Women composed a significant portion of the early converts who would follow Joseph Smith over hundreds of miles and through the fires of persecution. Lucy Mack Smith, Rebecca Williams, Phebe Peck, and Melissa Dodge represent well the dedication and testimony of such early Latter-day Saint women. Despite separation from loved ones and the dangers and difficulties they would face as Church members, religion was the guiding factor in their lives. These women testified of the value of their experiences and exhorted others to “give up all and follow your Lord” regardless of the trials that were required of them.1
The early history of the Saints is one of transition: the spiritual transformation of individuals from an old lifestyle to a new, the theological development of the Church, and the actual physical movement of the Saints from one location to another. The history of the Saints and of Church leadership during the Church’s first ten years of existence are well chronicled, though the familiar narratives leave out many integral parts of the story. The manner in which the history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been written is characteristic of the changing historiography of United States religious history in general. Only since the late 1960s have historians focused extensively on women’s documents and made concerted efforts to include women and others previously omitted in the historical tapestry.
While considerable historical scholarship has recently been directed toward the study of women after the organization of the Relief Society in 1842, many stories of the female members of the Church in the 1830s remain untold.2 No comprehensive attempt has been made to bring light to the women residing in this historical hollow.3
This deficit in documentation is due to several problems. Extant collected records of women in America are sparse. Not only were there at times tendencies for women to neglect writing, but those who were literate often lacked the time and resources to commit their experiences to paper. As Hepzibah Richards penned to a family member in 1838, “I must be brief for I expect both time and paper will fail me before I have said one half I wish.”4 Women’s organizations in the early Church lacked both the tenure and continuity necessary to insure that the significant role women performed was not overlooked. And it is only in the last decades that historical repositories have made an aggressive effort to acquire the documentation for women’s history. Two historians, Charles Sellers and Susan Juster, have used this absence of information to conclude that early Mormon women were few in number and short on influence or that Latter-day Saint leaders were misogynists. Seller and Juster suggest that women were generally dragged into Mormonism by their husbands and would not have united with the Mormons of their own volition.5 Such assumptions, in addition to the gap in research on early Mormon women, call for a more comprehensive examination of the existing records.
The letters presented here augment the recent historical trend to acknowledge the value of women’s voices.6 They provide a glimpse into two central features of the religious experience of early Mormon women: testimony and belief. The women considered here believed the Book of Mormon and the new revelations given through Joseph Smith to be the word of God. They felt similar to Lehi, who, after tasting the sweetness of God’s love, intensely desired to share it with others. Olive Boynton Hale, an early Latter-day Saint woman, wrote to her mother:
[You] think that my being called to pass through so many trials and afflictions might cause me to dought the truth of the great work that is rolling through the earth with mighty power, which thousands are embracing, & rejoiceing that they have been enabled to receive in these the last days, and I feel to rejoice with those that do rejoice in the latter day kingdom which I do know is the work of the Lord, and it will continue to roll on untill Christ Jesus our Lord will desend in the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory, when the saints shall be caught up to meet him in the air.7 I pray this may be our happy lot.8
These women testified of their experiences and knowledge and had faith that their human testimony would awaken that same yearning in their friends and families so that they too would gather with the Saints in Zion.
Despite the general paucity of sources for women’s history overall, the archives of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints houses a significant collection of women’s writings.9 The four early letters printed here are a part of that collection and indicate the value of contemporary documentation. While autobiographical reminiscences are helpful in recreating life experiences, they often lack the candor and spontaneity encountered in letters. Although the collection of women’s writings is impressive, only a few of these describe the personal lives, emotions, and activities of early female Saints, these contemporary letters are particularly valuable in portraying women’s perspectives in early Church history.
Besides providing important examples of women’s writings, the letters provide insight into these women’s religious experiences as the focal point of their lives. Religion took precedence over every other aspect of their lives, including money, social standing, geographical location, and even family. These women waded through waters of sacrifice to reach their goals. Rather than being merely followers, they believed on their own—at times dragging their husbands and families to Mormonism.
From the eloquent writing of Lucy Mack Smith to the unpolished, though poetic, articulation of Melissa Morgan Dodge, these letters show women with different levels of education and different experiences. The women shown here do not illustrate perfection. They were not without complaints, nor were they pollyannish. They experienced supreme hardships and the frustration of the momentary loss of faith, but their overriding message remained. These four were stalwart in their convictions, dedicated to the Latter-day Saint course during ordeals as refugees in exile and many other struggles throughout their lifetimes.
