Juvenile Instructor » Found it in the Archives: Joseph F. Smith’s Patriarchal Blessing
 


Found it in the Archives: Joseph F. Smith’s Patriarchal Blessing

By: Nate R. - October 13, 2012

Years ago I was combing BYU’s L. Tom Perry Special Collections for materials related to Joseph F. Smith, 6th president of the Church.  I found a number of hidden treasures, including a holograph copy of a patriarchal blessing supposedly given to Joseph F. Smith more than a year and a half prior to his first Hawaiian mission, when he was thirteen years old. The blessing had already been electronically catalogued by BYU, so seemed to me a valuable artifact that had been “hidden in plain sight.”  No previous biographer of JFS, from Joseph Fielding Smith to Scott Kenney, had used this blessing in discussing JFS’s early life.

Patriarchal blessings as an historical source often tell us more about the individual bestowing the blessing than the receiver; or provide insight into contemporary Mormonism’s values and assumptions.  However, as I sat in the Special Collections reading room and examined the document, I couldn’t help but try to place myself in the thirteen-year-old’s shoes, rather than those of “Uncle” John Smith, brother of Joseph Smith Sr.  Young Joseph F. Smith had been in the Salt Lake Valley for a few years by 1852 and had been baptized in May of that year—the upheaval of the Mormon Exodus had delayed his entry into the Church.  And—though Joseph F. did not know it—it would be just another few months before his mother, Mary Fielding Smith, would pass away, and less than two years before he would be on his way to the Hawaiian Islands as a fifteen-year-old missionary.

With these things in mind, I read the following blessing, and wondered how these words might shape the young Mormon’s perception of himself.

[Note:  spelling, punctuation, and grammar have been retained as in original; numbers reflect original manuscript lines]

PATRIARCHAL BLESSING OF JOSEPH F. SMITH

GIVEN BY PATRIARCH JOHN SMITH (1781-1854)

DATED 25 JUNE 1852

L. Tom Perry Special Collections,Brigham Young University,Provo,UT

Call number:  MSS SC 585, Manuscript Collection

1                         A Blessing by John Smith Patriarch

2                         upon the head of Joseph Fielding Smith

3                         son of Hyrum and Mary Fielding Smith

4                         born November 13th 1838 at Far West,

5                         Caldwell Co Missouri.

6                         Brother Joseph in the name of

7                         Jesus of Nazareth, I place my hands

8                         Upon thy head, and confirm upon you

9                         all the blessings of Abraham, Isaac, and

10                       Jacob.  The blessings of the everlasting

11                       Priesthood which is after the order

12                       Of the only Begotten.

13                       I seal upon you in fulness in due

14                       time, which will reveal unto you all

15                       the hidden mysteries of the Reedemer’s

16                       Kingdom.  Thou art of the Blood of Ephraim

17                       And no good thing shall be witheld from

18                       you.  You shall have house and land

19                       until you are satisfied.  You shall

20                       have Horses and Chariots and servants

21                       and Handmaids that will delight to do

22                       thy business.  Thou art one of the

23                       House of Ephraim, called to push the

24                       people together from the ends of the

25                       earth and from the Isles afar off

26                       At thy rebuke the elements shall be still

27                       At thy rebuke all things shall obey thy

28                       voice  You shall baptize captains of

29                       vessels and many sailors.  You shall

30                       lead thousands to Zion and no power

31                       shall stay thy hand

32                       The mantle of thy Father shall be upon

33                       thee.  You shall break Fetters of Iron

34                       and Gates of Brass.  Prison walls shall

35                       fall at thy rebuke.  Your name shall

36                       be had in Honorable rememberance

37                       among the saints for ever.

38                       You shall have a companion that shall

39                       be suited to thy conditions.  She will make

40                       you happy.  Your posterity shall be great

41                       None shall excell them in Israel

42                       They shall spread upon the Mountains

43                       so numerous that they cannot be

44                       numbered for Multitude.  You shall

45                       live to take vengence on those that

46                       have slain your Father.  Shall come

47                       up in the morning of the Resurrection,

48                       Inherit a Kingdom and a Dominion

49                       that shall never fail with all your

50                        Fathers House, even so Amen

 

It is likely impossible to find primary evidence of how Joseph F. regarded his patriarchal blessing; that is to say, that he saw events in his life as fulfillment of promises made in the blessing (in my presentation at the 2012 Church History Symposium I argued for some possible interpretations of the blessing to this effect). Whatever you may think of it, or of analyzing patriarchal blessings as primary sources, the blessing provides a wonderful glimpse into a pivotal moment in time for a thirteen-year-old boy who had little idea of the journey he would take over the remaining 66 years of his life.

 

 



12 Comments

  1. What an absolute treasure. Thank you so much for bringing it to light, or rather, to the net. Much to ponder about these blessings. I was also 13 when I received mine, and I have a glimpse of a memory of what that felt like, so I can feel in the smallest way for him. How will we all look back on our blessings through the lens of our lives? Curious.

    Comment by Bonnie — October 13, 2012 @ 2:18 am

  2. I hate to be cynical but it is clear that most of the components of his blessing were never fulfilled. He didn’t have chariots. He didn’t baptize captains and many sailors. He didn’t lead thousands to Zion. He didn’t break out of prison. Nor, did he have a single companion (he had five). And, he didn’t live to take vengeance on the slayers of his father.

