December 14, 2022

Mary Fielding Smith, during the imprisonment of Liberty Jail

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Mary Fielding Smith was a faithful, determined women in the early days of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Mary faced many trials in her life and one of the hardest trials was when her husband, Hyrum Smith, was wrongfully imprisoned in Liberty Jail in the winter of 1838. Mary Fielding and Hyrum had only been married one year when Hyrum was imprisoned in Liberty Jail, and Mary Fielding was pregnant with her first child.

Background of Liberty Jail

On December 1, 1838 Joseph and friends were falsely accused of crimes and wrongfully imprisoned in Liberty Jail. Joseph Smith, Hyrum and their friends had surrendered to the Missouri mob two weeks prior to being put in jail. The surrender of Joseph, Hyrum and the others happened at the same time that Hyrum’s wife, Mary Fielding Smith, delivered her first son, Joseph F. Smith.

Hyrum and Joseph Smith along with Sidney Rigdon, Lyman Wight, Caleb Baldwin, and Alexander McRae would stay in Liberty Jail until April 6, 1839. The circumstances of Liberty Jail are some of the worst that a human can endure. For months they prayed to God for deliverance, but were left with no answers.

Mary Fielding Smiths trials during Liberty Jail

The history of the prisoners of Liberty Jail is familiar to many members of the Church, but what is not well known is, what was happening to the families of the prisoners. While the prisnoers were suffering in jail, their wives and children were being tormented by angry Missouri mobs and even starved. From mob harassment, freezing temperatures, little to no food and sickness these poor families struggled through the winter months and prayed for deliverance from God.

Mary Fielding Smith delivered her first baby, Joseph F. Smith, on November 13, 1839, . The stress and heartache of her husband being taken to prison wore on Mary. Mary was left incredibly week and simply could not gain her strength back, from the delivery. Mary became incredibly sick and at one point was on the brink of death, without the help of her sister, Mercy, and other members of the community she would have died. She worked hard to stay alive, but problems kept coming.

While Mary was sick and in bed with her newborn, Missouri mob men ransacked her home. The mob entered while Mary and her son were inside. During the attack Mary was too sick to move, and they tore apart her home while she lay sick in bed. Not realizing the new baby was sleeping, the mob men threw blankets on top of this new baby, almost killing him. Mary was too sick to move, to save her baby from suffocation. By the time the newborn, was discovered everyone assumed he was dead. The Lord preserved this little baby.

The freezing cold temperatures were another trial for all the members of the Church in Missouri, but in Mary’s condition it was delaying her recovering and keeping her on the brink of death. It was impossible to keep their little house warm, it was unbearable.

Food was another problem for the Latter-Day Saints during the winter of 1838, and Mary Fielding struggled to find food sufficient to survive. The Missouri Mob men trashed the fields of the Latter-day Saints and left them with little to no food for the winter. For Mary Fielding Smith, this added to her sickness. With little to no nutritious food, it kept Mary continued to stay sick, not strong enough to recover from delivering her child. Mary had to rely on the help of the Saints around her, but the rest of the Latter-Day Saints were in the same situation, with the mob destroying all they were trying to build. Everyone was struggling to keep their families fed and warm!

The stress of the delivery of her son, the stress of her husband in jail, the lack of warmth of the winter and not enough food were all too much for Mary Fielding Smith. She say her husband being dragged away, and did not know if she would ever see him again. The Missouri mobs were relentless in their torment of the Saints, and Mary could not seem to find relief from the trials.

In the middle of all the trials Mary got word that Hyrum wanted to see their new little baby!

Mary Visiting Liberty Jail

Mary knew how important it was for her to go visit her husband in Liberty Jail but her health was still not where it needed to be, to make the journey to Liberty and see Hyrum. Mary wanted her husband to meet their new son, but the journey to Liberty Missouri could literally kill her, in the condition she was in.

With the help of her brother-in-law, Don Carlos and her sister, Mercy Fielding, they prepared for the journey to see Hyrum in Liberty. These wonderful family members made a bed for Mary and her baby in the back of the wagon, working to make it as comfortable as possible. Mary was carried out to the wagon and laid in the bed holding her baby boy for the whole journey. It was in February of 1839, and it was a bitter cold winter. They had 40 miles of uneven, frozen road before they would make it to Liberty Jail.

