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To celebrate the study of the Doctrine & Covenants and Church History this year, Meridian is serializing The Revised and Enhanced History of Joseph Smith by His Mother.
To see the previous installment, click here.
To see all the installments, published in order, click here.
Revised and Enhanced History of Joseph Smith by His Mother—
By Lucy Mack Smith
Sickness in the Smith household. Oliver Cowdery is hired to teach school in Manchester. Oliver becomes acquainted with the history of Joseph Smith Jr. and desires to become a scribe for him. Smiths are forced to move to their old cabin. Oliver and Samuel Smith go to Harmony, Pennsylvania, to see Joseph. Oliver acts as scribe for Joseph in the translation of the Book of Mormon. Joseph and Oliver receive the Aaronic Priesthood and the ordinance of baptism.
January 1829 to May 15, 1829
As had always been the case, our season of rejoicing was soon mingled with anxiety and distress. When we arrived at home, we found Sophronia and Samuel lying at the point of death. Hyrum had shut up his own house and quitted business in order to take care of the children during our absence. Sophronia lay very sick for two months, in which time she was dreadfully salivated by the doctor who attended her.[i]
Soon after we returned, there came a man into our neighborhood by the name of Lyman Cowdery. He went to Hyrum (as he was one of the principal trustees) and applied for the school. A meeting of the trustees was called, and it was settled that Mr. Cowdery should be employed. But the next day, this Mr. Cowdery brought his brother Oliver[ii] to the trustees and requested them to receive him in his place, as business had arisen that would oblige him to disappoint them. But he would warrant the prosperity of the school in Oliver’s hands, if the trustees would accept of his services. All parties were satisfied, and Oliver requested my husband to take him as a boarder, at least for a little while until he should become acquainted with his patrons in the school.
He had not been in the place long until he began to hear about the plates from all quarters and immediately commenced importuning Mr. Smith upon the subject. He did not succeed in eliciting any information from him for a long time. At length, however, he gained my husband’s confidence so far as to get a sketch of the facts which related to the plates.
One day, Oliver came home from school in quite a lively manner. As soon as he had an opportunity of conversing with Mr. Smith, he told him that he (Oliver) had been in a deep study all day, and it had been put into his heart that he would have the privilege of writing for Joseph.[iii] And when the term of school which he was then teaching was closed, he would go and pay Joseph a visit.
The next day was so very stormy as to render it almost impossible to travel the road between the schoolhouse and our place. The rain fell in torrents all the evening, so I supposed that Oliver would certainly stop with some neighbor who lived nearer the schoolhouse than we did. But he was not to be deterred from coming by any common difficulty, for his mind was now fully set upon a subject which he could not converse upon anywhere else.
When he came in, he said, “I have now resolved what I will do-for the thing which I told you about yesterday seems working in my very bones, insomuch that I cannot for a moment get rid of it. My plan is this: My term of school will be out in March, and I want Hyrum, as he is one of the trustees, to manage to have my school money ready for me as soon as the school closes, that I may be able to set off for Pennsylvania immediately upon making the necessary preparations. Samuel, I understand, is going to stay with Joseph through the spring. I will endeavor to be ready to go by the time he recovers his health again. I have made it a subject of prayer, and I firmly believe that if it is the will of the Lord that I should go, and that there is a work for me to do in this thing, I am determined to attend to it.”
We told him that we thought it was his privilege to know whether this was the case and advised him to seek for a testimony for himself. He did so and received the witness spoken of in the book of Doctrine and Covenants, D&C 8.[iv]
From this time Oliver was so entirely absorbed in the subject of the record, that it seemed impossible for him to think or converse about anything else.
As the time for which we had agreed for our place was now drawing to a close, we began to make preparations to remove our family and effects to the log house which was now occupied by Hyrum.[v] When we gave to the new landlord full and entire possession of the last vestige of real estate which we could call our own, we began to feel more seriously than ever before the effects of our lot. Before this, we had the use of our property, although it was not nominally ours. Now the time had come for us to feel the stroke most sensibly.
I thought that it would be impossible in the crowded situation in which we would now have to live for us to make Mr. Cowdery comfortable and mentioned to him the necessity of seeking another boarding place.[vi] I also thought this would be a good occasion to bring to his mind the cause of all our present privations, as well as the misfortune that he himself was liable to if he turned his back upon the world and set out in the service of God.