Once in the fold, these independent and self-actuated women desired their familial intimates to join them, despite the trials they would surely encounter in hopes of happiness in this life and an ultimate eternal reward. As research continues to elucidate more shadows and complexities in American religious history, greater insight into the motivations and desires of those who embraced Mormonism will expand our understanding and appreciation of the faith.
The four letters printed here reflect a portion of the collection at Church Archives. My research has uncovered some forty letters written by women during the first decade of the Church. No doubt many others exist but are not available in archival collections. While the process of choosing letters for this document corner was unscientific, these four letters are representative of the diversity among early Mormon women’s letters.
The original of each letter, with the exception of the Phebe Peck letter, is located in the Church Archives. The location of Phebe Peck’s letter is unknown, though the Church Archives possesses a fine photocopy. Though faded, all of the original letters are in relatively good condition. Editorial marks added include carets < > to indicate insertions into the text by the authors themselves. Strikeouts are shown by
strikeouts. Brackets [ ] indicate my textual clarifications. Minimal punctuation has been added for clarity.
These four letters capture insights into the lives of four distinctly different women. They were not extremists. They were satisfied with their circumstances, like many other women of the time, and did not move to radically alter their female experience.10 But as their letters demonstrate, once they had felt of God’s love and the power of the restored gospel, they rejoiced and were compelled to share it with others (fig. 1).11
Letter of Lucy Mack Smith to
Solomon and Ester Mack, 1831
Lucy Mack Smith experienced a broad spectrum of challenges and pleasures in her lifetime. The woman who became the mother of the Prophet Joseph had the personality and mental acuity to mold her individuality as a female member of the Church of Christ. Lucy Mack was born in July 1775 in Gilsum, New Hampshire. Because of the influence of Lucy’s mother, the Macks’ was a deeply religious home where the Bible and education were central. This religious emphasis and familial tradition produced children who tended to focus their lives spiritually. The Macks were believers in visions, healings, and miracles. The example of her mother and Lucy’s own brush with death generated in Lucy a firm desire to provide a comparable spiritual environment in her home to teach her family to serve God.12
Lucy Mack met Joseph Smith Sr. in Tunbridge, Vermont, where she was visiting her brother. They were married in 1796. Joseph Smith Sr. was an inwardly religious man who, from his familial tradition, was suspicious of organized religion. But with the support of her husband, Lucy centered her life in spirituality and religion despite her lack of adherence to a particular church.13 She was introduced to the truths of the Restoration through her third son, Joseph, and though she was older than the other women included here, her testimony is strikingly similar. She adapted her stores of spiritual experience to encompass the new realities she discovered daily through the articulations of her son. She was officially united with the Church at her baptism in 1830 at the age of fifty-four.
Lucy was unfailingly strong-willed, knowledgeable, and forthright in admonishing others and sharing her beliefs with those around her. She was also courageous. As a protective mother and an ardent believer in God, Lucy once professed to a Presbyterian deacon, “If you should stick my flesh full of faggots, and even burn me at the stake, I would declare, as long as God should give me breath, that Joseph has got that Record, and that I know it to be true.”14 A few months later, Lucy Smith led a group of eighty Saints to Kirtland in extremely harsh circumstances. Her company and at least one other were halted at Buffalo by ice on Lake Erie. Lucy felt the necessity to hurry on the journey, but the other leaders were inclined to wait until the ice broke up. After chiding those leaders about their lack of faith, Lucy and her company boarded their boat and watched the ice separated to allow their passage.15
As the mother of the Prophet, Lucy was not immune to the privations suffered by the Saints throughout their experience. She was subjected to the trials of Kirtland, Missouri, and Nauvoo. In Nauvoo she lost her husband of fifty-four years, and within four years she also witnessed the passing of four of her five sons, two of whom were violently taken. Though she expressed her support of Brigham and the Twelve,16 she stayed in Nauvoo after the Saints left. She died in Nauvoo under the care of her daughter-in-law Emma in 1856, still consistent in her testimony of her son’s work.
In an 1831 letter to her brother Solomon Mack, written the year after her baptism, Lucy displays her knowledge and zeal regarding the latter-day work of God. The letter is a buff-colored folded sheet written on three sides in black ink that has faded to sienna brown. Lucy’s handwriting is petite and precise. Abounding in Book of Mormon vernacular, the letter testifies of Lucy’s beliefs and admonishes her brother and his family to come to the light of the restored gospel.17 Her writing sets the theme for this group of letters: taste the love of God and share it.
