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The following was taken from the book Women of the Restoration by Susan McCloud, currently on sale at Cedarfort.com.
Joseph was drawn to this girl from the very first. Working for her father, he had opportunities to watch her. He was drawn to her stately beauty, the way she carried herself, the richness of her singing voice, and the vitality of her mind. As his mother, Lucy, expressed: “Joseph thought that no young woman that he ever was acquainted with was better calculated to render the man of her choice happy than Miss Emma Hale.”
Emma was twenty-one years old to Joseph’s nineteen. When she decided to say yes to his insistent importuning, which continued for the space of two years, she knew what she would be facing at home. Joseph was a nobody as far as her father was concerned; an uneducated day laborer with few prospects. He was young, and he had strange notions and ideas. Isaac Hale was respected and wealthy, one of the wealthiest men in the Susquehanna Valley. He wanted his beautiful daughter to marry someone on par with himself.
Born on July 10, 1804, Emma was the seventh child of a family of nine. She enjoyed many privileges and improved upon them. She loved to ride horses, swim, and play with her brothers. Yet she possessed many homemaking skills and was an excellent cook. Emma was also the most educated of her siblings, doing an extra year of schooling beyond grammar school.
Her father knew all this, and he knew of her fine mind and deep spiritual sensibilities. In 1812, when Emma was, interestingly, eight years old, a Methodist circuit rider had come through Harmony preaching and encouraging the children to go into the woods alone and pray to the Lord. Emma acted on his advice and was kneeling in the woods praying when her father came upon her and listened to the fervent force of her prayer, to “the wailings of her young heart in his behalf.” Her child’s faith helped him to seek faith in the Savior, which he had not done before.
Joseph, during the two years of working and waiting, attended several schools and improved his education. “A neighbor said of him that ‘his character was irreproachable; that he was well known for truth and uprightness; that he moved in the first circles of the community, and he was often spoken of as a young man of intelligence, and good morals, and possessing a mind susceptible of the highest intellectual attainments.’” Surely Emma also noticed these qualities in Joseph. And, surely, he spoke to her of himself and what he had experienced at the hands of the Lord; of the Sacred Grove, of Moroni, of the many spiritual manifestations he had enjoyed, and perhaps of the extent of the kingdom which the Lord would require him to build.
She must have learned, too, of the trials and atrocities he had suffered, and perhaps been gently told that such would be his lot throughout his life. But she chose, and went with him to the home of Squire Tarbill in South Bainbridge, where they were married secretly on January 18, 1827. Thus, in the stroke of a brush, she gave up her own life, sacrificed all that was dear to her, and united her fate with his.
At first they went to live with Joseph’s parents in Manchester, New York, so they would be in place for the culmination of Joseph’s four years of learning and obedience. On September 21, 1827, she accompanied her young husband to the Hill Cumorah, where the gold plates were at last given into his safekeeping. Interrupting the drive home, Joseph stopped and hid the plates in a hollow tree. Emma carried the plates and interpreters, covered only by a silk handkerchief, on her lap.
The ensuing days and weeks were filled with the most intense fears and anxieties. In early December, near the end of the year, they moved back to Harmony, where they worked to support themselves, living at first in a small attached kitchen of her parents’ home, later moving to a frame home which they purchased from Emma’s brother Jesse, just across the road from her parents’ house.
Surely the hearts of her family were somehow softened by the Lord during this crucial time when their help was so critically needed by the young couple.
Joseph began to translate the Book of Mormon, and Emma acted as his scribe. Martin Harris came to them and was given characters from the Book of Mormon to take to specialists in New York. From the beginning his involvement engendered conflict and difficulties—and his wife, nearly demented, was against her husband’s support of the Prophet, and determined to see and get her hands on the plates for herself. Martin’s wife horrified Emma by ransacking her home in search of them, and spreading falsehoods and alarms throughout the neighborhood. Martin promised to go home to Palmyra, but somehow entreated Joseph into letting him take the 116 page manuscript which had been translated with him—to prove to his crazed wife the validity of the work. He left on June 14, 1828.
