Question: Did Lucy Mack Smith join the Presbyterian Church after her son Alvin died in 1823?

Table of Contents

Question: Did Lucy Mack Smith join the Presbyterian Church after her son Alvin died in 1823?

Lucy Mack Smith did not say in her autobiography that she joined the Presbyterian church after her son Alvin died

It is claimed that the Prophet's mother joined the Presbyterian church after Alvin Smith died in late 1823 (Joseph Smith said she joined in 1820). If Lucy Mack Smith joined the Presbyterian Church in 1823, then this contradicts Joseph's statement that she joined in 1820, thereby dating Joseph's First Vision to no earlier than 1823.

There are several problems with this argument. The most serious one is that Lucy Mack Smith did NOT say in her autobiography that she joined the Presbyterian church after her son Alvin died. The original manuscript of the autobiography (including the crossed-out portion) actually says:

  • Alvin Smith died (19 November 1823).
  • "lamentation and mourning filled the whole neighborhood".
  • Those from Alvin's immediate circle felt "more than usual grief".
  • The funeral and the interment took place.
  • "The circumstances of [Alvin's] death aroused the neighborhood to the subject of religion".
  • The Smith family "could not be comforted" because of Alvin's loss.
  • "About this time there was a great revival in religion and the whole neighborhood was very much aroused to the subject and we among the rest flocked to the meetinghouse to see if there was a word of comfort for us that might relieve our overcharged feelings."
  • One man was laboring in the area "to effect a union of all the churches that all denominations might be agreed to worship God with one mind and one heart".
  • Lucy Mack Smith thought that this idea "looked right" and tried to persuade her husband to "join with them" (i.e., the unionized group of "all denominations").
  • Lucy Mack Smith "wished" to join herself with this group.
  • All the Smith children were "inclined" to join this group except Joseph (who refused from the first to attend the meetings).
  • Joseph told his mother that he did not wish to prevent her or any member of the Smith family from attending any church meeting or "joining any church" that they liked but stated his own desire not to go with them. Joseph also stated that if they did join any church they would not be with them long because of "the wickedness of their hearts".
  • Father Smith attended one meeting of the unionized church group but declined thereafter. He said that he did not object if Mother Smith and the children wanted to attend these meetings or join with the group.

There are several observations that will help to clarify the meaning of this text.

The effect of Alvin's funeral on the Smith family

Alvin's funeral was conducted by a Presbyterian clergyman named Benjamin B. Stockton. [1] This detail raises the strong possibility that someone in the Smith household had an affiliation with the Presbyterian church by November 1823 (Stockton did not become the official pastor of Palmyra's Western Presbyterian Church until 18 February 1824). [2] Indeed, in one of William Smith's recountings of Church history he seems very clearly to say that his mother and some of his siblings were members of the Presbyterian church at the time of Alvin's funeral. [3] And in another recounting he states that they had this affiliation in the year 1820. [4]

Notes

  1. "W[illia]m. B. Smith's last Statement," [John W. Peterson to Editor], Zion's Ensign (Independence, Missouri) 5/3 (13 January 1894): 6. Reprinted in "Statement of William Smith, Concerning Joseph, the Prophet," Deseret Evening News 27 (20 January 1894): 11; and "The Testimony of William Smith," Millennial Star 61 (26 February 1894): 132-34; reproduced in Vogel, Early Mormon Documents 1:513.
  2. See Milton V. Backman, Jr., Joseph Smith's First Vision: Confirming Evidences and Contemporary Accounts, 2d ed., (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1980 [1971]), 69. Also see Vogel, Early Mormon Documents 1:487n13.
  3. Zion’s Ensign, vol. 5, no. 3, 13 January 1894.
  4. "William B. Smith. Experience and Testimony," in "Sketches of Conference Sermons," reported by Charles Derry, Saints' Herald 30 (16 June 1883): 388; reproduced in Vogel, Early Mormon Documents 1:490–492.