Emma’s Lost Infants: A Review concerning the burial places of Emma’s lost children and activities by the Smith Family for the marking of family graves
Emma faced the tragedy of losing, in infancy, six of the eleven babies who came into her motherly arms. Emma’s sorrow over the loss of her babies was intense, but she was blessed to keep and raise five to whom she was a devoted mother.
For those of us living in a day and age when infant mortality is quite rare, it is hard to comprehend what it would have been like in the mid-19th century when women frequently either lost their own life, or their baby in childbirth.
Emma’s first baby, Alvin, was born 15 June 1828 at Harmony, Pennsylvania. His impending birth interrupted the translation work of the Book of Mormon, so Martin Harris, who was serving as Joseph’s scribe at the time, went back to New York State taking the first segment of the manuscript with him. A few days later, Emma nearly lost her life following the difficult birth; her baby, born with undescribed birth defects, survived only a short time. He was buried in the McCune Cemetery at Harmony, Pennsylvania.
Next Emma gave birth to twins, Thadeus and Louisa, who were born 30 April 1831 at the Morley Farm near Kirtland, Ohio. They died within a few hours of their birth, and their unmarked graves are undoubtedly some place on the Morley Farm. The loss was terrible for Emma.
Sorrow was followed by joy for Emma. Twins Joseph and Julia Murdock, born 1 May were brought to Emma’s arms. Their own mother died shortly after they were born, and their father, unable to care for them, allowed Emma and Joseph to adopt them. She took them to her bosom, loved them, and treasured them, until tragedy struck. A mob broke into their home and dragged Joseph outside, where they beat, tarred, and feathered him. In the process of this event, the babies, who were sick with the measles, were exposed to the cold night air. A few days later on 29 March 1832, little Joseph Murdock Smith died of complications brought on by this exposure. He was buried somewhere on the John Johnson farm at Hyrum, Ohio. His grave is also unmarked.
Emma was eventually blessed with four children who lived to maturity: Joseph III, born 6 November 1832, Frederick born 20 June 1836, Alexander born 2 June 1838, and David Hyrum born 17 November 1844. These sons brought joy and fulfillment to Emma in her motherhood, but she would lose two more infant sons, this time in Nauvoo, Illinois.
A year after the Smith’s moved to Commerce, (later named Nauvoo), in Hancock County, Illinois, Emma’s seventh baby, Don Carlos was born on 15 June 1840 in the shelter of the Old Homestead. He was named for his uncle, his father’s youngest brother, Don Carlos, who was frequently referred to in writing as ‘Carloss’.
Little Don Carlos thrived and was much adored by his mother, father, older brothers and sister, Julia. Then a dread sickness, prevalent in the summer of 1841, took the life of Uncle Don Carlos Smith on 7 August 1841. A week later, Emma and Joseph’s precious baby Don Carlos died on 15 August. Emma took this loss harder than all the others, because she had him longer, and the family had become very attached to him.
It has long been known that Emma lost another baby son in Nauvoo. Until the Bible record was found, it had been believed Emma’s unnamed son was born 25 December 1842. This happened because someone misread a journal entry for that date as saying Emma was “sick with Child” instead of ‘sick with a chill.’ This error has persisted in printed histories for over a century. However, the question is settled since Emma herself wrote the entry: “The 7th Son b & d 6 Feb 1842.” (copy of this record in author’s possession provided by Buddy Youngreen in 1976.)
Over the years most of us have not given a thought about where those babies were buried. If they were thought of at all, it has been assumed they were buried in unmarked graves along with other family graves in the yard of the Old Homestead which was Joseph and Emma’s home from 1839 to 1843. The fact is, according to evidence compiled by Lachlan MacKay, in his article, “A Brief History of the Smith Family Nauvoo Cemetery”, there were no burials in the yard of the Homestead until the bodies of Joseph and Hyrum were buried there sometime in the late fall or winter of 1844. (Mormon Historical Studies, Fall 2002) MacKay sites an article by Fred E. Woods, “Cemetery Records of William D. Huntington, Nauvoo Sexton,” which presents the full text of the record kept by Huntington, who was Sexton for the Old Nauvoo Cemetery from 1839 until his departure to the west in 1846. (Mormon Historical Studies, Spring 2002)
The Old Nauvoo Cemetery was located in “a square area south of White Street to a point about one quarter block north of Hotchkiss Street. The cemetery’s west boundary was near Jenetta Richard’s grave just west of Durphy Street, and it extended east across Durphy.” It extended a short way into what is now Nauvoo State Park. (Ida Blum, Nauvoo Gateway To the West printed and published by Ida Blum, 1971 through the Journal Printing Company, Carthage, Illinois.) Woods explains that before June 1842, this cemetery was the most used by the Saints, although “in May 1841, a new burying ground of ten acres had been purchased outside the city limits.” (HC 4:353) Eventually the Old Nauvoo Cemetery was closed due to changes in city planning, and all the bodies were eventually relocated.
