Friday, November 1, 2019

The Smith Family – Five Generations of Farmers

In an interesting choice of words, Joseph Smith’s mother makes a comment about Joseph describing the animals the Nephites road. Why this is important is two-fold: 1) Nephites did ride animals for their transportation; 2) The animals they rode were enough different from anything the family knew that Joseph had to describe them.
To begin with, after first visiting the Hill Cumorah and being tutored by Moroni, Joseph was instructed to return each year at the same time. He did so for further instruction “respecting what the Lord was going to do, and how and in what manner his kingdom was to be conducted in the last days” (Joseph Smith History 1:54).
    From his mother’s account, Lucy Mack Smith described some of the visions Joseph experienced while receiving Moroni’s instructions—visions that must have been quite vivid for his recital of them to the family carried extreme and vivid detail. She wrote: “During our evening conversations, Joseph would occasionally give us some of the most amusing recitals that could be imagined. He would describe the ancient inhabitants of this continent, their dress, mode of travelling, and the animals upon which they rode; their cities, their buildings, with every particular; their mode of warfare; and also their religious worship. This he would do with as much ease, seemingly, as if he had spent his whole life with them.” (Lucy Mack Smith, History of Joseph Smith by his Mother, “Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith the prophet and his progenitors for many generations,” O. Pratt & S.W. Richards, Liverpool, 1853, Vol 4 p537).
When the Smith family moved into this area, they had to clear places to build a house and for planting

Now, keeping in mind that the Joseph Smith, Sr., family lived in the Palmyra, New York, area for 14 years—from 1816 through 1830. They spent 12 of those 14 years on a farm in a “sequestered (isolated, hidden away) neighborhood” two miles south of the village on Stafford Road near the Palmyra-Manchester town line—this was a plot of ground just north of the 100 acres they planned to acquire where they built a log home and outbuildings where they resided for approximately seven years, paying a rent of $100 annually for 100 acres to Nicholas Evertson of New York City.
    Where they had been involved in odd jobs and shop-keeping in the past to earn money, father and sons now were faced with the daily unrelenting necessity to clear the land and cultivate a crop. To prepare the land for planting, they cut the underbrush, grubbed up small trees, and piled the cuttings into huge piles. When the ground was cleared, they felled the large tree and dragged them away or girdled them and let them die. When the piles of brush dried out, they burned them in roaring conflagration that left only blackened stumps charred logs, and scorched ground. Rather than work out the stubborn stumps, they let them rot and plowed around them.
Red lines: The Smith lot in Palmyra, with fields, wooded groves, orchard, barn, log home and frame home

A skilled woodsman in that day took seven to ten days to clear a single acre—a pioneer working alone could probably clear ten acres the first year, though at the risk of neglecting fences, garden, and the construction of barn and outbuildings. In the case of the Smiths, Lucy later wrote that they cleared thirty acres the first year, which would have been a herculean achievement even with the aid of Alvin, Hyrum, and Joseph, Jr.
    An Ashery in Palmyra, a factory that converted hardwood ashes into lye, potash, or pearlash, which were common in newly settled areas of North America during the late 18th and much of the 19th centuries, when excess wood was available as settlers cleared their land for farming, purchased the remains of brush and log fires for working into potash which gave the Smiths a little income from the very beginning. In fact, ashes and wheat were the two leading exports of the State in 1822. The Smiths also loaded corded wood in Palmyra as well as maple sugar they made from tapping maple trees.
    At the time, most farmers planted corn for family and animals on the first cleared land, with wheat following in the second year and a possibility of a small surplus beyond the family needs; however, Joseph Smith, Sr., was faced with a $100.00 mortgage payment the first year and non-payment gave the land agent the legal right to reclaim the farm, improvements and all, with no compensation for the family’s labor. Lucy Smith recorded that at the end of the first year they had made “nearly all” of their payment without being ejected.
    According to Richard L. Bushman, in Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism, (University of Illinois, 1984, p59), “Joseph’s day began early in the morning with chores in the barnyard, followed by a day of work in the fields. At this time he was the most useful to the family when he brought in income and was not yet laying aside money to start his own farm.”
The frame house on the Smith farm built by Alvin Smit, Joseph's older brother, who started the construction on the house in 1822. After Alvin's death in 1823, the family completed it

