|Chapter 51 Large tracts of land are purchased at Commerce, Illinois. The Smiths move from Quincy to a log cabin in what will later be called Nauvoo. Sickness reigns in Nauvoo and the Smiths’ household. Don Carlos’s tender letter to his wife. Joseph the Prophet with Sidney Rigdon and others go to Washington, D.C., and visit with President Martin Van Buren to no avail. Mother Smith comments on her love for the Constitution and her sorrow for the nation’s departing from the Founding Fathers’ ideas. Joseph Smith Sr. gives patriarchal blessings to a number of Saints. Father Smith’s health worsens; he gathers his family around him, gives his dying blessings, and passes on. Lucy’s sorrow and reflections after forty-four years of marriage.
April 1839 to September 1840
In the spring of 1839 Joseph and Hyrum came to this place, which was then called Commerce, to look at the situation and make a purchase of land in order to gather the Saints together again. They succeeded in buying a large tract of land from Mr. White, who was one of the proprietors of Commerce, and returned for their families. After they left, we remained a short time in Quincy, as we were not ready to leave at that time. But in a few days my sons sent a team after us to bring us to Commerce, for my husband’s health was so poor that he was unable to attend to any kind of business, and they wanted to have their father near them. Jacob Bigler came after us, but when he saw how poor my husband’s health was, he thought it best to leave the heavy wagon he had brought and get a carriage that would be more pleasant to travel in.
The morning before we started, Mr. Messer came and said that he could not go to work, for he wanted to stay with us while we remained. “This, ” said Mr. Messer, “is the first time I ever left my work on account of a neighbor leaving the place.” He remained with us all the forenoon, and in the afternoon returned with his wife and stayed till near dark. I have always had the warmest attachment for this family, and I pray God that his choicest blessings may rest upon them.
The next morning we set out for Commerce and proceeded about twenty miles when our carriage broke down, leaving us in the middle of the prairie unable to proceed on our journey. My husband and I sat in the burning sun nearly three hours before the necessary aid could be obtained. Brother Bigler went some distance and got another wagon. We then started on and soon arrived at Bear Creek below Lima. This stream was very high and very dangerous for strangers to cross it at all, but providentially we took the right course and, with much difficulty, got across at Sister Lawrence’s house near Lima just after dark. Here we stayed overnight, and the next day came to Commerce, where we found those of our family who were there in good health.
We moved into a small log room attached to the house in which Joseph was living. Here we might have enjoyed ourselves in quiet retirement, but my husband’s health still failed, he was fast sinking into the consumption, and medicines were of but little benefit.
As the season advanced, the brethren who had settled here began to feel the effects of the hardships which they had endured, joined with the unhealthiness of the climate in which we were then situated. They came down with agues and bilious fevers to such an extent that there were some whole families in which there was not one who was able to give another a drink of cold water or even to help themselves. Hyrum’s family was mostly sick. My youngest daughter, Lucy, was also very sick, and there was, in fact, but few of the inhabitants of the place who were well.
Joseph and Emma had the sick brought to their house and took care of them there. They continued to have them brought as fast as they were taken down, until their house, which consisted of four rooms, was so crowded that they had to spread a tent in the yard for that part of the family who were still on their feet. Joseph and Emma devoted their whole time and attention to the care of the sick during this time of distress.
Silas Smith, my husband’s brother, came up from Pike County to consult my husband upon some Church business and returned with the intention of bringing his family here, but before he could accomplish it, he was taken sick and died, and we never saw him again.
About this time William came from Plymouth and informed us that he had sent to Missouri for our furniture and provisions and that nothing remained of all that we had left, as they had been destroyed by the mob. When William returned, he took Hyrum’s oldest daughter, Lovina, who had been sick, with him to Plymouth, thinking that the ride and change of atmosphere would be a benefit to her. Instead she grew much worse, and in a little while she was supposed to be on her deathbed. Her uncle sent word to us that he was afraid that she would not live until we could get there. Her father was not able to sit up when the news came, but Lucy and I started, although Lucy was quite sick and I, myself, would have been unable to go had it not been in a case of extremity. On our arrival at Plymouth, we found her very low, but some better than we expected, for she had revived a little since the messenger had left. She continued to get better from this time until she got quite well, but the ague seemed to take a fresh hold upon Lucy. The journey over the prairie in the hot sun in the dry season of the year, when it was almost impossible to get a drink of cold water to cool her fever, had been a great disadvantage to her health. She remained completely under the power of the disease until the sickness in Commerce had so abated that Joseph could leave home long enough to make a visit to Plymouth.
