The Hyrum Smith Papers

The Hyrum Smith Papers: A Conversations with Craig K. Manscill

Interview by Katie M. Skovran, BYU Religious Education Review magazine, Fall 2012, pages 17-18

Q: Could you explain a little about what the Hyrum Smith Papers are?

A: We’re fortunate to have the Hyrum Smith Papers at the L. Tom Perry Special Collections Library here at Brigham Young University. Eldred G. Smith, who was the Patriarch Emeritus of the Church and a descendant of Hyrum, decided that the Hyrum Smith Papers would be located at BYU’s Special Collections. He wanted them available to the scholars of the Church or people at BYU. The originals are here, but copies of all his papers are in the archives in Salt Lake City.

The papers consist of two diaries (from 1831 to 1835), a record book, an account book, thirty-nine letters, and fifteen discourses that Hyrum gave over the course of his ministry. Right away we can see that Hyrum was not a great diarist. The diaries are relatively short from day to day.

The largest contribution is his record book and his account book, which run from 1831 to 1844. These books are largely like accounting books, such as what you would use if you held a ledger and kept a budget at home. These include all his expenses. For example, Hyrum was part of the literary firm at the Church. Since he was associated with Church publications, it is obvious from the account book that he was actually the custodian of the first publishing and printing of the Book of Mormon in Palmyra. When the Saints went to Kirtland, Hyrum held those five thousand copies of the Book of Mormon, which in total cost three thousand dollars. His account book indicates that he was selling the books. In his book about Kirtland, Mark Staker mentions a store outside of the Kirtland area, and I believe that one of these account books was associated with that particular store during the Kirtland period, especially during the building of the Kirtland Temple.

Q: Why did you become interested in starting the Hyrum Smith Papers?

A: I’m really excited about seeing the Hyrum Smith Papers come to fruition. Scholars will have an opportunity to firsthand see Hyrum in a way they’ve never seen before.

Jeff O’Driscoll, a good friend of mine, became interested in writing a biography of Hyrum Smith. He asked me one day if I would be interested in helping, but at the time I was busy working on other things. Nonetheless, the biography is so great because it is the first time that the Hyrum Smith Papers have been included in any writings on Hyrum. Since the papers are right here at BYU, I was involved in the transcription of them. I hired three students and trained them how to transcribe. We transcribed over eighty-one documents of Hyrum’s, including his letters.

The Hyrum Smith biography is quite insightful into the character of Hyrum Smith. He was very dutiful in all that he was asked to do. He served several missions. In October 1837, Joseph called him to serve a mission in the eastern states. At the time, Jerusha, Hyrum’s wife, was two weeks away from delivering their child, but he still went on his mission. He asked his younger brother Don Carlos to care for his family, so Don Carlos moved in as the provider for Jerusha and five children.

The birth took place. Jerusha, Hyrum’s sweetheart, had died in childbirth, and Don Carlos felt like he had failed in his mission. Hyrum received a letter from Samuel, his other brother just older than Don Carlos. The letter reads in part: “Jerusha has gone from a world of trouble and affliction and toil to rest until the morning of the resurrection. She died this evening about half past 7:00. She was delivered of a daughter on the first or the second of this month. She had been very low ever since, though some of the time she had been on the gain, so we had some hopes that she would get along. The family hopes proved vain, however, and Jerusha did not improve.”

When Samuel discovered her growing weaker the morning of her death, he summoned the family to her side to pray for her recovery. He quotes in the letter: “Our prayers did not prevail. She had her senses until the last. She told the children to tell their father that the Lord had taken their mother and left them for you to care for. I am praying that the Lord will give you strength, that your afflictions will not be more than you can bear.”

So Hyrum heard about the death of his wife while out on Church assignment, and that was sort of his lot. That story shows the dedication of Hyrum throughout his life. It wasn’t long after this event while Hyrum was still lamenting the death of Jerusha that Joseph asked him to remarry, and Hyrum refused. Joseph then essentially said: “I have just the woman for you. She’s a wonderful gal who’s just emigrated from England. She was converted in the Toronto, Canada, area, and her name is Mary Fielding.” Mary Fielding and Hyrum wed in the Kirtland area a few months after Jerusha’s death, and Mary took on the responsibility of caring for five children. She also had two children of her own, one of which was Joseph F. Smith, who was the sixth President of the Church.

My interest in Joseph F. Smith stemmed from when I was writing on the Melchizedek Priesthood writing committee. Brigham Young was the first President we worked on, and Joseph F. was the second. That launched my study into all of his papers, which I’ve been working on for fifteen years. The connection between Hyrum and Joseph has always been very strong for me. 

