Lucy Mack Smith watched as her thirteen-year-old son, Hyrum, sat down on the bed next to seven-year-old Joseph and cradled his younger brother’s painfully infected leg in his hands. There young Hyrum sat, “almost day and night for some considerable length of time,” Lucy recalled, “holding the affected part of [Joseph’s] leg in his hands, and pressing it between them, so that his afflicted brother might be enabled to endure the pain which was so excruciating.” When Lucy later recalled the touching scene, she described Hyrum as “rather remarkable for his tenderness and sympathy.”1
Typhoid fever had swept through the Connecticut Valley in the winter of 1812–13 and eventually took the lives of six thousand people.2 Hyrum’s little sister Sophronia was the first in the Smith home to contract the illness. Sophronia was attended by a physician for eighty-nine days and was near death on the ninetieth day when, after the heartfelt prayers of her parents, she began to recover. Joseph, the next family member to contract the illness, also seemed to recover, but delayed complications of osteomyelitis (bone infection) and abscess formation resulted in a painful, limb-threatening condition.
Hyrum, who also became infected, watched as Joseph’s weight and strength seemed to drain away. Lucy carried Joseph much of the time until she was near physical exhaustion. Seeing his mother’s need, the youthful Hyrum stepped forward and expressed his desire to take her place. As Hyrum was “a good, trusty boy,” she welcomed his assistance.3
Perhaps Joseph reflected upon this experience when the situation was reversed three decades later. After Hyrum had fallen and severely injured one of his legs, Joseph came to his bedside and administered to him. Hyrum’s five-year-old niece, Mary Jane Thompson, watched as Joseph finished giving his brother a priesthood blessing. She said Joseph then stepped over to the bureau and, leaning upon it, “buried his face in his handkerchief and wept bitterly. His heart was touched with tender sympathy for his prostrate brother.” More than half a century later, Mary said, “This circumstance riveted the scene upon my mind.”4
Hyrum and Joseph were as close as any two brothers could be. “I have been acquainted with him ever since he was born . . . ,” Hyrum said in 1843, “and I have not been absent from him at any one time not even for the space of six months . . . and have been intimately acquainted with all his sayings, doings, business transactions and movements, as much as any one man could be acquainted with another man’s business.”5
After sharing more than thirty years of intimate experiences with his older brother, Joseph mused in the fall of 1842, “Hyrum . . . [is] a natural brother; thought I to myself, brother Hyrum, what a faithful heart you have got. Oh, may the Eternal Jehovah crown eternal blessings upon your head, as a reward for the care you have had for my soul. O how many are the sorrows have we shared together. . . . Hyrum, thy name shall be written in the Book of the Law of the Lord, for those who come after thee to look upon, that they may pattern after thy works.”6
When Hyrum was born in Tunbridge, Orange County, Vermont, on February 9, 1800, the town had only thirteen hundred inhabitants.7 His parents, Joseph Smith Sr. and Lucy Mack, who were married in Tunbridge in 1796, welcomed Hyrum as their third son. Hyrum never knew his oldest brother, who died at birth,8 but he became very close to Alvin, who was just two days from his second birthday when Hyrum joined the family. They became so close, in fact, that Hyrum’s patriarchal blessing, received under the hands of his father after Alvin’s death, spoke of Alvin, “whom thou didst love, [and] around whose heart thine affections were twined.”9
In Hyrum’s veins flowed the rich believing blood of a faithful ancestry. His maternal grandfather, Solomon Mack, published an autobiographical work outlining his conversion to Christianity. Though Solomon’s conversion came late in life, his writings concluded with a plaintive longing: “I hope to serve my God, by his assistance to divine acceptance, that I may at last leap for joy to see his face and hold him fast in my embrace.”10 Hyrum’s paternal grandfather, Asael Smith, was also deeply committed to Christian principles, saying that “he always knew that God was going to raise up some branch of his [Asael’s] family to be a great benefit to mankind.”11
Hyrum’s grandmothers were likewise devoted to God. Lydia Gates Mack called her children together morning and evening, teaching them to pray and urging them to have “love toward each other as well as devotional feelings towards him who made them.”12 Mary Duty Smith similarly lived a life of faith in God.13
In 1802, after six years of cultivating land for a livelihood, Hyrum’s father rented out the farm in Tunbridge and moved seven miles west to Randolph, Vermont, where he commenced a mercantile business. Shortly after the family arrived in Randolph, Hyrum’s mother became critically ill. When many gave up hope for her recovery, Lucy looked to the Lord and pled with him to spare her life so that she might raise her children and comfort her husband.