    My own was just about as bizarre and disconnected from my life.

    I really don’t know what to make of these blessings. Lots of people see things in them but most I’ve read have little connection to actual events in the life of the person.

    Comment by Steve — October 13, 2012 @ 8:46 am

  3. Very cool find, Nate, and thanks for sharing here.

    Comment by Christopher — October 13, 2012 @ 9:07 am

  4. A lot of this blessing is fairly typical for the blessings I’ve seen given to Mormon men — the part about commanding the elements, for example, was fairly common for men who were called to serve in the South Pacific. What seems unique, though, is the statement about baptizing sailors. I haven’t really seen that in a lot of patriarchal blessings.

    Comment by Amanda HK — October 13, 2012 @ 10:01 am

  5. “The mantle of thy father[.]” Hard to imagine what this might mean to a young person in Utah at that time might. Tremendous.

    Comment by J. Stapley — October 13, 2012 @ 10:44 am

  6. Wonderful. Thanks for sharing.

    Comment by Robin — October 13, 2012 @ 12:52 pm

  7. #1 Bonnie–This was one of my big questions as I examined the artifact: did JFS periodically review his blessing, reflecting on its promises, even as you suggest in his declining years? I haven’t found any evidence either way. There is some scant evidence to indicate that he took it seriously in his youth–he would occasionally record in his mission diaries the names of ship captains, for example, especially if he had conversation with them. He wrote home while on his British mission for a copy of “his blessing”, which could mean either this patriarchal blessing or possibly some credential. I know that, personally, I don’t bust out my journal any time I re-read my own patriarchal blessing and write down my reflections. (Perhaps, for posterity’s sake, I should?)

    #2 Steve–I have some personal interpretations of how we could read between the lines to find fulfillment of some of these promises; as I mentioned in the post, I shared these at the Church History Symposium last March and would be happy to send them your way. nate.ricks AT gmail.com. If patriarchal blessings, especially from this time period, are read literally, then they can seem quite absurd. Of course no one had a fleet of chariots during JFS’ lifetime (but a fleet of automobiles…) And JFS did help lead hundreds, if not thousands, of emigrants from Europe to Utah as a missionary and mission president.

    #4 Amanda–yes on the unique promise of baptizing sailors; and this pre-dated his call to the Pacific by almost two years. Did HCK and GAS have access to the blessing and call him to the Hawaiian mission because of it? Or could we just assume that, since he was very young at the time of the blessing, he would have ample opportunity to converse with sailors in a missionary capacity sometime in his life? He was probably excited at the prospect as a 13-year old, having lived in land-locked parts of the United States his whole life.

    #5 Stapley–I thought of two interpretations of the mantle: the obvious one being that of Church Patriarch (which office would be occupied by JFS’ older half-brother, John Smith, from 1855-1911) and that of Church Presidency, which keys Hyrum held jointly with Joseph Smith after his ordination as “Assistant President.” I suppose additional interpretations might be argued, such as the responsibility over the extended Smith posterity (which JFS seemed at times to have taken on himself).

    And, as you rightly bring up, it may have meant any number of things to JFS at thirteen–if it meant anything at all.

    Comment by Nate R. — October 13, 2012 @ 2:16 pm

  8. The baptizing sailors bit is especially interesting because sailors in the 18th and 19th centuries were regularly characterized as some of the most irreligious and immortal folks around, especially by the missionaries who relied upon them for transport.

    Comment by Christopher — October 13, 2012 @ 4:59 pm

  9. This is a wonderful find Nate. Patriarchal blessings are always an interesting subject. They provide us a window into both Mormon history and theology.

    Rumor has it that Later Patriarchal Blessings will be at the Signature offices next week. This new volume will contain Joseph F. Smith’s Patriarchal Blessing from his brother and Church Patriarch John Smith who gave him a longer blessing in 1874, than the one from his uncle.

    This book will have over 800 blessing and will include the two blessings given the Joseph Fielding Smith, Joseph F. Smith’s son. It is a great time to be interested in Mormon history.

    http://signaturebooks.com/2012/09/later-patriarchal-blessings-of-the-church-of-jesus-christ-of-latter-day-saints/

    Comment by Joe Geisner — October 14, 2012 @ 1:28 pm

  10. Nate,

    This is awesome. For my JFS paper, I attempted to connect the “Your posterity shall be great None shall excell them in Israel,” to the physical and mental blow that JFS appeared to have taken at the death of Hyrum M. Smith. Lost Legacy seem to point to JFS’s belief in a prolonged Smith Family dynasty. I read the letters that were sent to JFS and Edna Lambson Smith, along with notes from other apostles journals, etc. and Hyrum M. Smith seems to have been regarded as the most spiritually powerful son. Do you have any further insight on JFS’s personal feelings when HMS died?

    Comment by J Stuart — October 14, 2012 @ 4:46 pm

  11. #9 Joe–looking forward to examining that 1874 blessing.

    #10 J. Stuart–I have not spent much time examining JFS in the 20th century. S. Taysom or Amanda HK might have more insight. (I was sorry, by the way, that I couldn’t attend your presentation! Sounds like it was very well done.)

    Comment by Nate R. — October 14, 2012 @ 10:02 pm

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