Monday, December 1, 2008

History of Joseph Smith by his Mother

In the early winter of 1844, shortly after the death of her son Joseph, Lucy Mack Smith sat down to write the history of the Restoration from the point of view of the mother of the Prophet. She had been approached by Church historian Willard Richards and the Council of the Twelve to provide details for the official History of the Church, and by others who were curious. As she told her son, William, she was tired of answering questions on the particulars of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon and other details of Joseph's life and she had “almost destroyed her lungs giving recitals about these things.” She “now concluded to write down every particular.” For this purpose, she engaged the services of Martha Jane Knowlton Coray to be her scribe. The result was a handwritten dictation of Lucy's reflections which survives today as the "Preliminary Manuscript.

Lucy's memoirs have gone through several versions as follows:

  • Preliminary Manuscript 1845
  • Coray revision 1845 ("fair copy")
  • Orson Pratt Edition 1853
  • RLDS Versions
  • Improvement Era Edition (serial, 1902)
  • Preston Nibley Edition 1954
  • Proctor Edition 1996
  • Lucy's Book, Lavina Fielding Anderson 2001
  • Ingleton Edition 2005

The history of each of these editions is fascinating. I'd like to recap some of the events in the publication of each. I have discovered that each of these reissuings of Lucy's story is unique and individual.

Preliminary Manuscript

This document includes approximately 210 pages of foolscap paper as well as several fragments and torn sheets. According to Joseph F. Smith, the manuscript was written from Lucy's memories, which she dictated to a scribe, Mrs. Martha Jane Knowlton Coray. Coray wrote with clear penmanship, excellent spelling, and little punctuation. The material follows a loose chronological order, with occasional corrections and additional notes added between the lines. Observers speculate that Martha wrote down Lucy’s dictation and then read it back to her for correction. It was copyrighted on 18 July 1845 by Lucy Mack Smith, which suggests that she read and approved the final version. The title page is as follows: "The History of Lucy Smith Mother of the Prophet...an account of the many persecutions, trials and afflictions which I and my family have endured in bringing forth the Book of Mormon, and establishing the church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints." Martha supposedly retained the original copy of this book until she arrived in Utah with Brigham Young. The manuscript "resurfaced" in the 1960s in the LDS church archives.

In this raw, unedited manuscript, Lucy wrote a personal family history. Throughout its pages, she shares her feelings, includes intimate details, and often soliloquizes. Perhaps there are too many extraneous trivialities in the narrative. But the value of this manuscript is that it preserves Lucy's voice in a way that many of the later editions do not.

Coray Revision

Later in 1845, Martha Jane and her husband Howard, who had been one of Joseph Smith's clerks, worked to revise Lucy Mack Smith's manuscript. It has been suggested that “about one-fourth of the revised manuscript is not in the preliminary draft, while approximately ten percent of the earlier manuscript is omitted from the revised manuscript.” For example, Joseph Smith’s own version of the First Vision and Moroni’s first visit were included. Extracts from the "History of Joseph Smith" in the Times and Seasons were also used. The revised manuscript was commissioned and paid for by the Quorum of the Twelve. It was titled "History of Lucy Smith, Mother of the Prophet." A copy of this revision was given to Lucy and to the Quorum of the Twelve. Because of difficulties and persecution in Nauvoo, the manuscript was not published right then, but was taken along as Church leaders made their way West.

The value of this revision is that it gives an official history of the Church as sanctioned both by the mother of the Prophet Joseph Smith and the governing body of the Church at the time.

Orson Pratt Edition

By the time of Lucy Mack Smith's death on May 5, 1855, the Coray manuscript had been placed into the possession of her son, William Smith. Accounts differ as to who possessed it in the following years, but eventually it reached the hands of Isaac Sheen, a former LDS and RLDS newspaper editor who was living in Michigan. It was purchased from Sheen by Elder Orson Pratt, who was traveling East on his way to a mission in England. Pratt published the manuscript in Liverpool in 1853 under the title "Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith, the Prophet, and His Progenitors for Many Generations." A secondary title page reads "History of Mother Smith, by Herself." In his preface, Pratt wrote:
"Most of the historical items and occurrences related have never before been published. They will therefore be exceedingly interesting to all Saints, and sincere inquirers after the truth, affording them the privilege of becoming more extensively acquainted with the private life and character of one of the greatest prophets that ever lived upon the earth."