Waterloo18 January 6th 1831
Dear Brother & Sister19
Although we are at a great distance from each other and have not had the pleasure of seeing each other for many years,20 yet I feel a great anxiety in your welfare, and especially for the welfare of your souls; and you yourselves must know that it is a thing of the greatest importance to be prepared to meet our God in peace, for it is not long before he is to make his appearance on the earth with all the hosts of heaven for to take vengance on the wicked & they that know not God.21 By searching the prophecies contained in the old testament we find it there prophecied that God will set his hand the second time to recover his people the house of Israel. He has now commenced this work: he hath sent forth a revelation in these last days; & this revelation is called the book of Mormon, it contains the fullness of the Gospel to the Gentiles, and is sent forth to show unto the remnant of the house of Israel what great things God hath done for their fathers; that they may know of the covenants of the Lord & that they are not cast off forever, and also of the convincing of both Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the <Christ the> Eternal God and manifests himself unto all nations; it also contains the history of a people which were led out of Jerusalem six hundred years before the coming of Christ in the flesh. God seeing the wickedness of the inhabitants of Jerusalem he sent out a prophet named Lehi and commanded him to declare to the people that unless they repented of their sins that the City would be destroyed but they would not hear him but sought to take away his life, therefore the Lord commanded him to take his family together with another man named Ishmael and his family and flee out of the City and they were led by the hand of the Lord on to this continent, and they became very numerous and were a peopple highly favoured of the Lord, but there arose contentions among them and the more wicked part of them being led by one of the sons of Lehi named Laman arose up in rebellion against their bretheren and would not keep the commandments of God therefore he sent a curse upon them and caused a dark skin to come over them and from Laman our Indians have descended the more righteous part of them were led by another of the sons of Lehi named Nephi he being a prophet of the Lord. I can not give you much of an insight into these things but I write this that when you have an opportunity of receiving one of the books that you may not reject [it] for God has pronounced a curse upon all they who have
ana chance to receive it and will not for by it they will be judged at the last day. There are many in these parts who profess to know God and to be his humble followers that when this thing is offered them they say we have  bible enough and want no more, but such are in the gaul of bitterness and in the bonds of iniquity and understand not the bible which they have, for all the holy prophets speak plainly of the gathering of the house of Israel and the coming forth of this work; and God says he will give us line upon line precept upon precept here a little and there a little: there are more nations than one and if God would not reveal himself alike unto all nations he would be a partial [God]: we need not suppose that we have all his words in our bible neither need we think that because he has spoken once that he can not speak again. Perhaps you will enquire how this revelation came forth, it has been hid up in the earth fourteen hundred years, it was placed there by Moroni, one of the Nephites, it was engraven upon plates which have the appearance of gold, he being a prophet of the Lord, and seeing the wickedness of the people and knowing that they must be destroyed, and also knowing that if the plates fell into the hands of the Lamanites that they would destroy them, for they sought to destroy all sacred writings therefore he hid them up in the earth, having obtained a promise of the Lord that they should come forth in his own due time unto the world, and I feel to thank my God that he hath spared my life to see this day. Joseph after repenting of his sins and humbling himself before God was visited by an holy Angel whose countenance was as lightening and whose garments were white above all whiteness and gave unto him com[m]andme[nts, page torn] which inspired him from on high. and gave unto him [power] by the means of which was before prepared that he should translate this this book,22 and by <reading> this this our eyes are opened that we can see the situation in which the world now stands [fig. 2] that the eyes of the whole world are blinded, that the churches have all become corrupted, yea every church upon the face of the earth that the Gospel of Christ is no where preached.23 This is the situation which the world is now in, and you can judge for yourselves if we did not need something more than the wisdom of men for to show us the right way. God seeing our situation had compassion upon us and has sent us this revelation that the stumbling block might be removed, that whosoever would might enter. He has now established his church upon the earth as it was in the days of the Apostles. He has now mad[e] a new and everlasting covenant withand all that will hear his voice and enter he says they shall be gathered together into a land of promise and he himself will come and reign on earth with them a thousand years he is now sending forth his servants for to prune his viniard for the last time and wo be  unto them that will not hear them. There are many who think hard when we tell them that the churches have all become corrupted, but the Lord God hath spoken it and who can deny his word; they are all lifted up in the pride of their hearts and think more of adorning their fine sanctuaries than they do of the poor and needy: the priests are going about preaching for money, and teaching false doctrines and leading men down to destruction by crying peace peace when the Lord himself hath not spoken it. When our Saviour was upon the earth he sent forth his disciples and commanded them to preach his Gospel and these signs he said should follow them that believed, in my name the[y] shall do many wonderful works they shall cast out devils, they shall take up serpents and if they drink any deadly thing it shall not hurt them, they shall lay hands on the sick and they shall recover:24 now where can we find these signs following they that call themselves preachers of the Gospel and why they do not follow; it surely must be because they do not believe and do not teach the true doctrine of Christ for God is the same yesterday today and forever and changeth not. We read that at the day of Pentacost people being pricked in their hearts began to cry saying men and brethren what shall we do and Peter being filled with the Holy Ghost stood up and said repent every one of you and be baptised in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ for a remission of your sins and you shall receive the Holy Ghost.25 [page torn] this promise was not to them alone for he goes on to say this [page torn, prom]ise is to you and to your children and to all [who] are afar off [page torn] as many as the Lord our God shall call: therefor the promise extends unto us if we will obey his commands. Peter did not tell them to go away and mourn over their sins we<e>ks and months and receive a remission of them and then come and be baptised, but he told them first to repent and be baptised and the promice was they should receive a remission of their sins and the gift of the Holy Ghost, and this is the Gospel of Christ, and his church is established in this place and also in the Ohio, there has been three hundred added to the church in the Ohio within a few weeks and ther are some added to this church almost daily,26 the work is spreading very fast. I must now close my letter by entreating you as one that feels for your souls to seek an interets in Christ and when you have an opportunity to receive this work do not reje<c>t it but read it and examine for yourselves I will now bid you farewell and I want you to some of you come here or write immediately for we expect to go away to the Ohio early in the spring 27 if you write this winter you may direct your letters to Waterloo Seneca County.
