Lucy Mack Smith/Biography

Brigham Young's attempt to destroy all copies of Lucy Mack Smith's biography of Joseph Smith

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Question: Did Brigham Young attempt to suppress and destroy all copies of Lucy Mack Smith's Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith?

Editing history of Lucy's biography

Lavina Fielding Anderson recounts the history of Lucy's biography:

The project, which began in the winter of 1844-45, ended almost exactly a year later with the creation of two finished manuscripts (in addition to the rough draft). One of the finished manuscripts stayed in Nauvoo with Lucy and eventually came into possession of Orson Pratt, an LDS apostle, who took it with him to England and published it in 1853. It generated considerable controversy; and Brigham Young, twelve years after the fact, ordered the Saints to deliver up their copies to be destroyed. A “corrected” edition was published, but not until 1901-03, first serially by the Improvement Era and then as a compilation. This project was authorized by Young’s third successor, Lorenzo Snow, and implemented by his fourth, who also happened to be Lucy’s grandson, Joseph F. Smith. Meanwhile, the second finished copy had gone to Utah where it now reposes in the Historian’s Office. [1]

Dan Vogel notes:

Once published, Smith's Biographical Sketches was suppressed by Brigham Young, who condemned it as inaccurate, ordered its destruction, and instructed church historians to begin working on a corrected version. Young's concern centered on Smith's favorable portrayal of her son William, whom Young disliked (see Bushman 1984, 194, n. 4; Shipps 1985, 91-107). Pratt issued a statement in 1855 claiming that he believed Lucy's manuscript 'was written under the inspection of the Prophet [Joseph Smith]; but from evidences since received, it is believed that the greater part of the manuscripts did not pass under his review, as there are items which are ascertained to be incorrect' (Deseret News 5 [21 March 1855]: 16) [2]

Brigham Young did attempt to destroy all copies of Lucy Mack Smith's Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith, but we do not have enough information to know the reason why

Critics assume, in the absence of information, that it was because there was information which would embarrass the Church.

Brigham Young began to complain about errors in Lucy's history almost as soon as it was published in 1855. He assigned George A. Smith and Elias Smith to begin working on corrections in 1856; Elias was still working on them in 1866. It was published by President Joseph F. Smith in 1902, based on the corrections by GAS and Elias Smith. It is not known exactly what the changes were that were made, nor do we know the relationship of the 1954 edition mentioned in the letter to the original or to the 1902 version (Preston Nibley edited a version, but we are not sure if it is the one mentioned or not). Orson Pratt himself pointed out that he had erred in suggesting the manuscript had been completed prior to the death of Joseph Smith.

Brigham's response was unusual, both for being out of all proportion to the actual errors that existed and for coming principally more than a decade later. Anderson suggests that his reaction had much more to do with the rift between Pratt and Young than with the contents of history itself.

Anderson also notes that,

[T]he main differences between Lucy’s 1844-45 rough draft and Pratt’s 1853 publication are omissions and additions...About 10 percent of Lucy’s original material was omitted, much of it personal family references and Lucy’s original preface." [3]

The revisions were apparently made to transform Lucy's history from a personal family history and center it more on Joseph Smith, Jr. and the Church. There were several main changes between Lucy's rough draft and the version published by Orson Pratt.

  1. Lucy's preface, in which she introduces herself, was omitted.
  2. The story of Lucy's father, Solomon Mack was omitted.
  3. The story of Lucy's illness in 1802-1803 was revised.
  4. Lucy’s reference to folk magic was omitted in Orson Pratt's version. Lucy originally stated "… Let not my reader suppose that because I shall pursue another topic for a season that we stopt our labor and went <at> trying to win the faculty of Abrac drawing Magic circles or sooth saying to the neglect of all kinds of buisness [sic]."

Question: Did Brigham Young insert the reference to Joseph's First Vision into Lucy Mack Smith's history?

Brigham Young did not insert the reference to Joseph Smith's First Vision into Lucy's book—this was done by Orson Pratt.

The irony of this claim is that the usual critical argument is that Brigham never mentioned the First Vision...yet critics want to claim that he inserted this reference into Lucy's history? You can't have it both ways.