When he arrived, Lucy was lying on the bed upstairs in a high fever. Upon hearing her brother’s voice below, before he even had time to get up the steps, she flew down as though she had been perfectly well. She was so overjoyed to see her brother and hear that her relatives were all alive and through with the dreadful siege of sickness, that the excitement performed an entire cure so that she did not have the ague again and soon got back her strength.
During the summer, in the commencement of the sickness, Don Carlos came from McDonough County to make preparations to establish a printing press, as the press and type had been buried during the Missouri troubles to keep them out of the hands of our enemies. They had gathered so much dampness that the type was considerably injured, and it was necessary to get it into use as soon as possible. He found one room at liberty, and that was an underground room through which a spring was constantly flowing. It needed a great deal of cleaning out before it could be made to answer his purpose at all. He worked alone in this cellar some time, and together the dampness of the place and his labor caused him to take a severe cold with which he was sick for some time. But he continued his work until he had got his press started, and a few numbers of the paper printed. He went to McDonough to see his family, and after this, returned to Commerce, but found the distress so great that no business could be done. After his arrival in Commerce, he wrote the following letter to his wife, which shows pretty clearly the situation of the Church at the time as well as his affectionate disposition, which was always breathed in every word and stamped on every line he wrote to his family.
Commerce, July 29, 1839.
I am in tolerable health and have just risen from imploring the throne of grace in your behalf and that of our family-that God would preserve your health and give you every blessing and protect you by day and by night. When I arrived here, there had been nothing done in the office, as Brother Robinson has been sick every day since I left and is sick yet. I have done but little labor since I returned, for I have been striving against the destroyer and attending upon the sick continually. There are not well ones enough to take care of the sick. There has been but one death, however, since I returned, and that was of a child, but one week old. McLeary and Sophronia are both sick. Brother Robinson’s wife has been nigh unto death. Father is better. Last Tuesday I administered to sixteen souls and have since administered to a great many in company with George A. Smith, and some notable miracles were wrought with our hands. I never had so great power over disease as I have had this week, for this let God be glorified. The devil is determined to destroy the Saints here. There is between 50 and 100 that are sick, but they are generally on the gain and I do not know of more than two or three who are dangerously sick.
I send you five dollars so that you may not be destitute in case you should be sick or in want of money. My dear, you shall be made happy by me, the Lord being my helper. Hereafter you shall not want. Elijah’s God will bless you and I will bless you. You are entwined round my heart with ties that are stronger than death, and time cannot sever them. Yes, deprived of your society and that of my prattling babes, life would be irksome to me. Oh, that you might live till the coming of the Son of Man and I also for your sakes, that I might comfort you and you might comfort me, and we might comfort our babes and instill into their tender and noble minds principles of virtue that God may bless us all that we may be happy. I shall come home as soon as we can get through with our present hurry.
I am as ever your most true and faithful earthly friend both in time and in eternity.
Don C. Smith
We returned to Commerce, and when the weather became cold the sallow faces of the community began to assume a more fresh and ready hue, and all was bustle and business-some building, some fencing, some hauling wood, and indeed all hands were as active in gathering around them the comforts of life as though they had never been disturbed from their possessions, and had no reason to distrust the lasting friendship of those who professed to be their friends.
How often have I looked upon the innocent, cheerful countenances of our brethren and wondered at the difference between them and the dark, lowering, wicked look of the persecutors who thronged our lovely city at the time when Joseph was taken prisoner. The fact is our brethren, when they have the spirit of the gospel upon them, meditate no evil, and consequently, they fear no evil, until they are taught to fear as the sheep is taught to fear the fierce wolf or tiger. But now they have had sufficient experience to make them more wary than they once were, so that they will be likely for the future to calculate both ways and not lick the hand just raised to shed their blood.