I want you to think seriously of these things for they are the truths of the Living God. Please to accept this from your Sister Lucy Smith [fig. 3].
To be left at Keen[e]28
N.Y. 8 Jany
Capt. Solomon Mack30
Letter of Phebe Peck to Anna Pratt, 1832
In June 1830 amid the harassment of neighbors, a young widow, Phebe Peck, was baptized a member of the newly formed Church of Christ in a dammed river in Colesville, New York.31 Phebe Crosby was born in March 1800 to Elisha Crosby and Susan Lowell at Unadilla, Otsego County, New York. Phebe married Benjamin Peck in about 1819; they had five children together before his death in 1829.32 They lived in Bainbridge, New York, and after her husband was gone, Phebe maintained a close relationship with his extended family, who lived nearby. Benjamin’s family comprised a good portion of those baptized with Phebe and became known as the Colesville Saints.33 They were persecuted from the time of their baptisms until the oppression reached an apex, and they left New York the following April.
Phebe left Colesville with the other Saints for Thompson, Ohio, which offered just a brief respite from their troubles and tribulations. The initial good will of Leman Copley, who invited the uprooted group to his farm to live, was short-lived. After Copley’s disenchantment with the Church and the personal diffculties of the Colesville Saints, they were on the move again within a couple of months. With hopes of Zion fresh in their minds, they were some of the first Saints to settle in Jackson County, Missouri.
The Colesville group was an integral part of the first emigration to Missouri. Phebe and her family were active members of the Kaw Township congregation, where she taught her children the principles of the gospel and supported her family as a tailoress.34 Then, after twelve years of providing for her family alone, Phebe married Joseph Knight Sr., following the death of his first wife, Polly Peck Knight, in 1831. Polly was a sister of Phebe’s first husband. Phebe and Joseph had two children together for a total of sixteen, though most of the children were already living away from home at the time of their marriage. Joseph was twenty-eight years Phebe’s senior.35
Phebe experienced the expulsion of the Saints from Jackson County, the later difficulties in northern Missouri, the move to and life in Nauvoo, and the sorrow associated with the martyrdoms of Joseph and Hyrum Smith. Joseph Knight Sr. died in 1847. After his death, Phebe married Cornelius P. Lott.36 Thereafter, Phebe spent her time with her children and their families until her death in 1849.37
Though the historical record does not supply us with many specific details of Phebe’s life, her 1832 letter to Anna Pratt gives us what other records do not. It provides a detailed account of a time of reflection and relative peace in Zion. Her candor, as she shared her beliefs and her plainspoken censure of and admonitions to her non-Mormon friends who had not accepted the message of the Restoration, evidences her devotion to the restored gospel. The photocopy of the Phebe Peck letter suggests that the original document was one folded sheet, 15″ × 11″, written on three sides in meticulous penmanship in dark ink.