A number of Orson Pratt's statements in the preface contained errors, primarily a statement that the book was written in the lifetime of the Joseph Smith and that he had read it with approval. Brigham Young opposed publication of Lucy's reminiscences, stating in the Millennial Star in 1855:
"There are many mistakes in the work… I have had a written copy of those sketches in my possession for several years, and it contains much of the history of the Prophet Joseph. Should it ever be deemed best to publish these sketches, it will not be done until after they are carefully corrected."

He also reportedly called it a "tissue of lies." But the book was very popular among the British Saints, and had already become available in Salt Lake City. Questions about the book were raised by Church historian and Lucy's nephew George A. Smith, who felt she had "considerably mixed up" the events she described. He and assistant historian Wilford Woodruff began writing inquiries to check the details of the book for accuracy.

In 1865, Brigham Young in a rather dramatic gesture orchestrated a recall of all the books which had been printed. The office of the First Presidency directed:
“We wish those who have these books to either hand them to their Bishops for them to be conveyed to the President’s or Historian’s Office or send them themselves, that they may be disposed of.”

In the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Richard Lloyd Anderson describes this event in a rather more restrained fashion:
The first edition of Lucy's memoirs was recalled by Brigham Young. However, his goal was accuracy, not suppression, since he initiated a second edition. According to Wilford Woodruff's journal, the President charged the careful Woodruff and two Smith family members to "correct the errors in the History of Joseph Smith as published by Mother Smith, and then let it be published to the world."

A reproduction of the 1853 first edition was issued by Modern Microfilm Co., Salt Lake City, in 1965 with an introduction by Jerald and Sandra Tanner, and a printing by Arno Press and the New York Times was published in 1969.

RLDS Versions

An edition of Lucy Smith's history was published by the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in 1880 as "Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith the Prophet, and His Progenitors for Many Generations." It was republished in 1908 and in 1912 with notes by Heman C. Smith, and a paperback edition was printed by Herald Publishing House, Independence, Missouri, in 1969.

A preface to the RLDS version tells the story of how the 1880 publication was made possible after Brigham Young ordered the recall of the printed books:
"Under this order large numbers were destroyed, few being preserved, some of which fell into the hands of those now with the Reorganization. For this destruction we see no adequate reason; unless it be found in the fear that a plain story told by the mother of the first president of the church, might possibly convey views to the minds of its readers, opposed to the then ruling powers.

The present impracticability of giving a more extended and satisfactory history of Joseph Smith, under the supervision of the Reorganized Church; in connection with the fact that Elder E. W. Tullidge's work, "Life of Joseph, the Prophet," has been put upon sale, have determined the Board to publish this work without change in the text."

Thus the RLDS version is essentially the same as the Orson Pratt version, "with such additions as are deemed necessary, made by marks of reference and foot-notes. Nor do we vouch for the correctness of the statements made in the body of the work, being contented to let it pass with the statement that it is believed to be in the main correct." The RLDS version can be found online here.

Improvement Era Edition

After the recall of the 1853 publication, George A. Smith and Elias Smith were given the task of revising the history. In a journal entry, Wilford Woodruff said that Brigham Young "wished us to take up that work and revise it, correct it; that it belonged to the Historian to attend to it; that there was many false statements made in it, and he wished them to be left out, and all other statements which we did not know to be true, and give the reason why they are left out." As the historians worked on the manuscript, they realized that Lucy Smith's recollections were more accurate than they had thought. Names and events were found to be very reliable, and dates, when mistaken, were generally within a year or two of the precise time. Only a small amount of material was changed. Dates in the genealogical portion were corrected, grammar was improved, and statements that seemed unfavorable to the image of Joseph Smith or the Church were omitted. No indication was made where the text had been altered nor the reason.

The corrected version languished until 1901 when the Improvement Era received permission to publish Lucy Mack Smith's story in serial form. In November 1901 publication began, with an introduction by the new prophet and Lucy's grandson Joseph F. Smith. The series continued throughout 1902.

