SMITH, John - I6847

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Hyrum & Jerusha's First Son:

John Smith

written by Ruth Steed (great great granddaughter)

Patriarch John Smith
It was a crisp evening in the early fall of 1832 when Jerusha felt the first waves of pain announcing the forthcoming birth of her third child. Jerusha and Hyrum were the loving parents of two daughters, Lovina and Mary, who brought delight into their lives. Tragically, death had taken their two-year-old Mary only five months before. Though Jerusha and Hyrum deeply mourned the loss of their little girl, they couldn't help hoping this child might be a son. On September 22 as the Autumn Solstice arrived, so did their joy as they held their healthy new boy, baby John, in their arms.

The Church was in its infancy at the time of John's birth, and he traveled a parallel path of persecution, loss, and trial in his life that served to make him valiant and strong. John was five in 1837 when his mother passed away only days after giving birth to his baby sister, Sarah. Now with five small children needing nurturing and care, Hyrum was greatly blessed to soon bring a new mother, Mary Fielding, into her home to love and raise the children as her own. Within a few months of Mary's joining the family, persecution drove the Saints from Kirtland to Far West, Missouri. The winter of 1838 was dark and cruel for six-year-old John. His father and Uncle Joseph were being starved and abused as prisoners in Liberty Jail. His family and the rest of the Saints were being driven out of Missouri and he suffered much from cold and hunger. When John's father returned home from Liberty Jail on April 22, 1839, the family moved to a place called Commerce, Illinois, which later became the City of Nauvoo. John again experienced the sorrow of loss when his little brother and playmate Hyrum died in 1841 -- Hyrum was only seven years old.

Nauvoo provided John with the experience of relative peace an safety during which time he deeply bonded with his grandparents, Lucy, and Joseph Senior; his cousin, Joseph Smith III; and other close members of the extended family. His time of safety was short lived, however, in June of 1844 his father and Uncle Joseph were murdered in Carthage Jail by a bloodthirsty mob, and John was left again to cope with the deep sorrow of loss.

The Nauvoo Temple was completed and the Saints performed much work for the living and the dead within the temple walls. In 1846 at the tender age of 13, John received his own endowment and was ordained an Elder. One year later he left his family to travel west with Heber C. Kimball's company to a destination John was not fully aware of at the time. After about three days on the trail, John was overcome with homesickness and returned to his family for a couple of days to regain his courage.

During his stay at home, the Mississippi froze over, so when he was ready to return he crossed the river on skates and soon rejoined his company moving west. On the journey John was required to drive loose stock and teams, herd cattle and horses and do other forms of hard labor. It was during this journey that his association with Heber C. Kimball introduced him to the taste of chewing tobacco. This practice became a trial the would follow him throughout the remainder of his life.

Also during this trek it was discovered John had exceptional tenderness and concern for others. As the company journeyed westward they landed near the present site of Omaha, Nebraska, at the time called Sarpee's Trading Post, among the Pottawattamie Indians. During their stay in that area John became acquainted with Colonel Thomas L. Kane, who had become very ill. Self-sacrificing and kind, John served as Colonel Kane's nurse an healer for two weeks until the Colonel had regained his strength.

After seven months on the trail John received word that Mary Fielding was headed west. True to his nature, John traveled in company with Almon W. Babbitt back about 150 miles in rough terrain to join her. They settled in Winter Quarters, where John went to work building a log house to protect them. In summer he made fences, tilled the ground, and took on a man's job in the hay and harvest fields, providing much-needed support for his family.

On his 16th birthday John drove five wagons down Big Mountain, east of Salt Lake City. It was dark long before he got to camp because the wheel of one wagon ran into a tree about 15 inches through. Before he could go any farther, he had to lie on his back chopping at the tree with a dull ax until the tree was chopped down. The next day, September 23, 1848, the family arrived in the Salt Lake Valley.

John settled with Mary Fielding and the family on a farm in Sugar House. On September 21, 1852, the day before his 20th birthday he suffered another tragic loss when his dear stepmother, Mary Fielding, passed away, leaving him full responsibility to care for the family. By the end of the following year John married his first love, Hellen Maria Fisher on December 23, 1853, and built a small adobe cottage on the family farm. Together they raised five sons and four daughters.