MayAugust the 10 1832
I received your letter Jan. 22 which gave me great pleasure.40 I esteemed it as a blessing to have the priveledge of hearing from you once more you must forgive my negligence in not writing before as I have been busily engaged in business but I shall now attempt to writte you the sentiments of my heart in the fear of my God I can realize that I am seperated a great distance from you but yet my mind will often travel back to the place of your abode but Anna it is not because I wish myself back but it is because of the feelings I have for <you> and the rest of my relatives in that part of <the> world41 yes we are seperated by roling bellows of water but the Lord’s protecting hand has been over us through all our travels and has brought us safely to this land where I shall spend the remainder of my days and if I ever see you again it will be upon this land and I will assure you it would be a joyful meeting to us all. I well remember the last time I saw you when I took my leave of you the sensations of my Heart at that time I think will never be forgotten by me42 although I did not know when I left that I should be called to come thus far and I presume it has bee[n] that which has caused you to <almost> wonder but did you know as I know concerning our leaving Ohio43 you would not but you do not neither can I tell you but this much I can say that did you know of the things of God and <could you> receive the blessings that I have from the hand of the Lord you would not think it a hardship to come here for the Lord is revealing the misteries of the heavenly Kingdom unto his Children44 and these blessings in your state of unbelief you can not enjoy but you may yet have the priveledge if you have not entirely heardened your heart against these things and I would exhort you not to regect annother call you have been called to repent of your sins and obey the gospel you have been convicted from time to time but you could not give up all for christ and now I feel to say that if you do not give up all and follow your Lord and  and Master you will not be made worthy to partake of the Celestial glories in the kingdom of our God I hope you will think of <these> things and ponder them in your Heart for they are of great worth unto the Children of Men. I must tell you the joyful news of the workings of the <Lord> among the Children we have had the pleasing view of beholding eleven chldren from 8 years old to 14 go down into the water in obedience to the commands of God among whom was my three oldest45 can we not rejoice in seeing the rising generation growing up in the knowledge of the Lord and I think by giving them good instructions they will grow up and be strong in faith they will arise and testify what the Lord has done for them in the pre<s>ance of a congregation of people Hezekiah says he enjoyes himself well he will take up his cross and pray in the family when asked46 My Children are all contented and I am very thankful for it47 Henrietta and Sarah express a great desire to see you I have not gone to keepping house as yet but I expect to next fall My h<e>alth is tolerable good and also the health of all our friends I must draw to a close by requesting you to give my love to your Husband and Miss Pollard48 and all enquireing friends Phebe Peck
write as soon as you receive this
A few lines to Sister Patty49
it is with a thankful Heart for the preservation of my life and <for> the priveledge of writing to you that I desire to improve these moments I often think of you while in my lonely meditation and sometimes it will cause a deep sigh to burst forth from my bosom thinking that perhaps I never shall see you again while in this world and again <when> I think I have forsaken all for Christ it bri<n>gs consolation that surpasses the grief on the other hand you must realize my sister that nothing but the mercies of God and his consolating spirit that has upheld me while passing through the trials of parting with my near and dear friends50 and could you but see and believe as I do the way would be opened and you would come to this land and we should behold each other and rejoice in the things of God for this is A day of rejoiceing and also a day of mourning51
We rejoice when we realize the wonderful works of our Heavnly Father and his dealings towards his children yes I rejoice in the commands and revelations that has be<e>n given in these last days52 and again I feel to mourn many times because of the unbelief of the Children of men I feel to rejoice with those that rejoice and to weep with those that weep.
Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon made us A visit last spring and we had many joyful meetings while they were here and we had many misteries unfolded to our view which gave me great consolation53 we could view the condescendsion of God <in prepareing> mansions of peace for his children and whoso will not receive the fullness of the gospel and stand as valient soldiers in the cause of christ cannot dwell in the preasence of the Father and <the> Son but there is a place prepared for all who do not receive but it is a place of <much> lesser glory then to dwell in the Celestial kingdom. I shall not attempt to say anny farther concerning these things as they are now in print54 and ar[e] going forth to the world and you perhaps will have an opportunity of reading for your self and if you do I hope you will read with a care-ful and a prayerful heart for these things are worthy of notice and I desire that you may search into them for it is <that> which lends to our happiness in this world and in the world to come.
