Several months after the deaths of her sons Joseph, Hyrum, and Samuel Smith, Lucy Mack Smith (1775–1856) began writing her history. At age 69, she was in poor health and felt “it a privilege as well as my duty . . . to give (as my last testimony to a world from whence I must soon take my departure) an account.” . . .
Smith’s age and increasing physical ailments prevented her from the activity she had previously enjoyed. At the Relief Society’s second meeting in March 1842, she wept and told the women “she was advanced in years and could not stay long.” . . . Wilford Woodruff gave Lucy Mack Smith a blessing on August 23, 1844, calling her “the greatest Mother in Israel.” He continued, “Thou hast lived and stood to see the fall of thy sons by the rage of gentile hands, and like an impenetrable rock in the midst of the mighty deep thou hast remained unmoved until 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.”
Mother Smith was 70 years old when she delivered this address at a general conference held at the Nauvoo temple. The conference took place amid violence against Latter-day Saints in areas outside of Nauvoo during the previous month; Brigham Young had publicly agreed that the Saints would leave Nauvoo in the coming spring. At the conference, Young and other leaders spoke of the upcoming exodus. On October 8, 1845, the last day of the three-day conference, Smith requested the podium to respond to the discussion about moving west. According to the church newspaper Times and Seasons, “She spoke at considerable length, and in an audible manner, so as to be heard by a large portion of the vast assembly.” Smith expressed her religious beliefs and shared her testimony while recounting events from the church’s early history. This is the first account of a woman speaking in general conference.
This Gospel of Glad Tidings to All People
WELL, BROTHERS AND SISTERS, I have been looking around upon this congregation. I have long been waiting for the time when the Lord would give me strength to look upon you and my children.18 I feel solemn. I want everyone to look into their hearts to see what they have come to this place for, whether they have come to follow Christ through evil and good report or for any other cause. I want to give you my advice. I want to have time to talk about my husband and Hyrum and Joseph. I want to give you all my advice. Brigham Young has done the errand, he has fixed it completely. For a long time I have been wanting to ask whether you would be willing to receive stolen goods or not.19 I want to know if you believe in such things. There is one thing I want to speak of, there is maybe 2,000 people here that never were acquainted with Mr. Smith or my family. I raised up 11 children, 7 boys.20 I raised them in the fear of God. When they were two or three years old I told them I wanted them to love God with all their hearts. I told them to do good.
I want all you to do the same. God gives us our children and we are accountable. In the fear of God I warn you. I want you to take your little children and teach them in the fear of God. I want you to teach them about Joseph in Egypt and such things, and when they are four years old they will love to read their Bible. I presume there never was a family more obedient than mine. I did not have to speak to them, only once. Set your children to work and try to bring them up to your comfort. Don’t let them play out of doors.21 If I can’t talk to a few thousands here, how can I meet millions and talk in the celestial glory? I want the young men to remember that I love children, young folks, and everybody. I want them to be obedient to their parents. Be good and kind and do in secret as you would do in the presence of millions. I call you brothers and sisters and children. If you consider me a Mother in Israel I want you to say so. (President B. Young arose and said, “All who consider Mother Smith as a Mother in Israel signify it by saying yes.” Loud shouts of “Yes!”)22
My feelings have been hurt by hearing them say “Old Mother Smith”—“There goes Old Mother Smith.” I have had my feelings hurt a great deal.
I want to speak about the dead. It was eighteen years ago last 22nd of September that Joseph took the plates out of the earth, and it was 18 years last Monday23 since Joseph Smith the prophet of the Lord—
It was in a morning my son came to me and told me he had taken those plates out of the ground, and he said, “Go and tell all three of them (the Harrises) that I have taken the plates out of the ground,24 and I want Martin should assist me. I want to take off some of the characters and send them to New York.”25
Get more inspired words from Mormon women with At the Pulpit: 185 Years of Discourses by Latter-day Saint Women.
At the Pulpit contains fifty-four 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. This book illustrates the history of women's public preaching in the church, but its most important feature is the actual words of Mormon women.