Only 22 years old, young John was called on February 18, 1855, to be the 6th presiding Patriarch to the Church. In his ordination blessing given by President Brigham Young, John was blessed, "and set apart to your calling which falleth unto thee through the lineage of your forefathers ... and we confirm thee [John] to be the first in the Church of Jesus Christ among the Patriarchs, to set apart and confirm other Patriarchs." John never aspired to position or power in the Church but was a charismatic, compassionate servant who cared more about the welfare of people than about institutional requirements.

During the coming years plenty of contention and persecution was aimed against the Church from the "apostate" Smith cousins who had remained in Illinois.
Pres. Joseph F. Smith & Patriarch John Smith
Although it was strictly frowned upon y the leadership of the Church. John continued his friendship and associations with his cousins, especially Joseph Smith III. No matter their false claims against the Church, himself, or members of his family, to John, they were loved ones and would always remain so.

Neither John nor Hellen was enthusiastic about plural marriage so when Brigham Young called upon John to take another wife, it was a great trial to them. When John did marry a second wife, 23-year-old Nancy Melissa Lemmon on February 18, 1857, Hellen was thoroughly troubled and wrote a letter to Joseph F. Smith saying, "Dear Joseph, it was a trial to me but thank the lord it is over with." A few months later Hellen wrote to her traveling husband, "Talk about me apostatizing, God forgave me for I am a later day saint, but the Lord knows that I am know polygamist, and with the help of the Lord I will have nothing to do with it, can you understand that?"

On May 17, 1862, John left Salt Lake City to serve as a missionary and arrived in Denmark September 6, 1862. Four months into the mission John wrote in his journal, "I will here state that nothing of importance has transpired during my stay in Copenhagen ... except my studying the language which is weariness etc." John's missionary journal testifies of his compassionate nature as he was constantly concerned about the welfare of his fellow missionaries and often cared for the sick or injured elders.

John returned home and continued his duties as Patriarch to the Church. Insofar as the Word of Wisdom was concerned, John was caught in the changing values of the Church as the revelation became more strictly regarded. John had difficulty changing. Despite criticism from some leaders and members, John's patriarchal blessings reflected a deep spirituality and gift of eloquence.

John gave 20,659 blessings during his 5-year tenure as Patriarch and traveled hundreds of miles in all kinds of weather, mostly on horseback. John was dearly loved by many and gave his last blessing at age 79, one week before he died of pneumonia on November 6, 1911.
Patriarch John Smith Headstone
I found him to be one of the greatest men that

ever lived; in this way, he had a good word for
man, woman, & child, and even those that
persecuted us he spoke well of. He had flowing
in his veins some of the noble blood that his
Master had when He said Father forgive them for
they know not what they do. How often has he,
when people complained, turned and given them a
blessing[?] We all love him.... There was not-
hing boasting about him, he was simply Patriarch
John Smith. It seems to me it took his departure
to have his name or picture in a paper, yet he
held one of the greatest offices in the Church."

      -A tribute written by John McDonald, friend
of John Smith, following Patriarch Smith's
death, November 6, 1911
      SOURCE:  Pioneer 2014 Volume 61 Number 4

John Smith[1]

