Article compiled by John Kinhan, Topsfield, Massachusetts for the dedication of the Smith Family Monument 14 May 2022
In 1820, Joseph Smith, Jr., had his first great vision of God, his vision of Deity. In 2020, the bicentennial of the Great Vision, the Elders of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints (“LDS”) were scheduled to arrive for a June weekend in Topsfield to dedicate the Smith Family Memorial Monument in the Pine Grove Cemetery, but their visit was curtailed by the advent of the Covid-19 virus. The Smith family descendants now, however, intend to come to Topsfield during the weekend of May 13-14-15, 2022, to dedicate the Smith Family Memorial Monument and to meet dignitaries from the Town and as well as others from the Congregational Church.
The historical records show that five generations of Smith’s lived in Topsfield. Their first and only homestead in Topsfield was on a farm located on Boardman Lane. The original farmhouse and outbuildings have succumbed to time what remains is a well and now a bronze tablet commemorating the spot.
The first of the Smith’s, Robert Smith, was a 14-year old immigrant who settled in Ipswich in 1632. When he was 38 years of age, in 1656, he married Mary French and they eventually settled in the sparsely populated Rowley Village, along with fifteen other families. Rowley Village was set apart later from the Town of Rowley and incorporated as Boxford. The Smith family farm consisted of 75 acres along Pye Brook on Boardman Lane (No. 38), near the foot of Great Hill, an area known for its numerous springs, wells, and brooks. In the record of births of Topsfield, for the period of 1672-1674, three children, born to parents Robert and Mary Smith, were named: Nathaniel/born Sept. 7, 1672; Sarah/born August 28, 1673; and Jacob/born January 29, 1674 [Collections, Vol. XXVII, pg. 50; pg. 63; pg. 70]. Samuel Smith I, born in 1666, ancestor of Joseph Smith, Jr., would have been born in Rowley and there listed, although Topsfield records state that Ephraim, son of Robert and Mary Smith, was born Oct. 27, 1663 [Collections, Vol. XXII, pg. 128].
In The History of Rowley, Anciently Including Bradford, Boxford, and Georgetown, From The Year 1639 To The Present, by Thomas Gage, 1840, reprinted by Higginson Book Company, Salem, Massachusetts, at pages 356-371, there is a description of the layout and set-aside of “Village Lands” from the Town of Rowley. Rowley Village was created in 1666/1667 and the “village lands” were adjacent to and adjoined some of Topsfield. Due to the close proximity between those of the Village and those of Topsfield, the villagers co-existed and cooperated with Topsfield in some matters, including maintaining a militia and, of course, in public worship. The early settlers of the Village, numbering 16 families in May, 1673, attended public worship at Topsfield (in the second meetinghouse then located in the southeasterly section of the Pine Grove Cemetery) and contributed to the minister’s rate with the consent of the mother Town of Rowley.
In May, 1673, however, there was some disagreement between the “Villagers” and the ruling body of the Town of Rowley that pained Robert Smith and others to petition the General Court, viz:
To the Honorable General Court now sitting in Boston, this 7th of May, 1673. The Humble petition of divers well affected Inhabitants and House-holders of the Village commonly called Rowley Village.
