Six Funerals and a Blessing

[This post is seventh in a series. To read from the beginning, go to A Faithful Joseph.]

Joseph Smith, Sr.

When discussing Joseph Smith’s plural marriages, many have simply presumed that Joseph initiated marriages whenever there was a plausible opportunity for Joseph to be in the same town or house or room as a putative wife. This seems to be the rationale behind Compton’s assertion that Joseph married Lucinda Pendleton in 1838 or the belief that Joseph fathered children with Hannah Dubois in the early 1830s.

I propose that instead of looking for possible trysts, we look at the deaths the ripped Joseph’s cautious soul enough to open a path for the restoration of eternal marriage, including plural marriage. The deaths of which I speak are in the historical record, though largely unknown. There may be more than the six I enumerate here: brother, son, friend, wife & mother, daughter, and father. But I believe these six were sufficient to open Joseph’s mind and heart to the meaning of God’s promise to the fathers and children stated in Malachi and quoted by the Angel Moroni.

Beloved Brother: Alvin Smith

Alvin was Joseph’s eldest brother, a man Joseph both loved and looked up to. The Angel Moroni told Joseph that Alvin was to be the one who must accompany Joseph if he were to retrieve the ancient record from the Hill Cumorah. 1 Alvin’s death devastated Joseph on many levels.

When Joseph directed the people to complete the first temple in Kirtland, he had no knowledge that the dead could be redeemed or that families could be bound together. Thus he was completely surprised when he saw Alvin in a vision of the Celestial Kingdom. 2 The vision showed Joseph there was a way for those who died without baptism to be accepted into heaven, but the revelation does nothing to explain how it is done.

Beloved Son: Cyrus Livingston Neyman

Jane Harper (Neyman) and William Neyman appear to have joined the church in the early 1830s. Before they accepted the gospel, however, two of their sons had died. 3 Their son Frederick had died in infancy. Son Cyrus Livingston was a teenager when he died. 4 As was common for early Latter-day Saints, Jane would have presumed Cyrus was damned, as someone of age who had never accepted the gospel in this life.

In April 1840 Joseph Smith spoke to the Saints in a grove of trees for the tenth anniversary of the formation of the Church. His text was the story of Nicodemus and the need for baptism. Those who documented Joseph’s comments said Joseph’s observations were “very beautiful and striking… throwing a flood of light on the subjects which were brought up to review.” 5

For Jane Neyman, however, the sermon rekindled her grief about her son’s damnation. For as Jesus told Nicodemus, “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 6 And “except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” 7 History doesn’t capture how Joseph became aware of Jane’s torment. But it likely weighed on his mind for months. 8

Alvin would be saved. Why not Cyrus Neyman? Yet how could they be born again, these mature loved ones who had died without baptism?

Beloved Friend: Seymour Brunson

Seymour Brunson joined the Church in early 1831. He’d served several missions, endured the hardships of Missouri, and was the individual who brought the charges against Oliver Cowdery that resulted in Cowdery’s excommunication. By 1840, Brunson was one of Joseph’s body guards, a member of the High Council, and a Lieutenant Colonel in the Hancock County Militia. When he died on 10 August, 1840, Brunson was only 42 years old. 9

Seymour’s funeral was held Saturday, on August 15, 1840. The line of mourners stretched for a mile. 10 No doubt the mourners comforted Seymour’s family, honoring his life of sacrifice and reassuring them Seymour would certainly be saved.

Jane Neyman was there as well, 11 and likely comforted those in need of comfort. But every word of honor and reassurance would have pierced her soul. Seymour would be saved in God’s Kingdom. Her son, Cyrus, she believed, would forever be barred.

Then Joseph began to speak. He talked of the resurrection, reading from the epistle of Paul to the Corinthians, where Paul wrote to convince the Corinthians of the resurrection:

If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.
But now is Christ risen from the dead
For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.
…[Christ] must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet.
The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death. 12

It was a typical Christian funeral. But Joseph saw Jane Neyman in the crowd and knew that he needed to comfort her as well. So he continued:

Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? why are they then baptized for the dead? 13

Joseph said, “Paul was clearly talking to a people who understood baptism for the dead, for it was practiced among them.”

