The Sufferings of Emma and Joseph Smith- Blog Post #19

In this blog I want to summarize a few of the sufferings and sorrows that came to Emma Hale Smith and Joseph Smith as a result of their faith in the visions and revelations given to Joseph. The Gospel is no more popular in our time, the latter days, than it was in the time of Jesus, or before Christ came to earth.

The message certainly was not popular in the early 1800s when God spoke through a modern prophet, Joseph Smith, and restored the Gospel. The same thing happened to the early Latter-day Saints that Jesus promised his disciples would happen to them in his day: “And ye shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake: but he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.” (Mark 13:13).

Like Joseph, thousands have given their lives during the Restoration for their testimonies of the truth.  Like Emma, tens of thousands more have suffered great hardships for embracing this very unpopular faith.  All of them could have avoided suffering and death by simply renouncing their faith.

In this blog I want to summarize the sufferings and hardships that Joseph and Emma endured for their faith. It is impossible in a few pages to adequately describe what they went through, but I want to outline a few of their sorrows and sufferings.

Much of the information about Emma that I summarize below comes from a book I recently read entitled “Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith” by Linda King Newell and Valeen Tippetts Avery, Second Edition, 1994, published by the University of Illinois Press.  I highly recommend the book. I will provide several long quotes from this book that give some additional insight into Emma’s character and faith.

If you would like a shorter, but sensitive and intelligent summary of Emma’s life and faith, here is an excellent article:

I hope to emphasize what Emma endured and suffered for her faith. If Joseph was a fraud, he knew it and Emma certainly knew it also.  The question is: “why would anyone endure such sufferings to perpetrate a fraud? What did they gain from the fraud?”

Everyone who ever wrote about their interactions with Emma described her as a faithful, intelligent, articulate, strong-minded woman. (And, incidentally, a fine singer. Emma sang all the time).

If Joseph was a fraud, why did such a faithful, capable and independent woman insist throughout her life that God had truly called Joseph and then demonstrate that faith in both word and deed? Why did she suffer so much to perpetrate a fraud?

Emma was not a weak, gullible woman, an easy pushover for clever con man.  Emma had strength and brains and courage. Here is just one of many tributes to Emma, given by her mother-in-law, Lucy Mack Smith (see pg. 217).  Lucy wrote “I have never seen a woman in my life, who would endure every species of fatigue and hardship, from month to month, and from year to year, with that unflinching courage, zeal and patience, which she has ever done; for I know that which she has had to endure—she has been tossed on the ocean of uncertainty—she has breasted the storms of persecution, and buffeted the rage of men and devils, which would have borne down almost any other women.”

One incident in the book by Newell and Avery gives some insight into Emma’s “spunk”.  During the summer of 1843 Judge Stephen Douglas, who was running for President and had become quite well-acquainted with Joseph, visited Nauvoo. A large dinner was held, but Emma was caught without a dessert.  She quickly made apple fritters and fried them to perfection.  One of the guests asked what she called the fluffy morsel.  Emma smiled and said “I call it a candidate”.  “Why?” all the men wanted to know.  “Why not?” she answered them.  “Isn’t it just a puff of wind?”

So, what sufferings did Emma have to endure?  Here are just a few things.

