In late 1825, Joseph Smith
was working as a hired hand on a farm in South Bainbridge, New York.
He was tasked with finding and unearthing buried treasure presumed to be
located there. Joseph boarded at the nearby home of Isaac Hale, where
he met Emma, Isaac’s twenty-year old daughter. She has been described
as 5’9” tall, “Fine looking, smart, a good singer” and “well
turned, of excellent form...with splendid physical development.”
Joseph’s mother recalls, “...he had come to the conclusion of getting
married...and he thought that no young woman...was better calculated to
render [him] happy than Miss Emma Hale...” Joseph twice asked
Emma’s father, for her hand in marriage, but was refused because he was
On January 17, 1827,
Joseph and Emma rode away from the Hale residence on a horse and the following
evening were married by a judge in South Bainbridge. Emma remembers,
had no intention of marrying when I left home...[but] Preferring to marry
him to any other man I knew, I consented.” Emma and Joseph retreated
to Palmyra to live with Joseph’s parents. Months later they returned
to the Hale home to retrieve Emma’s belongings. Isaac Hale was angered:
have stolen my daughter and married her. I had much rather have followed
her to the grave.” In an attempt at reconciliation, Joseph promised
Isaac he would give up the treasure seeking business.
A month later, on September
21, Joseph announced he had obtained gold plates, inscribed with an ancient
language, that were buried in a hill near his home. Emma had gone
with Joseph to the hill, waiting patiently in the wagon until he returned;
the plates wrapped in his coat. Emma described that she later wrote
as Joseph translated the plates, “with his face buried in his hat...hour
after hour.” The plates “lay on the table...wrapped in a small linen
table cloth”. Emma was not allowed to see the plates, but she
remembers touching them beneath the cloth. By spring of 1830, the
gold plates had been published as the Book of Mormon, and a new church
founded, with Joseph as its prophet.
In 1831 Emma and Joseph
moved to Kirtland, Ohio where the church was rapidly growing. There,
on April 30, 1831 Emma prematurely gave birth to twins, but both died.
The following day Julia Murdock died while also giving birth to twins.
The father, feeling unable to care for the children allowed the Smiths
to adopt them as Joseph and Julia. A year later young Joseph would
In the fall of 1832,
Joseph was visiting New York City. Writing home, he said, “the
thoughts of home, of Emma and Julia, rushes upon my mind like a flood and
I would wish for moment to be with them. My breast is filled with
all the feelings and tenderness of a parent and a Husband...cumfort yourself
Knowing that God is your friend in heaven and that you have one true and
living friend on Earth your Husband.” On the same day Joseph
returned home from New York, Emma gave birth to a baby boy. They
named him Joseph. A few years later, Emma would give birth to another
In January 1838, lawsuits
and dissention over the failure of the church run Kirtland Banking Society
plagued Joseph. After dark on January 12th, he fled Kirtland on a
horse headed for Missouri, designated by revelation as “Zion”.
Five months pregnant, Emma and the children would pack the wagon and begin
the 800 mile trip without him. Once in Missouri, Emma would give
birth to another son, Alexander.
The peace hoped for
in Missouri would not last. Tensions between Missourians and migrating
Mormons soon erupted into conflict. Joseph was jailed for his participation
in the clash. Fearing for his life, he wrote to Emma: “If I do
not meet you again in this life may God grant that we may meet in heaven,
I cannot express my feelings, my heart is full, Farewell Oh my kind and
affectionate Emma. I am yours forever.” In another letter he
wrote, “Oh my affectionate Emma, I want you to remember that I am a
true and faithful friend to you ... My heart is entwined around yours forever
Emma and the rest of
the church were soon forced to leave Missouri. In February 1839,
with Joseph still in jail, Emma moved their family to Illinois, crossing
the frozen Mississippi River with her four young children age eight-months
to seven-years. Emma herself was 4 months pregnant with another son,
Don Carlos. Joseph would soon join his family in what would become
the thriving city of Nauvoo.
In the relative stability
of Nauvoo, Joseph would try to establish polygamy, a practice he had flirted
with in Kirtland and Missouri. Between the years 1841 and 1843, Joseph
would marry more than thirty wives. He kept the practice veiled from
the public and from his wife, Emma. When she discovered that he was
taking additional wives, she struggled to accept it. Joseph received
a revelation regarding this “new and everlasting covenant” of plural
marriage, part of which was directed at Emma:
D&C 132:1 Verily,
thus saith the Lord...
D&C 132:4 ...no
one can reject this covenant and be permitted to enter into my glory.
And let mine handmaid, Emma Smith, receive all those [wives] that have
been given unto my servant Joseph...
But if she will not abide this commandment, then...I will...give unto him
an hundred fold in this world, of...wives...”
And if he have ten virgins given unto him...he cannot commit adultery...
...if any man have a wife...and he teaches unto her [this] law...then shall
she believe and administer unto him, or she shall be destroyed...
Emma surrendered to
Joseph’s revelation, even allowing several of his wives to live in her
home. But her submission soon faltered and Joseph arranged for these
wives to live elsewhere. On August 16, 1843 William Clayton wrote
in his diary, “This A.M. Joseph told me that...Emma...had resisted the
P[rinciple] in toto, and he had to tell her he would relinquish all for
her sake...He however told me he should not relinquish anything.”
In early 1844, dissenters
in Nauvoo learned of Joseph’s polygamy, and published the “Nauvoo Expositor”
accused him of introducing the doctrine of “the plurality of wives”.
As Mayor of Nauvoo, Joseph ordered the printing press destroyed.
He was subsequently arrested, soon to be jailed in nearby Carthage.
Before Joseph was taken away, Emma asked him for a blessing. He instructed
her to write the blessing down and he would authorize it upon his return.
In part, Emma wrote, “I desire with all my heart to honor and respect
my husband as my head, ever to live in his confidence and by acting in
unison with him retain the place which God has given me by his side...”
While jailed in Carthage,
Joseph was killed by a mob action on June 27, 1844. When his body
was returned to Nauvoo, Emma knelt by his side and cried, “Oh, Joseph,
Joseph! My husband, my husband! Have they taken you from me at last!”