Humbly sheweth: That whereas your petitioners formerly purchased a tract of land of Joseph Jewett of Rowley, now deceased, on which we now dwell, which land was sold to us as village land, free from any engagement to the town of Rowley, else we had not purchased it; as also it lying nigh to the now town of Topsfield, whose inhabitants about ten or twelve years since, called Mr. Gilbert to be their minister; he was unwilling to accept, unless we of the village would engage to pay our shares in and to public charges at Topsfield. Upon this….we agreed to pay our proportions as our honest neighbours of Topsfield did, only provided that they would remove or set the meetinghouse so as it might stand convenient for us; upon this a committee being appointed out of them and ourselves, agreed unanimously to set the meetinghouse toward the outside of Topsfield bounds towards us, which was done, and now stands to our great convenience, being almost as near to us as to divers of Topsfield, viz., two or three miles, and our distance from Rowley is 7 or 8, if not 9 miles, some of us. Farther, as to military matters, we were not regarded by Rowley for many years, but that service totally neglected, which the Major of the Regiment understanding, sent his warrant to us to train in Topsfield; we obeyed, and that company and ourselves agreeing, some of us were chosen into office, mutually by both places, and were all as one town and company very lovingly agreeing. While some time as some of us….broke the neck of Love and unity with our neighbours of Topsfield. Abraham Reddington…and divers other persons…move(d) this Honorable Court to free us from Topsfield, and lay us to Rowley, to our great incumbrance and inconvenience every way, both as to matters civil, ecclesiastical, and military; our condition is hereby rendered extremely burdensome, divers of our people are already joined to the church at Topsfield, and more may soon be if God please to move our hearts, it being the only nigh place where we can hear and enjoy the solemn and public worship on the Lord’s days; what division this may in time produce, especially since the late law impowering none but persons in full communion to elect or have voice in electing church officers, etc., we cannot but, as our case stands, be afraid of. There being by this means a foundation laid for not only unpleasant variance, but future alienations with our Loving brethren of that church.
This is our distracted and wronged case and condition by reason of our breaking with Topsfield, which we do tender to your Honorable selves, for redress and cure, Humbly beseeching your Honors herein, that our poor village, being by sixteen families, incapable of calling a minister or maintain one, and so far from other towns, and so nigh to Topsfield, may be laid thither and united to that town, which will be for the great behoof of them and us both, in respect to township and militia, as well as church, and minister’s encouragement, all of us being hardly able to maintain one able minister honorably, we beg we may be declared a free village from Rowley, as our deed of our lands, and lines, and bounds demonstrate. These privileges, granted by your worships, will, we trust, tend to the honor of God, peace and comfort of our neighbours, and benefit of ourselves, your poor petitioners. We leave ourselves herein to the mature consideration of this Court; praying the only wise God to direct, counsel, and guide you in all things. [Author’s note: all spelling was altered to agree with current-day spelling].
The lament of the Villagers and their desire to bind in certain matters with Topsfield was brought to the attention of the General Court. In June of 1671, upon petition of Topsfield, which sought an Order to join the Villagers to Topsfield for military and church purposes, the Court issued a March, 1672 order that “…at the next training day at Topsfield, the soldiers of the Village shall attend there and declare whether for the future they will train there or not. And as the major part of the said Village soldiers shall determine by vote, it shall be binding during the court’s pleasure.” In May 1672, the Court, upon information that Rowley Village and Topsfield had united in one military company, declared that “…the Villagers ought to continue in the military company with Topsfield and to attend all military service and exercise under the established officers of that company until they be released or otherwise disposed of by the General Court’s order.” [Collections, Vol. XXV, pgs. 88, 89, 92]. The unresolved issue of joint church membership and funding of the minister’s salary was unaddressed until the Smith petition was laid before the General Court in May, 1673.
This first generation of Smith’s, Robert and Mary, were succeeded in Topsfield by their son, Samuel Smith I (the First), who married Rebecca Curtis in 1707, and they produced ten children. Samuel Smith, like all the Smith’s, was a farmer, and he also served the town as its constable [Collections, Volume XIX, pg. 62].
In Volume XIV of The Historical Collections of the Topsfield Historical Society, published in 1909 by the Society, in the chapter Records of the Congregational Church in Topsfield, are some of the church records made by the Rev. Joseph Capen from 1684, the year of his ordination, and by others through the mid-1770’s. He made a list in 1684 of the names of the members of the church when he was ordained as its settled minister, and the names included: Wife of Robart Smith.