Preston Nibley Edition

The 1902 edition was further edited with notes and comments by Assistant Church Historian Preston Nibley in 1945 and published by Bookcraft of Salt Lake City under the title "History of Joseph Smith By His Mother, Lucy Mack Smith." The first paperback edition is the one I read when I joined the Church in 1979. There were many editions of the Nibley version. I have seen the following editions available for sale: 1945, 1954, 1956, 1957, 1958, 1979, 2000, 2004. In 2004 the Nibley version was published in an illustrated paperback edition by Covenant Communications Inc. with paintings by several well-known artists. A partial text can be found online here.

The Nibley version made Lucy Mack Smith's history available to large numbers of readers for the first time. The dates had been corrected and the history correlated well with established historical events.

Proctor Edition

Husband and wife team Scot and Maurine Proctor brought together for the first time the Preliminary version of Lucy Mack Smith's manuscript and the later, edited versions. In 1995 and 1996 they were permitted to study and typescript the original manuscript in the Church archives, and in 1996 published "The Revised and Enhanced History of Joseph Smith by His Mother." Their book was also serialized in the online Meridian Magazine.

The 1853 version was used in this book to supply structure and chapter divisions, and the Preliminary Manuscript was used to add a major source of text. The Proctors explain that in their edition, Lucy’s voice is heard more clearly and her sentiments and perceptions are explored more openly than ever before, because the Preliminary Manuscript is the foundation of the text.
"Where Lucy is incorrect in dates or names, corrections have been made in the text and the changes often footnoted. No attempt has been made to restate her sentences in more polished prose or improve her vocabulary. She stands well on her own and thus the edits are light. Where transitions or explanations are necessary and not available in the Preliminary Manuscript, the 1853 text has been used. However, to save the text from becoming tedious, every shift between the Preliminary Manuscript and the 1853 edition has not been noted. The motivation was to find Lucy buried in the material, be true to her voice, and at the same time create a book that was accessible and inviting to a wide audience."

In this vein, spelling and punctuation have been standardized to facilitate readability. Photographs of the places Lucy describes as they appear today are included to add a visual dimension to the story. In addition, maps have been added to give the reader a sense of location and proximity.

The Proctor edition will probably appeal to the general LDS reader because of its modern style and historical accuracy in an editorialized reading narrative. It preserves much of the essence of Lucy's conversational style and spiritual tone.

Lucy's Book

Lavina Fielding Anderson's version of the Lucy Mack Smith memoir is a remarkable achievement, surpassing all those which have gone before. It was published by Signature Books in 2001 and comprises 968 pages. In order to compare the Preliminary Manuscript with the 1853 edition, it is arranged in parallel columns. Significant variants from later printings are indicated in the editor's footnotes, with prefatory chapters that provide historical background and textual genealogy.

Anderson is critical of how the church hierarchy treated Lucy and her book. She writes:
"Overreaction is perhaps the most charitable way to characterize the rather obvious discrepancy between the staggering official denunciation and the relatively minor and infrequent errors (if indeed they are genuine errors) that Lucy actually makes... It is distressing to see the president of the church slander the mental competence of a seventy-year-old woman when the documentary record...shows otherwise. It is unpleasant to hear a man revered as a prophet sneer at the faithful mother of twelve...dismissing her as a sensation seeker and novelist. And it is particularly disappointing to hear him justify these behaviors by accusations that the book is a 'tissue of falsehoods,' an accusation that, on close inspection, is itself a falsehood."

Of this edition, reviewer Gary Topping wrote:
"As important as this text is for Mormon history, the editor rightly emphasizes its equal importance as a spiritual autobiography and as a primary source on women's domestic and larger cultural roles during the early republic."

The scholarly nature of the Anderson edition makes for more difficult reading. It is better suited for intense periods of study. This edition is of great interest to historians and useful for in-depth study of both the memoir itself and the wider Church history it encompasses.

Ingleton Edition

In 2005 Stratford Books published R. Vernon Ingleton's "History of Joseph Smith By His Mother, Lucy Mack Smith: The Unabridged Original Version." In 504 pages Ingleton has been able to present the Preliminary Manuscript as well as the corrections added later by church historians. He puts deletions from the Preliminary Manuscript in brackets and insertions in italics. A detailed preface makes sense of all the different versions and their copyrights.