Lucy made a solemn covenant with her Heavenly Father that if he would let her live, she would serve him to the best of her abilities. A divine voice whispered, “Seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. Let your heart be comforted; ye believe in God, believe also in me.” As Lucy’s health improved, she sought for someone “capable of instructing [her] more perfectly in the way of life and salvation.” Her search for truth was not soon fulfilled, but she did find a minister willing to honor her desire for baptism without requiring her to commit to any organized branch of religion.14
Hyrum’s father also enjoyed profound spiritual experiences. He had several revelatory dreams, one of which was strikingly similar to a dream recorded in the then yet-to-be-translated Book of Mormon. Like Lehi of old (1 Nephi 8), Joseph Sr. saw a narrow path near a beautiful stream of pure water. A rope ran along its bank as a guide. He also saw a tree bearing beautiful white fruit that was “delicious beyond description” and that he desired to share with his family. He saw a spacious building filled with finely dressed people who ridiculed him and his family because of their humility. Joseph Sr. learned in his dream that the fruit represented the pure love of God, while the spacious building represented Babylon.15
It is not known how much Hyrum’s parents spoke with him about their spiritual manifestations, but it seems likely that an attitude of acceptance permeated the home—an attitude that sincere souls could receive knowledge from heaven. Such openness would be consistent with Joseph Jr.’s willingness to share his spiritual experiences with his family a few years later. As Hyrum grew to maturity, he likely felt comfortable with the notion that God communicates with his children.
After the family moved to Randolph, Joseph Sr. invested heavily in what seemed to be a promising opportunity in the ginseng trade. Ginseng grew wild in Vermont and was valued in China for its reputed capacity to sustain life and virility. Joseph gathered an ample quantity of the root, but rather than accept three thousand dollars for his supply, he made arrangements to ship it to China himself in hopes of receiving a larger profit. Unfortunately, an unscrupulous competitor cheated him out of his ginseng and the anticipated windfall.
The financial consequence of the misadventure necessitated an immediate move back to the farm in Tunbridge, where Sophronia was born on May 17, 1803.16 The family was eventually forced to sell the farm and move to Royalton, Vermont. After just a few months, they moved again, this time to Sharon, Vermont, where they rented a farm from Lucy’s father and labored to recover from their financial setbacks.17
Hyrum was almost six years old when Joseph Smith Jr. was born in Sharon on December 23, 1805.18 Their relationship, as it matured, paralleled that of Aaron and his younger brother, Moses (Exodus 7:7). Later, Joseph even compared his prophetic role to that of Moses, and he explained the office of assistant president, which Hyrum eventually held, by “taking Aaron for an ensample.”19
Joseph’s love and respect for Hyrum are reflected in an 1835 journal entry: “I could pray in my heart that all men were like my brother Hyrum, who possesses the mildness of a lamb, and the integrity of Job, and in short, the meekness and humility of Christ; and I love him with that love that is stronger than death.”20
Samuel Harrison was born in Tunbridge on March 13, 1808. Shortly thereafter, the family moved again to Royalton, where Ephraim was born two years to the day later. He lived only eleven days.21 Another son, William, was born exactly one year after Ephraim’s birth.