There is also a letter that Hyrum wrote to his cousin, Elias Smith, who at the time was in New York. Joseph trusted Hyrum. He assigned Hyrum, along with Reynolds Cahoon and Jared Carter, to be on the building committee for the Kirtland Temple. Joseph told the three men that their charge was to raise the temple up from essentially nothing. In the letter Hyrum encouraged Elias to join in the building of the temple. It was written on February 27, 1836. As we know, the Kirtland Temple was dedicated in March, and the Savior appeared on April 3, 1836. So at the time of this letter, the temple was doing well. The letter begins: “Mr. Elias Smith, respected cousin and brother in the Lord, I leave all business this afternoon, it being 5:00, to address you in a few lines with my pen, although I am somewhat debilitated in consequence of a recent wound accidentally inflicted in my left arm. The severity of the wound and the loss of blood and having a bad cold withal places me in a low state of health at this present time. However, the Lord is merciful.

“I think my health is fast improving. I think the wound will not prove very injurious to my hand, it being lengthwise of the arm; and the cords were not cut off. The wound came in consequence of a fall with an ax in my hand. Otherwise, the health of all is good and in general skill I have neglected writing to you in consequence of the press of business. The extreme anxiety for the building of, or finishing of, the House of the Lord, and my own temple affairs, and the school which I have attended some part of the time have prevented my writing.”

Now, the “press of business” referred to is the building of the Kirtland Temple.

Hyrum was in the School of the Prophets studying Hebrew at the same time they were building the temple. What he didn’t say in this letter is that he had been involved in several missions for collecting funds for the temple. But the point of this letter is his “extreme anxiety” to have this temple finished, which Joseph had impressed upon Hyrum. Hyrum’s mission was not just to build the temple; it was also to prepare the Saints in Kirtland for the great spiritual manifestations which were about to come.

The letter continues: “The Church is prospering in this place, and there are between two and three hundred laborers in this place, preparing for the Lord’s vineyard. Eighty of them are studying the Hebrew language.”

What we didn’t realize is that there were as many as two to three hundred laborers of the temple in the last months of building. Hyrum’s account book talks about how he paid money to some of them.

In this letter, Elias is asked to bring his family to Kirtland to be there for the dedication and the spiritual manifestations which were going to come forward. Elias was faithful and brought not only himself but also his father, Charles H. Smith, his mother, Frances, and his grandmother Mary Duty Smith, who was the mother of Joseph Smith Sr. She unfortunately died two weeks after her arrival and wasn’t there for the dedication of the temple. This letter from Hyrum talks about the importance of this event. Joseph even wrote part of it and asked specifically for his grandmother to come.

The Hyrum Smith Papers also include letters between Hyrum and his wife Mary Fielding Smith during the time he and Joseph were in Liberty Jail. These letters contain information that no one has known about Church history. We know that Doctrine and Covenants 121, 122, and 123 consist of letters from Joseph to Emma while he was in Liberty Jail. What we didn’t know is that there were parallel letters from Hyrum to Mary Fielding Smith, who, like Emma, was in Far West trying to make ends meet without a caretaker. At the time, the Church was moving onto Quincy, Illinois, and these women were left waiting for their husbands to be released. Here is an account of one of the letters from Hyrum:

“March 16, 1836. My dear companion, I again once more sit down to write a few lines to you of our circumstances at present. Brother Ripley and Brother [Heber C.] Kimball were here yesterday and we have sent them to the judges of the supreme court of the state with a petition with a writ of habeus corpus. We expect them to be back in ten days. The people here seem to be friendly. They all seem to think the supreme judge will set us free, and the spirit of the people seems to be in our favor. We’ve done all we can to make our escape from this prison and not to endanger our lives. There are a few religious bigots that are kept to guard us, and they are willing to shoot a man. They’ll shoot us if they could get a chance, and we have to be very careful what we do. The last exertion, we made some friends. Some friend put some augers into the window and an iron bar. We made a hole in through the logs in the lower room and through the stone. . . .

“All but the outside stone which was sufficiently large to pass out when it was pushed out but we were hindered, for one of our handles in the auger to the logs was so hard that the handle would split, and we had to make new ones with our firewood. We had to bore the hole through the shank with my pin knife, which delayed time in spite of all we could do. The day of examination came before in the afternoon. That evening was ready to make our escape, and we were discovered and prevented of making our escape. There appeared to be no hard feelings on the part of the sheriff and the jailer, but the old Baptists and the Presbyterians and the Methodists were very excited. They turned out in tens as volunteers to guard the jail. It was mended since then and there has been a guard day and night, and it has not made any difference in our treatment.”