Following the year 1684, Rev. Capen’s records contain these entries:
Samuel Smith – member
Samuel Smith, Jr. & Priscilla, his wife, owned the Covenant – 01/02/1737
Robert Smith owned the Covenant – 10/12/1746
Asa Smith & Elizabeth, his wife, owned the Covenant – 08/28/1768
Asahel Smith & Mary, his wife, owned the Covenant on 03/08/1772
Captain Samuel Smith admitted into the church on 05/15/1774
In Vol. 16, Collections, at pages 56 and 164, describing town meetings of November 17, 1727, and November 1, 1725, the town approved payment to Samuel Smith (Sr.) for bridge planking and for timber to mend highways. The specifications for “bridge planking,” noted on page 37 of Volume 17 of The Collections, were: “good white oak plank, two and a half inches thick and fourteen feet long.” In 1727, Smith Sr. was chosen as the church’s tithingman [Vol.17, Collections, at page 16(6)]. In Parson’s Capen’s list of members, above, the entry of “Samuel Smith – member” is in reference to Samuel Sr. who was born in 1666; Samuel Smith, Jr., born on January 26, 1714 in Topsfield, is the one known by his prefix of “Captain” and who served the town in many important and official capacities before and during our nation’s infancy.
Samuel Smith II (the Second) married Priscilla Gould in 1734 and together they had 5 children, including Asael Smith, the grandfather of Joseph Smith Jr., the Prophet. Samuel Smith II distinguished himself through his patriotic and municipal service in many capacities, including: twelve terms as a town Selectman, occasionally as the Town Clerk, as the town’s representative to the General Court (1766), and as one of the three town delegates to the 1774 County Convention at Ipswich wherein “…resolutions were passed, protesting with equal severity against the oppressive acts of parliament, the arbitrary conduct of ministers, and the hostile operations of Governor Gage. These resolutions were immediately forwarded to the ‘Grand American Congress’ then sitting at Philadelphia” [Collections, Vol. XXVIII, page 68]. When the first Provincial Congress was organized in Cambridge in October, 1774, with John Hancock as its President, Samuel Smith II stood as Topsfield’s representative. In the early part of the war years, Samuel, now Captain Smith of the militia, was a member of the Revolutionary Committee for Correspondence, the Tea Committee, and a member of the Committee of Safety. His devotion to family and country was total and unwavering.
His son, Samuel, with whom he shared cultivation of the family farm, was inspired to join in the revolutionary cause like his father, but in a direct military manner. In a series of seventeen volumes identifying all those who had a part in the Revolution, there is this entry on page 537 of Volume XIV: Smith, Samuel. Private, Capt. Benjamin Gould’s co., Col. Wade’s regt.; entered service July 6, 1780; discharged Oct. 10, 1780; service, 3 mos. 17 days, including 12 days (240 miles) travel home; regiment raised in Essex Co. to reinforce Continental Army for 3 months. Roll dated Topsfield. In the multi-volume compilation of servicemembers, the Smith’s occupy 257 pages, commencing with: Smith, — , Ipswich. Sergeant, Capt. Abraham How’s co., which marched on the alarm of April 19, 1775, from West Parish in Ipswich; service, 1 day; and ending with Smith, Zephaniah. [Massachusetts Soldiers and Sailors of the Revolutionary War, compiled from Archives by the Secretary of the Commonwealth, 1906, Wright & Potter Printing Co., State Printers, Boston].
Asael (sometimes “Asal” or “Asahel”) Smith, another son of Captain Smith, was also a pew holder in the 1759 Meetinghouse, according to the History of Topsfield, Massachusetts, the 1940 publication of the Historical Society. The church records indicate that his allocated pew was in the South Hind in the West Gallery.