In 1811, the Smith family moved to West Lebanon, New Hampshire, where Catherine was born on July 28, 1812.22 By then, things were looking up for the family. Lucy remembered, “We settled ourselves down and began to contemplate, with joy and satisfaction, the prosperity which had attended our recent exertions.” Hyrum and his siblings had received little formal education to this point, but their parents made arrangements for Hyrum to attend the academy at Hanover and for the other children to attend a “common school.”23
The academy, or Moor’s Charity School, was associated with Dartmouth College in Hanover, a few miles north of the Smith home and on the same side of the Connecticut River. Lucy did not explain why Hyrum was chosen to attend, but it may have been simply because his cousin of about the same age, Stephen Mack, was already a student there. One of the school’s tutors, Andrew Mack, was also a distant relative.24
Eleazar Wheelcock founded the Moor’s School in Lebanon, Connecticut, in 1754. Its curriculum extended beyond simply educating students; rather, it focused on preparing them to become teachers and preachers. In 1769, the school relocated to Hanover, New Hampshire, and became associated with the newly founded Dartmouth College. With the establishment of a common school in Hanover in 1808, the academy further refined its focus to prepare able students for additional scholarly education. But it maintained its religious influence, and students attended daily chapel services at the White Church on campus. If Hyrum attended in 1811, as Lucy seems to indicate, he joined a class of thirty-one students, which grew to fifty-six by 1814. 25
School records are incomplete, but the “Hiram Smith” listed in the August 1814 record was one of the “charity scholars” studying arithmetic.26 Charity scholars were not merely students with limited financial means. The designation also implied remarkable intellectual potential. School president John Wheelcock personally followed the progress of these student scholars, who were supported from his limited funds. Hyrum’s designation as a charity scholar in 1814 implies that he performed well academically during his previous years there.
The outbreak of “typhus fever” in late 1812 interrupted Hyrum’s education.27 He came home sick from school, perhaps at the end of the quarter in February 1813. His whole family was eventually infected, but Hyrum, despite his own illness, was determined to do his part to alleviate their suffering. He relieved his mother and sat at Joseph’s side for days or weeks until Nathan Smith—an attending surgeon at Dartmouth College, whose daughter Malvina attended class with Hyrum—operated on Joseph’s leg to eradicate the infection. Whether Hyrum and Malvina’s association was significant or even known to those involved is not recorded.
As Joseph’s leg improved, his family sent him to his Uncle Jesse’s home in Salem, Massachusetts, in hopes that “the sea-breezes would be of service to him.” The rest of the family, financially devastated by a year of illness, moved to Norwich, Vermont. Hyrum’s return to the Moor’s School now required him to travel about four miles east of his home and across the Connecticut River. His youngest brother, Don Carlos, was born in Norwich on March 15, 1816. 28
The wiles of weather and farming were unforgiving for the Smith family. After three successive years of crop failure, Joseph Sr. set out from Norwich in the summer of 1816 to find a new place for the family in western New York. Saddened by the anticipated separation, Hyrum and Alvin “followed their father with a heavy heart [for] some distance.” After locating a suitable place in Palmyra, New York, Joseph Sr. sent a team and a teamster by the name of Caleb Howard to move his family. Hyrum and his seven siblings, including baby Don Carlos, journeyed with their mother about three hundred miles to Palmyra.
