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Lucy Meserve Smith, Account of Relief Society in 1856, as Recorded in “Historical Sketches,” June 12, 1889 (Excerpt)

Lucy Meserve Smith, “Historical Sketches of My Great Grandfathers,” June 12, 1889, pp. 1, 51–56 (excerpt); microfilm; Lucy Meserve Smith, Papers, 1848–1892, CHL (MS 8270).

See images of the original document at dcms.lds.org.


In 1889, at the age of seventy-two, Lucy Meserve Smith composed a historical narrative describing her ancestry and life experiences, including her labors during the 1850s as president of a ward Relief Society in Provo, Utah. A native of Newry, Maine, Lucy Smith was baptized a Latter-day Saint in 1837 and then worked in a cotton mill to fund her move to the Saints’ gathering place in Nauvoo. Her skill with a handloom secured her income. In Nauvoo in 1844, at the age of twenty-seven, she became the second wife of George A. Smith; she arrived in the Salt Lake Valley with him and his other wives in 1849.1

A member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, George A. Smith was appointed to preside over church affairs in two of the original seven counties in Utah. After overseeing settlement of Iron County in 1851, he began to preside over settlements in Utah County in July 1852.2 At that time, Lucy and another of her husband’s plural wives, Hannah Maria Libby Smith, moved with their husband to Provo, Utah County. There, according to Lucy, the women worked to “provid for the ne[ces]sitie of our family,” which included Hannah’s young son, Charles Warren, and John Henry, the son of Sarah Ann Libby Smith. Sarah, a wife of George A. Smith, had died in July 1851. Lucy taught school, and she and Hannah “took in spinning and weaving.” Lucy wrote, “I did all in my power to ease up the burden of my husband as he was President of Utah County for years.”3 By the time Lucy served as Relief Society president in one of five wards in the Provo Stake, her husband had returned to Salt Lake City to assume the duties of church historian.

Lucy Meserve Smith’s account describes the role local Relief Societies played in 1856 in providing aid to two companies of handcart immigrants who straggled into Utah after being devastated in present-day Wyoming by early snows. Smith also reported on a large-scale effort that Relief Societies participated in the following year, during the Utah War. Fearful of the intentions of federal troops sent by U.S. president James Buchanan to Utah in 1857, Brigham Young posted Mormon militia in the mountains east of Salt Lake City, charging them to resist, if events required, the coming army.4 Smith’s was one of many branches of the Relief Society that helped provision these Mormon forces.


Salt Lake City June 12th, 1889.

Historical sketches of my Great Grandfathers from the time they landed at Plymmouth Rock . . .5 [p. 1] . . .

In 1856. the saints were called upon to confess our sins, renew our covenants, and all must be rebaptized for a remission of our sins, and strive to live more perfectly than ever before,6 Then we had greater manifestations of the power of the evil one. I fasted two days to obtain a testimony from the Holy Spirit that I was accepted of my Heavenly Father, at the same time I kept at work in my loom both days without breaking my fast. One evening after the rest of the family had retired I knelt down to pray, and I was grasped by the wrist very tightly and it seemed as though there was something [p. 51] held over my face so it was very difficult for me to breath or utter a word, Said I old fellow you can figure away, but you’ve got the wrong pig by the ear this time, I kept praying every breath I could draw which came very hard and loud, but I did not hurry nor I could not be frightened. I went to bed when I got ready, but they followed me still trying to smother me, and after I got into bed I was struck on the shoulder quite hard. The Holy Spirit said to me they can do no harm where the name of Jesus is used with authority. I immediately rebuked them in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and by virtue of the Holy Priesthood conferred upon me in common with my companion in the Temple of our God.7 All that evil sensation left me immediately, I soon fell asleep and was troubled no more at that time, but those wicked spirits seem to go from house to house annoying the saints after that, as they commenced their operations on me first I knew not why.

Lucy Meserve Smith

Lucy Meserve Smith. Circa 1870. Lucy Meserve Smith wrote in 1889 a reminiscence describing her 1850s Relief Society work in Provo, Utah. Photograph likely by Edward Martin. (Church History Library, Salt Lake City.)