When the group finally made it to Liberty Jail, Mary and Mercy could not believe the conditions the prisoners were living in! The darkness and dirtiness of the prison was appalling to Mary, meant for the worst kind of prisoners. It was so difficult for Mary and Mercy to see the men they loved and honored, in this horrible, dark, dirty prison cell.

Even through the dark and horrible conditions Mary and Hyrum had a beautiful and happy reunion! It had been months since they had seen each other! The last time they had seen each other was when the mob had taking Hyrum away. Seeing Hyrum again was a tonic to his wife’s soul, it gave her the hope that had been gone for all those months.

Hyrum and the other men in the jail gathered together and gave their new baby a name and a blessing. They named their baby after Mary’s brother, Joseph Fielding. It was a sweet time for the prisoners and the visitors.

First had experiences of Liberty Jail

Mercy Fielding Thomas, the sister of Mary Fielding, recorded an account of the visit to Liberty Jail with her sister Mary:

”About the fist of February 1839 by the request of her husband, my sister was placed on a bed in a wagon and taken on a journey of about 40 miles to visit him in prison, her infant son, Joseph F. Smith then being about 11 weeks old. The weather being extremely cold, we suffered much on the journey. We arrived at the prison in the evening. We were admitted and the doors closed upon us. A night never to be forgotten. A sleepless night. I nursed the darling babes and in the morning prepared to start for home with my afflicted sister as long as a memory lasts will remain in my recollection the squeaking hinges of that door which closed upon the noblest men on earth. Who can imagine our feelings as we traveled homeward but would I sell the honor bestowed upon me by being locked up in jail with such characters for gold? No! No!”

Mary never wrote down a personal account of what happened that day in Liberty Jail. It was an emotional, and personal time for the couple. Seeing her husband, after she assumed she would never see him again in this life changed Mary. It started a time of healing for Mary. This visit with Hyrum gave Mary hope again, after months of hopelessness.

After their trying journey to Liberty Jail, Mary started to recover! That special time with her husband must have been exactly what she needed!

Lessons from Liberty

Elder Jefferey R. Holland gave a beautiful talk about going through our own, personal Liberty Jails. The talk is called “Lessons from Liberty Jail” September 7, 2008:

“In one way or another, great or small, dramatic or incidental, every one of us is going to spend a little time in Liberty Jail—spiritually speaking. We will face things we do not want to face for reasons that may not be our fault. Indeed, we may face difficult circumstances for reasons that were absolutely right and proper, reasons that came because we were trying to keep the commandments of the Lord. We may face persecution, we may endure heartache and separation from loved ones, we may be hungry and cold and forlorn. Yes, before our lives are over we may all be given a little taste of what the prophets faced often in their lives.
But the lessons of the winter of 1838–39 teach us that every experience can become a redemptive experience if we remain bonded to our Father in Heaven through it. These difficult lessons teach us that man’s extremity is God’s opportunity, and if we will be humble and faithful, if we will be believing and not curse God for our problems, He can turn the unfair and inhumane and debilitating prisons of our lives into temples—or at least into a circumstance that can bring comfort and revelation, divine companionship and peace.”

“I testify that the Father and the Son live and that They are close, perhaps even closest via the Holy Spirit, when we are experiencing difficult times. I testify that heaven’s kindness will never depart from you, regardless of what happens (see Isaiah 54:7–10; see also 3 Nephi 22:7–10). I testify that bad days come to an end, that faith always triumphs, and that heavenly promises are always kept. God is our Father, Jesus is the Christ, and this is the true and living gospel—found in this, the true and living Church. I testify that President Thomas S. Monson is a prophet of God, our prophet for this hour and this day. I love him and sustain him as I know you do. In the words of the Liberty Jail prison-temple experience, “Hold on thy way. … Fear not … , for God shall be with you forever and ever” (D&C 122:9).

As Elder Jefferey R. Holland said, “bad days come to an end, faith always triumphs, and heavenly promises are ALWAYS kept! This gospel of Jesus Christ is a gospel of hope! He gives us hope in dark times.


“Mary Fielding Smith: Daughter of Britain, Portrait of Courage” By Don C. Corbett

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