His son, Joseph Smith Sr., the father of the Prophet, was born on July 12, 1771 at the family homestead and was a member of the Congregational Church. In 1791, he accompanied his father, Asael, when the family moved away to Tunbridge, Vermont. Thus ended the nearly 150 year connection with Topsfield. It is fitting to mention that the decision to remove from Topsfield may in part be ascribed to the utter insolvency of Capt. Smith at his death in November, 1785, his having pledged his life, fortune, and sacred honor for the cause of sovereign independence. A severe recession followed the end of the war and the “Continentals” with which Samuel was remunerated for his patriotic services became worthless. His son, Samuel, shared the working of the family farm in Topsfield while Asael and his family maintained another farm in Derryfield (Manchester), New Hampshire. Upon their father’s death, the sons decided they would switch farms and so they did. Asael, over the course of several years, with income derived from the family farm, toiled to repay the debts of his father’s estate. Family tradition holds that the debts of the estate were fully satisfied.
While he was tending to the farm and working off his late father’s indebtedness, Asael unwillingly became involved in a dispute as to water flowage rights between the owners of the two grist mills. The Smith farm was, in part, bounded by Pye Brook where it split into two branches: one branch went southeasterly as Mile Brook to the Peabody mill, while the other branch went northeasterly as Howlett’s Brook to the Hobbs mill. A memorandum signed by “Asahel Smith” relates the origin of the flowage dispute: September the 24th 1787, Mr. Jacob Peabody stopped the water at the mud-sill the first time – the 25th, Mr. Benjamin Hobbs cleared it as he told me – the 26th, Mr. Peabody stopped it again as my two sons, Sam’l and Asael told me – the 27th of said month Mr. Hobbs come & took the stoppage out, myself and two sons, Jesse & Joseph, being present and he told us he would take out as fast as Peabody put in – Mr. Peabody, Jr. came the same day and began to stop it again and I went down and forbid him using any of my property to stop said brook or coming any more there with that design. October the 12th: Mr. Jacob Peabody, Jr. stopped the brook again; the same day Mr. Benjamin Hobbs cleared it. November the 3rd: Mr. Peabody & son & Mr. Sam’l Brown come & filled up the mouth of the Hobbs’s stream at the crotch of said brook with large stones on each side of the width of 2 feet & 5 inches and raised the bottom of said brook about 5 inches from its usual depth with flat stones. November 5th: Mssrs. Abraham, Benjamin & David Hobbs & Mr. John Perkins, Jr. came with 5 yoke of oxen and a drag to clear out the stones again – I forbid them coming on to my land – Benjamin Hobbs come to my house and desired me to go with my two oldest sons with him and measure the depth of water that ran over the mud sill and likewise the depth of the brook at the crotch which I did and we found the water that ran over the mud sill 2 ¾ inches deep and at the crotch of said brook in Hobbs’ stream it was 11 inches deep. Further saith not. A short memorandum. Signed: Asahel Smith. [Collections, Vol. 1, pages 41-42].
In 1789, Asael sent a humorous note to the Topsfield Town Clerk concerning his taxable property, [Collections, Vol. 23, pg. 125], as follows:
“I have two polls, the one is poor,
I have two cows and want three more,
I have no horse, but fifteen sheep,
No more than these this year I keep.
Steer’s that’s two years old, one pair,
Two calves I have all over hair;
Three heifers two years old I own,
One heifer’s calf that’s poorly grown.
My land is acres eighty-two,
Which sarch the records you’ll find ‘tis true;
And this is all I have in store,
I’ll thank you if you’ll tax no more.”
In 1790, three years after the water flowage dispute, Asael sold the property and farm in Topsfield and moved his large family up to Tunbridge, Vermont, where he purchased eight-three acres in the “gore.” He purchased other farms of 100 acres each in 1794 and 1795, and stood for elective offices, twice serving as a Selectman, an occasional Town Moderator, highway surveyor, and as a grand and petit juror. [see, Joseph Smith’s New England Heritage, Influences of Grandfathers, Solomon Mack and Asael Smith, 1971, Richard Lloyd Anderson, Deseret Book Company, Salt Lake City, Utah].
