History of Joseph Smith by his Mother, Chapter 11

Chapter 11 Joseph Smith Sr. begins the business of crystallizing ginseng root. He exports a large quantity to China but is taken by fraud and deceit, and the entire venture fails. He loses his business in Randolph and has to sell the Tunbridge farm. Visit of Jason Mack, brother of Lucy, and final correspondence from Jason before his death.      Fall 1802 to late spring 1803       Now I must return to the earlier part of my life and change the subject from spiritual to temporal things. As I said before, my husband followed merchandising for a season in Randolph. Shortly after he commenced business, he ascertained that crystallized ginseng bore an immense value in China, as it was used as a remedy for the plague.He therefore decided to go into a traffic of this article, crystallizing and exporting the root. When he got a quantity of it on hand, a merchant of Royalton by the name of Stevens came and made him an offer of three thousand dollars for the whole lot, but that was not more than two-thirds of its worth. Mr. Smith refused, saying he would rather ship it himself than accept the offer.

My husband then went immediately to the city of New York and made arrangements to send his ginseng to China on board a vessel that was about to set sail, making arrangements with the captain to sell the ginseng in China and return the avails thereof to my husband. This the captain bound himself to do in a written obligation.

Mr. Stevens, being rather vexed at his failure, repaired immediately to New York, and by taking some pains, he ascertained the vessel on which Mr. Smith was shipping his ginseng, and having some of the same article on hand himself, he made arrangements with the captain to take his also, sending his son to China on the same ship to take charge of the goods.

It appears from circumstances that afterwards transpired that when the son arrived in China, he sold the ginseng which my husband sent and took possession of the avails.

When the vessel returned, Stevens the younger returned with it, and when my husband became apprised of his arrival, he went immediately to him and made inquiry respecting the success of the captain in selling his ginseng. Mr. Stevens told him quite a plausible tale, the particulars of which I have forgotten, but the amount of it was that the sale had been a perfect failure, and the only thing which had been brought for Mr. Smith from China was a small chest of tea, which chest had been delivered into his care for my husband.

In a short time after this, young Stevens hired a house of Major Mack, my brother, employed eight or ten hands, and commenced crystallizing ginseng. When Stevens had fairly set up business, my brother went to see him and found him intoxicated. “Well,” said my brother, “you are doing a fine business. You will soon be ready for another trip to China.” Then, turning in a gay, social manner, he said, “Oh, Mr. Stevens, how much did Brother Smith’s venture bring?”

The man, being under the influence of liquor, was off his guard, so he took my brother by the hand and led him to a trunk and archly observed, “There, sir, is the avails of Mr. Smith’s ginseng,” exhibiting a large amount of silver and gold.

My brother was astounded but smothered his feelings, talked a while indifferently to him, and then returned home. That night at ten o’clock he ordered his horse and started for Randolph to see my husband. When Mr. Stevens had overcome his intoxication, he began to reflect upon what he had done, and found upon inquiring of the hostler where my brother had gone. Mr. Stevens, conjecturing his business-that he had gone to see my husband respecting the ginseng adventure-went immediately to his establishment, dismissed his hands, called his carriage, and fled, cash and all, for Canada and has not been heard of in the United States since.

My husband pursued him a while, but finding that pursuit was vain, he returned home quite dispirited at the state of his affairs. He then overhauled his books and found that, in addition to the loss that he had met with in the ginseng traffic, he had lost more than two thousand dollars in bad debts and was himself owing eighteen hundred dollars for store goods purchased in the city of Boston. He had expected to discharge the debt at the return of the China expedition; but having invested almost all his means in ginseng, the loss rendered it impossible for him to pay his debt with the property which remained in his hands. The principal dependence left him, in the shape of property, was the farm at Tunbridge, upon which we were then living, having moved back to this place immediately after his venture was sent to China. This farm, which was worth about fifteen hundred dollars, my husband sold for eight hundred dollars in order to make a speedy payment on his debts in Boston. As I had not yet made use of the thousand-dollar present that my brother Stephen and Mr. Mudget had given me, I desired Mr. Smith to add this to the sum which he received for his farm and by this means we would be enabled to liquidate all debts that stood against us; and although we might be poor, we would have the satisfaction of knowing that we had given no man any cause of complaint, and having a conscience void of offense, the society of our children, and the blessing of health, we still might be indeed happy.