I am now in my 70th year. It is 18 years since I began to receive this gospel of glad tidings to all people.26 I have got it all in a history, and I want this people to be so good and so kind as to get it printed before you go west.27 Martin Harris was the first person that helped Joseph about this work to get the Book of Mormon printed,28 for the gospel could not be preached until this was done. Here was only my family and Martin Harris to do anything about it. Just as soon as they commenced, the Devil began to roar and attempt to destroy them. But a little while before we were turned out of house and home, Joseph went to Pennsylvania.29 Hyrum and Samuel had to go and work in the woods all day and then at night had to go haul the wood and get means to help Joseph to publish the book. Two of them guarded the house.30
This was the way it commenced, and now see what a congregation is here who talk about going to the west, how easy this can be done. My family could go to work and get means to print the Book of Mormon. Do not be discouraged and say that you can’t get wagons and things; as Brigham says you must be all honest or you will not get there.31 If you feel cross you will have trouble.
My family made out to get the book printed. The angel of the Lord told them what to do. They began 18 years ago last Monday.
Thousands have come into the church since then and have not known Joseph, Hyrum, [Don] Carlos, or William, and they are all gone but poor William, and he is gone, I don’t know where.32
I have 3 daughters at home; they have never had anything but have worked for the church.33 After the book was printed, Samuel took some of them to sell and was turned out of doors three times.34 He went into Brother Green’s, a Methodist preacher.35 Samuel said, “Don’t you want to buy a book?” She asked, “What is it?” Samuel said, “It is a Book of Mormon that my Brother Joseph has translated from plates out of the ground.” She asked her husband but he would not buy. Samuel left one till he returned. He had to sell them to buy us victuals. I want to speak of this that you may not complain of hard times. He went into a house and asked to have a breakfast and he would give a book for it.36 He again went to Sister Green. She said he must take the book again. Samuel took the book and looked and looked.37 She afterwards told me she never saw a man look so; she knew that he had the Spirit of God. He said, “The Spirit forbids me taking this book.” She knelt and asked him to pray with her. She read the book and became a Mormon.38 And thus the work began, and then it spread like a mustard seed.39
After the church began to grow we were driven from one place to another, to Kirtland then to Missouri.40 William was taken sick, Samuel’s wife and others;41 and I had twenty or thirty sick to take care of during the mobbing.42 I felt strong in health. I could take care of thirty sick then better than sit on my chair now.
While William lay sick he had a vision and saw the mob come in. He said he saw them come in thousands and thousands, and he said, “Mother, you will be driven,” and, says he, “If I die I want you to take care of my wife. I want you to carry my corpse wherever you go.” The first day William was able to walk as far as the door, the mob came. Ten of them came into my room after they had taken Joseph and Hyrum into their camp.43 There were thousands of them hallooing and screeching in my ears. How do you think I felt? Have you any feelings for me?
While they were in the camp I could not go to see them, and now my children are in the grave. Ten men came in and said, “We have come in to kill the heads of the family.” Says I, “Do you want to kill me?” They said yes. I said, “I want you to do your work quick, for I would then be happy.”44 They then said, “God damn it, these Mormons had as lief die as live.” They then tried Joseph and Hyrum and sentenced them to be shot in 15 minutes. A man came in and said, “Mother Smith, if you ever want to see Joseph again you must go now, for he is going to be shot in Jackson County.”45 He took me by the hand, and it was as much as we could do to get through the crowd to the wagon.
The men lifted up their swords and swore I should not see them. I finally got to the wagon and put up my hand. He took hold of my hand and kissed it. I said, “Joseph, let me hear your voice once more.” Said he, “God bless you, my poor Mother.” They were taken away. They were in bands and irons.46 All this time my son William and his wife were sick.47 Samuel’s wife was sick and some others, and I had them all to take care of.48 After that we had to move.