The Fall 2021 article in the BYU magazine which is found on the Joseph Smith Foundation website (Joseph Smith Foundation.org) makes this statement: While it is impossible to measure the overall influence and extent that Topsfield’s cultural, social, economic, political, and religious environment had on these early generations of the Smiths, anthropologists would contend that the early conditions, circumstances, and forces that characterized families like the Smiths had long-lasting effects that impacted the character, attitudes, beliefs, and ways of thinking of their descendants in succeeding generations. In the case of Joseph Smith, his ancestral roots helped to shape not only who he was but also who he was to become.
While the Smith family may have moved away from Topsfield during Washington’s first term as President, the family has always had a foot planted in town. George A. Smith, a Mormon church historian for the period of 1854-1870, arranged to have a Smith family marker placed in the Pine Grove Cemetery in 1873. As reported in the Salem Gazette of Sept. 5, 1873: The Smiths, of Utah, have just caused a very neat free-stone monument to be put up in our old buying ground, to the memory of their ancestors. [Coll., Vol. XXVI, pg. 138]. Members of the Smith family have belonged to the Topsfield Historical Society (“THS”) since its founding in 1894. Annual Reports of the THS mention the passing of some of its members, including the following: “1918 – Joseph F. Smith, President of the Mormon Church, Salt Lake City, who had been a member of the Society since 1902,” and “1919 – Heman C. Smith of Lamoni, Iowa, a descendant of Asahel Smith of Topsfield.” Today, the stately Smith Family Memorial Monument sits prominently in the south-east corner of the cemetery and, within its enclosure, still embraces the 1873 monument.
While the membership of the Congregational Church of Topsfield is modest, the members of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints, in Utah alone, number 2.1 million attending 5,200 congregations. It is not an infrequent occurrence that we are visited by members of their church, from near and far, in their quest for connection to the very roots of their religion where five generations of the ancestral Smith family called Topsfield their home and the Congregational Church their sanctuary. They may be assured that the church of their founders is and will forever be a continuing and welcoming refuge to them and that no sectarian prejudice shall act as a bar to our collective interest in the service of the One from whom all blessings flow.
The Smith’s knew Topsfield when it was known as New Meadows by the Ipswich and Rowley farmers who first settled the area. The Agawam called this area “She-ne-we-medy.” By 1639, the area was settled with a sufficient number of families to be considered a village separate from Ipswich. Within two years, the villagers even had their own minister, Reverend Wm. Knight. By 1648, Samuel Symonds, owner of 500 acres in New Meadows, and an Assistant in the colony’s General Court, changed the name of New Meadows to “Toppesfield,” after the town he came from in Essex County, England. The name was changed again and shortened to Topsfield when the village and farms were incorporated in 1650. Tradition holds that Toppesfield is named after Topp, a Saxon chieftain, who crossed the North Sea from the Frisian Islands about 550 A.D. [“Namesake Towns in Our Essex County,” The Essex Institute Historical Collections, 1945, Vol. 81, Pg. 270].
The house shown above was located on the Smith farm that was in close proximity to Pye Brook; in fact early deeds include Pye Brook as the northwesterly bound. As early as 1665, Francis Peabody operated a grist mill downstream from this site drawing water from Pye Brook – Mile Brook. When the house was built for Dorman in 1690, it was laid out as a 40 by 20 foot dwelling house. In 1791, Asael Smith sold the property to Nathaniel Perkins Averill for 270 pounds. Francis Peabody, mentioned above, is the early ancestor of George Peabody, the London-based merchant banker, favored by Queen Victoria, who left his banking business to Junius Morgan who, in turn, brought his son, J. P. Morgan, into the business. Brigham Young, the second President of the Mormon church, is a descendant of Peabody through his mother, Abigail Howe, a great-great-great granddaughter of Francis Peabody [Collections, Vol. 30, pg. 120]. Topsfield was an ancestral home to several significant families, including Gould, Towne, Perkins, Perley, Averill/Avery, and Wildes.