I was then chosen set apart and blessed to preside over the Relief Society with sister Rua Angeline Holden for my first, and Sister Nancy Bigler Flemming for my second councelors. Sister Sarah Jane Goff Blackburn Sec’y, and Treasurer. [p. 52]

We did all we could, with the aid of the good brethren and sisters, to comfort the needy as they came in with HandCarts late in the Fall8 they got their hands and feet badly frosted. Br. Stephen Nixon and wife9 nursed/ and took care of them til they were better we favoured them br. & Sis. N. by quilting a quilt very nicely for them, as our Society was short of funds then we could could not do much, but the four Bishops could hardly carry the bedding and other clothing we got together the first time we met. We did not cease our exersions til all were made comfortable. When the Hand Cart Companies arived, the Desks of the Seminary were loaded with provisions for them.10 Just at the session of our Oct. Conference news came where these Hand Cart Co’s were. President Young and others were excited and anxious for fear those Co’s would be caught in the snow in the mountains they could not go on with the Confernce. The Pres’t called for men teams clothing, and provisions, and they were soon on the way to meet the Companies with Pres’t Young himself til he got into the Canon there he took sick and was oblige to turn back.11 The sisters stripped off their Peticoats stockings and every thing they could spare, right there in the Tabernacle and piled into the wagons to send to the saints in the mountains.12 [p. 53] The Snow was fast falling. and the saints were just piling down in a heap with the idea that they must all perish when to their great joy they discovered a light at a distance, then they took new courge and they had everything for their comfort.13

I never took more satisfaction and I might say pleasure in any labour I ever performed in my life, such a unimmity [unanimity] of feeling prevailed, I only had to go into a store and make my wants known, if it was cloth it was measured off without charge.

My councilors and I wallowed through the snow until our clothes were wet a foot high to get things together, give out noticeses &c. We peaced blocks carded bats quilted and got together I think 27. Quilts, besides a great amount of other clothing. in one winter for the needy.

What comes next for willing hands to do? The brethren are called to go into the mountains to stand guard to keep the enemy at bay.14 They want bedding, socks mittens &c. so we sat up nights and knitted all that was needed til we made out a big load with the Quilts and Blankets which we sent out into the mountains to the brethren. What next: The Provo Brass Band want a nice Flag, they chose a committee and send [p. 54] To me desiring me to boss the concern. I said to the sisters less [let’s] go to the fields glean Wheat and pick ground Cherries to pay for material and make the Band a Flag. No sooner said than done we paid br. Henry Maibin part dried Ground-Cherries and the banance [balance] in money for the Gilding, part of the silk was donated the rest we paid for in Wheat, which we had gleaned

The middle of the Flag was white Lutestring Silk15 with an edge of changable Blue and Green let in the shape of saw teeth and a silk fring around the edge of that and sister Eliza Terrill embroidered the corners with with a hive and bees, butterflies, roses &c.

The gilding was imitation of two Sacks horns [saxhorns] crossed in the middle or centre and gold letters across the top of the Flag (Presented by the Ladies of Provo.)

Provo brass Band

sacks X horns

United we stand16

We had a handsone Staff with a beautiful bunch of ribbons on the top and a streamer on the oposite corner. The whole not counting our time or labour cost $76.

I wished to make a speech in behalf of the Ladies of Provo and. Present the Flag to the Standard Bearer and have him make a Speech back to me in behalf of the Provo Brass Band, but our President James C. Snow put his foot on it. [p. 55]

So we had a Grand Pic Nic Party when I returned from from the City with the beautiful Flag.

We had a nice supper and finished up with a dance Our Flag took the prize in the big teritorial Fair17

The next thing we must manufacture Carpets for our Provo New Meeting-House, we soon had them made and in position.18 . . . [p. 56] . . .

Footnotes

  1. [1]George A. Smith married Bathsheba Wilson Bigler in 1841; following his marriage to Lucy Meserve Smith, he married Nancy Clements, Zilpha Stark, Sarah Ann Libby, and Hannah Maria Libby before immigrating to Utah. In 1857 he married his final wife, Susan Elizabeth West. (See Zora Smith Jarvis, comp., Ancestry, Biography, and Family of George A. Smith [Provo, UT: Brigham Young University Press, 1962], 266–307.)

  2. [2]See George A. Smith, Journals, 1839–1875, George A. Smith, Papers, 1834–1877, CHL, Apr.–Aug. 1851 and July–Oct. 1852; Historian’s Office, Journal, 1844–1997, CHL, July 17, 1852.