John smith.jpg

Smith, John, the fourth presiding Patriarch of the Church and the present incumbent of that office, is the son of Hyrum Smith and Jerusha Burden, and was born Sept. 22, 1832, in Kirtland, Geauga (now Lake) county, Ohio. His mother died Oct. 13, 1837. She had six children-two sons and four daughters, and she died when the youngest was eight days old. His father was away from home at the time of her death. Dec. 24, 1837, his father married Miss Mary Fielding, who bore him two children, a son and a daughter. In the spring of 1838 John went with his father's family to Far West, Caldwell county, Missouri, where he shared with the rest of the Saints in the persecutions. In the fall of 1838 his father, his uncle Joseph and others, were taken prisoners by a ruthless mob, and, after being abused in many ways, threatened with death, etc., were finally lodged in Liberty, Clay county jail. During the winter his father's family, in connection with many others, were driven out of Missouri. Although small, John suffered much from cold and hunger. The family landed at Quincy, Ill.., early in 1839, where they remained a short time. Brother Hyrum Smith came home from Liberty jail April 22, 1839. The family subsequently went up the Mississippi river to a place called Commerce, afterwards the city of Nauvoo. Soon afterwards they moved about two miles down the river, where they remained in comparative peace for a short season. His father and his uncle, Joseph the Prophet, were martyred in Carthage jail by a bloodthirsty mob, June 27, 1844. In the month of February, 1847, John left his father's folks and started west with Heber C. Kimball's family. At this time he did not know where the people were going, but he supposed to California. This company crossed the Mississippi river on a ferryboat, and encamped on Sugar creek, about nine miles out. After two or three days, boy-like, he got homesick and went back to see his folks. During his stay at home, which was only for a few days, the river froze over, and he crossed back on skates, and joined the company. During the journey he had to drive loose stock, drive team, herd cattle and horses, and do any kind of work he could. Many times he was drenched in the rain. On one occasion Brother Heber P. Kimball and himself were driven by the force of the storm, stock and all, for a mile or so, although they were on horseback. The company journeyed westward through Iowa, stopping many times by the way in consequence of storms and soft roads, or, to speak more correctly, no roads but soft prairie. They finally landed on the hill where now stands Council Bluffs city, and crossed over the Missouri river at anoint near the present site of Omaha, called at that time Sarpee's Trading Post, among the Pottawatamie Indians. They then went up about six miles to the Little Pupillon, and remained a short time. During his stay there he became acquainted with Col. Thomas L. Kane, who was taken very sick, and John was his nurse for two weeks. In or about the month of August they moved into Winter Quarters, where the town of Florence now stands. In the fore part of September he learned that his father's family were on the road, and he went, in company with Brother Almon W. Babbitt, back about one hundred and fifty miles and met them. They came to Winter Quarters, where they remained two winters. John went to work with hired help, built a log house for the winter, and during the summer of 1847 made fence, tilled the soil, and took a man's place in the hay and harvest field, as he was the only male member of the family who was able to work. In April, 1848, the family started for Great Salt Lake valley. It was rather a hard journey, as they did not have teams enough. John had to drive a team composed of wild steers, cows and oxen, with two wagons tied together, and, before they had traveled more than two miles, a wagon tongue broke and they had to camp for the night. On the way over the plains he broke and they had to camp for the steers to work. He had to take a man's place, by standing guard at night, and in the day time to be the boy who brought the wood and water, herded the cows and assisted to double teams over bad places, up hills, etc. On one occasion a circumstance occurred which he will never forget. One day about sundown, while the party were encamped on the Platte river, it was reported that a woman was lost. Without ceremony he took his coat on his arm and a piece of corn bread in his hand and started out up the road, to follow a party of the company which had left at noon. He had not gone far when he came up with a dead carcass, which was covered with wolves fighting and howling. He walked past as fast and as quietly as possible. He traveled six miles before he came up with any wagons. During this distance he passed about twenty such frightful scenes, but he got through safe, and he thinks he was unnoticed by the wolves. He stopped for the balance of the night with an acquaintance, and at daybreak proceeded on his journey, and found the lost woman, a little after sunrise, safe with her mother, six miles from where he stayed for the night. On Sept. 22, 1848, his sixteenth birthday, he drove five wagons down the "Big Mountain," east of Salt Lake City; it was dark long before he got into camp with the last wagon. On the way, one wheel of his wagon ran into a tree which was about fifteen inches through. He had to lie on his back and chop the tree down with a dull ax before he could go any further. The next day he arrived in the Great Salt Lake valley. In the spring of 1850 John was enrolled in a company of horsemen, called the "Battalion of Life Guards," for the purpose of standing guard, or going out at a minute's warning, to protect the settlements from the marauding Indians, who were very angry at that time. For about ten years he was compelled to keep on hand a saddle horse and everything necessary for that purpose. Many times he was called and got up in the night and started off at once; at other times he had to leave in the heat of harvest, and then his wife was obliged to take his place in the field. This he had to do in connection with working in the canyon and attending to the farm to support the family. Sept. 21, 1852, his stepmother died, leaving him to provide for a family of eight, three of them-one man and two women-being old people, the youngest over sixty-three years old; also one brother and three sisters younger than himself. He was at that time twenty years, less