Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Alvin Smith- the Ideal Son and Older Brother

Previous Posts in the Church History Series :

Who Were Joseph Smith's Ancestors
Religion Prior to the First Vision


As I went on this tour of the Northeastern Church Sites, I found myself being so inspired by these GREAT GREAT people who we have grown up hearing about, but have not necessarily come to know.  I found myself coming to know each of them and gaining insights as well as deep feelings into who they were.

Alvin was definitely one of those that  deserves his own post!

Those of us/you who are members of the LDS faith are probably familiar with the Joseph Smith film: The Prophet of the Restoration.  I personally love this film and never tire of watching it.  It is very well cast and they do a beautiful job of telling the story.  In this film, you get a visual of Alvin: a mature, caring, loving older brother who Joseph looked up to from his early childhood.  That is in essence who Alvin really was.

source: William Whitaker

Alvin was the 2nd child born to Joseph and Lucy Mack Smith.[ The first child was a stillborn death.] Alvin was born February 11, 1798 in Tunbridge, Massachusetts and died an untimely death 2 months after Angel Moroni's first visit to Joseph on November 19, 1823.  He was 25 years old.

Alvin Smith was the ideal oldest son, a dream for any parent.  Many years after his death, Joseph reminisced about his brother:

"He was the oldest and noblest of my fathers family.  He was one of the noblest of the sons of men...In him there was no guile. He lived without spot from the time  he was a child... He was one of the soberest of men and when he died the angel of the Lord visited him in his last moments" [Papers of Joseph Smith, vol. 2]
 
There is also a poem Joseph referred to as 'childishlines' about Alvin:
"From the time of his birth, he never knew mirth. He was candid and sober, and never would play; and minded his father and mother, in toiling all day."
 
Alvin was Joseph's role model in everything-in his work ethic and obedience to his parents and to God.

 
Alvin's education was similar to that of the other children in the family. He learned the basics in reading, writing, and arithmetic because so much of their time and energy was devoted to the supporting the family work on their farm. His mother's history says that Alvin had the responsibility in the family second only to his father.

The Religious Tone of his Home 


Joseph tells of" being born of goodly parents who spared no pains to instructing us in the Christian religion"  A spiritual tone filled their home.  Their parents were "one in commitment to prayer, and trust in the providence of God"  The Joseph and Lucy Mack children were exposed to the examples of their parents in sincerely seeking God as part of their education and up-bringing.

The Smith Family's  Financial Situation


In general, we know that the Smith family was poor and had times of poverty and great struggle.  However, what we don't always hear, is that they had times of prosperity, although these times were short-lived.  Alvin spent a great deal of his young adult years working to help his parents to get out of debt and to have a home where they could live a comfortable life.  Unfortunately he died before that home was completely built.

In 1811, the year before the Typhoid Fever hit the family and Joseph had his excruciating surgery, the family was in the Middle-Class of society.  The town assessment shows that the Smith's owned a cow, two horses, and thirteen acres, with a total appraisal of $76.25.  $76.00 to us, is nothing for all of that, but in their day, it was double what they had from the two previous years.


Things were going so well, that they decided to put a couple of their older children in school. In the fall of 1812, Hyrum was actually chosen to attend the academy in Hanover, a preparatory school to Dartmouth College.  This decision could have been based on Alvin's generosity for his brother [it was his nature to do such things],or the family's necessity to have the older stronger worker at home.

Of coarse, that dream didn't last long due to the typhoid fever epidemic that hit that whole area, and most of the Smith family.  The medical expenses from this experience took the family finances down to nothing again.

The Log Home


The back view taken from the path leading to the Sacred Grove


The Smith's moved to this home in 1818. The family had 100 acres of land that they cleared, farmed, and lived on. This was the home Joseph lived in at the time of the First Vision, the visitations of Angel Moroni, the birth of Lucy, and the death of Alvin. A small cozy home with so much history! A very sacred home!
 


the Frame Home just down the road from the log home

 

 

 

 

 

Alvin and the Frame Home


Alvin was extremely excited in his goal to give his parents a better life-style of living. He said, "I am going to give my parents a nice  pleasant room for them to sit in and everything arranged for their comfort and they shall not work as they have done anymore" 





Alvin planned the construction of this New England style frame home to provide for his future family [he was engaged at the time], and to care for his parents in their elderly years. The Smith's moved into this ho me in late 1825. Joseph and Emma came to live here in 1827.  Eight months later Joseph received the golden plates and kept them hidden inside the home.

In this home, Joseph learned that Martin Harris had lost 116 pages of the Book of Mormon translation. A home with many many memories!!

