There were six Smith sons who lived to adulthood, with Joseph Smith Jr., who was named for his father, born in the middle.
What happened to the brothers of the Prophet Joseph, who died in Carthage when he was just 38?
The two eldest, Alvin and Hyrum, were both born in February, two years and two days apart (Alvin on Feb. 11, 1798, and Hyrum on Feb. 9, 1800). After years of struggle, culminating with crop failures and a severe, untimely frost that devastated Vermont, Joseph Smith Sr. moved his family to upstate New York.
It was imperative that they buy land to farm to sustain their lives. Despite poverty, all went to work with a will. Joseph's mother, Lucy Mack Smith, set up a little business painting oilcloth table coverings. Alvin offered to leave home and work where wages were highest.
“By my son’s persevering industry he was able to return to us after much labor, suffering and fatigue with the necessary amount of money for all except the last payment," Lucy wrote. "In two years from the time we entered Palmyra, strangers, destitute of friends, home or employment, we were able to settle ourselves upon our own land in a snug, comfortable, though humble habitation, built and neatly furnished by our own industry” ("History of Joseph Smith by His Mother").
It was always Alvin’s desire to care for his parents, and he was determined to build them a finer, larger home to enjoy in their “old age.” Oh, how many hazardous, painful, anguished miles they traveled before that time.
But Alvin was not destined to go with them. At age 25, he was engaged to be married and looking forward to his future. He wholeheartedly supported the work of his younger brother, but Alvin took suddenly ill in mid-November. When the physician gave a heavy dose of calomel, it lodged in Alvin's stomach, and within days he died.
He knew he was dying, and called all his family around him, tenderly blessing and admonishing them. To young Joseph he said: “… do everything in your power to obtain the record. Be faithful in receiving instruction and in keeping every commandment that is given you … your brother Alvin must now leave you, but remember the example which he has set for you" ("History of Joseph Smith by His Mother").
Twelve years later, in the vision Joseph received in the Kirtland Temple, he saw Alvin in the celestial kingdom and was taught the beautiful doctrine that those who would have obeyed the gospel, if permitted, would be heirs with those who did.
Hyrum was as steady as Alvin, and the tenderness of his relationship with Joseph began when the boy was in tormenting pain from the abscessed infection in his leg. Hyrum would sit for hours beside Joseph's bed, holding the leg and pressing it as tightly as he could to ease the pain, even a little. He remained a true friend, counselor and support to Joseph, and he was ordained patriarch of the church following the death of his father. This humble man happily honored the role his young brother had as prophet of the Restoration. The unity, trust and love they shared was rare. His was a life of tender service and faithful obedience. Nor, in the end, would he allow his little brother face death without him.
Joseph said of Hyrum: “I could pray in my heart that all my brethren were like unto my beloved brother Hyrum, who possesses the mildness of a lamb, and the integrity of a Job, and, in short, the meekness and humility of Christ, and I love him with that love that is stronger than death” ("Teachings of the Presidents of the Church, Joseph Smith").
Don Carlos, the youngest son, was born in 1816 and was 11 years younger than Joseph. He was often described as being very like his prophet-brother — 6-foot-4 and possessing the same tender kindliness of nature. He was ordained to the ministry at age 14. He bore a strong testimony and served many missions. In 1839, he became the first editor of the Times and Seasons in Nauvoo and was excited about the work. He also served on the city council, as brigadier general of the Legion and as president of the high priests quorum.
On Aug. 7, 1841, after complaining of pain in his side, he died quite suddenly of uncertain causes, sometimes described as a form of pneumonia, sometimes as quick consumption. The loss was tragic and unexpected, both to his family and his many devoted friends.
In January of this same year, Samuel Smith’s wife died, and Robert B. Thompson, Hyrum’s brother-in-law and joint editor of the Times and Seasons, died of the same complaint a month after Don Carlos. September 1841 also saw the death of Joseph and Emma’s youngest son, also named Don Carlos, and the death of Hyrum’s son named Hyrum.
Samuel Smith was one of the eight witnesses of the Book of Mormon and an original member of the church. He is also considered the first missionary of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, taking some of the newly published copies of the Book of Mormon out to whoever would receive them, and that included the brother and brother-in-law of Brigham Young.
On June 27, 1844, the day Joseph and Hyrum Smith were martyred, sounded a death knell for Samuel Smith as well. He was living several miles outside of Carthage, Missouri, and determined to ride in and see if he could help. But he was pursued and shot at, escaping only because of his endurance and superior horsemanship. He arrived too late but took his place in guarding the bodies of his brothers on their grim journey back to Nauvoo.
However, unable to even sit up because of weakness, he confided to his mother that “he had suffered ‘a dreadful distress in my side ever since I was chased by the mob, and I think I have received some injury which is going to make me sick.’” He died one month later, truly one of the martyrs to the truth ("Joseph Smith’s Brothers: Nauvoo and After," by Richard B. Anderson, Ensign, September 1979).
William was the only brother left, and from the beginning he had been a thorn in Joseph’s side, causing dissension and disunion in this otherwise strong and united family. Living in the East at the time of the martyrdom, because of his wife’s ill health, he returned to Nauvoo in 1845 and was made patriarch in place of the fallen Hyrum. He was powerful and persuasive in speech, but his disaffection increased, especially after his wife died. The Saints failed to sustain him as patriarch and he was excommunicated.
William never came West, but associated himself with the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in 1878. Large of frame, as the Smith men were, and powerful of person, he was yet a kindly father, as maintained by one of his sons who was later converted to the LDS Church. He maintained until the end of his life “unshaken confidence in my brother Joseph Smith as a true Prophet of God” ("Joseph Smith’s Brothers: Nauvoo and After," Richard B. Anderson, Ensign, September 1979).
Lucy, the wise and stalwart mother of these sons, recorded her anguished reactions at this time:
“I was left desolate in my distress. I had reared six sons to manhood, and of them all, only one remained … as I entered the room and saw my murdered sons … it was too much; I sank back, crying to the Lord in the agony of my soul, ‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken this family!’ A voice replied, ‘I have taken them to myself, that they might have rest.’
“As I looked upon their peaceful, smiling countenances, I seemed almost to hear them say, ‘Mother, weep not for us, we have overcome the world by love; we carried to them the gospel, that their souls might be saved; they slew us for our testimony, and thus placed us beyond their power; their ascendancy is for a moment, ours is an eternal triumph’” ("History of Joseph Smith by His Mother").
May the Saints who have reaped blessings from what they have sown never forget the sacrifice, the faith, the unfailing devotion and love of the family of Joseph Smith Sr. and Lucy Mack Smith.
Susan Evans McCloud is author of more than 40 books and has published screenplays, a book of poetry and lyrics, including two songs in the LDS hymnbook. She has six children. She blogs at susanevansmccloud.blogspot.com. Email: email@example.com