As we read, Joseph and Hyrum had actually dug all the way through, and that evening they were going to escape. But when they pushed that last stone out, someone noticed, and they were stopped. The latter part of the letter to Mary Fielding then goes on: “When I think of your trouble, my heart is weighed down with the sorrow of you trying to make it out there alone and that I cannot render you any assistance. It still weighs me down. It adds sorrow upon my soul, but what can I do? What can I say? Oh God, how long shall we suffer these things? Wilt not thou deliver us and make us free? Still thy will be done, O Lord.”

Those are almost the same words as Doctrine and Covenants 121! The date for the letter is March 16, and the date for Doctrine and Covenants 121 is March 20—four days later. Hyrum wrote this letter first but spoke the same language as Joseph, who said, “How long shall thy hand be stayed and think ye are pure? O Lord, how long shall they suffer these wrongs, O Lord God, our Maker?” The two men are expressing the same sentiment, which is a plea similar to that of Job. Hyrum goes on to write, “O Lord God, wilt Thou hear the prayer of Thy servant? Wilt thou, O God, in the name of Thy Son, preserve the life and health in my bosom, my companion? And may she be precious in thy sight and all the children in that pertaining to my family.”

These letters between Hyrum and Mary are parallel to those between Joseph and Emma. A note at the end of the letter says, “Write me soon. As you receive this, tell me the particulars about the health of little Joseph F., whether he grows or is a good boy, and the rest of the children.” Here we see a note specifically about the sixth President of the Church, Joseph F., who Mary gave birth to while Hyrum was in Liberty Jail.

Several places within the papers contain the same language as that of the Doctrine and Covenants. Hyrum was at the same conferences as Joseph; he was there when the revelations were being received; and he wrote them down in his diaries and letters. He is essentially a second witness and testimony of the Doctrine and Covenants.

Q: What has been the most interesting thing you’ve learned about Hyrum? Is there anything that people would be surprised to find out about him?

A: Hyrum held some important positions. He was first and foremost the elder brother of Joseph Smith, so he was always a support to Joseph. Hyrum sort of took the place of Alvin, their elder brother who had passed away. Hyrum believed Joseph when it came to the First Vision and the Book of Mormon. He never doubted Joseph in anything he said about his visions, and he was one of the charter members of the Church when it was organized on April 6, 1830. He was also one of the Eight Witnesses of the Book of Mormon. Hyrum was involved in every aspect of the early Church organization. At first he was not in a position of someone like Oliver Cowdery or Sidney Rigdon. Although, when Oliver fell and was excommunicated from the Church in 1838, Hyrum became the Assistant President of the Church and replaced him. When Joseph Smith Sr. passed away, Hyrum also became the second patriarch of the Church, and he was in the First Presidency as a third counselor. Of course, he was also with Joseph at the Martyrdom and lost his life with Joseph; he too sealed his testimony with his blood.

Hyrum was dutiful to his family. Most people don’t know that Hyrum practiced plural marriage at the request of Joseph Smith. He married Mary Fielding’s sister, Mercy Fielding Thompson. Mary agreed to this because Mercy, who lost her husband in Nauvoo, needed a caretaker, which Hyrum provided for her. There were no children born to Mercy by Hyrum.

Another surprising fact is that Hyrum was very involved in the building of the Nauvoo Temple, which was where the endowment was given to the Church. He was on the committee for the building of it. I can see from the account books that he was involved with dispersing money for it, so he was keeping track of everything going on with that temple. People have overlooked that entirely. Where the history of the Church was and where Joseph often was, Hyrum was as well.

Q: What would you say was Hyrum’s legacy or biggest contribution?

A: One of Hyrum’s greatest contributions is the raising of the Kirtland Temple. He was one of the first to dig the foundation. After four months of holding off until obtaining the deed to the property, he immediately received revelation to start digging the foundation. Without delay, Hyrum rushed to do so. They already had the exact dimensions of the outline of the temple. Hyrum’s obedience displays his urgency to have the keys restored. Today we do temple work and have over 130 temples because of the urgency of the restoration of these keys of sealing and missionary work. Hyrum was quite instrumental in bringing that about.

In Doctrine and Covenants 23, Hyrum was instructed to strengthen the Church continually, which included strengthening the Prophet Joseph Smith. He was obedient to that and also filled the role Oliver Cowdery had been filling. Hyrum was also with Joseph at the Martyrdom and sealed his testimony with his blood. His greatest contribution is that he was Joseph Smith’s right-hand man and confidant. Joseph could always depend on Hyrum.

Many people thought that Hyrum had the statute and the demeanor of a prophet more than Joseph did. When people saw the two men together, their eyes would immediately go to Hyrum. He seemed to have the demeanor of a prophet, whereas Joseph had a little more levity and fun nature about him, which people criticized. But that never got the best of Hyrum. He knew his place and knew that Joseph was the prophet of the Lord, which Hyrum never had a problem with.