“Now, Oliver,” said I, “just look upon this thing. See what a comfortable home we have had here and what pains each child that we have has taken to provide for us everything necessary to make our old age comfortable, and long life desirable. Here I have to look upon the handiwork of that dear son whom death has removed from our sight. Everything which meets my eyes reminds me of my beloved Alvin.[vii] Even upon his deathbed, in his last moments, his dying injunction to his brothers was that they should not, by any means, neglect to finish his work of preparing a place of earthly rest for us-that if possible, through the exertions of our children, our last days might be our best days. There is scarcely anything that I see that has not passed through the hands of that faithful boy and, afterwards, been carefully arranged precisely according to his plan by his brothers who survived him. This shows me in every particular their faithful and affectionate remembrance both of their parents and the brother whom they loved.
“All these tender recollections render our present trial doubly severe, for these relics must now pass into the hands of wicked men who fear not God, neither do they regard man. And upon what righteous principle has all this been brought about? They have never raised a hand to earn any part of that of which they are now to reap the benefit. In consequence of these things, Oliver, we cannot make you comfortable any longer and you will be under the necessity of taking boarding somewhere else, for we shall have to crowd ourselves together in a log house where we shall have none of the convenience that we have here.”
“Mother,” exclaimed the young man with much feeling, “only let me stay with you, and I can live in any log hut where you and Father live, but I cannot go away from you, so say no more about convenience.”
“Well,” I continued, “now look around me upon all these things that have been gathered together for my happiness, which has cost the toil of years. You mark. I now give this up for the sake of Christ and salvation, and I pray God to help me do so without a murmur or a tear. In the strength of God I give these up from this time, and I will not cast one longing look upon anything which I leave behind me.”
In April, all Mr. Cowdery’s affairs being arranged according to his mind, he and Samuel set out for Pennsylvania.[viii] The weather, for some time previous, had been very wet and disagreeable-raining, freezing, and thawing alternately, which had made the roads almost impassable, particularly during the middle of the day. But Mr. Cowdery was determined not to be detained by wind or weather and persevered until they arrived at Joseph’s house, although Oliver froze one of his toes and he and Samuel suffered much on the road from fatigue.
When they arrived there, Joseph was not at home.[ix] He had been so hurried with business and writing, etc., that he could not proceed with the work as fast as it was necessary for him to do. There was also another disadvantage under which he had to labor. Emma had so much of her time taken up with the care of her house that she could write but little for him. Accordingly, two or three days before the arrival of Oliver and Samuel,[x] Joseph called upon his Heavenly Father to send him a scribe as the angel had promised, and he was informed that the same should be forthcoming in a few days.
When Oliver was introduced to Joseph, he said, “Mr. Smith, I have come for the purpose of writing for you.” This was not at all unexpected to Joseph, for although he had never seen Mr. Cowdery before, he knew that the Lord was able to perform, and that he had been faithful to fulfill, all his promises.
They then sat down and conversed together until late, and Joseph told Oliver his entire history as far as it was necessary for his information in those things which concerned him. The next morning they commenced the work of translation and were soon deeply engaged. Now the work of writing and translation progressed rapidly.
One morning, however, they sat down to their usual work, when the first thing that presented itself to Joseph was a commandment from God that he and Oliver should repair to the water and each of them be baptized.[xi] They immediately went down to the Susquehanna River and obeyed the mandate given them through the Urim and Thummim. As they were on their return to the house, they overheard Samuel, in a secluded spot, engaged in secret prayer. They had now received the authority to baptize, and Joseph said that he considered it a sufficient testimony of Samuel’s honesty of heart and zeal for religion that they had found him privately bowing before the Lord in prayer, and that he thought it was an evidence of readiness for baptism. Oliver was of the same opinion, and they spoke to Samuel, who went with them straightway to the water and was baptized.[xii] After this, they again went on with the translation as before.[xiii]
[i] A common medical practice at this time was to give the patient regular doses of mercury to cause them to salivate a great deal. It was thought that this would bring about the healing of various maladies. Numerous patients died from the mercury poisoning.
[ii] Oliver Cowdery was born October 3, 1806, at Wells, Rutland County, Vermont, the son of William and Rebecca Fuller Cowdery. He married Elizabeth Ann Whitmer (daughter of Peter and Mary Whitmer) on December 18, 1832. Together they had six children (Maria Louise, Elizabeth Ann, Josephine Rebecca, Oliver Peter, Adeline Fuller, and Julia Olive). (See Cook, Revelations, p. 14.) Only one of their children lived to adulthood, Maria Louise, who married but had no children.