Sufferings of Emma

  • Emma married Joseph against the angry and bitter refusal of her father.
  • She married Joseph only few months after his (first of many) arrests and trials. The first arrests and two trials took place in Bainbridge, New York, in March 1826. (What respectable woman, and Emma was respectable, would marry a jailbird—unless she knew that he truly was a prophet?)
  • Emma had to live with other people, having no home of her own, for several years after her marriage, because Joseph’s divine calling prevented a normal life
  • Emma, an independent and strong woman, lived on charity of others (for example, with help from Joseph Knight and Martin Harris) while she served as scribe for Joseph in translating the Book of Mormon plates.
  • Dolly Harris (Martin Harris’ wife) ransacked Emma’s home in search of the plates (This was Emma’s first home invasion.)
  • Emma was jeered and harassed by a mob of about 50 men during her own baptism.
  • Emma saw Joseph hauled away on the evening of her baptism to undergo two more spurious trials. She saw her new husband receive rough and contemptuous treatment from the mobs who took him to trial.
  • Emma was forced by mobs and persecutions to eventually leave her childhood home in Harmony, Pennsylvania. Because of her faith she was never to see her mother or father again
  • On March 24, 1832 Emma’s home in Kirtland, Ohio was invaded by a mob that savagely beat Joseph and Sidney Rigdon (see below for a fuller description)
  • Emma lost her first three children during or shortly after birth. Then she lost their adopted son, Joseph, due to an illness that was aggravated by the mob’s invasion of her home in Kirtland
  • Emma endured the denunciation of her faith by her father in a book written by Philastus Hurlbut. (Hurlbut had already publicly threatened to kill Joseph.)
  • Emma frequently gave up her home and its comforts to take care of others while she and Joseph slept on the floor and did without their comforts to help others
  • Because of the frequent absences and imprisonments of Joseph, Emma was forced to bear the burden of being both mother and father to their children, including earning the family’s income and taking care of all business dealings
  • As a result of his calling and the many mobbings they suffered, losing nearly everything they had, Joseph and Emma were always poor. She had to endure the fear and anxiety for her children and herself that came with poverty
  • Because of violent dissensions in the Church in Ohio, Emma was forced to leave Kirtland with her children, alone, pregnant and in the dead of winter
  • Shortly after their expulsion from Kirtland, Emma crossed the frozen Mississippi alone, guiding her children across the ice while six months pregnant
  • Eight months after arriving in Missouri, the governor of the state Lilburn Boggs issued an order stating “The Mormons must be treated as enemies and must be exterminated or driven from the state”
  • This was no idle threat. Shortly after, the Mormon settlement at Haun’s Mill was massacred by the Missouri state militia and members of the militia raped and pillaged the Mormons at will
  • In Far West, Missouri, Emma’s home was invaded again. She and her children were driven from their home while the mob/militia pillaged their house
  • On Friday, November 2, 1838, the militia took Joseph from Emma and their children at the point of the sword. From pg. 75 of “Mormon Enigma…” I quote “Joyful to see him alive, desperately afraid to see him leave, Emma lost her composure and sobbed along with the children.  The guard allowed no moment for private parting and forced Joseph into the street.  Young Joseph still clung to his father’s leg. “Father”, he cried, “is the mob going to kill you?”  Emma watched a guard slam the child away with the side of his sword. “You little brat, go back. You will see your father no more.””
  • While visiting Joseph in jail, Emma’s home was once more invaded and she was robbed of everything she had, this time by angry Mormon apostates.
  • Thus a year after she first arrived in Missouri, Emma left the state, again alone, essentially destitute, crossing the ice on the Mississippi River alone to Illinois with her children and carrying Joseph’s papers in bags fastened to her waist.
  • From page 79 of the book, “Of this trek she [Emma] later wrote: “No one but God, knows the reflections of my mind and the feelings of my heart when I left our house and home, and almost all of everything that we possessed except our little children, and took our journey out of the State of Missouri, leaving [Joseph] shut up in that lonesome prison. But the reflection is more than human nature ought to bear, and if God does not record our sufferings and avenge our wrongs on them that are guilty, I shall be sadly mistaken.”
  • Emma endured almost six months of separation from Joseph while he was in Liberty Jail, before his captors simply let him go. She was very poor and she and her children suffered as a result.
  • During this time, Emma wrote Joseph: “I shall not attempt to write my feelings altogether, for the situation in which you are… and the cruel injustice that first cast you into prison and still holds you there, …places my feelings far beyond description [and] endure the scenes of suffering that I have passed through but I still live and am yet willing to suffer more if it is the will of kind Heaven, that I should for your sake.”
  • Not content to have driven the Mormons out of Missouri, Governor Boggs began an active campaign to have Joseph arrested and brought back from Illinois for trial. Later, a reward of $1000 was offered for the head of Joseph. (Equivalent to about $250,000 today…it was a very serious threat.) I mean the literal head of Joseph, with or without the body attached.
  • Joseph and Emma’s new store in Nauvoo took in very little cash. The destitute Saints simply couldn’t pay for the goods they needed and left IOUs instead, while Emma and Joseph sank further into debt.
  • Again and again in Nauvoo, Joseph had to flee his home and hide from his persecutors. Emma often had to deal face to face with these vengeful and angry men. They watched her carefully, spied on her all the time, hoping that she would lead them to Joseph.
  • And then there was polygamy. Volumes and volumes have been written about this subject and I am not going to add to that discussion now.  Polygamy must have been so hard for Emma to bear.  She never did accept it completely.  But she never stopped believing in Joseph’s divine calling.
  • Then on June 27, 1844, Joseph and Hyrum Smith were murdered in Carthage jail by yet another mob. Emma was left a widow, four months pregnant, deeply in debt (about $500,000 in today’s dollars) and with a young family to care for.
  • In early 1846 the Mormons were expelled from Nauvoo by mobs and the state militia. Although she was invited to accompany the Saints westward, hard feelings and some arguments had apparently developed between Emma and Brigham Young regarding which things of Joseph’s belonged to the Church and which belonged to his family.
  • By the way, this is another evidence of Emma’s strength of personality. Brigham Young was no pushover, to say the least, but Emma simply wouldn’t give Brigham some of the things he thought the Church should have, including Joseph’s inspired version of the Bible.
  • After Joseph’s murder, I think Emma was simply worn out. She just didn’t have any more strength or energy to give.  So instead of going west, Emma took her children and relocated to Fulton, Illinois. This was yet another expulsion from her home because of her faith. It is probably harder for a woman to lose her home than it is a man, but Emma was expelled from her home at least four times because of her faith.