It now became a duty for Joseph to fulfill a commandment which he received while in prison to go as soon as he could leave home to the city of Washington and petition Congress for redress. He said that if there was any virtue in the government that they might not fail to do justice for want of a correct understanding of the facts. Accordingly, Joseph set off with Sidney Rigdon, Dr. Foster, Elias Higbee, and Porter Rockwell for the seat of government.
After arriving in Washington, Joseph and Sidney waited upon his excellency Martin Van Buren for some time. They had no opportunity to lay their grievances before him, as rather than lend an ear to the complaints of a distressed people, he chose to give his attention to the frivolous chat of visitors, who had no other business but to compliment him upon his fine circumstances. At length, however, he concluded to listen to them, and heard the entire history of our oppression, and the abuse we had received from our existence as a people until the slaughter of our brethren at Haun’s Mill, and our final expulsion from our homes. They concluded with an appeal to him as the principal officer of this great, mighty republic for his assistance.
Has not everyone read our tale of woe? If you have not, I beseech you to take the trouble to do so. I’ve not told the half, but if you will peruse a pamphlet entitled “Missouri Persecutions,” you will then be able to appreciate the magnanimous reply of this mighty ruler of a mighty republic when his heart was under the fresh influence of the story of his people’s grief. “Hear it ye nations. Hear it, oh ye dead.” Martin Van Buren said, “Gentlemen, your cause is just, but I can do nothing for you.”
You, that at the peril of your lives, your fortunes, and your sacred honor stepped forth and placed your names upon the list attached to the Declaration of Independence, and nobly stood targets for the vengeance of the oppressor, willing to sacrifice your own lives to save your countrymen-look down upon your children, spirit of our departed. Washington, but little did you expect that sacred seat which you so lately occupied, and from which you dealt out evenhanded justice to all, would be so very soon filled by one who can do nothing for your own fellow soldiers, when they are murdered upon the soil that you and they defended breast to breast.
But we are your children. We love the Constitution and the law and we will abide the same. We love those hearts from whose pure depths that Constitution emanated. We love the many that fought for us in our infant years. We have your brethren in our midst, some who battled by your side. We honor and we cherish and we love them. The scheme of our national salvation we dearly love, but oh, the hands in which it is placed! They will not take thee for an example. Therefore, we go mourning all the day long, and the chain of the oppressor lays heavy on our necks. Our feet are fettered, our hands are shackled, and behold we are cast into prison, for is this all? We are even murdered, and yet no one has raised the yoke, but still we bow down and bear our grief.
The matter was, however, laid before Congress. They too concluded that our cause was just, but that they could do nothing for us, as Missouri was a sovereign, independent state; and that the “Mormons” might appeal to her for redress, for, in their opinion, she neither wanted the power nor lacked the disposition to redress the wrongs of her own citizens.
Joseph remained with his brethren in Washington until a decision was had upon the subject. While he was absent, his father was very feeble. His cough increased, and he became so weak, that I was often under the necessity of lifting him from his bed. One night I was raising him and he said, “Mother, I don’t know but I shall die here alone with you, and perhaps in your arms while lifting me.”
“Oh, no, Father,” said I, “you will not; for when you die, you will have all your children round you.”
“Well,” said he, “if you say so in real earnest, I believe it will be so.” I told him that it was impressed upon my mind that such would be the case. He was much comforted by this, for he had been very anxious to live until Joseph returned, that he might bless him again before he died.
This was in the winter of 1840. Before spring he got some better so that he walked around the neighborhood and even attended to blessing some few of the brethren, among whom was Elder John E. Page and his wife, Mary. On this occasion he stood upon his feet three hours, and when he got through blessing and preaching, he laid hands on Brother Page, who was terribly afflicted with the black canker, but was healed very suddenly, for there was a great manifestation of the Spirit of God at this meeting.
He gave one person a blessing whom he had never seen before that day, and who had not been in the Church a fortnight. When he blessed her, he repeated a prophecy word for word that had been pronounced upon her head by Brother Page and said that the Spirit testified that she had been told these things in her confirmation. This surprised her, for she had just arrived in Nauvoo with Brother and Sister Page, and she knew that not one word had passed between him and my husband upon the subject.
