It was June 15, 1828. Martin Harris, who had been assisting Joseph Smith in the translation of the Book of Mormon, had left the day before for his home in Palmyra, New York. Joseph and Emma Smith were at last alone together in their little home in Harmony, Pennsylvania. And their first child, a son, made his appearance. But it was a difficult ordeal, and Alvin — named after the Prophet Joseph Smith’s elder brother who had died — did not survive his birth.
Life had been filled with challenges, dangers, fears and humiliations ever since Emma's marriage to Joseph Smith. But a child could have softened all that. Instead, the devastation continued, with Martin losing a portion of the manuscript of the Book of Mormon translation, which Joseph had entrusted him, and — in the midst of their anguish and aloneness — the young prophet being sternly admonished by the Lord (see Doctrine and Covenants 3 and10).
This was the first child. There would be others. Emma’s health improved and she rallied. In 1831, according to the history of this period in “Joseph Smith: A Photobiography,” she and Joseph were content in their own little cabin in the Morley settlement, just outside Kirtland, Ohio, the new gathering place of the members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Two sets of twins
When Emma gave birth to twins on April 30, she and Joseph were delighted: Thadeus and Louisa they called their new little boy and girl. Their son and daughter lived only a matter of hours, and the young parents grieved their deaths.
But Joseph Murdock, hearing of their loss, came to them with the story of his own. His wife, Julia, had also given birth to twins, but the birth had cost her life. It was decided that Emma would take the motherless babes as her own, and she named the little girl Julia, after the infant’s own mother.
Surely, a little time, a little space of happiness was not too much to ask. Emma was content caring for the little ones while Joseph, traveling the long distance to visit the Saints in Missouri, was gone for 2½ months. The twins had grown. Upon Joseph's return, he and Emma delighted in the twins' baby antics.
Joseph was entrenched in his translation of the Bible and needed a quiet place to work, so he moved his little family to John Johnson’s home in Hiram, Ohio, 30 miles from Kirtland, in September, according to “Joseph Smith: A Photobiography." The fragrant days of autumn came and passed, and as well as the sweet days of Christmas. Revelations had come to the Prophet Joseph and Sidney Rigdon, a counselor in the presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and members of the church rejoiced at the goodness of the Lord to his people.
But on March 24 of the new year 1832, a nightmare emerged out of an already difficult trial. The twins, nearing their first birthday, were ill with measles, and the worried mother and father had been up for hours caring for them. Suddenly, harsh noises reached out to them from the darkness.
Emma had seen the effects of hatred and mob mentality before. A mob of angry men stormed the door and, with oaths and crude laughter, dragged Joseph from his bed, exposing the sick children to the cold that poured into the room.
Emma comforted the babies as well as she could. Joseph, cruelly treated, tarred and feathered, stumbled home hours later, his appearance so horrifying Emma that she fainted at the sight.
The Prophet was almost miraculously able to preach the following day, which was the Sabbath, speaking to friend and foe alike on “brotherly love.” But a few days later, little Joseph Murdock, despite his parents’ prayers and efforts, died of pneumonia — becoming the first death in the church caused by persecution, according to "Emma’s Glory and Sacrifice: A Testimony," by Gracia N. Jones, who is a descendant of Joseph and Emma (Homestead Publishers and Distributors, Hurricane, Utah, 1987).
There was scant time for comfort. Joseph left for Missouri three days after the burial of their child, according to "Emma’s Glory and Sacrifice." Emma, homeless, was meant to stay with her friend Elizabeth Whitney, but was turned away at the door by her friend's aged aunt. For the time being, little Julia was all she had.
Joseph Smith III
In November 1832, Emma gave birth to Joseph Smith III, the first of her sons who eventually lived to adulthood. For a season, life in Kirtland was filled with progress, unity and small pleasures, including the School of the Prophets, as shared in “Joseph Smith: A Photobiography."
Emma assembled the hymnbook the Lord had instructed her to make (see Doctrine and Covenants 25), the temple was completed and dedicated in March 1836 (see Doctrine and Covenants 109-110), and rich blessings were poured out upon the Saints.
Five more sons
Emma gave birth to two more healthy sons who lived to adulthood: Frederick, known as Freddie, in June 1836, and Alexander in 1838, after she and her family moved to Far West, Missouri, with the body of the Saints. With the atrocities of the Missouri years and the imprisonment of her husband, Joseph, the long trials cannot be dealt with here.
After reaching the haven of Nauvoo on the Illinois side of the Mississippi River, Emma bore a seventh child in June of 1840, a son she named Don Carlos, after Joseph’s much loved younger brother, as shared in "Emma’s Glory and Sacrifice." Four of her children had been taken as infants, and she had five living children.
On Aug. 15, 1841, 14-month-old Don Carlos, the delight of the entire family, died — just a week after his namesake, the Prophet’s brother, Don Carlos, died of pneumonia. This was the most bitter of all the losses for Emma to endure, according to "Emma’s Glory and Sacrifice."
Five children were gone from her and another son, who died as he was born on Feb. 6, 1842, was given the name of Thomas. A little over two years later, her beloved Joseph would suffer a martyr’s death, while she carried their unborn son.
This son, David Hyrum, was born on Nov. 17, 1844, five months after Joseph’s death. And Emma began a long period of loneliness, of emotional and spiritual privation and loss. As all her beloved female friends followed the Saints to the West, she faced a different set of trials, and Nauvoo became merely a shadow of what it had been, as Jones shares in "Emma’s Glory and Sacrifice."
'I know my babe'2 comments on this story
Wendy C. Top, in an essay in "Heroines of the Restoration," describes a remarkable occurrence. When Emma was very old and close to death, she saw a vision of both her husband and the Savior. Joseph called her and said, “'Come with me, Emma. It is time for you to come with me.” He escorted her into a beautiful mansion and in one of the rooms, within a cradle, a baby lay. “'I know my babe,’ Emma said, ‘My Don Carlos that was taken from me.’”
Weeping for joy, she turned to him. “'Where are the rest of my children?’ she asked. 'Emma, be patient, you shall have all of your children,’ he assured her gently.”
Six of 11 children had died: Alvin, twins Thadeus and Louisa, Joseph Murdock, Don Carlos and Thomas. Five of her children survived to adulthood: Julia, Joseph III, Freddie, Alexander and David Hyrum.
The days of reunion and joy were coming.