Lucy Mack Smith, History, 1845; handwriting of and Martha Jane Knowlton Coray; 337 pages; CHL.
Note: , the mother of Joseph Smith, dictated a rough draft version of her history to Martha Jane Knowlton Coray (with some additional scribal help from Martha’s husband, ) beginning in 1844 and concluding in 1845. In 1845, the Corays inscribed this fair copy of the history under Lucy’s direction.
In June 1844, the church suffered the loss of its president and prophet, JS, and his brother, church patriarch . The Smith family, already devastated, endured another heartbreak a few weeks later with the death of JS’s brother . That fall their widowed mother, , perhaps in part as a salve to her grief, began recording her family’s story. Writing to her only surviving son, , on 23 January 1845, Smith informed him, “I have by the council of the 12 [Apostles] undertaken a history of the family, that is my Fathers Family and my own.” She added:
People are often enquiring of me the particulars of Joseph’s getting the plates seeing the angels at first and many other thing which Joseph never wrote or published I have told over many things pertaining to these matters to different persons to gratify their curiosity indeed have almost destroyed my lungs giving these recitals to those who felt anxious to hear them I have now concluded to write down every particular as far as possible and if those who wish to read them will help me a little they can have it all in one piece to read at their leasure—
To help defray the cost of publication she asked William to start a subscription to raise about $100 to buy paper to print her history (Lucy Mack Smith, Nauvoo, IL, to William Smith, 23 Jan. 1845, CHL).
Later that year on 8 October, at a general conference of the church being held in the , spoke of the completion of her project. According to the conference minutes she “gave notice that she had written her history, and wished it printed before we leave this place” (“Conference Minutes,” Times and Seasons, 1 Nov. 1845, 6:1014). However, arrangements could not be made for its publication prior to the Saints’ departure from Nauvoo. It was eventually printed by in 1853 in , England.
Years later, Martha Jane Knowlton Coray, writing from Provo, Utah, in June 1865, responded to a request from for information regarding her role in the drafting and publication of ’s history. Regarding Smith, Coray wrote, “I was her amanuensis at the time the Book was written.” She then cited her own practice of “noting down everything, I heard and read which possessed any peculiar interest to me. . . . I was occupied, from time to time as occasion offered, in making notes of sermons, and other things which I thought reliable such as: discourses by yourself, the twelve, and other responsible men.” She then related that this practice “made it an easy task for me to transmit to paper” what Smith dictated to her. She added, “ and Joseph were dead, and thus without their aid, she [Lucy] attempted to prosecute the work, relying chiefly upon her memory. . . . There were two Manuscripts prepared, one copy was given to Mother Smith, and the other retained in the Church” (Martha Jane Knowlton Coray, Provo, UT, to Brigham Young, 13 June 1865, Brigham Young Office Files, CHL).
The two completed manuscripts Coray referenced in her letter to were preceded by a draft, sometimes referred to as the “rough draft manuscript.” Martha Jane Coray and her husband, , composed this draft as they met with during the fall and winter 1844–1845. Then, in early 1845, utilizing the rough draft and other notes and sources, the Corays apparently penned two revised, or “fair,” copies. The sole extant fair version is titled “The History of Lucy Smith Mother of the Prophet.” Miscellaneous fragments included with the rough draft copy suggest that the Corays may also have produced an intermediate draft prior to transcribing the two fair copies. Assuming an intermediate draft once existed in some form, most of it has been lost.
obtained a U.S. copyright for her manuscript on 18 July 1845. (Copyright for Lucy Mack Smith, “The History of Lucy Smith,” 18 July 1845, Robert Harris, Copyright Registry Records for Works Concerning the Mormons to 1870, CHL). According to the “History of Brigham Young,” on 10 November of that same year, and several members of the Twelve “consulted on the subject of purchasing the copy right of Mother Smith’s History; and concluded to settle with Brother for his labor in compiling the same” (History of the Church, 7:519). No currently extant record indicates whether Smith was actually approached about selling her copyright to the church, nor is it known if the Corays were compensated as indicated above.