Emma later returned to Nauvoo, remarried (to “Major” Lewis Bidamon) and lived the rest of her life separated from the body of the church in Utah.  She never renounced her faith in the Book of Mormon or in Joseph’s prophetic calling. On the contrary, she witnessed strongly of what she had seen and done in the Restoration of the Gospel.

For example, toward the end of her life Emma received many visitors who asked her important questions.  I will just relate briefly two of these visits.

When she was 73, Parley P. Pratt, Jr., visited Emma and asked her a number of questions (see page 299-300). Here are two of the questions and her replies.

  1. “Do you believe that your husband, Joseph Smith, died true to his profession?” he asked. “I believe he was everything he professed to be,” Emma replied.
  2. “Did he receive the plates from which he claimed to have translated the Book of Mormon?” “Yes, they lay in a box under our bed for months but I never felt at liberty to look at them.”

In February 1879, just a few months before she died, two of Emma’s sons, Joseph Smith III and Alexander, traveled to Nauvoo to interview their mother.  Joseph was a lawyer and asked his questions in that fashion, question and answer, as if it were a deposition. This interview later became known as “Sister Emma’s Last Testimony”.   See pages 300-302 of the book by Newell and Avery for some context. The interview summary is found in its entirety here.

I want emphasize a few questions and answers from Sister Emma’s Last Testimony. Here they are.
Question (by Joseph III). What of the truth of Mormonism? 
Answer (by Emma). I know Mormonism to be the truth; and believe the Church to have been established by divine direction. I have complete faith in it. In writing for your father I frequently wrote day after day, often sitting at the table close by him, he sitting with his face buried in his hat, with the stone in it, and dictating hour after hour with nothing between us.

Question. Had he not a book or manuscript from which he read, or dictated to you?
Answer. He had neither manuscript nor book to read from.

Question. Could he not have had, and you not know it?
Answer. If he had had anything of the kind he could not have concealed it from me.

Question. Are you sure that he had the plates at the time you were writing for him?
Answer. The plates often lay on the table without any attempt at concealment, wrapped in a small linen tablecloth, which I had given him to fold them in. I once felt of the plates, as they thus lay on the table, tracing their outline and shape. They seemed to be pliable like thick paper, and would rustle with a metallic sound when the edges were moved by the thumb, as one does sometimes thumb the edges of a book.

Question. Could not father have dictated the Book of Mormon to you, Oliver Cowdery and the others who wrote for him, after having first written it, or having first read it out of some book?
Answer. Joseph Smith (and for the first time she used his name direct, having usually used the words, “your father” or “my husband”) could neither write nor dictate a coherent and well-worded letter, let alone dictate a book like the Book of Mormon. And, though I was an active participant in the scenes that transpired, and was present during the translation of the plates, and had cognizance of things as they transpired, it is marvelous to me, “a marvel and a wonder,” as much so as to anyone else.

Question. I should suppose that you would have uncovered the plates and examined them?
Answer. I did not attempt to handle the plates, other than I have told you, nor uncover them to look at them. I was satisfied that it was the work of God, and therefore did not feel it to be necessary to do so;

Major Bidamon here suggested: Did Mr. Smith forbid your examining the plates?

Answer. I do not think he did. I knew that he had them, and was not specially curious about them. I moved them from place to place on the table, as it was necessary in doing my work.

Question (by Joseph III). Mother, what is your belief about the authenticity, or origin, of the Book of Mormon?
Answer. My belief is that the Book of Mormon is of divine authenticity – I have not the slightest doubt of it. I am satisfied that no man could have dictated the writing of the manuscripts unless he was inspired; for, when acting as his scribe, your father would dictate to me hour after hour; and when returning after meals, or after interruptions, he could at once begin where he had left off, without either seeing the manuscript or having any portion of it read to him. This was a usual thing for him to do. It would have been improbable that a learned man could do this; and, for one so ignorant and unlearned as he was, it was simply impossible.