Joseph then went to the city of Washington.49 It rained three days as hard as it could rain, but we had to travel and nothing to shelter us. I walked 6 miles in the bottom. My clothes were wet so high up I could scarcely walk, and when we got to the Quincy River it snowed, it rained, it hailed.50 We lay our bed on the cold snow and a blanket over us and took off our wet stockings and did the best we could. In the morning the cover was frozen stiff. We could not make a fire for the snow.51 Joseph then went to the city of Washington, as he had a revelation to importune at the governor’s feet and the president’s feet, and the Lord said if they would not heed him he would vex the nation.52 When he got home he preached down between Mr. Durfee’s and the Mansion House. He told the brethren and sisters that he had done all he could for them. Says he, “They are determined we shall not have justice while we stay in Nauvoo.”53 But, says he, “Keep good courage. You shall never suffer for bread as you have done before.” Said he, “All these cases are recorded on earth, and what is recorded here is recorded in heaven.54 Now,” says he, “I am going to lay this case of their taking away our property, etc. I am going to take it up before the highest court in heaven.” He repeated it 3 times. Little did I think he was going to leave us so soon to take this case to heaven. We never could get justice till he took it there.
The Lord has got even the marshal there.55 They know all our sufferings and don’t you think our case is being tried? I think they will do more for us there than they could if they were here. I feel that if every soul would stay at home they would be blessed. I feel as though God is vexing the nation a little here and there, and I feel that the Lord will let Brother Brigham take the people away. I don’t know as I shall go, but if the rest of my family go I will go, and I pray that the Lord may bless the heads of the church, Brother Brigham and all of you, and when I go to another world I want to meet you all. Here lays my dead, my husband and children.56 I want to lay my bones here so that in the resurrection I can raise with my husband and children, if so be that my children go. And I would to God that all my children would go. They will not go without me, and if I go I want to have my bones fetched back to be laid with my husband and children.57
Lucy Mack Smith, General Conference, Oct. 8, 1845, Nauvoo, Illinois, Historian’s Office, General Church Minutes, 1839–1877, Oct. 6–8, 1845, 7–13, CHL. Handwriting of Curtis E. Bolton. Title supplied by the editors.
^19. Smith is referring to comments made by Brigham Young about Mormons stealing in response to perceived threats from people opposed to the Latter-day Saints. Since the 1838 conflict in Missouri, anti-Mormon factions frequently had alleged that Mormons were stealing goods. (Historian’s Office, General Church Minutes, 1839–1877, Oct. 8, 1845, CHL; see also “Affidavits,” Quincy [IL] Whig 8, no. 26 [Oct. 16, 1845]: 1–2; and John E. Hallwas and Roger D. Launius, eds., Cultures in Conflict: A Documentary History of the Mormon War in Illinois [Logan: Utah State University Press, 1995], 243–245.)
^20. Nine of Smith’s children lived to adulthood: Alvin, Hyrum, Sophronia, Joseph, Samuel, Katharine, Don Carlos, and Lucy. One child was stillborn and another died in infancy. (“Joseph Smith Pedigree Chart,” accessed Sept. 3, 2015, josephsmithpapers.org.)
^21. General advice for raising children at the time in Nauvoo included admonitions to keep boys at home instead of allowing them to wander the streets, causing problems. (“Boys,” Nauvoo Neighbor, Apr. 30, 1845; Brigham Young, sermon, May 4, 1845, General Church Minutes.)
^22. On the historical use of the phrase “Mother in Israel,” see Carol Cornwall Madsen, “Mothers in Israel: Sarah’s Legacy,” in Women of Wisdom and Knowledge: Talks Selected from the BYU Women’s Conferences, ed. Marie Cornwall and Susan Howe (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1990), 179–201.
^23. When Lucy Mack Smith said “it was 18 years last Monday,” she was off by a week. Joseph Smith recorded that he obtained the plates on September 22, 1827, eighteen years and two weeks earlier than the October general conference at which Lucy Mack Smith spoke. (Karen Lynn Davidson, David J. Whittaker, Mark Ashurst-McGee, and Richard L. Jensen, eds., Histories, Volume 1: Joseph Smith Histories, 1832–1844, vol. 1 of the Histories series of The Joseph Smith Papers, ed. Dean C. Jessee, Ronald K. Esplin, and Richard Lyman Bushman [Salt Lake City: Church Historian’s Press, 2012], 14–15.)