Joseph initially treated the First Vision as private experience with respect to his family. His only response to his mother at the time is recounted in his 1838 history:

When the light had departed, I had no strength; but soon recovering in some degree, I went home. And as I leaned up to the fireplace, mother inquired what the matter was. I replied, “Never mind, all is well—I am well enough off.” I then said to my mother, “I have learned for myself that Presbyterianism is not true.” (JS-H 1:20)

Joseph's immediate family's first intimation of what was happening with Joseph was the first visit of Moroni rather than the First Vision.

The first vision account was in the 1853 publication by Orson Pratt, but it was not in the original manuscript version of 1845 that was not published; Pratt's version was based on a later version by Martha Coray. Pratt included it the story of the First Vision anyway, because he knew it belonged there. Vogel notes the difference between the 1845 manuscript and the 1853 edition, both of which are printed side-by-side in Early Mormon Documents: "Here (pp. 74-78) the 1853 edition inserts a lengthy excerpt from Joseph's history in the Times and Seasons 3 (15 March 1842): 727-28; and 3 (1 April 1842): 748-49, regarding the Palmyra revival and an 1820 vision of the Father and Son."

Orson Pratt picked up a copy of Lucy's manuscript on his way to England. He published it there in 1853, with the First Vision account in it (perhaps added by Pratt, but not by Brigham). In 1855, Brigham Young began objecting to some of the material in the book. In 1865 he officially censored it. Joseph F. Smith notes,

It was disapproved by President Young, on August 23, 1865, and the edition was suppressed or destroyed." (iii). “Subsequently, a committee of revision was appointed by President Young, consisting of President George A. Smith and Judge Elias Smith, cousins of the Prophet, men personally familiar with the family, and thoroughly conversant with Church history. They were instructed carefully to revise and correct the original work throughout, which they did, reporting their labors to President Brigham Young, to his entire satisfaction. The revised and only authentic copy thus prepared and reported upon was retained by President George A. Smith, and shortly after his death, September 1, 1875, it was committed to my keeping, where it has remained until now” [4]

He then appointed George A. Smith, and Elias Smith, to go through the book, making corrections and revisions. This is the work that was published in 1902 by Joseph F. Smith. Therefore is is highly unlikely that Brigham Young had anything at all to do with the inclusion of the first vision account.

If Brigham Young had included it, this would would ruin the critics' argument that Brigham never mentioned the First Vision. Brigham Young actually had nothing to do with the publication of Lucy's book—Orson Pratt did, and Brigham didn't like it.

Note that critics also claim that Brigham Young taught only that an angel came: a strange claim to make while insisting that Brigham never spoke of the First Vision at all.

Question: Was the Prophet's mother Lucy Mack Smith silent about Joseph's history?

Joseph's mother was not silent about Joseph's history, and there is nothing in Lucy's history (either the 1845 manuscript or the 1853 edition) which prove that the First Vision did not occur

In fact, Joseph's reaction to Lucy's desire to obtain comfort in church following Alvin' death in 1823 is completely consistent with the First Vision having occurred prior to that time.

Critics try to prove that the silence of Joseph's mother and siblings prove that the First Vision did not take place, and is a later fabrication by Joseph, and not well known to the early members of the church. The Wikipedia article on the First Vision, for example, states that almost none of the first generation of members knew of it or spoke of it, and only in the second generation did it become well known. We know that Lucy was working on her manuscript in 1844-5 period. Note the following references—particularly the one from Wandle Mace.

1845—Lucy Mack Smith, to William Smith, January 23, 1845

“People are often enquiring of me the particulars of Joseph’s getting the plates, seeing the angels at first and many other things which Joseph never wrote or published. I have told over many things pertaining to these matters to different persons to gratify their curiosity indeed have almost destroyed my lungs giving these recitals to those who felt anxious to hear them. I have now concluded to write down every particular as far as possible and if those who wish to read them will help me a little they can have it all in one piece to read at their leisure".... [5][NOTE: see below, November “Extract from letters”, Jemima Hough]

1845—Extracts from Letters, Millennial Star 6. 10 (November 1, 1845): 153.