He spoke of Jane, “This widow 14 [has read] the sayings of Jesus ‘except a man be born of water and of the spirit he cannot enter the kingdom of heaven.’ Not one jot nor tittle of the Savior’s words should pass away, but all shall be fulfilled.” 15

Joseph would later write:

“If we can, by the authority of the Priesthood of the Son of God, baptize a man
in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, for the remission of sins, it is just as much our privilege to act as an agent, and be baptized for the remission of sins for and in behalf of our dead kindred, who have not heard the Gospel, or the fullness of it.” 16

“Shall we not go on in so great a cause? Go forward and not backward. Courage, brethren; and on, on to the victory! Let your hearts rejoice, and be exceedingly glad. Let the earth break forth into singing. Let the dead speak forth anthems of eternal praise to the King Immanuel, who hath ordained, before the world was, that which would enable us to redeem [the dead] out of their prison; for the prisoners shall go free.” 17

Those who heard these teachings were filled with joy, but none more so than Jane Neyman. Less than a month later, Jane Neyman asked Harvey Olmstead to baptize her on behalf of Cyrus. Brother Olmstead did as Jane asked, performing the proxy baptism in the Mississippi River. Vienna Jacques, 18 intent on witnessing this important event, rode her horse down into the river so she could hear the ordinance. 19

Afterwards Joseph Smith asked what words were used in performing the ordinance. I find it interesting that we don’t know whether it was Jane Neyman, Brother Olmstead, or Vienna Jacques who relayed the words. When Joseph heard what had been done, he approved what had taken place. 20

Ordinances on behalf of the dead could be performed by proxy. In less than a week, the power of this principle would explode in terrible urgency.

Beloved Wife & Mother: Rosetta Marietta Carter Holmes

In 1837 Joseph Smith arranged to marry Jonathan Harriman Holmes to Marietta Carter in a double ceremony with Wilford Woodruff and Phoebe Carter. 21

Marietta was the ward of Jared Carter, he of the two Kirtland homes and schemes to procure a second wife. 22

My novelist’s heart likes to imagine that Jared Carter had offered Joseph the hand of Marietta in exchange for the wife Jared hoped to receive. In a parallel quandry, I like to imagine that Jonathan Harriman Holmes had fallen in love with and proposed to the comely Fanny Alger while he lived in the Smith home in Kirtland, possibly being the innocent cause of the confrontation in the barn between Fanny and Joseph. Thus the marriage of Marietta and Jonathan could have neatly tied up loose ends from two Kirtland disasters involving attempted plural marriage.

By August 1840, Marietta and Jonathan had two daughters: a toddler named Sarah and a newborn named Mary. They lived very close to Joseph and Emma Smith just off Water Street, about a block east of the homestead. 23 Emma herself had just had a new baby, a little boy named Don Carlos. It seems natural that Emma and Marietta would have been close during this time. It also seems likely that Jonathan Holmes might have built a two-story log cabin to accommodate both his family and his business as a cobbler.

A strong summer storm hit Nauvoo in the days after the Brunson funeral. What happened next would remain a closely guarded secret, the only record surviving in the stories Marietta’s toddler was told to explain where her mother had gone, stories shrouded in the trappings of the Missouri persecution narratives. 24 But Sarah’s stories describe events that happened in August 1840, a time frame of supposed peace in Mormon history.

That fateful day, August 18-19, 1840, a group of men from Missouri approached Water Street. Their target must have been the distinctive two-story homestead where Joseph and Emma lived. But in the storm they became confused and attacked another home on the street–the Holmes cabin. There they found Marietta with her daughters Sarah and baby Mary. Eventually the men fled, leaving the cabin in flames and the mother terribly wounded.