^24. Lucy Mack Smith, History, 1844–1845, bk. 6, [3–4]. At the time, Martin and Lucy Harris had Lucy’s widowed sister, Polly Harris Cobb, living with them. (Madge Harris Tuckett and Belle Harris Wilson, The Martin Harris Story: Special Witness to the Book of Mormon [Provo, UT: Maasai, 1983], 17–18.)
^25. According to his account, Joseph Smith copied characters from a portion of the gold plates. Martin Harris, an early church member who gave financial support to Joseph Smith, then took the document to New York City and showed it to scholars including Charles Anthon, a professor of classical studies and literature. (Michael Hubbard MacKay, Gerrit J. Dirkmaat, Grant Underwood, Robert J. Woodford, and William G. Hartley, eds., Documents, Volume 1: July 1828–June 1831, vol. 1 of the Documents series of The Joseph Smith Papers, ed. Dean C. Jessee, Ronald K. Esplin, and Richard Lyman Bushman [Salt Lake City: Church Historian’s Press, 2013], 355–357.)
^27. Lucy Mack Smith, Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith the Prophet, and His Progenitors for Many Generations (Liverpool: Orson Pratt, 1853), was not published until 1853. The book is better known today as History of the Prophet Joseph Smith by His Mother. While he initially supported Lucy Mack Smith writing the history, Brigham Young later disapproved of the book because he believed it contained inaccuracies.
^29. The Smiths lost their newly constructed home in foreclosure of a mortgage on April 1, 1829. Joseph Smith moved to Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania, to escape mounting opposition against him in Palmyra, New York, in the spring of 1828. (Walker, “Lucy Mack Smith Speaks to the Nauvoo Saints,” 282n15; Davidson et al., JSP, H1:238–239.)
^30. Joseph Smith procured a copyright for the Book of Mormon, then returned to Pennsylvania with the plan to have guards protect the manuscript at all times. (Lucy Mack Smith, History, 1845, 158–159, CHL.)
^31. Brigham Young spoke just before Lucy Mack Smith, encouraging members in Nauvoo to be honest in their dealings with their neighbors and not return violence for violence. (General Church Minutes, Oct. 8, 1845; see also “Journal of Thomas Bullock,” BYU Studies 31, no. 1 [Winter 1991]: 24–25.)
^32. William Smith, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, had returned from a mission to the eastern states in May 1845. Disputes quickly arose between Smith and the other apostles regarding Smith’s behavior while in the East, his authority as church patriarch, the authority of Brigham Young as president of the Twelve Apostles, and Smith’s public teaching of plural marriage. Smith left Nauvoo in the middle of the night on September 12, 1845. Two days prior to his mother’s address, on the first day of the general conference, Smith was not sustained as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles as a result of objections. He was excommunicated on October 19, 1845. (Kyle R. Walker, William B. Smith: In the Shadow of a Prophet [Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2015], 229–245, 257–258, 298–300; Clayton and Bullock, “Conference Minutes,” 1008; Willard Richards, “Notice,” Times and Seasons 6, no. 16 [Nov. 1, 1845]: 1019; Hosea Stout, Journal, Oct. 19, 1845.)
^33. Joseph Smith Sr. and Lucy Mack Smith had three daughters: Sophronia Smith [Stoddard], Katharine Smith [Salisbury], and Lucy Smith [Millikin]. The three sisters and their families remained in Illinois following the Saints’ move west. (See Kyle R. Walker, ed., United by Faith: The Joseph Sr. and Lucy Mack Smith Family [American Fork, UT: Covenant Communications, 2005], 187–195, 326–332, 416–418.)
^34. Shortly after the publication of the Book of Mormon, in late June 1830, Samuel Smith went on a mission and took a number of books to sell. On his first day, he traveled twenty-five miles and was rejected by several potential buyers. (Smith, History, 1845, 169–170.)