The following day Emma’s baby was born—a tiny boy, whom they immediately named Alvin. But he did not survive his birth, and Emma became so ill that she “hovered between life and death.” The anguish of their loss and Joseph’s deep concern for his wife were compounded bitterly by Martin’s loss of the 116 pages! The plates were taken from Joseph for a spell, and he spent his somewhat dreary, repentant time in working the farm he had bought from Emma’s father. But this was a good healing and fallow time for them both.
In April 1829 Oliver Cowdery entered their lives. The work began again in earnest. “Oliver wrote ‘almost without cessation’ for several weeks.” But, how do you live without food, the very basics of life? Joseph Knight came to their rescue, bringing grain, tea, potatoes, “‘a barrel of Mackrel, and some lined paper for writing.’”
Emma had been raised with ease, wealth, and countless opportunities to do what she desired, from reading to horseback riding. The shock of this kind of an existence must have been great. In early June they could no longer make it, and Peter Whitmer’s son, David, brought a wagon and transported them all to live and work for a spell in his father’s house. These were the beginnings of Emma’s life. She had to tear herself away from her family again, and this was most hard. She had no home of her own and no idea of when she might have one, nor what her future might hold.
But the Church was actually organized in April of 1830, and Emma and the Knight family were baptized near the end of June. Even then, as always, a mob of fifty men harassed the people with rude disruptions and threats of real harm. Joseph was to confirm Emma and the others that evening, but as the Prophet recorded: “‘To my surprise, I was visited by a constable, and arrested by him on a warrant, on the charge of being a disorderly person, of setting the country in an uproar by preaching the Book of Mormon.’”
The case was eventually dismissed, but Emma’s confirmation did not go forward until sometime later.
It was in these most tumultuous, uncertain times that the Lord sent a special revelation to Emma—the only revelation in the scriptures addressed to a woman alone and, through her, to all of her sex. It is a beautiful and powerful scripture which was a comfort and guidance to Emma throughout her life. The Lord told her not to fear, and to “lay aside the things of this world, and seek for the things of a better” (D&C 25:10). She had been learning how to do this. She had been deeply tried. And she would be tried in the fire again and again.
By the end of January 1831 Joseph and Emma, and several hundred members of the Church, traveled through the snowy wilderness to Kirtland, Ohio. Three brief months later, on April 30, Emma gave birth to twins, Thaddeus and Louisa, who lived only three hours. Julia Murdock had also given birth to twins and died, leaving them motherless. So Joseph and Emma adopted these twins, naming them Joseph and Julia.
Less than a year later, however, when the babies were growing, a mob broke into their home, and little Joseph, who was already very ill, died after the intrusion of the men, who dragged the Prophet from his bed, beat him, tarred and feathered him, and left the sick baby exposed to the cold air of the March night.
Joseph exhibited to Emma a form of courage that required all the senses and all the qualities of soul she possessed. Despite being hurt and bruised, Joseph endured the cruel process of scraping the tar from his skin, and all that went with it, so that he could attend his church meeting the next morning and preach. That some members of the mob had the cruel audacity to attend that meeting must have tried Emma sorely!
In Kirtland was the School of the Prophets, and the building of the first temple since ancient times, the dedication of that temple with remarkable spiritual manifestations, visions, and blessings. But there was also Joseph and Hyrum spearheading in May of 1834 the dangerous journey of Zion’s Camp, a thousand miles into Missouri, where cruel mobs awaited them.
It took much work and sacrifice to erect a temple. And Emma again was pregnant, with her baby born June 20, less than four months after the March 7 dedication. Frederick Granger Williams Smith lived, and there were a few months of peace and rejoicing for Emma and the Saints. But speculation became rampant, and the Saints forgot the Pentecostal blessings, looking for the wealth and advantages of the world. When the National Bank Panic of 1837 hit and the Kirtland Safety Society Bank failed, it was easy to place the blame upon the Prophet. In January of 1838 Joseph was forced to leave Kirtland—alone—Emma and his family joining him in Far West, Missouri, in mid-March.