In Sarah’s stories her mother took shelter with neighbors who fetched her father. The rest of Sarah’s Nauvoo stories talk about living in the Smith home, playing alongside the Smith children, keeping watch for those approaching the Smith homestead, kneeling in prayer alongside Joseph Smith and Joseph’s son, Joseph III, and stealing cookies from the black cook (Jane Manning). Though never stated, it seems likely the “neighbors” Sarah describes were the Smiths.

I imagine Marietta being carried from her burning home to the homestead. Jonathan hurries in, stopping in horror as his worst fears are realized. Joseph Smith watches, knowing that Marietta bears the wounds intended for Emma and himself.

It seems clear to me that Joseph would have comforted Jonathan and Marietta. Though death was imminent, their union and their love could persist despite the cruelty of the mob, despite the tragedy of a life ended so young.

Marietta died August 20, 1840. 25 She was only twenty years old.

Joseph knew of the New and Everlasting Covenant that could bind husbands and wives together for eternity. He had received the keys of that power more than four years earlier, but had yet to use that power to bind his own marriage, much less the marriage of any other couple. As they buried Marietta, I believe Joseph must have realized that the ordinance of marriage could also be performed for those now dead, just as baptism could be performed by proxy.

Beloved Daughter: Mary Holmes

We do not know what the mob did to Mary Holmes. Therefore I do not know whether Joseph and Emma expected baby Mary to survive her mother. But in the weeks that would transpire between Marietta’s death and the death of baby Mary, Emma likely nursed the doomed infant alongside her own son. 26

Mary passed away on 10 September, 27 her death echoing the many infant deaths Joseph and Emma had suffered. When a baby stops nursing suddenly, a mother’s body goes into mourning. 28 So even though Mary was not Emma’s child, the loss would have been profound. Beyond the Smiths’ grief was the mourning of their silent friend, the gentle Jonathan, the father who now sat in the corner holding his one remaining family member, the toddler Sarah.

I believe it was in this crucible that Joseph finally understood that the sealing power could bind parents to their children and children to their parents. It could seal infant Mary to Jonathan and Marietta. It could seal his own departed children to himself and Emma. It could seal him to his own father, bedridden since March 1840.

Beloved Father: Joseph Smith Sr.

Joseph Smith’s father was a weak and flawed man. 29 Yet Joseph loved his father, and sought to honor him whenever possible. Joseph had confided in his father regarding his boyhood visions. As Father Smith neared death, it seems likely Joseph would have talked with his father about the the New and Everlasting Covenant and his reluctance to obey.

On September 12, 1840, Father Smith began vomiting blood. Until that day the family had hoped Father Smith would recover. 30 The Smith household was still reeling from the deaths of Marietta and Mary Holmes.

Joseph’s mother Lucy documented the scene.The recent attack on the Holmes cabin appears to have been a concern to the Smiths, as Lucy recounts Joseph promising to stay by his father’s side, saying that “Bennett is here and he will fix things so that we will not be in danger of being disturbed by the Missourians.” 31

Father Smith proceeded to bless his family, first his wife, then his sons, and finally his daughters. But it is the blessing on Joseph that is of particular interest.

“Joseph, my son, you are called to a high and holy calling. You are called to do the work of the Lord. Now, hold out faithful and you will be blessed, and your family shall be blessed, and your children after you. You shall live to finish your work.”

At this Joseph cried out, “Oh, Father, shall I?”

Father Smith continued “Yes, you shall. You shall live to lay out all the plan of all the work that God requires at your hand. Be faithful to the end. This is my dying blessing on your head in the name of Jesus. I also confirm your former blessing upon you, for it shall be fulfilled. Even so. Amen.” 32

Joseph did not cry out because of his father’s imminent death, but because Father Smith told him he would have to finish “the work” before he could die. If Father Smith’s blessing were true, this work was not something Joseph could hope to leave to his successors.

After the blessings were done, Father Smith comforted Lucy. The frailties of old age seemed to slip away as he died, for he remarked, “Why, I can see and hear as well as ever I could.”