R. Vernon Ingleton has done a commendable job of putting all the elements together to allow Lucy to tell her story in its entirety in an easy-to-read format. This edition is vital for those who are interested in comparing the differences in various versions without the many extra historical details and analysis that is evident in Anderson's version.




Lucy Mack Smith's memoir is a valuable part of Latter-day Saint history. It is a fascinating endeavor to trace its path over the last 165 years. Each revision and edition reveals the concerns and values of Church members and leaders. Lucy herself wished to make public many particulars of the restoration and her family to which she alone was privy. The Corays and the Quorum of the Twelve at the time of Joseph's death wished to expand the manuscript to include a more detailed history of the Church while minimizing personal family details deemed unimportant to the broader history. Orson Pratt was eager to acquaint as many Saints as possible with the private life and character of Joseph, the Prophet of the Restoration. Brigham Young was concerned with succession issues. He feared that Lucy's emphasis on lineal priesthood might undermine the Utah Church's authority. The RLDS, on the other hand, were eager to perpetuate such a record.

George A. Smith and Wilford Woodruff, and later Preston Nibley, were concerned with the historic accuracy of Lucy's record, and worked to correlate it with early Church history, especially regarding particular dates. But in modern times, the original words of Lucy Mack Smith were considered much more valuable than they had been in the past. Authors and readers began to value a competent and strong female voice and her perception of the Restoration. These modern versions have vied with each other in balancing readability with historical analysis. The Proctors have produced a popular synthesis of Lucy's history, Lavina Fielding Anderson has provided historical depth, and Vernon Ingleton has presented a way to compare and contrast the century and a half of the Smith memoir.

I write this post with the hope that it will assist in navigating among the different editions to help you choose which one will best suit your study of this vital female perception of our history.

15 comments:

Lucy said...

*sigh* .... and we wonder why the Bible was so messed up with everybody picking it to pieces. However....this is a very interesting post. Thanks so much. I'm printing it out and keeping it.

Mammamia said...

Thank you! After having my own children, reading Lucy's story suddenly took on a whole new meaning for me. I thought I could just go buy her book, but when I tried...it wasn't so simple. I really appreciate this post.

velska said...

The Proctor edition is the only one I've read so far, and I only got around to it this year. I really appreciated the footnotes. I am definitely a footnote person. If I make make it into a footnote of a history one day, I will consider myself a success!

The Ingleton edition sounds interesting and could be worth the while. Well, once Walker et.al.'s MMM is out of the way in the history department...

J. Stapley said...

Nice Round-up. There is also sections (I forget how much of it) included by Vogel in his Early Mormon Documents. Volume 1 if I remember correctly. I like Anderson's versions. I was happy to see it cited in the intro of the JSP, Journals, Volume 1: 1832-1839.

Ben said...

Great review! Personally, I always use Anderson's volume. If I remember correctly, I think in her preface she states that she originally desired to do 3 columns with the Preliminary Manuscript, Coray revision, and the 1853 edition, but was not able to get permission to publish the first of the three.

Kevin Barney said...

This is a terrific overview and will be a useful reference for the future.

(I too was going to mention the substantial extracts published by Dan Vogel in vol. 1 of Early Mormon Documents, but I see J. Stapley beat me to it. As I recall Dan uses a two-column format; I think the first column is the original ms. and the second is 1853, but I may be misremembering that.)

Bored in Vernal said...

To clarify: Pratt obtained one of the copies of the Coray revision which he published in 1853. So these two are essentially the same, (with Pratt's added preface in the 1853 publication).

Both Lavina and Dan use the Preliminary Manuscript and compare it to the 1853 edition.

Bored in Vernal said...

J and Kevin, I didn't include Vogel in my piece because I thought that _Early Mormon Documents_ only had portions of Lucy's history. I just noticed this review which states: "The complete typescript of the original handwritten manuscript is available and footnoted, and is arranged in parallel columns with the 1853 edition published in Liverpool, England by LDS Apostle Orson Pratt."

If this is the case, Dan Vogel's vol. 1 of _Early Mormon Documents_ should definitely be included along with these other publications. It came out in 1996, which is the same year as the Proctor edition. I am not sure which was first.

Further The Kingdom said...