Emma was often left to face tremendous hardships and difficulties alone. There was loneliness and uncertainty—fear for Joseph—and the constant need to ask others for help and assistance.
February through May of 1838 were such months, and Emma, with three small children, was expecting again. But she was with Joseph and, though the going was slow, they were together, and often traveling with Brigham Young and others, who pooled their wisdom and experience in deciding how to cross the frozen Mississippi River.
It took three long, agonizing months to make the journey. Once in Missouri they faced the Salt River and the same kinds of challenges. Emma’s new home was a simple log cabin, furnished largely through the kind contributions and help of her neighbors. The Church was in turmoil, with many men who had been faithful in the beginning now being excommunicated for one reason or another.
On June 2 a son was born whom they named Alexander Hale Smith. One short factual sentence—but pregnancies, births, heart-rending infant deaths took their toll on the women of these times! And Emma found Missouri to be no haven for the newly arrived Saints. But despite upsets, some actual conflict, and many lying accounts, there was a season of basic peace, during which Joseph was at home, working on a history of the Church, and Emma was able to take care of her children and her new baby.
However, some of the lies against the Prophet, especially those of disenchanted members, led to the cruelty for which their enemies had been itching. On October 27, 1838, Governor Boggs issued an actual Extermination Order in which he said: “The Mormons must be treated as enemies and must be exterminated or driven from the state, if necessary, for the public good.”
Then Emma’s whole world exploded into madness. Far West became under siege of the mob. Joseph and his gentle brother, Hyrum, were handed over into the hands of murderers,
Emma’s home was ransacked along with the others. Everything of value or use was taken. One of the apostates who had previously sat at her table and shared sacred moments was William McLellin. Emma asked him, “William, why are you doing this?” His reply was, “Because I can.” Emma received tender communications from Joseph. “Farewell, oh, my kind and Affectionate Emma. I am yours forever. Your husband and true friend.” On at least three occasions, Emma contrived to visit Joseph. And how did she contend with the horrifying, inhuman circumstances in which he was imprisoned? She proved herself noble indeed; and noble again when she left the state of Missouri.
Brigham Young organized the brethren into a solemn covenant “to stand by and assist each other to the utmost of our abilities in removing from this state, and that we will never desert the poor who are worthy, till they shall be out of the reach of the extermination order.”
The citizens of Illinois were outraged at what had happened in Missouri and were willing to welcome the homeless wayfarers and assist them. Emma left Far West on February 7, 1838. Stephen Markham drove the wagon which carried Emma and her children, as well as the Jonathan Holmes family.
Once again Emma had to face a crossing of the frozen Mississippi. She walked across the great expanse, carrying her nine-month-old baby, her children clinging to her, and her body weighed down by Joseph’s papers, and his manuscript of the Bible, hidden in her pocket apron. Once she was safe in Quincy, Emma was given succor by the family of a Judge Cleveland and his wife, Sarah. Their home stood a little outside the town, and other families were staying with this kind family as well.
Emma does not leave written record, and we wonder how such a gathering of people, crowded into the home of strangers, were able to get along and make things work, as days and weeks stretched on. The horror of the sufferings they had just passed through and the anguish of being bereft of all their earthly goods lay upon the hearts of them all. But Emma bore a deeper anguish: what would happen to her husband, and how long would he be required to endure the inhuman treatment to which he was being submitted?
On April 22, 1839, “a ragged, dirty, emaciated Joseph approached the gate of the Cleveland’s house. After five long months in prison he and the others had been allowed to escape and were making their painful way back to their families. What made Emma look outside just at that moment . . . she rushed out into Joseph’s arms before he could get half way up the path to the house.”
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The following was taken from the book Women of the Restoration by Susan McCloud, currently on sale at Cedarfort.com.