Minutes later Father Smith remarked “I see Alvin.” Shortly thereafter he quietly stopped breathing. 33

I submit Joseph’s attempt to obey the 1831 commandment regarding plural marriage and the New and Everlasting Covenant did not start in earnest until September 14, 1840, at the deathbed of his father.

My next post will address the several rejections Joseph faced as he initially tried to persuade women to become his plural wives, and the hopeful days of Dr. Bennett’s initial months with the Saints.

Go to: Winter of the Reluctant Virgins


  1. Smith, Lucy, “Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith, the Prophet, and His Progenitors for Many Generations,” Liverpool, 1853, p. 88
  2. D&C 137:5
  3. The Rachel Neyman Story, available at
  4. See record for Cyrus Livingston Neyman (L7GB-KDL). Although the Rachel Neyman Story claims Cyrus left Butler, Pennsylviania with his family in 1830, he and Frederick are the only children who could have died before the family left Butler. Cyrus must have died before August 1840, based on Joseph’s comments regarding Jane Neyman at Samuel Brunson’s funeral.
  5. Times and Seasons Vol. 1. Whole No. 6., Commerce, Illinois, April, 1840, recounting events during the General Conference held April 6, 1840.
  6. John 3:3
  7. John 3:5
  8. In August 1840 Joseph would reveal the doctrine that proxy baptisms could be performed on behalf of the dead, after noting Jane Neyman, “a particular widow in the crowd whose son had died without baptism.” He then quoted the verse from John 3 where Jesus told Nicodemus baptism was required–the same verses Joseph had quoted during his April 1840 Conference address.
  9. See Seymour Brunson Wikipedia article, retrieved 16 February 2014.
  10. Account of Heber C. Kimball, in Andrew F. Ehat and Lyndon W. Cook, The Words of Joseph Smith (Provo, Utah: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1980), 49.
  11. Her presence is inferred from Joseph’s comments regarding the widow whose son had died.
  12. 1 Corinthians 15:19-26
  13. 1 Corinthians 15:29
  14. Jane’s husband, William, was actually still alive. But he would die less than three weeks later
  15. Susan Easton Black, “‘A Voice of Gladness for the Living and the Dead’ (D&C 128:19),” in Religious Educator 3, no. 2 (2002): 137–149.
  16. History of the Church, 4:569; from a discourse given by Joseph Smith on Mar. 27, 1842, in Nauvoo, Illinois; reported by Wilford Woodruff.
  17. D&C 128:22, from an epistle from Joseph Smith the Prophet to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, containing further directions on baptism for the dead, dated at Nauvoo, Illinois, September 6, 1842.
  18. Vienna Jacques is sometimes listed as one of Joseph Smith’s plural wives, though the purported evidence did not lead to her inclusion in Todd Compton’s Sacred Loneliness.
  19. Black, “‘A Voice of Gladness for the Living and the Dead’ (D&C 128:19).”
  20. Church History In The Fulness Of Times Student Manual, (2003), 251–262, available online at, retrieved 16 February 2014.
  21. The double ceremony was performed by Frederick G. Williams on 13 April 1837. The Prophet Joseph had intended to perform the marriages, but threat of violence related to the failure of the Kirtland Safety Society required Joseph to be absent from his home. See Activities of Esquire Williams, 2012, available online at, retrieved 16 February 2014.
  22. Compton, Sacred Loneliness, p. 39. See also my previous post in this series, available online at
  23. See documentation for Jonathan Harriman Holmes in the Land and Records Office in Historic Nauvoo.
  24. The stories Sarah told her children are contained in the records for Jonathan Harriman Holmes available at the Lands and Records Office in Historic Nauvoo. The family stories lump Marietta’s death with the Missouri persecutions (e.g., Compton, Sacred Loneliness, p. 546) but Marietta’s 1840 Nauvoo death is recorded in Lyndon Cook’s compilation Nauvoo Deaths and Marriages, 1839-1845.
  25. Lyndon Cook’s compilation Nauvoo Deaths and Marriages, 1839-1845.
  26. Although it is possible some other mother could have nursed Mary Holmes, Jonathan and Sarah lived in the Smith home after Marietta’s death, making Emma the most likely wet nurse for the child.
  27. Lyndon Cook’s compilation Nauvoo Deaths and Marriages, 1839-1845.
  28. I experienced this firsthand at the death of my own son. I assume the phenomenon the doctors described to me would have been operative for Emma less than two hundred years earlier.
  29. Those disenchanted with the Church point out that Father Smith sometimes drank. He had also “allowed” events that impoverished the family, which forced his sons to seek every opportunity to make money to redeem their debts. The family’s failed mortgage was the reason Joseph hired himself out as a “dowser,” which would lead to the claims Joseph was a money digger.
  30. From The Revised and Enhanced History of Joseph Smith by His Mother, edited by Scot and Maurine Proctor.
  31. ibid.
  32. ibid.
  33. ibid.
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About Meg Stout