Howard was neither compassionate nor hospitable. Lucy later referred to him as “an unprincipled and unfeeling wretch” who forced ten-year-old Joseph to walk miles on his healing leg. Hyrum was also forced to walk dozens of miles daily in the unseasonable snow, but his concerns were for his younger brother, who was still on crutches. Hyrum and Alvin courageously petitioned the malignant teamster for more humane treatment of Joseph. In response, Howard knocked them down with the butt of his whip.29
Through drinking and gambling, Howard soon lost the money that was intended to secure the family’s safe passage to Palmyra. Lucy likely felt unsafe confronting Howard in the isolation of the wilderness, but when he tried to desert the family and abscond with their team and wagon about twenty miles west of Utica, New York, she publicly and boldly dismissed him in front of fellow travelers. Continuing alone with their wagon and team, the family arrived in Palmyra with a small portion of their effects “and barely two cents in cash.” Nevertheless, as Lucy recalled, “I was quite happy in once more having the society of my husband, and in throwing myself and children upon the care and affection of a tender companion and father.”30
Hyrum learned by experience and example the value of family counsels. One such experience came shortly after the family’s arrival in New York. “We all now sat down and maturely counseled together as to what course it was best to take,” recalled Lucy. “It was agreed by each one of us that it was most advisable to apply all our energies together and endeavor to obtain a piece of land.”31 To this end, the Smiths settled in the village of Palmyra and began their work.
Joseph Sr. had a shop in town, selling such things as “gingerbread, pies, boiled eggs, [and] root-beer,” but he and his older sons also hired themselves out as day laborers.32 At least one person reported that Hyrum and his father also “worked some at coopering.”33 They lived in a log house in Palmyra for approximately two years before moving a little less than two miles south to a hundred-acre parcel of wooded land on Stafford Road.34
“My husband and his sons, Alvin and Hyrum, set themselves to work to pay for one hundred acres of land,” recalled Lucy. They contracted for the ground with a land agent and, in one year, “made nearly all of the first payment, erected a log house, and commenced clearing.” Impressively, as Lucy noted, approximately thirty acres of land were prepared for cultivation that year. The work was unrelenting and the compensation meager. When it came time to make the second payment, Alvin had to leave home to find work, but “after much hardship and fatigue” returned with the needed sum.
“This payment being made, we felt relieved,” wrote Lucy, “as this was the only thing that troubled us; for we had a snug loghouse, neatly furnished, and the means of living comfortably.” The Smiths were well received and respected in the community. “The hand of friendship was extended on every side, and we blessed God, with our whole heart, for his ‘mercy, which endureth for ever,’” Lucy said.35
Through his teenage years, Hyrum observed the faithfulness of his parents in the face of nearly continuous hardships. He saw severe illness and death afflict the family, and he watched as his parents prayerfully attended to their suffering children. He labored with his father through crop failures and witnessed his mother’s indomitable spirit as she rescued her family from an unscrupulous teamster. Much of the unconquerable optimism and persistent determination that later characterized Hyrum’s life is attributable to the example of his parents during these formative years.
Somewhere in the midst of his labors, Hyrum also found time for social interactions and recreation. One of Sophronia’s friends later said that she often accompanied Sophronia, Hyrum, and Joseph “to apple parings and parties.”36 Lucy reminisced, “We had many good and affectionate friends, for never have I seen more kindness or attention shown to any person or family than we received from those around us.” She recalled being invited to socials with “wealthy merchants’ wives and the minister’s lady.” Things were also going well financially. Lucy observed, “We began to rejoice in our prosperity, and our hearts glowed with gratitude to God for the manifestations of his favor that surrounded us.” 37
Hyrum’s youngest sibling, little Lucy, joined the family on July 18, 1821, while they were living on Stafford Road in what her mother once termed a “comfortable, though humble, habitation.”38 Hyrum grew to maturity in that small log home and amid congenial neighbors. He became a sizable, well-proportioned man.