He acceded to my proposition and deposited the whole into the hands of Colonel Mack, who took the same to Boston and paid off the demands against us and returned with the receipts which set us free from the embarrassment of debt, but not from the embarrassment of poverty.

While we were living on the Tunbridge farm, my brother Jason made us a visit. He brought with him a young man by the name of William Smith, a friendless orphan whom he had adopted as his own son, and, previous to this time, had kept constantly with him; but he now thought best to leave him with us for the purpose of having him go to school. He remained with us, however, only six months before my brother came again and took him to New Brunswick, which they afterwards made their home, and where my brother had gathered together some thirty families on a tract of land which he had purchased for the purpose of assisting poor persons to the means of sustaining themselves. He planned their work for them, and when they raised anything which they wished to sell, he took it to market for them. Owning a schooner himself, he took their produce to Liverpool, as it was then the best market.

When Jason set out on the above-mentioned visit to Tunbridge, he purchased a quantity of goods which he intended as presents for his friends, especially his mother and sisters, but on his way thither he found so many objects of charity that he gave away not only the goods, but most of his money. On one occasion he saw a woman who had just lost her husband and who was very destitute; he gave her fifteen dollars in money and a full suit of clothes for herself and each of her children, which were six in number.

This was the last interview I ever had with my brother Jason, but twenty years later he wrote the following letter to my brother Solomon, and that is about all the intelligence I have ever received from him since I saw him:

South Branch of Oromocto, Province of New Brunswick,

June 30, 1835.

My Dear Brother Solomon:

You will, no doubt, be surprised to hear that I am still alive, although in an absence of twenty years I have never written to you before. But I trust you will forgive me when I tell you that, for most of the twenty years, I have been so situated that I have had little or no communication with the lines, and have been holding meetings, day and night, from place to place; besides, my mind has been so taken up with the deplorable situation of the earth, the darkness in which it lies, that, when my labors did call me near the lines, I did not realize the opportunity that presented itself of letting you know where I was. And, again, I have designed visiting you long since, and annually have promised myself that the succeeding year I would certainly seek out my relatives, and enjoy the privilege of one pleasing interview with them before I passed into the valley and shadow of death. But last, though not least, let me not startle you when I say, that, according to my early adopted principles of the power of faith, the Lord has, in his exceeding kindness, bestowed upon me the gift of healing by the prayer of faith, and the use of such simple means as seem congenial to the human system; but my chief reliance is upon him who organized us at the first, and can restore at pleasure that which is disorganized.

The first of my peculiar successes in this way was twelve years since, and from nearly that date I have had little rest. In addition to the incessant calls which I, in a short time had, there was the most overwhelming torrent of opposition poured down upon me that I ever witnessed. But it pleased God to take the weak to confound the wisdom of the wise. I have in the last twelve years seen the greatest manifestations of the power of God in healing the sick, that, with all my sanguinity, I ever hoped or imagined. And when the learned infidel has declared with sober face, time and again, that disease had obtained such an ascendancy that death could be resisted no longer, that the victim must wither beneath his potent arm, I have seen the almost lifeless clay slowly but surely resuscitated, and revive, till the pallid monster fled so far that the patient was left in the full bloom of vigorous health. But it is God that hath done it, and to him let all the praise be given.

I am now compelled to close this epistle, for I must start immediately on a journey of more than one hundred miles, to attend a heavy case of sickness. So God be with you all. Farewell!

Jason Mack

The next intelligence we received concerning Jason, after his letter to Brother Solomon, was that he, his wife, and oldest son were dead, and this concludes my account of my brother Jason.

Go to chapter 12. 

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