(b. Jan. 26, 1714; d. Nov. 14, 1785), the grandfather of Joseph Smith Sr., was remembered as a man of integrity. His obituary read: “DIED–At Topsfield [Mass.] on Monday the 14th instant, Samuel Smith, Esq., aged 72. So amiable and worthy a character as he evidently appeared, both in publick and private, will render the memory of him ever precious. For a number of years he represented the town in the General Court, where he was esteemed a man of integrity and uprightness. His usefulness among those with whom he was more immediately conversant, was eminent. He was a sincere friend to the liberties of his country, and a strenuous advocate for the doctrines of Christianity. ‘The memory of the just is blessed.’(Salem, Mass., Gazette, Nov. 22, 1785, Cited in Richard L. Anderson, Joseph
Asael (B. March 7, 1744; d. Oct. 30, 1830), the son of Samuel, as a young man helped on his father’s farm, but according to the custom of the day, the care and income of the farm was entrusted to Asael’s oldest brother, also named Samuel, and thus Asael learned a trade. He married, and moved to New Hampshire. Yet when his father was old, and enfeebled by sickness, Asael returned to Massachusetts to visit his father before he died. Though lying near death’s door, this father still bore a strong sense of responsibility for the care of his family and the cancellation of his debts. He arose from his bed in a semi-delirious state, and declared he would go to the mill to work. Calming him, Asael promised that he would go to the mill, and care for his father’s wife and family. Then, said Asael, “he lay down quietly, knowing that I always did as I agreed, and soon after fell asleep and was gathered to his people. This promise cost me much money and trouble, but I never regretted it. I have done as I promised.” (John Smith Journal, July 20, 1839, cited in Anderson, Ibid., pp. 94-95.)
Asael’s integrity was tested by his commitment to care for his father’s family. His own health as weakened by sickness, and he had not worked for three years, except as a town clerk. In addition, much of the information needed to settle his father’s affairs were buried with his father. Still, this father of eleven, though suffering from economic setbacks and in a near destitute condition, moved from his New Hampshire homestead to the Topsfield, Massachusetts farm, and began the years of toil that honored his promise to his father. “I am not willing,” said Asael, “that my father, who has done so much business, should have it said of him that he died insolvent. . . .I will undertake to settle my father’s estate and save his name from going down to posterity as an insolvent debtor.” (Ibid., Anderson, p. 97).
At this time in our national history , the value of the currency fell, and Asael was pressed: “Debts incurred by the father during heavy inflation had to be repaid by the son during depression, when falling farm prices decreased the cash value of Asael’s labors.” (Anderson, p. 97). Still, with five years of hard labor and disciplined management, Asael was able to pay off all his familial obligations. His pocketbook was much diminished, but his moral stature was much enlarged; he valued his good name and his integrity more than he valued wealth.
Asael’s son, Joseph Smith Sr. (b. July 12, 1771; d. Sept. 14, 1840), inherited and magnified his father’s sense of integrity. He married Lucy Mack January 24, 1796. As a marriage gift, Lucy received $1,000, half of which came from her brother Stephen, and the other half from Stephen’s business partner, John Mudge. These newly weds began farming, and Lucy tucked her monies away for future use. That use came some six years after marriage, when they opened “a merchantile business” in Randolph, Vermont. This store sold a line of goods purchased on credit from Boston merchants for about $1,800.
At about this same time, Joseph determined to sell ginseng root, which grew in the wilds of Vermont, and could be processed, crystallized, and sold at a profit in China, where it was valued as an antidote to the plague which was then raging there. He processed a large amount of ginseng, and was offered $3,000 for it by a Royalton, Vermont, Merchant named Stevens. Feeling it a better investment, Joseph refused Mr. Stevens’ offer, took his crystallized root to New York, and arranged for it to be shipped to China. Mr. Stevens, meanwhile, arranged to ship some of his own ginseng on the same ship, sending his son on the voyage to manage the sale.
When the younger Stevens returned from China, he told Joseph the investment was a failure, the ginseng did not sell, and that a chest of tea was his sole gain. Stephen Mack, Joseph’s brother in law, learned however, that the ginseng had sold for a sizable profit, that young Stevens had pocketed Joseph’s share, and lied about their success. Joseph immediately went seeking the young Stevens, who had fled the state, finding refuge in Canada. Joseph never recovered this lost investment.
To the ginseng loss was added some $2,000 in bad debts and the $1,800 owed to his Boston mercantile suppliers. Joseph and Lucy then sold their farm and redeemed Lucy’s $1,000 marriage gift in order to liquidate their debts. This honesty left them without property, but earned them the esteem of honest men and women. (For an account of the entire ginseng episode, see: Lucy Mack Smith, History of Joseph Smith by His Mother, Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft, 1958, pp. 37-40).
For these early Smiths, their commitments to integrity grew out of deep religious convictions, and the confidence that God placed us here on earth not to make money, but to prove ourselves true to eternal principles. Life is a test of integrity, and it is a far greater gift to give one’s posterity the example of integrity than to give them great wealth. We owe these noble ancestors a debt, which can best be repaid by living as they lived.