In December 1842, brethren who measured Joseph and Hyrum found them both to be six feet even.39 This observation differs only slightly from a later reminiscence of Hyrum’s oldest son, John, who described Joseph as six feet in his stockings and weighing 212 pounds. Hyrum, he said, “was one-half an inch shorter but of equal weight.” 40
“Hyram [sic] Smith, the patriarch of the church and brother of Joseph, is forty-two years of age, five feet, eleven and a half inches high, weighing one hundred and ninety-three pounds,” read an anonymous letter to James Gordon Bennett, editor of the New York Herald, in 1842. Moving from Hyrum’s physical description, the letter continued, “[Hyrum] is a prophet, seer, and revelator, and is one of the most pious and devout Christians in the world. He is a man of great wisdom and superior excellence, possessing great energy of character, and originality of thought.” 41
Because Hyrum walked so close to Joseph, many portrayed him by comparison. John Needham described Joseph with love and admiration in 1843, adding, “Hyr[u]m is a much milder man in his manners, more precise, a man of God, and has the confidence of the faithful.”42 Rachel Grant noted that Joseph “was always cheerful and happy whenever he would come out. He was different in that respect from Brother Hyrum, who was more sedate, more serious. I thought at the time Hyrum seemed more like a Prophet than Joseph did.” Then, in retrospect, she explained, “You see there was a great deal of sectarianism about me.”43
On an unnumbered page in the middle of a small, hand-sewn, canvas-bound diary, Hyrum began his autobiography: “H[yrum] Smith was born in Tunbridge, Orange Co[unty], State of Vermont.”44 That’s all he wrote of his simple beginnings in the dawn of nineteenth-century America, but his contributions and influence would reach far beyond those humble origins and even extend beyond his mortal life. Hyrum lived in such a way that “his name may be had in honorable remembrance from generation to generation, forever and ever” (D&C 124:96).
Hyrum’s youngest son, Joseph F. Smith, as president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, looked into the heavens almost three quarters of a century after his father’s martyrdom. There he saw Hyrum “among the noble and great ones who were chosen in the beginning to be rulers in the Church of God. Even before they were born, they . . . were prepared to come forth in the due time of the Lord to labor in his vineyard for the salvation of the souls of men” (D&C 138:53, 55–56).
As Hyrum walked out of that snug log home and moved into his adult life, he pressed toward the fulfillment of his foreordained work as a husband, father, leader, teacher, builder, counselor, patriarch, and prophet. And as he approached his lifetime of service, he commenced the noble fulfillment of his father’s yet-unspoken blessing: “You shall be as firm as the pillars of heaven unto the end of your days.” 45
Hyrum Smith: A Life of Integrity : Read more from this book.
- Hyrum Smith: A Life of Integrity
- Chapter 2: Remarkable for His Tenderness and Sympathy
1. Lucy Mack Smith, Biographical Sketches, 63.
2. Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism, 32, 199 n. 76.
3. Smith, Biographical Sketches, 63.
4. Mary Jane Thompson, “Early Church Recollections,” 429.
5. Testimony of Hyrum Smith before the Nauvoo municipal court, 1 July 1843; Joseph Smith, History of the Church 3:404.
6. Joseph Smith, The Papers of Joseph Smith 2:416.
7. Bushman, Joseph Smith, 29.
8. In a patriarchal blessing given to Hyrum on December 9, 1834, Joseph Smith Sr. referred to this deceased child, implying that it was a son (Hyrum Smith blessing, “Patriarchal Blessing Book,” 2:2). In a talk given at general conference in Nauvoo on October 8, 1845, Lucy also referred to her firstborn son (Times and Seasons 6 [1 November 1845]: 1013–14).
9. Joseph Smith Sr. blessing, “Patriarchal Blessing Book,” 2:2–3.
10. Solomon Mack, A Narrative on the Life of Solomon Mack, 32–33.
11. George A. Smith, “Memoirs,” 2.
12. Smith, Biographical Sketches, 19.
13. Ibid., 213. Mary Duty Smith came to Kirtland to be baptized but became ill and passed away before the ordinance could be performed.
14. Ibid., 47–48.
15. Ibid., 58–59; compare 1 Nephi 8, 11.
16. Lucy Mack Smith, unpublished edited manuscript, 32. Various sources cite Sophronia’s birth date as May 16, 17, or 18. Lucy’s unpublished history records the date as May 18. The Tunbridge clerk recorded the date as May 17 (Tunbridge Town Clerk, Town and Vital Records, 1785–1815, 402, Family History Library). Hyrum’s birth date is also listed on this page.
