In the process of teaching church history for over 16 years and doing considerable research in early Mormon history, one of the most striking qualities that I have found in the Prophet Joseph Smith was his kindness. This great attribute seems to have pervaded his entire life and was extended to people of all races as well as the animal kingdom. While locked with several companions in the jail at Liberty, Missouri, he wrote several letters to his wife Emma. In these he frequently asked about the health and spiritual welfare of his children. In one letter of great interest, in the same sentence that he asks Emma for information regarding his sons and daughters, he also inquires about Joanna, his horse, and Old Major, his dog, both of whom he loved and treated with kindness.
It is well known that Joseph and Emma adopted the Murdock twins into their family and raised Julia, the one who survived the mobbing at Hiram, Ohio, as one of their own children. After experiencing an extremely difficult marriage, Julia returned to Emma Smith and was cared for with the same love that had been so much a part of her youth. Perhaps less well known are several acts of kindness related in the diaries of early members of the Church.
In 1841 the Walker family consisting of father, John Walker, the mother, Lydia Adams Holmes Walker, and their ten children, moved to Nauvoo. This faithful family had survived the Haun’s Mill Massacre and the persecution of the Missourians in those terrible days of 1838 and 1839. Now very poor, they arrived in the Mormon capital filled with hope and expectation. Staying with their father’s brother they were introduced to Joseph Smith that first evening. Summer brought chills and fever into the Walker home and left Sister Walker in a helpless condition. Joseph, upon hearing of her delicate health, came with Emma and took this good sister into his own home believing that the change might lead to an improvement in her health. Not content to be away from her children for very long, the still ill Lydia persuaded the Smiths to return her to her home. Placing the bed in a sleigh, covering her with blankets, because now winter had come, she was carefully taken there; and calling her children together, exhorted them never to depart from the truth and to so live that she might meet them “in the world where there will be no more suffering, no more tears of anguish.” Closing her eyes, she died leaving a heavenly smile on her dear face.
Sister Walker’s death left ten motherless children, the youngest not quite two years old. The weight of sorrow seemed to break the health of Brother Walker and soon the family feared that he would die.
Learning of their great distress, Joseph again came to help. He told Brother Walker that unless he went away for a rest he would join his wife and then said, “You have just such a family as I could love. My house shall be their home, for the present, I would advise you to sell your home, place your children with kind friends, and the four eldest shall come to my house and be treated as my own children. And if I find the little ones not content, or not treated right I will bring them home and keep them until you return.”
This was done and Lucy records that frequently the Prophet would loan them his carriage so that they could go visit their brothers and sisters now living in other parts of the city. Then Lydia, just eight years old, got brain fever. Fearing for her life and true to his promise, the Prophet took her into his home where he prayed for her recovery, nursed her as one of his own, only to see her linger a few days and then join her mother in the spirit world. Emma and Joseph accompanied the children as the body of little Lydia was taken to its final resting place. One by one all the remaining children found their way into the Prophet’s home where they remained until he, too, was taken by death. Then their father returned in good health and in due time they accompanied him across the plains. They would never forget the kindness, love and genuine concern Joseph and Emma had shown their family.
Mary Ann Stearns, step-daughter of Elder Parley P. Pratt, in her unpublished autobiography, relates an experience that her family had with the Prophet Joseph that also illustrates his great capacity for kindness. Returning from his mission to England with his family and a group of immigrants by way of St. Louis, Missouri the group was detained four weeks because of cold weather and the great chunks of ice that floated on the a!most frozen Mississippi River. When they finally did arrive in Nauvoo the anxiety of the Britons to see the Prophet Joseph was only exceeded by the anxiety of the Saints in Nauvoo concerning the safety of the immigrants. Thus Joseph and Hyrum and a large company of people were at the landing to greet the newcomers. Elder Pratt introduced the company to the two illustrious leaders and when all except the Pratts had disembarked and had gone to their homes, the Prophet came into the cabin of the boat where the Pratts were.
“After a cordial greeting, he took a seat and taking the little boys, Parley and Nathan, upon his knees, seemed much affected, Brother Pratt remarking, ‘We took away three children and have brought back five.’ Then Brother Joseph said, “Well, well, Brother Parley, you have returned bringing your sheaves with you,” the tears streaming down his face. Brother Pratt, seeing the general emotion this caused, said, ‘If you feel so bad about our coming home, I guess we will have to go back again,’ tears of joy filling his own eyes.”
Elder Pratt’s remark seemed to break the spell, smiles returned and joy continued to fill all their hearts. Then Joseph, arising, said, “Come, Brother Parley, bring your folks right up to my house; it is only a little way, and you can be more comfortable after your long journey.” Sister Pratt, very ill, was placed in a large comfortable chair and carried by Brother Hodge and others of Joseph’s bodyguards to the Prophet’s home where a really special evening was enjoyed by the entire family.
The Prophet’s kindness it seems, extended to all of God’s children. A great illustration of his respect for all men is an incident related by Jane E. Manning, an early black convert to the Church, which she wrote in 1893. In 1842, Sister Manning joined the Church in Connecticut, and at great personal cost and even greater risk, she with several other black Church members made their way to Nauvoo. Walking until their shoes were worn out and their feet were so sore that they cracked open and bled until they could see the “whole print of their feet with blood on the ground,” this courageous group arrived in Peoria, Illinois, only to be threatened by the authorities with a jail sentence if their papers were not in order. Producing the proper papers they were freed, and continued their journey crossing rivers so deep that the water ran up to their necks. Arriving finally in Nauvoo they were directed to the Prophet Joseph Smith’s home and, in the words of Aunt Jane:
“Sister Emma was standing in the door, and she kindly said, come in, come in! Brother Joseph said to some of the white sisters that were present, Sisters, I want you to occupy this room this evening with some brothers and sisters that have just arrived. Brother Joseph placed the chairs around the room and then he went and brought Sister Emma and Dr. Bernhisel and introduced them to us, Brother Joseph took a chair and sat down by me and said, you have been the head of this little band haven’t you? I answered yes sir! he then said God bless you! Now I would like you to relate your experience in your travels, I related to them all that I have above stated and a great deal more minutely, since many incidents have passed from my memory since then. Brother Joseph slapped Dr. Bernhisel on the knee and said, ‘what do you think of that Dr., isn’t that faith?’ The Dr. said, well, I rather think it is, if it had been me I fear I should have quit and returned to my home.”
The entire group stayed in the Prophet’s home for an entire week, until proper housing was secured for them. The Prophet came into their room each morning to find out how they were and one day gave Jane, who had lost her clothes on the way, some new ones. Another morning, finding her crying because all the others had found homes, he left the room, talked with Emma a few moments and then asked Jane Manning if she would live with his family. Giving her consent, she ironed, washed, and cooked for them and never forgot the kindness of Joseph and Emma Smith. She died faithful to the Church in April, 1908, always grateful for the time she had spent in the Prophet’s home.
On another occasion, Emily Williams, widowed, not yet a member of the Church, residing in Michigan, saw her baby girl become very ill and after many days heard the doctor tell her that all hope for the baby’s recovery was gone. Hearing that Joseph Smith was in the area visiting his cousins, she sent for him to come and administer to her child. The Prophet came with his father and kneeling down by the little girl laid hands on her head and promised her that she would recover. Emily reports that “the child turned over, her fits left her and she went to sleep and was completely healed the next morning.
Thus it becomes apparent that the Prophet Joseph Smith provides for all of us an example of kindness and love for all men, that even today challenges the best in each Latter-day Saint.