Sister Jemima Hough, June 5, 1845, says… “Mother Smith spends much of her time in relating to visitors an account of the rise and progress of the church, which is highly interesting.”

1845 General Conference, October 8, 1845, Times and Seasons 6. 16 (November 1, 1845): 1013-4.

[also in DHC 7. 470-72; Searle, 378]

“Mother Lucy Smith, the aged and honored parent of Joseph Smith, having expressed a wish to say a few words to the congregation, she was invited upon the stand. She spoke at considerable length and in an audible manner, so as to be heard by a large portion of the vast assembly…. She gave notice that she had written her history, and wished it printed before we leave this place….”

1845 Wandle Mace Autobiography, typescript, BYU Special Collections, 45-6

[File Diary Wandle Mace] [dictated to his wife, ends with departure from Nauvoo, 1846] [Born Feb. 19, 1809]

Almost as soon as the father [Joseph Smith, Sr.] and mother [Lucy Smith] of the Prophet Joseph Smith set their feet upon the hospitable shore of Illinois, I became acquainted with them. I frequently visited them and listened with intense interest as they related the history of the rise of the Church in every detail.

With tears they could not withhold, they narrated the story of the persecution of their boy, Joseph, which commenced when he was about fourteen years old, or from the time the angel first visited him. Not only was the boy, Joseph, persecuted but the aged father was harassed and imprisoned on false charges until finally driven from Missouri in the depth of winter he contracted disease from exposure, from which he never recovered.

In these conversations, mother [Lucy] Smith, as she was familiarly called, related much of their family history. She told how their family would all be seated around the room while they all listened to Joseph with the greatest interest as he taught them the pure principles of the gospel as revealed to him by the angels, and of his glorious vision of the Father and the Son, when the father said to him as he pointed to his companion, "This is my beloved Son, hear Him." (emphasis added)

Editions of Lucy's History

(by date of publication)

  • Lucy Mack Smith, Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith the Prophet, and His Progenitors for Many Generations (Liverpool, S.W. Richards, 1853), 1–.
  • Lucy Mack Smith, History of Joseph Smith by His Mother (Salt Lake City: Stevens and Wallis, 1945), 1–.
  • Lucy Mack Smith, The History of Joseph Smith By His Mother Lucy Mack Smith, edited by Preston Nibley, (Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, 1956), 1–. AISN B000FH6N04.
  • Lucy Mack Smith, History of Joseph Smith by His Mother: Revised and Enhanced, edited by Scot Facer Proctor and Maurine Jensen Proctor, (Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, 1996), 1–. ISBN 1570082677.
  • Lucy Smith, Lucy's Book: Critical Edition of Lucy Mack Smith's Family Memoir, edited by Lavina Fielding Anderson and Irene M. Bates, (Salt Lake City, Utah: Signature Books, 2001), 1–. ISBN 1560851376.
  • Lucy Mack Smith, History of Joseph Smith by His Mother Lucy Mack Smith: The Unabridged Original Version, edited by R. Virnon Ingleton, (Stratford Books, 2005), 1–. ISBN 0929753054.

To see citations to the critical sources for these claims, click here


  1. Lavina Fielding Anderson (ed.), Lucy's Book: A Critical Edition of Lucy Mack Smith's Family Memoir on Signature Books website.
  2. Dan Vogel, "Lucy Smith history, 1845," (editorial note), Early Mormon Documents 1:227.
  3. Lavina Fielding Anderson (ed.), Lucy's Book: A Critical Edition of Lucy Mack Smith's Family Memoir on Signature Books website.
  4. History of the Prophet Joseph by his Mother Lucy Smith as Revised by George A. Smith and Elias Smith (SLC, Utah: Improvement Era 1902). 296 pages. [Flake 8084] Introduction was written by Joseph F. Smith, and was dated October 8, 1901., p. iii-iv.
  5. Lucy Smith, Lucy's Book: Critical Edition of Lucy Mack Smith's Family Memoir, edited by Lavina Fielding Anderson and Irene M. Bates, (Salt Lake City, Utah: Signature Books, 2001), 88. ISBN 1560851376.

Further reading and additional sources responding to these claims