In 1825, they moved a few hundred feet south to their new frame home where their son, Hyrum, had arranged to purchase the eighty acres of land surrounding the log home, where he resided with his wife, Jerusaha Barden, after their marriage in 1826.
    Lucy Mack Smith’s reminiscences, plus Joseph Smith, Jr.’s, and William Smith’s recollections, paint an admirable picture of those years. In just ten years, says Lucy, the Smiths turned their heavily forested hundred acres into a productive farm “admired for its good order and industry” (Lucy Smith 1). They cleared 60 acres (thirty in the first year alone), cultivated approximately 35 acres, fenced the farm (to protect their crops from roaming animals), planted a large apple orchard, and tapped 1,200 to 1,500 sugar maples, producing 1,000 pounds of sugar annually. They also built a log home, a frame home, a barn, a cooper’s shop, and other outbuildings.
    By fall 1823, the season of Alvin’s death, the Smiths “enjoyed their third harvest,” and within five years they had completed the clearing and fencing. The Smith reminiscences recall with pride that every able family member cooperated fully, showing “the strictest kind of economy and labor” (Lucy Smith 49). Orsamus Turner, a neighbor, dated the Smith occupancy in their “rude log house” as the winter of 1819 and another neighbor, Pomeroy Tucker, dated their move-in as 1818, and Joseph Sr., dates it to 1819.
    Such farms had horses, burrows, goats, pigs, ducks, dogs, and chickens.
    In addition, Smith Sr., worked on and improved farms in Vermont, having skills that Yankee farmers routinely acquired including clearing land, constructing fences, raising fruit, making maple sugar, planting, tending, and harvesting crops, threshing grain, and mowing and putting up hay. Joseph Sr. could also lay stone walls, dig and rock up wells, construct simple buildings and make barrels. By the time they moved into Palmyra in 1819, when Joseph Smith Jr., was 14, Joseph Sr. and his older sons had a working knowledge of farming and running a farm.
    Obviously, the Smiths looked for land that met specific criteria based not only on their practical experience in working the land, but also on established agricultural models. For example, Tench Coxe, Assistant Secretary of the Treasury under Alexander Hamilton and Supervisor of the Revenue during the Presidency of George Washington, published widely read recommendations (View of the United States of America 1794) about manufacturing and agricultural settlement types during the years following the Revolution.
    Coxe suggested that emigrants to Western New York purchase “on hundred acres of sugar maple land.” If these acres were developed to standards of “ordinary American improvement,” “two thirds” should be cleared for the “culture of grass and grain,” and “one third” should be left in “wood and timber.” The timber should include about 1,200 maple trees, which, when tapped, would “make one thousand pounds of weight of sugar” (Coxe 69). The Smith family followed Coxe’s recommendation in almost exact detail.
Homes of the Smith family, including homes of Joseph Smith

Joseph Smith in 1814 was 9 years old when the family moved across the Connecticut River to Norwich, Vermont, where they suffered three seasons of crop failures, the last the result of the “Year Without a summer.” He was 12 years old when the family moved to the “burned over district” of Western New York, so-called because of the religious fervor, including abolition, women’s right, and utopian social experiments that swept the area, during the “Second Great Awakening.”
    It should be noted that in the modern technological society in which we now live, a person can live a productive and fulfilling life without owning any land. But in the premodern agricultural world, farmland ownership was necessary for family survival (for most people, there were no other safety nets such as tax-sheltered annuities, social security, and life insurance). The family farm was often the sole economic resource to sustain parents entering into the last years of life. Additionally, the family farm provided children a head start when parents gave them a section of land to begin their married life. Therefore, without farmland, the Smith family’s future appeared bleak.
    The reasons for their departure to western New York seemed clear: “For over a decade, weather, crop failures, creditors, illness, and business failures had battered the Smith household economy.” (Bushman, Rough Stone Rolling, 28.) They moved to western New York in 1816
    Other Smith family members had already separated themselves from their New England roots by moving to New York, and as a result, the safety net of family and friends was already unraveling in Vermont.
    By the time Joseph Smith was 24 years old and translating the plates obtained from the hill Cumorah, he had spent nearly some 20 years on the family farms, in addition to hiring himself out as a day laborer, on an occasional odd job or worker for nearby farmers. In fact, Joseph Smith himself not only grew up on and worked the family farm, his father and grandfather were farmers, Asael Smith having purchased a farm in Derryfield (now Manchester, New Hampshire (his brother also had a farm).
    The point is, when Joseph was translating, he occassionaly came upon a word that he did not understand and the Spirit could not refer the animal to him since Joseph had not idea of the animal in question. For a farmer and son and grandson of farmers, such an unknown animal would be one not only absent from farm life and New England living, but one in which Joseph had never before heard of nor seen.
    Thus to find the Land of Promise one needs to find two animals—the cumom and the curelom. It should be remembered, that farmers, especially anciently, not only worked with animals, but talked of and about them with other farmers. Of course the Smith family have lived on farms for five generations and they, like other farmer, were well aware of most animals then known to man. That Joseph did not know, and had no experience in knowing, the two animals referred to, should suggest that these were two animals unknown in North America at the time. And unknown in general.


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