In March of 1840, Mr. Smith had a relapse and was confined again to his bed, not able to help himself out of it. I was standing by the window and saw Joseph coming, for he had just arrived from Washington. I told Mr. Smith that Joseph was coming and he cried for joy at the thought that he had been spared to see Joseph’s face again. Joseph came immediately into the room, and before he left, he laid hands on him and assisted him out of bed.
Joseph’s family were rejoiced to see him again, for they had heard many reports of danger which had threatened him, and Emma had suffered much uneasiness on the account. The Church was also much rejoiced to meet him, but had they yielded their feelings to the influence of circumstances, their joy would have been mingled with grief, for the Senate of the United States sent back our brethren with documents saying that as Missouri was the place where our difficulties occurred, she alone could exercise jurisdiction in the affair of our trouble, and that whatever might be the outrages committed upon us by the inveterate state of Missouri, we had no hopes of redress. We plainly discovered that murder was licensed and every outrage upon us permitted. However, we did not lose all hopes of resting from persecution for a season. At least the authorities of Illinois had been very forward to give us every assurance of their honor, and it is our motto ever to trust our friends until they betray our trust, and so we acted in this instance, resting perfectly secure upon the laws which were then, and for some time after, promptly executed.
After Joseph’s arrival, he had a house erected for his father, and we were soon very comfortably situated. My husband seemed to revive a little in the spring, but when the heat of the ensuing summer came on, he began to fail again. This was perhaps partially because Missouri again renewed her persecutions against us and sent officers with writs demanding sixty of our brethren, my sons with the rest considered as fugitives from justice (as they chose to call their proceedings just). The brethren concluded at this time to fly from such justice and were obliged to leave the city and absent themselves from their families for some time before the writs were returned.
About this time, General John C. Bennett came into the city and undertook to devise a scheme that would result in the security of our persecuted brethren, that they might remain at home in peace. I do not know what he did. I only know that he seemed to be very much engaged about law as well as the gospel. My heart was then too full of anxiety about my husband to inquire much into matters which I did not understand; however, the result was, Joseph returned from Iowa.
On the evening of his return, his father was taken with vomiting blood. This was the first time that I had allowed myself to doubt but that he would sooner or later recover from his illness, but I now concluded that he was appointed unto death. I sent for Joseph and Hyrum, who, when they came, gave him something to relieve his distress, and he became more easy. This was on Saturday night.
On Sunday, Joseph came in and said, “Now, Father, I am at liberty and I can stay with you as much as you wish. Bennett is here and he will fix things so that we will not be in danger of being disturbed by the Missourians.” His father was delighted to hear it, for he knew that he could live but a short time and he wished Joseph to remain with him. After which Joseph informed his father, that it was then the privilege of the Saints to be baptized for the dead, and Mr. Smith requested that Joseph should be baptized for Alvin immediately.
We had sent for the children who did not live in the city and they had all got here save Catharine, who was detained by a sick husband and sick children. Mr. Smith, being apprised of this, sent Arthur Milliken, who, but a short time previous, was married to our youngest daughter, after Catharine and her children. Mr. Milliken made all haste to get a team and to make the necessary preparations for his journey. Before he went, however, my husband blessed him, as he feared that it might be too late when he returned. He took him by the hand and said:
“Arthur, my son, I have given you my darling, my youngest child, and will you be kind to her?”
“Yes, Father,” he replied, “I will.”
“Arthur,” he continued, “you shall be blessed, and you shall be great in the eyes of the Lord, and if you will be faithful, you shall have all the desires of your heart in righteousness. Now, I want you to go after my daughter Catharine, for I know the faithfulness of your heart, that you will not come back without her.”
Arthur then left. After he was gone, he called us all around his bed and addressed me first.
“Mother,” said he, “do you not know that you are the mother of the greatest family that ever lived upon the earth? The world loves its own, but it does not love us. It hates us because we are not of the world; therefore, all their malice is poured out upon us, and they seek to take away our lives. When I look upon my children and realize that although they were raised up to do the Lord’s work, yet they must pass through scenes of trouble and affliction as long as they live upon the earth, my heart is pained and I dread to leave you so surrounded by enemies.”