Here’s a million dollar question – If you were to die right now, would you qualify for the celestial kingdom? If you’re like most Mormons, you’re not sure. You try hard to be as good as possible, but you still don’t know if you’ve done enough. If the Book of Mormon is really scripture, this hope will always elude you. Alma 11:37 says God cannot save you in your sins. Are all of your sins forgiven? Moroni 10:32 says you must be perfected in Christ, which can only be done by denying yourself of “all ungodliness”. Have you done that? Do you repent on a regular basis? Is so, then it is clear that you sin on a regular basis, since only those who break the commandments need to repent. 1 Nephi 3:7 states that you are able to keep His commandments. In fact according to D&C 25:15, you are required to keep them continually! Since you haven’t done this so far, why assume you will in the future? Of course, we should all try to be holy; but if you think that sinning less will qualify you to live in God’s presence, you are mistaken (Gal 3:1-11). The assumption that good works are required for forgiveness only cheapens Christ’s atonement, making it nothing more than a partial payment. God chooses to justify us by faith. Jesus alone does the “perfecting” (Heb 10:14). God gives peace to those who trust in Him alone. If you don’t have this peace, it’s probably because at least a part of you trusts in yourself. Questions? Visit us at www.gotforgiveness.com

Written In Earth said...

"The Revised and Enhanced History of Joseph Smith by His Mother." by the Proctors, I currently have on my book shelf- I liked the footnotes and that was one of the reasons that i purchased that book-But I'm also thinking of picking up JOSEPH SMITH - Rough Stone Rolling A Cultural Biography Of Mormonism’s Founder by Richard Lyman Bushman...

Any thoughts on this particular title?

Bored in Vernal said...

I will give you my thoughts, but you must realize they are a bit different than the reactions of many Mormons. I have heard that Rough Stone Rolling was eye-opening to many Mormons, and that they discovered difficult things about Joseph that they never knew. I did not have the same experience. I have read probably 10 biographies of Joseph Smith, and I didn't find anything new in Bushman's. I enjoyed his style and appreciated his expertise with history. But the book held no fireworks for me.
Personally, I love the John Henry Evans biography of Joseph Smith. It's unapologetically faith-promoting, written before our current exacting historical standards, but it somehow has a spark to it that brings Joseph to life.

Seth said...

This is a great blog. Keep up the good work! I'll be checking back and forth for updates! God bless!

Jean said...

I have read three different versions of the book and found the Ingleton one the most eye opening. It is interesting to me that the book was found to be so distasteful to Brigham Young that he actually had the nerve to destroy most copies of it. What was hi problem? Didn't like the truth? The Ingleton version is the one that helped me to research the 'faculty of Abrac' that Lucy commented on. I always wondered what that meant. When reading D Michael Quinn's Early Mormonism and the Magic World View; it was right there for all to see that it was a magical practise that the Smiths were engaged in.
If you center then type the word Abracadabra, then type right under it the same word but leave out the last letter, go down a line and leave out the last letter until you get to the bottom which is just the first letter - that being A; you will find that the 7th line is Abrac. 7 being a magical number and the faculty of Abrac and drawing cirlces that Lucy talked about is exposed. It is magic; plain and simple. There is really no dividing line between magic and religious supernatural beliefs such as holy oil etc. That was a part of Lucy's book that Brigham ensured was omitted. The church has tried to hide the magic beliefs of the early church, but if true history is exposed then so is the magic. Why do church members need false history? Why the cover up? Quinn still believes in Joseph Smith as a prophet despite his findings.

Jean said...

I forgot to mention that the triangle that the word makes when written/typed in this fashion is one of the most potent of all magical symbols. This is Hermeticism and that practice also involves the turning of mercury and sulpher into gold. Gold plates, magic!! Hermetic practices also have sexual connotations. Please check out Wikipedia for Hermeticism. Joseph and Brigham and many other of the church leaders did lead very unusual sex lives.

Bored in Vernal said...

Jean, thanks for your comments. I can never recommend Quinn's Magic World View enough--it was an eye-opener to me. So often we have no idea what our predecessors' actions meant when we don't place ourselves into their world view. The times in which Joseph Smith lived were full of the supernatural and magic, and they interpreted daily events vastly differently than we do.