^35. John Portineus Greene was a member of the Methodist Episcopal Church and the Methodist Reformed Church in Mendon, New York. His wife, Rhoda Young Greene, was a sister to Brigham Young. (Walker, “Lucy Mack Smith Speaks to the Nauvoo Saints,” 283n19.)
^39. See Luke 13:19. On a subsequent mission to Mendon, New York, Samuel Smith presented a Book of Mormon to Phineas Young, brother of Rhoda Young Greene and Brigham Young, which eventually led to the conversion and baptism of Heber C. Kimball and others. (Dean L. Jarman and Kyle L. Walker, “Samuel Harrison Smith,” in Walker, United by Faith, 210–211.)
^40. The Smith family moved from New York to Ohio in 1831 and then from Ohio to Missouri in 1838. They stayed in Missouri for only seven months. (Lavina Fielding Anderson, “Lucy Mack Smith,” in Walker, United by Faith, 62–66.)
^41. In the summer of 1838, William Smith and his wife, Caroline Grant Smith, became sick and were unable to care for themselves or their children. William’s brother Samuel took them to their parents’ home in Far West, Missouri. Samuel Smith’s wife, Mary Bailey Smith, gave birth to a third child on August 1, 1838. (Walker, William B. Smith, 263; Smith, History, 1845, 247; Jarman and Walker, “Samuel Harrison Smith,” 225.)
^42. In 1838, opposition to the Latter-day Saints’ expanding settlements in Missouri resulted in violent clashes between the Saints and non-Mormon Missourians. Lucy Mack Smith refers here to Latter-day Saints who had been displaced from their homes during the conflict. The acre of ground in front of the Smith tavern was “completely covered with beds, lying in the open sun, where families were compelled to sleep exposed to all kinds of weather. … It was enough to make the heart ache to see the children, sick with colds and crying around their mothers for food, whilst their parents were destitute of the means of making them comfortable.” (Alexander L. Baugh, A Call to Arms: The 1838 Mormon Defense of Northern Missouri, Dissertations in Latter-day Saint History [Provo, UT: Joseph Fielding Smith Institute for Latter-day Saint History; BYU Studies, 2000]; Smith, History, 1845, 282.)
^43. On October 31, 1838, Major General Samuel D. Lucas of the Missouri militia presented several conditions to the Latter-day Saints to ensure peace. Believing that Lucas was open to additional negotiations, Joseph Smith and four other church leaders submitted to arrest and entered the militia camp outside of Far West. On November 1, Hyrum Smith was arrested and placed with the other prisoners. (Samuel D. Lucas to Lilburn W. Boggs, Nov. 2, 1838, Mormon War Papers, Missouri State Archives, Jefferson City; Hyrum Smith, “To the Saints Scattered Abroad,” Times and Seasons 1, no. 2 [Dec. 1839]: 21; Baugh, A Call to Arms, 141.)
^44. Smith is likely referring to the militia’s chaotic occupation of Far West, Missouri, in November 1838, when anti-Mormons were permitted to harass the Saints in the city. (See Michael Arthur to Clay County Representatives, Nov. 29, 1838, Mormon War Papers; see also Smith, History, 1845, 247–249, 253.)
^45. On November 1, 1838, Joseph Smith and six other prisoners were tried by a court-martial in the militia camp and sentenced to be executed the following morning on the town square in Far West. Brigadier General Alexander Doniphan, however, opposed the ruling and halted the executions. Major General Samuel D. Lucas then decided to transport the prisoners to his headquarters in Independence, Jackson County, Missouri, leading to rumors that the executions would occur there. Lucy Mack Smith most likely added the detail of “15 minutes” to the story as dramatic flair. Joseph Smith spoke with his mother and sister from his prison wagon on November 2, 1838, and was later imprisoned in the jail in Liberty, Missouri, until April 1839. He eventually escaped from prison. (Heman C. Smith et al., History of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, 8 vols. [Independence, MO: Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, 1896–1903 (vols. 1–4), 1969–1976 (vols. 5–8)], 2:260–262; Eliza R. Snow to Isaac Streator, Feb. 22, 1839, in “Eliza R. Snow Letter from Missouri,” BYU Studies 13, no. 4 [Summer 1973]: 547; Hyrum Smith, Testimony, Nauvoo, IL, July 1, 1843, Nauvoo [Illinois] Records, 13–16, CHL; Joseph Smith, Bill of Damages, June 4, 1839, Joseph Smith Collection, CHL; Bushman, Rough Stone Rolling, 356–382; Smith, History, 1845, 281.)
