SMITH, Alvin - I37

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A Sketch on the Life of Alvin Smith [1]

Alvin Smith

According to early town records for Tunbridge, Vermont, Alvin Smith, first surviving child and second son of Joseph Smith Sr. and Lucy Mack, was born 11 February 1798. He was thereafter referred to as the "first son," and, as he grew, became an indispensable aid to his father in the heavy work of the family farm. His schooling was that of other frontier boys: basic skills in the three R’s, reading, writing, and arithmetic with his father, who farmed in the summer and taught school in the winter, as a primary teacher.

His spiritual training began early as the family studied the Bible daily holding devotionals both morning and evening. This day by day teaching was further enforced by his parents who, in the words of his brother, William, "poured out their souls to God… to keep and guard their children and keep them from sin and all evil works."[2] Alvin must have also been fortified in his Christian beliefs by his grandfathers, Asael Smith, and Solomon Mack who lived nearby.

Asael held Restorationist views asserting that mankind needed to return to the pure practices and doctrines of ancient Christianity.[3] Asael, along with Alvin’s father, Joseph Smith Sr., and Jesse Smith, an uncle, were instrumental in forming the Tunbridge Universalist Society, in order to worship "according to the dictates of our conscience." Solomon Mack, who converted to Christianity in his later years, wrote a tract detailing his experiences, and rode the countryside preaching, and talking to children in schools. This testimony would also have been part of the religious discussion in the Joseph Sr., Lucy Mack Smith family. Richard Lloyd Anderson,[4]

After several failed harvests in Vermont, including those of 1814 through 1816, the Smith family determined to move to the wheat lands of western New York. They arrived in Palmyra, New York, in January 1817. Alvin, who was going on nineteen, was again his father's right hand in establishing a 100 acre farm there. In order to secure the land, Alvin, along with his father and younger brothers, hired out and 'worked by day, 'gardening, harvesting, well digging, etc.' "for the village and farming people.'" Alvin was known for his strength and work ethic. "[5]

By 1819, the Smith family found themselves settled in a small log home on their farm. Alvin, who had considerable carpentry skills, was determined to build a more comfortable frame home on the Palmyra-Manchester farm. Lucy Smith records him as saying, "I am going to have a nice, pleasant room for Father and Mother to sit in and everything arranged for their comfort, and they shall not work anymore as they have done." Lucy tells us that by "November 1822 ... the frame was raised, and all the materials necessary for its speedy completion were procured."[6]

During this Palmyra period, Alvin's younger brother, Joseph Smith Jr. experienced heavenly manifestations in the spring of 1820 and the autumn of 1823, in which he was told he would be instrumental in the restoration of the gospel as it existed in ancient times. In September of 1823, Moroni, an angelic messenger, told him that he would obtain and translate ancient plates containing a record of God's dealings with peoples who had formerly lived on the American continent. The record in question would eventually be published as The Book of Mormon.

Alvin accepted Joseph's revelatory experiences as coming from God, and encouraged him to be faithful to them. It was Alvin who encouraged the Smith family to gather in the evenings to hear his younger brother's account of what he had seen and heard. Alvin counseled Joseph, "We will get up early in the morning and go to work so as to finish our day's labor by an hour before sunset, and if Mother will get our suppers early, we will then have a fine, long evening and all sit down and hear you talk."[7]

Within a month of Moroni's September 1823 visit, Alvin was unexpectedly stricken with severe stomach pain possibly caused by appendicitis. The family doctor being unavailable, he was attended by a physician who administered a "heavy dose of calomel" which "lodged in his stomach, and all the powerful medicine which was afterwards prescribed by skillful physicians could not remove it." This attempted purgation took Alvin's life.[8]

His last words to his brother, Hyrum, were a plea that he finish building the house and care for their parents in their old age. His words to Joseph were an admonition to be faithful to his revealed mission. He cautioned Joseph to "do everything that lies in your power to obtain the record. Be faithful in receiving instruction and in keeping every commandment that is given you."[9]

Alvin died late in the night of November 19th, 1823 in the 25th year of his age. His death was a great loss to the family who loved and depended on him. His mother tells us that it was also felt by the "whole neighborhood," and most particularly by the young woman he was engaged to marry. The name of his bride-to-be has not been preserved to us.[10]

A most unfortunate aspect of Alvin's passing was the further grief imposed upon his family by persons prejudiced against his younger brother's religious views and who viciously claimed his body had been exhumed and dissected so that Joseph Jr. could present his remains to the angel who would then deliver the promised gold plates. These slanders became so rampant that Alvin's father, Joseph Smith Sr., felt compelled to have an exhumation of Alvin's remains in the presence of witnesses to verify the undisturbed state of his son's body. He thereafter ran a public notice in the Palmyra Weekly for six issues, answering this deliberate and malicious fabrication.[11]

In a 21 January 1836 vision received by Joseph Smith Jr. in the upper room of the Kirtland, Ohio, Temple, he saw his brother Alvin in the Celestial Kingdom as a full recipient of salvation. This revelatory experience brought closure to a thirteen year struggle in the Smith family to accept the tragedy of Alvin's death.

In August of 1842, Joseph Smith Jr. wrote of his older brother, "He was the oldest, and the noblest of my fathers family. He was one of the noblest of the sons of men…. In him there was no guile. He lived without spot from the time he was a child…. He was one of the soberest of men and when he died the angel of the Lord visited him in his last moments." During an 1834 blessing meeting with his children and their spouses, Joseph Smith Sr. said that his son, "Alvin... was taken from us in the vigor of life, in the bloom of youth. My heart often mourns his loss, but I have no disposition to complain against the Lord." He prayed that this much loved son not be forgotten.[12]

At the time of his death Alvin was engaged to be married. His sudden illness and death left his fiancé, whose name we have never been able to discover, so sorrowful that according to Alvin's mother's history, the young woman languished and also passed away within a short time. Although he has no living posterity in this generation, Alvin's name is not forgotten—the memory of this good young man invites all of us to consider his example of devotion and service to his family.

For a more detailed look at Alvin's life, see Richard L. Anderson in Kyle R. Walker, United by Faith, Covenant Communications, pp. 84-121)

  1. By Vivian McConkie Adams, 3rd Great Granddaughter of Joseph Smith Sr. 4/1/11
  2. Mark McConkie, The Father of the Prophet, pp.147-148
  3. Milton V. Bachman, Jr., Ensign, January 1989, pp. 16-19
  4. Joseph Smith's New England Heritage, p. 43
  5. Richard Lloyd Anderson, in Walker, United by Faith, pp. 88-89
  6. Lucy Mack Smith, History of Joseph Smith, Revised and Enhanced, edited by Scot Facer Proctor and Maurine Jensen Proctor [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1996].
  7. Lucy Mack Smith, History of Joseph Smith, Revised and Enhanced, edited by Scot Facer Proctor and Maurine Jensen Proctor [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1996], p. 111.
  8. Lucy Mack Smith, History of Joseph Smith, Revised and Enhanced, edited by Scot Facer Proctor and Maurine Jensen Proctor [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1996], p 115.
  9. Lucy Mack Smith, History of Joseph Smith, Revised and Enhanced, edited by Scot Facer Proctor and Maurine Jensen Proctor [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1996], 116 .
  10. United by Faith, p.100
  11. United by Faith, pp. 101-102
  12. Anderson in Walker, United by Faith, pp. 84; 101-102