You perhaps would like to know something about my situation I can tell you I have plenty to eat drink and to wear and enjoy as good health as I did in Bainbridge we have good water and this is a delightful country we can raise <our> own cotton and flax and all things that the heart can wish Hezekiah is now at work with one of the Brothers in the church and has earned seven dollars in five weeks the rest of the Children live with me they often speak of their cousins in that place and wish me to send their best love to you and your children I must finish my letter but I would warmly requst you to write for my anxiety is great to hear from you please to give my respects to my Brothers and tell them not to forget that they have A sister in Missouri55 I add no more. P Peck
Stephen D Pratt
South Bainbridge56 Chenengo County
Letter of Rebecca Williams to Isaac Swain, 1834
Rebecca Swain, born in Loyalsock, Pennsylvania, in 1798, was the youngest of the nine children of Isaac Fisher Swain and Elizabeth Hall.57 Elizabeth died while Rebecca was young, and the family moved around the Northeast until they settled in Niagara County, New York, where her father remarried. When Rebecca was seventeen, she met Frederick Granger Williams, the tall, dark-eyed pilot of the ship on which Rebecca crossed Lake Ontario to visit her sister Sally Clark in Detroit. Frederick called often at the Clark home, and he and Rebecca were married in late 1815.58 Frederick and Rebecca and their four children moved around the great Western Reserve of Ohio before finally settling in Kirtland Mills, Ohio, in 1828 or 1829. There Frederick took up the practice of medicine.59 As Frederick worked, Rebecca aided him with patients and learned medical terms and treatments.
In fall 1830, Oliver Cowdery, Parley P. Pratt, Ziba Peterson, and Peter Whitmer Jr. stopped in Kirtland on their journey west. Rebecca and Frederick were members of Sidney Rigdon’s Campbellite congregation in the community. Like many other followers of Rigdon, they listened with interest to the missionaries’ message of Christ’s restored Church, a new prophet—Joseph Smith—and a newly published record of ancient people in the Americas—the Book of Mormon. Rebecca and her four children attended all of the missionaries’ private meetings, accompanied by her husband when his work schedule would permit. She was convinced of the truthfulness of Mormonism and was soon baptized. Frederick needed more convincing. He decided for a time to leave it alone but could not and was later baptized.60
Frederick was very enthused about his new religion, and the day after his baptism he left on a mission to Missouri with Oliver Cowdery. Although Frederick planned to return after three weeks, Rebecca did not see him for ten months. Between her husband’s calling in Joseph Smith’s First Presidency and his missionary efforts, for Rebecca the mission to Missouri would be the beginning of many long months of caring for her family without the aid of her husband. Rebecca’s youngest son, Ezra, was her support during Frederick’s absence and throughout the rest of Rebecca’s life.
With the missionary zeal of a new convert, Rebecca eagerly wrote to her father to inform him of her newfound faith. She was devastated when only a thin letter of response came back to her. Her news infuriated her father, and he insisted that she leave the Church. When she would not, he disowned her and vowed to cut off all communication with her.61 Evidenced by the remnant of this 1834 letter to her half brothers and her father, the threat was only partially carried out. In her 1835 patriarchal blessing, Rebecca was promised, “In consequence of thy prayers and thy tears, thou shall yet prevail, and the Lord will give thee thy father’s family who are now far from the way of Salvation. But the Lord will make bare His arm and show mercy unto them in making thy husband a Savior unto them.”62 She held hope for this throughout her life.
Frederick and Rebecca gave liberally of their time and means to the building up and protecting of the Church in Kirtland. Before Joseph and Emma Smith’s own home was finished in Kirtland, the Prophet and his wife lived across the street with Frederick and Rebecca. One day, as a mob came and surrounded the home, Rebecca astutely dressed Joseph in her bonnet and cloak, and he was able to leave the house and pass through the crowd to safety. In March 1832, Rebecca and Frederick spent a night removing tar from Joseph’s body after he was mobbed in Hiram, Ohio. Such help allowed Joseph to be ready to preach before a packed house the next morning.
According to historian Andrew Jenson, Frederick succumbed to “improper influences” during the difficulties in Kirtland in 1837.63 As a result, he was rejected as a counselor in the First Presidency at Far West, Missouri, in November 1837 and was excommunicated twice. During this time of strain, Rebecca remained stalwart in her defense of Joseph Smith and the Restored Church. Rumors of Frederick’s dissent reached her father, Isaac Swain, in Niagara, and he promptly wrote her a letter asking her to return home. When Rebecca’s reply arrived in September 1838 reaffirming her faith, Isaac lamented, “‘Not a word of repentance!’”64
Frederick was rebaptized and died in full fellowship in 1842 at Quincy, Illinois. Rebecca lived the rest of her life as a faithful member of the Church. She received temple ordinances at Nauvoo alongside her son Ezra. Shortly before the journey to Utah, she became a plural wife of Heber C. Kimball, though she was considered a wife in name only.65 She initially lived in Salt Lake City, helping her son, Ezra, with his medical practice, before moving to Mill Creek in Salt Lake County. She later helped colonize Utah’s Cache Valley with her children and grandchildren. Rebecca died of consumption at Smithfield, Utah, on September 25, 1861.