^46. Lucy Mack Smith and her daughter Lucy were led to the wagon through crowds. As they were not allowed to see the prisoners, they shook hands with both Hyrum and Joseph under the strongly secured canvas covering the wagon. (Smith, History, 1845, 280–281.)
^48. While Mary Bailey Smith, wife of Samuel, was living in Daviess County, Missouri, a mob dragged her and her children (including a newborn baby) out of their home into inclement weather and burned the house to the ground. Samuel Smith was absent at the time. With continuing exposure and lack of nutrition, Mary Smith never fully recovered. (Jarman and Walker, “Samuel Harrison Smith,” 225.)
^49. Joseph Smith left for Washington DC on October 29, 1839. He and Elias Higbee met with President Martin Van Buren, Senator John C. Calhoun, and members of the Illinois congressional delegation, reporting losses of $2 million and presenting a litany of abuses against Mormons in Missouri. They did not, however, receive federal support, either financially or in the form of federal intervention into state affairs. (Bushman, Rough Stone Rolling, 392–393, 396–397; Spencer W. McBride, “When Joseph Smith Met Martin Van Buren: Mormonism and the Politics of Religious Liberty in Nineteenth-Century America,” Church History 85, no. 1 [Mar. 2016]: 19–27.)
^51. In forced compliance with Governor Lilburn W. Boggs’s order, about eight thousand church members began the arduous migration out of Missouri in early 1839, with many finding refuge in Quincy, Illinois, on the eastern side of the Mississippi River. In February 1839, Lucy and her husband joined the exodus to Illinois, walking in mud and camping in snow. (William G. Hartley, “‘Almost Too Intolerable a Burthen’: The Winter Exodus from Missouri, 1838–39,” Journal of Mormon History 18, no. 2 [Fall 1992]: 6–40; Smith, History, 1845, 286; Jarman and Walker, “Samuel Harrison Smith,” 228.)
^53. Joseph Smith reported on his visit to Washington DC at a conference held on April 8, 1840. Mr. Durfee may have been Jabez Durfee, whose wife, Elizabeth Durfee, was a member of the Nauvoo Relief Society. (Robert B. Thompson, “Conference Minutes,” Times and Seasons 1, no. 6 [Apr. 1840]: 93.)
^55. Smith may be referring to the September 10, 1845, death of Miner R. Deming, the Hancock County sheriff who was sympathetic to the Mormons during the May 1845 trials of the five men accused of murdering Joseph and Hyrum Smith. Deming’s death terminated an uneasy peace between Mormons and non-Mormons over local concerns and led to increased mob violence. (Dallin H. Oaks and Marvin S. Hill, Carthage Conspiracy: The Trial of the Accused Assassins of Joseph Smith [Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1975], 193–194.)
^56. Five members of Lucy Mack Smith’s family were buried in Nauvoo: Joseph Smith Sr., who died September 14, 1840; Don Carlos Smith, who died August 7, 1841; Joseph Smith Jr. and Hyrum Smith, who died June 27, 1844; and Samuel Smith, who died July 30, 1844. (“Joseph Smith Pedigree Chart.”)
^57. By the end of Lucy Smith’s discourse, her voice grew weak and much of the congregation could not hear her words. Brigham Young then stood to relate the following: “Mother Smith proposes a thing which rejoices my heart: she will go with us. I can answer for the authorities of the church; we want her and her children to go with us; and I pledge myself in behalf of the authorities of the church, that while we have anything, they shall share with us. We have extended the helping hand to Mother Smith.” (Clayton and Bullock, “Conference Minutes,” 1014.)