The prophet Joseph Smith was the force for change that brought so many of our ancestors together. Without the LDS gospel restoration, most of these pioneers would have stayed in Europe and not shaped the future as they did. Joseph’s influence was lasting, but only those of our group who joined the Church prior to 1844 knew him personally. Memories of the martyrdom figure heavily in these accounts.
Ira Stearns Hatch visited the prophet Joseph Smith in Kirtland and there gained a remarkable testimony of the prophet’s divine calling: without telling anyone of his intent, Ira had taken a large sum of money with him to donate to the Church if he found Joseph Smith to be a true prophet. It was a three-day journey, and Ira arrived in Kirtland and was directed to the outskirts of town where Joseph and other were cutting timber. As Ira approached, the prophet stopped his work and said, “Brother Hatch, I’ve been expecting you for three days. The Lord needs the money you have brought to help build the temple here in Kirtland.” Ira donated the money and was baptized.
Addison Everett helped destroy the apostate printing press, The Nauvoo Expositor, and helped wash and guard the bodies of Joseph and Hyrum after the martyrdom. He played in the band as they brought the bodies into Nauvoo, and often told how they brought them into the city wrapped in flags, followed by the band playing a martial air called “Liberty” with muffled drums. Weighted coffins were buried and the real bodies buried at night in a private lot, and Addison helped guard those against body-snatchers. Tears rolled down his face as he would tell these stories, saying, “Those were the days that tried men’s souls.” Addison was so greatly bereaved at the martyrdom that he took his family to visit Carthage Jail, and had them look out of the window where Joseph Smith was killed. Addison later wrote a letter detailing some of Joseph’s teachings and an account of the Priesthood restoration, and said, “It is a source of satisfaction and pleasure to me to have seen and heard the Prophet of God.”
Schuyler Everett and his sister Adelaide often paid Lucy Smith a dime to see the Egyptian mummies and frequently saw Joseph Smith ride a beautiful white horse. One time Schuyler and Adelaide tried to pet a little calf, but Adelaide became frightened and would run away. Finally Schuyler lost his temper and cried, “You little fool, why don’t you head it?” Joseph Smith happened to be riding by, and he got off his horse, tied up the calf, patted Adelaide on the head and remarked, “You’re not a little fool, are you, Sis?” Joseph never even looked at Schuyler while saying this, and it was a lesson he never forgot. He would often tell this story to his children and grandchildren with tears in his eyes.
Schuyler saw the Prophet Joseph speak to the Pottawattamie Indians and then saw them dance for him. He belonged to a company of boys in Nauvoo under Captain Bailey, and did military drills with wooden guns and wore a uniform (white pants, checkered vest, three cornered hat). Joseph Smith III was the first lieutenant. When his father helped destroy The Nauvoo Expositor printing press, Schuyler watched them and filled his pocket with type. Schuyler saw Joseph speak as he left for Carthage, and saw the martyrs’ bodies.
Family legend says schoolteacher Hannah Tupper (Grover) taught Joseph Smith’s children in Nauvoo. Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon were the ones who converted and baptized her husband. Shortly after arriving in Kirtland, Thomas Grover called on Joseph who said, “How do you do, Brother Grover. If God ever sent a man he sent you. I want to borrow every dollar you can spare for immediate use.” He gave five hundred dollars to Joseph Smith to help build Kirtland Temple and was promised his name would never be forgotten by posterity. Thomas Grover was so ill they thought he was on his deathbed when he was called to serve a mission in 1840. Joseph Smith gave him a healing blessing, and Thomas was immediately strengthened.
Thomas was in the Nauvoo Legion and was one of Joseph’s bodyguards; helping on rescue missions when Joseph was kidnapped and jailed, and often took provisions to Emma and the children. In June 1844, while doing missionary service near Kalamazoo, Michigan, Thomas was warned in a dream to return to Nauvoo. This dream was repeated three times, so he awoke his companion and they took the shortest route possible, arriving at Carthage just after the martyrdom. Thomas and his companion accompanied the Smith bodies to Nauvoo and assisted in burial preparations. At the request of Emma Smith, Thomas used a sword Joseph had given him previously (now located in the DUP military room) to cut off a lock of Joseph’s hair. Emma divided the lock with him.
Thomas Grover considered Joseph a close, personal friend. The last Sunday of his life, he attended Sacrament Meeting, and after the last Amen when people were about to leave, Thomas suddenly raised his hand and said, “Wait a minute, Bishop.” He said he could not go home until he had born testimony that the Gospel was true and Joseph Smith was a true prophet. All during his later years he seemed to feel that his special mission was to testify to the divine mission of Joseph Smith.
The Hezekiah Hatch family was able to hear the gospel preached by Joseph and Hyrum Smith and Brigham Young; Hezekiah’s son Lorenzo Hill Hatch felt blessed to hear Joseph Smith speak a number of times. At age eighteen, Lorenzo was on a mission in Vermont when he heard of the martyrdom, and grieved as for his own dead father again. Orin Hatch was near Carthage (his father and brother were there with the Nauvoo Legion) and heard the shots ring out when the mob killed the prophet Joseph.
Ellis Sanders left for Nauvoo to meet the prophet Joseph Smith and loan him some money. He returned to Wilmington with Heber C. Kimball and Lyman Wight to serve as the branch president in Delaware, but they had only been home for a few hours when word came that the prophet was killed. Brother Kimball read the letter in the presence of the Sanders family, and said, “God has damned them, and he will damn them, they have murdered Brother Joseph. Brother Lyman, we have got to get to Nauvoo as fast as steam will carry us, and Brother Sanders, we haven’t a cent.” Ellis wrote them each a check and Lyman gave him a note of repayment, but he later apostatized and did not return the money. Joseph Smith reportedly hid from the mob in the cellar of the Sanders’ Nauvoo home when it was under construction.
In Nauvoo, John Welch carved two beautiful pen knives (small pocketknives to sharpen quills) for Joseph and Hyrum Smith. John served in the Nauvoo Legion and stood guard over the Smith bodies as they lay in state. John witnessed the mantle fall on Brigham Young and left a deposition with his testimony of the experience. In her later years, Eliza Welch delighted in telling stories to her grandchildren of the joys and trials in Nauvoo, the early days of the Church, and frequently quoting the prophet Joseph. The children were so impressed by these stories that they would often perform them in their playtime. William West Woodland also witnessed the mantle experience and said that influenced him more in future years than any other experience.
After joining the Church, John Woodland had a vision of where his new home would be by tall trees and a spring when he joined the Mormons in Missouri. The Woodlands had lived in this new home for a year, when Joseph Smith came and asked for the property to be a stake of Zion. Brother Woodland said, “If it is the will of the Lord, take it and give me another place as good.” Joseph stood thinking for about fifteen minutes with a light shining around him, and said, “Brother John, I won’t have your place for the Lord showed it to you and you had faith enough it to seek it out.” Then Joseph placed his hands on John’s head and sealed the place unto him and his posterity for life and all eternity and told him to never sell it. John was afterwards offered a great amount of money for the land but would not sell it; they remained on the land until driven away by the mob. The Woodlands settled in Adam-Ondi-Ahman and he was blessed by Joseph Smith there. Among John’s deathbed words were a testimony of the divinity of Joseph Smith’s calling.
In her later years, Jane Muir recalled her early days to a child: “They killed the Prophet in cold blood.” Clarissa Eastman left this testimony near the end of her life: “When I received the testimony that Joseph Smith was a prophet I was as happy as I could be in the flesh, seemingly I loved all who loved him and the doctrine he taught.”
Happy Birthday, Brother Joseph! Millions honor you today.