Joseph Smith was born in Vermont before his family fell on hard times financially and move to New York. What is known about the Smith’s Vermont farm? I’m excited to introduce Dr Mark Staker who has conducted a study of the Smith farm in his new book “Joseph & Lucy Smith’s Tunbridge Farm.”
Mark: Our new book, as I mentioned my colleague Don Anders and I, we were doing another major project, looking at the early history of the Smith family. One area that we didn’t know a lot about was their Vermont experience. So, we’ve worked intently, trying to figure out all those details. We knew that the Smith family had lived in Tunbridge. There was a site there that everybody pointed to. Larry Dollars, there’s a great picture of him, pointing his finger down to the hole, and saying, “Here’s the site where Hyrum Smith was born, and where the Smith family lived. We assumed that was the case, but nobody had ever really looked at it carefully. There were some photographs that conflicted with that. The early George Edward Anderson photographs were of a big complex where he said Hyrum was born. If you looked at the mountains, they just weren’t the same mountains. Something was wrong. So we wanted to sort that out.
GT: What year are we talking about, approximately?
Mark: The fall of 1790. They get there in November of 1790 and they’re building the home. Well, I should step back. During the summer, they build a structure. Joseph, Sr. injures his leg in some way. So he heads back down to Massachusetts, while Jesse continues to finish the home. By some miracle, he meets them on the road. You can imagine how easy it would have been for them to miss each other. He would have gotten down to Massachusetts and the family is already gone. But, he meets on the road and he’s able to then take them back up to the home site.
GT: So, 1790 that’s relatively close to the Revolutionary War period. Is there any evidence that they might have participated in the revolution?
Mark: Asael did. He was a soldier private in the war. Joseph, senior, was not. He did not fight directly in the war. His son, Joseph, Jr., later talks about his father fighting in the war. It seems that he’s thinking more in terms of his forefathers. His grandfathers both fought in the war. A lot of other individuals, including a family member’s name is Joseph. It would be a Gould, Joseph Gould.
Did you know Joseph’s ancestors fought in the Revolutionary War?
Dating in the late 1700s wasn’t quite the same as today. We’ll learn more about how Joseph Senior met his future with Lucy Mack Smith.
Mark: Lucy, then comes into the picture. Joseph meets her, down in the village.
GT: Joseph, Sr.
Mark: Joseph, Sr. meets her down in the village where her brother introduces her to his customer, who was Asael. He introduces her, his sister, to his customer’s son. So, that was how the two met.
GT: She was Lucy Mack. Is that right?
Mark: Lucy Mack. Her brother was Stephen Mack. At that time, you didn’t walk up as a young man to a young woman and say, “Hi, what’s your name? Can I have your phone number?” That just was not done. You waited until you were properly introduced. I tried to follow through. This story has developed how Joseph Sr. and Lucy met. She was working in her brother’s store. They met somehow there. He came in to buy stuff. First, he wouldn’t have just walked up and introduced himself to her that way. Second, young women didn’t work as clerks in the store. I know in the movie, in the TV series Little House on the Prairie it happened and it did occasionally happen, husbands and wives working together. But, it probably wouldn’t have happened in this circumstance for a number of reasons, one of them being that her brother didn’t have a store right hand, he says that later. He had a lot of other businesses, including a sawmill where he would come and get his lumber for his barrels. So, he introduces Joseph, Sr. and Lucy Mack and they get married and move in to this home that we’ve been talking about, that Aesel and Mary had their family in.
Do you know any other stories of the Joseph Smith, Sr family?
What was Joseph Smith Jr’s religious upbringing like? It turns out his parents were quite different. Joseph Sr, might be describes as spiritual but not religious, while Lucy was more of a visionary. We’ll learn more about their family religion with Dr. Mark Staker.
GT: Can you talk a little bit about the dynamics of the family? It sounds like Lucy was very spiritual, and Asael wasn’t, and influenced Joseph, Sr, as well, to be non -religious.
Mark: They’re spiritual, but in very different ways. Lucy grows up. She’s part of that great awakening that moves up through the Connecticut River Valley. She comes from kind of the eastern side of the Green Mountains where it’s really going on. She’s involved in the revivals there in the area. We can document a lot of revivals up in Chelsea township area north of them, out in Randolph, where they ended up moving and other places, and so very much a part of their experience. Joseph goes to those with her, but apparently to appease her more than anything. But, he’s religious, just in a different context, The family’s Universalists. Asael and Mary, and the children are all drawn into the Universalist doctrine to a greater or lesser extent. They are very much seen as heretics there in the area. In Randolph Township, there’s a church where they bring everybody in and they have to sign a document, saying that they’re opposed to the Universalists who have nothing to do with them.
GT: Who signed it?
Mark: Members of the Congregationalists.
GT: Lucy was a congregationalist. Is that right?
Mark: Lucy is a congregationalist. Here in Tunbridge, the Congregationalists and the Presbyterians meet together. Out in Palmyra, they do the same thing. She eventually becomes part of the Presbyterian [church] but it’s the same thing that she’s grown up with. They have kind of a combined community. The Universalists, Asael and Mary appeared to be involved in the universals before they even come to Vermont. The gentleman that helps them move to Vermont, he’s from a Universalist congregation, but he doesn’t live in their Township. So, you wonder, how did they meet him, if he wasn’t part of the religious denomination that they were involved in all that? But, there are other things that suggest that they’re Universalists early. The very first meeting that Joseph, Sr. and his brother Jesse go to in the township, before their families even moved north, that’s the meeting where there’s this big controversy over not everybody wants to support the main church in town, and that some people have different religious perspectives. So, it all kind of falls apart at that first meeting that they go to.
Were you aware of the spiritual dynamics of Joseph Smith’s parents?