At this Hyrum bent over his father and said, “Father, if you are taken away, will you not intercede for us at the throne of grace, that our enemies may not have so much power over us to distress and harass us?” His father laid his hands upon Hyrum’s head and said:
“My son, Hyrum, I seal upon your head your patriarchal blessing which I placed on your head before, for that shall be verified. In addition, I now give you my dying blessing. You shall have a season of peace, so that you shall have sufficient rest to accomplish the work which God has given you to do. You shall be as firm as the pillars of heaven unto the end of your days. I seal upon your head the patriarchal power, and you shall bless the people. This is my dying blessing upon your head in the name of Jesus. Amen.”
To Joseph he said:
“Joseph, my son, you are called to a high and holy calling. You are called to do the work of the Lord. Now, hold out faithful and you will be blessed, and your family shall be blessed, and your children after you. You shall live to finish your work.”
At this Joseph cried out, “Oh, Father, shall I?”
“Yes,” said his father, “you shall. You shall live to lay out all the plan of all the work that God requires at your hand. Be faithful to the end. This is my dying blessing on your head in the name of Jesus. I also confirm your former blessing upon you, for it shall be fulfilled. Even so. Amen.”
To Don Carlos he said:
“Carlos, my darling son, you remember that when I blessed you, your blessing never was written, and I could not get it done, but now I want you to get my book, which contains the blessings of my family. I want you to take your pen and fill out those parts of your blessing that were not written. You shall have the Spirit of the Lord and shall be able to fill up all the vacancies which were left by Oliver when he wrote it. You shall be great in the sight of the Lord, for he sees and knows the integrity of your heart, and you shall be blessed; and all that know you shall bless you. Your wife and your children shall also be blessed, and you shall live to fulfill all the Lord has sent you to do. Even so. Amen.”
To Samuel he said:
“Samuel, you have been a faithful and obedient child. By your faithfulness, you have brought many into the Church. The Lord has seen your faithfulness and you are blessed in that the Lord has never chastised you, but has called you home to rest; and there is a crown laid up for you which shall grow brighter and brighter until the perfect day.
“When the Lord called you, he said, ‘Samuel, I have seen thy sufferings, have heard thy cries, seen thy faithfulness, and your skirts are clear of the blood of this generation.’ This is my dying blessing, and all the blessings which I have before pronounced upon you I now seal upon you again. Even so. Amen.”
To William he said:
“William, my son, thou hast been faithful in declaring the word, even before the Church was organized. Thou hast been sick, yet thou hast traveled to warn the people. And when thou couldst not walk, thou didst sit by the wayside and call upon the Lord, until he did provide a way for thee to be carried. Thou wast sick and afflicted, when thou wast away from thy father’s house, and no one knew it to assist thee in thy afflictions; but the Lord did see the honesty of thy heart, and thou wast blessed in thy mission. William, thou shalt be blessed, and thy voice shall be heard in distant lands, from place to place, and they shall regard thy teachings and thy voice. Thou shalt be like a roaring lion in the forest, for they shall hearken and hear thee. And thou shalt be the means of bringing many sheaves to Zion, and thou shalt be great in the eyes of many people, and they shall call thee blessed, and I will bless thee and thy children after thee. And the blessings which I sealed upon thy head before I now confirm again, and thy days shall be many and thou shall do a great work and live as long as thou desire life. Even so. Amen.”
To Sophronia he said:
“Sophronia, my oldest daughter, thou hadst sickness when thou wast young. Thy mother and thy father did cry over thee to have the Lord spare thy life. Thou didst see trouble and sorrow, but thy trouble shall be lessened, for thou hast been faithful in helping thy father and thy mother in the work of the Lord. And thou shalt be blessed, and the blessings of heaven shall rest down upon you and your last days shall be your best days. Although thou shalt see trouble and sorrow and mourning, thou shalt be comforted and the Lord will lift you up and the blessings of the Lord will rest upon you and upon your family. Thou shalt live as long as thou desirest life. I pronounce this dying blessing with your other blessings I seal upon your head. Even so. Amen.”