one day, old. Dec. 25, 1853, he married Miss Helen Maria Fisher, who bore him nine children, five sons and four daughters. In the spring of 1856 he went on horseback to Salmon river with Pres. Brigham Young's party, a distance of 480 miles, and returned, which trip occupied six weeks' time. Feb. 18, 1855, Brother Smith was ordained to the office of Patriarch under the hands of Presidents Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball and Jedediah M. Grant, and Apostles Orson Hyde, Orson Pratt, Wilford Woodruff, George A. Smith and Lorenzo Snow, Pres. Young being mouth. It may be well here to state that this is the only office in the Church which is handed down from father to son by right of lineage. His grandfather, Joseph Smith, Sen., was the first Patriarch to the Church. He was ordained by his son, the Prophet Joseph Smith. John's father, Hyrum Smith, was ordained to this office by his father; and John would doubtless have been ordained by his father if he had lived until John had arrived at a proper age. Sept. 16, 1859, John started for Florence with a four-mule team, to bring his sister and her husband and family to Utah. He traveled in company with Elder John Y. Greene across the plains, and made the trip from Salt Lake City to Florence in thirty-two days, laying over on the road two days of the time-distance, 1011 miles. During his stay in the East he took his sister and her two youngest children and traveled across Iowa to Montrose, a distance of 350 miles, in eight days, with a pair of mules and a light wagon, and visited Nauvoo and different places in Illinois, reviewed many places of his boyhood, and found quite a number of his connections. He returned to Florence in February, 1860, where he spent considerable time in assisting to put wagons and handcarts together, and in doing all he could to expedite the starting of the European emigrants on the plains. In the month of June he was appointed by Elder George Q. Cannon, who had charge of the emigrants that season, to organize a company and take charge of it across the plains. He went to work at once, got a company of more than forty wagons in readiness, loaded his sister and family, and started out. The trip was made in seventy days. At the general conference, April, 1862, he was called to take a mission to Scandinavia. On the 17th of May following he started out on horseback, without purse or scrip, to cross the plains and the ocean. He was invited by Elder John R. Murdock to go with him to the Missouri river, as he had charge of a company of wagons and teams to bring out emigrants. Brother Smith accepted the invitation, and Brother Murdock assisted him with provisions. All went well until about noon one day, as the company left the Sweetwater river, when Brother Smith was taken down with mountain fever. During the night the fever was very severe, and the pain through every joint was excruciating. Toward the latter part of the night he was administered to by some of the Elders, and in the morning was able to pursue his journey on horseback. He was very weak and had to get down often from his horse to rest. At Fort Laramie he sold his horse, which was worth $90, for $40, and at Florence his saddle, which was worth $20, for $10. He met friends, who gave him money to assist him on his journey. His fare from Florence to Liverpool was about $100. When he arrived in Liverpool he had twenty-one shillings in his pocket. This paid his fare to London, where he had to get a passport from the American Minister before he could cross the continent of Europe. There he borrowed money to take him through (which he afterwards paid) from Hull, England, to Hamburg, Germany. The boat met headwinds and a rough sea, and all on board were sick; even the captain had to get on deck for air. At Hamburg he met his cousin, Elder Jesse N. Smith, who had preceded him about eighteen months. Brother Jesse had with him an interpreter, and all went well. They landed at Korsoer, Denmark, Sept. 6, 1862. Brother Smith remained on this mission until April 13, 1864, when he sailed from Copenhagen, on his return home. While on this mission he studied hard and obtained a good understanding of the Scandinavian languages-Danish-Norwegian and Swedish. On arriving at Grimsby, England, they found some emigrants for Zion awaiting them, who had traveled by way of Lubeck, and they all, about three hundred in number, continued their journey by rail to Liverpool. There he was appointed president of the ship's company. He embarked in the large sailing ship, "Monarch of the Sea," bound for New York, having on board 973 souls of the Saints-Danes, Swedes, Norwegians, Germans, Scotch, Welsh, Irish, English and Americans-the largest company of Latter-day Saints which, up to that time, had left the shores of Europe. They were over forty days out at sea, with head winds a good deal of the time. On the banks of Newfoundland they saw a number of very large icebergs. On their arrival at Castle Gardens, New York, June 3, 1864, they went immediately on board the steamboat "St. Johns," and sailed up the Hudson river to Albany; from there they traveled by rail to St. Joseph, Missouri, and thence by steamboat up the Missouri river to Wyoming, Nebraska. On Brother Smith's arrival at Wyoming, he was appointed to take charge on the plains of a Scandinavian company of thirty wagons. He was there joined by more wagons in charge of Captain Patterson, making in all over sixty, for safety against the Indians, as the latter were very hostile that season, many people having been killed, and horses, mules and cattle stolen, and wagons burned. Many times on the journey ranchers, traders, and also officers at government posts would use every argument possible to induce them to stop for safety. The answer Brother Smith would give them was, "We are used to Indian warfare, and we have only provisions enough to take us home, even if we keep moving; and we would rather run our risk of fighting Indians than starve on the plains." The company reached Salt Lake City, Oct. 1, 1864. After a few days the immigrants were distributed among their respective friends in the various settlements, but for several years Brother Smith was kept busy as an interpreter for the Scandinavians. Since that time he has been engaged in the duties of his calling as a Patriarch, traveling through the settlements of the Saints, and attending to other business, and on the farm. Up to date he has given to the Saints 15,660 patriarchal blessings.