[iii] Joseph the Prophet enlightens the reader from his 1832 account: “The Lord appeared unto a young man by the name of Oliver Cowdery and showed unto him the plates in a vision and also the truth of the work and what the Lord was about to do through me, his unworthy servant; therefore, he was desirous to come and write for me” (Papers, p. 10).
[iv] Mother Smith’s edition of the Doctrine and Covenants was printed in Nauvoo in 1844 and the section she is referring to is now D&C 6 in the 1981 edition. She is likely referring specifically to D&C 6:22-24.
[v] This appears to be late winter or early spring, 1829.
[vi] The small twenty-by-thirty-foot cabin at the north end of the one hundred acres would now be home to eleven people: Hyrum and Jerusha Smith (with eighteen-month-old Lovina, and Jerusha pregnant); Joseph Sr. and Lucy Mack Smith; Samuel (age twenty-one); William (eighteen); Catharine (sixteen); Don Carlos (twelve); little Lucy (seven); and Oliver Cowdery.
[vii] Alvin had now been gone for nearly five and a half years.
[viii] Samuel Harrison Smith, age twenty-one, and Oliver Cowdery, age twenty-two, likely set out on their 135-mile journey on Wednesday, April 1, or Thursday, April 2, 1829.
[ix] Oliver recorded: “Near the time of the setting of the sun, Sabbath evening, April 5, 1829, my natural eyes for the first time beheld this brother. . . . On Monday the 6th, I assisted him in arranging some business of a temporal nature, and on Tuesday the 7th commenced to write the Book of Mormon.” (In Papers, p. 29.)
[x] Joseph’s fervent prayer was on April 2 or 3, 1829.
[xi] This was on Friday, May 15, 1829. On this date, Joseph and Oliver were visited by John the Baptist, received the Aaronic Priesthood, and were baptized (see JS-H 1:68-72). Joseph recorded: “Immediately on our coming up out of the water after we had been baptized, we experienced great and glorious blessings from our Heavenly Father. No sooner had I baptized Oliver Cowdery, than the Holy Ghost fell upon him, and he stood up and prophesied many things which should shortly come to pass. And again, so soon as I had been baptized by him, I also had the spirit of prophecy, when, standing up, I prophesied concerning the rise of this Church, and many other things connected with the Church, and this generation of the children of men. We were filled with the Holy Ghost, and rejoiced in the God of our salvation.” (JS-H 1:73.) Oliver Cowdery also recorded: “I shall not attempt to paint to you the feelings of this heart, nor the majestic beauty and glory which surrounded us on this occasion; but you will believe me when I say, that earth, nor men, with the eloquence of time, cannot begin to clothe language in as interesting and sublime a manner as this holy personage [John the Baptist]. No; nor has this earth power to give the joy, to bestow the peace, or comprehend the wisdom which was contained in each sentence as they were delivered by the power of the Holy Spirit!” (Joseph Smith-History 1:71n.)
[xii] In History of the Church these circumstances are recorded a little differently from Mother Smith’s account: “We informed him [Samuel] of what the Lord was about to do for the children of men, and began to reason with him out of the Bible. We also showed him that part of the work which we had translated, and labored to persuade him concerning the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which was now about to be revealed in its fulness. He was not, however, very easily persuaded of these things, but after much inquiry and explanation he retired to the woods, in order that by secret and fervent prayer he might obtain of a merciful God, wisdom to enable him to judge for himself. The result was that he obtained revelation for himself sufficient to convince him of the truth of our assertions to him; and on the twenty-fifth day of that same month in which we had been baptized and ordained, Oliver Cowdery baptized him; and he returned to his father’s house, greatly glorifying and praising God, being filled with the Holy Spirit.” (History of the Church 1:44.)
[xiii] Joseph recorded: “Our minds being now enlightened, we began to have the scriptures laid open to our understandings, and the true meaning and intention of their more mysterious passages revealed unto us in a manner which we never could attain to previously, nor ever before had thought of. In the meantime we were forced to keep secret the circumstances of having received the Priesthood and our having been baptized, owing to a spirit of persecution which had already manifested itself in the neighborhood.” (JS-H 1:74.)