17. Smith, Biographical Sketches, 49–51, 56; Bushman, Joseph Smith, 30–31.
18. Smith, Biographical Sketches, 56.
19. Smith, Papers, 1:21.
20. Ibid., 2:111.
21. Smith, Biographical Sketches, 56; Bushman, Joseph Smith, 31.
22. Smith, unpublished edited manuscript, 33. Some records spell her name Katharine.
23. Smith, Biographical Sketches, 59–60.
24. Richard K. Behrens’s unpublished research provides much of the information about the Moor’s Charity School used here.
25. Copies of school records are in the possession of the author.
26. Documenting Hyrum’s presence from school records is difficult. His name cannot be located in the records of 1811, and the rolls for the school years ending in 1812 and 1813 are missing. Records show a “Hiram Smith” from Lebanon attending the session from August 1814 to August 1815. Hyrum Smith had moved from Lebanon to nearby Norwich, Vermont, by that time, but the record is probably referring to him.
27. Typhus fever is a louse-borne Rickettsial illness, but the term “typhus fever” in 1812 probably referred to typhoid fever caused by Salmonella typhi. It was typhoid fever that swept the Connecticut Valley in 1812, killing six thousand people (see Bushman, Joseph Smith, 32, 199 n. 76). Dr. Nathan Smith, who operated on Joseph Smith’s leg, was an expert on typhoid fever and its complications, including osteomyelitis (see LeRoy S. Wirthlin, “Nathan Smith [1762–1828] Surgical Consultant to Joseph Smith,” BYU Studies [Spring 1977]: 319–37).
28. Smith, unpublished edited manuscript, 33, 63–64.
29. Manuscript History of the Church, book A-1, 131–32 n. A.
30. Lucy Mack Smith, preliminary manuscript, 73–74.
32. Pomeroy Tucker, Origin, Rise, and Progress of Mormonism, 12. In this anti-Mormon work, Tucker suggested that the signboard on Joseph Sr.’s shop described it as a “cake and beer shop.”
33. In Arthur B. Deming, Naked Truths About Mormonism, 2. This comes from an anti-Mormon publication with statements compiled years after the events being described.
34. Though it is generally said that the Smiths moved from Palmyra to Manchester, they did not actually move to Manchester in 1818 because Manchester did not exist until it was created from the town of Farmington in 1821–1822. Further, discrepancy existed in perceived property lines. Hence, the farm was in Farmington, but the small log house they built and occupied was, in reality, north of the boundaries for both the farm and the township. Technically, the Smiths’ log house was in Palmyra Township and on somebody else’s land (Larry C. Porter, “A Study of the Origins of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the States of New York and Pennsylvania, 1816–1831” [Ph.D. diss., Brigham Young University, 1971], 37–43).
35. Smith, Biographical Sketches, 70–71.
36. Deming, 2. The “apple parings” referred to may be social gatherings associated with the harvest, preparation, and preservation of the fruit.
37. Smith, preliminary manuscript, 75.
38. Ibid., 75.
39. Smith, History of the Church 5:210.
40. John Smith, in “Joseph Smith,” 1. Another local paper gave a similar third-person account of John’s words. “The Prophet Joseph stood even six feet high in his stocking feet and weighted 212 pounds. The speaker’s father, Hyrum Smith, stood five feet eleven and a half inches high and they weighed in the same notch, varying from 210 to 212 pounds” (in F. E. Barker, “Joseph, the Prophet,” 212).
41. Veritas, “The Mormon Prophet,” 8.
42. John Needham to Thomas Ward, 17 July 1843.
43. Rachel Grant, “Joseph Smith, the Prophet,” 550–51.
44. Hyrum Smith diary, 18 November 1831–21 February 1835, 81.
45. Smith, Biographical Sketches, 266–67.