07-John-Smith.jpg

John Smith, Presiding Patriarch of the Church[2]. Patriarch Smith continued his labors as a Patriarch zealously and successfully for the remainder of his life. In December, 1905, he accompanied Pres. Joseph F. Smith and his party to Vermont, taking part in the service when the monument in honor of the Prophet Joseph Smith was dedicated Dec. 23, 1905. Patriarch Smith died at his residence in Salt Lake City, Nov. 6, 1911. From an article published in the "Deseret Evening News" at the time of his demise we republish the following: "Again Israel has been called upon to part with one of its beloved leaders, John Smith, presiding Patriarch to the Church. His has been a long useful life. He has become a familiar figure throughout the Church. Thousands of Latter-day Saints value as most precious mementos the blessings pronounced upon them by the departed servant of the Lord, for they have found, in their fulfillment, an unimpeachable testimony for the truth of the Great Latter-day Work. Patriarch John Smith, like his saintly, martyred father, Hyrum Smith, was faithful to the gospel and to his calling, through trials, persecutions, and hardships of every kind. He never failed to respond to a call made upon him, and he performed every task with due regard for the promptings of conscience. In every position, public or private, military or civil, religious or secular, he labored with zeal and fidelity."[3]

John Smith -- Born Sept. 22, 1832, at Kirtland, Geauga Co., Ohio, the eldest son of Hyrum Smith and Jerusha Barden. Ordained Patriarch to the Church Feb. 18, 1855, by Brigham Young, at age 22; died Nov. 5, 1911, at Salt Lake City, Salt Lake Co., Utah, at age 79. (Note the discrepancy in the death date from Nov. 6, 1911)[4]

  1. Andrew Jenson, Latter-day Saint Biographical Encyclopedia: A Compilation of Biographical Sketches of Prominent Men and Women in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 4 vols., Salt Lake City, Vol. I: 183.
  2. (continued from Vol. I, page 183)
  3. Andrew Jenson, Latter-day Saint Biographical Encyclopedia: A Compilation of Biographical Sketches of Prominent Men and Women in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 4 vols.,Salt Lake City, Vol. 3:780.
  4. 2005 Church Almanac, p. 69