As previously noted, one of the two prepared fair copies was given to by the Corays. There are varying accounts regarding what happened next, but by March 1853, Smith’s copy was in the possession of in . Pratt took it to England where he had it printed by the end of that summer under the title Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith, the Prophet, and His Progenitors for Many Generations, by Lucy Smith, Mother of the Prophet. The fair copy adapted for the , England, publication by Pratt apparently is no longer extant.
The second fair copy was apparently given to the church before the Saints departed from and was taken west by them. An entry for “Mother Smith’s History” is listed in the first extant Historian’s Office inventory, compiled in Nauvoo in 1846 by clerk . Records of a 4 April 1855 inventory of the Historian’s Office included an entry for “Mother Smiths Mss History” (Schedule of Church Records. Nauvoo 1846,” ; “Inventory, Historian’s Office, 4th April 1855,” , Historian’s Office, Catalogs and Inventories, 1846–1904, CHL). It seems that the Corays retained the rough draft and transported it to Utah.
had not consulted with or other church leaders before publishing the 1853 edition of ’s history. Young had not authorized its publication and believed it contained historical errors. In 1865, Young and his counselors in the First Presidency of the church formally recalled the Liverpool edition. According to ’s journal for 22 April 1866, Young asked Woodruff to request church historian and JS’s uncle, , to revise the text so that it could be reissued in a corrected edition. However, despite expectations, a revised version was not issued during Young’s lifetime. It was not until 1901 that the church released an authorized edition, in serial form in the Improvement Era. The serial began in the November 1901 issue under the title “History of the Prophet Joseph Smith” and concluded in the January 1903 issue. When published in book form in 1902, it bore the title History of the Prophet Joseph Smith by His Mother Lucy Smith as Revised by George A. Smith and Elias Smith. Subsequently, other popular editions have appeared.
Much of the value of ’s account lies in her offering a wife and mother’s perspective on her family’s role in the early church. She illuminates the family setting that fostered the birth of Mormonism and retells incidents and interactions recounted nowhere else. Though there are errors in the dating of some events and occasionally in place and individual names, overall her account is of inestimable value, providing a rarely heard woman’s voice as it traces JS’s life from beginning to end. She was present at many seminal events and offered insights no one else could provide.
Beginning with details of her New England ancestors, related an account of her family’s early experiences and support of JS during the founding era of the church. Adversity and persecution are vividly evident, as are hard work, faith, love, and testimony. Many details that we know about early church history can be attributed to Lucy, such as JS’s leg operation when he was a child; the death of JS’s oldest brother, ; the dreams, visions, and blessings of ; and a wife and mother’s grief as she buries her “beloved husband” and many of her children. She also provided details and perspective about missions, moves, travels, mobbings, and arrests that are not available elsewhere.
Published here is the the Corays’ 1845 fair copy retained by the church. (The 1844–1845 rough draft is also available on this website.)
After bringing the plates home, Joseph commenced working with his and brothers on the farm, in order to be as near as possible to the treasure, which was now confided to his care.
Soon after this he came in from work in the afternoon, and after remaining a short time, he put on his great coat, and left the house. I was engaged at the time in an upper room in preparing some oil cloths for painting. When he returned he requested me to come down stairs. I told him I could not leave my work just then; but, after as he still insisted I finally concluded to go down and see what he wanted. After Upon meeting him, he handed me the breastplate spoken of in his history. It was wrapped in a thin muslin handkerchief; so thin that I could see the glistening metal, and ascertain <feel> its proportions without any difficulty: It was concave on one side and convex on the other; and extended from the neck downwards as far as the centre of the stomach of a man of extraordinary size. It had four straps of the same material for the purpose of fastening it to the breast: two of which ran back to go over the shoulders, and the other two were designed to fasten to the hips. These straps [p. 114]