Huntington’s record documents that Emma’s babies, who died in 1841 and 1842, were buried first in the Old Nauvoo Cemetery, as were several others of the Smith family including Father Joseph Smith Sr. in 1840, Mary Bailey Smith wife of Samuel H. Smith in 1841, infant daughter of Samuel and Mary, and even Samuel H. Smith who died in 1844. Also buried there were Sophronia C. Smith daughter of Don Carlos and Agnes Smith, as well as Hyrum’s seven-year-old son Hyrum Jr., and others.
Huntington’s record is of great value, even though it contains a few confusing errors, as in the case of Emma’s babies. The babies are listed out of order, placing the “unnamed Infant son of Joseph Smith” before that of the son named Don Carlos Smith. Woods also had some typing errors in his reproduction of the record of Don Carlos, stating the child’s age as 1 year 9 months, instead of 1 year 2 months, as is accurately shown in the photocopy of the actual record which Woods included in the appendix of his article.
According to MacKay, Father Smith, and all of the other Smith family bodies were moved to the yard of the Smith Homestead sometime before the exodus of the Church from Nauvoo in 1846. When Mother Smith died 14 May 1856, she was placed beside Father Smith’s grave. None of these graves were marked except by lilacs which Emma planted nearby.
Another burial there is of particular interest; Emma’s son Frederick Granger Williams Smith, who died of consumption in 1862, at the age of 25, was laid to rest in that area—his grave is also unmarked. As years passed other family members and a few friends were buried there and gravestones were placed for them. But nothing was done for the family graves.
Finally, after many years, on 2 December 1867 Emma wrote a letter to her son Joseph Smith III which shows that after many years she remembered her lost babies and wished that a fence be erected to enclose their graves. She also wanted markers to be placed for Father and Mother Smith’s graves, which were long marked only by a clump of Lilac bushes.
In her letter Emma says:
“Joseph, I would like if you are able to extend that fence so as to enclose the graves of your two little brothers. I have got twenty-five dollars that I feel to apply to the grave yard. After I have done that I think we can ask our Smith relations to help mark Father’s and Mother’s graves, if no more.” (Emma Smith Bidamon letter to Joseph Smith III, Library-Archives, Community of Christ Church, Independence, Missouri.)
Whether Joseph built the fence is not clear. After the death and burial there of Emma in 1879, and her second husband Lewis C. Bidamon in 1891, the Smith family had all moved away from Nauvoo. The little cemetery fell to weeds except for a small portion where Emma, Joseph, and Hyrum’s bodies had been re-interred in 1928, and kept up by the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
For many years the family burial plot was largely forgotten. After 1972, when the first Joseph Smith Sr. Family Reunion was held in Nauvoo, family interest was roused. Some yard work was done, but workers were few, and funds for upkeep were not available. Research revealed that beyond the few marked graves, a great many other unmarked Smith graves lay in that place. Discussions began among extended family members concerning the possibility of marking of the graves. At last, the Hyrum Smith Family Organization was joined by the Joseph Smith Sr. and Lucy Mack Smith Foundation to raise money for this and other projects. With approval by the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, (Now Community of Christ) the plan went into action.
Emma’s letter asking for something to be done to protect the cemetery came to the attention of the extended Smith family in a letter written 17 January 1991 by Wallace B. Smith (Emma’s great grandson). This letter sent to all descendants of Joseph Smith Sr. and Lucy Mack Smith invited all family and friends to participate in a fund raising project to establish a trust fund for the beautification and maintenance of the Smith Family Cemetery beside the Smith Homestead in Nauvoo. Response from the extended Smith family was gratifying. A new monument of Vermont Granite was set over the graves of Joseph, Emma, and Hyrum. On 4 August 1991, hundreds of the Smith descendants convened to place a wreath at the monument and dedicate the Smith Family Cemetery which had been greatly beautified with flowers, grass, and brick walkways. Many years of research has gone into identifying the names of individuals whose bodies had lain so long unidentified. Finally, a bronze plaque was erected showing the names of all those known to have been buried there—the exact burial location for some has not yet been identified. Emma’s wish that the fence be extended to include the two lost babies has been fulfilled; and fittingly, the Smith relations had assisted. By June 2002, descendants and friends gathered again to commemorate the lives of their ancestors and admire the beautiful marble headstones now marking the resting place of Father and Mother Smith.
The Smith Family Cemetery is not only a beautiful resting place for Emma’s last two lost babies—and many others—it is also a place where any day of the week, family, friends, and the public, may wander the paths, rest in comfort on the benches, meditate on the past, present, and future in a shady, quiet little spot along the edge of the Mississippi.