And we’re back! This week I promised a little intrigue, and a little heartbreak. We’ll be talking about the Mack family.
Thankfully, Mormons have been big on journal keeping since before they were Mormons. Solomon Mack, Lucy’s father kept a journal of his life, and talked about his conversion to Christianity. Lucy quotes from it in her own memoir to help illustrate her family of origin.
Lucy had a handful of siblings, and she was one of the younger ones. She grew up in a small farming community in Back Of Beyond. Her mother, Lydia Gates, was a model “Republican Mother,” described by her husband as a “pearl of great price and piety,” and it fell on her shoulders to teach her kids about morality.
The oldest, Jason, found himself caught up in the religious fervor of the time. He became a Seeker.
In Muggle terms, a Seeker was someone who believed in the power of God manifest through prayer, and held that “there was no church in existence which held to the pure principles of the Gospel,” and sought to convince people that through prayer the blessings and privileges of the ancient disciples of Jesus would be restored.” Jason declared himself a Seeker at age 16 and by age 20 he was a preacher. A few years later, after becoming engaged, he set off on a two year trip to England. It is still wild to me to think that a “business trip” could take two-plus years, but that’s just me trying to contextualize and really GET the time period.
He sent letters back to his dear betrothed, who happened to be wealthy. *insert Gold-digger* But the mail man also was in love/desired financial partnership through matrimony with Esther. So he delivered the first letter, but after that he started just throwing them away, kind of like The Notebook, but without Ryan Gosling,
and the tragic ending comes before the romance.
Eventually, the mailman convinced Esther that Jason was dead. Then he put on the moves and they got married.
I tried a few times to summarize this, but I cannot capture the same melodrama of the original, so I quote here from Lucy’s book, where she in turn is quoting her dad. Jason has returned from his business trip and went to visit his now-married fiance:
“He (Jason) seated himself in the same room where he wooed her and obtained her consent to be his he waited her arrival with a beating heart not knowing the Perfidious game his rival had played him, until She entered. She was attired in a complete suit of Mourning… there was a bitter disapointment preying like a canker worm upon her very vitals occasioned by the suposed death of him who now stood before her…
In Gloomy silence as she entered the splendid apartment where he sat …the man now doomed to drink the bitter cup of sorrow to the dregs. She walked to the other side of the room, thrust his look of distracted and enquiring look… without a word a she clasped her hands in agony and with a piercing shriek fell lifeless to the floor. Jason took the lifeless motionless form of her that should have been his own and placing her on a sofa resigned her into the hands of her cowering conscience smitten husband; and left her with those pungent feelings…She at last revived to realize her lamentable situation more fully. My son returned and having heard an explanation… went immediately to sea. If this happens to meet the eye of the man who has brought this heavy affliction upon my boy and us I hope it may stimulate him to penitence and better deeds hereafter.
(Esther died short time after.)”
Twenty years later, the family received a letter from their brother. Jason had continued to seek after God and had been blessed with the power to heal people. He faced a lot of opposition from non-believers, but also felt confirmed in his power to heal and many people sought his abilities. He never married.
Next, Lucy talks of her sister, Lovisa, who was terminally ill for two years, but rose from her apparent deathbed. She spoke at length with her family about how to prepare for death.
Lovina, another sister, rose from her apparent deathbed to sing at church. She testified that when she had been ill in bed the Spirit had carried her away. She saw Christ, saying there was nothing more than a spider web between herself and heaven. She was bid to return and warn the people. The last years of her life were spent preaching and testifying.
Next is Stephen Mack, who enlisted as a soldier at age 14. He later became a merchant, and broke his sword across his knee and threw it in the lake. The French almost stole all of his store stuff, but the old woman who did his laundry hid it all for him, and so after the war he was able to return to become a successful merchant. According to Lucy he was a moral businessman and left his family with a significant monetary legacy.
Lydia comes next. She sought, and found, riches. She became a wealthy benefactress to the poor, sharing her riches liberally. Daniel was a man of the world, Lucy tells us. He also frequently found himself rescuing people from dangerous situations, such as drowning. The youngest son, Solomon, lived a long, comfortable life, with a modest business, and never traveled further than Boston.
After Lucy tells the tales of her siblings, she relates the tale of her own testimony. A few years into her marriage, Lucy fell very ill. She was so sick that the doctor’s had given up any hope of a recovery. Like her sister, she felt that her mind had ascended to Heaven. While there, she pleaded with the Lord to spare her life so she could bring up her children and comfort her husband. Then, “I covenanted with God if he would let me live I would endeavor to get that religion that would enable me to serve him right whether it was in the Bible or where ever it might be found even if it was to be obtained from heaven by prayer and Faith At last a voice spoke to me and said 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.
“My Mother came in and looked upon me and cried out Lucy you are better my speech came and I answered ‘yes mother the Lord will let me live.’”
It seems that Lucy kept her promise. Years later, she asked herself, “Am I indeed the mother of a prophet of God?” I am moving into speculation here, but I would venture to guess that Joseph Smith, Jr probably heard this very story many times as a child. He probably heard of his Uncle Jason, the Seeker. He was probably encouraged to search and ponder the scriptures and to develop a personal relationship with God. Because of the spiritual nature of his family, he probably wasn’t even terribly surprised to have prophetic dreams. In many ways, his family background prepared him for the role he played in establishing the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
The next installment of this series will take a closer look at the Smith side of the family. It’s been a lot of fun reading through source documents, but trying to summarize it without editorializing is difficult.
Mack Smith, Lucy. “Lucy Mack Smith, History, 1844–1845.” Joseph Smith Papers. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Web. 6 Nov. 2014.
Note: There are several copies of Lucy’s Book. Brigham Young said it was full of historical inaccuracies and in all fairness, it was written as a recollection in the later years of Lucy’s life. It is also one of the most complete first-hand accounts of Joseph’s life and the early years of the church. Lavina Fielding Anderson published a copy, with notes, of the book through Signature Books that has the edited and original texts side by side.
Lucy has been called the Mother of Mormonism, and her book has been referred to as “the foundational text of Mormonism.” She was a profoundly spiritual woman with great faith in things unseen.