“Church Receives George A. and Bathsheba Smith Artifacts,” Liahona, Sept. 2007, N5–N7
Spread over a table, the possessions of George A. and Bathsheba Wilson (Bigler) Smith tie together a century of Church history.
The relics—ranging from the myopic Apostle’s collection of eyeglasses to photos that create an early visual history of the Church—speak of the humanity of one of the Church’s most influential couples.
A Book of Mormon, female headdresses, a paisley shawl, a handmade flag, multiple photo albums, letters, and a scrapbook of a trip to the Holy Land are among items filling several boxes received by Richard Oman, curator of the Museum of Church History and Art.
George A., as he was known, was deeply committed to the Church from his baptism in 1832 until his death in 1875. As a first cousin to the Prophet Joseph Smith and an ardent convert, he said, “I was always Joseph’s friend; his enemies are my enemies” (Preston Nibley, “Youngest Modern Apostle,” Church News, 1950–51, a biography of George A. Smith published in weekly installments). He trekked with Zion’s Camp in 1834, was driven with his ailing parents from Missouri in 1838, and in 1840, so ill he could barely walk, he left on a mission to England.
He later became the eminent colonizer after whom St. George, Utah, was named and was Church historian and First Counselor in the First Presidency.
His wife, Bathsheba (pronounced BATH-sh-ba), was the fourth Relief Society general president. She fostered the publication of the Woman’s Exponent and spoke vigorously for women’s suffrage. Her meticulously kept albums of pioneer photographs and her boxes of crumpled red, white, and blue ribbons saved faithfully from territorial celebrations tell of her faithful involvement in current events and her love for her family.
She instilled in five generations a sense of record keeping, said archivist Christy Best. “I see Bathsheba in the role of preserving family history—in the role of preserving Church history.”
Bathsheba’s copy of the Book of Mormon was the one that Hyrum Smith read shortly before the Martyrdom; the corner of the page in Ether is still turned down, as mentioned in Doctrine and Covenants 135:4. Elder Smith originally bought the book in England, where it had been printed, and it is embossed with Bathsheba’s maiden name. He had met Bathsheba and stayed at her home on an earlier mission in 1837. He was there when she was baptized at age 15, and the 20-year-old “made provisional arrangements … the Almighty preserving us, in three years from that time, we would be married.” At that location he also preached a two-and-a-half-hour sermon just to outlast hecklers. (See “Youngest Modern Apostle,” Church News, 1950–51.)
Three years from that time, the Almighty had indeed preserved them but on opposite sides of the Atlantic. In a letter to a relative, the recently called Apostle wrote: “Tell Sister Bathsheba I have not really forgotten her. … If she is married, wish her much joy for me, and if she is single, wish her much joy with me.”
He returned to the United States in 1841, visited his parents, then went straight to the Bigler home. He and Bathsheba were married 10 days later on July 25.
In 1844 he was in Michigan spreading the gospel. Among the Smith artifacts is a small handbill from that time and place, promoting Joseph Smith for president of the United States and promising “Jeffersonian democracy.” Upon learning of the Martyrdom, Elder Smith hurried home. He stood with Willard Richards against seeking revenge on Carthage.
Despite the travails of Carthage and the challenge of the westward movement that followed, George A. Smith was a man of good humor, noted Brother Oman. “Life on the frontier and politically was not easy, yet he always had good cheer. His name in Piute was ‘Man Who Could Take Himself Apart.’ It was wonderful how he could talk in stake conference when it was hot and take off his toupee and wipe his brow with it. There wasn’t a pompous bone in his body.”
After a lifetime of action, George A. Smith died in 1875 at the age of 58, leaving Bathsheba a widow for the next 35 years. His death came as shock to his wife, who was seated next to him when he leaned against her and breathed his last.
In the years that followed, Bathsheba remained active. She served on the board of the Deseret Hospital and did work in the Endowment House and temples as they were completed. She had been part of the first Relief Society when it was organized in 1842 in Nauvoo and was called as second counselor to Zina D. H. Young when she was Relief Society general president. When Sister Young died, Sister Smith served as Relief Society general president from 1901 until her death in 1910.
Adapted from Church News, May 5, 2007.