Question: What do you know about the life of Lucy Mack Smith, the mother of the Prophet Joseph Smith?
Answer: Lucy Mack was born July 8, 1775, to Solomon Mack and Lydia Gates, just after the battles of Lexington and Concord. As a child she loved to hear her father tell of his adventures fighting in the French and Indian wars and the Revolutionary War.
From her father came her love of liberty and country. From her father also came the power of command and decision. Solomon was often away on sailing and business expeditions from the time Lucy was about nine until she was nearly seventeen, and he returned impoverished. But even though her family lacked material possessions, and wilderness conditions precluded an education for her children, Lydia Gates Mack provided a rich spiritual and cultural atmosphere for them.
Lydia had been a schoolteacher from a wealthy and cultured family before her marriage to Solomon Mack. This was a great blessing, for with Solomon’s absences from the family, the great responsibility for her children’s temporal, intellectual, and spiritual welfare devolved upon her. She not only taught them school subjects, but also called them together both morning and evening to pray; they were taught to love each other and to honor and love God.
Lucy’s appreciation and love of her mother is reflected in the poignant scene of parting in 1816, as the Smith family decided to move from Vermont to Palmyra, New York. Lucy wrote that she had “to take leave of that pious and affectionate parent to whom I was indebted for all the religious instructions as well as most of the educational privileges which I had ever received.” Her mother asked her to continue faithful in the service of God so that she might have the privilege of being reunited with her after death.
As the youngest of eight children, Lucy was dearly loved but not spoiled, for she had gladly accepted the burden of nursing her two older sisters, Lovisa and Lovina, during their illnesses, from the time she was thirteen until their deaths, when she was nineteen. Both of her sisters, who were in their late twenties, had tuberculosis, or consumption, as it was then called. Both sisters died within months of each other in 1794.
Thus, when her brother Stephen, seeing her depression, invited her to come to Tunbridge, Vermont, and live with him for awhile, she accepted and was grateful for new surroundings and faces. Here she met a tall, gentle-voiced young man named Joseph Smith. After a year’s acquaintance, they were married on January 24, 1796, at Tunbridge.
They prospered on their farm for about six years, and Lucy gave birth to Alvin in 1798 and Hyrum in 1800. Then in 1802 they moved to Randolph and opened a mercantile establishment. It was here that Lucy, now 27 years old, caught a cold that developed into tuberculosis after weeks of fever and coughing. Joseph was grief-stricken, for the doctors all said she would die. Lucy prayed with all the fervor of her soul and made a covenant with God that if he would let her live she would serve him. Her mother leaned over the bed just as Lucy’s speech returned, and in amazement she said, “Lucy, you are better!” Lucy replied, “Yes, mother, the Lord will let me live, if I am faithful to the promise which I made to him, to be a comfort to my mother, my husband, and my children.”
Following this significant experience, Lucy hungered for more spiritual knowledge, but upon visiting several different churches, to hear the “word of life,” she became disheartened. Her comments are prophetic: “… I said in my heart, that there was not then upon earth the religion which I sought. I, therefore, determined to examine my Bible and, taking Jesus and His disciples for my guide… the Bible, I intended should be my guide to life and salvation.”
Lucy Mack Smith had faith in herself as a woman and as a homemaker. Lucy’s faith in her own capabilities and those of her family produced amazing results that first year in Palmyra. With the spectre of crop failures and business reverses plaguing them since their marriage, Joseph and Lucy had moved eight times before arriving in New York. Now in Palmyra they industriously cleared thirty of the hundred acres they were buying and built a log house. Lucy earned enough money painting oilcloth coverings to provide food and furniture.
When Joseph Smith, Sr., became disenchanted with attending any church meetings, Lucy became depressed and prayed that he would find the true gospel and accept it. She received a beautiful dream that brought reassurance that Joseph would hear and accept the pure and undefiled gospel of the Son of God at some future time. Joseph also had a number of interesting dreams and visions.
The brightest side in her prism of faith was as a mother. Lucy nurtured the budding faith of each of her children by teaching them to read and love the Bible, to pray and honor God. She raised nine of her eleven children to adulthood. When young Joseph, at 14, related to her the glorious appearance of God the Father and his Son, Jesus Christ, Lucy believed with all her heart. Her soul rejoiced in the gradual day-to-day unfolding of the restoration of the true gospel she had so long awaited. She loved the Book of Mormon and bore a powerful testimony to its truths to all who would listen.
Joseph paid tribute to his mother during the dark days of persecution in 1842: “My mother also is one of the noblest and best of all women. May God grant to prolong her days and mine, that we may live to enjoy each other’s society long...”
Her family was Lucy’s treasure, and she merited the prophetic tribute that her beloved husband gave to her on his deathbed: “Mother, do you not know, that you are the mother of as great a family as ever lived upon the earth?”
At the conference of the Church in Nauvoo in October 1845, before President Brigham Young led the Saints west, Lucy Smith was honored by the General Authorities, who asked her if she wished to say a few words.
“Here, in this city, lay my dead: my husband and children; and if so be the rest of my children go with you, (and would to God they may all go), they will not go without me; and if I go, I want my bones brought back in case I die away, and deposited with my husband and children.”
President Young then pledged himself and the congregation to do Mother Smith’s bidding. But Lucy was too infirm to make the hard trek west. She died in May 14, 1856, in the Mansion House in Nauvoo, at the age of 80. She is buried in the Smith family Cemetery in Nauvoo.
Source: Excerpts from the Ensign, November 1972, “Lucy Mack Smith” by Jaynann Payne.