View from the side of the house[nice garden]













The parlor-note the box on the dresser similar to the one use for the plates.
 The white washed wall boards are original to the home

The kitchen sink, which was state of the art of their day-the first granite sink!  The kitchen was large with a cooking area and a separate dining area.  During this time, they lived in solid Middle-Class status.
 
Alvin died before this home was finished, and asked his brothers to do all they could to finish it for their parents. The family moved in two years later in late1825 .  This was the last house that Lucy Mack Smith ever had to herself again.

The sacrifices this family made....!!



Alvin's Untimely Death

The fence that runs through the Smith property
with an orchard in the background
On September 21, 1823, after Joseph and his brothers went to bed for the night, Angel Moroni appeared to Joseph 3 times during the night. The next morning Joseph and Alvin were in the field reaping wheat.

 Joseph stopped as if in deep thought, and Alvin tried to hurry him along saying, "We must hurry Joseph or we will not get our task done." His father saw Joseph pale and told him to go to the house and tell his mother that he was sick.



Joseph did as his father said when he attempted to climb a fence and fell from pure exhaustion of no sleep the night before.  Angel Moroni appeared to Joseph the 4th time with the same message as before, except  to "go tell your father of the visions and commandments you have received." [See Joseph Smith-History 1:27-54]

Joseph then went to the field and asked Alvin to get their father. After telling his father of Angel Moroni's message and visitation, and with his father's permission, Joseph went to the hill Cumorah as instructed by the messenger.  There he learned more and was taught.  That evening, Joseph then began relating to his family the amazing experiences he had learned.

Alvin noticed that Joseph was too emotionally drained to talk any further that night and proposed they all work hard enough the following days so they could end an hour earlier to have enough time to hear Joseph. Alvin was a very eager listener to Joseph's first spiritual experiences.

Two months later in November of 1823, Alvin has horrible stomach pains which they believe was appendicitis.  The family's doctor who they trusted was out of town and another doctor came in his place. He gave Alvin calomel, a chalky substance which lodged in his intestine surrounded by gangrene. Treating a ruptured appendix or severe blockage in the intestine was beyond the medical skills of that time.


The room right off the kitchen in their log home where Alvin died.
This room was actually called the birthing room, where the youngest Lucy was born. It was also used for a sick bed.

 

Alvin used his last moments expressing love for his family:
"He urged Hyrum to finish the house and for Sophronia to lighten the load of his parents. He gave a final a caress to 2-year old Lucy and encouraged Joseph to be a model for his brothers and sisters and to be strictly worthy of receiving the plates."
According to his mother's account, Alvin was never so happy as when he was contemplating the final success in his brother obtaining the record.
 
Four other doctors were called, but Alvin died late on November 19, 1823. His death was "a great affliction" for their family. Joseph was almost 18 when Alvin died, "I remember well the pangs of sorrow that swelled my youthful bosom and almost burst my tender heart when he died."
 
 From Luck Mack's account:
"We all wept' our irretrievable loss'.  The whole neighborhood felt Alvin's loss, but none as much as his finace' who was left desolate by his unexpected death and as long as we knew her she never recovered her wonted animation and good spirits."
 


Alvin's original gravestone on one side
 
And a more readable version on the other side

 
 
Cemetery hilltop where Alvin is buried

The hilltop looked more like man-made mound perhaps created anciently. That is another subject for another day.  I wish I could describe to you the spirit I felt on this hilltop cemetery. It was like entering another realm almost, so peaceful, so serene.  One of the most spiritual sites of our tour. 

Alvin's Tree

This tree was planted by the Smith family in memory of Alvin in the yard of the frame home. As you can see it is still living.  Huge, huge tree!

Sources for this post:
 United by Faith, the Joseph Sr. and Lucy Mack Smith Family, by Kyle R Walker
My own notes from our tour
____________________________________________________________________
*As the principles of the gospel began to be revealed, Joseph learned and was very validated in his feelings that Alvin still lived, that his soul was not damned because he was not baptized like preachers of his day suggested. In a vision he saw Alvin and his parents [who were still living at the time] together in heaven, more specifically the Celestial Kingdom-the highest degree we can obtain in heaven.

Joseph was baptized for his brother Alvin, the first one to receive this proxy baptism in this dispensation.

For more information on Baptisms for the Dead, see the following links:

Why do Mormons perform baptisms for the dead? from Mormon.org
Why Do We Baptize for the Dead? from Elder D. Todd Christofferson
Baptism for the Dead -from the Bible Dictionary