The book’s title (“Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith”) seems to imply that Emma was an enigma, that is, a puzzling or inexplicable or contradictory person.  The authors do not explain what they meant by describing Emma as an “enigma”, so I will simply state that I don’t think she was an enigma at all. I think Emma would be surprised to hear herself described in that way.

Emma endured what she endured because she knew that Joseph was a true prophet, just as thousands of people in her day and now millions more know it. She was faithful to that testimony to the end of her life.

In the early morning of April 30, 1879, after an illness lasting several weeks, Emma called “Joseph, Joseph, Joseph” and died. Those were her last mortal words.

Incidentally, they were also the last words of Brigham Young.  I like to believe that Brigham and Emma are now reconciled to each other through their mutual love of the Lord Jesus Christ and his prophet Joseph Smith, Junior.

Sufferings of Joseph

I wanted to make sure I covered some of Emma’s sufferings first.  Since this blog is already longer than I want it to be, I will just hit a few high points of Joseph’s sufferings and persecutions.

While he was still a young boy, he was persecuted for telling people that he had seen the Father and the Son.

Joseph wrote of this period of his life (Joseph Smith 1:21-22):

“I soon found, however, that my telling the story had excited a great deal of prejudice against me among professors of religion, and was the cause of great persecution, which continued to increase; and though I was an obscure boy, only between fourteen and fifteen years of age, and my circumstances in life such as to make a boy of no consequence in the world, yet men of high standing would take notice sufficient to excite the public mind against me, and create a bitter persecution; and this was common among all the sects—all united to persecute me.

It caused me serious reflection then, and often has since, how very strange it was that an obscure boy, of a little over fourteen years of age, and one, too, who was doomed to the necessity of obtaining a scanty maintenance by his daily labor, should be thought a character of sufficient importance to attract the attention of the great ones of the most popular sects of the day, and in a manner to create in them a spirit of the most bitter persecution and reviling. But strange or not, so it was, and it was often the cause of great sorrow to myself.”

This is no exaggeration. The people doing the persecuting of young Joseph (and his family), left their own accounts that confirm Joseph’s story.

Joseph had dozens of lawsuits and other trials against him. (Brigham Young counted 47 such imprisonments, arrests and trials.)  He was acquitted every time. He was in jail again, waiting for another trial, when he was murdered by a mob. The mobs never let him alone his whole life.

For example, in the evening of March 24, 1832, a mob of men broke into the John Johnson home in Hiram, Ohio where Joseph and Emma were staying with their two new babies. The mob dragged him from the home, tried to force poison into his mouth, tore his clothes off, beat him severely, choked him unconscious, and then tarred, feathered and left him on the frozen ground.  The mob had brought along a doctor to castrate Joseph but the doctor would not go through with it.

Joseph was 24 years old at the time of this mobbing…still a very young man.  (If I were a fraud, this particular mobbing and the threat of castration would be more than enough to make me give up the fraud and renounce any claim to ever being a prophet.)

At Far West, Missouri, he was sentenced to die by firing squad, but the officer charged with carrying out the order refused to obey it.

Joseph knew that if he maintained his testimony, he would die because of it.  Lucy Walker Kimball stated “I have often heard him say that he expected to seal his testimony with his blood.”  Numerous men and women witnessed that Joseph said on several occasions that if he and Hyrum returned to Nauvoo and gave themselves up to be imprisoned at Carthage, they would surely be murdered.

On one such occasion Joseph said: “I am going like a lamb to the slaughter; but I am calm as a summer’s morning; I have a conscience void of offense towards God, and towards all men. I shall die innocent, and it shall yet be said of me—he was murdered in cold blood.”

God told Joseph in July 1830, fourteen years before his martyrdom:  “Be patient in afflictions, for thou shalt have many, but endure them, for, lo, I am with thee, even unto the end of thy days” (D&C 24:8).

Yes, Joseph did experience many afflictions. And so did Emma–wonderful, faithful, strong Emma.

The question is: “Why? Why go through all that suffering to uphold and support a fraud?”  Joseph and Emma could have at any time avoided further persecution and suffering by simply admitting to the fraud and renouncing their testimonies.

Because it was not and is not a fraud. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints restored through Joseph and upheld by Joseph and Emma is true. It is the Church and Kingdom of God on the earth. I so testify.