Meg Stout has been an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ (of Latter-day Saints) for decades. She lives in the DC area with her husband, Bryan, and several daughters. She is an engineer by vocation and a writer by avocation. Meg is the author of Reluctant Polygamist, laying out the possibility that Joseph taught the acceptability of plural marriage but that Emma was right to assert she had been Joseph's only true wife.

10 thoughts on “Six Funerals and a Blessing

  1. Meg, I think you are doing a great job in helping us see and understand the real person Joseph Smith rather than the person many people would like him to be. Bravo.

  2. Wow, Meg, that was incredibly interesting.

    Obviously you are make a number of conjectures (though that is common with history) but I can see that they at least seem plausible.

    I had never considered the possibility of the connection between that well know story of the final father’s blessing and the start of plural marriage. That is particularly intriguing.

    Can you shed any more light on the possible/supposed marriage with Lucinda Pendleton in 1838? I know the antagonistic Sarah Pratt claimed it happened and maybe that isn’t the strongest evidence. But didn’t Church historian Andrew Jenson (according to Compton) also believe that this was one of Joseph’s marriages? (At least at some point?)

  3. Hi Bruce,

    I’m not suggesting that Lucinda Pendleton couldn’t have been one of Joseph’s wives, but I dispute dating that relationship to the earliest possible time when Joseph and Lucinda were under the same roof. I think Lucinda and Joseph were likely sealed in the aftermath of the Bennett fallout, when Joseph was in hiding from those trying to extradite him to Missouri on suspicion of having ordered the hit on Governor Boggs of Missouri.

  4. Meg,

    That makes perfect sense to me. Thank you for the clarification. Yes, that actually does fit my personal concept of how polygamy unfolded. And frankly those wanting to date it earlier do all have an axe to grind too.

  5. You know, I want to make another comment.

    This is a really good example of the idea of “line upon line.” We start with a belief that no one can be saved but those with “the truth” and then come to realize that people not baptized in life can somehow be saved, then come to realize that there are other kingdoms (in D&C 76), then have baptisms for the dead revealed, and then all ordiances for the dead.

    And at each step, there is a story or a need or a question that drives it.

    What makes this even more interesting is that the Book of Mormon actually hints at all this.

  6. I’d love for you to enumerate the Book of Mormon hints.

    I assume you did notice the levirate marriages of the Queen of the Lamanites? Delightful stuff that a boy writing nearly a millennium after marriage was redefined ought not to have been able to make up.

  7. It has been interesting catching up with your posts on this subject. I feel that conjecture is inevitable when there is a dearth of data, or when there is a dross of conflicting information. You have made conjectures but as someone particularly familiar with your path since you first began this journey, I know you have been fairly scrupulous to base your conjectures on the best evidence available combined with your own perspective as a woman with a complex biography which gives you a unique view of human behavior, particularly that of a believer.

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