder a work which is for the salvation of all who will believe it unto the uttermost, even all who call on him; and it will prove unto everyone who stands here this day a savior of life unto life or of death unto death: a savior of life unto life if ye will receive it, but of death unto death if ye reject the counsel of God unto your own condemnation. For every man shall have the desires of his heart. If he desires this truth, the way is open to all and if he will, he may hear and live; whereas if they treat the truth with contempt and trample upon the simplicity of the word of God, they will shut the gate of heaven against themselves. And now, brethren and sisters, if you will, all of you, raise your desires to heaven that the ice may give way before us and we be set at liberty to go on our way, as sure as the Lord lives it shall be done.”

Lucy Mack Smith, History, 1844–1845, book 11, p. [12]–book 12, p. [2], CHL. Handwriting of Martha Jane Knowlton Coray and Howard Coray.

Lead image from lds.org and Wikimedia Commons

At the PulpitAt the Pulpit contains 54 discourses given by Latter-day Saint women throughout the history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Like Lucy Mack Smith, these women drew on inspiration and experience to declare their understanding of eternal truths.

Written to the high scholarly standards of the Church Historian's Press, the book provides a resource for contemporary Latter-day Saints as they study, speak, teach, and lead. The voices in these pages ring from Nauvoo's red brick store to the National Auditorium in Mexico City to the Tabernacle on Temple Square and beyond. These discourses offer instruction on gospel principles while also revealing the particular concerns of individual women. At the Pulpit allows us to hear the historical and contemporary voices of Latter-day Saint women—voices that resound with experience, wisdom, and authority. 


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