  3. [3]Lucy Meserve Smith, “Historical Sketches of My Great Grandfathers,” 1889, Lucy Meserve Smith, Papers, 1848–1892, microfilm, CHL, 51, 58, 59.

  4. [4]See William P. MacKinnon, ed., At Sword’s Point, Part 1: A Documentary History of the Utah War to 1858, Kingdom in the West: The Mormons and the American Frontier 10 (Norman, OK: Arthur H. Clark, 2008).

  5. [5]text: The ellipsis points in this excerpt have been supplied by the editors of this volume to indicate omissions from the original document.

  6. [6]Smith is here describing the “Reformation” that took place among the Saints in 1856–1857. Rebaptism, a nineteenth-century practice indicating recommitment, was an essential part of this Reformation movement. (See Paul H. Peterson, “The Mormon Reformation of 1856–1857: The Rhetoric and the Reality,” Journal of Mormon History 15 [1989]: 59–87.)

  7. [7]In an address to the Female Relief Society of Nauvoo, Joseph Smith cited Mark 16:17 and then endorsed women’s exercise of spiritual gifts: “‘Go ye into all the world’ &c.— no matter who believeth; these signs, such as healing the sick, casting out devils &c. should follow all that believe whether male or female.” A revised version of the same address published in the Deseret News in 1855 included a statement regarding priesthood similar to that here made by Lucy Smith: “He [Joseph Smith] spoke of delivering the keys of the Priesthood to the church, and said that the faithful members of the Relief Society should receive them in connection with their husbands.” (Document 1.2, entry for Apr. 28, 1842; Document 2.2.)

  8. [8]In 1856 two handcart companies, led by James G. Willie and Edward Martin, left Florence, Nebraska, late in the season and met early snowstorms in present-day Wyoming in October. Brigham Young, hearing of their distress, immediately asked the Saints to gather clothing, food, and other supplies to help bring the stranded Saints into the valley and sent wagons of goods to the relief of the handcart companies. (Brigham Young, Remarks, Oct. 5, 1856, in “Remarks,” Deseret News, Oct. 15, 1856, 252.)

  9. [9]Eliza Hamson Nixon.

  10. [10]The seminary was built in 1854 as a school and meetinghouse. (“History of Provo City,” Tullidge’s Quarterly Magazine 3, no. 3 [July 1884]: 245.)

  11. [11]See Brigham Young, Remarks, Oct. 5, 1856, in “Remarks,” Deseret News, Oct. 15, 1856, 252. For Brigham Young’s attempt to participate in the rescue, see President’s Office, Journals, 1852–1863, Brigham Young Office Files, 1832–1878, CHL, Oct. 13–15, 1856.

  12. [12]The “old” tabernacle and adjacent bowery were located at the current site of the Assembly Hall on Temple Square in Salt Lake City.

  13. [13]For information on the handcart rescue, see Andrew D. Olsen, The Price We Paid: The Extraordinary Story of the Willie and Martin Handcart Pioneers (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2006), 114–176.

  14. [14]Brigham Young declared martial law in the territory on September 15, 1857, and through the fall and winter Mormon militia guarded mountain passes to forestall the entry of federal troops into the Salt Lake Valley. (MacKinnon, At Sword’s Point, 285–288, 339–369.)

  15. [15]Lutestring is glossy silk fabric. (“Lutestring,” in The Oxford English Dictionary, ed. J. A. Simpson and E. S. C. Weiner, 2nd ed., 20 vols. [Oxford: Clarendon, 1989], 9:125.)

  16. [16]text: The first and third of these three lines are bowed up and down, respectively, so that the three lines together form an oval shape.

  17. [17]The first Deseret State Fair was in Salt Lake City in 1856. At the 1858 fair, a prize was awarded to Henry Maiben for “Flag Painting on Silk.” Perhaps this was the flag of the Provo brass band. (“The First Deseret State Fair,” Deseret News, Oct. 8, 1856, 245; “List of Prizes,” Deseret News, Oct. 20, 1858, 144.)

  18. [18]Construction on the Provo meetinghouse was commenced in 1856, but the building was not dedicated until 1867. Among the items blessed in the dedicatory prayer by John Taylor were the carpets. (“The President’s Trip to Utah County,” Deseret News, Sept. 4, 1867, 282.)