Rebecca’s 1834 letter to her father and stepbrothers, written while her husband was serving as Second Counselor to the Prophet, portrays a woman who feels and knows what she is witnessing. She greatly desired to see her family join the Church, a desire that provoked her to do whatever was in her power to bring it about. In the face of adversity she did not cower. Her strength and conviction are evident. All that remains of the letter is one buff-colored sheet, 7″ × 12 7/16″, written with chestnut ink, and is presumably the last page of the letter. Her elegant script flows with small flourishes.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
he got on [h]is jo<ur>ney, I have been reading over your letter of May the 23 which I have read over again and again66 its gives me pain to here that your mind is so much disturbed about the Book of Mormon and the Star67 I feal <a>fraid my Father is in some degree gitting into the same Spirit you charge the Editor with, as it regaards the origen of the Book of Mormon their
theiris no disagreement in the Book betwin the Author and the witnesses68 the Book plan[l]y shoes for it self Pa 547 and 548 and unto three shall [page torn] be shoneshown by the power of God69 there is no con-[tra]diction. the plaits was found in the same manner that the Auther sayes they was in the town of Manchestor Ontario County I have heard the same storry from several of the family and from the three witnesses them selves70 I heard them declair in publick meeting that they saw an Holly Angel come down from heaven and brought the plaits and laid them before their eyes and told them that those was the plaits that Joseph Smith was translation the Book of Mormon from they are men of good character and their word is belived [fig. 4] ware they are acquainted in eny thing excep[t] when they declair to this unbeliveng Generation that they have seen an angel of God and conversed with him my Father I hardly know what to say to you did you and Mother know the Circumstances as we do in relation to this work I am persuaded you would belebelive it, my heart morns for my relation acording to the flesh but all that I can do is to commend them to God praying that he would enliten your minds in the way of truth, there is one of our Breathern who expets to go to Canada soon71 I have talked with him about going to see you if he does I hope you will have a plesant visit with him as he his a man of information capable of teaching the Gosple as it is in Jesus my Dear Father do you belive that all the Churches are of the Lord the Lord has said by the mouth of [h]is Serva<n>t Joseph that this is the only Church upon the face of the whole earth with which the Lord was well pleased with, speaking unto the Churches collectively and not individually for I the Lord can not look upon sin with the least degree of allowance nevertheless he that repenteth and doeth the commandments of the Lord shall be forgiven and he that repenteth not from him shall be taken even the  light which hhe hath received for my Spirit shall not always strive with man saith the Lord of hosts,72 as<so> than we see all that are pure in heart the Lord will bless I want my Brothers to write to me73 I pray the Lord to comfort you in your last day witth his holy Spirit and may they be your best days74 my Children join me in love to you I must close my letter to ever remember the instruction [ unintelligible] <thatt> I have recived from my beloved Father yours <in love> Re Williams
do write to us soon, I hope your mind will be composed concerning this work. be asureard that we feal firm in the cause knowing that the Lord is at the helm and will
thturn and over turn tell all things shall be brought <to> pass and Iseral shall again rejoice in the Lord.
Recd June 12, 1834
Mr Isaac Swain
New York Ni Co76
Letter of Melissa Dodge to William T. Morgan, 1839
Little documentary evidence survives to detail the story of Melissa Morgan Dodge’s life. This letter to her brother, William T. Morgan, is the only writing of Melissa Dodge known to exist. The shadowy outline of her life story is found in family genealogical information and the records of her sons.
Melissa Morgan was born blind to Nathaniel Morgan and Mary Wheeler in Jefferson County, New York, on October 28, 1798. She was the oldest of four children.77 When she was twenty, she married Erastus Dodge in nearby Henderson. Melissa and Erastus were baptized after meeting Mormon missionaries in 1832. Their entrance into the Church was dramatic. Melissa’s oldest son, Augustus, described the restoring of his mother’s sight by David W. Patten and Warren Parrish at the time of her baptism. He also explained that his crippled left elbow was healed instantaneously as well.78
Melissa bore fifteen children in her lifetime, ten before she had sight. Only seven of the fifteen matured to adulthood. The other eight died before their first birthdays, and several are listed as having the same birth and death date.
