Historical Marker Honors Bathsheba Smith
By Whitney Evans, Church News staff writer
- Bathsheba Smith was one of the 20 founding members of the Relief Society and the fourth Relief Society general president, from 1901 to 1910.
- Tom O’Neill, a Church member who lives in West Virginia, helped bring the marker about as a way to highlight the early Church’s presence in his state.
- The marker is located on the Bigler family’s original homestead and includes a brief history of the area and mentions the family.
“When I heard the Gospel I knew it was true; when I first read the Book of Mormon, I knew it was inspired of God; when I first beheld Joseph Smith I knew I stood face to face with a prophet of the living God, and I had no doubt in my mind about his authority,” noted Bathsheba Wilson Bigler Smith in her journal (in Daughters in My Kingdom: The History and Work of Relief Society , 34).
One of the 20 founding members of the Relief Society, Sister Smith was an early Relief Society leader who studied portraiture and made items for her family, including curtains, blankets, candles, dresses, and shirts; took care of animals; kept gardens; and visited the sick. She was the fourth Relief Society general president, from 1901 to 1910. She championed women and tried to help them accomplish all the good they could. She “maintained the forward pace of women. She sent representatives to national and international women’s meetings, sponsored nurses’ training and free services for the poor, and organized lessons for Relief Society classes” (Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 5 vols. , “Smith, Bathsheba Bigler,” 3:1321.)
She was converted to the Church when she was 15 and married George A. Smith, who later became a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
“She was a person of remarkable confidence,” said Tom O’Neill, an attorney and the Clarksburg West Virginia Stake public affairs director. While on maps.lds.org, Brother O’Neill was searching the eastern United States. He used the layering function to find Church-related facilities and realized there were few Church sites to be found in West Virginia. He decided to bring to light the early Church history of this state in an attempt to prove that the Church had a presence there from the beginning.
Brother O’Neill felt that Bathsheba Smith, a dynamic woman who embodied the faith and sacrifice of many early pioneers, seemed to be a perfect person with whom to start.
Brother O’Neill had been aware of Bathsheba Smith and her roots in West Virginia since he was a child.
He set out to discover where her family’s original homestead was located.
A real estate attorney, Brother O’Neill used old court records to find the general location, assisted by a mention in Bathsheba’s biography that she grew up two miles below Shinnston.
Brother O’Neill knew that Harrison County was established before the time of her journal entry, so he was able to look at old deed records to see where her father, Mark Bigler, bought a deed. The deed contained enough information in the metes and bounds that he was able to use software to generate the picture of a teardrop shaped plot of land. However, because it had been more than 150 years since the original deed, he could not easily figure out the piece of modern property it resembled. Ultimately, he found a large portion of the property still intact, in the Enterprise, West Virginia, community.
A history of Enterprise was written, which mentions the Biglers, some of the first settlers in the area who were very prominent.
Because the marker is located in a remote area, the Church was granted permission to put a marker next to a road that mentions that the Bigler homestead is one mile north, near a bridge. This marker was placed with the idea that those looking for interesting pieces of Church history would stop by the marker.
“My hope in doing this was to bring some attention to Bathsheba and her story,” Brother O’Neill said.
He sees this as a beginning point for awareness of Church history in the area.