“Lucy Mack Smith,” Church History Topics
“Lucy Mack Smith”
Born in 1775, Lucy Mack grew up in a deeply religious home. In her search for salvation, Lucy studied the Bible, prayed, discussed dreams and visions, and attended religious meetings and revivals sponsored by various denominations. She married Joseph Smith Sr. in 1796 and was the mother of Joseph Smith Jr. and 10 other children. Lucy taught her children to read using the Bible and knelt with them in family prayer. She briefly joined the Presbyterian congregation in Palmyra but readily accepted the restored gospel and was baptized soon after the Church was organized on April 6, 1830.
Lucy Mack Smith was a strong voice in the early Church. She was an eyewitness to the events surrounding the Book of Mormon translation and testified that she hefted the plates and handled the Urim and Thummim.1 She led a group of Latter-day Saints from Fayette, New York, to Kirtland, Ohio, in 1831.2 She accompanied her son Hyrum on a mission to Detroit later that year and freely testified of the Book of Mormon.3 In Kirtland, she helped lead efforts to raise money to build a school.4 She joined the Nauvoo Relief Society at age 66 on March 24, 1842, and told the assembled women that she “hop’d the Lord would bless and aid the Society in feeding the hungry, clothing the naked.”5 The Saints cared for the revered mother of the Prophet and listened to her counsel, referring to her affectionately as “Mother Smith.”6
In 1844, a few months after the deaths of Joseph, Hyrum, and Samuel Smith, Lucy Mack Smith began compiling her history, assisted by scribes Martha and Howard Coray. Though aging and in poor health, she 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.”7 Lucy’s manuscript was completed by October 1845, and she publicly announced the project at general conference.8 When the majority of Church members migrated west toward the Great Basin after 1846, Lucy’s health was declining, and she chose to remain with her family in Illinois. She spent the remaining years of her life with her daughter Lucy Millikin, her daughter-in-law Emma, and her grandsons. Lucy Mack Smith passed away in 1856.
Apostle Orson Pratt first published Lucy’s history in 1853. In the 1860s, President Brigham Young publicly criticized Lucy’s history, pointing to errors in dating and chronology and insisting that Lucy’s memory was impaired. President Young asked his counselor George A. Smith (Lucy’s nephew) to correct the errors and “let it be published to the world.”9 The revisions altered less than 2 percent of the text.
Like all sources that present narratives from memory, Lucy Mack Smith’s account has flaws, exaggerations, and biases. Historians who have studied her narrative, however, conclude that errors in her history are “relatively minor and infrequent.” Of the 200 names in her history, more than 190 are corroborated by other sources.10 Moreover, there is no evidence that Lucy’s mind was impaired. A visitor to Nauvoo in 1855 spoke to Lucy and noted that she had “retained her faculties to a remarkable degree.”11 Lucy’s narrative gives insight into her personality, beliefs, and understanding of Joseph Smith’s calling. It also provides accounts of significant Smith family and Church history events for which there are no other sources. Her history is used in Saints primarily to describe these events and for the dialogue she re-creates from memory.