Melissa and her family moved to Kirtland in spring 1834. Erastus and Augustus worked on the Kirtland Temple, and undoubtedly Melissa also expended time in aiding those working on the temple and in the completion of the temple itself. The Dodges moved with the Saints from Kirtland to Missouri, arriving during the initial troubles in Clay County. They then settled in Caldwell County on Shoal Creek near Far West. At the surrender of Far West in October 1838, Erastus and Augustus were both held prisoner for eight or ten days. Once reunited, the Dodges were driven out of Missouri in the dead of winter and suffered much. They crossed the Mississippi River to Adams County, Illinois, where the family lived until they moved to Nauvoo. There they resided four blocks from the Prophet. Melissa’s son Seth was a mason on the Nauvoo Temple, and the rest of the family also assisted in the construction of the temple and the Masonic Hall. Erastus died in August 1843, and, after two years of widowhood, Melissa died in 1845.79
Though the view of Melissa’s life is limited, the best glimpse we have of what is obviously her true motivation in life shines through this one personal record. While her poetic flourishes demonstrate her appreciation for the world she then saw around her, her rough articulation shows a lack of formal education. Likewise she demonstrates her knowledge of the scriptures and Joseph Smith’s revelations. Melissa’s life was an intense struggle, and she stood with those who were willing to sacrifice all for their beliefs.80 The Melissa Dodge letter is in excellent condition, one tan sheet 12″ × 15″ written on three folded sides with russet ink. Melissa’s letter is written—almost scrawled—in bold and broad strokes.
June <the> 23 1839
Dear Brother and Sister81 With thankfull<ness> to the Lord We are yet alive and have this oppertunity of leting you no that We are in the land of the living We have bin drove from our home and we are now in Illinois in Adams County Whear We rented land82 Seth Works out83 he has 14 dollars a month Sally Works out this Somer and is a doing well84 the rest of the Children are at home85 all though We have bin <driven> by a Cruel mob We can say like paul We take the Spoiling of our goods Joyfully noing thear is a god in heaven Which Will <bring> them to judgment in his one [own] due time and the day [is] soon a coming When his Saints shall not be driven and harrist about by a Cruel mob but thanks be to my god the day is night [nigh] and the [h]our is neer When he Will take vengenc on all the ungodly and give his Children a reward a crown of righteousness While the Wicked must perish under his Wrath for theay have drive some from thear homes and Some theay have kiled in a Shocking maner Some theay Whiped and Some theay put in prison but all this is to show that the Scripture Shall be fullfilled and the time dray nigh When the Son of man will Come to reine With his Saints86 for the time is Come that judgment must begin at the house of god87 and if it first begin at us What shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God if Righ[te]ous Scarcely be Saved Whear Shall the ungodly and Sinner appear though Wicked men and divels Strive to keep us from that land and from thear homes the Saints theay drive to try the Lords Comand We are Still determind [to] maintain the faith Wich once Was deliverd to the Saints  and not fall away like Some have and deni <the> gospel of Christ88 theay are thoughs [those] that fel on Stonny ground Who When theay have h[e]ard the Word immediatly receive it with gladness and no root in them Selves and So endure but for a time afterward89 When affliction or persecutions ariseth for the Words Sake immediately theay are offended but We are determind by the grace of God our lord and Savor Jesus Christ to <endure> in faith to [the] end that We may receive the Crone that is prepared for his Saints90 I prais my maker While I breath[e] if I am drove from place to place and serve the Lord for this I no he has no other Church Below I do feel to rejoyce that it is as well With us as it is for god has bin our Sheald and buckler91 he has bin our Covet [cover] in the Storme When We Weare drove from Missouri in febary aCrost the prearas [prairies] you must realise [fig. 5] your Self how you Wo[u]ld have felt to have bin drove from your home for nothing but for the religon of Jesus Christ in <the> dead of the Winter on the open preras [prairies] With your littles ones but thanks be to the Almigty god he has preserveve [preserved] us and has <kep> us from <the> hand of our Cruel enemies Who Was threatning our lives daly & if [I] Could See you and talk With you I could tell you all about it We Want to See you all or hear from you may god grant to give you his Spirit to enable you to See the thruth as it is in Christ Jesus that We may meet in the Celestel Kindom of god Whear parting is no more thear We Shall Sing our makers prais through out relms of endlis days92 <We> Weant you Should Write and let us no Whear our Brothers and Sisters all are So We can Write to them to let them no that We are a live93 and Writ as so[o]n as you get this letter that I may hear from you once more for I cant express how I Want to see you all and talk With you and then I could tell you this from your Brother and Sister Erastus and Melissa Dodge
give our love all enquiring frends
Derect your <letters to> Adams County
Pa[y]son post office Illinois
I heard last Summer that father Was dead94 thear fore I shant Said <not> much about him blesed are the dead that die in the Lord95
Dont for git to let me no Whear you all are and Writ[e] immeatly that I may no Whear you all are and then I Will Write more particulars
I See the little birds With Eas[e] fly ove[r] the hils and lofty trees Could I but fly as Well as theay I [would] quicly Com and talk with the[e.]
William T Morgan
Of Henderson; CO.
Of Jefferson; NY