After this he rested some time and then said:
“Catharine has been a sorrowful child. Trouble has she seen, and the Lord has looked down upon her and seen her patience and has heard her cries. She shall be comforted when her days of sorrow are ended. Then shall the Lord look down upon her, and she shall have the comforts of life and the good things of the world, and then shall she rise up and defend her cause. And she shall live to raise up her family and in time her suffering shall be over, for the day is coming when the patient shall receive their reward. She shall rise over her enemies, and she shall have houses and land and things around her to make her heart glad. I, in this dying blessing, confirm her patriarchal blessing upon her head, and she shall receive eternal life. Even so. Amen.”
To Lucy he said:
“Lucy, thou art my youngest child, thou art my darling. And the Lord gave you unto us to be a comfort to us in our old age, and thou must take good care of thy mother. Thou art innocent and thy heart is right before the Lord. Thou hast been through all the persecution and hast seen nothing but persecution, trouble, and sickness except when the Lord would cheer our hearts. If thou wilt continue and hold out faithful, thou shalt be blessed with a house and land, and thou shalt have food and raiment and no more be persecuted and driven as thou hast hitherto been. And continue faithful and you shall receive a reward in heaven and you shall live long and be blessed, and thou shalt receive a reward in heaven. And now I seal this dying blessing and your patriarchal blessing upon your head. Even so. Amen.”
He then called to me again. “Mother,” said he, “where are you?” I was standing at his back, but went immediately to his head. “Do you not know that you are one of the most singular women in the world?”
I said, “No, I do not.”
“Well,” said he, “I do. You have brought up my children for me by the fireside, and when I was gone from home, you comforted them. You have brought up all my children and could always comfort them when I could not. We have often wished that we might both die at the same time, but you must not desire to die when I do. You must stay to comfort the children when I am gone. So do not mourn, but try to be comforted. Your last days shall be your best days, as to being driven, for you shall have more power over your enemies than you have had. Now, be comforted.”
He paused and then said, “Why, I can see and hear as well as ever I could.” (A pause.) “And I have my senses perfectly well.” (A pause of some minutes.) “I see Alvin.” (Another pause.) “I shall live seven or eight minutes.” He then straightened himself, laid his hands together, and began to breathe shorter and shorter until at last his breath stopped without a struggle or even a sigh. He departed so calmly that we could not believe for some time but that he would breathe again.
I am convinced that no one but a widow can imagine the feelings of a widow, but my situation was not such as is common in similar cases. My beloved companion who had shared my joy and grief for forty-four years lay before me, a cold, lifeless corpse, and the cold hand which I held in mine returned the pressure of my own no longer. My fatherless children stood around me, gazing in agony upon those eyes which had, until a few minutes ago, always beamed upon them with the tenderest gaze. I then thought that there was no evil for me to fear upon the earth more than what I had experienced in the death of my beloved husband. It was all the grief which my nature was able to bear, and I thought that I could never again be called to suffer so great an affliction as this. I reflected upon the many years of happiness which I had spent with him, and that the one with whom I had spent my life was now buried beneath the cold clods, and that portion of my life which lay before seemed desolate indeed. I thought that the greatest sorrow of which it was possible for me to experience had fallen upon me.
My children were all there save Catharine, who did not arrive until the evening of the second day. We were compelled to attend his obsequies the day following his death or run the risk of seeing Hyrum and Joseph torn from their father’s corpse and carried to prison and perhaps to Missouri by our enemies, for they had obtained another writ which they were hurrying to the city in order to serve it upon my sons.
My own heart was broken, and I had but one reason to desire life, which was, as Mr. Smith said in his dying moments, that I might comfort my children. All that has transpired since that period, except the calamities which have befallen my own family, is like a shadow or a dream. From this time I shall enumerate the events of my life as rapidly as possible and shall endeavor to suppress my feelings altogether, until I have related the remainder of what I have to tell.
The evening after my husband was buried, Catharine arrived at our house, bringing her husband upon a bed, sick with the ague. She remained with me some time and comforted me what she could.